Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nuno Canavarro - Untitled

Nuno Canavarro - "Untitled (#5)"

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

video #80: Ghostface Killah - Daytona 500

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

video #79: The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun

Keeping this dead blog afloat can be a chore. Auto-loading it full of AMVs every week would be an easy way to prop it up while sticking to the animated videos theme that I decided to try out more than 2 years ago, but that's cheating so it won't happen. Now and then, something unofficial might creep on (as it has in the past) and such is the case again today.

This gorgeous clip was lovingly put together by Mr. Daniel Chang, though I don't think it was his decision to have it uploaded to Youtube. "rayofash" never takes credit for making it but that doesn't stop him from getting the credit throughout the 500+ comments for it. I watched this at a public screening 5 years ago with a few hundred other people and it was a big hit. I guess another 167,156 views in the meantime can't be a bad thing, even if most of those viewers are leaving these kind of comments:

"Take Flight" was another good fan-made video in this vein but apparently it's been taken down from Youtube, the creator having never uploaded it to "The Org" and somehow failing to preserve a backup copy of their own. I'm not sure I'm buying the creator's reasoning behind its removal. Very difficult to feel sorry for someone who doesn't even bother to save their own work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

U2 - The Wanderer

U2 - "The Wanderer"

I have no strong opinions about this band, who've written a few songs I've enjoyed at one point or another. I have no memories of how big they were at the peak of their popularity, or any real attachment to any of their albums. I get the impression that a lot of fans felt confused by the turns they took on Zooropa and utterly betrayed by the electronic sounds of Pop. As these were the first two (and as it would turn out, the only) U2 albums that I would encounter, interact with, and enjoy in any kind of non-nostalgic way, my chances of agreeing with the "real" U2 fans over just about anything are about as likely as Bono joining Dave Grohl on a charity album for AIDS denialists.

I'd like to think that even the most traditional fans -- the ones who remember all the words from The Joshua Tree and fondly remember the first time they saw "New Year's Day" or "Where the Streets Have No Name" on MTV -- didn't take "The Wanderer" for granted. The final song on Zooropa, it features no shimmery guitars, no vocals from Bono, none of the epic trademarks of the band's sound. Of course, it does have Johnny Cash on vocals, years before he'd assume his place as an honorary alt. rock hero. That's how we remember him now, thanks to the albums he recorded with Rick Rubin and released between 1994 and 2002. But before his rejuvenation and subsequent generational rediscovery, there was this song, giving the man a chance to lay it all down over the kind of refreshingly bare arrangement that the Nashville hitmakers wanted nothing to do with.

If you still buy CDs but hate U2, you can also get the song on The Essential Johnny Cash, where I heard it for the first time shortly after his death in 2003. A sad day for everyone, that was, losing a figure that everyone in music -- country, gospel, punk, probably even hip-hop -- respected, looked to for inspiration, and wanted to claim as their own. But at least he didn't live to hear this, right?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

video #78: Tim Exile - Family Galaxy

Warp Records has always championed a progressive visual aesthetic when it comes to their sleeves or videos. This clip for Tim Exile (one of their newest artists, but hardly a newcomer to the world of electronic music) won't give you nightmaes like any of Chris Cunningham's works for Aphex Twin, but it's a trip on par with any videos from Luke Vibert's "I Love Acid" or Autechre's "Gantz Graf."

If you're going to watch this on Youtube, it's probably best to view it directly on the site itself, in High Quality and on fullscreen mode. Directed by Howard Kingston.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Original Rockers - Sexy Selector

Original Rockers - "Sexy Selector"

From the ambiguously titled Ambient Dub compilation released in 1992 -- a collection sure to be the object of awe or revulsion for many, simply based on the name alone -- comes this track from the original incarnation of the somewhat better-known Rockers Hi-Fi. It's not really ambient, or dub, or even trip-hop, but something from the murky depths in between. The rest of the CD kind of sucks but you'll want to turn down the lights and light up to the sounds of this early 90s slow burner. Really gotta find more stuff like this.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

video #77: Scratch Pet Land - Escargot Couleurs!

A solid entry in the French/German bleeps & bloops alliance, Scratch Pet Land carried on the Nuno Canavarro aesthetic as best they could with some help from "artistic collective" Qubo Gas for the video. Released years after MTV's retreat from music programming (perhaps it could have run on "AMP," as the show was apparently still on air as of 2000) but years before the Internet was in any shape to properly host and show such clips, it's unclear where this video was supposed to be seen at the time it was made. Looking not unlike the animations we made on Paintshop (?) during computer class in 3rd grade probably didn't speed it to the front of any program director's queue, either.

Scratch Pet Land's first album was to be their last but they've since gone on to a longer and possibly more visible career as Fan Club Orchestra. And that's about all I have to say about this. There was a time that I really loved this kind of stuff but that quickly came to an end after I purchased DAT Politics CDs in 2004 and quickly realized that I'd just wasted $15. This occasion prompted a gradual reevaluation of my standards for spending time and money on such immaterial products, something we've all thought twice about by now, I'm sure. What was the straw that broke your camel's back?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Luna - Dear Diary

Luna - "Dear Diary"

"We made an album called The Days of Our Nights. Our fifth studio album, it is possibly the worst of the seven that Luna made...

Of course, my least favorite song, 'Dear Diary,' was picked as the single. I came to hate singing "Dear Diary." The stupid "baa-baa" section. The bad lyric -- 'then you blew my mind.' I hated that lyric. It was one of those things that comes out of your mouth when you're singing gibberish, before you've written the lyrics proper. But then you find it's a phrase that you are incapable of replacing. You're stuck with it." -- Dean Wareham in Black Postcards

The Days of Our Nights was the first Luna album I heard, and remains my favorite of theirs today. "Dear Diary" is the opening song, sounding at once tossed-off but undeniably seductive and just too cool to care what you might think of it. That opening guitar lick, Dean Wareham's nasally Wellington-via-New York vocals, the instantly-repeatable chorus... it's a laid-back and class(y/ic) tune that already sounds like it's from another world, so unconcerned with placating our cravings for the yelpy, juvenile egoism that passes for indie rock profundity in 2009.

Front-to-back, this is a very good album, and to me it feels like the point where Luna really pulled it all together. Why then is it almost universally dismissed as the worst album of the band's career? A few reviews I was able to find online absolutely trash it as irredeemable and worthless. That's not to say that it didn't receive positive reviews as well, though those seem to range from offering backhanded praise to indifferent approval at best.

I'd say that I normally wouldn't care about this at all but when it comes to artists I'm particularly fond of, my tastes usually fall in step with whatever the masses agree on. OK Computer is my favorite Radiohead album. Trans-Europe Express is the Kraftwerk CD I usually go for. Isn't Anything isn't the the best album from My Bloody Valentine; not for most and not for me. And so forth. So when I happen to like something so much that so many other reasonable people think is crap (including the artists themselves), it gives me pause to wonder if maybe I'm really a horrible judge of what goes into a good song.

The Days of Our Nights remains out of print following the merger of Sire Records into London-Sire in 2000. Despite being an album they could conceivably still earn royalties from (any proceeds made from their releases on Elektra Records will go straight back into label pockets until past advances are paid in full -- read Dean's book and it'll make sense), Luna seems content to let it wither and die in the vaults. Finding a used copy was one of the best discoveries I've made in the past two years, and the album's helped get me through some strange times in ways a little too personal for me to want to air out in a place like this. And perhaps falling out of circulation wasn't so bad for this album after all. After an unpleasant introduction to the world that ultimately left it commercially and artistically disowned, it now lies between the cracks waiting for the right ears to hear it at the right time, hopefully belonging to the kind of people who'll love whatever songs on it they feel like without worrying about the consequences.