Saturday, October 30, 2004

Given that I hung out with Matthew Perpetua the other week in NYC and had a great time--he's a really lovely guy, as sharp and personable as you'd hope from reading him--finding this is especially amusing, especially given that the piece he decided to lambast in the present tense a piece was already two and a half years old at the point he took it on. And now I’m answering him two years after the fact. The way we’re going, we can argue about this for the next 20 years and still not have enough for a lead review in an average alt-weekly. Ah, internet time.

I’m not sure I’d stand by the piece as written at this point--I’m not sorry I expressed what I did, but I’d word it differently now, snarl a lot less, measure the jokes more carefully. But I’m not about to take it back, either. When he calls it “repulsive,” I know exactly what he means--it was meant to evoke a strong response, a response as strong as I had toward Cat Power’s music and the (very popular at the time) idea that she was/is some kind of daffy drifting genius who, how’d that happen, suddenly became queen of the indie prom without, gosh, particularly trying or, gee, even wanting to be there. What could be more perfect? The credulousness of people (I don’t mean Perpetua here) who make a habit of dismissing mainstream pop icons as phony and prepackaged and then flock to cult-ready Reluctant Geniuses who in their own way are just as contrived as yer Ashlee Simpsons is always worth making fun of; it’s just that in this case, I did it really childishly. Which isn’t the same as disagreeing with the tone of a single review and turning it into a conspiracy (“it’s . . . just yet another piece of hack music ‘criticism’ that’s being pushed on us by crap magazines and weeklies”)--but not unlike it, either.

Just to be absolutely clear, none of this is intended as a broadside against Perpetua, then or now. Lord knows I recognize where he’s coming from; I even (surprise) empathize with it to a great degree, in a specific way, since I tend to be drawn to people, of both sexes, with the kind of personality traits that Cat Power’s musical persona puts across (not necessarily in a sexual or romantic way, either, though that’s been true at times as well). Genuine anger is something you come to expect to result from my line of work, and he wasn’t wrong when he decried the Cat Power review as “designed to elicit angry letters-to-the-editor,” either. The question, then, is: “What exactly is wrong with a piece designed to elicit angry letters?” My answer: nothing, as long as that’s not all it’s designed to do. If you think it’s bad writing or bad criticism, fine. But it was a genuine attempt to say something I didn’t see anyone else saying at the time, whatever its lack of tact.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Hopefully concluding the cyst saga, the surgery today went fine. I came in on three hours' sleep--I'd been up late listening to stuff, writing, getting things in order (taking time off at my job requires a lot of preparation), and reading/decompressing from same. It's weird--I have a ton of energy lately, but it's not manic energy at all. I'll attribute that to the drastic cutdown of sugar and starch in my diet following my doctor telling me that my blood sugar was far higher than it should be. Since my mom and her father are both diabetic, I took it as a warning, and although my blood sugar level dropped by 25 since my last visit a month ago and I've lost ten pounds (I thought I was kidding myself until Tricia noticed it when I was in NYC last week), I haven't done the proper bloodwork to be diagnosed yet, though that'll happen soon. I've cheated a few times, of course--it's difficult not to--but I've definitely noticed that I'm calmer, evener of keel, even less prone to being short of breath walking up these steep Seattle streets than I used to be.

I was asleep pretty much all during the first half of my hospital time--right after 9 a.m. check-in (not an hour I'm used to being awake, day job or no day job), during the gap between check-in and surgery (about two and a half hours, it turns out; surgery took a half-hour), obviously knocked out during it, and conked for a good two and a half hours after. I began regaining consciousness around 1:30 p.m. and was fully awake by 2. Unfortunately, my legs weren't. For surgery (my first ever), the novocaine was injected at the base of the spine and incapacitated me from the waist down for, like, ever. It took until 6 p.m. for me to finally be able to walk without aid, an hour after I'd been scheduled to start spinning at the Crocodile with Brian, who did just fine w/o me, as I'd figured he would. By the time I got there it was quarter till 7 and there were three friends of ours there and the bartender and some managers. Zip else. Figures--not even the email-invite promise of "Matos on those good hospital drugs" in action upped our numbers. We carried on like we didn't care and it didn't matter, and hit a few really nice grooves. In fact, Brian didn't start till 5:45 due to equipment problems, and we were told to go as long as we liked; I bailed at 10:30, when my iPod battery gave out, and I'm guessing Brian kept it up at least a while longer. Hell, maybe he's still there.

* * *

This is the part of the year that, having either neglected or ignored or been unaware of a lot of good records from earlier in '04 or that are just coming out now, pretty much anything I put on that looks promising pays off in some way or other--decent-with-killer-single(s), smarter/solider than I'd expected, oh that is a new wrinkle there isn't it, well duh of course it's good, like that. The playlist over the past couple days, in no order: The Rose & the Briar (soundtrack to this new book edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus; looks yummy, though the s/t is a little too stodgy for me to throw myself at like a jilted lover to the railroad tracks); Silkworm, It'll Be Cool and Comets on Fire, Blue Cathedral (same basic idea, wholly different execution); Dungen's Ta Det Lugnt (Clinic as hippies, very roughly); Beastie Boys/DJ Green Lantern, New York State of Mind (goodies galore, my fave of which is "Triple Trouble" over "White Lines"--maybe the problem with 5 Boroughs really is just the production; I wonder how much they paid GL to grab them some cred--either way, it works); Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample (new soca comp on Honest Jon's, fucking killer so far--it's playing as I type); Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken and Ted Leo + the Pharmacists' Shake the Sheets (different ideas, same basic effect--two smart people whose previous albums were striking and had a couple of totally great songs but felt a little too up-and-down for me to play all that often, and whose new albums are faster, blurrier, more relaxed, have nothing that tops the predecessor's high spots but are better as albums); Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray (he really is a weirdo, which is why I love him so fucking much, though I'm having trouble plucking something off it for year-end purposes; maybe I'll go with the ballad, though I'd prefer not to); Run the Road (great new grime comp on British 679 label, too many goodies to process at once but I'll have a hard time not ransacking it for year-end purposes the way I'm doing with Matt Ingram's mix CD from this summer). Plus the three tech-house discs I need to spend more time with for a City Pages review (my idea).

Most of these I'm playing for the first or second time. The proper response is less "what a year!" than "what a task." A great, fun task, I'll quickly add--but there are acres more behind me that I haven't even mentioned yet, and never will. But I don't feel like I'm cutting corners, which is not how I felt a few weeks ago, and which is a relief.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Finally listening to the Ex's Turn for the first time. Why didn't anybody tell me that it gets better as it goes? Damn.

Going in for surgery at 9 a.m., and then DJ'ing with Mackro at the Crocodile Cafe from 5-8 p.m. (this is all on Thursday). Sorry I haven't been writing much; the truth is things have been either hectic w/work or, as when I went to NYC and Philly last weekend (thanks to Alex and Tricia for putting me up), fairly uneventful apart from my blowing several hundred dollars on CDs. I'd name them all, too, but they're scattered, I'm for the most part otherwise occupied, and it's just a little too list-geeky even for me. Maybe it's the year-end mix that's got me feeling this way--up to nearly 300 songs now, which I think is awesome but don't honestly expect anyone else to care about. The ultimate goal is . . . well, you'll see when it happens, which will be at the end of the year, even though I'll be done with it well beforehand--at least a couple weeks, maybe longer. Sorry to be so vague, but it'll be long--very long. And, hopefully, worth the time of anyone who's interested, starting with myself.

Who'd have figured that the reissue of a much, much, much-canonized 25-year-old album would elicit not one but two excellent pieces, one for print, one not? And Nate's also got a good one--albeit a lot shorter than the other two--coming up in the Weekly next week. In the meantime, why don't you look at this week's? It'll tide you over--trust me. ;-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Tonight, I am going to dig this out and give it a good, loud listen. And I think I'll have a pint while doing it. R.I.P., John--you're the patron saint of my profession even if you never made your living at it (though Peel did write some criticism that I've seen--maybe there'll be a book at some point? wouldn't surprise me). I long harbored a fantasy of sitting him down with Robert Christgau for a dialogue to run in some magazine to be determined--their tastes didn't necessarily coincide all that much but the hardcore commitment and breadth of both would have been fascinating to see intermingle. That won't happen now, sadly. And it's just as sad that Peel won't be able to make anymore compilations like Fabriclive 07--though he may not need to, since his wide-open ears and eternal curiosity is a shadow presence to anyone who loves music and wants to connect as many dots as they can hear. The difference is that John Peel heard more--more music, more connections--than just about anyone else.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Oh, duh--today, I guested on Fluxblog, which was an honor. (Personal to T.B.: I tried emailing you a while back to concretize guest-posting plans but the email was returned. Please hit me so we can work it out.) The songs are about raving and revenge, and one of them is sung in blackface.

So in the interest of having a really accurate view of my year's listening habits, I've thrown a couple more lists onto my ongoing tally site: one with the songs I'm thinking of putting on my year-end MP3 CD-R, and the songs I'm planning to include on my year-end reissues MP3 CD-R. Further suggestions, of course, are welcome.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Works in Progress

Even above folks like Woebot's continually superb expositions (can't wait to see how Dissensus develops, top one mate!) and the Geeta Cologne story linked below, the great thing about blogs is that they allow you to keep track of things you might have misplaced in the analogue world--specifically for us music critic types, it helps us keep up with favorite records in a way that helps avoid the last-minute mad scrambling endemic to year-end listmaking duties. Sasha, of course, is a great model--having posted his 2003 list at the end of the year, he started on 2004 before it had officially begun, with advances he liked from the forthcoming calendar year. My man Keith Harris does it a little differently, adding a couple albums he likes per week on his sub-site and putting them in order every quarter or so. Kate Silver (who's moving to Seattle in two weeks! YAY!!!) kept an albums tally at the bottom of her blog for most of this year; now it's graduated to its own page. Andy Kellman's lists, of course, are a thing of joy, and it's good to see more people getting the bug--recently, Dylan Hicks of City Pages. Probably the most interesting twist on this is this list of the five Shrimp Eaters' 128 or so favorite rap 12-inches of the year so far, which will keep certain people I know busy for a good long time. (And, of course, me too.) [Thanks to Oliver Wang, the bloggingest pop critic around, for the link.]

This is all very list-geeky, I have no problem admitting, but quantification isn't so much the point here as the fact that these lists continually help me discover good new music that I'd have missed or overlooked--crucial for the job I do, and damn nice even if I'm (or you're) not a professional. If you know any other folks who are keeping track in a similar manner, email me--I'm thinking of starting a separate sidebar for them all. Or maybe, heh heh, another blog to keep track of the track-keepers.

Update: Oh yeah--Thomas Inskeep, too. Duh.

Second update: Jess joins the ranks, hallelujah!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Geeta goes to Cologne. This is the kind of amazing stuff that blogging does better than any other format: the way the grafs are broken up by photos, the conversational style, the pacing, is just perfect, and I'm not just saying that as someone who drools over this kind of stuff to begin with. (Or because the interview Geeta did will be appearing in my section.) The cumulative effect is brilliant, inspired storytelling. Can't WAIT for part two!

Friday, October 01, 2004

A year and a half ago, I wrote a piece for I'd titled "The Erotics of Microhouse." Among other things, it would have alerted the world that I don't really know how to properly use the term "erotics"--what I meant was something more along the lines of "Microhouse: It's Sexy." Anyway, I hadn't written anything for Nerve for awhile until this week, when my Q&A with John Leland, whose brilliant new book, Hip: The History, is discussed. But I did find that microhouse piece--which ran at about 3/5ths of its originally written length here--and am presenting it at full length below:


Lots of music is sexy and plenty more aspires to be--especially in club culture, where going out with old friends and coming home with new ones is never far from anyone’s mind. And why not? Dancing, after all, has been synonymous with sex since the waltz swept Vienna and then Europe in the early 1800s, not to mention the free-love apotheosis that was the disco era. So it’s hardly surprising for dance-music fans to encounter, on the one hand, sexed-up electroclash artists like Peaches (whose The Teaches of Peaches, set for a U.S. reissue with a bonus disc of remixes, features such heat-seeking charmers as “Fuck the Pain Away” and “Lovertits”) and, on the other, the all-too-aptly named Naked Music, a San Francisco label whose sonic m.o. is dreary, funk-laden downtempo seemingly intended for bachelor-pad use. So, it appears, are the covers: line drawings of reclining, birthday-suited women who look like they were taken off a special softcore-porn run of the Fabergé Organic shampoo bottles of the ’70s.

By contrast, there is little overt raunch in the minimalist bump-and-growl of what fans call microhouse. Mostly made by German producers (Cologne is the style’s unofficial capital) who weld voluptuously rounded beats and basslines with timbres so tactile they’re almost visible, microhouse replaces dance music’s usual lecherous caricature with something subtler but just as fervently erotic. If disco, as funkmeister George Clinton once asserted, “was like fucking with one stroke,” in microhouse that single stroke operates like a stone hitting water, rippling out like nerve-ends in a thousand directions. Beatific but insinuating, working best in intimate club spaces, microhouse is incredibly close sounding. You can dance to it, but you won’t throw shapes; it’s make-out-and-beyond music, just as likely to send people home in pairs from the barstool as from the dance floor.

The most intense microhouse evokes overwhelmingly passionate sex, but there’s also a cool detachment that makes it somewhat elusive--and, as a result, even sexier. Much of the time, the music alternates between an almost preverbal (or maybe post-coital) sensuality--less suggestive of pornography than, say, a straight-laced businessperson unexpectedly falling into erotic-daydream mode in the middle of a company meeting--and an arch tongue-in-cheekiness of the “Oh, so you like that, do you, you naughty, naughty person?” variety. The staticky clicks and squelching overtones that frequently decorate the music put it in line with the experimental “glitch” techno of artists like Pole and Oval. But in microhouse, the sometimes grating quality of those textures is offset by the lubricious grooves, creating a satisfyingly lustful dialectic, like a particularly fluid fuck switching into rougher gear when your partner’s fingernails suddenly rake down your back.

Though some artists, particularly those on the Kompakt label, frequently feature sung vocals, much of the time microhouse treats the human voice as another malleable fragment. This started with Luomo’s 2000 album Vocalcity, which fed generic house-lyric fragments through the grooves, rendering them malleable both emotionally and sonically. Even when someone like Benjamin Gibbard of Seattle indie-rockers Death Cab for Cutie takes center stage, as on Dntel’s “This Is the Dream,” the vocals murmur, not shout; sometimes they’re barely audible, like a climactic moan buried in a pillow, or a TV left on in the background. On Pantytec’s “Elastobabe,” a snatch of a male soul vocal surfaces (“You wanna cry my…”) before being snatched back into the ether. Luomo’s “Market,” Dimbiman’s “Koppchen (Herbert’s D-D-D-Dazzle Dub),” and Markus Nikolai’s “Chitchat on Sunset Cliff” cut moans and sighs and gasps to ribbons, sprinkling them through the mix like confetti, the aural equivalent of passing by a cracked-open door and catching an accidental glimpse of private activity, turning the listener into a kind of voyeur/participant.

Like the music itself, track titles like “Muff Diver,” “Feel Sensual,” “Elastobabe,” “Chickflick,” and “Candy Coated Conspiracy,” and artist names like Pantytec and Narcotic Syntax, and Luomo, play up the music’s libidinous quality, frequently with a wink. (The frequency with which microhouse folk close together multiple words, melding discrete entities into one, is pretty suggestive itself.) There’s also an appealingly mischievous aspect to the labels’ visual aesthetics. The Perlon logo, for instance, is the label’s name in colorful block letters (on Superlongevity, a double-CD compilation, it’s red and orange) placed diagonally across the cover’s corner about a quarter visible. It’s more suggestive than explicit, and incredibly inviting.

What may be sexiest about microhouse, though, is its deviant playfulness. A track like Dimbiman’s “Hokule’a” features a half-dozen particles continually zipping in and out of the mix, dizzy in the head, dazed and drunk on pure sensation, squishy and playful, like a color-saturated David LaChappelle photograph reduced to a miniature squeeze-toy. Then an exhaled male uhhhh signals post-orgasmic contentment--or is it confusion? Good sex continually flouts those categories; it explores, takes risks; it’s aggressive and comforting both at once. With its seething undertow, expanding/contracting groove, and popping, brushing, crackling whirs of sound and sense, microhouse does something similar with its musical tools. It sets and unsettles its groove, staying in one place but exploring every possible detail. [April 2003]