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
Saturday, March 8, 2008
here's a nice little sampler of some
rock and roll
1. The Homosexuals - Flying
has the swagger of glam rock but all the anger and attitude
of punk... basically what you'd expect from a band called the homosexuals
2. The Misfits - Return of the Fly
danzig's vocals at their peak, it's so retro and yet still so forward looking
there's just something really incredible about it to me
3. Wire - I Am The Fly
4. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Firefly Child
so scuzzy and sleazy you can hardly believe it. masterful
5. Melvins - Eye Flys
such a representative early melvins song... it takes five minutes to build up (just to see if you can make it) and then spends about a minute and a half rocking out but in typical restrained madman fashion
6. Cherubs - Venus Flytrap
noise rock not in the sharp, jagged big black sense of the term, but rather punk rock washed over in feedback (also, was xtc playing in the background the whole time?)
7. Erase Errata - Walk Don't Fly
more jagged noise rock, great chick vocals
8. Grinderman - Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)
approaches birthday party greatness
9. The Cramps - Human Fly
you know when the crazy people in the movies sit in their straight jackets and shake violently back and forth? this is the song playing in their head.
10. Mudhoney - Butterfly Stroke
1. Pink Floyd - Time
This song is so chilling. I love the lyrics, but they depress the **** out of me. I think a lot of these songs have a similar theme, but never presented quite so clearly.
2. The Pop Group - We Are Time
Heavily dub-influenced post-punk, similar to PiL but better, imo.
3. Polvo - Time Isn't On My Side
Hmm which song coming up on the playlist is this a play on? Just another perfect song off Today's Active Lifestyles...
4. Prefuse 73 - Back in Time
The sample at the start says it perfectly... "What I didn't want to do was record rappers rapping over a beat... I was really looking for something that was a bit more classic... and go backwards in time."
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Right on Time
The dichotomy on this track is emblematic of their progression up to Californication... they switch between angular funk rock and catchy pop at the drop of a hat. I really love the subtle synth bass line too, such a groovy and fun track.
6. The Residents - Time
Taken from the mind-blowing album "God in Three Persons," though probably the least representative track since it is instrumental.
7. The Rolling Stones - Time is On My Side
Always reminds me of Fallen. Lovely tune.
8. The Roots - Long Time
Why can't all rap be like this?
9. Roxy Music - A Really Good Time
The title doesn't lie.
10. Scratch Acid - Damned For All Time
Jazzy/funky noise rock! It doesn't get any better.
11. The Pagans - Haven't Got the Time
Really classic catchy hardcore.
12. Bad Religion - Doing Time
13. Skip Spence - This Time He Has Come
And this is what schizophrenia sounds like.
14. The Stooges - Real Cool Time
15. Sonic Youth - I Love Her All The Time
Iggy's howls echo into this song, but then Thurston Moore kills his idol with a love song. This might just be my favorite love song, actually.
16. Spahn Ranch - Each Time Centered
Dark, propulsive post-punk. Great instrumental track.
17. Caspar Brotzmann Massaker - Time
Caspar Brotzmann has a really unique style of playing, which I'm sure could put some off but I absolutely love it. Like his father, the legendary saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, he's obsessed with timbre... Much of his playing is largely textural, though he's obviously a skilled player. Look out for the group this band's name is an homage to later in the playlist.
18. The United States - Stranded in Time
Just a catchy little pop tune from the legendary psychedelic band. Very Kinky. Uh.. Kinksy. You know what I mean.
19. X - Some Other Time
OoooOOooOh you know there's something about X's infectious blend of punk and rockabilly that makes my toes curl.
20. Die Kruezen - No Time
Criminally overlooked hardcore/indie/american underground band.
21. Black Flag - Forever Time
I really love the band's dynamic here as both Rollins and Ginn take their respective styles in further extremes, with Rollins doing more of the growling screaming thing and Ginn getting jazzier and jazzier...
22. Bailter Space - Be On Time
Really interesting slightly industrial song from what is a rather varied "shoegaze" album.
23. Flying Saucer Attack - In The Light of Time
Remember when this was considered post-rock? Oh, the good ol' days.
24. Dirty Projectors - Time Birthed Spilled Blood
I really love this song. It opens with a really beautiful string interlude, sounding like a neo-classical piece... but then all of a sudden the drumbeat kicks in and some of the most stunning vocals I've ever heard... damn.
25. Gentle Giant - Time To Kill
This is a great song, reminds me of an off-kilter King Crimson song. Time to kill, and now it's...
26. Massacre - Killing Time
killing time!!! This band got mentioned earlier as well... and it's not hard to see why they garner a lot of respect. It's very technical but doesn't fall into that trap of being boring and aimless.
27. Minutemen - The Politics of Time
This is what they're good at.
28. Miggedys - Times Like These
Really catchy punk ska tune.
29. Chumbawamba - Timebomb
I put this on here just to piss off Urban (not really, I quite like this song).
30. John Cale - Only Time Will Tell
(that's not derogatory, i swear)
1. Melt Banana - Spathic!
...that's all I have to say about that.
2. Liliput - Night Toad
Such a beautifully amateuristic song with a great beat to it, and some of the greatest crazy bitch vocals ever. I mean, it's shouted in broken English and about... "NIGHT TOAD!" ... who I can only imagine is a superhero of some sort. One deserving of much lust.
3. Teenage Jesus & The Jerks - I Woke Up Dreaming
Lydia Lunch might just be the original crazy bitch. This track features a lot of no wave staples, and sounds like it would fit right in on an early Sonic Youth album... if Kim Gordon sounded more like a demoness come to tear your balls off.
4. Yoko Ono - Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)
This has got to be one of my favorite songs to sing along with ever. Let's count how many ways Yoko Ono can sing/shout/croon/wail "Don't Worry!" And look out for some particularly vicious bass playing courtesy of Klaus Voorman... sounds like The Boredoms doing a blues song. With... you know... Yoko Ono singing.
5. Throwing Muses - America
I have to say, for an angsty 17-year old girl Kristin Hersh wrote some incredible fragmented lyrics. And that angular post-punk propulsion certainly doesn't hurt anything... but in the end the vocal delivery steals the show. I'm so taken by this song.
6. PJ Harvey - Man-Size Sextet
I don't think anyone makes me feel as guilty about being a guy as PJ Harvey... this song is particularly grueling. The dissonant string backing really adds a whole new element to her singing.
7. Bjork - Human Behaviour
This song confirms it: Bjork is from outer space. She descended from space just show us what all this musical technology we are burdened with is capable of. Somewhere in her musical evolution from a post-punk crooner to trip-hop queen she also took a lot of notes, which she shares with us here. And what better way to deliver them than with that dreamy Icelandic voice?
8. The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World
They may be the most brashly amateurish band to ever garner this much attention, but it is impossible to deny their genius after listening to this song. This is Captain Beefheart but stripped of any pretention and with astonishing clarity. You can never please anybody in this world.
9. Nico - It Was a Pleasure Thing
Feedback drone croon. This is my kind of music. If you didn't like the Banana album because of the female vocals... you probably want to skip this one. If, on the other hand, you want to hear what European Son would have sounded like with Nico doing vocal duties, look no further.
10. Joanna Newsom - Cosmia
Whenever I listen to Joanna Newsom I feel like I'm sinking into an elaborately constructed dream world which she wasn't really expecting to share with anyone. But damn, does she shred on the harp.
1.Chuck Berry – Havana Moon
Before I put together this compilation, I'd never listened to this song before, which is a shame because it's very good. Very minimalist, centered around a simple but charming motif and Berry's stripped down vocals. It tells a poignant story and fades out as abruptly as it started, leaving you with that warm and fuzzy feeling that all the rest of the music on this playlist will try to stamp out.
2.Dead Kennedys – Moon Over Marin
Only a band as versatile as the Dead Kennedys could write a punk song so simultaneously beautiful and dark. The lyrics deal with our fascist soldier protagonist in a nondescript dystopian future world enjoying his segment of the beach, despite oil spills and dead fish littering the sand. It's a powerful political statement delivered as unobtrusively as possible, and for those not interested in hearing it is backed by one of the most sentimental melodies ever written by a “hardcore” band.
3.Bauhaus – Honeymoon Croon
Bauhaus are bad-ass.
4.Echo & The Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
I cannot listen to this song without flashing back to the scene of Donnie waking up dazed and confused, unaware of his location, and then dreamily riding his bike down the hill. Those images perfectly mirror the dreamy, intoxicated infatuation presented in “The Killing Moon.” The Bunnymen's spiraling take on new wave is half jangle, half pop, pure pop rock bliss.
5.Big Star – Blue Moon
Alex Chilton is a genius. This song should send shivers up your spine (if it doesn't, you might be spineless).
6.Nick Drake – Pink Moon
What does this song have in common with the last track? No, it's not the similarity in title, they're both two minutes and six seconds long. Weird, huh? That, and they're both two of the most beautiful folk songs ever written. There's not much to say about Nick Drake that hasn't been said before, all it takes to understand is to listen.
7.Bob Dylan – Moonshiner
This is one of those good Bob Dylan songs.
8.The Doors – Moonlight Drive
Good upbeat Doors song off Strange Days.
9.Can – Moonshake
This song sees Can locking into a great jazzy groove, bringing together a lot of disparaging elements (some sort of strange combination of Latin and musique concrete) and marrying them to some surprisingly conventional vocals that work like a charm.
10.Chrome – Blood on the Moon
Driven by a slow, hypnotic drumbeat and an oscillating undercurrent of feedback, this song comes off as a fusion of Neu and Black Sabbath. Not one of the most memorable songs, but a great mood piece nonetheless.
11.Brian Eno / David Byrne – Moonlight in Glory
From My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Brian Eno and David Byrne's amazing sample-based electronica album. This song in particular highlights the contrast between Byrne's driving, ethnic rhythms and Eno's oblique sound collages, and the incredible balance these artists managed to achieve.
12.My Bloody Valentine – Moon Song
A particularly well executed meandering tune featuring predominantly Kevin Shields' strained vocals. Absolutely hypnotic and dreamy, just what you'd expect from MBV.
13.His Name is Alive – Blue Moon
Turns Big Star's folk classic into a stunning dream pop masterpiece.
14.Cat Power – Moonshiner
Takes that good Bob Dylan song and turns it into a good Cat Power song.
15.Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention – Concentration Moon
This song is ridiculous. And absurd. And brilliant. And stunning social satire, and- it's Frank Zappa, dude, what more do you really need? Also, any song that describes America as a “scab of a nation driven insane” must be worth at least one listen.
16.Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Moonlight in Vermont
Probably the most accessible song on Trout Mask Replica, which might be a bit startling if this is your first exposure to Captain Beefheart. That having been said, it's still a rape of most standards of rock n' roll with each instrument playing in its own time signature and Beefheart ranting absurd lyrics off like a determined madman. Especially unsettling is the effect of his vocals being disjointed from the rest of the music, supposedly caused by his singing along to the studio echos rather than wearing headphones, but more than likely intentional.
17.Television – Marquee Moon
This track is crystalline. It makes my head spin.
18.Explosions in the Sky – The Moon is Down
This is the song that hundreds of bands are trying desperately at this very instant to emulate.
19.The Kronos Quartet – Half Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight
Think if John Cale started a string quartet. Keeps your socks glued to your balls, that's for sure.
20.Tod Dockstader – Two Moons of Quartermass, First Moon
This is the most cold, alienating music imaginable, stripping the moon of any sentimental value and describing it instead as a distant revolving sphere.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
1. Mission of Burma - Weatherbox
2. Fugazi - Arpeggiator
3. Jawbox - Motorist
4. Kleenex - Hitch-Hike
5. Ui - Elettrodomestici
6. Killing Joke - Primitive
7. The Jesus Lizard - Monkey Trick
8. Melvins - A History of Drunks
9. NoMeansNo - Rags and Bones
10. Venus Bogardus - Autoclave
11. John Cale - Barracuda
12. Faust - The Sad Skinhead
13. Fred Frith - Too Much Too Little
14. Iva Bittova and Vladimir Vaclavek - Uspavanka
15. The Fugs - We're the Fugs
16. The Godz - Turn On
17. Samsimar -Bapikek Balam
18. Akron/Family - The Rider (Dolphin Song)
19. Mercury Rev - Snorry Mouth
20. Os Mutantes - Ave Genghis Khan
21. Thinking Fellers Union Local #282 - Squidder Boy
22. Faust - Just a Second (Starts Like That)
23. A.D.D. Trio - Instinct
24. Soft Machine - Facelift
25. Schlammpeitziger - Pra-Digitaler Volksstuhlhanger
26. Birdsongs of the Mesozoic - Coco Boudakian
27. Gastr Del Sol - Bauchredner
28. Doctor Nerve - Money Where Your Mainz Is
29. Henry Cow/Slapp Happy - Apes in Capes
30. Modest Mouse - Tiny Cities Made of Ashes