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.