Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tortoise - Spiderwebbed

Tortoise - "Spiderwebbed"

Been thinking a lot about this band and what they've meant to me and to others over the past decade and a half. I didn't discover them until TNT in 1998, but that's probably been the most formative album I own, shaping my tastes and ideas about music more than any other recording. That's not to say that I became a post-rock fanboy or fancied them as one of the Greatest Bands of Our Generation or anything like that. Rather, and I realize it's become a cliché at this point, they really broke down the barriers between the worlds of rock, electronic music, jazz, etc. This was a lot more meaningful then than it sounds today.

Always held TNT in the highest regard, "DJed" housing a sick number of their best moments but not enough to raise Millions Now Living Will Never Die above it. Remixed was a landmark album and anyone who disagrees needs to have their Girl Talk and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah albums ground into powder and taken as a rectal suppository (impossible, I know, as none of these kids buy CDs anyway). Standards isn't as good as listeners thought it was when it came out. It's All Around You isn't anywhere as bad as critics said it was. And the new album is fucking great, and I say this as someone who wasn't expecting much of anything from it.

So there they are, and it's been about 11 years since I started listening to them. Despite my continuing fondness, I've tended to overlook their debut album, thinking of it more as a demo of sorts, necessary experiments they needed to take to find their "real" sound, a dense and sometimes difficult record that doesn't lend itself to the mental landscapes that further albums would paint. Now and then it's graced with a few kind words: the once-reputable Alternative Press ranking it #64 on their Greatest Albums of the 90s list/issue, Woebot placing it at #65 on his 100 Greatest Records Ever list. but since it was released in 1994, it's been eclipsed by its successors, never really lapsing into enough obscurity to ever be properly "rediscovered," maybe like Kraftwerk's Radio Activity, respected and enjoyed but seen as a stepping stone to more accessible and melodic breakthroughs, the more playable and "well-rounded" Millions and TNT.

Taking some time to return to this album now, maybe more willing to slowly absorb it than I used to be, and really feeling it for the first time this autumn. The mallet-driven Reich-isms of later albums are still in an embryonic state, melodies and cinematic flourishes not quite as distinct at this point. Later albums would conjure up sweeping Technicolor soundscapes either through the music itself or by song titles like "The Suspension Bridge at IguazĂș Falls" and album covers like this. By contrast, the debut sounds like it was recorded in a series of underground tunnels. Like the songs, some impossibly vast and open, others claustrophobically confining. The band plays with a simple and snappy dubbed-out funk on most tracks, playful (despite their reputation at the time as stoic, robo-Kraftwerk clones) but understated in a way that's unfamiliar to "indie" music or experimental rock today. What constitutes a generational gap? Is 15 years enough time? This music isn't mindblowingly difficult, inaccessible, or from all that long ago but at this point it sounds like it might as well be from another world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

10 hiLARious things to say when you're checking into a hotel

1. At the front desk, start things off with a good old fashioned "I believe I reserved the presidential suite" joke. Laugh hysterically afterwards or condescendingly lean in to the front desk clerk and tell us "I'm just kidding!" This also works with confirming your reservation for "the penthouse."

2. If you're asked for a credit card to cover incidental charges, guffaw uncontrollably and shout "Accidental charges!?! There ain't gonna be no accidental charges!" Another variation on this popular pun is "Incidental charges? You mean accidental charges!"

3. If you're checking in with a group of people, spend the entire time shouting your room numbers back and forth with your companions. Here's a good pattern to follow:
Clerk: "Okay sir, you'll be staying in room number..."
You: "Yo Jay Dawg, what room you in?"
J-Dog: "I'm in room 223, what 'out you?"
You: "I don't know man, how do you find your way around this place?"
J-Dog: "It's like a maze, ain't it?"
You: "No shit!"
Clerk: "You'll be staying in room number 240. To get there..."
You: "I'm in room 240. Where you at?"
J-Dog: "I'm in 223."
You: "223? That's gotta be just down the hall."
J-Dog: "Cool man, hey you goin' to the bar?"
You: "Shit, I don't know. I'm so exhausted. I just gotta crash for a few hours."
J-Dog: "Damn, I could do the same. I think we're gonna hit the bar anyway, have a few brewskis, you know?
You: "I feel that. Now I just gotta find out how to get to my room. Fuck, this place is huge. Which way do I go?"
Clerk: "Well, you'll be staying in building A, room 223, and that's just down the hall over here."
You: (Pointing in the opposite direction) "Okay, so I just go down the hall over here..."
Clerk: "Actually, you're down the hall in this direction, so just head down the hall, take the elevator to level 2 and..."
J-Dog: "Yo, what's your room number?"
You: "223, just gimmie a ring when you're goin' out tonight. Hey! Which way is the bar?"
Clerk: "That's going to be out the door next to the pond, just a two minute walk..."
You: "Okay, okay. Look, I'll figure it out. Yo Jay-Dawg, wait up!"

4. Ask for a room upgrade. When you're informed of the cost, say "You mean you don't give out free upgrades to extra nice guests like me?" There are a hundred variations on this "maybe you could make an exception this time" speil. Depending on what's most comfortable for you, you can try flattering the clerk with complements or by using a vaguely threatening "look, we can do this the easy way, or maybe I'll take this to the next level if you don't catch my drift" approach. There's no line you have to worry about crossing with this routine as long as you remember to laugh it all off when the effects of your poking and prodding start to visily wear the lowly desk clerk down. This effectively turns the tables in a "what, can't you take a joke?" sort of way. You might not get your upgrade but at least you got the last laugh.

5. When you're approaching an especially well-staffed front desk, look back and forth at everyone behind the counter, do several double-takes while waving your head and hands from side to side in an exaggerated "there are so many people working, I can't decide who I'm supposed to go to!" manner. It's really hilarious.

6. In a similar situation, waltz up and snidely comment "Well, you're all looking busy!" Slap the counter for added effect and shout "chop chop!" You're on vacation, after all. Or you're on a business trip and thus, are making at least twice as much money as any of the smiling faces being paid to stand around and help you with your every need, and are inherently worth twice as much as any of us.

7. When you're checking in and providing the credit card, ask "is this in case I trash my room?" Take a break from your check-in to discuss several possible room-trashing scenarios with your companions and have a good laugh over these hypothetical, alternate universe situations. In the same way, discussing a riotous "room party" with a probable "room trashing" outcome is always a great source of laughs. No matter how many times we hear this, it never fails to bring a smile to our face.

8. "Do you ever get tired of saying the same thing over and over again?" Glad you asked. Not at all! What I love best about this job is how I'm paid to recite the same lengthy spiel at least fifty times a day. Maybe I could be utilizing my college education in a career that's slightly related to my interests and skills, or at least not completely incompatible with my personality, but I get to meet so many interesting people here every day. And give them directions to their evening reception and sign them up for bus trips to go shopping! Your convenience and comfort is my number one priority. I just want to make this stop on your fast track to being a manager (hopefully by the time you're 30!) as easy as possible. I'm here for you, and I'll be thinking about you when I'm drinking myself to sleep later tonight. What can I say? I like to lose consciousness as fast as I can, it makes the time spent waiting to come back here and do it all again tomorrow go by so much faster.

9. "Ohmigod, this place is soooo big. Can we get Segways to ride around on?" Sometimes this request will be for conveyor belts in the hallways, sometimes for golf carts to drive from building to building. It's meant as a joke roughly half the time, though more often as a jab at the sprawling size of our facilities, not as a self-deprecating comment on the part of the person asking it on how they're really a lazy and worthless fat piece of shit who can barely suffer the strain and indignity of having to walk more than 5 minutes to get somewhere.

10. "Where are we, Oklahoma*?" Laugh it up, we are pretty far away from the airport and the city. What's that you spotted out the window on your limo ride here from the airport? Fields? A farm? That's fucking hilarious. I know, we're just a bunch of hillbillies, the people you fly over, silly yokels who could never do your job or understand your jetsetting lifestyle. But enjoy your week slumming it with us and try to manage. We'll keep grinning like the dogs we are, just happy to have simple jobs and to mingle with intellectual and financial elite like yourself.

*The most common state name of choice changed here for obvious reasons. I should do more to protect myself and keep my job safe but when it comes to these things it's really hard for me to censor myself anymore than I already do.