Saturday, December 13, 2008
This album is just a fairytale in the supermarket. This album must be imaginary, it's still a singularity that reality hasn't quite figured out how to deal with.
There's obviously a lot of neo-Marxist/Feminist themes running through here, which is refreshing, but it's really all about the praxis. Say what you will about how “musically skilled” these musicians are, they make some really compelling music. Really, each one of these songs is brilliant. If you dare deny that, I would say you're listening to music with all the wrong organs!
And it's so ramshackle. There's none of that bullshit equilibrium you get so much of in other music. Whereas in some songs every instrument is perfectly in time with the others, and so creates the illusion of a fixed point moving in time, the fixed point here is entirely virtual. It is a strange attractor that all the voices struggle to reach or struggle to slow down towards. As such, all the instruments are always clamoring for that supreme unity but never attaining it. No one member of the band defines it, because there is a fierce egalitarianism in operation. Now isn't that a much better metaphor for life than all the other music you've been taught to appreciate because of its simulated perfection?
Did I mention they do a cover of “Lola”? Yeah, it's great.
About the music itself, this is “post-punk.” Post-punk is just the logical progression of punk, in that it assumes the same goal of deconstructing music but takes it one step further (the step into “The Void”). This particular album sounds like a mix between The Shaggs and The Ramones, if you don't mind me referring to one artist more obscure and one more popular to provide a popular definition. You have everything you could want: brass, strings, bass, drums, guitar, and girls, girls, girls! Really, this is an album for everyone, especially people who love/hate music.
This album works because it likes all the same albums I do. It appreciates Mission of Burma, Joy Division, The Byrds, Richard Thompson, Brian Eno, Slowdive, etc. It's a synthesis the likes of which I have never seen before: it goes through all your favorite records and identifies the peaks, then cuts them out and pastes them all together into a collage of everything that is the best about all the music you already love. As such, it is one of the most depressing albums I've heard in a while.
Not only does it refer back to all your favorite music, it even refers to itself. So contemporary it's contemporary of itself! Microcastle... everything has been digitized, synthesized, reduced in size, and fit into a box. After all, a castle is just a glorified box. As is a computer, or an album, or a womb...
But I digress. This album is like a river. Like the river of life. It ebbs and flows, it brings you to a new high and to a new low. But it is not this straight-forward, it must pay its tribute to irony. Irony, which is the guiding force of our new lives. Irony in that the highest points are also the lowest, such as on “Nothing Ever Happened,” which climaxes after the line “I never saw it coming, waiting for something from nothing.” A self-defeating anti-climax, in an age where we rely on technology for most of our climaxes. So what's this? Why won't Cox deliver? What is with his apathetic, disinterested vocal delivery and his depressing lyrics? Can't he go be depressed somewhere else?
That's not it at all. This album is, first and foremost, a mirror of our times. Our new synthesis is not one of making disparaging styles click together, it is one of breaking down the ideas which supported those styles and then throwing everything together until it is easily manufactured and reproduced. Music isn't marketable unless it fits a template or reduces previous music into a template. This album does that so well it's incredible, but at the same time, it does so with an air of melancholy and irony. It has to rely on the past, because what is there to rely on now? “Saved by Old Times,” expresses that sentiment perfectly. The past still provides an aura of meaning, whereas our present provides only disillusion and unreality.
This album is an experience. It divides between the really catchy song-songs, like “Agoraphobia,” “Little Kids,” “Never Stops,” “Nothing Ever Happened,” and “Saved By Old Times,” and the other songs which are more ambient mood pieces. It's tempting at first to say, oh well there's the singles and the other crap that fills it up. But the transition between them is really impeccable, and both are completely necessary to complete the “feeling” of the album. That completely enveloping mood, what I like to refer to Baudrillard for and call “melancholy and fascination,” the dominant ethos of our times. It's always a back and forth of breaking down our musical systems and then running back to them. That is essentially the loop we are trapped in. But doesn't it sound great? Or at least... fascinating?
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
What is minimalism? What drives it?
John Cage said, “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” Whereas other forms of music rely on various devices to convey emotions and themes, minimalism seems content to express nothing. Or does it, rather, use its own devices to express nothingness?
Western philosophy always begins with the reality of being. “I think, therefore I am.” All truths are contingent on this duality of existence and perception. The 50's and 60's were a turbulent time; everyone was still reacting to the horrors of WWII and the formation of the Soviet Union. In the art world, Dada, Surrealism, and abstract art continued to demand a response. Every artist took it upon himself to smash every necessary truth he could find. And the most primal of these is that of being. Thus, many minimalists turned to Eastern philosophy.
Buddhism and Taoism, when specifically contrasted against most trends in Western philosophy, take an inverted approach. Rather than start with the conception of being, they begin with the idea of absolute nothingness. This idea is much less familiar to us than being. To form a conception of nothingness is to negate it. And yet, as wise men tell us, it lurks beneath everything.
1952 saw the first performance of 4'33”. Many were outraged when the musical performance they paid for just ended up being four and a half minutes of silence. John Cage, however, denied any such thing. The human mind does not have access to absolute silence. John Cage wanted his audience to realize that although the performance they were seeing was one of nothing, it was nonetheless a performance. Even though nothing was played, sound still filled the room. Something had still happened.
What everyone expected from the performance was a drama. Each sound is supposed to be an actor, working to increase or resolve the central conflict. Minimalism strips music of its illusions. A sound is simply a sound, and should be appreciated on that level. To assign meaning to certain sounds, to interpret abstract music, is to look away from life and to enter into the game we have draped over it.
Minimalism is about the journey, not the destination. No future moment in the music will justify what you are hearing right now; each moment is its own justification.
Where does this piece of music fit in? Arvo Pärt's music is often described as “sacred minimalism.” But how does all the drama of religion sneak into minimalism without tearing it apart? Although minimalism sacrifices many elements of the drama, it most often retains tonality. Pärt finds God in the trinity of tonality, the triad. He uses a technique he calls tintinnabulum, whereby the three notes of the triad ring out like bells, and form the foundation of the piece. The drama now consists in sounds pulling themselves out of the void, in the patches of silence that tend to subsume everything, and in the divine relationship between pure tones.
Is this a cop-out? Has minimalism been torn from staring into the abyss to contemplating the infinite? For me there is no difference. Steve Reich was fond of Pärt's compositions, and said that they filled an essential human need. According to Reich they missed the zeitgeist of the times, but thereby generated their own appeal. This music is on many levels a reaction—a response to the detachment of atonality as well as the excesses of Romanticism. But more than this it is an affirmation. Arvo Pärt went through a long period of silence. Like John Cage, he may have come to the conclusion that the artist betrays himself by speaking. Ultimately, however, something led him to compose—and the results are divine.
Friday, July 11, 2008
1.Scritti Politti – Jacques Derrida
Composed more of non-musicians than performers, Scritti Politti were a band/collective formed in the late 70's alongside the initial post-punk movement, but rather than stand in stark contrast to dance music like many of their peers, they wholeheartedly embraced it and combined it with their folky/commie roots plus a jerky post-punk sense of rhythm. Simultaneously embracing and declaring war on pop culture, “Jacques Derrida” conceals sinister intent from the unscrutinizing pop listener. And it sure as hell is catchy, despite some prerequisite post-punk abrasiveness.
2.Joan of Arc – Happy 1984 and 2001
Joan of Arc offer a quick glimpse into the mind of a conspiracy theory paranoiac: ripe with folky acoustic guitar picking, numbingly noisy synths, and delirious elliptical chanting. It lies somewhere in the dead zone between soothing and disturbing.
3.My Bloody Valentine – Map Ref
My Bloody Valentine reinterpret the classic track from Wire's 154, turning it into an instant shoegaze classic. Wire's early 80's fluid guitar sound transforms from glimmering sheen into a swirling cloud of feedback and overtones, as Kevin's murmurings bleed into Belinda's, transforming Colin Newman's dreamy meanderings into pure bliss.
4.Arto Lindsay – Q Samba
What can you expect the work of an artist whose background includes a childhood in Brazil, No Wave, and “fake jazz” to sound like? With Arto Lindsay you can't really expect anything. This particular song infuses Tropicala with fat, noisy synths and smooth vocals delivering absurd lyrics. It compels you to dance self-mockingly.
5.The Ex + Tom Cora – King Commie
Tom Cora's cello gives fluidity to The Ex's staggered rhythms, and matches them in their most free-form meltdown moments. Punk and screeched folk vocals collide over an aggressive art rock backdrop. The Ex, an anarchist band from the Netherlands, are matched perhaps only by The Fall as still-surviving still-shit-upfucking amazing bands from the first era of punk/post-punk.
6.Miles Davis – Black Satin
Black Satin is so angular and in your face that I find it impossible not to love. From its compulsive stop-start bassline, to the absolutely deconstructed drum spasms, to the horns which introduce melodic structure and then turn it into a swirling, noisy mess. I hear the angular funk of James Chance and Gang of Four in this, I hear the sonic assault of Public Enemy, and even the structure-breakdown-structure form often presented by Sonic Youth.
7.Sun City Girls – Esoterica of Abyssynia
Psychedelic Arabic garage rock? That's the best description I can come up with. There's something about Sir Richard Bishop's all-encompassing guitar playing that breaks down the walls between musical forms and turns Sun City Girl's lo-fi avant-rock into something simultaneously universal and otherworldly.
8.No Neck Blues Band – Boreal Gluts
This song would probably work well as the soundtrack to several scenes in Cannibal Holocaust. Dark tribal jazzy improv that sounds like it drifted in from another world.
9.Old Time Relijun – Witchcraft Rebellion
You take a little Jon Spencer, a little James Chance, and add a touch of Beefheart, what do you get? A schizoid group like Old Time Relijun. Witchcraft Rebellion comes complete with driving bassline and drums, squelching horns, and atonal Trout Mask-esque guitar freakouts. You can see the coven dancing madly around the fire orgiastically worshiping Satan and exploring the limits of carnal knowledge and whatnot.
10.Tuxedomoon – The Fifth Column
Creepy synths + creepy jazz = ? Excellent mood music, textural journey very much like David Bowie's ambient work, saved by the excellent horn playing from sounding too dated.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
2. The Deep End
3. Stolen Leeps
4. From Here To Nowhere
5. Frog Playing Piano
6. Just Sit Still
7. Sand Turns to Glass
8. The Drumboy
9. The Lloigor
11. No Reprieve
13. On The Shore
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I know you've all been waiting for it, so get it NOW, HERE, FREE,
before you can't get it anywhere else. It's been described as droopy,
psychedelic, post-modern, electric, and swankalicious, all by me, just now.
Here it is:
1. Your Majesty
2. Heaven Sinks
3. Intergalactic Moped
4. Jesus is Alive
5. Punctual Piano
6. Psychic Pushers
9. Severed and Fragmented
10. Dirty Shoes
11. Nail Under Bach's Blood
12. Something Going on Nothing
free download here
Thursday, March 13, 2008
1. M83 - America
2. Sun City Girls - Voice of America #2
3. Yo La Tengo - We're An American Band
4. Meat Puppets - Mother American Marshmallow
5. Living Colour - Which Way to America?
6. Wipers - Youth of America
7. Agent Orange - America
8. The Ex - Stupid Americans
9. Reagan Youth - Miss Teen America
10. Big Black - The Ugly American
11. Ex Models - Buy American
12. Trans Am - American Kooter
13. Thurston Moore - American Coffin
14. Fred Frith - Voice of America Part 4