I’ve been splitting my time these days between New York and Boston. I’m teaching two undergrad classes this term at Fordham in Manhattan, and I’m auditing a grad seminar at MIT on music cognition. I spend about ten hours a week on trains and buses between Massachusetts and New York City, but I don’t mind it; it gives me time to grade papers, contemplate, and stare out at rolling landscapes through scratched glass. During chilly weekends here in Massachusetts, I spend a fair bit of time reading and thinking–thinking more slowly and deliberately than I did in New York. I’m not working on cranking out articles and reviews at a frenetic pace anymore. I’m trying to really enjoy writing about music again, and it’s a process, like anything else.
I still find myself gravitating to techno, but I find myself less interested in ingesting the very latest 12″ release, and more intrigued by half-forgotten older records played on repeat. And practicing on decks has me thinking about music in a different way. There’s the deliciously tactile aspect of handling vinyl records, of course, but it’s more than that. I like being able to instantly make connections between records with my decks and mixer, and I can express those connections far more eloquently than I ever could when I was laboriously penning record reviews. Vinyl makes me see music as a quivering, mutable mass that I can shape physically with my hands; I can alter the pitch, slowly cut the treble, stop the record with my fingers. I can open up the turntable with my hands, lift up the heavy platter, and tweak the little potentiometer on the circuitboard that controls the braking speed. I have to stand up at a desk to use my decks; it requires a little elbow grease to operate, and a little bit of dedication to the records. I don’t do this at all with mp3s. Mp3s motivate me to sit down in a comfy chair with my laptop. I don’t feel fired up to shape the mp3 into something else when I see it sitting there in an iTunes folder; the extent of my interaction with the average mp3 is to drag it into the virtual trash if I don’t like it. I’m open to the idea of using Ableton Live, but I want to get really good with the analog stuff first.
I was really sick over this past week. I spent a few hours the other day spinning records in my room as a sort of physical therapy–playing and mixing various records at incorrect speeds, noticing that Vapourspace’s “Gravitational Arch of 10” sounded like a pretty Lindstrom and Prins Thomas tune when played at 33 instead of 45, building airy layer cakes of texture by overlaying two spare ambient records on top of each other in the right places, attempting to forge strange new melodies by playing two records in complementary keys, and so on. Right now there’s no audience except me, but I’ll start playing out soon enough to massive and imaginary crowds. Anyway, onto some music.
Recent tracks I’ve been liking:
Redshape – “Alone on Mars?” [Present]
I wasn’t familiar with Redshape until the Cassy mix from last year, which uses a Redshape track to great effect. Good and deep.
Boris feat. Merzbow – “Walrus”
Japanese drone-metal band Boris plays “I am the Walrus” faithfully and without irony, and their singing is actually much better than the Beatles’, in my opinion. And the chirpy female backing vocals are great! Also, it relegates Merzbow to kooky-background-noise-generator status, and he excels in that role. The flip side appears to be a King Crimson cover (“Groon”) but who knows. The sorta limpid surrealist artwork on the 12″ EP is reminiscent of big-time ’70s prog, for sure. Good luck getting your hands on a vinyl copy unless wildly unwise eBay bidding is your bag.
LCD Soundsystem – “Someone Great”/”Get Innocuous” [DFA]
I’ve heard so many mixed things about The Sound of Silver; a common complaint I’ve heard is that it sounds dry and distant. But if I wanted heavy, dewy emotionalism I’d put on the Pantha du Prince record or something, not LCD Soundsystem. I found the lyrics for “Someone Great” to be unexpectedly touching, and the brittle emptiness of the track’s production perfectly fits the hollow, confused resignation conveyed by the lyrics. “Get Innocuous” sounds to me like Kraftwerk’s “Robots” coupled with David Bowie’s vocal timbre from Lodger–what’s not to like?
Pantha du Prince – “Saturn Strobe” [Dial]
Think Lawrence, and Closer Musik and Matias Aguayo’s solo stuff, ratcheted up even further in the lush-moodiness and eerie-ringing-bells stakes. The whole album’s a stunner.
Roxy Music – “Avalon” (Lindstrom & Prins Thomas remix)
Tracks from the past, rediscovered
BFC (Carl Craig) – “It’s a Shame” [Fragile, 1990]
The amazing thing is how poorly this track was produced–you can almost see the seams in how it’s been sewn together, and there’s some pretty obvious stitching. But that’s part of what’s beautiful about this track. It’s simultaneously very melancholy and heavy (dark, melodramatic strings), but also very spare and minimal–it’s the same string loop over and over, really, with very few flourishes, and no melodic progression to speak of. The song buildup is all in the percussion. There’s an immense amount of emotional logic to where the bass drum drops in and out–so much told with so few words–and an immense amount of emotional weight in simple but utterly devastating drum fills, deployed at exactly the right moments.
Neuromancer – “Pennywise” [Symphony Sound, 1992]
Tantra – The Double Album [Importe, 1980]
Found the original pressing on near-pristine vinyl at a record shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts–beardo-disco at its finest.