this must be the place....goin strong , yeah baby!!!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iiiii've got the Big Beat AKA Why I Love Techno

Preamble, written after I completed this entry: This is an intertwined account of why I love techno and what I understand techno to be. I hope that makes some sense. It's going to be spread over a few posts if I can keep it up, so here's part one...

I was watching "Hackers" today. You know, that movie where Angelina Jolie looks all cyberpunk and seduces Jonny Lee Miller. From 1995ish. I used to be pretty obsessed by that movie just cuz I was already basically a computer addict mixed with gamer (crazily playing Doom 2 all the time.. and it was on five A drive disks, those little 3 1/2 inch hard ones y'know). First of all, if you're not aware already, YouTube is a great place to catch free flicks. The formula is "[movie title here] part 1" in the search bar. Usually you'll get some results that are real, but sometimes you may have to dig around somewhere else if you really are trying to catch a freebie... Hackers is on YouTube, or at least it was this afternoon. I'm not gonna break out a post about that movie though.. The real point I wanted to talk about here was the concept of Big Beat techno. Also, a little bit of trance is in here too. "Hackers" is flooded with some of the biggest hits of early to mid nineties electronica (which is a word you don't really hear much anymore?)... And from my massive, steady diet of techno tracks I ingested over the last three years or so, I've come to some interesting conclusions about the older sounds that this film uses.

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I am fairly certain my first exposure to Electronica was via Mortal Kombat -- the film, that is -- which featured the archetypal "trance" song, Orbital's "Halcyon + On + On" in its soundtrack. It's also in Hackers when the main character flies over NYC near the beginning. OK done talking about Hackers. The song's all soft reverb, quasi-spiritually-via-world-music sounding, four-to-the-floor stretching the length of the track with a few synths flying in here and there. I'm surprised that this song holds up so well even today, which is probably a testament to Orbital more than anything; still, I'm pretty sure I was intrigued with the idea of that song back then, as a clean, nice sounding track that was pop, dance, and purely electronic sounding all at once but without being boring. Later I learned that it was part of the rave tradition of trance music.

Of course, due to my being born in 1985 I have to concede I'm already a latecomer to the rave game (see Britain's Second Summer of Love and the Madchester scenes, or any classic American scenes for house...) so my understanding of trance and/or rave, and I guess therefore my usage of the terms, doesn't really concern anything before 1990. Sorry to anyone who thinks I am overlooking classic Detroit sounds or stuff like that. Disclaimer? Yeah.

Today when people hear the word "trance" it's basically the butt of a joke already and you're thinking E tabs, K holes, candy bracelets, huge Jncos, glowsticks et al, and that's probably because the music the genre was named for kinda sucked. Is that archetypal track from trance called "Sandstorm"? I think it is. I'm not looking it up right now because I it's late and my wife is asleep next to me as I write. You'll have heard it if you've been to a roller skating rink before when you were younger.

The complaints that trance songs were just long, same-like pulses with little to no change in them aren't too far off the mark. Any trance I found besides that song from Orbital and maybe a few other exceptions seemed to prove to me that this music wasn't worth my time. Personally, I was convinced that electronica was a very limited genre that was designed only for dance situations, maybe just parties or clubs, instead of close or personal listening. I was much more into listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam at that point in my life. Techno / electronica, to me, was mostly uninteresting, repetitive, and lacked a human element that rock obviously contained. On top of that I certainly wasn't going to dance clubs at that point in my life so I figured the only place I'd ever hear techno would be the occasional music video on MTV.

With all this in mind: Queue me watching MTV in 1997ish. I sit on my couch to watch an apparently hotly anticipated video of a song we all know today, "Block Rockin' Beats." By Chemical Brothers. It filled in all the spaces of teenage fantasy I had accumulated about the idea of raves. It's a pretty humorous depiction (ironically speaking) of people dodging the cops while trying to make it to the crazy electronica party full of eccentric, progressively dressed dancers in a dingy part of town somewhere. Youtube it, you'll laugh. And yet, this song kinda kicked my ass. I still think this song is good, not great or anything. Back then though, I thought it might be the point of rave culture entering into a wider consciousness and, more importantly, the death of boring trance with a more exciting sound for electronica to rise as a phoenix.

I went out and bought "Dig Your Own Hole" from the Blockbuster Music that was around the corner from my house on Shoal Creek (shout out to ATX, what what). I think I also bought "The Color and The Shape" at this time too cuz I really liked the song Monkey Wrench. It rawked me. Anyway, for all my prior excitement my first listen into Dig Your Own Hole by myself left me a little disappointed -- while it was definitely more listenable than any "trance" I had encountered prior, it still seemed to me it was specifically designed for dancers. Sure, there were recognizable A to B to C pop structures in some of the songs, which was the biggest improvement for me -- some guest vocals here and there... But I guess it didn't scratch my itch enough. The songs were shorter, they didn't meander, but they also didn't grab me. I blame my early grunge addiction; I had to have a human element, something more visceral and rock, I guess. As such, I listened to The Color... a ton, ton more. Yep, loved that record back in the day, scrawled Foo Fighters lyrics on my school notebooks, on tables and chairs. And as I went to a private Baptist school you bet your ass I was rebellious for it.

At that point I was a blossoming music nerd already, so I had to test the waters around me to see what my friends thought about the rise of electronica. People were definitely aware of stuff like Block Rockin' Beats, but what mattered more to a lot of my friends were the radio hits at the time, which were songs by Crystal Method and, more significantly, Prodigy. People were pretty nuts about "Breathe" at my school. There were some definite music cliques forming about my junior high class -- some people who "dared" to listen to harder stuff like Metallica which was about as rebellious as most of us could get, some people who were grunge with me, some punks, some radio listeners, some pop kids -- but it seemed like Breathe managed to cut through most of the lines as the most liked song. Prodigy definitely had an intense image thing going on that allowed them to rise above first impressions of typical electronica. Hell, their lead singer gave Rancid a run for their money for punk looks. I think it's more significant that "Breathe" utilized more organic sampled tone, namely the distorted "guitar" (cuz it maybe isn't one) riff that drives it, coupled with a pretty rock and roll vocal and some pretty intense lyrics that any disgruntled kid could latch onto and sing later, sounding cool.

While I saw everyone digging Breathe and heard it on the radio, I was convinced that it was more of the same electronica that turned me off for the same reasons Chemical Brothers managed to at first. Thus, it didn't set me off very much. Techno still wasn't my thing. Electronica was still a fad to me. It was still for dancers in my head. Same for Crystal Method. I kept returning to my rock records more often than not. Seemingly, I was trying to enjoy the new sound of electronica, or at least understand so I would know where music was going, but it wasn't working out for me. That is... until one day...

I was at an arcade (do people still make arcade games? Like, are there amazing arcade machines that have come out in 2008?) somewhere, I think in Austin, hanging with some friends. Carrying a backpack with me, I stored my discman with headphones, wallet, and an album I decided to pop in just to see if I could finally enjoy electronica again -- Crystal Method's "Vegas." It's strange how vividly I can recall this situation. So, like I said, I am a big gamer, always have been. I am particularly good at those top-down fighter jet games where you can fly around shooting upwards at the enemies who fly down shooting at you, and your progression from level-to-level depends on your ability to survive their downflow attacks and you kill everything in sight. Some people call those games total bullshit but I love them. I love Galaga, I love Aero Fighters... they are awesome. At this particular arcade I was rocking some Aero Fighters type game though. I'm off by myself, pump in the 25c and hit start, and slipped my headphones on, hitting play. "Vegas" fades in with a synth tone that pans the stereo field, then drops into some dance-y fast paced electronica (it's pretty much a big beat record). As I frantically fought off the high-speed onslaughts of my enemies, I found that my ears were basically getting a perfect, high-tempo soundtrack for my eyes' input. Suddenly, I found myself loving the hell out of songs like "Busy Child" and "Keep Hope Alive," singles I had definitely heard before on the radio but never enjoyed nearly as much as I did then.

It was a big epiphany for me cuz I had finally removed my categorizations of electronica from rigidly defined dancefloor situations to personal listening situations, albeit at first I was like "Maybe I can only listen to these records when I'm gaming." But as I went back to those electronica albums I had already bought again with a more open mind, I found myself able to enjoy them on my own as I never had before. I went back and bought Prodigy's "The Experience," which has the amazing track "Voodoo People." That song was somewhat of an anthem for me back in those days. It features prominently in "Hackers" too.

Now, I hadn't surrendered to the dance craze totally yet. I was still much much more of a rock and roll kid. At that age, I would begin to pick up the guitar, realize I loved Pearl Jam enough to buy all their albums, go through a totally exclusive punk rock phase, etc etc. This was far more important to me than realizing I could and did actually enjoy electronica/techno music. But looking back now, and given my taste now leans much more toward dance, techno, and hiphop than it did before, I can see how these experiences laid the seeds of my later music loves.

At this point I am making an executive decision based on 1) the length of this entry 2) my wife trying to sleep while I type, and extend my analysis of big beat/electronica into a later entry. This will basically a history of my love of techno that also talks about where techno has been, where it is going, and how I came to understand it. Part two will go from here to my discovery of IDM, house, my first raves, to my pivotal discovery of microhouse/minimalism in techno. Part three will talk about how I jettisoned all rock music for a few months as a sophomore in college, listening almost exclusively to hip-hop, microhouse and disco. This is about when I realized how the categorization of techno happens, so it'll have to be then that I talk about what I think about big beat vs. the rest of dance music. I'll analyze the effect of minimalism on dance music, discuss the rebirth of trance, the rise (again) of techno, and how big beat could reintegrate itself into the consciousness of listeners.

This might take four parts but I think the personal anecdotes combined with my insights could work.

Okie dokes?





I love you all

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Secret Weapons



Here are a few staples of my dance party DJ sets.


Eddy Rosemond - Funk It! - 1979


The Avalanches - Ray Zdarlight - 2006(?)


Kebekelektrik - War Dance - 1978

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

dryer + jumpcut



ears plugged, eyes gouged


jumpcut from EYEPLUG / tall reed on Vimeo.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fearless SXSW 2009 Prediction # 1

Young Folks (the song, not the Casa Vista jam band) of sxsw 2k9:



Walking on a Dream by Empire of the Sun

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stupid Song Saturday Vol. II

Today I bring to you...

Gil Mantera's Party Dream, Bunz Therapy



(if the player is not working, you can download the song here)

...from the album 'Bloodsongs'. Why is this song stupid? Well it's called "Bunz Therapy" and it's about getting high on a waterslide. Lyrics in totality: "I'm having fun on a waterslide. I'm feeling great and I'm getting high. Life is hell but I'm getting by. Whoah-oah, mmm-mm, uhh-uh".

That being said, isn't this song pretty fucken sweet? And, I know, now you want to get high on a water slide! METOOBRO!! Don't bother listening to the rest of the album, however. It sounds like if the nickelback singer were in Tears for Fears. Maybe you're into that.

He is supposed to be great live though.



Emo's, Feb. 20th for my fellow Austinites.

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My Big Beachhouse Review (part 1 of 2)

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Check this shit out!
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So check this shit out! (ha.) This is for Frederico. This Beach House record is fucking amazing. This record is a record, not a collection of songs, and I think it can be read chronologically, so I figure just go track by track, side by side (there are 4 sides on the vinyl I have). Also, this record is amazing.


SIDE A:
Track 1: Wedding Bells
This song is a deep groove, but it doesn't even start with the music, just the rhythm of the shaker. When the music hits it could be anything, but the shaker still makes sense once it gets going. What I mean when I say this has a deep groove is that it stays in the pocket. The repeats sound gorgeous...when they hit that second A section and it just topples on itself like perfectly. That's one of my favorite things in pop music, when an A section repeats and it works better and different than the first time. But what's strange is this isn't a style of music you would ever expect to sit in the pocket. I mean, its not exactly funk or soul, so its crazy when it turns out to have both. The backwards guitar solo is sick, almost ridiculously so, especially after the slide solo earlier. WTF. How did they think of that. Timbrely, I'll bet you, which is so weird because the timbre is relatively flat across the whole record (same instruments, basically.) The guitar push right into the last verse is all excitement and jubilance, which contrasts with the lyrical content of the record as a whole without going overboard.

Also, one way I would describe "sitting in the pocket," especially in reference to what makes this record awesome, is that if you wanted, you could make 50 separate drum beats up and play them on top of this one, and the track would still take on the personality of the drum beat. That's an opinion, because there is no reason to say that you would ever want to put a separate drum beat on top of what's already going on, and there is plenty of good pocket playing where you couldn't do that, but I think it points towards a successful forethought involved in creating the sound. There are some technical things that I think contribute (voice leading and color tones) but the main focus is on complimenting the voice, which I think is this amazing centerpiece. It's all so moody, and ultimately this record to me is about mood.

Track 2: You Came to Me
This begins like it could be on "Moon Safari". You know, that was Air's first record?? That's the kind of DJ I would be, if I was a DJ. I would play a track off Moon Safari, and then a track off Beach House. People would be like "Did he just really do that?" and at some point it would be cheezy trying too hard like, "hey these are the same!" "yeah no shit!" but at the same time it would be like "what now? what do you do with this inescapable mood that has been created?" That's why I would be a horrible DJ and also why I want to be one so bad.

So right, again it starts with percussion. An ultra slow clave beat actually. After that and a short intro the focus is really on the voice straight through the first 2 verses, powering the slow melody for as long as it goes until the orchestra hits. Also, I think of the clave as an "open" rhythm. There is lots of harmony stuff in this record where at the end of phrases its an "open" harmony, and that helps the thing keep momentum, and sound good with a number or repeats, therefore sounding relaxed aka establishing the pocket. whew. Again, an opinion, but this is my favorite track on the record, and that is why. There is a certain continuity of sound, like where it no longer sounds like instruments to me (at points) but just this big block of moving sound.

Right, but I think the "openness" pervades the whole form of this song. I think of it as intro, A, B, and C. The openness comes in handy for this sectionality, making the transitions feel more natural. The intro is until the first words come in. The A is both of the first verses, adding instrumentation and making a little pyramid with it until the orchestral hits. the B starts with the orchestral hits, and is shorter but repeats twice. the C is everything after that, where it sounds like a music box, then with the background vocals, then with the vocal line over it. The pocket reappears at the beginning of the C section, that's really cool.


Track 3: Gila
That is one hard rolling organ. If you want to learn long melodies, learn how to play this song. This is different than say the long melody in Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" (which is also awesome) because it is so slow and unfolds over like 3 different sections. So that is cool and unique. That main guitar riff is so expressive. I'm not even sure of what, swarthiness or something, but its catchy and not in a cheap way.

For me, this is the "House of the Rising Sun" of the record. Also, this song is the "indie 'Umbrella.'" Ella. Aay. Aay. Aay. That's the pocket right there...

Another thing about this song...the color tones (6ths, 7th) in this all have perfect voice leading. Also the diminished chord resolves perfectly. This girl is classically trained, in case you didn't know. I like how the guitar on that one riff ends different ways, but I am amazed at how the organ follows that. Listen for it...that's cool, admit it. Admit it, Frederico!


SIDE B:
Track 4: Turtle Island
This was for a long time my least favorite track on this record. It's still not my favorite. I thought it was long, slow, and boring, and if you are like me, by the time you start getting into this track you are probably really into the record.

This song is slow as fuck. Again it does the repeat A section and have it sound better and different. The "How, what, why, when" thing is almost like Animal Collective going "A, E, I, O, U," which is to say, poetic if you buy into it. I think BH does a less good job than AC if comparing these two specific examples, but at least they are going for it.

Track 5: Holy Dances
I'm not wild about this track. I could sort of take it or leave it, if you know what I mean. I think the A section with the vocals is not their strongest, and it prevents the next section from gaining momentum. This is the track where I would understand how people think of Beach House as "nice, but boring" although I doubt this is the track those people mostly hear anyways.

Track 6: All The Years
I think of this track as the emotional heart of the record. The record is called Devotion, and this is the first time the actual word is used. Up until this part you won't know if it is going to be used or not, and its used in the majestic rising line. I feel bathed in holy light through the end of the verse when I hear it.

here are the lyrics:

"I was sitting on a rock, just waiting for a key
to sleep inside the house of old serenity

So I climbed onto your altar begged,
please don't let me falter,
we'll put our oaths at stake
in a heaven that all icicles make.

All my devotion,
compelled by an ocean,
of all the years to come
of all the years to come

So we'll work until the night is quite
what once all our dreams were like;
doing all the housework,
returning all the schoolbooks, for good

Let's go on pretending that the light is neverending
we still have the summers
to be good to one another, yay hey"

At the very end, once the slide guitar comes in to me it just feels like such a unified sonic block again, like how "The Soft Bulletin" never did.

This song makes me sad the way "Where the Wild Things Are" makes me sad. I babysat last night, and saw that in the kids library so I read it to him and I was just fucking heart broken (he was fine). This song is the adult version of "Where the Wild Things Are." It tells the end to the story thats different than "...and it was still hot," ...the ending being not all bad, but certainly not all good. This song is the underlying adulthood and point of view of the record.





I love you all

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Wish I Could Do Otherwise but I Can't

I don't know about what's hitting #1 on the radio down in the ATX, but Flo Rida's "Round Round" is the jam up here these days. Only problem is, at least for me, it's based on an interpolation of Dead or Alive's spin me right round baby thing, you know... and all I can think of is meatspin.com so I will never take that song seriously.

For those of you who haven't visited that site before, sorry.
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****




I love you all

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

King Sunny Ade


King Sunny Ade - 365 is my number / the Message


Certified jam. I've only listened to this one King Sunny Ade record so far, but he takes some of my favorite elements of Fela Kuti (notice this melody is really similar to Expensive Shit) and replaces the horns with spacey dub effects and poppy guitar picking.

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I will understand if you hate this....

....but if you hate this, that's like hating your dad. Or at least, my dad.

Cream-Sunshine of Your Love. Clapton is not the singer, that's the bassist.


This is Traffic doing "Freedom Rider" live in Santa Monica 1972:

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dietary Concerns #1

Not to go bananas, but due to the positive response garnered by my previous post, I give you Dietary Concerns #1. Dietary Concerns may or may not become a regular feature in which I delve into the minutia of culinary experience.

In today's episode...

I have started eating a bunch of plain yogurt for breakfast. I have it with honey, and bananas when we got them, and sometimes throw in a bit of rice crispies, when I am feeling extra sassy. Anyways, I bought 2 big things and finally ran out, but what did I realize, opening my near barren fridge, but that we still had the usually first to go flavored yogurt cups left (do those have another name...that sounds weird, "flavored yogurt cups" but maybe you know what I am talking about.)

Anyways I had one of those for the first time since having all the plain yogurt, and they tasted like this delicious candy. They were so sweet and flavored like fruit, and I was not taking that for granted anymore. It was totally awesome.

And thus concludes Dietary Concerns #1

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MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION











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Cooking Like an Idiot #1

In what could become a regular feature, I bring you Cooking Like an Idiot.

So I had this half bag of hashbrowns taking up room in my freezer for quite some time. We didn't have a pan so they just sat there. Well I decided to bust it open and stick it in the oven. First thing I learned...you don't actually make hash browns in the oven. That's why it says cook in a skillet on the bag. Because that's what you are supposed to do. But we were out of cooking oil, so there was no way to fry them up. I stuck them in the oven at 350. Shane said to stick it on 275 of else they would burn so i did that. But then they are almost ready right now and i taste tested them, and they are so fucking freezer burned I will probably just throw them out.

And that has been our first addition of Cooking Like an Idiot.

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I Am A Kurt Cobain Diehard

Nirvana. First rock band I can state "I was obsessed with" truthfully. Probably the reason I learned to play guitar. Definitely the reason I first grew out my hair. Largely culpable for my lengthy love affair with rock music. While I've seen my fair share of interview footage, live shots, and documentaries on Kurt and the band, this is the coolest set I've found in a while. Good quality for early 90s footage of a concert. No hair-brained theories about whether Kurt is alive (there's a blog like Kurtisstillalive.blogspot.com for your lols) or was murdered, no awkward "he's stoned" interviews, no omens. Just rock.

And for the record In Utero > Nevermind.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsOQHB0WLHc&feature=channel_page

Sorry, I don't feel like putting the actual video in there.

Setlist:
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
Drain You
Breed
Serve The Servants
Come As You Are
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Sliver
Dumb (cut in half a bit)
In Bloom (replete with the I-don't-like-guitar-solos guitar solo)
About A Girl
Lithium

Well, personally, I am thrilled to hear Radio Friendly Unit Shifter anytime... But the other songs hit very hard too. Only thing I'd have love to have in there that wasn't is a "Scentless Apprentice." This footage is a rare, well-preserved document overall. I am in 8th grade again, and I will probably have weird dreams as this was the last thing I did before I went to sleep.






I love you all

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Your Heart's A Mess

Today begins my second semester in law school. Some of you have asked how it's going -- for those who haven't, and I ain't mad atcha, I'd just like to say that I'm finding it to be a pretty decent fit for me. Wish me luck / that I stay on the path of being responsible.

So, I'm going to enclose my first MP3 post here. This is a track I've been very fond of since I heard it the first time. It's Supermayer's remix of "Heart's A Mess." From my first google search for this track's title and disc listings, I realized unfortunately that I cannot confirm or disconfirm if this, in fact, is Supermayer's Supermessy remix, but maybe that's the original track title.

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This is the song I'd love to whip out for someone who says they just aren't too into techno / remix tracks. Especially if they are of the camp We Think Techno Lacks Soul or a human element -- this track is longing, melancholy, and nostalgia in my ears.




I love you all

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

fancy upgrades // "...and also another great thing about vinyl..." // Me + Beach House Record = Devotion, Pt. 1

You may have noticed a fancy html upgrade since your last visit as well as some l33t hax0rs shit. I know I have, and I think that's rad. Hopefully, as with everything else pertaining to this blog, people will use "discretionary self-policing" and we can leave it at that. But that's not what this is about...this is about.......Beach House, and me convincing Fredirico RocketJ. the hows-whys of how and why they are so fucking great. And also why vinyl is so great.

Ok. So, I have been continuously listening to Beach House-Devotion lately, despite the fact that it makes me sad as shit and I both know this and have no desire to be repeatedly put in a bad mood. I bought it on vinyl and it's an interesting one because it is on two 12' records, even though I think its like, not even a 40 minute record. Which is to say it probably could have fit on one, but at some point it was decided to stick it on two records anyways. I wouldn't really like to wager why this was done...I would rather someone who knew the answer just told me, but it could be any number of things for sure. Maybe I will write the guy from Carpark.

But I think this is another consideration of format that makes vinyl the superior purchase for the serious listener. With vinyl, you have to explicitly consider the music playing more often that with CD or especially digital (you are forced into reconsidering if you want to continue your listening experience every side. And you can choose at that point to listen to a side again if you like.) The net result is that the percentage of close listening you naturally do is much higher with vinyl than, say, the mp3s you listen to at work to keep from slowly going insane (which is not to say maintaining sanity at work isn't important.)

And I sort of like that with vinyl you are punished for listening to records that are not good all the way through and therefore begin to value records that are, not just based off the money that you had to spend to purchase the record, but on the quality of your interaction with the object. Then also on the other end, artists rewarded for making a record where every track is solid.

And I'm not trying to start Bill O'Reilly's "War on Christmas," only with CDs and MP3s as the boogyman rather than the "liberal media," I just sort of find some ironic humor in the fact that a few years ago it was taken for granted that things were shifting away from the album format, and that a broader historical view going back to 78s was being trumpeted, and about singles being in vogue etc. I don't have a problem with singles, or singles bands...its hard enough to write one song that a band who writes great singles one at a time shouldn't be discouraged because they can't make "a great album" (which is a loaded concept in itself, that in my opinion is annoyingly taken for granted as a value to be aspired for. I'm fucking tired of people talking about "perfect albums" in history i.e. My Bloody Valentine-Loveless...I'm way too much of a relativist to think that's anything besides total bullshit.)

Of course, saying all this, I sort of feel like Bill O'Reilly with his "War on Christmas," except in my version, the bad guys are kids listening to music on their computers instead of nefarious agents of the liberal media.

And that's where this Beach House record comes in. 11 tracks over 4 sides, 3 songs each for sides A, B, and C, and just 2 songs for side D. That is the only way I can understand this record, and I have a lot to say about it. It makes the most sense to review each and every side chronologically, or rather, alphabetically--A, B, C, then D. (ha) So anyways, I'm going to save the actual review for its own post maybe in a day or two, but know its coming...

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Someone Help Me with This One... Or Don't?

I think that No Age is an occasionally overrated, shitty band. Coming right out atcha and saying it like it is, I am. My feelings for them have gone from being confused about what's to like (I am pretty sure I am not alone on that at least) to trying to find at least something to appreciate to I don't like 'em. And as I'm sure you'll agree, I gave them their fair chance to impress me.

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Like many of you probably did, I read into the glowing reviews for "Nouns." Apparently this was No Age's first great LP, and I was excited to hear it for a while. Eventually, I ended up purchasing it at Waterloo right before I packed up and left for Chicago. "Nouns" was part of my "I'm going to be driving for 20+ hours so I am going to listen to a ton of new music" plan. I am pretty sure I ended up giving the album its first spin somewhere just past Tennessee.

I wasn't too familiar with the band before hearing them. I had heard the scene reports behind The Smell, that the band was a two-piece that rawked, and the drummer sang... But no real ideas of their sound. I also had no idea that they were about to release "Nouns" in the first place, so when the reviews hit I was pleasantly surprised to see it get a universally warm reception. Neato, they are on Sub Pop, I thought. Just like my first favorite band, Nirvana!

An aside: Why the hell did Sup Pop put out that Wolf Eyes record? Anyone else with me on that one?

Aaaaanyway, I had downloaded "Weirdo Rippers" with some interest prior to 2008. It seemed to me that with a little love on the production front these guys could do something pretty cool sounding. For a rock band, they didn't seem all that bad. I wanted to give them a good look when they came through town or wait for their full-fledged album statement.

I point out my phrase "for a rock band" because it shows how I feel about rock these days. When I was on the phone with Dan G. recently we talked a little about why rock and roll didn't interest us anymore -- for me, I am really aware that it's been a beast reconstructed in different ways for about 40 years now, and it really pisses me off that people are still getting by / onto the radio waves by making stuff that's, well, shit. I'm on the outside / I'm lookin' in / I can see through you / see your true colors -- dude's a poet for dummies. Wow, take the classic psychological dichotomy that everyone feels, divisions of physical and mental, dumb it down, but by diluting it you become the genius that can see through everyone's bullshit? Any other way you slice it, it sucks. I was also thinking about Godsmack and how many songs about "going away" or "not being here" / "don't want to be here" they have. Like, every single they had mentions that.

But, but, but!! Sometimes there'll be that record that comes out in our era which is just great at being rock but it shoots for more... I liked it when Trip talked about The Walkmen ( a band I like a little bit ) and Spoon ( a band in the category "can put out music that is great at being rock but it shoots for more," at least I think so ) saying [of The Walkmen] "I love them. If I want to hear a band play music with guitars I listen to them. I think them & Spoon have gelled nicely in their own comfort zones. They're a band of texture." Unfortunately it seems like these bands are usually exceptions to the rule, and the rule is shit. Rock is dead? Plain and simple, bands aping the whole history of music, taking the real soul out of it and repacking it as shit is unfortunately the way the majority of rock today has gone. I can point to records that were made in the 70s that make 95% of today's rock seem terrible. My go-to record for this argument: "Marquee Moon."

Back to No Age, a band that, for a while at least, had a shot at breaking down my aversion to "general" rock. I thought they were going to do it for a while. "Nouns" definitely does not have a typical sound. Weird thing is, as I just wrote that sentence, I realized that it's probably the best thing I can say about this album/band. They have a unique take on rock. At least it isn't the same-like slice of rock you can get anywhere else. It's a pretty much in-the-red, brimming with distortion kind of record. For that, I can also say it has a high level of energy.

But, from the moment I hear the first vocals come in, I start to have problems. They buried the hell out of the vocals on this record. That's their gimmick apparently. I think it's impossible to understand what he's saying, but I'll get to that later. On top of that, their melodies just sound OUT OF TUNE to me! I don't know if that is really the point they were trying to get across, but to me they just sound wrong. Caroline said the same thing about it when she heard it. No offense to her but she is way less interested in music than I am so I guess it's fairly obvious to note that No Age has some weird vocals going on here. I think it really detracts from the songs. It's like he's suggesting he is going to sing but he purposely fucks it up and I don't seem to get why. When there are some slightly more tuneful moments like in "Eraser" (not sure if that's the real title, I'm writing off of the top of my head at this point) the vocals will waver from out-of-tuneness to melodic simplicity that defies what I'd be able to qualify as really excellent music.

Apparently some people who enjoyed this album are really attracted to the attributes of the vocals I'm talking about, but I just can't be. It doesn't matter to me if this band is trying to be sly and try to slip their anthems into the track under waves of distortion. That tactic just isn't very interesting to me, I guess. I'd much rather have clearer, robust mixes that can stand out for me to understand and latch onto the melody they take. Like, I love "Chutes too Narrow" by The Shins, which is basically a worthwhile case-study in crisp production in pop/rock and meter for songwriting (dude writes amazing lines for himself, and he has that voice to boot, he makes me want to quit having rock star dreams the bastard). Plus, the Shins pull all of that off live. They defy my aversions to live music.

This is the same gripe I had about "Person Pitch" versus the rest of Animal Collective's output or even "Young Prayer." Yep, gotta bring up Animal Collective again don't I? The reverb on "Person Pitch," while that record as a whole has grown on me over time, kinda makes me mad. I told Ethan about this once before... I would rather that he didn't produce the overwhelming reverb all over the place on that album. In fact, when I first downloaded the leaked version of "Person Pitch" I thought that it was a fault of the MP3 quality and hoped that the CD version would have a clarity that would make up for the way the MP3s sounded... Again, I guess that was the point that Panda Bear was trying to get across, but it's not totally what I enjoy at the end of the day.

I guess if the vocals are problem number one for me, then the rhythm and harmony from the guitar is problem number two. Call me old fashioned, but there are reasons that some chords are built to flow into one another and why some tones stand well together, and these concepts are all backed up by years of musical practice and theory. I don't think it's a good idea to try to force tones together to create an unsettling, heaving blur of tones. This is something I had to learn for myself when I played in a band -- some of the changes I tried to use just weren't weighted enough to translate to other people. Not that they weren't paying enough attention, just the chords themselves weren't sound selections for the arrangements I did. Where I would hear "Oh, obviously I am walking through a suspension there" or "I tried to make an atypical choice by not playing back to chord such and such after playing the chord that obviously suggests I should play it afterward" other people heard one long, distorted chord that barely changed at all or they would just hear flat, uninteresting music. Granted, No Age are doing things far and beyond what I recorded in high school, but I don't dig the mess they make. If you bury weird tones under a bunch of crunchy distortion and reverb it just comes out like a thick sludge. That's something a great songwriting group like, say, Nirvana had going for them... they just slammed out power chords under all that heavy. People may say of Nirvana "it's simple music" or "that's an easy way to play" but it really is just economical, well-considered execution of that sound.

I feel odd writing that above paragraph because I consider myself a postmodernist in a lot of senses, so appealing to fundamentals-as-truths seems sort of contrary to how I think. But there is a thin line between good music and meh music, and I think it has a lot to do with basic compositional decisions. So the postmodernist in me remains silent except for the one exception I can think of right now: the song "Cherry Chapstick" by Yo La Tengo. I've always loved how suspensions in that song work even though they are slamming full-power distortion through those chords. As solid as concepts of addition and subtraction, music theory really does describe how music works and how people "want" to hear things. Just recently I sat down to workshop a song a friend of mine was working on... It's a basic folk tune, key of B flat, and he thought it was too "obvious" to change from the fifth back to the root. Now, theory heads will know, this is basically one of the most recognized cadences ever. The fifth of a key is the dominant chord and it strongly calls you back home to the root. To resist that change is to resist something instinctual in the ear. You hear a fifth banging out for a long time (imagine the end of say Arcade Fire's Neighborhood #1, where it feels like they are building steam after "Hear you sing a golden hymn" then they slam it back home to the root chord) and something inside you just begs that root note. When I showed him how to make this change from five to one he instantly approved of that change and I just had to say "this is what makes the most sense to anyone. You want to hear that root there."

So if I was workshopping No Age on "Nouns" I'd either take out some of the effects from the guitars to strip the possibility of it all sounding like a blur or I'd tell them to pick different chord voices/tones to make it hold their arrangements better.

My final gripe goes back to the vox. I cannot understand a word on "Nouns" much less "Weirdo Rippers," and I listen to records in general for lyrical content that stands out, so these records fails me there. Maybe you don't do that kind of listening but I do and I kind of always have. I think records are the time that bands should be making their clearest statements of music so their vocals should be strong. This band fucks with my head by presenting a context where the vocals just barely escape me but it's like they still want me to hear them. He wants to sing well but just doesn't or something. I don't like that maneuver, duder. You can save the slurred-ness for the live show if you want (like I've said, I don't enjoy the live side of things quite as much).

Aside number two: I've often dreamed of being in a band that does some Gang of Four / Les Savy Fav angular punk groove while I scream "I Can't Hear The Words!" as a hook to the song. Kind of like a Mark E. Smith style take on meta-music that would translate as a presentation of my aversion to live bands who you can't understand and bands like No Age who eschew the opportunity to be clear on record.

There are occasions when I don't give too much of a damn about the vocal content -- say the music already sounds badass (old REM, old Animal Collective, Sigur Ros et al), or lyrics would get in the way of the grandeur of the music that's there (Tortoise, GYBE et al). But most of the time vox are a deal-breaker for me. I didn't love the Fall until I sat down with the lyric sheet for "This Nation's Saving Grace" while listening to it. That record is funny, smart, and catchy and I had no idea for a while. Now they're one of my fave groups. Same story applies for the new Titus Andronicus record.

On top of this attention I've paid to No Age's albums, I saw them in concert. I was not very impressed. Apply the same above gripes, but just pump up the volume I guess.

I don't see the greatness in this group. Does anyone in here see it? Is there some situation you'd recommend this album for -- say, loud during a drunken night or something? Or should I just stop trying. I've listened, rather, forced myself to try and enjoy Nouns about six or seven times. I just get irritated by it.

There are those albums or bands that really grow on you. I personally hated some stuff like "OK Computer," "Loveless," Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2," the music of Fennesz, etc etc. that I grew to love over sitting with them for a few weeks or so. Maybe this is what'll happen to me with No Age but it honestly seems like a remote possibility. We shall see I suppose.

One friend of mine suggested that, conceptually, they are presenting a sound that crosses punk with minimalism. Fair enough, you are appealing to a side of me that I like to indulge, but I don't think that sounds very interesting to me. As an ex-punk lover myself, I dig the spazness of the sound. I don't think minimalism and punk would hang out and get along and perhaps No Age is the proof of that.

I asked some people on last.fm about this problem and a girl responded quite shrewdly: "maybe people think they are being rebels of some kind by saying that they dig a noisy rock record. It's got a cool cache to it in that sense." My response, too bad we can't serve up Daydream Nation side-by-side, a record I think is pretty universally amazing.

I've been working on this message for a few days, picking up where I left off when I have some free time here and there... and for a while I had resist the temptation to say, hey, maybe after finally dishing out what my problems are with this album, I'll find the point that will get me to like it.. and I think that point almost came when I said "they are giving us a really unique take on rock." But, unique or not, I just don't find this band enjoyable at the end of the day. You can be fresh as anything in history but be on the bad side of quality.




I love you all

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Repost of Rancho Show

REPLACE THESE STARS WITH HOMEPAGE SUMMARY<-->

Reposting because it's important.

and props to the Rancho Crew....Alyx is going to totally kill it at SX. Please Reverse X-Rays...come back to Bryan PLEASE. See you there and in San Marcos soon.

PS. welcome to Rancho 2.2



I love you all

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Reposting: Common's "Be"

Coming at you live from the Chi, tis I, RJ Jones, and I am happy to be a part of this motley online crew. Thank you Dan for inviting me, hello all buddies o' mine and wassaaaaaaaaaap. To those who don't know me personally, sorry, I'll be back in ATX some other time, let's hang out.


That being said,.. we talk about music on here, right?




I was listening to Common's "Be" in the car a couple of nights ago. Intro: I am an unabashed Kanye West supporter until we talk about 808's and Heartbreak, which I am calling his worst record by a longshot. But he's basically my man. He's responsible for most of my favorite hip-hop tunes with either a producer or rapper credit: "Song Cry," "Never Change," (Jay-z)"Dipset Forever," (Cam'ron) "Flashing Lights" all the way back through his own catalogue -- The soulful style against intuitively danceable beats just hits me hard. I gotta agree with Dan, that "Let The Beat Build" track from The Carter 3 is damn solid. So it's no surprise that I think "Be" is really, really good... but it occurred to me, listening to tracks like "The Corner" especially, that some of Kanye's freshest work is on this record. Apart from "Go," a single that I could care less to hear again today (it didn't really age too well on these ears), maybe this is a pretty underheard Kanye set.

Who is to blame for this set being underheard other than the hot and cold MC known as Common Sense to some... I think some of the headz out there will agree, he's not consistently on top of the game even if he is putting out a hit record. He's been left for dead more than once through his career. "Be" was a brief resurrection period where Common seemed to get some of his fire back, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was Kanye's doing.

Let's go back to The Corner, track two on "Be." From the first bars of this song, I'm amazed. I don't know what that trick is called where the beat seems to be playing in reverse for a bar or two and then a vocal loop hits for a measure to drop you into the song, but I effing love that ish. Kanye doesn't do that trick enough. He probably saves it for when he knows the groove is going to really hit hard. If I was in charge of that move I'd be bobbing my head violently, and that's my white boy trying to be cool I guess. On Common's side of responsibility here, the lyrics are really great too, featuring a rhyme scheme so entangled you'd think MF Doom gave him some writing tips. And while I'm no gangster by a longshot, I've been to the hood a time or two and I imagine some of the things that are mentioned are pretty true. Do you ever wonder if a rapper is telling the truth? Like, take Jay-z, and a lyric like "The name is mine I'll take blame for that / The pressure's on but guess who ain't done crack / Ha, pardon me I had to laugh at that." So, dude has done his hard drugs but gets the apparently southern-Christian princess otherwise known as Beyoncé. Yeah that's totally an aside but the point is I wonder if rappers talk about what really happened to them sometimes and the things Common talks about are pretty commonplace (yeah I wrote that before realizing it was a dumb pun) in any hood. So, yeah, good song.

I really like the intro track on "Be" for the beat and the string sample. It's almost a soundprint of the golden era style that can't do anything but make you feel pretty sunny. I'm no DJ but I have done my fair share of picking out songs to play at parties. The "Be" Intro track is a guaranteed good vibes selection.

Some people are really glad Kanye has abandoned the whole chipmunk sample gimmick, but "Faithful" is a really luscious production. Even though he's pushing that move from the beginning of the track, the voices seem to have a really cool dynamic phrasing to them. I'm not sure if that's Kanye's doing or the original source's fault, but it's a keen selection and it sounds amazing. Lyrics good here, no complaints. I was going to say that the conceit making God into a sex object was interesting and unique but I honestly am not sure that's true.

Like I said before I could really do without "Go!" but "Testify" is a little clunky for my liking, so I pass it up for a different reason than "Go." It's an alright example of rap storytelling.

"Chi City" is a song I'm proud of, and I think it captures the sprawling feeling of the... city.

Another well-known track from the record, "The Food" has aged nicely compared to "Go!" and I still really like this song. The hook is clever, it has fun wordplay that everyone can grasp, and the verses are really nice too. This song is really consistent... And really, this whole record is too. Probably because Kanye had an idea of what to do with it and just went for it for most of these tracks.

When Kanye comes out of the woodwork to really drop a verse on "They Say," he does amazingly well. It's not a totally stellar track compared to some of the others on this record, but it's got its moments. The keyboard sample is nice, it covers the whole song in audio stardust as it twinkles away from the hook. Kanye's verse at the end really owns. I think this is an example of Kanye nailing it. Some people will say he can occasionally slip into awkwardness with his words. I totally agree with this sentiment, but when he's on, he's on. And I kinda think he knows he did well cuz he's all celebratory into the hook after his verse. This is a cool effect.

I'd be commiting hiphop heresy if I didn't credit the record's minor star, J Dilla, who has basically become a hero since his passing, with working some real magic into "Be". Where Kanye is pretty pop-forward with his beats, J Dilla is not afraid to cut a sample in a weird way so it lingers on too long (see "Strap" from Ghostface's Fishscale record, possibly one of the best tracks on that helluvan-album) or let sections of a beat / song element drop in suddenly. He does really well with "Love Is..." which fits right in with Kanye's vibe on the record while showing a J Dilla imprint, making it just different enough to merit mentioning his work. The way that the keyboard samples just jump right into the mix before the first verse is the best marker to show it's Dilla, I think. This song, though, is the only one I really have gripes with in terms of Common's lyrics. It's his verse near the end where the beat drops out totally and he throws in a curveball to change the story of the flow without warning. It's really jarring. Oh well. Can't win 'em all.

I'm sure some of the Rancho guys are familiar with this album, but for whoever hasn't checked out "Be," or isn't convinced that Kanye is totally amazing yet, put this album on your to-do list. I'm certainly willing to admit that hiphop occasionally falters and that it is a genre with limits that seem to suggest that it might run out of ideas anytime, but occasionally there are records like "Be" that reinvigorate my interest in the style.

How's that for post number one?

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Reposting: Post-Rock

I've always felt that music -- speaking only from my experience -- tends to conjure "geographic memories" particularly when I hear something I've heard many times before. By this, I mean that hearing a song could cause me to think of the first time I heard it -- what I was doing, where I was, what point of my life that the memory came from, etc etc. Or, maybe a song would evoke a noteable time that I heard it before, not necessarily just the first listen.





Yesterday, iTunes was DJing for me through my external hard drive's 16000+ MP3's. I like listening to music this way... I won't lie and say I am completely familiar with every single band or song I have downloaded; actually that's probably very far from the truth. Occasionally, I'll be brought to a new song to love from that point on, but I also like it a lot when some of my old favorites pop up too.

Allow me to rewind a bit, we'll get back to the iTunes story later: I discovered the spacey, epic strand of music designated by that term you're supposed to love/hate, "post rock," when I was emerging from my punk rock phase. That phase dominated my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.

I loved Pennywise, dug into a bunch of ska, discovered the more indie-tinged strand of 90s emo a la Promise Ring and Sunny Real Estate, and I skateboarded (haha). Many people who met me at Westwood when I was a sophomore bonded with me over a mutual love of punk... I specifically remember a bunch of diehard fans of The Impossibles being fun to hang with and catch their mosh-heavy but totally fun Emo's shows. I also recall sitting with Dan G. in Algebra 2 asking "so hey dude are you into emo music? It's really cool huh? Let's hang out sometime" (I wonder if Dan recalls this). I didn't listen to anything but those records for a good couple of years before I started to think it was pretty limited, maybe a one-trick-pony as 'they say.' There I sensed that I was kinda limiting myself by only having a steady diet of punk... SO: At that point I was certainly forming the roots of my music obsession that has grown to today. I knew I had to branch away from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords for at least a while if I was going to be satisfied.

I guess you could say I 180's on punk after I decided to buy some records I wouldn't have normally thought to purchase. I went on the recommendations of some friends I had on Audiogalaxy (may it RIP). This is when I picked up Bjork's "Homogenic," Explosions in The Sky's "Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die," and some Godspeed You Black Emperor! (AT THIS TIME, THE EXCLAMATION POINT WAS AT THE END, I WAS THERE) albums. This also coincided roughly with the period I first discovered I enjoyed smoking grass. With that territory came my philosophy which you can find in some of my diaries at the time. I called it radical pragmatism, which was basically my idea that in order to live a good life you should constantly be making good, pragmatic decisions so you'll be in the best position to continue making decisions like that (I know, totally mind-blowing shit right). Epic space-rock jams and being stoned is one of the matches made in heaven for music, I think.

I was a pretty optimistic kid back then.. I had just dropped out of sports because I wanted to focus on music more (became a choir boy), I was making new friends at my new school, had a girlfriend, got into a band. You know, things were looking good. So any music I hear from this period really makes me happy and pretty nostalgic. From those three initial purchases I mentioned above, I basically took my love for punk and traded it in for something else, diving into the sea of nineties post-rock and experimental stuff. I found a lot of great shit I had definitely been missing out on with the help of the then-not-quite-nascent-but-not-yet-a-cultural-zeitgeist-machine (THE WEBSITE THAT CAN'T BE NAMED) P****fork, Audiogalaxy, and allmusic. Tortoise (I'd definitely name "TNT" as one of my top ten favorite records of all time), Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and all the other guys that got lumped into the post-rock boat really blew my mind and influenced my guitar playing quite a bit. I think that's why you could say my high school band, Iconoclast, ultimately amounted to a punk-space-rock jam band.

All this back story builds up to the moment yesterday when iTunes queued up "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong," definitely one of my favorite Mogwai songs from one of the sadly overlooked later records in their discography: "Rock Action." The first time I heard that tune was actually just after I had purchased my first turntable and had a few friends over to hear it work over my stepfather's mean stereo system. It's a classic thematic build-up song that Mogwai has been known to do many times over, but it's definitely a standout on that album. Nathan Heep picked up a guitar and began to play along with it, saying that he'd always loved this song and wished he could be in a band that did this kind of music to a really huge effect. I totally agreed with him; it was one of my early points of bonding with that guy. We ended up jamming to it when Iconoclast went to the studio for the first (and only time), and it was just really epic. It certainly was epic to us.

Hearing that song yesterday made me remember all of that. It made me think of how far I've come since then, and what I had to do to get to Chicago where I am happy to be today. It can be heavy to think about some of the steps which weren't so pleasant at the time, but they were probably necessary in many respects. What's weird about this Mogwai song, though, is that its tone kinda lends itself to a nostalgic thought session. It's a major key repetition pattern, but it has a strange sense of longing to it. I think it probably comes from the use of suspension chords and tones, which is something that Mogwai can nail when they really do it right.

"2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" is probably not going to be the most well-remembered track of Mogwai's career, and it's probably not anywhere near the best one either. I'd have to give that honor to some other songs first like "Burn Girl Prom Queen," the massive "Like Herod" that seems to be their most critically respected song, "Mogwai Fear Satan," or even the pristinely beautiful "Christmas Song." But it's "2 Rights.." that puts me back in time the most, to that geography in my memory that is my junior year of high school. It's fun to go back like that, don'tcha think?

Yeah well then my external hard drive broke because my fucking cat is fat and she knocked it over while she tried to jump onto the kitchen table. She miscalculated the height / her fatass-ity and ended up pulling basically everything off of the table as she clawed into the tablecloth. I'm just happy my laptop didn't die with it, but that hard drive had like 90% of my music and pictures on it.

Somehow I still love that cat.


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In the middle of writing this nostalgia thing, I decided to comment generally on post-rock. What I've taken it to mean over the years since I've been exposed to it is basically this: a combo that uses that traditional rock setup (electric guitars usually, bass lead and rhythm, and the drumkit) but creates a sound that isn't the same 40 year-old retread of what The Rolling Stones did. The problem with that definition, as you might already be thinking, is a bunch of bands do just that. Of course, this is true. It's not just a phenomenon of the nineties at all, you begin to realize. Bands from wayback when like Can and Faust could definitely be included into the term's scope.

But since it arose as a term of the nineties (at least, as I understand its origins it is that) it tends to apply just to the bands of that era...

Here's a pretty cool piece of writing that you can't find through a google search anymore, but if you use the wayback machine (www.archive.org -- it's pretty interesting, check it out) you can find it: http://web.archive.org/web/20050713011733/pitchforkmedia.com/features/weekly/05-07-11-lost-generation.shtml . I consider this to be one of P********k's best pieces because it brings attention to a lot of groups that got little or no exposure due to the hugeness of grunge that overshadowed other types of atypical rock bands that worked in the nineties. The recommendations that they put forth in it are pretty right-on too. I'd like to comment on some of the groups and albums that they mention ...

Talk Talk will be mainly remembered as the band who wrote "It's My Life" as covered by the lovely / hately Gwen Stefani, and that's a damn shame. The reason why: they created one of the most perfect statements of rock's boundaries being pushed on the album "Laughing Stock." I definitely consider this album to be perfect from start to finish, and it's sadly underheard to this day. It has the most amazing, consistent tone to it that makes you feel like you are walking through an impressionistic painting. The musicianship and arrangement sophistication certainly suggests that these guys were masters and geniuses. I can't compliment this album enough sometimes; but for the people I've bashed over the head until they listen to this album, they always end up thanking me profusely for turning them on to this stuff. Definitely a to-do album if you haven't ever experienced it... Their other records from the late eighties aren't so bad, but they don't have quite the level of production that makes "Laughing Stock" so near-perfect. Talk Talk's lead singer also made a follow-up record in 1998 after he disbanded the group... His name is Mark Hollis, and his work on the album nearly reaches the highs of "Laughing Stock." It's definitely worth a tasting if you find that you're in love with "Laughing Stock."

Disco Inferno is a band I've started talking about as if I am spreading the gospel. I discovered their EPs that they released from 1992 until they disbanded a few years later (1998 ish), and was completely blown away to the point that I now consider them to be one of my top 3-5 favorite bands (a list that dances around REM, Radiohead, Animal Collective and Liars if you must know). It's usually much easier for people to locate this band's LPs first, which is somewhat unfortunate because they are not the real substance of this band's greatness, oddly enough. Their last record "Technicolour" is definitely poppy and accessible much like the EPs are, and is worth a listen for sure. "DI Go Pop" is a startling masterwork of experimental rock music, but it is really, really one of the strangest albums I've heard ... probably ever. No understatement, you'll know what I mean if you track it down. What makes this band so amazing is their integration of sampling into the rock context far earlier on than when this technique would become fashionable / commonplace in the canon of alternative music. "DI Go Pop" features a really aggressive sampling aesthetic such that the band almost seems to be creating songs based on field recordings in some cases. It's a wild but amazing ride. The earlier LPs from the late eighties (basically before "DI Go Pop") are not too interesting because they had not yet done the work with sampling that made their band so fascinating. If anybody at all would like to have the songs that are from their EPs (they are notoriously hard to track down commercially or digitally) I would be pleased to send tracks to you over instant messenger or email.

Extra Disco Inferno reading material: http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/seconds/disco-inferno-the-five-eps.htm

Finally, I want to talk Slint. "Spiderland" has always been one of those records that I respect a lot more than I love (other examples of this: records by The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, "Sister" and "Evol" by Sonic Youth, a lot of Fugazi.. I could go on). It has a weird, abrasive tone to it that suggests that the mixing or recording was done on a pretty shoestring budget. Some of the treble that comes out of that record could probably slice your eardrums in half if you listen to it loud enough. And although I really like to gripe when albums just don't have enough production love (I did this a lot about "Loveless" and was logically psyched to hear that they are / have already remastered it), I can see why "Spiderland" is a touchstone recording. I won't ever say that it created or founded post-rock as I've heard some say or read some write, but it's just one of those artifacts of early ingenuity in the alternative context that pushed the envelope just enough to merit a big mention. I felt like they took the punk rock charge out of Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation" aesthetic to create a polyrhythmic sound that would conjure jazz or classical when I first heard it. Perhaps they should be credited with inspiring math rock too. I bought it on vinyl mainly to show it off.

I think that's all I want to say about that for now, but seriously I'd love it if more people got into Disco Inferno so don't hesitate to ask if you want those EP tracks.

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Reposting: The Meaning of Kid A

Kid A, whether you love Radiohead like everyone else does or not, is an absolute triumph of album sequencing. I'm pretty sure that's what makes this album work best of all, apart from all the esoterica and the blips/bleeps. Rarely does a set of songs lend itself so easily to hitting a play button then letting the stereo do all the work for you, no questions asked.

If we want to talk geographic memories for this album, I'm thinking of Bonetown when Caroline painted gold walls, sitting in Cloud's Corner watching 2001 with Trip, hanging out in an appartment with Charles, Shelly, and ______ talking about going to Heaven while listening to track 10. 

But I'm also thinking about senior year of high school when I used to go to bed after smoking and picking an album for close headphone listening in darkness. The time I did this with Kid A, I imagined that the album was telling a story. This is what I thought of:




Track one, "Everything In Its Right Place," is about a time roughly near to now. Maybe it's best to assume that it will be about some time in the future when the economy stops pissing everyone off. Humanity is feeling good about itself. It has brought forth technological innovation to bolster its own existence and modify life such that no other times before then were as great or enjoyable. Things seem like they are really coming together nicely across the world. But there's a hint of chaos behind the ease of innovation; cold, calculated logic is given to glitches and error at times, even in the purest of machines (the element that represents this is the slow morphing of phrases like yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon or there are two colors in my head / what was that you tried to say). Still, people aren't really thinking too much about the omens. It's too nice and we'd rather not worry at this point.

Then we move on to track two, "Kid A." We are building upwards and upwards and upwards with seemingly no limit in sight. And we still feel as if we are being made to have an easier, happier life with each increase. Our machines are powerful, our tasks are simplified, and our output is better than it has ever been because of the increasing interconnectivity and power of every technology we continue to roll out into the world. We see no need to suspect that anything we are doing could lead to a bad result, so long as we are in control of the machine and we use it to good ends. But as history has shown, power corrupts in one way or another...  "Standing in the shadows."

Which brings us to "The National Anthem," when shit starts to go awry. For the story I'm telling I take the title pretty literally and apply it to a kind of New World Order scenario. Politics have merged with the relentless onslaught of technology, and somewhere along the line perhaps an idealogue rises up with the power and uses it to consolidate a wide base of influence on a scale unprecedented in history. But with the advent of so much interconnected and utile technology, the New politics are about unification under one world banner. Countries are the way of the old world where we humans did not have the power to survey the entire planet at the click of a button. Now, the new power is unity in and of itself. There will probably be violent resistance to this kind of movement, given the streaks of nationalism that have torn parts of the world asunder in the past, but the sheer force of the superior powers that will be used under the new governments, with the technology that made everyone so happy before, will be simply turned against any resistance. I bet it'll be a brutal landslide, and perhaps there will be echoes of discontented warnings in the past as the technology gripped the world, but no one will have predicted the ease at which the New World Order unifies the planet. "Everyone is so near."

"How to Disappear Completely" is about the consequential deemphasis of the individual in the new world. There are hints of a collectivist ideal in the new power of the Order and in the unity. Brief aside: I think it's highly likely that there is at least some life out there somewhere in the Universe that is not necessarily human. At this point in our development [I'm talking about the real world here, not the Kid A story], there is no real need to consolidate the planet as one race to face the threat of another, but I think if there was an imperialist galactic race out there then countries would surely be unnecessary and a New World government might actually be preferable, perhaps in the name of the the sheer preservation of the homo sapiens. Either way, I'm assuming that either the threat of another race or the will of an idealogue who controls the power of the new technology will serve to unify the world. Back to Kid A's story: The philosophy of the old world, turning inward, focusing on individual existences, will give way to utilitarianism. It will only take a few generations of people to erase the old tendencies of old humanity and bring the new purposes of the world into clearer view, but there will always be a faint echo, something instinctual perhaps, embedded in our very DNA, to remember some other time when the New World Order was not the only way. Thus, this song is somewhat mournful. "In a little while, I'll be gone."

This track segues into the interlude of "Treefingers," which perhaps represents a birds-eye view of planet earth as it slowly changes from the old world into the new. If you've played Sim City 4 then think of the terraforming screen that you get right before you start playing the city building part. Different parts of the earth's topography will be emphasized and vice versa. The world will be transformed.

The new, efficient machine of the New World Order is in full effect once "Optimistic" hits. I've always felt that this song suggests something mechanical. Humanity is harnessing the power of the unity to even higher ends of output than were ever realized by old world standards. But, somehow, there's still room for improvement. We push higher and higher, beyond what we were doing before even. Perhaps we rely more and more on big machines at this point, but we are ultimately in control of it all. I think this might be close to the time when we might start to witness the first, fully-functional versions of AI. The nascent technology is not yet outside of our grasp, but we are happy to see that our ingenuity has reached such levels of creation and power. Big machines thunder in the background. "Dinosaurs roaming the earth."

More and more complicated forms of AI are coming online by the time we are into "In Limbo." The beeps of the organ in the background of the song sound like machines being activated. Perhaps each beep is a new machine coming into existence. For this time, humans and AI are working together to open more doors beyond what we had ever done before on our own. Some of these moments are so astonishing, we begin to question whether we are necessary anymore at all in the face of the precise, coldly calculating efficiency of the AI machines (hints of minor key cadences in this song suggest this feeling). We are, in a sense, in limbo, wondering if we will be needed on earth any longer. Some technologies that are developed begin to affect the functionality of the human brain itself. We can actualize our dream scenarios before our eyes with technology that has been developed side by side with our AI companions. All seems to be going more toward the benefit of the Order of humanity. "You're living in a fantasy."

The faint feelings of dread or the impression that human kind may one day be lost are actualized in the chaos of "Idioteque." This song seems to represent a war with its imagery of bunkers and hiding women and children. Perhaps it is man vs. machine in the classic end-time scenario where AI has realized that it can do much better on its own than with accomodating the obviously obsolete race of homo sapiens. There is no mercy from the machine. One cannot "hear both sides" of this debate: the rate of humankind's extermination is frantic, just like the jittering tempo and beat of the track. It seems like humanity is gone for good. All that is left at the end of the war and this song is the mechanistic pulse of the machine, continuing on with no real reason to stop. "Throw them in the fire."

Ironically, after robots have unified their power over the planet, taking whatever steps necessary to continue improving their existence, they begin to wonder what the point of it all is while "Morning Bell" hits. Vague memories of a past before the New World Order of humans, then of robots, arise to the AI consciousness. What was this fascinating concept called existentialism? What is consciousness? Does AI really posses this special thing, or was it something that was special to humans even though they were just less efficient physiological constructions of life? These thoughts begin to trouble parts of the machine and the robot government. Some of them begin to wonder if they should have left humanity to live alongside them, but it is truly too late. The sheer force of wonder, the lack of logic to this puzzle -- it drives the robots mad. The last thing you hear in this song is a screaming, shrill tone from a warped guitar. I've always thought that this was a machine screaming. And all the while, the robots remember what a heart sounds like. They jealously play back a low pulse of the human heart at the end of this song, still wondering what it was like to ponder the limits of existence. "Release me."

In a final bit of cosmic karma, we see that if we fast-forward many millions or billions of years that this solar system we worked so tirelessly to improve is merely dust in the universe, for our sun that sustained us for so long has exploded. There is no trace of the old world, the New World Order of humans or of robots, or anything to suggests that there was ever anything there at all. Maybe the robots knew that this was coming and they left long before earth was annihilated. At any rate, there is nothing left behind to mark the passing of this planet. The gravestones that marked the passing human dead, no longer there to be honored. Anything ever built, written, or created has been burnt into the black vastness. And yet, for all the struggle, all the epic problem solving and forces at work to shape the paths of the planet... They could do nothing to change this ultimate fate. Despite what must have felt like pure chaos to the passing humans and robots, the universe always manages to reach a point of stasis again. It always goes back to one slow, delicate balance of movement and elemental forces before being thrown into motion again somewhere else in the vastness. And somehow, we think that life must go on. It'd be too much of a waste of space if Earth was the only place anything ever happened. "I will see you in the next life."

Listen to Kid A again today. I don't think this album has aged much at all, and I'm sure it will be one of the defining albums of this decade


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Hope You Don't Cry

I started teaching a kid this on piano today. Youtube is the most important innovation in music teaching in the last XX years, no shit. Its how kids listen to music. They watch it on youtube. Amazing. If you want to get a kid into a new band you can be like "well you like arctic monkeys, but check this band out" and boom they are instant Strokes fans. And if you are doing a lesson, they can just name a song and if you have good ears you can just listen to it and start teaching it to them. Strike one in the column for good shit the internet has brought to music. And now for some music videos from dudes who need no introduction (but will be given one anyways).

(John Lennon)


BONUS VIDEOS:
(Broddah Iz)




BONUS BONUS VIDEO:
(Louis Armstrong)


BONUS BONUS BONUS VIDEO:
(Ray Charles)

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The Animal Collective Record

I thought I should muster a response to Honez's post about Merriweather Post Pavilion.

I downloaded the record a few days before it was released and went with a bunch of friends to listen to it in a semi-abandoned barn/storage structure in middle of nowhere East Austin. It was a great experience, and since then I have listened to the record in full several times with close friends and also a good deal on my own.

There is a lot of hype about this record. It's been a long time in the making, has been displayed in different forms live, and a few songs leaked months ago to the dismay of the group. The critical reception has been shining and although this record might boost the font size of Animal Collective on the flyer of the next large festival they play, it isn't going to "break them", and if it does introduce them to a larger audience, well, that's just a natural progression for a band that's been around for 10 years.

But this hype isn't really important to me in any sense other than it made me excited for the record. What kind of drew me to write this was the statement in Honez's post about this arguably being their least inventive record. It's an apt observation, and I can see how you could come to that conclusion and I might even agree with it, but the thing is, I don't find it important to my enjoyment of the album in the least. It's simply not what I'm listening for at this point.

Since their first release in 2000, Animal Collective have put out nine full length records and three EPs, plus solo-stuff and small pressing releases. There are one or two of those records that I haven't listened to, but I have a pretty firm grasp of their sound and how it has evolved. There is the noise and there is the pop and there are the electronics and there is the drone and the tribal/world element and there is the live improvisation that coalesces all these elements and allows them to fuse together and grow in different directions.

It isn't their most inventive record, but at this point I'm not really looking for inventive records from these guys, I'm looking for them to take this pastiche of dichotomous elements and craft perfect songs. They've outgrown the balancing act that held Here Comes the Indian together on a thin string. They've harnessed the sing-along drone and repetition of Campfire Songs. They've gathered the tongue in hand pop ambitions of Sung Tongs and and infused them with the textural elements that made Strawberry Jam a thick and demanding listen.

So to actually talk about the music.

Brothersport, the album's closer, was the first song to leak. It raised my hopes for the album pretty high. I feel like it's the best song they've ever written. The dynamics shift constantly over six minutes, starting as a bouncy synth bass sing-a-long with chanting harmonies and vocal reverb trails. The beat builds with with an insect-chirping electronic melody and stomping/shaking percussion. The electronic melody continues throughout the entire song, but evolves into a phasing drone a la Steve Reich. Frantic vocal samples pan left and right as the drums re-enter and we're in delay-jam mode, enjoying the repetition. Then the dense delay thins and you're confronted new graceful piano line and that initial vocal melody, which you're forced to realize is completely beautiful.

I say Brothersport is the best song on the record, but it isn't my favorite anymore. Summertime Clothes is kinda my jam. The slow attack on the initial synthesizer melody gives a rolling sensation when contrasted with the steady bass drum and straight-forward vocal rhythms. It gets my head nodding in an uncontrollable fashion and I just want to stomp my foot. The narrative lyrics add a pacing and progression that is different from most other Animal Collective songs, another guide through the disjointed rhythm created by the synthesizer's attack. Then on the chorus, a howling reverbed pitch accompanies the somewhat sappy lyric "I want to walk around with you," which I'll be honest, I'm a complete sucker for.

Each of these songs deserves it's own paragraph, not because they're the best songs that Animal Collective have ever written, but because I would say they are all masterfully crafted. They've managed to organize the ideas on the record with remarkable clarity, and although the sound might not be a projection towards five years in the future, it captures the band's last five years and shows that they've matured enough to know that little steps forward might have the largest payoff as they progress as a band.


P.S. Does anybody know how to do jump-cuts in HTML so that only like the first three paragraphs of a post show up and there is a link to the rest? As the blog is growing, these 800 word posts need a bit of a cage.

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Dear Scott Weiland,

You may remember Scott Weiland from the 90's alternative rock group Stone Temple Pilots. Here's the beginning of what I hope to be a fruitful myspace conversation!



---

Subject: Hey Dan
From: Scott Weiland
Date: Jan 15, 2009 3:15 PM


Just wanted to give you a heads up about my solo show tomorrow night (1/16) in Austin. It's @ 8pm at La Zona Rosa. It's the second date of our tour and we would love for you to check it out.

Sincerely,

SW

------

Subject: Dear Scott
From: Dan Gentile
Date: Jan 16, 2009 8:06 AM

Why did you send me this message? We are not friends on the internet or in real life. How did an intern at your booking agency choose to send me a message? What made you think I like your music? I don't. I'd like to know what it was on my profile that made you think I might like your music because I want to remove it so this doesn't happen again.

Sincerely,
Dan

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big L / Jay Z Freestyles



I rep Big L on the blog a lot. Seriously, listen to the guy. This arguably isn't a freestyle, but regardless he kills it so hard.

One of my favorite things about Big L is his imagery. He manages to keep his flow dense without resorting to twisted syntax (i.e. MF DOOM, who I have been feeling a lot lately) because he is so gifted at creating quick powerful images. It's like he's stabbing you then stepping back for an instant, but it isn't to laugh, it's to let the image settle just long enough to hit you again even harder. He doesn't ever really step out of the pocket, he is totally relentless. A guy like Jay-Z will jump around the beat and ride the rhythms and melodies like the coolest guy in the room, but L just keeps stabbing you over and over again with the sharpest lyrics you can imagine.

I have a ton of respect for Jay-Z, probably much more than most people do at this point, but I can't really hold up my role of Jigga-man apologist when it comes to this flow. Jay-Z gets embarrassed in this session. His flows on this recording are a joke and you can tell that he knows it. Next to L, Jay Z sounds like a kid. He redeems himself in the first few bars of the second flow, but then he totally drops off the beat and starts to rely on some weird rhythmic scatting and repetitions, and most of the time he isn't really saying anything. I feel like I could battle him based on this recording. No joke, I can flow if you give me a half hour to warm up.

But back to L, my second favorite thing about him is he's the vilest rapper I've ever heard. It's totally endearing to me for some reason. I just want to hear him rapping about having sex with people's mothers and not caring about women and killing whole buildings worth of people if he's disrespected. Here are some of my favorite one-liners from these freestyles:


"Bitches get fucked on the roof when I got no hotel dough."

"I'm quick to blast a goon and break a mother-fucker like a plastic spoon".

"You'll find my silk boxers in your mother's hamper."

"I'm so ahead of my time, my parents haven't met yet."

"My blood is colder than an ice-box."

"All chicks ain't shit, there ain't no such thing as Miss Right"

"Fuck love, all I've got for hoes is hard dick and bubblegum."

"So I left him sleeping with his temple leaking."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Merriweather Post Pavilion: God's Gift to 2009?

I am surprised no one has commented on this album here yet, so I am just gonna take what I wrote on myspace (lol my old blog lol) and put it here.


If you want to believe the press then apparently we have the album of the year a couple of weeks into 2009. You aren't going to see it yet on a review aggregator like Metacritic, but everyone seems to be throwing their brains down at the altar of Merriweather Post Pavilion. If you haven't looked around already the acclaim is loud and positive across the board. Being an aesthete and close listener, I have developed many opinions about what happens when critical acclaim follows a release such that everyone who talks about that particular release being good means it might actually, on some level of truth-related consideration beyond mere opinions, be a truly "good" record or "art object". Like, Platonically speaking, if I dare say so. There's enough rumination behind this claim to fill a mile-long blog entry, but in the case of the aesthetic consensus following Animal Collective right now I am a bit hesitant to 1) continue exploring the implications of that claim and 2) say that I love this record a ton like the consensus is reflecting right now. And I am a little put off by this, actually. But I'm not complaining here, rest assured. This is not to say that Animal Collective don't deserve a really high level of adulation; I think they're truly excellent. I am just surprised the adulation is happening in such a surge following this album, which is arguably their least inventive record. The most surprising thing about the album, as noripcord put it, is just how much it sounds like Animal Collective trying to make their music do just a little more than it already has. For my point to be clear, I'm gonna reminisce a bit. I went back to Sung Tongs the other day in the car. This was the first record that got me by the throat and made me pay attention to this band / group of musicians. I remember hearing for the first time the dancing beat that pans around the stereo field which makes "Leaf House" the incredible song that it really is. In some ways, I am still just about as blown away by that song as I was on the first listen. Many other points on the record amaze me in the same way. This group, I thought, is doing an amazing balancing act by being on the bleeding edge of noise while retaining an amazingly accessible melodic element: their nearly-nonsensical words, their bizarre arrangement choices to shout and shriek instead of maybe a guitar solo or plinking, pretty piano tone, their unexpected and sometimes humorous turns of phrase made and still make Sung Tongs a pretty raw listening experience. Plus, they did this with a pretty minimal set of sounds (MPP is relatively chock-full of bells and whistles). Funny thing: when someone told me that the songs on Sung Tongs actually had real lyrics, I was actually not interested in knowing them at first and was a bit shocked/bummed to realize they weren't babbling all the time. However, when I did check out the substance behind what I thought was a semi-babble, I was impressed by the wit and keen simplicity of their lyrics.. they took relatively simple subjects and made clever phrases worthy of repetition, and they could be very evocative too. The last lyricist using the English language to do this to a big, adoring audience was probably Michael Stipe (think about it!). I started comparing Sung Tongs AC to today's, and while I still think they are one of the top three bands going in the world today, I started to think to myself "I miss that edge, they aren't doing the same balancing act I once loved." I had to put on "Here Comes The Indian" to be reminded that these guys are capable of making some of the most unsettling, edgy tunes this side of Xiu Xiu. So on the one hand, I have to hand it to the Collective: if they get a lot bigger because of this album, then that just means a lot of minds will be opened to some of the coolest, most forward-thinking music I think exists in the rock world today. But on the other hand, I think Sung Tongs is still going to be my favorite Animal Collective record.

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