One of the greatest things about working on a book, however big or small, is the research phase. This is the wondrously giddy period where you're not consumed with the cold realities of writing; you're just accumulating reams of raw material with little regard for practicality or focus. Pointless accumulation of large amounts of crap is something that we music critics, DJs, and other assorted freaks know a thing or two about. If you're anything like me, "research" means you read anything that could even be tangentially related to the topic at hand. Since practically everything seems tangentially related to Eno, the subject of my 33 1/3 book, and since every thought fans out into about twenty other thoughts, it's easy to get caught up in a gelatinous web of thought-processes leading nowhere in particular.
A few months ago, I began trawling the archives of a defunct electronic-music magazine called Synapse. First, I was intrigued by the title of the mag--was it a vintage '70s exploration into the music-brain interface? Some scholarly journal on cybernetics? A freaky journey into the labyrinthine folds and fissures of the mind, soundtracked by pulsing German analog synthesizer epics? Well, not exactly. It gets extremely technical at points, which I like, but it's more along the nuts and bolts of synthesis than it is about neurons and synapses. It's also sadly a bit too heavy on proggy white dudes and the synthesizers that love them--how come Delia Derbyshire never gets any props in these rags?--and there's next to nothing on the technology behind disco. That said, it still is an enormously useful resource, even if it is a little too heavy on the Stockhausen love for my tastes (Stockhausen: most overrated 20th century composer ever?)
Issue number 1, published in 1976, has a feature on "Making Music with Calculators"! Now before you can say "Kraftwerk," I should also mention that Issue #1 features Ralf und Florian as the sexy cover stars, along with a fascinating interview that includes choice tidbits (along with the usual boring anti-American sentiments) like At one time we are machinery but at the same time we are human. So we're neither simply humans or machines. It's a symbiosis (Ralf), Your mind is like a blank tape and so whatever comes in is recorded (Ralf), It's what happens on the street...I hear a lot of cars playing symphonies (Florian). Plus the interviewer's questions are just plain loopy--stuff like "Do you feel that art and music will be transmitted telepathically in the future?"
You can probably guess the rest of the mag's contents. There are, of course, obligatory references to Yes. There are references to a German paper in the 1800s called the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, for classical music geek cred. The record reviews in the back of the mag aren't terribly well-written; on average, they're more centered what cool nerdy pedals and effects boxes and synth gear the groups used than on critiquing the music. But I actually find this sort of writing to be just as informative and interesting, in a different way.
But let's get back to the important things in life, like making music with our pocket calculators. In the article, the writer solemnly instructs: "For this all you need is a calculator, but two calculators are best and scientific calculators are best." Let's put the hilarity of a 'scientific calculator' circa 1976 aside for a minute. He goes on to write, "My Novus 'Mathematician' makes the best sounds on overflow or error indications, and the various trigonometric functions." Man, I bet this guy got all the chicks! As an aside, the reason I went into science in the first place (before I became a music journalist) was because of two things: Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine, and an article I read in Scientific American when I was a little kid, about robots made out of pocket calculators. Robots made out of pocket calculators!
Also in that issue is an interview with Tom Oberheim, founder of synthesizer stalwarts Oberheim Electronics, looking very 1976 with a white-boy afro, a too-tight striped shirt, and aviator glasses. Little did he know back then in '76 that the Oberheim DMX drum machine would become a defining sound of hip-hop in the '80s!
The second issue, also from 1976, has an awesome piece on lesser-known lights in the weirdo Bay Area electronic-music scene, but it's the 1977 issues that I've been really interested in. In '77, punk did not exist, according to Synapse. They were busy running four-page-long interviews with Tangerine Dream and extremely technical features like 'Build Your Own Synthesizer'; the basic gist of a review of Bowie's Low, which had just come out, was "Not bad--side 2 sounds a bit like Vangelis!" Eno finally gets on the cover in 1979 (a big interview by Kurt Loder, pre-MTV), but I'm more intrigued by the other stuff. Like that massive interview with Tangerine Dream, in which they voice some stupidly small-minded statements about American pop music and African drumming, among other things (stick with the lasers, dudes). The interview includes a hilarious photo of Froese standing in front of some Blondie posters in a gritty New York-style urban streetscape, looking completely outclassed by what's coming up behind him.
In '78, the mag started warming up a bit. They put Devo on the cover; the writing got looser and (perhaps unintentionally) funnier; they dispatched a journalist to a California yoga retreat to get weird with Terry Riley; stuff like that. But the advertisements are perhaps more revealing, and more interesting: An ad for a very dull-looking LP bills itself in giant letters as "music to match your intelligence" (ew!) and an ad for the new ARP Avatar 'guitar synthesizer' taunts "Genesis uses one--why don't you?" Er...no thanks! For Christmas I want a 2600, or maybe an Odyssey (which is, according to the 1977 advertisement, "fast, powerful, and funky"! How's that for punk rock?)
03.27.06 @ 06:31 AM EST [link]
RIP Nikki Sudden
03.27.06 @ 02:46 AM EST [link]
Lame tech question -- can anyone help me figure out how to import this blog (including three years' worth of archives) into Movable Type from (the admittedly antiquated) Greymatter? People keep asking me when this blog is going to have an RSS feed, and my usual response is "can't be bothered to set it up," but also it's because I'm too retro. It's time for me to tumble headfirst into the boundless possibilities of the Interweb...EVERY POSSE AND CREW THE FUTURE IS BEFORE YOUR EYES etc etc.
03.22.06 @ 03:04 AM EST [link]
More bonkers amazing tracks that came out recently (OK, in Berlin these came out in the beginning of February, but damn it, have pity on us in New York, we're always one month behind!)
Rhythm and Sound - Truly (Vladislav Delay mix) - Luomo mix, more like! Zooms down those dark Delay tunnels but with the pleasure-principle-centric grooviness of prime Luomo. Good stuff.
Rhythm and Sound - Let We Go (Villalobos mix) - A ten-minute-long wormhole; you can actually feel yourself falling forward while it's playing!
03.21.06 @ 03:26 AM EST [link]
It should probably come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I'm big into music. I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to keep up with every new release that comes out. I listen to music during about 75% to 90% of my waking hours. Seriously--my shower plays Triple R Selection 4. There's not a moment when I'm not thinking about music. Once, when I was a miserable graduate student, I tried to stop listening to music for 24 hours in an experiment that you can read about here, and it felt so weird and horrible that I was literally counting down the minutes until the experiment was over. Pure torture.
I keep up with everything that's happening in Berlin by remote control. How do I do it? Well, there are a few blogs and websites, and then of course there's ILM and my browser's "reload" button--I realized recently that I've been posting to ILM for six years, which is eons in interweb-time! I check Groove and De:Bug online, especially for the DJ charts and the reviews section, but it's not as good as getting the magazines off the stands the way you can in Germany, and they don't update fast enough for me. Also Groove comes with a good CD compilation every month that's free with the mag; I wish they could put the mp3s on their website!
Then every week I go to the Hard Wax website and read about all the new 12" releases for the week. Christ you don't know how hard this is. The Hard Wax website gives you one hilarious sentence of information about each release--they're very minimal--and it always reads something like this: "Upbuilding atmospheric tech-house -- TIP!" or "Crispy groovin' clicks'n'cuts -- TIP!" or "DJ-friendly bleepin' 909 driven techno -- TIP!" or "Drum and bass flavored dubstep -- KILLER!" In ten years, if all the publications I write for keep slashing the word counts the way they have been, all music reviews will look like this. Anyway, then I figure out what sounds good, and try to get my hands on it somehow--I get some promos and fill in the rest of the blanks using other methods. Forced Exposure, which distributes a lot of German labels, is a lifeline in the US for music obsessives like me, along with Boomkat and Phonica in the UK.
Hard Wax, based out of Berlin, is one of the best record stores in the world by my reckoning, if you dig the music that goes thump in the night. I've been there in person several times, but to be honest I usually feel too intimidated to shop there. First off, I'm a girl and I don't see many other girls in there like me. Then, I get sad because there are so many amazing records and I don't have the money to buy more than one or two of them. But also it's because every famous DJ shops at Hard Wax, and I'm no Ricardo Villalobos, with an assistant to carry my purchases and the rights to get baked while I shop--I'm not even a DJ! The atmosphere feels really hallowed and German and serious--it's like a church in there, the Basic Channel temple to techno music--so every time I'm there I always try to crack a joke to loosen things up a bit. One time I asked the guy working the counter if I could have the Underground Resistance shirt he was wearing because I thought it looked cool. He said no, but not before informing me gleefully that he had two of the exact same shirt! Man, don't fuck with Berlin and the diehard, intense passion those guys have for Underground Resistance. Sometimes I think there are more Underground Resistance fans in Kreuzberg than there are in the entire United States of America. But that's what's cool about Germans--they totally appreciate the stuff that most of America doesn't give a shit about, even though we make the stuff! Take Environ, for instance. Beautiful music, wonderful label--it makes me proud to live in New York. I've met people in Germany who worship Environ, who track every release and think that Morgan Geist is a supergod. It's touching in a way--they care about Detroit techno as much as Juan Atkins or Kevin Saunderson does; at Hard Wax, shitty original paper-thin pressings of amazing old Trax records from Chicago hang on the wall like priceless museum paintings; Los Angeles is important not because of Hollywood but because minimal-techno hero John Tejada lives there; when you say you're from New York they ask you with wide-eyed awe if you're into Nu Groove, as if it was still raging today (By the way, Best of Nu Groove Vol. 1 got released on vinyl last week and it rules -- TIP!)
T.I. - What You Know About That [Big major label]
Brilliant and life-affirming hip-hop tune that sounds like what would happen if Atlanta merged with Border Community to make the ultimate crunked-out trance anthem. After a diet of pretty much nothing except '60s jazz, German techno, and disco and house instrumental and dub versions, the ungainly, angry lyrics, the big, lumbering Americanness of it, and the way T.I. says "r" in words, with that hard, heavy "r"--"But you's a scary dude/Believed by very few/Just keep it very cool/Or we will bury you"--hit like a heavy punch to the stomach. Majestic, pathos-drenched synth strings padding the lyrics make everything sound over-the-top heartbreaking and emotional in a huge, widescreen way. The most gay hip-hop anthem that's come out of the Dirty South in forever. For fans of Lil Jon and the Pet Shop Boys.
John Tejada - Asanebo [Poker Flat]
In twenty years, when I'm eating astronaut ice cream and beaming myself into extra dimensions, I hope that "Sweat (On the Walls)" is what's playing on the spaceship's oldies radio station. This guy is inspiring--if I knew how to make techno, I would try to make music that sounded something like this. 'Asanebo' is the B-side to 'Big City Music', which came out last month on Poker Flat. Tejada is billed as 'minimal'--whatever--a lot of the stuff he does is the most intensely maximal, musical, anthemic stuff I've ever heard. I found 'Big City Music' a little boring; it's a big banger with a hard, looping riff that sounds tailor-made to rock both the minimal-techno and the electro-house party. But if 'Big City Music' is ready-to-wear, 'Asanebo' is haute couture--a lithe psychedelic techno number that shimmers in all the right places, with shades of Luciano, Steve Barnes circa 'Cosmic Sandwich,' and Superpitcher circa 'Fieber.' Go buy this now.
Ricardo Villalobos - Que Belle Epoque 2006 [Frisbee Tracks]
I'm still shocked by how much this guy can rock when he's thinking about the floor instead of getting lost inside the cavernous recesses of his brain. This is about as straight-up anthemic as Villalobos is likely to get--enjoy it while it lasts! That said I loved the Achso EP (especially 'Sieso') but I can't imagine moving to it (even though Luciano's new Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Vol. 2 mix presents convincing evidence otherwise.) But this--this has diva vocals! (Granted, they're not in English and they sound like they're from space, but still!) And it has something vaguely approaching a normal oonce-oonce-oonce-oonce!
Allez Allez - Allez Allez (Lindstrom and Prins Thomas remix) (unreleased)
Ah, Lindstrom and Prins Thomas. Those wonderful space-disco heroes...actually, you know what? Fuck you guys! Damn you for releasing so many records and remixes and being so good! I don't know how to keep up with their burgeoning oeuvre without becoming a full-time Lindstromologist. I have this same problem with the Wighnomy Brothers and with Dominik Eulberg. Seriously, you guys, just stop, take a break, go take a walk in the park or something! No one can keep up with you!
Pier Bucci - L'Nuit (Dominik Eulberg remix) [Crosstown Rebels]
Speaking of Eulberg, that wonder boy from Bonn has remixed so many people now that I almost invariably end up ending all of my sentences with the words "(Dominik Eulberg remix)." Like, what did you have for lunch today? Oh, I had some pasta (Dominik Eulberg remix). How was it? It was good (Dominik Eulberg remix). I've had mixed feelings about this guy as of late -- his new collaboration with Gabriel Ananda has some good ideas, but on the whole it's pretty boring and cluttered, I think -- but this is awesome! Graceful without being precious, plip-ploppy without being slight or dull, spaced-out without being distant, groovy without being predictable--but most importantly, it totally slams in high gear. The world needs more Eulberg/Bucci tracks and it needs them now.
Booka Shade - Mandarine Girl (Konrad/Troy/Heartthrob remix) [Get Physical]
The original 'Mandarine Girl' is tremendously bouncy and upbeat, relying on a big, jubilant major-key riff; this remix, masterminded by Konrad Black and two M-nus minimal techno producers, surgically removes the riff and makes it darker, weirder, and more abstract. At first I read it as, ha ha, we're so cool and minimal, we're going to kill all the "pop music" in this song, and I hated that. Then I gradually warmed up to the remix; now I think it's great. It really is almost a completely different tune, and it really starts burning up about three minutes in. Very nice.
Sleeparchive - Radio Transmission EP [Sleeparchive]
Modeselektor - Hello Mom! Remixes [Bpitch]
Awesome Full-length Albums:
Luciano - Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Vol. 2 [Soma]
More on this later!
Aphex Twin - Chosen Lords [Rephlex]
More on this later!
Best of Nu Groove Vol. 1
Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music Vol. 4 [Sub Rosa]
Wish this was higher on the "noise" than the "electronic music," but this double-CD set, featuring stalwarts like Ligeti and Reich and Lucier alongside current art-world faves like Stephen Vitiello and less obvious picks like Ratkje and Vivenza, is hard to argue with. Plus, Disc 2, which is completely eclipsed by the bonkers psych-punk-noize onslaught of a 1977 live recording of Les Rallizes Denudes, reminded me--powerfully--that Les Rallizes Denudes were the greatest band of the 1970s (next to Chic, of course.)
I Don't Really Like This
Tomas Andersson - Copy Cat [Bpitch]
I dunno, a single or two aside, this guy always sounds like a wannabe Vitalic to my ears. Sometimes I think he has a synth with one patch on it labeled "BIG CRUNCHY ELECTRO-HOUSE--BANGIN'". In this post-"Rocker" era, there's been a rash of producers who seem to have realized that looping a riff that sounds like a mobile-phone-ringtone for six minutes over a clomping 4/4 beat is the way to go. So back to the Vitalic comparison. I think Vitalic is a genius. In his best tunes--"La Rock 01", "Poney Pt 1", "Poney Pt 2", etc--he relies heavily on tools of conventional songcraft. He organizes his techno tracks like great rock songs, with a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure and tightly controlled breakdowns. This is why Vitalic, judging by my firsthand observations at least, crosses over well between the rock and the techno crowds. I think I wrote in my Vitalic review for the Voice way back when that hearing a Vitalic tune in the middle of an otherwise lifeless DJ set is like dunking your head into a bucket of ice water while getting zapped in the chest with a defibrillator. You can't not respond to them. Even with tracks like "La Rock 01" which are pretty much all chorus--all sugary icing, no cake--he never just loops a riff and then presses stop after five minutes, and never relies completely on that tried-and-true trick that Andersson and other producers cane to death, which is to loop the main riff for eight or so bars and then loop the same riff one--or if you're being especially cheeky, two--octaves higher, sending the crowd into predictable euphoria. This is why Andersson is boring and Vitalic isn't. Incidentally I saw Vitalic do a live set the other night and he was predictably fantastic, and "La Rock" (which he extended for about ten minutes) still sounded fabulous even though I've heard it about five thousand times since I first heard it in 2001.
Dominik Eulberg/Gabriel Ananda - Harzer Roller [Traum]
Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass is Always Greener [Monika]
Axel Bartsch - Redlight [Kompakt]
I don't know--this just sounds so generic, pro forma Kompakt to me. It's like a seamless combination of all the most obvious Kompakt stylistic elements -- that studied Kompakt glide, the steely yet spacious Reinhard Voigt-style neo-trance, the darkly romantic quality of Superpitcher. Any potentially colorful elements in the mix get homogenized into something indistinguishable and monochrome. My favorite thing about Kompakt right now is the Orb!
Worst Tune of 2006!
Nicky Siano - Kiss Me Again (2006 full original version)
Dinosaur's 'Kiss Me Again'--originally produced by Arthur Russell and Nicky Siano--is, hands down, one of the best disco songs of all time. The musicians on the track included Arthur Russell on cello, David Byrne on guitars, dudes whose names escape me on drums and bass and a woman named Myriam Valle on the sublime vocals. There are plenty of odd mixes of this song but none of them are as shameful and horrible as this new one, in which Siano remakes 'Kiss Me Again' into 'how it was meant to sound', using some original elements but re-recording others to make a dreadfully cluttered, unlistenable thirteen-minute horror-medley of clashing sonics. The most egregious error was re-recording the original vocal with a dreadfully over-the-top and melisma-ridden larynx workout, replete with ornate new flourishes and a slightly altered melody, that irreparably ruins the song. Part of the genius of the original tune is that, as beautiful and sad and celebratory and desperate as the vocal sounded, it doesn't rule the song--it's one sonic element along with many other sonic elements, and every person jamming on the track has their turn. The original tune is so generous, so endlessly giving in its riches, that I don't suspect I'll ever get sick of it, and don't suppose I ever will. As for this tragic 2006 reworking--Jesus wept!
Second worst tune of 2006!
The Prodigy - Wake the Fuck Up
I don't understand why the Prodigy is still around. The last Prodigy album I bought (soon after it came out!) was Music for the Jilted Generation in 1995, so I can't claim I've been following the Prodigy closely since then, outside of the obvious MTV singles. But this...this sounds like what Limp Bizkit would do if they had meth and a copy of Reason 3.0. Apparently this tune makes its unsightly debut on the new Liam Howlett 'Back to Mine' disc. Errr....
03.19.06 @ 11:39 PM EST [link]
The first Can song I ever heard was "Oh Yeah." I was about 19 and in college, living with nine friends in a place we called Towers. It was the most inspiring space I've ever lived in--the top two loft-like floors of a beautiful old building in Cambridge. Every square inch of wall was splattered with paint, with drippy, waterlogged murals in intense, oversaturated colors. All sorts of surreal objects that shouldn't be hanging from ceilings were precariously suspended from the ceiling. We had a disco ball and a spotlight running in the living room constantly--24 hours a day--which grew increasingly interesting as the disco ball began shedding mirrored panels and the motor started wearing down. Our living room housed three gigantic aquariums, including a 100-gallon tank that my good friend Blake fashioned into a transparent table crammed with surly, technicolor fish. The cavernous bathroom was kept pitch-black; we wallpapered it in aluminum foil and had strobe lights running nonstop. For a good two years, our freezer was stocked with stuffed clown dolls that had been "liberated" from the thrift store. The living room had huge glass doors that opened onto a massive balcony overlooking the Charles River, making for a sweeping, wide-screen view of the Boston skyline and the water. The view was partly blocked by a grand old tree in the courtyard below, so you'd stare out at the twinkling city through this dense overgrowth of branches, through these spiraling patterns of lush green leaves. There were always people milling about in our living room, and we always had random visitors--an endless parade of characters popping in and out. Our heroes were typical addled retro teenage ones, I guess--David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, and Hunter S. Thompson--and we knew every minute aspect of their respective careers so well, memorized every stylistic tic, every lyric, every line, to the point where it actually felt like they were right there with us. To drive people out of our living room that we didn't like, we would blast a tape of horrible VU demos that we actually got pretty fond of by the end. We didn't yet know Can.
Back to "Oh Yeah." I was sitting in the living room on a hazy summer evening. There was no one around, which was strange--there was always someone hanging out and avoiding work, or at least someone passed out on the cold bathroom floor. And then "Oh Yeah" started playing. I was sitting in the living room on the ugly orange plaid couch, a '70s relic we couldn't bear to throw out even after part of it caught on fire. The big glass doors were open, and I was staring out at the skyline. It had started to rain. It was raining harder and harder, the way it does in summer where it starts raining intensely and then stops just as suddenly. The sky was getting darker. I wasn't sure where the song began, because it starts with what sounds like a thunderstorm and rain. Everything melted together--the sad weird keyboards, the apocalyptic-yet-comforting beat, the eerie mumbles, the way the rain looked, how surreal the rain looked, through those half-open glass doors, the storm clouds gathering, the labyrinthine guitar solo, the cryptic incantations, the heavy breeze filtering into the living room, the disorienting up-and-down bassline. It was so physically overwhelming, so colossally overpowering, that I thought I was going to be sick. And then with a clap of thunder it was over.
03.11.06 @ 03:17 AM EST [link]
My friend Ethan tipped me off to this, which is just about the coolest thing I've seen in a while. That drawing of Biggie's face is made out of the lyrics, in real time, as the song is playing. Make sure your computer's speakers are turned up loud.
03.10.06 @ 08:11 PM EST [link]
03.10.06 @ 04:35 AM EST [link]
Heads up -- the 2006 Pop Music Conference is coming up next month, and I've somehow been invited to present a bizarro paper there that hatched in my head late one night, titled "Shame on the Brain: Music, Guilty Pleasures, and Cognition." I'm speaking in the same session with James Hannaham, Susan Raeburn, and Tim Lawrence (author of the mighty tome Love Saves the Day), and it should be downright amusing to see us all on one stage.
03.08.06 @ 05:55 PM EST [link]
Ellen Allien + Apparat - Do Not Break [Bpitchcontrol]
Between Modeselektor and the Apparat productions I've heard recently, I'd say that Bpitch has more interesting drum programming than half of the techno labels in Berlin right now. I like Orchestra of Bubbles a lot--to my ears it sounds a whole lot better than Thrills, which I mostly found to be rather drab, gray and plodding. The first minute or so of 'Do Not Break' is absolute genius--trippy, colorful, glitchy workouts on an Aphex tip--but then the track lets itself down with a leaden synth riff that enters at around 1:17 and holds the playful tune in a cold, robotic death-grip for the next four minutes. It doesn't really swing because all the notes in the riff are the same duration, which seems to clash with the funky syncopated cut-up-vocal + breakbeat action that the song bases itself on. Still, it's really, really good, especially when that synth riff fades out and the drums and the hiccupy vocals get to do their thing. I dig the scratching noises too (when was the last time you heard scratching on a German techno record?)
Hot Chip - Over and Over (Naum Gabo remix) [EMI]
Crunchy, stomping peak-time dancefloor rocker courtesy of a renowned Constructivist sculptor and prime exponent of Kinetic Art...er, JG Wilkes of the mighty Optimo crew in Glasgow and his production partner Savage. It's amazing how different this is from the Justus remix.*
*I also realized why that Laid Back - 'Bakerman' tune I was talking about earlier sounded so familiar. It's the same chord progression (Bm - A - E? I don't have a guitar in front of me) as the chorus of 'Wicked Game'!
Madonna - Hung Up (Archigram remix) [Big huge label]
Part of me will always be a sucker for the carnivalesque maximalism, swirling processed-cheese strings, and bonkers EQing of French house, especially the stuff on the Crydamoure/Roulé axis. Archigram's last really great track was 'Carnaval' (2002 I think?) but I still have a real soft spot for them. Their remix of 'Hung Up' sort of drags in the beginning but really picks up about two minutes before the finish line, which is, not coincidentally, the exact point where Madge's vocal drops out and it becomes an instrumental.
And now for the obligatory full-length-album mention!
Duplex - Late Night Driving [Clone]
A really, really beautiful techno record. Classically elegant and graceful in a vintage Derrick May sort of way. It's hard to believe this is from Rotterdam, actually, because everything about this exudes a Detroit vibe, right down to the stark album cover art and the track titles--'Airwaves,' 'Fictional Frequency', 'Desolate State'...you get the idea. My favorites are 'Cosmic Dancer' (Detroit again!) and 'Return to Bass,' which is suffused with subtle disco shimmer. And the last track on the CD (not sure it's on the vinyl), a fleeting two-minute deep-space-symphony titled 'Timestrain,' is one of the most sublime, stunning comedowns I've heard in forever.
03.08.06 @ 03:48 AM EST [link]
RIP Ivor Cutler / Ali Farka Toure
03.06.06 @ 10:59 PM EST [link]
The music blogosphere has gotten all prog again, and I'm totally psyched. Down with punk and terse, to-the-point three-sentence posts! I'm back in action with this blog, and I've been spending between eight and sixteen hours a day in insane, delirious writing jams (on various things--not just this!) Simon just started a new series on his top 300 favorite hardcore records. Woebot is in the midst of a heavy dectuple-gatefold series on rare French finds. K-Punk is busy riffing on the Jr Boys with finely-wrought 3000-word epic solos. Between this and the total-information-overload of Youtube (Bizarro Amon Düül footage! Optical theremins! Secret of the Ancient Sampler: Inside the Mellotron! What no Cluster?), I'd say we're all set. Me, I'm growing my hair long, drinking herbal tea, and listening to Tangerine Dream...
03.06.06 @ 10:07 PM EST [link]
I've been in a remarkably good mood lately. Maybe it's the weather. Sunday in New York was just beautiful--comfortingly warm and blindingly sunny, with crystal-blue skies. Plus I just realized yesterday that the name of my local laundromat is the 'Biondo Bubble Spa,' which sounds like the title of a great Italodisco record.
Here are some tunes I've been feelin' on the sweetness and light, pop-tastic front:
Nathan Fake - Charlie's House (Apparat remix) [Border Community]
It's amazing how much remixes can revitalize a mediocre song. I must admit I'm not a big fan of what I've heard of the new Nathan Fake album. The first ten seconds of the original of 'Charlie's House' is cool pitch-shifting Boards of Canada homage, but then it descends into limp, saccharine New Agey cotton candy that amps the wide-eyed wonder thing to ridiculous levels, sort of like what I imagine would happen if E.T. made a trance record. Thankfully, Apparat had the good sense to give the song the spine it so desperately needed, dropping in some heavy, muscular beats and chopping the melody up beyond all recognition to give it structure and rhythmic heft. And hey presto: the droopy original is made over into the bold, glitchy epic it was meant to be. It reminds me a little bit of Jackson's remix of M83's 'Run into Flowers'. Good stuff.
Matmos - Steam and Sequins (for Larry Levan) [Matador]
The upcoming Matmos record, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (dig the Wittgenstein reference!) is flat-out great. Each track is a loving and bizarre portrait of a different famous figure admired by the duo--from Darby Crash of the Germs to crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria to this ace Levan tribute. The Levan portrait sidesteps simplistic pastiche and goes straight for the jugular--a five-minute-long psychedelic disco journey that rocks a lean bassline, handclaps, teasing hi-hats, bonkers guitar riffs, an insanely loose horn section, a cowbell-not-cowbell solo, and creepy vocal effects.
Hot Chip - Over and Over (Justus Köhncke remix) [EMI]
I've never gotten a chance to see Hot Chip live, though I hear they're great. I like the singer's voice--he sounds like he's actually making an effort to carry a tune, unlike most of the crappy 'indie-dance' bands out there. Beautiful remix that turns up the poignancy levels that were mostly hidden in the stormin' original through overlaying snippets of the vocals ("repetition repetition repetition repetition") on top of a tight electro-housey beat and--get this--sad and lovely pads of synth that someone pointed out to me sounds like a 1989 Danish pop hit by Laid Back (get it?) titled 'Bakerman.' Cool chiming sounds at around 3:47 that sounds a little like the tinkly sound at the beginning of 'Hot on the Heels of Love.' The best part of the song is the call-and-response bit near the end, which repeats the guitar riff, follows it with the line "I've started thinking I knew what I had to do" and then follows it with the nonsensical answer back "Tell you" (?) for a trippy, funky gospel-esque effect, which is laid on top of those sad synth pads. Love it. I haven't yet heard the Naum Gabo remix, but that sounds like it will be amazing as well.
Mystery Jets - The Boy Who Ran Away (Riton Re-Dub) 
Terrible indie-rock song made wonderful and disco by French producer extraordinaire Riton. Sometimes when I'm feeling really optimistic, I dream that at the heart of every mediocre, lame rock song, there's a monster dance hit just yearning to get out, that could be teased out with just the right edits and re-edits. This is why I like remixes better than originals, because at the heart of the remix is an idealistic assumption that appeals to me--that things can always be made groovier or different or more interesting, and that everything can be better.
03.06.06 @ 02:56 AM EST [link]
Someone once told me that if you only listen to techno, your brain becomes a circuitboard. I'm not sure about that one, but I always try to listen to a lot of different kinds of music, even if I do fall into a techno wormhole every once in a while. As the New York media world self-imploded this week, and every publication in town began approaching grisly horror-show status, it seemed like it was high time for some cathartic and horrible noise. So tonight I caught a quadruple bill of Whitehouse, Wolf Eyes, Pig Destroyer, and, er, Bloody Panda. The last one sounds made up, but I swear it isn't! They're a local doom-metal band. The name reminds me of my short-lived band when I was about 18 years old. OK, we only had one song, and we were mostly about concept, and our name was Throbbing Puppy, the most horrible band name we could think of ('Skinny Gristle' was less catchy.)
Anyway, I was most interested in seeing Wolf Eyes and Whitehouse, but the best and most mental performance of the night (I missed Bloody Panda) was probably Pig Destroyer. Wolf Eyes has boggled my mind in the past--I've raved about them multiple times in print, and their performance at the first No Fun Fest a few years ago was one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life--but this time, their set was just disappointing. It was piercingly loud, sure, but it wasn't terribly interesting to me in terms of sonics, and it was seething with boring male aggression. Lots of fist-pumping and macho posturing and "YAAAARRRRGGGHHHH!" and waves of anger directed at no one in particular. The cool boxes of analog electronics they used last time I saw them didn't seem to be being tweaked as much; instead, they made ample use of what looked like a piece of splintered plywood with some pickups and a few strings nailed to it, attached to a big amp. When I was in college, my pal Matt built a similar device in an afternoon when he was bored, jokingly called it the 'deconstructionist noise stick,' and tried to play the blues on it. I liked that better.
Whitehouse: This was just funny. They're a real comedy act now, aren't they? I think I'll always like William Bennett better as the guitarist in the mighty post-punk band Essential Logic than I will as the leader of this project. I guess I wanted to see racks of fearsome '80s synthesizers and scary-looking people shrieking while bound and gagged, not two sleek laptops and two white dudes in normal clothes on stage (maybe I should have checked out SPK instead?) The key problem with Whitehouse's set was that the sound wasn't loud enough. It's hard to sound overwhelming and massive and horrendous when the club turns you down to a polite volume. Bennett's vocals cracked me up--awful spurts of cackles and shrill, bossy drill-sergeant orders, delivered in this sort of wheedling, needling, nasal tone. It reminded me of PiL in their crap, annoying 'I could be wrong I could be right/I could be black I could be white' phase, crossed with Malcolm McLaren circa 'Buffalo Gals', crossed with the Cornholio character in 'Beavis and Butthead', crossed with Die Tödliche Doris at their goofiest. Later on, a few of my friends and I, exhausted and disappointed by all the shlocky, meaningless pain we'd experienced, repaired to a local watering hole. In a stroke of absolute perfection, one of the first songs to play randomly on the jukebox was X Ray Spex - "Oh Bondage Up Yours." Exactly!
03.04.06 @ 04:23 AM EST [link]
A few years ago, I went to a panel discussion on the knotty subject of 'creativity' at Cooper Union, which starred, among others, the lovely Yamataka Eye from Boredoms. Sadly, he wasn't actually speaking on the panel in person, but via live videoconference from Japan. The setup had recurring technical glitches that made him seem like he was speaking through a delay pedal. On top of that, he was speaking through a translator, which added another layer of frustrating opacity to the proceedings. I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the trippy spectacle of it, but I was supposed to write something like 1000 words about it for the Wire, and took intense notes. The 'creativity conference' had a lot of great speakers, but discussing the amorphous subject of creativity proved difficult, if not impossible, and the moderator's questions grew increasingly ludicrous as the day wore on. Carl Craig, who was on one of the panels (with the dreadful title 'Making Beats'--yeucchh!) was so plainly annoyed with the lame questions he was being asked that he flat out stopped answering, or gave very clipped answers. Despite all the mishaps, I managed to glean quite a bit of advice from what all these people said.
One thing that really stuck with me about what EYE said was that he saw no difference between his visual art and his music and any of his other projects over the years. He seemed genuinely bewildered at most of the questions that tried to get him to draw distinctions between the different things he was doing. They were all part of the same continuum, the same cosmic flow of ideas, a sort of abundant overpowering radiance that happened to manifest itself in physically different ways. That was an idea that resonated with me. I don't see music or art or film or brain science or cooking or particle physics as being terribly different from each other. So, when I temporarily lost interest in music about six months ago, I didn't worry about it too much. I realized that my interest in music had just been replaced with interests in art, books, and other things. They were all part of the same flow. Then I moved to Berlin and got really into music again. Then I came back to New York and just wasn't into music anymore. Then everything flipped again. Now I'm obsessed with music again. Lost in music. Feel so alive...
Here are some tunes that I've been feeling recently:
Gavin and Delia - Revelee (Carl Craig remix) [DFA]
A good contender for track of the year, this one. Unfortunately I've only heard portions of it in mixes with people talking on top, and don't actually have a copy, promo or otherwise (it's not out til May), but I've heard enough of it to know that it's an absolute stunner.
Salif Keita - Yamore (Luciano remix) [Cadenza]
To be honest I have mixed feelings on the genius of Luciano. I like him as a DJ when I'm in the right mindset, and I really love some of his productions. And his collaboration with Mathew Jonson, 'Alpine Rocket', is one of my top tunes of all time. But there's something I don't always get with about his music. Perhaps it's that the rhythms are so lithe and slippery and delicate, snaking through his perfectly polished tracks in the most elegant of ways to form these elaborate webs of curlicues. Sometimes I like to look at it more than I want to dance to it. But this remix is really amazing; it's beautiful and really muscular, and it's a monster on the floor.
Pantytec - Maybe / Moriomelo [Perlon]
Guess who's back?
Theo Parrish - Falling Up (Carl Craig remix) [Third Ear]
Mindblowing. More on this later on.
The Orb - God Less America [Kompakt]
I didn't have much hope for this, and I must admit that the Speicher series hadn't been rocking me for a while; the past several 12"s I've heard in the series haven't done much for me. And when I saw it was by The "Mixed Bag is Our Middle Name" Orb, I didn't hold much hope for it either. But this is completely great. Easily one of the best things the Orb has done in years. A genuine rave anthem...in 2006?
Tiga - (Far from) Home [DFA instrumental mix] [DFA]
That bassline! The shimmering harmonics! I swooned!
The Lift Boys - Liftvooyzzzz [No idea what label!]
This is a goofy newish EYE track that's now available as a 12" that you can actually buy in a shop. It's like the most euphoric parts of disco, Boredoms circa 'Vision Creation Newsun', piano house, techno, and synth-pop, dipped in the most nitrous-y elements of happy hardcore and sprinkled with the warm fuzzy feeling that you don't want to admit you feel when you hear a big goopy trance record. No, it's not minimal.
Kelley Polar - Vocalise (Morgan Geist 12" re-edit) [Environ]
To be honest, I didn't really warm up to the Kelley Polar album. I loved the mysterious backstory, the whole misunderstood cellist/vague Arthur Russell connection, the fact that genius Morgan Geist played a big hand in the production. But I kept wishing it was an instrumental album, or that they brought in a proper disco diva to do the singing; I just didn't have time for the fey, vulnerable and slightly off-key male vocals. That said, the album has some really beautiful spacey melodies, and this re-edit is practically an instrumental with a small bit of vocal for texture, and it's fantastic.
And the blast-from-the-past tune:
Mad Mike featuring Davina - Don't You Want It [Soul City, 1996; Underground Resistance, 2002]
House is a feeling!
03.02.06 @ 04:27 AM EST [link]