Sunday, May 25, 2008

Popol Vuh: Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte

This German space rock group's sixth album, from 1976, one of their greatest achievements. Blissfully clangy/reverbed out guitars that are precursors to the sounds of Television and Sonic Youth. Beauty of the ethereal Orient. Serene invocations, otherworldly power and tranquility.

"Last Days, Last Nights" is how you would say this title in English.

We know a sort special optics which these sort of last times can throw upon a world: a lens of holy twilight. For example, when a stay of some duration comes to an end, and, against the backdrop of their imminent disappearance, the things of one's world are cast in a glow that must be a glimmer of that which covered the earth the day that its creator came to rest.

That's why so often when I have made somewhere my home for a season, the last one or two weeks are inevitably suffused with this kind of light, tinged by melancholy, by innocence, joy, and by the fading warmth of unrealized promise.

In the world of men, this light only shows up around the edges: during beginning and ends, and those moments of grand interruption. It is forever dimmed by engagements, projects, the "yeas and nays of busy people."

But the epic fade-out is not the only way things can end. There are countless ways. Another way something can end is when its participants have no idea which way this is, or even finally if it is a way at all, or if the end is really happening. This is the case of Beckett's Endgame, which I saw recently at BAM Theater, with John Turturro as Hamm, the central character.

It is characteristic of Beckett's writing that it always circuits between great metaphysical intensity and the banal preoccupations of the profane world. This is how allegory works, by moving between two dimensions without ever reconciling them, without ever fully carrying out a translation between them.

In other words, while Endgame confronts grand concerns of human significance and the depths of metaphysical nihilism, it is also about a couple breaking up. In exactly the same way that "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by The Clash is about a break-up.

One exemplary passage of this:

So you all want me to leave you.
Then I'll leave you.
You can't leave us.
Then I won't leave you.
Why don't you finish us?
I'll tell you the combination of the cupboard if you promise to finish me.
I couldn't finish you.
Then you won't finish me.
I'll leave you, I have things to do.
But it's not at all that the break-up is used to explain the metaphysics, or the other way around. It's about both, and the play produces an endless cluster of echoes by allowing sound from one world to strike the contours of the other.

Clov never leaves. The play ends with Clov, having retreated to his room to dress himself, reappearing in the door dressed in his travel clothes, which in their formality appear all the more out-of-place considering he's about to venture into a "The Road"-type post-disaster world of endless gray where all nature has been extinguished. My friend pointed out that this final scene strikes an ambiguous tone, because as the curtain falls, from the standpoint of sheer gesture it seems like Clov could also be returning from a long voyage, and that the scene is actually a beginning instead of an end.

What doesn't come into play in this play is the problem of afterlife, which would be like a ghostly inversion of Endgame's scenario: this would be when you think you've made an end of something, but it stays around, the end is not an end but it persists, it has a life of its own, it has a story of its own, an afterlife, to be explored and borne forward.

In this case however, Endgame's insistent dialogic refrain still holds weight:
HAMM (anguished):
What's happening, what's happening?
Something is taking its course.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Podcasts: Sweet Relief From Human Freedom

or, Sound Advice for Digital Living

One of the unexpected outcomes of the historical rise of democracy in industrial society is the way in which it is possible for freedom of choice to dialectically invert into an oppressive force. This largely stems from the twin motors of capitalism and technology, which operating in sync are quite capable today of overloading and distracting you with an abundance of irrelevant things to be decided upon.

"In ancient Rome there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice!"

It's sound advice for digital living to know when and how to engage decision, when to sideswipe it and when to outsource it. Information overload means the need for people you know to occasionally serve as human data filters. Maybe you do this unconsciously, sorting acquaintances and social contacts into "friend who knows where to buy shoes" and "guy at the office who is a college basketball obsessive" and "friend's boyfriend who brings rare, illegally-cured ham to your superbowl party."

Listening to mixes online is thus a great away to avoid the painful abyss of human freedom (although confronting this freedom has its benefits as well, for example it's a great way to procrastinate, to spend an hour or so curating a playlist).

Here are three excellent sources of such mixes:
1. The Fabric podcast. Fabric is a techno club in London, a venerable temple to electronic music. It is a very thoughtfully-branded entity, combining nightclub, record label and other ventures, all of which lay their primary emphasis on the pleasures of musical experience. Seriously the club rules and if I lived practically next door to it, as my good friends Leonard and Caireen do, I would be there every weekend. The DJ lineups are out of hand.

Their latest podcast is from British(?)person Howie B, the world-class electronic producer, who slings together a bunch of great funk (Fela Kuti, George McCrae) and often describes a song as being an "absolute stonker". These podcasts are of general interest and not only enjoyable for techno nerds.

2. The Resident Advisor podcast. RA is a first-class electronic music news website. Sort of like Pitchfork, but for grown-ups who don't pee on themselves about bands with names like Mystic Wolf Palace. Its podcasts center more on straight A-list techno DJs, such as Richie Hawtin aka Plastikman, who recently did the 100th installment. Definitely more techno-nerd but you're just putting it on in the background while you do spreadsheets at work anyway, so don't worry about it.

And, in actuality, minimal techno is pretty much the best at-work shit you can listen to. It doesn't ever interfere with your consciousness but it burbles steadily along so it keeps you going, like fizzy water.

3. Samurai FM. Just discovered by me because the Earplug newsletter linked to it. Has also a host of good DJ mixes available for streaming, including most recent by Norwegian space-disco prince Lindstrom. Also has a good selection of archival mixes including Italian legend Daniele Baldelli, the George Washington of beardo disco.

Now get back to work.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A Japanese female instrumental trio, the name means "Year 2000 Computer-Bug Problem."
They have an album coming out on Lindstrom's label, Smalltown Supersound, at the end of July, composed of two previously released EPs, which have song titles like "This Heat" and "Pop Group". This is live in Shibuya, Tokyo, 2004.

This is some fiery stuff, so be careful. I'm not really sure what to call it, in the way that it might perhaps be difficult to find a name for my own breath, my lungs, my blood, etc.

I think it is safe to say that the grift of this band does not end, if you know what I mean.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Robert Fripp: Let the Power Fall & Air Structures

Out-of-print 1981 solo album by avant guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp, introduced to me by Maya M.

For the sake of my own and the reader's sanity, those seeking biographical information on this visionary and multifaceted artist are advised to visit a site called "Elephant Talk". Suffice to say that Fripp, who lives among us even now, is well-known for what is called "Frippertronics", the use of a very particular set-up of tape loops and other such equipment in order to transform the solo performance of an electric guitar into an expansive field of soothing ambient vibrations.

This album has garish 80s cover art. This album is also really good, and is definitely up there with top five chill hard records ever. It is also highly effective for promoting serenity of mind in the workplace or any long period of time spent staring at a small electronic screen.

In other words, it serves as a great sonic remedy to Blaise Pascal's aphorism that "all men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."

I also had to reflect on what the title meant, and I decided that it maybe refers to the act of musical improvisation. First of all, successful improv means not using power, if by power you mean controlling things and knowing all the time what's going to happen. So the power has to fall or otherwise be deposed. Now the problem with this is, how to depose power without power returning via the deposition. You may think you get out of it, but the getting out of it turns out to be just a really great way to stay in it. Because power isn't just happy being power, it wants to take control of not-power also.

So you want power to fall, but you can't just push it over, you have to find a way to let it fall. But the beauty of this fall, its aesthetic component, isn't when power is lying all gross and smashed on the ground like a dead bird, but, as in Fripp's case, in the gloriously long decline itself, maybe so long that it never ends, which is what this album sounds like, like power falling forever, across infinity.

Let the Power Fall:

And additionally, for those already versed, this unofficial 1975 Live Paris bootleg with Brian Eno is made available. A two-disc set, the tracks, which run the gamut of Fripp's officially released studio output together with Eno, are listed only as S 1-4.

Air Structures:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Smooth Science 2: Midterm

[Handwritten Caption:] "There is so much evil coming off this page I had to send it away. Please don't try anything funny."

Norvorg is the name for the legendary Swedish evil spirit that preys on unsuspecting vacationers near bodies of water. This is nothing exceptional: pagan Swedish mythology is rife with malevolent forces that embody aquatic anxiety. In Norvorg's case, however, the method developed to hold the spirit at bay was unique: over generations, rural Swedes passed down brief, inanely cheerful songs, called abbania, intended to subdue the demonic entity with their breezy effervescence. Such is the direct origin of Swedish pop music as a genre, as well as Abba, the name of its most successful export.

Thus in Sweden, smooth music, at least in the bubblegum variety, was created as a mythological means of reckoning with nature, being functionally a mixture of art, technology, and religious ritual. It wasn't merely a means of accentuating a chilled-out maritime soiree, but of securing the chill-out by staying in tune with a potentially hostile universe.

Should you in the coming days find yourself in a leisurely state by the waterside, let us recommend these six sonic talismans:

- Lenny Kravitz - I Belong to You

Yep. Listen to this track and tell me it's not sick. Back when Lenny also produced "Justify My Love" for Madonna. Could you put this on while you made out with somebody, or would you laugh?

- Gabor Szabo - Azure Blue

From the Hungarian jazz guitarist's album High Contrast, which also contains the original version of Breezin', the instrumental later made famous by George Benson. Like Christopher Cross' "Sailing," "Breezin" is so programmatically smooth, it's a blueprint for the revolution. "Azure Blue" is included in the playlist instead, however, because this is the midterm: Breezin', Sailing and other such master classics are pre-reqs for the course.

George Benson - Breezin' (Live on the Old Grey Whistle Test)

- American Analog Set: The Magnificent Seventies

In high school my friends and I wore out this track and the accompanying album, From our Living Room to Yours. Wistful and lightly propulsive, like staring out of your suburban bedroom window while listening to Ege Bamyasi, the track is a jewel of airy melancholia and poppy-tinged daydreams, and is great company when navigating late at night those endless asphalt tracks that comprise the Texas highway system, and which arch in the dark like the backs of prehistoric beasts feeding on the dead.

- Lee Ritenour: Morning Glory

In crate-digging, the actual pilfering through milk crates, or Google reader or whatever it is you use, is only the first step. The second is scouring a whole album looking for that one song, the one that strikes a nerve. Smooth noodley jazz is certainly rough waters for the impassioned digger, because there is a very low diamond to shit ratio. But as Lee knows, such excursions are all part of the captain's journey. "Morning Glory" is well Steely, with a bit of CSN and some elevator thrown in for good measure.

- Azymuth: Montreal City

Azymuth [album]

Alan H. sent this in, and I've probably listened to it every day since then, Azymuth's '74/'75 Brazilian jazz debut. Alan quite correctly anticipated that I would be well down with this, as it matches nimble tropical rhythms with tinny martian synthesizers like something from the second half of either Bowie's "Low" or Closer by Joy Division. It's a fantastic record, one that rewards repeated listening. It might be a case of creeper beats: they might not hit you in the face at once, they may wait until you think you're safe and sound to deploy their weapons of sunbaked smooth....highly recommended. Alan and I had an extended follow-up conversation in which he made the observation that alot of American yacht rock ends up following a curious class trajectory, being the product of ennui-ridden rich California rockers living in the lap of luxury, sulking amidst their cuervo gold, white lady and nineteen-year olds, and making its way via muzak-systems to the quotidian world of the midwest supermarket.

- Quiet Village: Singing Sand

Another track from QV's new "Silent Movie" LP, a distant smooth cousin to DJ Shadow's Entroducing. Or as one bulletin boarder put it, beardo disco = the new trip-hop.

After three or four days in a row of epic band practices interspersed with late night brooklyn loft parties I was totally worn down and brain-dead, so while, framed by my old white window, the evening light settled softly behind the williamsburg bridge, I lay with headphones on and passed out to this new record. It is an afternoon springtime nap masterpiece. It is also shit-smooth gentle tide disco made by two bald DJs. I want to share it with you, Like a lot of very good music, it is highly practical to listen to, being a kind of sonic frozen margarita, or light Mexican beer. This track makes me think of coconut-infused suntan lotion and the gentle movements of brown skin in the dark. It's what doin' it on the beach sounds like.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Epic Soundtracks / Turkish Star Wars

*For more on 60s/70s cult soundtracks see

before the main event, a perverse appetizer, one long overdue for classical acknowledgment.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saves the World) is a 1982 Turkish film, part of a wave of low-budget productions from the region which slavishly and at times bizarrely imitated American Hollywood blockbusters, occasionally resorting to flat-out stealing clips from the originals when necessary. The Man Who Saves the World is thus referred to as "Turkish Star Wars", there are likewise Turkish Superman, Star Trek, etc - also Turkish E.T., in which the title character appears not as a lovable, charming plush-toy creature, but a lop-sided, flatulent space potato whose visage makes you cringe when the children hug it.

What is awesome about this clip from Turkish Star Wars shouldn't require much more explanation on my part. I will note that globally speaking, Americans are in the unique position of seeing their own culture bootlegged, imitated, xeroxed into oblivion, more than any other nationality. Like when you go to the market in Marrakesh and they're selling Beebok shoes and it's really funny. I am secretly grateful as an American that there is not some other larger, more cultural impactful country than my own that causes me constant anxiety of influence, whose pop culture I dearly love like delicious junk food but despise and need to distance myself from at the same time.

Thus part of America's cultural fate is the uncanny encounter with stuff like Turkish Star Wars, where we get our own bullshit thrown back at ourselves in mutant form.

By the way, these Turkish films often snip hodge-podge from American soundtracks, throwing them altogether for fun, you can recognize for example "Battlestar Galactica" in the following clip:


These are psychedelically epic, in contrast to either heroically or romantically. I wanted to put some Phillip Glass here but I couldn't download any from itunes and don't own any, inexplicably. The following line-up contains a lot of usual suspects, most of whom are prolific enough to justify combing through some odder folds in the back catalog. Comments appear below, followed by a massive dose of carefully curated clips.

1. Tangerine Dream - Beach Scene (from Thief)

80s synth-soundtrack warlords whose resume in this field is too epic for consideration. Alex B gave me this track, from Michael Mann's Thief, which plays right after James Caan, the titular thief of banks, has just pulled off the sickest heist ever, and he gets to go celebrate on the beach with his woman and James Belushi.

2. Christian Bruhn - Aravanadi - der Baron

Bruhn is a 70s-80s German soundtrack composer, this is for a German kid's TV series called Timm Thaler, an update of the Faust narrative in which the title character sells his laughter to the Baron LeFuet (anagram of "Teufel", German for "Devil").

3. Bo Hansson - Black Riders & Flight to the Ford

Not really for an actual soundtrack, and we've covered it before, but dammit, it's a 70s swedish-prog imaginary soundtrack to Lord of the Rings, and it rules.

4. Ennio Morricone - Fuggire Lontano

A deep boogie TV cue. I don't know much about it. I do know that you should probably get the two-disc "Crime and Dissonance" set that came out a few years ago, because it is well-bugged.

5. Freedom Orchestra - Lucifer Rising, Part I

Part of Kenneth Anger's classic 60s psychedelic Satan movie. The soundtrack was going to be by Jimmy Page originally, but it finally fell to Bobby Beausoleil, who I think recorded part of it in prison or something. Nicely evil. Like not too much evil, like when you eat too much Oatmeal Cookie Chunk ice cream and you lie there like a sickly, friendless whale and think you might barf.

Psst: here's the whole soundtrack. It's a bit mud-fi, but pretty much as triumphantly psych-evil as you're going to get.

Freedom Orchestra - Lucifer Rising

6. Popol Vuh - Aguirre II

From Herzog's film Aguire: The Wrath of God, accompanies the insanely beautiful opening shot. Both Popol Vuh and Herzog have a similar artistic strength, that of engaging with romantic/exoticist/hippie types of tropes and traversing them until they become something beautifully otherworldly. PS: the next time someone in casual conversation disparages the Mellotron, play them this haunting, distant choir that spreads its alien angelic beauty all through the heavens.

7. Goblin - Patrick

Pretty much the best epic soundtrack group ever. I mean, "Suspira"? Those crazy bells and shit? "Patrick" is from the movie of the same name. Guess what? Quiet Village ripped it off for their track "Pillow Talk". They took the scary warbliness out of it and made it a super-chill yacht jam.

8. Terry Riley - In the Summer

From some ponderous 70s eurotrash movie called "Lifespan" starring Klaus Kinski. One of the minimalist master's only film compositions, it's also I think the only track by him that has vocals on it.

9. Giorgio Moroder - Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase) From "Cat People"

Ok do I have to explain who he is? He's like Goethe, he pretty much invented everything. Plus, he produced not only "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun, but "Call Me" by Blondie from American Gigolo. Damn.

10. Tully - Follow Me from "Sea of Joy"

Some hippie-dip soundtrack to an old Australian surfing movie. I bought this for some reason at Other Music, weirdly mesmerized by the accompanying description, despite the fact that 1. I don't care about hippie-dip folkie folk and 2., it's about surfing in Australia. In any case, most of the soundtrack is a wash, except for this track, because it is suitable moody and dark, and thus epic.

11. Marc Wilkinson - Fiend Discovered and Titles from "Blood on Satan's Claw"

We close with some actual orchestral soundtrack stuff, from a 70s British horror film not dissimilar from "The Wicker Man". Also the soundtrack has nice track titles like "Claw in the Classroom."

Now please enjoy some audio/visual excursions. Where possible, the clips reflect the aforementioned tracks, sometimes they don't because this was not possible, or because I don't care.

Opening to "Lucifer Rising"

Beach Scene from "Thief"

Opening shot from "Aguirre: The Wrath of God"

Final Episode 13 of "Timm Thaler"

"Blood on Satan's Claw"

Dream Sequence from "Cat People"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

High Schoolers Play DJ Shadow

The Shadow Percussion Project

Music instructor Brian Udelhofen conducts the Minnetonka High School Percussion Ensemble in a performance of several tracks from DJ Shadow's sample-heavy abstract hip-hop classic Endtroducing. Making a kind of weird musical spiral - Shadow takes loads of bits from David Axelrod and others for his record, then this ensemble does cover versions.

My mother taught me to play piano. Ok this isn't entirely true, I had a number of teachers. I'll say she gave the piano to me, to me and my brother, and that it was a daily part of our lives since we could read. As a child in Australia, she often performed with her family in church, they were called the 'musical Judds'. And while organized religion got left behind in her life like the seventh continent, an inviable connection between music and the life of the spirit persisted in her - that was were we always went when we traveled, to London, for example, we spent our time in cathedrals, for evensong, for organ recital, especially for choral performances. That's why when she passed away there no doubt in our minds that her beloved choir group should be called to sing at her memorial.

The unstable force of art is that it can work as solace, as ideal and as escape. Musical groups, especially those that deploy the human voice in unison, aren't just playing pretty songs, they're marking a kind of utopian moment, where everyone gets along, everyone's working together in harmony. But the general problem of depicting a world better than this one is that it act as an ideal that you work towards somehow, or its depiction can stand in like a narcotic substitute for all the bullshit of this earth.

My mother inaugurated my engagement with music, and my high school piano teacher Jim Ogilvy allowed it to take the step into open weirdness that it has never recovered from, because he taught me how to improvise. A zen'd-up bohemian who looked something like Eugene Levy's hepcat cousin, fitting considering his love of SCTV, Jim taught me jazz chords via Plato and Aristotle and only once did he ever show me his studio, a private Valhalla behind his normal house which housed, among other holy treasures, a Buchla and the third Moog ever built. Once after my first girlfriend ever broke up with me, I had to go to my piano lesson and Jim took one look at my unbearable despondence and we spent the hour and a half in thoughtful consultation.

I got my first synth from him, an Emulator II+ sampler. It is the same sampler that Ferris Bueller uses to produce the simulated cough sounds which, when played over the phone, serve as evidence to his school interlocutors that he is sick. I still have it, because it is rare and ridiculous. That's to say, these are the reasons why I can't easily get rid of it. All of its sounds are on big floppy disks, and it takes like ten minutes to load, and it is huge. But just look at it:

Yesterday following practice I took my Moog Liberator keytar and threw it in the trash gathered on the curb. Its time had come. Don't make me defend myself, you don't understand how long in coming such a parting has been. I got it ten years ago from a girl named Katherine Bentley. Working at Waterloo Records in Austin, my best friend John saw a hip, elegant-looking girl post a For Sale sign for the keyboard at the store, a sign complete with the DEVO 'Duty Now for the Future' atomic man image.

Both John and I were seventeen or eighteen or something, and we had to drive outside of Austin to where K lived with her wealthy family. It felt like a weird Fitzgerald echo, going to this upscale scene to buy a moog keytar from the intimidatingly cool art school daughter. Plus her last name was "Bentley". We were both smitten in that absurd near-mythic intensity which is the inescapable territory of youth. On the car ride home we listened to "Disorder" by Joy Division really loud, and I thought about going to summer orientation at NYU.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hand-Puppet Traces: A Secret History of Muppet Music

The song "Rainbow Connection" is sometimes considered to be the iconic Muppets song, the way that "When You Wish Upon A Star" is so for the Disney corporate universe.

Guess who wrote it? Paul Williams, who among other things, also wrote all the songs and starred as the villain in Brian de Palma's pre-Rocky Horror pulpy sci-fi musical thriller "Phantom of the Paradise."

Here's the greatest (aka most satisfyingly nerdy) scene from the film, an extended trip into a fantastical analog-synth recording studio. Williams is the Svengali sound engineer, titular Phantom the singer.

The wall-to-wall synthesizer surrounding the Phantom is TONTO, the same unit used all over Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. There's a sick, sick clip of Stevie recording with TONTO on Youtube which we've posted before, so feel free to enjoy the archival glee of looking it up for yourself.

The POTP clip above makes us yearn for more images of futuristic/fantastic recording studios. Obviously alot can be done from an allegorical point of view with glorious space-console design in general, from the death star, 2001, etc, but digging up explicitly audio-centered sci-fictive studios remains an unfinished task. There must be some related Daft Punk imagery somewhere.

In lieu of that, we give you another image of cosmic disco demigod Daniele Baldelli throwing down in his DJ console, a glittery multi-limbed Mr. Potato-head from the future.

...Now if the reader came of tv-watching age in the 80s in the US, then the following clip is most likely very familiar, in the way that a certain sugar cookie was familiar to Marcel Proust. The difference being that, although this song is inscribed in your cultural DNA, so insidious is it you will most regret now being reminded of its hypnotically moronic tones.

Now, we're assuming the reader was not aware of the song's original context, which if you think about it sort of radically alters the implicit content of the muppet skit. The song "Mah Na Mah Na", written by Piero Umiliani, first appeared in a 1968 mondo film called Sweden: Heaven and Hell that has bosoms in it. Also supposedly it was once covered by a pre-electro disco Giorgio Moroder.

Clips from "Sweden: Heaven and Hell"

Now go back to the Muppet clip. Doesn't it seem a lot more implicitly sexual? I mean, not to join on the severally annoying bandwagon of retroactively pointing out how all the media monuments of childhood innocence are actually overcoded with all manner of vulgar gutter-business, but come on.


Not making this up, were you aware that German Sesame Street ("Sesamstrasse") doesn't even have Big Bird?? They replaced him (her?) with "Samson", a bear character that looks like someone threw diarrhea all over a sofa that's been left on the curb for a week. What the fuck, Germans? It makes sense though, because what are two things that Germans love? Bears and shit. Plus so the kids will love him more they died his hair pink, aka the exact same hairstyle as all German moms.

Samson the shit-bear

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Shit I Slept On

LOVE (the band, not the disease)

The reason that there's no accounting for taste is that anything on which one's faculty of taste would be exercised has to contend with a whole myriad of factors before it becomes agreeable. There are long-term factors like where you're from or the circumstances of your upbringing, and short-term factors like what you had for lunch, or if you're thinking about something your boss said at work, or that guy won't stop tapping his foot while you're trying to concentrate.

Music has an additional strike against it in this matter, because it's an incorporeal art. So much about music, from the psychology of its aesthetics to its revolutionary capacity to its status as the symptomatic problem of digital capitalism, stems from its disembodiment, the fact that it doesn't need a wall or a screen to be shown on, or any other kind of shelter.

So it's much easier to sleep on music, to encounter song once but not think much of it until it's too late, it's blown up, all your friends have been jocking it for months and are finally tired of it when you're all "oh shit have you heard this?"

As I am particularly guilty of this, I offer the following as a way to make amends. I'll say though that I don't feel guilty about this guilt. My receptivity can be especially flighty, like a haughty broad who is as prone to turn up her nose at a venerable suitor on a whim as she is to giving herself with abandon to whoever happens to be playing tennis that day.

Lastly, while openness is a virtue, it can be overdone. As the infamous Professor Dr. Wolfgang Schirmacher once said, "You can't stand in the open all the time. Where would you be?"

Martin Denny - "Quiet Village"

After I showed him Quiet Village's new "Silent Movie" album which, if the reader is inclined now to practice not sleeping on new shit that's great would be a terrific place to start, Wade Z (aka Zade, aka the Pulled Pork Rabbi of Greenpoint) dug up the band's namesake, the well-known jam by Martin Denny, and thus I realized I had been sleeping on Denny's Hawaiian lite-jazz exotica since, well, birth pretty much. It's not like I hadn't already seen the images of sultry technicolor temptresses lilting their way through one bajillion times after spending endless hours from childhood until current quasi-adulthood flipping through thrift store dollar bins and the moldly aural refuse that gathers on the lawns of middle-aged crackpots after the wife has finally forced, with no recourse to veto, a epic cleaning of the man-cave, an effort never unaccompanied by the deep melancholic pangs that can rend a hairy old collector's pale heart in two.

And here's a clip of Denny from some show called "Hawaii Calls", also a youtube find by Mr. Z:

I couldn't believe how much these sounds, so moldy and comical, now struck me. It's highly functional, proto-ambient, soundtrack-to-nothing music. i.e. shit that I so ride for. In the roadmap of ambient music running from Erik Satie's well-known desire to make music intended to "mingle with the sound of forks and knives at dinner" to Brian Eno's formalized conceptualization, there's definitely a pitstop at Denny's. I'm fascinated by music that is highly tailored, because I live in a DJ fantasy world that operates according to the highly idealistic principle that there's a perfect song for any occasion.

Now, the perfect music for drinking poppy tea in a church is Stars of the Lid, an Austin-cum-Belgian outfit that my best friend John was pals with when we were in high school, whose infinite sleepwalking drones I loved and which John and I endlessly paid homage to on 4-tracks in suburban bedrooms. I slept on their latest album, "And Their Refinement of The Decline", in the way that one tends to give a glazed-over eye to anything too seemingly sucked dry by the vampiric passions of young adulthood to have any virility left inside. Alan, Zade, Otto and I went to the Wordless Music Series last night to check out SOTL perform at a church on 66th street, accompanied by a mesmerizing psycho-celestial light show.

Stars of the Lid - "Even If You're Never Awake"

The evening's largest epiphany, however, of which there were several, was the performance by Face the Music, an ensemble of two dozen members of Special Music School P.S. 859. Middle school kids playing avant-garde classical/experimental compositions. The opening two-piano death duel of what sounded like random bars of Gershwin repeated ad infinitum with jackhammer insistence, performed by a young bespectacled girl with a ponytail and a very young chubby elf with a bowl-cut, was a sincere knockout and the whole performance was the first I've seen in a while capable of melting faces and hearts at the same time.

"When I have kids I'm signing them up for this"
"Hell I'm signing myself up for this"

Glissandro 70 - "Bolan Muppets"

I scheduled my recent trip to London on purpose to include a day or two of doing nothing. I need these days to soak up the atmosphere and settle in to the tasks that lie before me. It's the same reason that when arriving for a social appointment, especially one that is set to take place in an unfamiliar neighborhood, I enjoy arriving 10-15 minutes early, to contemplate the stage being set for the imminent encounter, and to make sure, as best as one ever can, that my enemies haven't sent someone to lie in wait.

During one of these days in London I found myself at Rough Trade East, and there I bought some materials. The first of these is a mindblowing DVD called Krautrock...And Beyond Part 2, of which there are some 8 parts or so. They all have archival music clips from West German TV in the 70s. Needless to say, so needless, is that they are fucking awesome, and that their awesomenesses have varying sources. Sometimes the clips are just archivally awesome, sometimes, as in the following sick-ass early Popol Vuh clip, they are just sick as hell.

Popol Vuh - "Bettina"

I also picked up the latest mix from the jocked-by-me Norwegian space-disco master Prins Thomas called Cosmo Galactic Prism, which is as out-there and wonky and amazing as the title might suggest. It includes "Bolan Muppets", a recent track by some Canadian persons called Glissandro 70. Now, when I mentioned the illness of this track to Jonathan F., his reply disarmed me: he said that a year ago during his visit to Berlin he'd played me the same track and that I had shrugged it off, and now, he said, that Prins Thomas said it was cool, I was all over it.

Guilty as charged, it made me really think about the sheer contingencies of taste, about mood, about digestion, and about being an asshole who thinks he knows better. "Bolan Muppets" is dope, sounds vaguely Animal Collectively, and you should listen to it.

Love - "My Little Red Book"

My onetime roommate Dave at college was way into Love, as I remember, and being a musical creature of a general languid, drifty temperament I wasn't sure how to jack into Arthur Lee's frenetic, amped compositions, the influence of which I think is lurking there often in Dave's band Animal Collective. Although influence is sometimes an impossible thing to evaluate: do I make a song because I like this old record that touched me, or was I touched by this old record because the style this song has been sloshing around inside me forever, waiting for the right time to spring into the world?

Anyway it turns out that, as everyone in the world knows except me, except that I know it too now, effectively negating the need for anyone in the world to read this, that Love is pretty good.


It is ok to sleep on shit. Sometimes it is necessary. Don't feel bad if you wake up and find shit underneath you, that you weren't aware that you slept on. Don't feel guilty because something cool happened and you missed it like a dumbass. If you sleep on it, it means it wasn't where you were at, you weren't in a place to connect with it. And if you connected with everything the first time, what would be left for the future?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Boris: Miscalculating in the Aftermath


Recently we took a look at the problem of artistic aftermath, of trying to navigate, to reorient oneself after reaching a point of no return. Think Nico going from the breezy tambourine blonde who sang Jackson Browne-penned songs on "Chelsea Girls" to the nihilistic proto-goth cemetery dweller of "The Marble Index". Radiohead post-OK Computer is probably the most compelling contemporary example of a group trying to find its way exactly when there's no way anymore, trying to cut some kind of path across a signless desert of unexplored possibilities.

The Japanese psych-noise trio Boris, having found itself in the eye of a storm of praise following its album Pink, has recently gone through a similar process. The new album Smile has all kinds of marks on it of a highly talented band going through all kinds of untried tricks in order to work itself out of the corner it has found itself in.

Now here is the track that opens the Japanese version of Smile, "Message" and which does not appear on the US release, except in a wildly de-balled version (renamed "Statement"). The track has a markedly similar electro-triphammer rhythmic punch to "Machine Gun", the new single by Portishead, and it sounds like some kind of unholy punk Konono 1 hybrid: Hawkwind doing the soundtrack for Mad Max in Africa. It's the best thing on either version of the record. While it's a mystery to me what it's doing absent from the US version, the fact of this absence sums up the disoriented state that Boris must kind of have been in: making out-there stuff they've never done before, but then not having the confidence, or not giving enough of a shit, to take it all the way, to follow the line of flight across the desert. Portishead, in contrast, are heroes of the aftermath problem, they managed to throw off their accumulated stylistic baggage and strike deep in the vein at point zero.

But that's the aftermath for you, it's also after-math, it comes after math, after a way of calculating, of adding up, of accounting or taking score, has failed or is no longer available. It's math after math, and while it's not always as aesthetically satisfying as the high-point that an artist is trying to work out from under, it's still a highly compelling story.