Sunday, December 30, 2007
Bomb 20 - "You Killed Me First!" / "Anyday"
In the July 1998 issue of The Wire, Rob Young offered up a review of EC8OR's World Beaters, describing the album as "perfect goading music to play inside a suit of intelligent body armour for 21st century exoskeletal soldier boys and girls." The same could be said about Bomb 20's Field Manual if it wasn't already spelled out so literally on the cover. The music? A violent pileup of television and film samples laid over splatterhouse breaks and distorted hip-hop beats. David Skiba was seventeen when he recorded this, or at least when he was signed to DHR. In another world better than this one, it inspired kids everywhere to embrace their ADD and lead to a new movement in sampling that didn't stop with Cassetteboy.
The liner notes in my copy of Field Manual seem to be missing a few pages. It's a long tract describing how political movements are crushed by governments, and how any up and coming movements can learn from the mistakes of others. Or at least that's what I think it's about. I have duplicate pages on the sections titled "Depoliticization," "History," "Individuality + Collectivism," "Social Revolution," and "The Untouchable State," and I think I'm missing the entire middle half of it. I doubt there's any way I can read the whole thing without buying another copy of the CD, unless I could find some helpful soul out there who (A.) is reading this now, (B.) has the CD with a complete booklet, and (C.) has a working scanner. I don't think that's going to happen. I am interested in reading more about Gladio and the Black Panthers, but I've had a hard time separating the good sources about these topics from the bad.
By 2001, if not already in 2000, DHR had fallen upon hard times. The death of Carl Crack on September 6, 2001, officially spelled the end of Atari Teenage Riot, and that in itself probably would have spelled the end of the label if it was even still functioning. But even if that had never happened, the events of five days later effectively ended the DHR's relevance. No amount of dystopian future-shock ramblings or calls for revolution and anarchy, no matter how loud or (at times) reasonable, could compare to what the world saw that day. Suddenly, their collective aesthetic seemed juvenile and pointless. Bomb 20 put out just one more album a year later on another label; fittingly, it was titled Reality Surpasses Fiction.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Komputergurl - "I Love My Speak and Spell"
The press release for the VGM Mixtape #8 couldn't have said it any better: "Prepare to flush all those NANOLOOP 1.0 CDs down the toilet!" I had high hopes for the Nanoloop compilation: some of the most exciting glitch, IDM, and noise artists around making Gameboy music? Only once in a while does anything come out that dares to put so many things I love together in one place. But then... it sucked. Maybe forcing all these artists -- many of whom probably didn't care about video game music or even video games at all -- to use Nanoloop wasn't the best idea? Funny how there was already a burgeoning scene of Nanoloop, LSDJ, and other VGM artists who could have done wonders with the software if only given the chance. It wouldn't be until a year later that anything approaching a definitive document of original VGM would emerge. Unless I'm really missing out on something -- and I desperately want to know if I am -- the No Sides Records VGM Mix Tape #8 is still the best collection of Game Boy and other classic game systems-inspired music. Sadly, the mythical seven volumes that precede this appear to be purely fictional. The depth and repeated listenability of this would-be novelty item is astounding. I can't imagine what I'd do with seven other installments of it.
VGM Mix Tape #8 has a few of the heavyweights of the VGM scene (The Minibosses, Nullsleep), lots of artists out of the "Chicago scene" (Mark 4, Handheld, Panicsville), and a widely dispersed group of international artists. I haven't kept up with this scene as well as I'd like to -- I plan on digging deeper once I post this -- so I don't know how many of these contributors are still consistently recording or how many were even meant to be long-term projects in the first place. Nothing from Bit Shifter, The Advantage, 8-Bit, or many other acts that gained prominence in recent years, but that only lends to the mystery behind this collection. These artists are as faceless as they come and though I haven't tried, I'm not sure that any amount of Google searching could locate or identify them all.
It's hard to choose a favorite track on the CD. There's nearly 30, and despite the potential for some annoying digital wankery (fully realized in Nanoloop 1.0, which I think I've only been holding onto for the cover art) there's hardly anything here I'd want to skip. "I Love My Speak and Spell" by Komputergurl has always stood out to me, always made me turn up the volume whenever it comes on, and even brings me to skip backwards to listen again after it's finished. I don't know if there's a drum machine or anything else in the mix, but it sounds so much bigger than any chiptune-powered track should. I always wondered who Komputergurl was, and though I never knew for sure, it was easy for me to assume that the artist behind the name was, in fact, a girl. Was this just wishful thinking on my part? In the sausage fest that is electronic music, maybe.
Now I find out that Komputergurl was, in fact, just a pseudonym for VGM veterans Cosmos Computer Music. And that the track was actually made in 1999. At least according to this page, which hosts not just a free mp3 of the song (rendering my Zshare-hosted file redundant) but a tantalizing photo of "Komputergurl" herself. Brilliant.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In the summer of 2004 there was no escaping this band. Saw them, or at least caught a glimpse of them at the Warped Tour, and still failed to understand how anyone older than 19 could possibly like them. I guess someone had to take the reigns of pop punk in between Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy, but did they have to be this boring?
I hate most Christmas music, especially obnoxious parodies. I don't get this at all. Are they trying to "do" Barenaked Ladies or something? I guess this video is funny, but I doubt they have anything to do with the animation at all.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Martin Rev - "Gutter Rock"
Before I graduated college, I had to get an internship relevant to my major. I should have looked at this as the opportunity that it was rather than an unfortunate chore standing in the way of picking up my degree. What I should have known -- and what no one told me, but what I should have figured out for myself anyway -- was that the degree itself was going to be completely useless and hardly worth the paper it was printed on. The internship, on the other hand, was a real chance to get my foot in the door somewhere, or at least earn some valuable experience that would look impressive on a resume.
My parents wanted me to pursue something with the Chicago Tribune, or maybe WGN. I had the feeling that there was no way I'd be accepted by either outlet or any others comparable in size or reputation -- most major newspapers and television stations seem to have working relationships with big universities anyway, so getting accepted from outside of those established programs seemed like wishful thinking to me -- so I wrote off my chances not just there but with any place where I felt I might find myself in competition with anyone else. Maybe I thought I was being practical, but with a few years of hindsight I can clearly see that I was just making excuses for myself and my fear of really being put to the test. Anyway, I managed to get an internship with a local music magazine. Huge local circulation, more or less unknown and unavailable outside of the Chicago area. I'd been reading it for years and was incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.
And... it was everything I expected it to be. I answered phones, opened lots of mail, spent many hours copy editing, and got lots of chances to contribute with reviews and features. I'd always thought of myself as a good reviewer and an average writer outside of that format, but in time I realized that the the converse was true. Interviews stressed me out terribly. Before they even began, just the process of even arranging and conducting them over the phone was a nightmare plagued by constant rescheduling and occasional technical disasters. And once I managed to conduct and transcribe any of these, it would take me an embarrassing amount of time to turn them into anything resembling a cohesive article. For anyone who's going to make a living as a journalist, consistently being able to turn a story around within a few days (or a few hours) is one of the most important skills to possess. Having to devote entire days to single paragraphs or sentences was a clear sign that I wasn't going to go far in this business. I can say that I was, and still am, really proud of how a few of my features turned out. But that's all in a day's work for some people, not a few weeks of snail's pace writing and revision.
My reviews never turned out as good. It's hard to say anything at all about an album in 300 words without just regurgitating the press release, which I always strove not to do. But brevity was never my strong point, so any efforts that I made to sound witty, insightful, or provocative always came out... just wrong. Embarrassing, really. I was reading too much Pitchfork and not enough books. I guess that was my problem all though college, though: lots of time spent on the Internet, writing in my journal, reading magazines and high school level novels when I probably should have been digging deep into the Western canon and practicing the craft of writing instead of just assuming I'd get around to it later. Pure laziness, only without the drugs, alcohol, and everything else good that's supposed to go along with it.
Like I said, it was everything I expected it to be, which meant it was extremely laid-back, low key, and wholly noncompetitive. At least I learned some valuable lessons. Mainly, that magazine writing is not a feasible career for anyone not living with their parents, and that selling advertisement space and classifieds is about 75% of the work behind every issue, and is pretty much the reason that magazines exist at all. The actual content in any issue is an afterthought.
At least I got to hear pretty much everything that came out between the autumn of 2002 and the spring of 2003. Being an intern, and eventually an editorial assistant, meant opening all the mail every day and screening all the CDs that had been sent in to us. A dozen or two albums would arrive every day, so after a few weeks there would be a lot of music vying for our coverage. What would the contributors get to choose from to review? I guess I was the gatekeeper, putting anything that I deemed "good" into one pile that would eventually find its way into our editor's office, and everything else into another, which would end up in a bin somewhere in the back of a storage room with a few thousand other forgotten discs. My "power" had its limitations; we were going to review the new Disturbed album whether I liked it or not. That was fine. I got to hear lots of new music, sometimes months before it was released, and got to hear a few really good albums that fell through the cracks, never getting much of a mention in the world of print magazines or anywhere on the blogosphere.
In 2003, Martin Rev released To Live on Chicago's File-13 label. Suicide had ridden the post-electroclash wave back into prominence and were getting some attention again. They even put out a new album on Mute at the end of 2002. If had been any good, maybe more people would have listened to Rev's solo follow-up. Maybe all of his albums sound like this -- power electronics, lounge, overdriven fuzz pedal rock -- but there are so many ideas here and so many great melodies, and so much attitude and I only wish it was contrived because Rev sounds like one seriously strung out, desperate, and angry man throughout the whole record. This CD melts anything else I put it next to. My copy of Murmur is completely ruined. No big loss.
I stopped writing for them altogether more than two years ago. The magazine I was with is still kicking but whether or not anyone reads it now is another matter. They've been around for years but I can see them folding any day now -- Craigslist is killing them with their free classifieds, and disposable tabloids are choking them out of their long-held distribution spots. At least everyone paid their meaningless respects to Punk Planet. I wish they'd do the same for this rag when the time comes but I can't say for sure that we ever really earned it.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Was surprised to still find this on Youtube, wasn't at all surprised to find it flagged as "inappropriate" for some users. Hopefully I'll be able to embed it here just like any other video. Hurry up and watch it before it gets pulled down again! An all-time classic.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Kim - "Candy Candy"
In 2001 I started writing for a tiny music website that, like most music review sites, was staffed by flaky and unmotivated writers and never really got off the ground. Its focus was on independent artists and local bands. Since most of the site's writers were from England, "local bands" pretty much meant "British bands," but that was just fine with me. I just wanted an opportunity to contribute, so I tried my best to find some good unsigned bands to review, wherever they might be from. Historians agree that these early reviews of mine remain some of the worst music writing ever found on the Internet, but I can take solace in the fact that the site that hosted them finally seems to have gone offline -- despite no activity at all from at least 2003 to 2006, it was still online -- and these reviews can begin the natural and long overdue process of fading away into the digital ether from which they came.
Around this same time I saw Kim open at a Fireside Bowl show, really enjoyed their set, and bought their 5-song EP. I really wanted to write about them, too, but didn't know how they'd feel about getting an unsolicited review. I think I sent them an email and then forgot about it for the next few weeks, until one day at school, a package arrived for me containing what was really one of the nicest press kits I've ever seen, and I can say this even after being an intern at a music magazine, where for more than half a year I'd open and look through at least a dozen of these every day. It also contained a copy of the CD, the one that I'd already purchased, and I couldn't help but wonder how much this had all cost to put together and ship to me. This was back when I was easy impressed by, not to mention grateful, for any musical swag that I could get my hands on, so while this was no skin off of Kim's collective back, I sort of figured it was, and suddenly I felt conflicted about writing about them at all, like I'd suckered myself into some kind of reciprocal deal. Obviously that wasn't the case, but at the time I was too confused and clueless to tell otherwise.
For whatever reason, I never reviewed the CD or wrote about Kim. Maybe I had some sense of guilt, like I'd accidentally promised them a fantastic review for a site that had thousands of readers. Being busy with schoolwork, incredibly depressed, and just lazy made it easy for me to neglect dealing with the matter, so I threw the whole packet in a drawer and didn't bother with it. I don't remember if they ever wrote me back about it or not. I'm guessing that they probably didn't, since they never seemed like a band that took themselves incredibly seriously. They had a good local following, lots of side projects, and their own lives to attend to. Occasionally, they'd up a new song to their now-defunct website, as well as play a few shows a year, but they never really took off like I thought they would. And that's just fine, though back then I probably assumed that all bands were somehow "failures" if they didn't end up on a label or progress from opening act status into headliners.
Do you like fun bubblegum rock with lots of great hooks? Then you'll like Kim. The song I uploaded is an instrumental. If you want songs with words, check their Myspace page.
Yeah, this was my big chance to finally give them their due, but after more than six years, that's the best I can do. Yeah, there's a reason I'm not writing reviews anymore. I guess I could mention how they're all Asian-American chicks and just focus on that like everyone else, or just regurgitate their band bio and talk about Chic-A-Go-Go and such, but I never wanted to do that. But then what?
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I had nothing of any worth to say about "You! Me! Dancing!", but only because none of my words could really hope to do it justice. The best video of the year, and maybe the best song, too. If I'd been paying attention before now, I would have already heard "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives." It's not as good as its follow-up, but it's left me craving their full-length debut -- due this February -- more than any indie rock release in recent memory.
But the video... "You! Me! Dancing!" was already an classic-in-the-making, but the existence of a prequel to it elevates it to epic status. Viewing the two parts out of order somehow adds to the mystique. If only "The International Tweexcore Underground" had continued their trend of animated videos. Revealing themselves as a low-budget/concept Decemberists might not have been the best move they could make.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Sufjan Stevens - "Opie's Funeral Song" (live at Judson College)
Judson College: no, not the Alabama women's college. Or actually, yes, that would be the one and only Judson College today, now that the Elgin, Illinois school has rechristened itself as Judson University. It'll always be Judson College to me, having spent three years there and more of my parents' money than I feel comfortable thinking about. Founded in 1963, it's spent the past 45 years trying to establish itself as a reputable institution within the greater Midwest clusterfuck of Christian colleges. I can't speak for it now, but as of the turn of the century, I'm not really sure that it should even have been accredited.
Not that this backwater school doesn't serve its purposes. It's the only Christian college in the country to offer a master's degree in architecture. Interested students should appreciate Judson's devotion to the architecture program over the past decade. After all, they've been more than willing to get pretty much every other department at the school to make sacrifices for it. The philosophy and theater majors weren't so lucky, as their programs were simply scrapped. Maybe billionaire Carl Lindner -- former owner/CEO of Chiquita, and Judson's biggest benefactor -- was saving his cash for RNC donations and 527 committee contributions instead? He'd have more of it to share if his company hadn't been paying millions to terrorist groups in Columbia to squash unionization and worker dissent in the fields. Not that Judson could be bothered by such petty charges.
Judson's also great for any students who couldn't get into Wheaton and don't mind settling for a third-tier safety school. Guys who dream of finding a nice Christian wife who'll help them host a twentysomethings couples Bible study after graduation. Teetotaler frat boys. Girls trapped in an eternal church youth group lock-in of the mind, mentally stunted at 9th grade. Respectable young women looking to earn their MRS degree. Anyone who thinks Catholism and Christianity are different religions. Anyone with no interest in any social issues beyond stopping abortion. Hardly anyone was really "political" while I was there but I shudder to imagine what it's like today.
It should go without saying, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing. At least there was no real dress code, but when you've got people walking around campus in their pajamas all day, maybe it's time to institute one. Nothing to do on campus, just a cramped student center with a large-screen TV and a broken foosball table. Intramural sports, no real clubs or activities to speak of. The radio station literally broke down a year or two before I arrived and was never revived, despite the promises of faculty. The student newspaper was shut down during my senior year. I shouldn't even get started about that.
Only a handful of concerts held at Judson were big enough to be held in the gymnasium. Caedmon's Call, Plumb, and the sonic holocaust of FFH were the biggest shows I remember. Smaller concerts were held in the chapel. The attendance at the Justin McRoberts show I saw was so small, I was embarassed for the man, but drawing these small shows was never the aim of the school or the powerless concert committee. Cheesy Christian rock drew the youth groups in by the vanload and helped recruit potential students. Whitebread CCM brought aging alumni back onto campus, and helped remind them that their donations were always appreciated. It wasn't until a few months after I left the school for my internship that the concert committee was motivated enough to bring a decent band onto campus. Duvall played their last show of 2002 there in late November. Surprisingly, they drew a good crowd.
It wasn't until this year that I found out about another show I'd missed after graduating that December, one which took place a year later. Denison Witmer headlined in the chapel: an unlikley enough booking in itself as Witmer has never been a card-carrying member of the rank-and-file Christian rock society. Maybe he played at Cornerstone or something, but radio and retail have never paid him any attention. But opening for Witmer... Sufjan Stevens! Or as people probably recounted after the show, "That guy with the banjo, John Stephens?"
Somehow, this appearance was recorded and uploaded somewhere on the Internet, and seems to be one of Stevens' most-shared pre-Illinois sets. And we all know what happened after that album. His appearance should go down in history as the most notable event at Judson since Michael Medved's chapel appearance, Gary Bauer's graduation speech, or the performance of local band Your Mom in the Ohio Hall basement.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
"I've Been Waiting " was the follow-up single and video to "Girlfriend," and also incorporated lots of anime while somehow getting airplay on a pre-"Aeon Flux" MTV -- not that the show opened the floodgates for more of this stuff or anything. Footage comes from an 1980s series called Urusei Yatsura, which I've never seen before today. Need to and would love to see more "classic" anime like this. Just 20 or so more episodes of Inuyasha left to watch, and then Death Note, but after that, who knows?
As far as I know, this was the last anime-inspired video Matthew Sweet released. Not that he lost his love for Japan after Girlfriend: the 2003 album Kimi Ga Suki was initially a Japan-only release which featured cover art from none other than Yoshitomo Nara. I could have sworn I had a cover-less promo of that around here somewhere. 15 minutes of searching turns up nothing.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Naked City - "Tracks 10-17" (from Naked City)
I was 16 or 17 when I bought the first Naked City album. Maybe I'd read about John Zorn in that jazz coffee table book I had, or knew that he was friends with Sonic Youth or something. I don't know. I'd heard a little bit of Ornette Coleman, not to mention Zorn's tribute disc to Coleman, and figured I was ready for this.
And there's no reason I shouldn't have been. Most of this album isn't that far out there. Lots of surf and rockabilly, and a lot of... trad. jazz. There's a cover of the James Bond theme and a song called "Batman," which sounds inspired by the show's original theme (punctuated by those "BAM!" and "POW!" horn blasts, naturally). So this is really a pretty fun and eclectic album. Nothing to be scared of, right?
But that's only the half of it. Naked City liked to mix their free jazz with hardcore punk, so about half the songs on Naked City feature Zorn's free improvisation over Yamatsuka Eye screaming at the top of his lungs. This was, and still is, hilarious, terrifying, or both. But something about it really creeped me out. Maybe it had to do with the song titles: "Demon Sanctuary," "Den of Sins," "Igneous Ejaculation." I was still terribly conflicted over listening to "secular" music while all my friends rocked out to Third Day and Newsboys, so this was beyond... I don't know, simply debating whether or not to listen to Pearl Jam or Green Day or anything approaching "normal" bands. I didn't believe that music could channel demons like any of the old videos we watched in junior high youth group at my old church instructed. Not really. But if any could, it would sound like this.
The music didn't bother me as much as the artwork in the sleeve. I should have taken a hint given that the cover shows... a vintage photograph of a man shot in the face. Maybe I just didn't look closely enough, or seeing it in black and white somehow lessened its impact. Anyway, that didn't stop me from picking it up at the store, nor did the painting on the back cover of a mummified man with crabs coming out of his mouth. More "hideous" artwork inside -- an evil-looking skull and a girl with a snake twisting in and out of her every cephalic orifice -- was too much for my pre-Internet, yet-to-be-desensitized innocent mind. The music made the pictures seem all the more evil. The pictures reinforced the heathen, hell-spawned vibe of the songs on the CD. I'd heard and enjoyed lots of "unChristian" music before this, even some with swearing, though I kept this a secret from my friends (who'd surely pray for me if they knew) and family (who really couldn't give a shit, in hindsight). But I'd never stumbled upon anything as sinful as this.
I don't know if I even made it all the way through the album before stopping it, removing the disc... and snapping it in two. I tossed the pieces into the plastic shopping bag that I'd taken it into my room in, along with the liner notes and jewel case, and took them down to the garage. There, I smashed them into tiny pieces with a hammer on the garage floor and tore the booklet into shreds before throwing it in all in the trash. I've never told anyone about this until now. I know that I could have sold it back to a used store for a few dollars, but something was telling me to destroy it. No one else could ever see or hear this ever again. If I helped contribute to anyone else's exposure to this album, even if only by putting one more copy of it back into the world, it would inevitably find its way into someone else's vulnerable imagination, and I would surely be judged.
Obviously, I don't feel this way anymore. But there's no story to tell there, no moment where I suddenly looked into the mirror and came around from my childish ways. If there was, it could have come a lot sooner than it did. But it did come, didn't it? I'm admitting it, right?
By writing this entry, am I just patting myself on the back for "getting over" issues I had when I was a kid, as if it was truly a struggle that I should be commended for? Am I just desperately trying to pull meaningful events out of my uneventful, meaningless adolescence? I deserve a vicious ribbing for this psychotic episode and even allowing myself to be taken in by the thought process that spawned it, but my lack of enthusiasm in commenting on other people's blogs has pretty much ensured that no one is going to reciprocate replies to me here.
Somewhat well-known painter and manga artist Suehiro Maruo contributed the artwork to the album. Very little of his material is really worksafe, and there's no reason for me to be looking at pictures of mutilated children while I'm at home, so needless to say I won't be investigating his work any further at this time. The track I uploaded is actually the entire middle third of the album. Enjoy it in one convenient file!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
All I wanted was to just listen to "Girlfriend" -- mainly for the drum break that comes in at about the three minute mark -- but didn't have the song and figured the fastest way to hear it would be just going straight to Youtube. I wasn't even going to watch the video, but hey! It's animated! At first I thought it was just another AMV mistagged as the "real" video, one of hundreds or more floating around in the oversaturated sea of fan-edits on the site. But Mr. Sweet's mug popping in at 0:38? Yikes. Wikipedia confirms this is the real video for the song, though if I'd had MTV as a kid like everyone else, I'd have known this already.
The anime used for the video is Space Adventure Cobra, which one review describes as "prime late-night material" for MST3K fans. An obscure title today, though I'm sure it wasn't an easier for Americans to find back in 1991 (no VHS release until 1998, it seems). Matthew Sweet... true otaku or just ahead of his time?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Throbbing Gristle - "Hamburger Lady"
Spending the summer back from college at my parents' house meant going without a high-speed Internet connection, but I was determined not to let it stop me from having the same access to the Internet and Napster that I'd grown to take for granted at school. I set up my computer in the basement and spent more evenings down there than I should willingly admit to, given that it was the summer of my 21st year, and everything. In hindsight, I can see how this set an awful precedent for the rest of my life up to this point, though it was the last time I ever used a dial-up connection. Hopefully it taught me a little patience.
Throbbing Gristle... the "first industrial band," or so the lazy descriptions went. I had to check this out for myself. Downloaded a handful of songs, including "Hot On the Heels of Love" and "Walkabout," both which sounded more like house music than KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, or anything else I was expecting. This "What a Day" song sounded pretty weird. "Aw shucks," I thought to myself. "I can sure relate to that!" But where was this weird, spooky stuff they were supposed to be known for? The Spin Alternative Record Guide mentioned "Slug Bait" and its backwards-playing counterpart, "tiaB gulS," so I patiently downloaded those and, probably an hour later, finally gave them a listen. Doing this alone, in the dark... not a good idea. "tiaB gulS" at least spared me from the original's accounts of rape and castration, but was somehow almost creepier.
I was relieved to make it through those tracks and just assumed that "Hamburger Lady" couldn't possibly be any worse. I remember "Hamburger Lady" following the same track as "Slug Bait," like a sadistic "A Century of Fakers"/"A Century of Elvises" pairing. I could be wrong about this, since I haven't listened to either song since! The warped vocals were a little hard to make out at first, so I probably turned up the volume, straining my ears to try to understand just what the then-Mr. P-Orridge was saying.
Why did I do this?
I can only remember fractions of lyrics ("burned from the waist up... she's dying..."), coldly recited and split up with some kind of echo or delay effects, all over that insistent, repeating siren in the background (which didn't even have the decency to introduce anything as simple as a beat to distract me from the sickening monologue). I waited for this song to go somewhere, but after more than three minutes, it was clear that there wasn't going to be any relief from this grotesque account of loneliness, misery, and suffering. Maybe I was just too impressionable, maybe most people can listen to this and "enjoy" it in the same way they'd enjoy watching a slasher film. The only problem is, there's no layer of irony or camp here, just a brutal, unflinching portrait of hopeless agony.
I'd had enough and went to stop the song, intending to delete it and put it out of my mind for good. That's when things got a little weird. I must have been running too many programs at once, because when I tried to use the Winamp controls, my computer froze up, causing the always-unsettling glitch sound of a "skipping" mp3 to come tearing out of my headphones. Ctrl-Alt-Delete, Ctrl-Alt-Delete... nothing. Desperate to put a stop to this and reboot my computer, I quickly reached for the power switch, which killed not just the computer but my monitor as well. I was left in the dark of the basement, incredibly spooked by what I'd just heard and the sudden, unexpected series of events that followed. I don't remember what I did then, except that I somehow managed to stand up and find the light switch in the dark, flipping it back on even though I half expected to be face-to-face with the Hamburger Lady after doing so. After that, I probably went back upstairs, turned on all the lights, and woke up the dog for company.
Even now I can't quite bring myself to listen to this song again. I'm sure Throbbing Gristle would love to know that they scared a 21 year-old man completely shitless, and even in 2000! Not that this would offend anyone in 2007. Americans love watching panic-striken people suffer and die, the more painful and agonizing it is, the better.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
My favorite AMV. I know this isn't a "real" video but who cares? Short, simple, beautiful. Edited by Zerophite, who I'd consider a past Internet acquaintance but who surely doesn't remember me at all at this point. It's always sort of haunting to read journal entries like these, whether they're abandoned Livejournals or ambiguous final postings left on message boards, after which their author simply disappears. You wonder just what they're doing with themselves, especially after completely abandoning something that, considering how much time they invested in it, was obviously important to them.
If nothing else, this video is more proof that 1998 was probably the height of human civilization. Unfortunately, that probably has less to do with the greatness of Cowboy Bebop or Boards of Canada than the general downfall of, well... everything else in the world since then. At least we have faster Internet connections now.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Tortoise - "Restless Waters"
"Restless Waters" originally appeared on The Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation Compact Disc, a compilation released to benefit the now-defunct Lincoln Park bar which closed its doors in 2000. I don't know why Lounge Ax was forced to close, though I've always assumed that good old fashioned Chicago gentrification played a part somewhere along the way. This compilation dates from 1996, so while it wasn't enough to save Lounge Ax, maybe it helped them ride out the storm for a few more years. I was too young to get in when it was open, but was only barely aware of its existence until after the fact anyway. And besides, I've still never been to the Empty Bottle, so let's face it: I probably wouldn't even make the effort today if Lounge Ax were still open.
"Restless Waters" doesn't sound like any other Tortoise song; I've thought about playing it for others and saying "oh, yeah here's the new Avalanches song" or something like that, just to see if anyone would fall for it. Can't say that such an opportunity has ever come along, though. Really astounding to think that this was from 1996. It's unlike anything on Millions Now Living Will Never Die, or even TNT.
Of course, now that any 15 year-old kid with an Internet connection can become a post-rock expert overnight, Tortoise suck! Oh, and Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Sigur Ros are totally awesome and amazing.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Stereolab - "Diagonals"
re: dissolving friendships
I first heard "Diagonals" on New Year's Eve in 1997. I was out in the early afternoon at Borders, looking to spend some Christmas money on a new CD. Dots and Loops was on one of the listening stations. I'd read a few interesting things about Stereolab and knew they were friends with Sonic Youth, so I slipped the dirty headphones on my head and hit play. Standing by a rack of CDs surrounded by other customers and listening through a pair of cheap, torn-up Koss headphones doesn't make for a deep, intensive record-sampling experience, so I didn't listen to more than a few minutes of the first few tracks before skipping to "Diagonals," though I'm sure I liked them. I mean, I bought the album that afternoon.
Those drums... I don't know if they're spat out from a drum machine, or sampled from a real kit and and then chopped up into this mutated, impossible form. I suppose it doesn't matter. I can't explain in musical terms just what's happening here, the way that the beat seems to roll up on itself and collapse at the end of each bar. Nor can I overstate how much it fucked with my head at the time, and how much I wanted to share it with everyone else. I've already bitched and complained here about my friends' exclusive devotion to Christian rock of the Audio Adrenaline/Third Day-variety, which I won't dwell on any further for now, suffice to say that I shouldn't really have expected any of them to immediately take to Stereolab's Krautrock-meets-exotica-meets-dub sound. Somehow, I still had faith in them.
This was a few hours before the New Year's Eve party that I was supposed to go to. It wasn't so much a real party as an adult-supervised, church-sponsored youth group event with games and free snacks. I was dreading going but seeing how all my friends would be there, I didn't have much of a choice. I don't remember very much of it other than the youth pastor's basement, the burgundy-colored paint on the walls, and the weight bench that I used as a chair while eating cookies. Later, a few of us snuck back up to the living room and poured candle wax all over our hands, laughing as the rest of the group downstairs played some cheesy game that I wanted no part of. My friends usually fed off these kind of activities, the kind of youth group-approved bullshit that would always bring out the worst in everyone, turning all the girls into giggling, braindead zombies and all the guys into competitive assholes vying for everyone's attention. So anyway, what a rare occurrence it was for any of them to willingly retreat from such a scene, especially Brian and his friend Mike, of all people. We drank Coke and took turns dipping our fingers into the deep reservoir of melted wax inside the candle on the glass coffee table until our hands were coated with it. We'd do this for anther 15 minutes or so until everyone came upstairs to watch the end-of-year countdown on TV.
What a silly thing for me to remember, and so fondly.
Another week or two would pass before Brian and I were in my basement playing pool, and it seemed like a good time to finally introduce him to Stereolab. Brian and I had only known each other for a little over a year, but we'd bonded so effortlessly over so many different things. Maybe I thought that it would only be natural that he would hear what I heard in Dots & Loops, that he'd just get it. It was important to me that he did. I know that sounds shallow, but it's the sort of thing that most people just take for granted. Liking the same things as your friends, I mean. Common ground. When that's missing, you have aimless conversations, nostalgia for the past, animosity for the present. The disc went into my toploading Sony Discman, the first tones of "Brakhage" coming out my boombox speakers. At the very least, I figured it would be nice background music that he wouldn't object to, if only to pass another hour in the basement with.
"What's wrong with it?"
"It" could have been my stereo, my CD player, or the disc itself. I didn't know just what he was referring to, but that was the last question I was expecting him to ask. I never got the feeling that there was anything particularly difficult about the track. Just give it a few seconds and you'll hear the rest of the song coming in behind the retro-glitch intro. Maybe that opening is weird, but it's nothing compared to the drum loops on "Diagonals" or the 17-minute "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse." And even then, I failed to see how anyone could find those songs objectionable. Unconventional and weird, sure, but not worthy of complete, immediate dismissal that was inherent in his tone. I think I turned it off out of sheer embarrassment and disappointment before a few minutes had passed. We never even listened to "Diagonals."
What's wrong with it?
Why, nearly ten years later, does this innocent question still outrage me? Why was I so insistent on subjecting my friends to this stuff, and so disappointed when it failed to meet their approval? Why then, have I always found it so hard to be friends with people who do like the same things I do? Am I just another picky bastard who finds fault with everyone, or should I be expecting even more from people?
While I ponder that, here's a better piece on Dots and Loops that actually discusses the music and keeps the personal anecdotes to a minimum. Can't help but identify Mr. Cunningham, though. Hell, we're even the same age, it appears. Hopefully he's at least gotten over his party soundtrack rejection experience.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I started to watch this at work today, but had to turn it off about halfway through. Some things just aren't worth trying to explain to nosy coworkers.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Mr Lif - "Home of the Brave"
I think I've figured out why Hail To the Thief makes me so sick.
Members of Radiohead have always denied the suggestion that the album, its title, or any of the themes found within it, were simply about President Bush. But even before the album was released, the general consensus among everyone else was that it simply couldn't have been about anything else. And like any idea that gets repeated enough times...
In interviews, journalists bombarded the band with questions about Bush, Blair, and the war in Iraq, to which they cautiously but honestly responded, more or less confirming their positions on the matter that we'd all assumed they had. Maybe we were all too willing to assign meaning to Thom Yorke's undeniably paranoid yet oblique lyrics; it's just that they suddenly made so much sense if you placed them in a simple, anti-Bush context. We wanted this album to reflect our very real frustrations and fears, and like any good ambiguous work of art should, it was very open to our interpretations. The problem is, this meaning remains stubbornly frozen more than four years later, like a time capsule commemorating a time that none of us care to reminisce over. There has been no justice and certainly no closure. All we're left with are the futile sentiments of these songs, the worst insult to anyone who believed that any of this was going to even begin to resolve itself anytime soon.
I never got the feeling that any of my friends gave a shit about politics, or about the world in general, really. Most of them had the feeling that it would all take care of itself, that there was a natural law that prevented anything out there from infringing on their personal lives, and that God was in control anyway, so there's no reason to worry. Listening to Hail to the Thief, I'm reminded of this growing rift between us and my embarrassing attempts to get them to realize the extent of their disconnect with reality. This only made me look like an asshole to them... which I am, though for completely unrelated reasons. I guess people move on. You've got to learn to just accept this or face a lifetime of disappointment and confusion. Still, drifting towards polar opposites on nearly every issue that we'd ever discussed lead to a few rare but heated arguments that probably helped dissolve some of my friendships a lot faster than nature had intended.
Anyway, the flipside to the vague, open-to-interpretation musings of Hail To the Thief was this ruthlessly specific track, one of the first overtly political songs out of the gate after 9/11, and still the best from the indie rap renaissance of the first half of the decade. It's also the track that got me (back) into hip-hop... which I'd love to celebrate for that reason alone, but it deserves better than a recommendation from a complete hip-hop noob , which I pretty much was at the time. Nothing can soil a good song like an enthusiastic recommendation from someone who knows jack shit about the genre.
I'd like to think I do know what I'm talking about now, but all I've learned is that it's one of those minute to learn, lifetime to master kind of things.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Fuck this fucking song and this awful, ugly video.
You were upset in 2004. I was upset too. We all hoped that people in this country would come to their senses and do something about the fucking mess we'd gotten ourselves into. So did lots of musicians. They wrote lots of songs about it that year, even a lot of artists that you'd never expect to get "political" or whatever. But that was just fine, the more protest music, the better. Right? And of course, we all thought that somehow it was going to make a difference. You know, just like going out and voting was supposed to.
So a week before the election, Eminem comes out and releases an anti-Bush song and video. I don't doubt his good intentions, but what an awful mess this was. This gloomy, horribly depressing music was probably supposed to symbolise (inspire?) "marching" to the voting booths, or something like that. In hindsight it was more like a foreboding prelude to the next four years, the grim overture to the impending demise for both our basic belief in common sense in this country, and our believe that it would prevail if we simply participated in the system.
It was also the last time anyone would really believe that music, or any art, stood a chance of inspiring any social change in the 21st century. Getting people "fired up" to get out and vote was now all that we could hope to do anymore. "Revolution" was now viewed as a juvenile, naive idea worthy of mockery, and never mind actually protesting; asking even a single American to step outside of their comfortable, apathetic lifestyle for even just a moment was just too much to ask for. Just trying to get people under 40 into a voting booth was all we had finally settled for. Funny how in the end, these "Vote or Die" campaigns hardly lead to any increase in voter registration for their target demographic at all.
Awful-looking video, too. Almost makes me wonder if Em's a closet Republican and had the entire thing made just to discredit Bush critics. Of course, he followed this up with "Ass Like That" and "Fack," two devastating critiques of the war in Iraq that inspired a national dialogue over America's post-Cold War foreign policy, so maybe not.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Thuunderboy! - "And They Called It Puppy"
Thuunderboy is Tony Conrad's two year-old son Ted playing with a turntable and a Donny Osmond record. There are 13 tracks here of various "live sets" of this dating from April 1975 to January 1976. For a better explanation, view the complete liner notes here, here, and here.
Quite easily one of the most ridiculous things I've ever spent money on.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Winner of MTV Europe's "Dance Video of the Year" in 1995. Directed by Koji Morimoto, best-known for his animation in Akira and for directing segments of Memories and The Animatrix.
Sit back and relax and watch your pre-millennial cyberpunk dreams come true.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Radiohead - "Meeting in the Aisle"
I've been pretty busy lately, kind of stressed -- no time to bother updating this, so while this entry is dated October 7, it's really October 10-- and it all got to be a little too much today, so I called in and took the day off. No, I wasn't staying home so I could devote the day to listening to In Rainbows, though I did download it this morning. And there it's sat, queued up in my Winamp player ever since. I don't know if I'm dreading the first listen, or holding out until I feel well enough to actually enjoy it, or if it's a little of both that's holding me back from giving it a listen. They're one of my favorite bands, but I have to admit that the past ten days have been a little too much for me to deal with, and I almost wish that there was some way I could distance myself from the album for a little while before playing it for the first time, if that makes any sense.
It's not that I've been on edge about it for the past ten days, it's just that the uproar over the sudden release, what it means, what it might sound like, whether or not it's going to be good, etc., has reached the point where most of my favorite websites and forums are so cluttered with discussion about it as to be almost otherwise unreadable. And it's not even discussion about the album; no one has anything to share about it other than hopes and expectations, so in the meantime, we get a lot of bitching about Radiohead fans, about Pitchfork, about "the industry," and so on. And it's all so boring and predictable, and lead by people who're only just starting to come around to where the band and all of these other factors were three or four years ago. And lots of awful meta-commentary, shots at Radiohead fans ("They could fart into a bag and their fans would still give it a 9.6!") and lots of awful, meaningless insight into how much people should be paying for the download or thediscbox. So instead of genuine enthusiasm or optimism, it's just been a lot of Radiohead fans acting like what they think Radiohead fans act like --or would act like if they were (really) retarded -- maybe as some kind of defensive device. No one wants anyone to think they're a fanboy, after all.
I went running the other day for the first time in a year. My legs are still sore, and I think I picked up a stomach virus or something because I've felt sick all day, plus I have a headache that's stayed with me since I woke up this morning. I really do want to listen to this album, but then I remember just how much their last album has made me feel sick. I listened to Hail To the Thief for the first time in almost a year the other day, and it was a wholly nauseating experience. I'm not saying it's a bad album, but even some of the best songs on it have a particularly sick quality to them that makes me dizzy and almost physically ill to listen to. It's not the brutal experience that Twin Infinitives is, but I have to wonder if it's working on the same level. I know that having it on my Minidisc player during countless summer evening strolls in past years wasn't an unpleasant experience -- I lost my MD-compatible USB cable, so that's out of the question now -- but something's changed for me since then, and I almost can't listen to it anymore without those feelings creeping up on me again.
"I think people feel sick when they hear OK Computer," Thom Yorke said in a 1998 interview. "Nausea was part of what we were trying to create. The Bends was a record of consolation. But this one was sad. And I didn't know why." There are more than a few songs on OK Computer that have that effect on me, though it wouldn't be until Amnesiac that they'd start to pile on to a debilitating degree: "Pyramid Song," "Knives Out," "Morning Bell/Amnesiac," and "Hunting Bears" demand my full attention whenever I listen, or they really mess with my head if I try to enjoy them as mere background music. Do I really "enjoy" these songs, anyway?
It's not an album track, but I've always liked "Meeting in the Aisle." At one point I had it on a mix that I'd made for myself, when I blew out my tire driving over a pothole in front of my friend's house about four years ago. I'd always wanted to make a mix out of all the songs that I'd been listening to during blowouts, fender benders, and traffic tickets. It would be like a chronicle of automotive frustration, or at least that was always my intention, until I saw that exact phrase show up in some book that I'd read and hated: I want to say it was White Noise or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I really can't say for sure now.
Forget downloading, I'd love to just head out and buy a CD of In Rainbows, at least so I'd be able to listen to it anywhere other than in my apartment, but that won't be out for months, it appears. Lately I've been down to buying just one CD per month, usually at Borders, where I usually go once every week to study while having a
coffee. Sometimes I get in a productive few hours, other days I'm driven to distraction by other customers, always talking with their cell phones and appeasing their babies' irrational and shrill cries for attention. Near the entryway is a display of children's books, and the one with the raccoons on it always catches my eye. I don't know why, I just feel incredibly sad every time I look at it. It's usually on my way out the door going to work, so that probably explains everything.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I've never really liked Jason Forrest, never found there to be anything inherently funny or subversive about recording under the name Donna Summer, never found his music to be as exhilarating or as fun as it's been talked up to be. Enough of this nudge nudge wink wink bullshit. I know you're trying to be ironic and make parodies of genres and such but have we really needed that since "Windowlicker" came out? I know you're supposed to be the hardcore L'Enfant terrible of the mash-up world, but then why does everything I've heard from you sound like mid-90s Ninja Tune cast offs?
I guess this video justifies his existence. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me smile, and it's enough to make me actually enjoy the song. If only it could erase "Respect the Cock" from my memory.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I like to stick to "normal" animation with these videos but this one is so fun that I can't resist posting it anyway. Lots of stop-motion, claymation, and who knows what else, but it doesn't really matter in the end. Fun song, too. Much more addictive than the "Chicken Payback" song that was a minor hit a few years ago, which I couldn't even get into despite the video and its Dance Dance Revolution theme. It's good exercise, I guess, but I can only play this now-ancient PSX Konamix version so many times (on a warped and bent plywood-mounted pad, no less) before it eventually loses its charm. There are no arcades here, but at this point in my life that's probably for the best, anyway.
Fortunately, it looks like they're the sole band with the name "The Bees" now, so no more of this "Band of Bees" crap anymore on their US releases. I generally don't get excited about this kind of stuff anymore anyway, so adding needless layers of confusion into a band's identity is only going to put me off from making the effort at all. More of a sign of my own laziness than anything else, I guess.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Kouji Wada - "Butter-Fly"
Everything I've read about Kouji Wada suggests that his career is basically built around work for a single, third-tier anime series, one that's quickly faded from popularity in the past few years, at that. If this song, which came out in 1999 or 2000 or so, actually was a big hit, then it would make sense that he'd, you know... be doing other things. But it's 2007 and he's still a slave to the same franchise. What gives?
Bloated arena J-rock of the disposable bubblegum flavor, this isn't a song that I'd ever have guessed would stick with me for more than a few listens. And still, six (seven?) years later, it's still one of my favorite songs of the decade. I know it's saccharine, over-the-top bullshit... but it kills. That massive opening riff, and that huge chorus. I know it all sounds, well... completely gay, and that in all likelihood, it's probably a good thing that I've never read any translated lyrics for it. They probably suck, but I don't understand a word of them so that's just fine. They sound great, though.
I heard this twice in the Japanese market I used to live by, which was always a pleasant surprise and a good sign that maybe "Butter-Fly" really was a hit. Not everyone gets into rotation on the Japanese mall background music station on satellite radio, after all. I also heard Tahiti 80 in there on a few occasions, confirming the many suggestions that they are, in fact, big in Japan.
I love this song because it sounds so big. What a disappointment to see it played live not with a full band -- there's incredibly potential for some great poses during the guitar solos -- but as a glorified karaoke performance. I guess it's fun to listen to people actually singing along, though. I can't tell if they really are or if they're just faking it like I do. It's much easier to do this with French songs, I've found.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Wolf Eyes - "Stabbed In The Face"
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would come to this.
If I knew this was what life after college was going to be like, I'd probably be disarming IEDs in Iraq instead.
Dear God Almighty, please save me from this waking nightmare before I split one of these spoiled, smug, entitled, newly-hired consultants' faces wide open on the counter. That is, if I don't just go ahead and do it to myself, instead.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would come to this.
If I knew this was what life after college was going to be like, I'd probably be disarming IEDs in Iraq instead.
Dear God Almighty, please save me from this waking nightmare before I split one of these spoiled, smug, entitled, newly-hired consultants' faces wide open on the counter. That is, if I don't just go ahead and do it to myself, instead.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Is this really from 2001? I was going to complain about how Charles Schwab had cornered the market on completely pointless rotoscoping until this came along, but I guess Zero 7 beat them to the punch by a few years. Video's directed by Tommy Pallotta, who'd worked alongside Richard Linklater on Waking Life and eventually A Scanner Darkly. On those projects, at least the use of the technique was actually befitting of the subject matter at hand. Here it seems as appropriate as bullet-time camera effects in potato chip commercials. I guess that if he helped to perfect the technique, though, then he had every right to use it for whatever the hell he wanted. Zero 7 still sucks, though.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Utada Hikaru - "Devil Inside"
If I had updated this when I was supposed to, I could complain about how Rolling Stone readers in Japan get a cover with Rei Ayanami for the month of September, while we've been stuck with Maroon 5 and High School Musical for the past two issues. As it is now, we have the 50 Cent/Kanye West cover story, which is a vast improvement over the past two which they probably won't follow up unless they find another reason to put Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin on the cover again. Meanwhile, Japanese readers are treated to some story about the new Evangelion movies and/or global warming, or something. Just another reason I wish I knew Japanese.
Rei Ayanami, of course, is still voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, whose work as a pop icon in Japan is -- at least to my sometimes-armchair otaku point of view -- rivaled only by Utada Hikaru. Megumi's musical output, which I've already fawned over, seems to have peaked in the 90s, while Utada's has reigned over the charts for almost the last ten years now. And though Japanese pop music is notorious as an industry that controls and sometimes consumes its artists, Utada's career has been free from trends and makeovers, at least compared to her American contemporaries from the same time period. Even after ten years, her music still sounds fresh and vibrant, her success continues despite her longevity, and her charisma remains undeniable -- if there's a more likable pop star in the world, please tell me. Though sadly, there doesn't seem to be any way for her to break into the English-speaking market, despite the fact that she is, in fact, an American-born citizen whose first language is English.
The possibility of her success in America and beyond wasn't lost on everyone; in 2004, she released an album of all-English songs on Island Records. Exodus received a bit of attention from the involvement of Timbaland on a pair of tracks, but was hardly promoted at all and, as a major label debut, completely tanked in the US. Her devoted American fans never got the chance to see her up close, either. As far as I can tell, her only promotional appearance for the album was at some club in New York, a VIPs-only affair attended by various NYC fashion fucks and greasy scenesters like Vincent Gallo. The lead single for the album, "Easy Breezy," was fun but a horrible way to try to introduce her to a new audience. "Devil Inside," on the other hand, hit #1 on the dance charts -- an honor of ambiguous distinction that doesn't really seem to lead to anything for artists, unless they're already making hits on the pop charts -- but failed to gain any airplay at all on radio.
This wasn't all that surprising, but at the very least, I was hoping that it would get some good word-of-mouth on the internet. After all, it was a huge, risky song that broke pop conventions, and in the wake of Richard X and "Toxic," it only made sense that bloggers would at least notice it. Maybe they were too busy flipping their shit over Annie (and eventually Robyn) to notice? "Devil Inside" was my favorite song of 2004, despite being shut out of the fluxpop party where it should have been celebrated.
This would have nothing to do with Evangelion, if not for the welcome fact that Utada's next single is featured in the new Evangelion movie. I haven't heard "Beautiful World" but her take on "Fly Me To the Moon" can be heard in the film's trailer. No word if or when this will ever be out in America. I've just assumed that we won't get this, or any of the upcoming movies, for another few years. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe not.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Madvillainy was my favorite album of 2004. I played it nonstop during that summer, which was largely spent coming home late at night from work to my empty apartment, indulging in some Jack & Coke, playing Final Fantasy VII until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer or going out for a walk with some cigarettes and my Minidisc player. And almost always sleeping in until 11:00 the next morning. In hindsight, I should have been doing something more productive with myself, but I don't really regret it, either. It was probably the last time that I genuinely enjoyed being alone and didn't feel a sense of guilt in wasting my time doing such things.
MF Doom was well-known to a lot of hip-hop fans, as far back as the early 90s when he was part of KMD. But it wasn't until Madvillain, his collaboration with producer/sometimes MC Madlib, that anyone else took notice. I don't know how they managed to break out of the underground and into the indie pop-consciousness, or if it's really worth discussing anyway, but it happened and we're all better off for it. Now for a follow-up, assuming that this doesn't ruin his career like everyone is saying it could.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Aphex Twin - "On"
"On" is my favorite Aphex Twin single. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem to be anyone else's. But I'm also the only person that prefers the first volume of Selected Ambient Works over the second, so go figure.
Windows Media Player informs me that the first track, which I assumed was just "On," is actually "On [D-Scrape Mix]." The back of the cardboard + plastic clamshell-style CD case simply lists the track as "On." But I suppose this is only one of dozens of mysteries surrounding Aphex Twin/AFX/Polygon Window/Caustic Window/The Tuss/a dozen other aliases that I could rattle off with the help of Discogs.com but won't.
This is one of those songs that makes anything you're doing/watching/thinking about better. Its melancholic pianos, drenched in acid-tinged 303 bass blasts... no wait, I know can't describe this. Just download it and hear for yourself. It was released in 1993, but really, did anyone get around to hearing this before 1997? Be honest. You weren't going to warehouse parties in London. You were listening to Blind Melon and Counting Crows. But so was I.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Directed by Etienne Bideau-Rey, who has a bunch of similarly disturbing animated pieces up on her website. I tried watching the video about the brain but doing so at two in the morning might not have been the best time. Someday I'll have to see how it ends.
Apparently the Mego label no longer exists, so Tujiko Noriko is now putting out her music on... Editions Mego. I haven't figured out if this is the same label, or if it's something new like the "new" Mille Plateaux label, MillePlateauxMedia. Editions Mego also just reissued that Kevin Drumm album that I've always wanted to hear. I guess this entry will just be a note to myself to pick that up sometime.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Nearly every account I've found online of the 1980 short film Tale of Tales makes sure to mention that it was once voted as the greatest animated film ever made. I'm having a difficult time understanding what this really means. I can't tell exactly when this poll was taken, who was invited to vote, whether any similiar polls have been taken since, and if not, why no one's tried to conduct one. The scant background information that's actually included with the list seems to indicate a terribly small sample size -- only 35 out of 100 invitees actually participated in the poll -- made up of an unknown "international committee of journalists, scholars, festival directors and scholars." I guess that's better than asking industry people to vote. But still, I've watched this movie and I admire it greatly, but it's a dark, cryptic, and ultimately impenetrable work. It's certainly not fair to compare it to anything from Disney, Pixar, or Studio Ghibli, but it's hard not to in 2007, especially if it's still being proclaimed as the best animated movie ever made.
That said, I am looking forward to the next film from its creator, director Yuriy Norshteyn. His next film, The Overcoat, is supposedly going to be released, or at least previewed, at some time before the end of the year. Then again, he's been working on it since 1981, so who knows. His craft involves a ridiculously time-consuming style of time-lapse photography involving cut-out drawings, glass plates, and lots of other things I don't understand. I can't seem to find it now, but I read a quote from him where he stated that computer animation makes him physically ill to watch.
I doubt he'd approve of the well-intended homage by The Presets in their video for "Girl and the Sea." It borrows heavily from Tale of Tales and attempts to recreate the same dark, multilayered look of the film, though surely it was arrived at through cheaper, quicker methods than his own. "Girl and the Sea" keeps several symbolic visuals from its source -- the golden apple, the abandoned infant in the woods -- but apparently had to take its own title extremely literally, so we have a mermaid in half of the video for some reason. I sort of doubt that it was supposed to "mean" anything at all.
The Cut Copy remix of this song is infinitely better and should be pursued by anyone who likes the original version in the slightest.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Erik Satie - "Gymnopédies I-III"
Nothing to say about these that hasn't been said already, so I won't bother remarking about how remarkably "modern" they sound today despite being almost 120 years old. Though I guess I just did, anyway.
I've been meaning to get around to hearing these for the longest time. I can't count the number of times I picked up and pondered buying an Erik Satie CD during the years I worked at Borders. I really don't have any excuse for passing them up time and time again, especially since they were often under $10. But I was broke then and had a shopping list several hundred dollars deep that I needed to use my monthy $30 employee credits on instead. Surely I could have just downloaded them, too, but I was too confused about where to start, and worried that I'd download a bad or incomplete version of it by mistake. If I did, how would I know? Then again, by editing all three pieces together into one mp3 file, I've probably further soiled the original integrity of them more than a decade of file sharing could have ever hoped to. But they're supposed to go together and be played in order, right?
Most people have probably heard these before, though probably as non-obtrusive background music, so they might not even recognize them anyway. Happened to me last week with this.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
When I first got my hands on the Definitive Jux DVD, Revenge of the Robots, I was actually pretty disappointed by the quality of some of the videos. The label had been putting out some of the best hip hop I'd ever heard -- though this statement probably says as much about than the label -- so I expected their videos to meet the same standard. But the quality of the DV footage on Murs' "Risky Business" and RJD2's "The Horror" left a lot to be desired. I realized that shooting with real film is exponentially more expensive, and that it's not realistic to expect an indie label with a shoestring budget for promotional endeavours to match the quality of anything on MTV. Nevertheless, I felt let down, if not for any truly fair reasons. ("Deep Space 9mm" was the exception to this; dim lighting, shaky camerawork, and a simple but effective concept can go a long way to overcoming such lo-fi limitations.)
I felt the same way about "Stepfather Factory." I can't imagine why, but I just didn't like the way it looked. This seems so strange now, since it's so clearly a work of art as far as videos go. What was I thinking? "Stepfather Factory" was never my favorite song off Fantastic Damage, either, maybe because it was specifically about something that I could not personally relate to. It was also one of the only tracks where the lyrics were completely understandable, so I couldn't just appreciate them for how they sounded. Now they had meaning, and were no longer subjective to me. El-P is a great lyricist, but in this case, I didn't really want to listen to what he was saying. The song sits right in the middle of the album, and always kind of broke up the feeling of nonspecific urban dread that I'd get whenever I'd listen to it. Anyway, Fantastic Damage spent a lot of time in my portable CD player as I walked from the train station to my job in Chicago back in 2002, which is probably the best sort of setting to experience it in, at least compared to suburban commuting or sitting on my butt in front of the computer or anything like that.
The video is directed by some people called Plates Animation, whose website doesn't seem to do anything when I go to it. Apparently they've done a lot of music videos, which I'll have to seek out somewhere else.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Yum Yum - "Apiary"
I really don't remember how, when, or where I first heard Yum Yum. It was probably on Local Anesthetic or Local 101 or some other program highlighting "local" music in Chicago. I might have read about them in Alternative Press. Yeah, they weren't always the official magazine of the Warped Tour.
Eventually, I think this song broke through to MTV and alternative radio. My memories of this time aren't the best, but it was 1996, so who knows? Apparently the album it was released on, Dan Loves Patti, was a flop, which is why no one has heard from Yum Yum since. The man behind Yum Yum, Chris Holmes, may or may not still be working in music. The few references I've been able to find online, which refer to him working as a producer, DJ, and commercial composer, might be referring to someone else. And even if it is him, I wouldn't know whether to believe it or not.
At least we'll always have this.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
After my last entry, this is as good a time as any to post this, I guess. Without turning this into a long journal entry full of pitiful agnostic angst, I'll just say that this video is relevant to my interests.
I don't watch any of the programs on Adult Swim nearly as much as I used to (the free cable connection I inherited in this apartment only works when it wants to, anyway) and I was never as devoted to it as a lot of people apparently were/still are. So I still don't really understand what "Williams Street" is or what they do, aside from producing those mildly amusing/annoying bumper cards that are always getting people on the internet so fired up and angry. Apparently they also had a hand in this video, too. Looking over some of the other work that their animators/producers have done, it's not hard to see why Definitive Jux would want to team up with them, and vice versa. After all, surely a few years of instrumental hip-hop music in their promo spots has (hopefully) primed viewers for something new and different. That is, assuming these viewers are who Adult Swim and Def Jux still think they are (college students) and not who I suspect they've largely become (preteens with inattentive parents).
So on the heels of last year's partnership/collaboration with the Stones Throw label, Adult Swim is offering a free compilation of Definitive Jux music on their website. I don't know how long "Definitive Swim" will be available for download, but it's worth checking out. Unless you're one of those "indie rap sucks/T-Pain rules" dudes. I know you're out there. Hopefully people will actually download this. I know this is some questionable, broken window parable-logic that I'm about to use, but I'd like to think that at least some good could come out of the return of Family Guy or the popularity of Robot Chicken. As awful and unforgivable as they are, they're indirectly paying for projects like this.
I'll Sleep When You're Dead is still one of the best albums of the year, and definitely worth the wait, even though it should have come out last year. Lord knows we needed it, though this year hasn't been much better for hip-hop, either.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Jars of Clay - "Liquid"
I spent most of my childhood living (or "stuck," as I often complained) in an isolated subdivision surrounded by cornfields on all sides. It might as well have been an actual island, for my brother and I were strictly prohibited from venturing beyond the boundaries of it and out onto the dangerous highways that lead to promising but forbidden evidence of real human civilization and commerce. The gas station 3 miles west of our home was off-limits to us. My friends, on the other hand, routinely made this journey without fear of punishment. This filled me with a sense of envy and humiliation that I can still feel today; looking at the journey now, it's almost insulting to think that my parents felt I was incapable of undertaking it without, well... dying. In hindsight, though, I can clearly see that it was more likely that they proposed this rule to protect my brother rather than myself. I can understand their dilemma but I wish they would have chosen to address it differently than they did. Perhaps, maybe, by allowing me to go out with my friends by myself? But no, nearly every bicycle ride, every trip to a neighbor's house, every trek into the then-undeveloped, wooded, and empty lots of our subdivision was tainted by the unnecessary and often tragic complications of having a rude, obnoxious, and confrontational younger sibling tagging along on every outing. When he was not instigating fights between himself and my friends (causing me to choose sides, where I would inevitably lose face in front of my peers or come home to face the inevitable discipline of my parents, eternally unsympathetic to my plight), he was outright challenging me in front of them. Again, there was no way for me to "win" in these situations, no possible positive outcome, no way out other than simple retreat. I'd go home and hide in my closet with a book while my parents wondered what on Earth could possibly be troubling me.
Even more alluring was the city to the east, a busy suburb full of stores, malls, streets with real sidewalks... I only made this trip once, somehow unaccompanied by my brother, and only in total secrecy. It was an exhausting three-hour ride best taken down the local bike trail. My parents had warned me of its dangers, the attackers/molesters lurking in the bushes, ready to spring out at any moment to do (literally) unspeakable things to you. I certainly wasn't the world's most precocious child, but even I knew better than to believe those stories. I hopped on my new mountain bike (several sizes too big for me, but I couldn't have asked for a bike smaller than any of my friends', naturally) and followed my friends into town. After going to the bike shop and Dairy Queen, we started back. My pedal fell off halfway home and I was abandoned at a country store with some of their pocket change. I don't remember any specific punishment that followed after my parents drove out to pick me up; perhaps they thought that I would learn from the experience, that God would know what I was up to even if they didn't, and that little accidents like that were His way of keeping me in line.
Clarification: my parents were not (and are not!) the insensitive Christian stereotypes that I just described them as. But like any new believers, they experienced a long period of adjusting their faith from strict dogma to practical, flexible, and compassionate understanding. From an Eriksonian point of view, though, their strict adherence to James Dobson-style parenting and excessively freedom-curbing limitations at the dawn of my adolescence was developmentally disastrous to me. Isn't this supposed to be a magical time in every young man's life? Taking risks, exploring, learning how to work with and relate to others? Every time I see a group of 12 year old skaters in my neighborhood today, I cringe, wondering what that kind of freedom must feel like. I won't even go into what was going through my mind this week when I saw one of them pull out a videocamera out of his pocket to film his friends doing ollies off the sidewalk. Holy shit. Kids today, etc.
I have good memories too, though. Sometimes I was able to escape, and found refuge down the street at my friend Ken's house. He was one year younger than me. His sister Cara was in my grade. We'd hang out in their basement playing pool and darts and making chalk drawings on the wall. We'd spent hours jumping on Cara's backyard trampoline, listening to her CDs: Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Bjork, a few others that I won't mention but surely many other good ones that I've forgotten about. She had a good collection of cassingles, too. Gin Blossoms, Radiohead, Silverchair... there were times back then that I felt completely powerless and at the mercy of my circumstances, but whenever we were together, just listening to music in their house or in the backyard, everything felt just fine and right. We were, at least for a while, quite a team. They were youth group kids too, and like me, they'd probably Accepted Christ at some point before high school as well. But that didn't stop us from having fun, being kids, and rebelling against our parents to a normal and healthy degree. I can only imagine the kind of trouble we could have gotten into if nothing had changed. It would have been good for us, really.
In the middle of the summer before high school, my family moved away from that subdivision. It was a short move, just into town about ten minutes away, so I didn't have to change schools or anything. But this was ten minutes away from them, by car, so it might as well have been a hundred miles to me. Getting my parents to drive me there was difficult and mildly awkward to have to ask for, so for much of the next year, I saw them less and less frequently, and became less and less involved in their lives. I don't remember exactly when it happened and I still don't understand what could have prompted such at change, but at some point in 1995, Cara found Jesus again and never looked back.
What followed was a fundamental change in her entire personality. She grew more involved in our youth group, and over time took on the role of spiritual leader among the small group of us who'd congregated together both there and at the lunch table at school. She made clear her intentions to dispose of her old CDs, and I can remember fruitlessly trying to convince her to at least sell them away for cash (or at least letting me take the burden of them off her hands). It was painful to think of those perfectly good/expensive Nirvana and Green Day CDs going to waste, but there they went. Her brother soon followed her lead, and soon my teenage utopia was infected with WWJD bracelets, Third Day concerts, and youth group sing-along/hop-along songs that I had no choice but to participate in. There are long stories surrounding each of these incidents but I won't dwell on them any longer for now.
By this time, music had become a very important part of my identity, one that I was now destined to explore alone. My friends were suddenly obsessed with bands like Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, and Johnny Q. Public (this was at least a year or two before they moved on to Five Iron Frenzy and All Star United, which I could enjoy in moderation). Most of this was embarrassingly bad, full of lyrical cliches and devoid of any imagination or experimentation. I was growing more and more obsessed with Sonic Youth, REM, and electronic music, so most of what my friends were listening to just felt... childish? Choosing to listen to and spend money on this stuff seemed like a masochistic act of pointless self-discipline or even intellectual self-censorship. I don't even know how they chose to define or understand "Christian rock." (I suspect that to them, it was anything that was played on the weekend Christian rock show on WCFL -- 104.7 FM, Morris, Illinois -- or anything that was sold at the Christian store at the mall.) This would at least explain why my later attempts to share my enthusiasm for Danielson Famile or Pedro the Lion were met with confusion and indifference. Being trapped in a car with them and a 20-CD case full of this stuff was horribly annoying. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's probably comparable to how most people would feel if they were stuck in a backseat listening to Merzbow or Twin Infinitives or something.
The first time that our youth group ventured out to the Cornerstone Festival, it was probably the summer of 1996, so I would have been a few weeks from turning 17. We loaded up in the van and I prepared myself for the road trip from hell, knowing my companions' choice of soundtrack and their fondness for singing campfire hymns with their hands in the air. Instead, we probably listened to a lot of MXPX, who we later saw that night at the main stage. Inspired by the sight of some crowd surfers near the stage, Cara asked us to lift us up and onto the crowd, which was actually did despite the fact that doing this from the back of the crowd and trying pass a person forward is a foolish and dangerous thing to attempt. Somehow we lifted her up -- doing this without grabbing her ass was incredibly difficult and impractical, but somehow I was able to muster up the strength -- and away she went. Suddenly, everyone was asking us to provide the same service, so we spent much of the rest of the show lifting people into the air, sometimes nearly dropping them on their heads in the process. Like so much Christian rock, we were doing our best to imitate the real thing, but failing in embarrassing fashion.
But MXPX wasn't the only thing we listened to in the van. The first Jars of Clay album, which apparently had been out for nearly a year (Wikipedia says it was released on October 24, 1995), was played in its entirety. By then I'd surely already heard "Flood," which was fast-becoming a crossover hit on... secular radio! It peaked at #37 on the Billboard 200. It also got heavy play on alt. rock radio (#88 on Q101's year-end list, fwiw), which seems inconceivable today given the takeover by nu-metal anger merchants in the following years, but completely natural given the ambiguously spiritual overtones that half of those bands (Creed, Evanescence, P.O.D.) commonly dealt with. Jars of Clay could never quite match the success of "Flood" or their first album, seeing diminishing returns with each follow-up, even to this day. But their first effort was enough to place them among the greats of Christian rock: Larry Norman, Petra, or DC Talk.
But Jars of Clay sounded nothing like any of those bands, or like any band at the time, though their influence on a generation of Christian bands to follow is impossible to overstate. They weren't merely "better" than other Christian bands. Maybe they were, but that in itself would be a misleading statement. They didn't invent anything "new," but certainly weren't content to be another carbon copy band on the "if you like... then you'll like" posters on every Christian bookstore's wall. Christian rock has never been known for its subtlety or restraint, but Jars of Clay were, at least for their first two albums, content not to mimic the styles or sounds of other bands. The lyrics are never preachy, trite, or sophomorically metaphoric. What they are is hard to categorize. They're certainly "Biblical," but more than just scripture set to music like the dreadful trend of Praise & Worship music that's dominated the last ten years of Christian music.
"Liquid" was the lead track on Jars of Clay, and along with "Flood," was produced by Adrian Belew. I don't know much about Belew and haven't listened to much King Crimson, but those two songs just happen to be the best ones on the entire album, and I get the feeling that's not a coincidence. The song opens with strings, some great vocal harmonies, and (sampled?) Gregorian chant could be hilariously bad in the hands of lesser bands, but fits into the mix beautifully here. Christian rock production is characterized by terrible emphasis on bass and drums. Fat, "funky" bass sounds and loud, overmixed drums are usually all you need to hear to identify a Christian rock song in the first few bars, even before lyrics come into play. "Liquid" hopefully inspired a more efficient, economic use of these sounds, doing more with less, never pushing the needles into the red, but still packing a punch when it counts. When all the elements come together exactly thirty seconds into the song, it's a beautiful moment.
I've bought more Christian rock CDs than I care to remember, even into college. They've all been sold/given away by now, all but the first two Jars of Clay albums, which sit between Skip James and J-Live on my CD shelf. None of their later albums interested me very much, as they began to sound more and more like the "Christian Toad the Wet Sprocket" that they've so commonly been described as. By the time "Unforgetful You" hit the airwaves, their muted sound had been polished into bright, shiny, modern rock for "work radio" playlists.
The first album, as much as I always find myself returning to it, isn't without its flaws. The eighteen and a half minutes of string rehearsals and barely-audible studio banter at the end of the album makes for a strong contender for worst "hidden track" ever included at the end of a CD. The sampled children's voices on on "Like a Child" sound inspired by Precious Moments figurines. And the strings, the Celtic arrangements... they pile on thickly over the course of the album. Is this really rock? I know that doesn't matter, but... did they have to play recorders?
So it's good music to fall asleep to, but more than that, listening to it brings me back to a time when I was struggling with simple problems: identity, friendship, belonging, connecting. At least then I was sure that there was something beyond all of this, something bigger than myself that I could appeal and connect to. When you lose God, nothing can ever quite take His place. Believers can never understand this, but neither can atheists. No matter what I know now, or just think that I know, I don't think I'll ever be able to completely let go of those beliefs. They're always there in the back of my mind, always making me believe two things at once. Maybe people just need to believe in God?
Cara married a boy at Bible college and moved to Florida. Ken is about to earn a master's degree in theology from a prestigious Midwestern private college. The pedals on my bicycle were fixed but the brakes soon froze up, and it now hangs from the ceiling in my parents' garage. And Jars of Clay are now busy recording classic hymns, soundtracks, and... a Christmas album. I hope it at least outsells the one from Barenaked Ladies this year.