Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stereolab - Diagonals

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.

Farewell, Stylus.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

video #30: Múm - They Made Frogs Smoke Til They Exploded

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

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

video #29: Eminem - Mosh

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! - "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

video #28: Ken Ishii - Extra

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

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

video #27: Jason Forrest - War Photographer

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.