Sunday, July 29, 2007

Messiah - You Are Going Insane

Messiah - "You Are Going Insane"

B-side to the Running Man-sampling classic "Temple of Dreams," "You Are Going Insane" is a classic of the latter days of the rave era. Or at least it sure sounds like one to me. I don't know. I wasn't there. All I can do is download these old songs, close my eyes, and imagine what it must have been like to experience this music when it was new.

I don't know what fascinates me so much about this music or this time period. Maybe it's the endless promise and possibility of it all, the way that it broke from the past and pointed towards The Future. It's going to be a fine night tonight, it's going to be a fine day tomorrow, and so forth. Of course, most of the acid house, techno, and early jungle of the time was clearly steeped in the sounds of soul, funk, and disco (and certainly hip-hop as well), so there was no denying the influence of the past. But it was still undeniably new and urgent. And unlike psychedelic music of the past, it hasn't been canonized or repackaged, at least not to the degree that Baby Boomers have done with their music. Not yet, anyway.

But this has all been said before, and by smarter and more experienced people than myself. I know I don't have any new ideas about any of this stuff. Not even any refreshing "outsider" observations. All I can say is that I love this music, I love reading about the history of it, and... maybe that's it. Because what else can I do? There are no more raves, at least none within a thousand miles of here that have played anything but Happy Hardcore and trance for the last 10 years or so. But still, I know that this was a time I actually lived through, so a part of me feels like it's still within reach, still out there somewhere. And maybe it is. But I wouldn't know. I don't even go out to clubs as it is. Honestly, I'm no more connected to the electronic music of today than I am to what was coming out 15 or 20 years ago. I "discover" and consume it in the same way. I know it deserves better.

I'm writing this entry at work, hunched over a laptop that's sitting on a 3 foot-high hotel counter with no room to pull a chair up to. Smooth jazz fills the empty lobby. My co-worker is watching America's Next Top Model on her computer next to me. I want to say more about this but I'm tired and mildly nauseous.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

video #17: The White Stripes - Fell In Love With a Girl

This song sent chills down my spine when I first heard it. It still does today. And the video, directed by Michel Gondry, is still one of my favorites after five years. It's funny to think that there are people out there who hate on this because he apparently "cheated" by using computer programs to put together certain parts of this video. So it's not "pure" stop-motion animation? Yes, that certainly diminishes the effect. I'll never look at it the same way again!

What else can be said about the song? One of the first classics of the 21st century? Hardly a bold statement. I still need to hear Icky Thump, but that will be addressed before the end of the summer. Then again, how many times have I listened to Elephant or Get Behind Me Satan since they first came out? Hmmm...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Slag Boom Van Loon - Poppy Seed (Boards Of Canada Remix)

Slag Boom Van Loon - "Poppy Seed (Boards Of Canada Remix)"

Slab Boom Van Loon were Mike Paradinas, best known as µ-Ziq and founder of Planet Mu, and Jochem Paap AKA Speedy J, who I only know from the Artificial Intelligence compilation. Their self-titled album was released on Planet Mu in 1998, and though I've listened to it three times through, I really can't remember much of anything from it at all. If you like late 90s intelligent techno, you'll probably enjoy the album. That's about as hearty of a recommendation as I can muster up for it.

Maybe they felt the same way. There was no proper follow-up album, but in 2001 they released So Soon, a collection of other artists' remixes of the songs from the album. The list of remixers -- including Pole, Coil, Four Tet, Matmos, and more -- make So Soon the "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue" of IDM.

Most of this has been forgotten in time, however, except for the contributions from Boards of Canada to the project. Few groups have generated such anticipation around their releases as the Scottish duo have over the past ten years -- or more, if you claim to have actually listened to them before Music Has The Right To Children -- making their remixes just as coveted and obsessed over as any of their other work. If you've heard their work on Mira Calix's "Sandsings," Clouddead's "Dead Dogs Two," or Beck's "Broken Drum," it's not hard to understand why.

Their remix of "Poppy Seed," however, unintentionally overshadows not just the entire album, but the entire oeuvre of Slag Boom Van Loon. Not that SBVL was ever meant to be anything but a side project from two musicians already busy with plenty of other projects, but it would have been easy to expect that they'd still be remembered well today, at least due to their individual name recognition from other recordings. Instead, the remix of "Poppy Seed" remains their legacy.

I've been one of those (sometimes annoying) obsessives of Boards of Canada since about 2001 or so, and have tracked down as much of their music as I've been able to find, aside from the pre-Twoism releases. The authenticity and quality of what I've been able to find of those on Soulseek have proven troublingly suspect at best. I thought that I'd heard almost every legitimate release from them, until I found this remix earlier this spring. Since then, it's become my most-played song so far this year. I know it's not actually their song, but still... it's every bit their song as "Roygbiv," "Turquoise Hexagon Sun," or "Dayvan Cowboy" are, and just as essential.

When I started this blog, I knew that eventually I'd be writing something about Boards of Canada. The problem is, there's so much hyperbole spilled over this group, so many people rehashing the same deep, personal experiences they've had with the music, that it seems meaningless to try to add any further thoughts to the volumes of digital exposition left behind by others. It's very important for me to be clear about this, above anything else I'd ever have to say to anyone about music. If I'm only piecing together my thoughts about them in between repetitive phone calls at work or just before nodding off to sleep at night, it might be best that I just abstain from getting in too deep with it at all. I like to think that I love and understand this music (whatever that means) as much as anyone, or at least as much as whoever will eventually write the 33 1/3 book on Music Has The Right To Children. The only difference between us is that they wouldn't need five years to write it like I probably would.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

video #16: Trans Am - Tesco v. Sainsbury's

When I started this blog, I thought that finding enough animated videos to keep it regularly updated might prove to be difficult, at least after a few month's time. Keeping an eye on Pitchfork Media's Forkcast, however, has more than relived this fear while at the same time potentially rendering my "coverage" of such new clips rather redundant. New videos show up there -- and are probably featured and covered even more exclusively elsewhere -- almost every week, almost none of them destined for airplay on television, ever. (Although I'll admit that I don't have any idea just how many specialty channels exist outside of the MTV/VH1/Fuse family. Maybe there is a place for this kind of thing somewhere on TV? After all, I have seen Xiu Xiu videos offered on demand by Comcast.) I also don't know very much about the animation process, or how much time and money it takes to put together a four-minute video. Obviously, a video like this is going to cost a lot more than a monochromatic Flash video like this, but either way, I assume that it's easier and cheaper than ever for people to get in on this sort of thing. No wonder more bands want to commission animated videos, or even try making them themselves! It's better than doing another boring "warehouse" video, anyway.

I can't help but imagine that this Trans Am video was thrown together by some sort of a team, maybe a high school summer film class or something. It's somewhere between 30 and 40 quite random clips of computer animation, mutant claymation, crashed 8-bit videogames, puppets on fire, and other strange hallucinations that neither make sense nor translate into a potential viral clip with any hopes of catching on. Who knows where any of this came from or how many people had their hands in it? Like countless other videos these days, it was probably obvious from the beginning that this one would only find an audience online. But how can you really surprise people who regularly subject themselves to the most bizarre and irreverent shit imaginable on a daily basis?

"Tesco v. Sainsbury's" is the best song on the otherwise forgettable Sex Change. I won't say it's their worst album, since I still haven't heard the much-despised TA, but it feels so confused and directionless, the musical juxtapositions feeling quite pointless, the entire mess sounding much more boring than it has any right to. This is after a half-dozen listens. Do I need to give it a half dozen more?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gas - Untitled (Pop #3)

Gas - "Untitled" (track 3)

Instead of trying to explain who Gas is or what Pop sounds like, I'll just post Ian Penman's original review of the album, which appeared in the June, 2000 issue of The Wire. I'd prefer to just post a link to it, but no such link exists, so instead I'm just going to quote it in its entirety.

Mille Plateaux MP83 CD

The pop of Gas: is that sound just a niggling leak or an explosion which will rip through your foundations and level your comfortable heimlich home?

Popgas: 65 minutes, no titles, no information; apparently bland cover snaps of pine, branch, leaf, light. Gaspop: one long track, in essence, with seven twists of inflection or backdrop or uplift. Is it just New Age full-body-massage Muzak, or a cunning autocritique of rainforest 'lush'? The very fact that Pop leaves us queasily posing such questions is a sign that Wolfgang Voigt's latest Gas experiment has worked. This is music in which you dreamily immerse yourself... only to find yourself cut up sharp, short, shocked.

Gas is Mike Ink is Wolfgang Voigt. Like Stefan Betke's Pole, 'Gas' has become a trademark for an ongoing investigation. Like Pole, some might say, it's a perilously repetitive project – and initially it does sound verging bland (or virgin pure); but where Pole is all microstitial flicker and scurry, here there's a massed anonymity of sound which matches the pseudonymity of name. If Pole is the sound of as yet unnamed bacterial life in underground caverns, Pop sees Voigt steer Gas into a resounding mountain Valkyrie ride. By the time the seventh and final track thunders out of your speakers, the initial noodly premise has become monumental, epic, driven, a great cathedral of sound, a great odyssey of icy soundtrack.

Pop opens slow and sinous on the soft accordion undulations of a lakeside afternoon. Having established his basic premise Voigt plays dextrous multiplication games with pattern and pulse – dense layers of sound are folded and knotted and folded again, making a maze of your initial feelings of safety. The method is duplicated by the cover where the postcard-like snaps of a golden glade are rendered uncanny through repetition and close-up. (Voigt treats the calm of Nature like Warhol treats the affectless smile of celebrity.) The feeling is like an endless series of successive colour Xeroxes laid atop one another, increasingly transparent, leaving us a final 'representation' that is blurred, unbound, off, what began as a fairly reliable 'map' becomes a progressively less clear signifier of the world, heading into epic and smoky abstraction.

What seems like a familiar sylvan plot – the comforting sound of hills-are-alive music – slowly begins to decentre itself inside repeated frames. The new picture which emerges – an unnaturally bright and resplendently 'fake' forest – carries with it an implied critique of the nostalgic itch for the Heimat. Pop begins to sound less like a conventional musical pitch than some canny installation displaying entropy in 'progress'. Voigt has taken the stele of pastoral Romanticism – of which too much electronica (with its aspirations to a glutinously 'natural' ambience) is a blithe reprint – and put his machine head to work on deconstructing its claims to be an embodiment of spiritual truth. Pop is both sublime (a flickerbook of beauty overlaid arrangements, a dark heartbeat of sussuration, chirrup and babble) and a critique of over-easy Sublime. A 'political' splinter in the embrace of warm, bosomy electronica.

In Martin Heidegger's later work, he wrote about the 'question of technology' from an isolated personal retreat, keeping the call of the Now at a distance, diving into the language like a foxhole, far from any technological clamour, living out the last vestiges of a 19th century dream of castles and rectors and metaphysics. There is a melancholia inside this imago, and that melancholy reappears here. Except the formula has been reversed, and Voigt presents us with odd, askew Polaroids of Nature from inside a tower of spotless modems. Snap goes the Ambient fallacy. Crackle goes the synthetic forest floor. Pop goes the Heideggerean dream. Pop is a luscious enjoyment in and of itself, but its lingering after-effects may make your doubt your own enjoyment.
Ian Penman

The Wire
Issue 196
June 2000
p. 48

This is copied directly from the magazine itself, which I received in the mail seven years ago and packed up for a trip to northern Wisconsin with friends that summer. Unknown to myself at the time, this turned out to be the last real vacation I'd ever take, but I did my best to made the most of it and still have many great memories from that trip. But I still found the near-constant company of my friends a little exhausting at times, and I can remember retreating back into the cabin on a few occasions when they'd take the 4-wheeler out for another tear around the gravel roads. In the meantime, I listened to Minnesota Public Radio, read some books, and browsed through The Wire, reading and rereading this review and trying to make sense of it. The comparisons between Pole (who I'd just gotten into) and Gas sounded promising. But the rest of the review seemed barely comprehensible to me, yet somehow deeply intriguing. If nothing else, it made me want to hear Pop, whatever the hell it really was. It would be some time until I'd actually do so, unfortunately.

Looking back, I should have made a better effort to obtain the album while it was still available. As Mille Plateaux has now apparently ceased operations, the album (along with all Gas material) has slipped out of print, and now trades hands for no less than three or four times its original price. As I write this, I'm only able to find two copies for sale online: one for €38.00, another for the modest sum of £99.95. As Mark Richardson reminds us in the most recent entry of his Resonant Frequency column, Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) went on to cofound Kompakt Records, which begs the question of why this album has not been reissued on the label. All that's keeping it from absorbing and eclipsing the status of albums like 94 Diskont and Endless Summer is proper availability.

That hasn't stopped countless people from downloading the album anyway, which I eventually got around to as soon as I moved into my second apartment and finally ordered the Internet service I'd always wanted. I don't remember my first impressions of it, though they likely weren't comparable to the usual reactions I have towards music, be it purchased, downloaded, heard from passing by cars or in grocery aisle checkout counters. There's a subconscious accept/reject reaction that I'm sure I regularly go through, possibly because I always longed to be some kind of critic and enjoyed passing judgment on everything I heard. More likely, just because I'm a consumer like everyone else, and find it necessary to rate and categorize all the information/texts I come in contact with in order to find my place in the world and to try to make sense of it all. I don't know. Pop somehow felt exempt from this process, as if it had more in common with environmental sounds -- the hum of office equipment, the gentle rustle of a deserted field -- than anything resembling so-called "ambient" music. But there's been never been any dearth of ambient recordings employing such sounds and specific reference points. Somehow, this was different.

I began to listen to this album more and more, night after night, coming home from work, tired and growing increasingly confused about my current life and whether the choices I'd made were perhaps not as wise as I'd first thought. I was a college graduate working at a bookstore coffee bar, struggling to pay my half of the rent every month, growing increasingly distant from my old friends while struggling to make any of my new relationships work, and... well, just general post-college anomie, I guess. Lately, I've been in a very negative mood about these things and should probably do myself and everyone else a favor and just give it all a rest. But still, I feel the need to mention it because it mirrors my fascination with this album. Is Pop really the perfect blissed-out dream I always thought it was, or is does it float and pulse and entrance us a little too much? Is that possible? Pop is not "pop" by any means, but does it not bring some of us the same kind of gleeful satisfaction? Are we not reduced to the same kind of salivating popstar fanboy/fangirl that we always despised? Does it not actually cause us to regress even further than that? Should we ever resist the lure of the drone, the creeping feeling of womb-sickness that overtakes us when we listen to Selected Ambient Works II or Ágætis Byrjun? Is Pop a continuation of that pursuit for musicians and listeners? Or is it the end?

There's some point that I'm trying to make about music and consumerism here, and maybe about the (un)importance of an artist's intent after the fact. It's all still quite unfocused in my mind and I don't know if I'm really going to be able to work it out or not. Listening to Pop lately, I'm amazed that it still sounds so good and so unparalleled more than seven years after its release. I'm amazed that it still manages to pull me in, even despite my growing apprehensions around it. I just get the feeling that there's something else running through the music that I'm still missing.

As the seasons pass, the significance of this album grows harder and harder to ignore. I just wish I could tell why.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

video #15: The Knife - Like a Pen

Was Silent Shout my favorite album from last year? Probably.

Here's a "funky" song from it. And the video is really trippy!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Photek - The Fifth Column

Photek - "The Fifth Column"

The Hidden Camera was the first CD I ever special ordered from a store, and along with the Ni Ten Ichi Ryu single, was the usual soundtrack for my brother and I whenever we played pool in our basement or Wing Arms on my Sega Saturn. Maybe neither of us had been exposed to very much drum and bass before this, but I doubt that I would have been drawn in by anything that didn't seem as complex or "intelligent" as this, which, for better or worse, was just what I was looking for after overdosing on The Prodigy. As for my brother, he later got into Propellerheads and Dieselboy before being sucked into the void of progressive trance, the choice soundtrack of streetracers and custom import-driving obsessives worldwide. It's troubling that I still think there was something wrong with this, and that he'd have somehow been better off sitting in his room listening to The Orb like I did instead of going out and getting his kicks while he was still young enough to get away with it.

The Hidden Camera and Ni Ten Ichi Ryu were later compiled onto the Risc vs. Reward EP. The thought of having all that on just one CD, even though I had all the tracks on seperate discs, seemed too good to be true. This was years before I had a CD burner, and even longer before stores started selling blank CDs as dirt cheap loss leaders. I made due with taping both discs onto one cassette to play in the car, and lived with that until the release of Modus Operandi, which contained seven new tracks plus "The Hidden Camera," "K.J.Z," and "The Fifth Column."

"The Fifth Column" is far from my favorite Photek track, never approaching his most ominous or paranoid moments, nor giving off the lush, warm glow that so many of his pieces radiate. His use of Asian instruments -- whether based on a genuine appreciation for such traditional sounds or a simple fascination with martial arts and samauri films -- is on full display here, though the dazzling and complex breakbeats he's capable of are nowhere to be found. The central beat is too broken, too slow to dance to, but when I first heard it, seemed more original and wierd than almost anything I'd ever heard. More than almost any other track, "The Fifth Column" fed my growing addiction to drumming on tabletops with my hands, a habit that probably confused many of my friends at the time. If any real drummers had ever witnessed me trying to do this, they probably would have turned away in disgust.

I was as shocked and disappointed as anyone when Solaris came out a few years later, but time has revealed my ignorance. It's a fine album and should have received all the praise that was mistakenly heaped onto Luomo and his boring, boring music.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Black Dog - Utopian Dream

The Black Dog - "Utopian Dream"

I first heard this almost ten years ago on the radio. Everyone was trying to get in on "electronica" back then, even rock radio, so when Q101 began airing the "Electronic Trip" on Sunday nights, I listened religiously, desperate for some new music at the time. I even taped the shows as I listened and would replay them in the car during the week as I drove to school and work.

And this song... the DJ simply identified it as "The Black Dog..." but never gave its exact title. And so, for almost ten years, I struggled to find it, trying to get into The Black Dog but starting in the worst places imaginable, like Temple of Transparent Balls, Music For Adverts (And Short Films), and Unsavoury Products. I downloaded half of Spanners once but didn't hear it there. It wasn't until I heard the entire album this spring that I finally found the track again, buried inconspicuously near the end. Ten years is a long time for a song to bounce around in one's head. If I had waited any longer, what was left of it in my memory probably would have mutated into something else altogether.

I still have a few other songs like this, tracks heard on the radio, on mixtapes or in stores that I need to track down, but have absolutely no idea where to begin. No lyrics, no melodies that I can hum or play on a keyboard, just a few disjointed memories left over from years of obsession and a handful of promising clues that lead to nowhere. And time is running out on me.