Saturday, May 24, 2008

I've had an amazing week in Minneapolis--I leave for Portland, on a 36-hour Amtrak trip, late tomorrow night--but I'll be going with some bittersweetness, having just found out that Earl Root died on Friday night. Earl Root was the host of "Root of All Evil" on KFAI (90.3 FM), one of the longest-running shows on local radio (some 20 years) and, I'm willing to bet, one of the longest-running metal shows in the world. He ran a metal record store and a label also. I never met him (that I'm aware of), but he was always someone I admired greatly. Even as a non-metal guy, I was always impressed with the passion and breadth (and sense of humor) he brought to the radio show on my occasional tunings-in. I can't think of a single time I heard a negative word said about him; he was plainly one of the good guys. Here's a 2004 feature by Cecile Cloutier from City Pages that gets at what I mean. R.I.P., Earl.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tom Ewing does it again, obv. I really do hope at some point an astute editor puts out an anthology of his work--there are few people in the field operating at his level.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm not sure I'll ever run a better Project X than this one, with my family, about last week's Billboard Top 10.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I first heard Bossanova's "Rare Brazil" in 1999; it was the lead-off cut from a Teenbeat Records sampler. This was a time when the idea of college radio still held some mystical appeal for me, even if the University of Minnesota's campus station, Radio K (770-AM), sounded largely like a dead end to my ears. (My position goes back and forth, and the fact that I refer to it, knowingly, as a position says more about me than it: I'm frustrated with it and still attracted to it, basically.) Anyway, the Teenbeat comp wasn't mine: it was John Smith's. John was the DJ at First Avenue on Tuesday nights (he still DJs there), when my roommate Gregory Parks and I worked in the booth with him (Greg did lights, I did video). It was a golden age for me, though of course I had no idea at the time: early 1999, I was 24 and newly dumped and not handling that at all well.

I don't want to make the case for this record in purely personal terms because I think it stands on its own really fucking well--impressively so now, given that I probably haven't listened to it in eight years and caned it obsessively for something like two. But it's almost impossible not to hear in that light, particularly since I'm in Minneapolis this week. On Monday night, Rod Smith invited me to a top-secret event; it turned out to be the annual First Avenue employee (and friends of club, and ex-employee) party. Apparently we missed John Smith by an hour or so. Karaoke was happening onstage but I decided to leave that alone. So re-finding this song, thanks to Mike McGonigal's Teenbeat Dozen for eMusic, at this time is very apropos.

The song. Short version: layers of shimmering-silver keyboards, which in 1999 screamed Stereolab, or maybe that's memory talking; in any event there are a lot of them, or feel like a lot of them, as well as multitracked rhythm guitars that have the sonic consistency of cards being shuffled, all of it monolithic but with air. There are vocals that sound lovelorn whether or not that's their intention. These are swamped in echo, rendering the singer's missed notes and occasionally faltering cadence into something much more commanding than they'd be on their own. Given that he sings it pretty forcefully anyway, this is pretty impressive. There's one verse, and through this soup, these words stand out: "the evening sun, the ocean breeze," "time was," "white shirt," "comatose staring back at me," "tell me more." One keyboard starts oscillating, at once fierce and serene, just like its surroundings, and after a couple minutes of pinging around it settles into a few sci-fi motifs once the entire thing has broken down and bounced back up. By which I mean everything comes to a stop and the bass leads us back into its woolly silver-edged groove.

Repeat: groove. This isn't isn't an experimental song. It's an indie rock disco jam festooned with tinsel; it practically twinkles, and it's homemade, but it sounds like the last song James Murphy and Pat Mahoney took off the long list for FabricLive 36 after deciding to make the mix disco-disco rather than much in the way of rock-disco. But the guitars' surefootedness is the giveaway even if the bass line doesn't do the job itself: these guys wanted to create a groove you could build a moat around. What it reminded me of at the time was the Buzzcocks' "Why Can't I Touch It?" with the angst transmuted--or maybe just muted.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned the band members' names. I didn't know their names when I first heard this record, and while it's almost certainly foolish to try to hold on to the feeling I originally had when listening to it by choosing not to look it up until after I've said what I want to say, that's what I'm doing anyhow. It isn't the first time, nor will it be the last. Sometimes you want to keep the conversation or thought flowing rather than fact-check as you go; this is one of those times.

Playing it again, the disco/indie thing strikes me as slightly ahead of its time; obviously, this being Teenbeat, the Bossanova guys (from Vancouver--I cracked and looked stuff up) were obviously coming from the same general area as Unrest, who I despised at the time and should probably give another shot on general principle. (I like Stereolab a hell of a lot more than I did then, though I never disliked them the way I did Unrest.) But drone-and-groove is an indie staple at least as far back as Joy Division; it's still easy to hear this song as a DFA precursor. The bass line is the sort for which James Murphy would make a beeline. And if you've read me enough to glean my general attractions, and agree with them, you probably would too. If so, enjoy this file. It's good for dancing and brooding in equal measure. Even better, it's great for them. I can want more from a record, but much more than that I've always found a little unseemly.

P.S. I also looked up the leader's name. It's Chris Storrow, which I feel a little badly for not remembering, since he emailed me a couple times after I'd written the song up in the guise of an album review of that Teenbeat sampler. I'm afraid to look that piece up; I'm guessing it's as embarrassing as almost everything else I was writing at the time. I'm also guessing I'd be a little depressed by how much brighter things seemed to me then, even if I had no idea they were when I was writing them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh. Em. Gee.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Getting rid of the 08TK posts here and putting them in their own new place. If you care at all, there you go.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From the CNN story on the California gay-marriage ban lift:

Groups opposing same-sex marriage also reacted strongly to the ruling.

"The California Supreme Court has engaged in the worst kind of judicial activism today, abandoning its role as an objective interpreter of the law and instead legislating from the bench," said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for the group Concerned Women for America, in a written statement.

"So-called 'same-sex' marriage is counterfeit marriage. Marriage is, and has always been, between a man and a woman. We know that it's in the best interest of children to be raised with a mother and a father. To use children as guinea pigs in radical San Francisco-style social experimentation is deplorable."

My question: what the fuck is someone named Matt doing as policy director for a group called Concerned Women of anything? Unless that's short for Matilda, of course, in which case you can write your own punchline.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

There's lots to say about the vacation so far. For one thing, it should have been a vacation-vacation and not a working one. (Editors: I'm really sorry.) For another, it's been really great, up till today, which sucked. I'm in Detroit, a city, like Baltimore, which I left yesterday, that I've never visited before, and it couldn't have gone worse so far--a hotel room without soap or shampoo in the bathroom (it took fifty minutes to get them delivered), very cold (they sent up a space heater, quite promptly, but only after I called the front desk for an hour and finally went down to discover--they and I alike--that someone had muted the front desk phone), exposed wiring all over the place, nothing of any note whatsoever around me apart from Cobo Arena, whose ass end I can see from my window, appropriately enough. Not to mention I broke my phone charger and missed my friend Nicole for dinner, as well as spending way too much in cab fare. (My friend Andy had to bail out of dinner as well, to the chagrin of us both.) I suppose things had been going so well I shouldn't have been surprised things would hit a snag, but I'd appreciate it more if it hadn't hit a dozen at once. Room service and catching up with Top Chef have ameliorated things, thankfully, but yeah, I was in one foul mood for a few hours there.

Oddly I'm thinking about nostalgia and the state of criticism more than ought to be healthy for a vacationer. That's largely due to the company I keep, or who've kept me--Alex in Philadelphia and Jess in Baltimore, both of whom graciously put me up over the weekend. Thinking too about the Top 50 I posted below. Jess nailed it--there's no way you could pull a narrative out of that thing, though you could probably arrange some of it to resemble one. That kind of non-focus is one reason the 2007 in the Mix package was a little too diffuse in the end--not terrible, though I'll admit it was uneven, and take responsibility for that. (Cohesion is easier with smaller numbers; the Seattle Weekly packages were far tighter and hung together better because there were only a dozen mixes in those.)

Nevertheless it's instructive to look at something like Mike Daddino's year-end Top 50 from 2002. There's a narrative in there for sure--mash-ups, yeah, but also the bedazzled synth-futurism that accompanied it. I doubt you'll find anything similar in mine, even given that it's an early draft with seven more months of modification and expansion to come. A list is a list is a list, of course, and listening to my selections alongside Alex and then Jess, I was heartened to realize what seemed to me more or less private pleasures traveled pretty well to other ears (even if the ears in question belong to people with whom I share a lot of tastes and values). The Top 10 is one I'd be pretty happy to list at the end of the year, though of course I hope to come across as many records as possible that could knock them out of the running. But even with that in mind, on paper the one-record-at-a-time approach can seem a little runny compared to the great-artist model.

I don't wish to open up the rockist/anti-rockist worm-can again, but that's always what seemed to me its crux. Alex at one point asked if I thought people listened to artists or to songs; I immediately replied artists--which is perfectly understandable but can be too bad sometimes. I didn't just mean that artists-first renders my list sort of useless, since it doesn't follow obvious canonical pathways (this is not a boast, just the way I see it shaking out, with as much distance as I can muster). I just mean artists-first can deafen us to good music, the way genre-first can. If that makes me a poptimist, fine.

Nevertheless I decided to do a little analysis of my own list. I imagine this will seem morbidly self-interested, and to some degree it is, but the patterns that emerged seemed interesting. They were tallied quickly and don't constitute anything more definitive than the list itself, but here goes:

Number of songs by new artists (on first album): 19, including 10 of the Top 15 and six of the Top 10.
Number of songs by recent artists (who've emerged--to me anyway--in the last five years): 11, two of which are in the Top 10 (3 and 4), with the rest occupying slots between 24 and 50.
Number of songs by veteran artists (five years or longer in the game, again to my knowledge): 17, with one in the Top 10 (5), most of the 15-24 slots (7), and none after 43.
Non-album tracks: 10, though the one in the Top 10 (2) is allegedly on an CD I have yet to see after looking for it a few times
Remixes: 11, with two in the Top 10 (6 and 8) and the rest more or less spread evenly through the Top 50
MP3-only tracks: six, two Top 10 (2 and 6) and the rest between 20 and 33.

In short, I like novelty but am not completely addicted to it; keep my ears open to older artists but not at the expense of newer ones (and vice versa); and spend a lot of time on the Internet listening for stuff that will grab my ear. None of this is surprising to anyone who knows me, but it also suggests a potential rut as much as a sonic playground. If there's a through-line here it's how I came across these songs as much as what I get out of them--and I think that's the case with a lot of singles-friendly people who listen pretty widely. The trick is to figure out how to convey their pleasures without being morbidly self-interested--or too morbidly self-interested, at least. More on that topic, and the vacation, after I've gotten some rest and/or hit some (late) deadlines.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Apropos of not much of anything, here's a rough estimate of my 50 favorite tracks of 2008 so far. Everything is subject to massive change, obv.

1. Alphabeat, "Fascination" (Copenhagen/EMI, U.K.)
2. Dear Jayne, "Rain" (Music Line)
3. The Juan MacLean, "Happy House" (DFA) [any mix]
4. Etran Finatawa, "Asistan" (Riverboat)
5. Reba McEntire & Kenny Chesney, "Every Other Weekend" (MCA Nashville)
6. Burial, "Archangel (Boy 8-Bit's Simple Remix)" (MP3)
7. Johnny Foreigner, "Our Bipolar Friends" (Best Before)
8. Zomby, "Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)" (Hyperdub)
9. Invisible Conga People, "Cable Dazed" (Italians Do It Better)
10. The-Dream ft. Rihanna, "Livin' a Lie" (Def Jam)
11. Soulja Boy Tell'em, "Yahhh!" (ColliPark)
12. Luke Bryan, "Country Man" (Capitol Nashville)
13. Guillaume and the Coutu Dumonts, "Les Gans (Philip Sherburne Remix)" (Musique Risquée)
14. The Mole, "Baby You're the One" (Wagon Repair)
15. Portishead, "Silence" (Mercury)
16. Spoon, "Don't You Evah (Ted Leo's I Want It Hotter Remix)" (Merge)
17. Erykah Badu, "The Cell" (Universal Motown)
18. The B-52's, "Eyes Wide Open" (Astralwerks)
19. Moby, "I Love to Move in Here" (Mute)
20. Al Green, "Thought It Out" (MP3)
21. Hercules & Love Affair, "Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix)" (DFA)
22. Dop, "Merci" (Orac)
23. The Whitest Boy Alive, "Golden Cage (Fred Falke Remix)" (Modular)
24. The Raveonettes, "You Want the Candy" (Vice)
25. Mariah Carey, "I'm That Chick" (Island)
26. Blood on the Wall, "Acid Fight" (The Social Registry)
27. The Thermals, "Everything Thermals (Daytrotter Session)" (
28. Sascha Dive, "Annihilating Rhythm" (Drumpoet Community)
29. DJ Donna Summer, "Sweet Assed Child O' Mine" (Cock Rock Disco MP3)
30. Big Boi ft. Raekwon & Andre 3000, "Royal Flush" (Virgin)
31. Awesome Color, "Eyes of Light" (Ecstatic Peace!)
32. Clinic, "Coda" (Domino)
33. Capone-n-Noreaga, "Sexual Seduction Freestyle" (MP3)
34. Guy Noir, "Flex" (Resopal Schallware)
35. Mary J. Blige ft. Lil Wayne, "Just Fine (Remix)" (Geffen)
36. Drive-By Truckers, "That Man I Shot" (New West)
37. V.I.C., "Get Silly" (ColliPark)
38. Plantlife, "Time Traveller" (Decon)
39. Jill Scott, "My Love" (Hidden Beach)
40. Be Your Own Pet, "Creepy Crawl" (Ecstatic Peace!)
41. Let's Wrestle, "I Won't Lie to You" (Stolen)
42. Gnarls Barkley, "Run" (Downtown)
43. Williams, "Love on a Real Train (Version By Studio)" (Love Triangle)
44. Raheem DeVaughn, "Customer" (Jive)
45. Rodriguez Jr., "Soledad" (Leena)
46. Lawrence, "Sweeping the Stars" (Mule Electronic)
47. Sinkane, "Autobahn" (Emergency Umbrella)
48. The Bug ft. Warrior Queen, "Poison Dart (South Rakkas Crew Remix)" (Hyperdub)
49. The Teenagers, "Feeling Better" (XL)
50. Hot Chip, "We’re Looking For a Lot of Love" (Astralwerks)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Four days in New York and I suddenly remember what I like about this place: most of my friends live here. And I remember why they're my friends: because they're fucking awesome. Angela leaves tomorrow evening; I'm pretty sure I can deal with it. Pretty sure.

Elisabeth tagged me, so here I go:

1. Pick up the nearest book.

In this case it's The James Brown Reader: 50 Years of Writing About the Godfather of Soul, edited by Nelson George and Alan Leeds and just out from Plume. I'm reviewing it for Baltimore City Paper.

2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.

This is from Vernon Gibbs's "James Brown: Back to Africa--Seventies Style (excerpt)" (Penthouse, 1975):

"In Africa, he is king of all he surveys. An African visit from James Brown takes on all the ceremony usually accorded to a visiting head of state. Indeed, Brown does regard himself as an ambassador from black Americans to black Africans."

Nice--I've already begun reading the book and am only on page 45 (vacation + deadlines + soon-departing girlfriend = not reading fast enough), but I'd thumbed through it the other night and this was one of the pieces I'm most looking forward to reading. Looks like it'll be a good one.

I'm going to decline forwarding the tag, but if anyone wants to grab it, go right ahead.