It seems absurd to me that anybody who wasn’t just making link-bait would question the vitality or importance of music criticism. The magazines and websites that carry writing and sell advertising, sure, maybe they’re going to die, and especially the notion of consumer guide-style record reviews, which are now as ubiquitous as spam and will surely soon be composed like it. Those have been in peril for a while. The addition of Spin’s new Twitter feed, edited by Chris @1000TimesYes Weingarten, might seem to threaten somebody somewhere. But probably not. Sure, the bon mots are pithier, but Twitter makes thoughts only as “short” as a reader might perceive them, part of a much vaster conversation containing thousands, maybe millions, of threads — the real-life real-time conversation of music itself. And for those who care to participate, it’s a conversation that isn’t restricted to 140 characters or even a click-through.
In addition to the longer columns they will continue to publish (though, yikes, please don’t call 1000 words “longform”) @SPINReviews adds yet another voice to the jabber, albeit one shaped by some great writers with deep perspective on music. The latter is more important than ever, not necessarily to advise people on what is and isn’t worth listening to, but to illuminate bigger topics, to draw connections in the present, to participate, to sort through noise, to fight the ahistorical, to find musicians who don’t have publicists, to be curious, and to be amazed or infuriated by music and figure out why and how. Anybody can rate a record. Certainly, as a music writer, the fun has well been sucked out of having public opinions on things like Bon Iver or Animal Collective or any other artist that’s been covered by everybody with a social media feed. In that way, maybe we don’t need reviews, but that’s only because the conversation about music has moved to a deeper level with an infinite number of participants where hopefully “criticism” means something beyond saying if something was good or bad.
Looked at more clearly, I think it’s totally liberating. Music writers and fans are no longer forced to have opinions about music they find banal, but encouraged by the system (however passive-aggressively) to find the music that connects with them most, that creates the most narrative, the deepest portal to the hyperreal life around them, the most sustained meaning worth spending time reflecting on and writing about and listening to. Something that might last a while. Or maybe you have something awesome to say about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s baby or the imminent death of music criticism. That’s totally cool, too.
A few months ago, a new ad went up at the corner of Grand Street, down the Bedford Avenue central drag in Williamsburg. As with the wall of Lou Reeds that covered a construction site a while back, near the new Duane Reade, I really wanted to see it covered in graffiti. Eventually, somebody mustered up an “I fucked Vincent Gallo” speech bubble for poor ol’ Lou, who seemed more like a set decoration than anything else. What was it an ad for, though? There was no text. Was it Lou’s leather jacket? Maybe just the Lou brand?
It was late summer, I’m pretty sure, when Bon Iver came to Williamsburg. His painted visage sat there on a guitar amp next to his bandmates [correction: his managers, including his brother], looking like a brah among brahs, in a Jagjaguwar shirt, arms open, doofy vibes, and hawking whiskey. One of us! And, brah, Bushmills! After about a month, somebody pasted some street art parody QR codes ungracefully over Mr. Iver’s junk, as well as similar regions of the other fellows in his band. I meant to take a picture the next time I walked by, but they’d been quickly scraped off. Not made for brick, it seems.
That nobody otherwise abused Justin Vernon’s not-selling-out-buying-in likeness is absolutely a deep personal failure on my part. I really should have done it, if only on general principle. It means that Bon Iver has already won. And I’m just not sure how I feel about that. I’ve got no real beef with the guy personally. But mostly I still hate most corny-ass non-jazz saxophone and Bruce Hornsby and 1980s/1990s Grateful Dead, which is what Bon Iver and Justin Vernon represent to me, the triumph of the crappy part of hippiedom over righteous experimentation and thoughtful chaos. Despite the fact that Vernon’s music seems genetically bred for me–almost as if under some creepy lab conditions with nostalgia-plumping steroids–I’ve never connected with it remotely, never been able to recall a hook or a melody or even a lyric. I’ve tried. He seems like a sweet guy, from all my interactions with him, culturally mediated or otherwise. Still nothing.
But I come not to hate on Bon Iver. Really. I come to hate on The National. Man, they suck. I went through a similar pattern with them for an album or two, trying–because of a then-ladyfriend, because of some pals who dug them–to get into music that ultimately just felt bland and wimpy. What Coldplay are to Radiohead, The National seemed to Wilco. Again, dudes seemed alright. They even seem to like the Dead, too, though I’m utterly terrified about the prospect of them curating a Dead tribute disc, which they seem to be doing. The positive that I’ve taken out of all of this, alongside The Nationalol’s recent 6-night run at the Beacon Theater, and other signs: the hippies–or at least their Bon Iver-loving descendants–still make up an authentic silent majority in popular music fandom.
Phish’s Trey Anastasio announced that he was working with The Nationalolol, appeared with them onstage, and a small chunk of the internet blew up. Falling more on The Nationalololololololol side of the equation, I think Anastasio and the 7 sets of conjoined and unconjoined twins that comprise the New York quatturodectet deserve each other in their gentle wimpiness. I wish far better for Anastasio, who at least has a history making adventurous music, though he’s long rivaled Lou Reed in the perversity of his creative choices. I can only hope the silent majority still has some anarchy thumping around inside them somewhere, a latent hippie impulse in the American pop consciousness ready for the word to start raising the freak flags everywhere. Which is what happened over the last few years, of course, between ye olde Fleete Foxes, Animal Collective, and what have you: a head re-entrenchment after years of bloody rockist/poptimist debates.
What I resent is how much of it–the Bon Iver Bushmills ad, the Trey/National collaboration–seems to transform gaudy tie-dye into another shade of beige. The Deadheads and the hippies at large deserve a more vibrant fate than that, something less compliant with the lame rock culture that’s settled over VIP-happy rock clubs and national media, less easy to put on as mellow background listening. Odds are, too, that Bon Iver will score high in Pazz & Jop this year, which means he’s both a critical and popular success.
A lot of the new music I kept coming back to this year abutted on Bon Iver’s territory, even, music that didn’t seem to be competing for anything. Especially, I loved the unadorned folk of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ The Harrow & The Harvest, and Arborea, another husband-wife folk duo specializing in ancient and fully present haunt. Caitlin Rose, a new singer/songwriter from Nashville, released a wonderful debut of ineffably modern countrypolitan songwriting. Not all of it came too close to Iver, though. Akron/Family (more my kind of post-Dead outfit) put out a pretty good album, but I spent more time with the series of Megaupload/Mediafire-distributed bmbz releases that distorted and stretched their psych into noise with buried and already familiar melodies. Oneida put on a few more 10-hour shows and a series of recordings in their various guises, including the late-night brah-out album I’ve been waiting for, Absolute II. Another album I loved was The Ex’s Catch My Shoe, glorious anti-anthems by a 30-year old Dutch punk band with a new lead singer and a horn section. Not usually a formula for awesomeness, but hey.
I spent plenty of the year righteously wallowing in the throes of old music, too, trying to ignore the aggressively weird central argument of Simon Reynolds’ Retromania, which seemed to claim that there was something somehow wrong with this practice. Just as all music is world music, though, all music–or, at least, all recorded music–is old music. It is the most central tenet of fandom, wanting to lift the needle–virtual or real–back to the beginning of the track to listen again and again and again and again. And the hope of being an active fan is to find more music that makes you want to do the same, that contains some fundamental humanity-carrying spark, piping fresh or recorded decades ago, to make you listen again.
It might appear anywhere, in the space between an acoustic guitar and a room tone, in an intentional lyric or unintentional phrasing, even in a big stupid/brilliant pop song. The latter didn’t happen to me this year but, as a hippie, that’s what I want: life flickering, a personality expressed. Also as a hippie, I recognize that there are plenty who seem to get that out of Bon Iver or American Idol or black metal or other sources of music that I’m equally mystified by. I can get down with a certain amount of objectivity, listening to appreciate what makes a finely constructed track/album/band, doling out the best in drone/pop/folk, but at the end of the year, I really just want music that I’m going to personally keep listening to even after the calendar changes. Pop accolades really don’t bother me, though. At least until Bon Iver starts turning up in ads for booze that I have to look at every day on my way to and from wherever.
So they gave Justin Vernon some heavy cash and he took it. Whatever. I even like Bushmills. What brought it home most for me, though, was when Vernon tweeted about [correction: told a NYT reporter] how he didn’t care about getting nominated for a Grammy, and then some band called him out for the Bushmills ad on Twitter, and then Pitchfork reported on it. They published a brief account of the spat. Just below it was an embedded video, made by Bushmills, featuring (I assume) exclusive footage of the Bushmills/Bon Iver photo shoot. That week, too, Pitchfork was bordered by massive banner ads from the same advertising campaign. I suppose it’s long been the reality, and not even that really bothers me.
What bothers me is the mundanity of it all. As with the beiged tie-dye, it’s just another bit that’s gotten sucked into the great blanding maw of the cultural conversation that has maybe neutered music entirely in the wake of new and weirder ways of meaning, like international debt crises, existential occupations, and phone hacking. WTF could Tom Morello or even Jeff Mangum ever do in such company, anyway? Maybe its best for music to just exit that conversation stage left, right, or even directly through the gift shop. I have no real idea how, or even what that means in concrete terms. Imagine a world without Pitchfork ratings. It’s easy if you try.
One day, I came home, and some guys were painting over the Bon Iver ad. They’d white-washed Vernon & co. (ha!) and were etching some new shapes over them. Specifically, the vague outlines of a Jedi and a Sith Lord, selling some new Star Wars video game. Good and evil mapped themselves over Vernon’s face, and he continued to peer unblinking into the now-fogging afternoon light, and the next day he was gone.
Of Proust & Potter (Paste)
Gather, Form, and Fly – Megafaun (Indy Week)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up featuring: Assemble Head in Sunburtst Sound, Ducktails, Omar Souleyman, Talibam!, Woods (JamBands.com)
Wilco/Yo La Tengo at KeySpan Park, 13 July 2009 (Village Voice)
Paul McCartney at Ed Sullivan Theater Marquee, 15 July 2009 (Village Voice)
What Machine Do You Use To Kill Fascists? (Faster Times)
BRAIN TUBA: The Ydbbbbkk of Bob Weir (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Hevdepping with HijuM’mp (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: A Masked Stranger (JamBands.com)
o Signal To Noise #54 (Sonic Youth cover): cover feature on Sonic Youth, “Meet the Eternals”
o Paste #54 (Stuart Murdoch cover): feature on Yonlu, interview with Gilberto Gil.
o July Relix (Dave Matthews Band cover): profile of Dirty Projectors, album reviews of Sonic Youth, Gamehenge 09, Bob Dylan, Wooden Shjips, Sir Richard Bishop, Grateful Dead live releases (Road Trips Vol. 2, No. 2, To Terrapin).
American Beautys: More other-worldly psych-rock investigations with Akron/Family (Village Voice)
Suggested Uses for Buddha Machine 2.0
Willie and the Wheel – Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
Preteen Weaponry – Oneida
Fuckbook – The Condo Fucks
Swoon – Silversun Pickups
The Dead at Angel Orensanz Center, Gramercy Theater, Roseland Ballroom, 30 March 2009 (Village Voice blog)
The Limits of Control (Paste)
o June Relix (Phish cover): album reviews of Black Moth Super Rainbow, Crystal Antlers, Heroes compilation.
o Paste #52 (Decemberists cover): feature on reading Harry Potter and Marcel Proust; album review of the Silversun Pickups
Lost in the post-holiday malaise…
Suggested Uses for the Buddha Machine 2.0
by Jesse Jarnow
FM3′s Buddha Machine 2.0, an ugly plastic box that emits nine different ambient loops and which looks like a transistor radio, was practically designed for urban life. Inspired by the drone boxes at Buddhist temples in Asia, it is a chilled escape from Twittered-out internet devices, mp3 players, stray noise (cultural or literal), and even well-meaning friends.
The new edition of Christian Virant and Zhang Jian’s Buddha Machine (first issued in 2005) is the post-holiday balm to end all balms. Because now it has pitch control. Armed with a headphone jack, a small tinny speaker, nine new loops, and a nearly infinite life from two AA batteries, the Buddha Machine–$23 + shipping from Forced Exposure–and its flexibility might be your new bff. (That or the $3.99 iPhone version, modeled on the original, which is also pretty rad, albeit too quiet.)
1. Put on before sleep. Place on pillow next to head.
2. Turn on in pocket while out and about, surruptiously adjusting as needed.
2a. With friends, keep volume low, free of detection. They will wonder why you are glowing.
2b. On subway, keep volume louder. The Buddha Machine is an interesting gauge of ambient noise.
3. For street use, try headphones. Though each track is a short loop, extended close listening creates illusions of developing pieces of music, replete with movements and sections.
3a. The Buddha Machine occasionally picks up interference from passing cell phones, like speakers at a club. But it also sometimes adds layers of localized static, like sonic dirt, which is kinda cool.
4. In noisy environment, such as a bar or party, crank Buddha Machine, press closely to ear, close eyes. Listen to the ocean in the seashell.
5. Different loops for different occasions. Each is named (“Mao,” “Li,” etc.), but better remembered by one’s own mnemonic: the piano-bells, the downtempo one, the ice fields, etc..
6. Add new layer to whatever music is playing. Use pitch control to match key.
7. Go to LaMonte Young’s Dream House. Upon exit, use pitch control to match drone, carry vibe home with you.
8. Float downstream. It is not dying, dude.
Four reviews from this year & last that fell through the cracks between issues, editors, and/or otherwise never made it entirely to print.
THE CONDO FUCKS
Provoked, perhaps, by Times New Viking’s scuzz-fidelity challenge, “Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo,” the Hoboken trio returns in their punchiest guise yet. Rehearsing for a stealth gig at Brooklyn’s Magnetic Field under the moniker the Condo Fucks, Fuckbook is a rude sequel to 1990′s whisper-heavy covers album, Fakebook. The Fucks shag ass through 11 deep cuts from the Kinks, the Zantees, the Flamin’ Groovies, and other garage faves whose names begin with definite articles. The crappy recording adds delirious fuzz, shouted backing harmonies coming out like power chords, power chords coming out otherworldly. Guitarist Ira Kaplan (as Kid Condo) is at his gnarliest, solos oversaturating into utter bliss. The Tengos’ sixth sense for covers has never been more unerring, nor–more importantly–more fun. Fuck!
WILLIE NELSON & ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
Willie & the Wheel
Ironically, probably the best way to dig Willie Nelson’s new session of vintage Western swing is through the tiniest, tinniest computer speakers one can find. Recorded with veteran string masters Asleep at the Wheel and spearheaded by late Stax producer Jerry Wexler, who passed away last August, Willie and the Wheel is neither hit nor miss. And that’s a bummer, because a late-career disc of Nelson returning to Western swing should be awesome. But, despite all the weed, Willie’s voice has barely aged, and he never really stopped singing Western swing anyway, so his takes on sweet, familiar tunes like “Hesitation Blues” and “Sittin’ On Top of the World” are sweet and familiar and almost nothing more. The Wheel are crisp, but–just as with Nelson–it feels like just another session. Pumped through an iPhone, though, the recordings become three-dimensional, as if from a mysterious mirage of an old radio.
Though they recently issued the 7-inch Heads Ain’t Ready featuring the Grateful Dead’s “Cream Puff War” backed with “Cold Rain and Snow,” Brooklyn’s Oneida truly let their headiness blossom on Preteen Weaponry. Divided into three jams of roughly 13 minutes each, the music (credited to “Oneida members past, present, and future”) floats on double-drummer crests, subterranean keyboard studies, a few vocals (on “Part II”), and Boredoms-like ecstasy. Coalescing the shorter, silvery fragments of their decade-plus career into a tripped whole, the band moves without lead voices, letting waves of noise create movement above Sonic Youth gallops and fuzz drones. Atmospheric but never sleepy, Preteen Weaponry is allegedly the prelude to a triple album due next year. One hopes that heads will be ready by then.
I ran an eighth-inch cable out of the headphone jack, ripped the encoded promo stream of the new Silversun Pickups album, Swoon, burned a dozen copies, and passed them around to the neighborhood kids. “The guitars sound like Sonic Youth,” said Thomas, 6, who’d just BitTorrented 3 GB of noise rock. “I like that they’re layered. But the drums are all, like, major label.” Irma, who is seven, made a face like she’d eaten a sour gum ball. “It sounds like music you’d, like, hear on TV or something,” she said, “like in an ad.” Later, though, a street party broke out, with Swoon as the soundtrack. Somebody uncapped a fire hydrant. And then an ice cream truck gave out free cones. The next day, the street was littered with CDs. “I didn’t even leak it,” Irma said, satisfied. “They taught us not to. I’m starting my own band. I’m indier than them, anyway.”
Viva Talibam! (Village Voice)
The Jazz Loft: A Duke historian unearths a motherlode of rare finds (Indy Week)
Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits by Barney Hoskyns (London Times)
Local Customs: Downriver Revival – various (Paste)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up featuring: Lambchop, La Otracina, Ethan Rose, Teeth Mountain, Cazumbi compilation (JamBands.com)
Pleasant Obsolescence, featuring: Black Moth Super Rainbow, Secret Machines, Sun Circle, Talibam!/Wasteland Jazz Unit, Towering Heroic Dudes (JamBands.com)
Goodbye Solo (Paste)
Tokyo/Tokyo Sonata (Paste)
BRAIN TUBA: A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit Kzzzknkh (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Hampton By Blazcooster Light (JamBands.com)
o Paste #51 (Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg cover): Behind the Sky, essay on technology and indie cinema; feature on Sundance Film Composers lab; album review of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Downriver Revivial compilation; movie reviews of Tokyo, Tokyo Sonata, Sleep Dealer, and Goodbye Solo.
o April/May Relix (Allman Brothers cover): Spotlight feature on Will Oldham; album reviews of Marissa Nadler, Paleface, Dark Was the Night compilation, Frank Zappa; book review of Clinton Heylin
My 2007 profile of Haruki Murakami, published in Paste #32, never made it online. Here it is.
Simple Meals, Talking Cats
by Jesse Jarnow
The literary world rarely honors third basemen, but an exception should likely be made for Dave Hilton of Uvalde, Texas, who hit .213 over four undistinguished seasons for the San Diego Padres between 1972 and 1975. It was three years later, during an afternoon game playing for the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, that Hilton hit a towering double into left, and–lounging in the bleachers, drinking a beer–a 30-year old jazz club owner named Haruki Murakami suddenly knew he could write a novel. He began that night.
Murakami’s reaction–the exterior world triggering an oblique intuition deep in the interior–contained exactly the type of determination that has motored his characters ever since. In turn, they have brought Murakami to a singular international superstardom. In After Dark, published in 2004 but appearing on American shores this May, Murakami once again haunts the magical fissures between these worlds, giving them physical body as an omniscient narrator directs the reader to imagine himself “a midair camera,” and characters pass between strange rooms on opposite sides of a television screen. Like all Murakami, it is surreal and addictive.
Consenting only to a three-question email interview, Murakami himself seems determined to live within his words. “When I’m not writing they are gone, totally,” he once told the Wall Street Journal of his darker impulses, “I don’t even dream.” To his credit, especially to American audiences, Murakami is his words, which come filtered through Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin’s translations and packaged in equally iconic jacket designs by Chip Kidd and John Gall. The latter’s paperbacks, signaling like beacons of the bizarre from subway readers and coffeeshop dwellers, have surely lured just as many readers into Murakami’s world as the New York Times calling his first American-published novel, A Wild Sheep Chase, “a bold new advance in international fiction.”
“This sounds like something he wouldn’t particularly want to see elaborated on,” Rubin emails, when asked what their friendship was like during Murakami’s late ’90s years in the United States. If Murakami is a cipher, he is a disciplined cipher, who rises without alarm at 4 am, writes five hours, runs several miles, browses for records, goes for a swim, eats dinner, settles in for a relaxing session translating a few pages of American literature into Japanese, and is in bed by 9.
If there has been a predominant criticism of his work, in fact, it is the routine of it: protagonists quietly obsessed with American culture (especially jazz and ’60s pop) whose lovers vanish for inexplicable reasons often related to supernatural chasms, frequently revealed via abandoned wells, talking cats, or the warm crackle of an LP. A parody was once titled “The Mysterious Disappearance of the Strangely Beautiful Woman.”
“The world we live in has a visible exterior and a hidden side,” Murakami says, his words finally materializing via Jay Rubin’s email account, “and in the darkness the two sides undergo moments of interchange. In order for people to grow — in order for them to achieve a certain spiritual depth — they have to descend into the dark abyss. They have to witness that interchange for themselves and understand what it means.”
It is not that Murakami’s characters are shallow, but allow him a shorthand method of accessing those cracks. “I had been wanting to write a nothing-special boy-meets-girl story like that for a very long time,” he notes of his “trim” After Dark, which — as his characters move through pre-dawn Tokyo — is anything but nothing-special. Though the boy, in this case, is in the not-so-fantastical position of giving up a jazz fixation for law school, it is precisely the author’s reassuring grasp of the absolute normal that allows him such strength.
Though Murakami writes of a contemporary world, its basic self remains unchanged beneath office blocks and all-night convenience stores. “Like the light of the full moon pouring down on an uninhabited grassland, the TV’s bright screen illuminates the room,” he writes in After Dark, effortlessly linking modernity to teeming natural forces. At least once in each of his novels a character sits down to “a simple meal.”
“It’s one of my favorite Murakami novels because it is new in so many ways, and is so firmly anchored in the real world,” Rubin says of After Dark. “Plenty of weird things happen in it, but I think one of the greatest scenes depicts a tired businessman eating yogurt directly out of the plastic container in the middle of the night… In some ways, this is the old, cool Murakami re-emerging, and readers who liked fish raining from the sky might not be so crazy about yogurt.” No matter what he does, though, Murakami will always sound like Murakami.
“When I started writing fiction,” the author says, “there were all kinds of things I couldn’t write about even if I wanted to because I lacked the necessary technique. For example, death scenes or sex scenes or scenes involving rage or anguish… I didn’t even know how to give my characters names! So all I could do was get rid of all the stuff I couldn’t write and cobble together a novel with the few things I could.” From his shortcomings, Murakami forged a new style, characters more likely to disappear into the void than pass away. Hear The Wind Sing–the novel inspired by Hilton’s double–immediately won the Gunzo Award for New Writers and was published.
Like Hilton, who later received death threats when he started in place of an up-and-coming Japanese rookie, Murakami and his American obsessions were criticized behind the veil of nationalism (parodied viciously by Murakami in the 1981 short story “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes”). With 1987′s Norwegian Wood, which sold several million copies upon its two-part publication, Murakami became a reluctant celebrity, such that his translations of American writers such as Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, and others earned them wide Japanese audiences.
Beginning in 1989, Murakami’s works began to appear in the United States. “From the start, he had a readership that was very strong,” says his American editor, Gary Fisketjon, which began building “gradually, then suddenly,” especially following the 2005 appearance of the epic Kafka on the Shore.
Reflected through Rubin and Gabriel’s trans-Pacific translations, Murakami’s baby boomer reference points take on a just-removed authority. “The rhythms have to come from English,” Rubin observes. “A ‘literal translation’ from Japanese could make a gorgeous creature sliding down a corridor into a stumbling idiot.”
Murakami himself dismisses the power of the exotic. “The best thing is that I can have a great time reading [the] translations,” he observes. “This may be one bit of evidence that ‘Nothing is lost,’ don’t you think?” What might seem like the exotic is Murakami himself, unique no matter what language he is read in. He shows no signs of slowing, either.
“Given Haruki’s dedication and productivity, it’s not as if I have to worry that he’s suffering from writer’s block,” Fisketjon says. “Instead, he’s at the top of his game and always expanding it.” He is at work on what he described to Fisketjon as “a big novel.” Perhaps more revealing, though, will be the Stateside publication of one of Murakami’s many Japan-only non-fiction books, a volume about running. Perhaps there, as the marathon participant strips his fabulism to the simplest left-foot/right-foot repetition possible, we will finally begin to grasp the magic of Dave Hilton’s achievement.
The Notorious M.O.V.I.E., Jamal Woolard feature (Paste)
http://boogiewoogieflu.blogspot.com/2008/12/gospel-zone.html">Gospel Zone, on Dylan’s gospel period (Boogie Woogie Flu)
2008 faves (WFMU’s Beware of the Blog)
Old Money – Omar Rodriguez Lopez (Paste)
At the Cat’s Cradle – Ween (Paste)
The Atavistic Waltz – Ralph White (JamBands.com)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Bird Show, Stag Hare, DJ Olive, Yeti, v. 6, Chris Watson (JamBands.com)
Pleasant Obsolescence, featuring: Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, Charles Mingus, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed, Peter Tosh (JamBands.com)
Julian Koster at Andrew Frisciano’s Apartment, 13 December 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Neil Young at Madison Square Garden, 15 December 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, 21-22 December 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, 21-28 December 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric by Bob Dylan and Barry Feinstein (The Forward)
Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Changed the World and Saved My Life by Brian Raftery (San Francisco Chronicle)
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Village Voice blog)
BRAIN TUBA: Song of the Refreköx (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Ten Years, part 4 (JamBands.com)
o Paste #50 (Neko Case cover): feature on Jamal Woolard, album reviews of Ween, movie reviews of Gomorrah, Che
o February/March Relix (The Dead cover): album reviews of Neil Young, Animal Collective, M. Ward, Ernest Stoneman, Frank Zappa; book review of San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde
On Long Island, Memories of Harvey Milk Have Expired, a trip to Harvey Milk’s hometown (Paste)
Movie Hopping While Rome Burns (Paste)
Lou Reed Revisits Berlin (Paste)
Satanic Messiah EP – The Mountain Goats (Village Voice)
Black Pear Tree EP – The Mountain Goats/Kaki King (Village Voice)
Skeletal Lamping – Of Montreal (Paste)
Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin – O Death (Village Voice)
Tell Tale Signs – Bob Dylan (JamBands.com)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Alps, Stephen Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, Linda Perhacs, Shugo Tokumaru, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby (JamBands.com)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: John Baker, Menahan Street Band, Oneida, James Jackson Toth, Why? (JamBands.com)
Shugo Tokumaru at the Bowery Ballroom, 22 October 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Oneida at Secret Project Robot, 1 November 2008 (Village Voice blog)
David Byrne at Count Basie Theater, 3 November 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Bob Dylan at United Palace Theater, 21 November 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Silver Apples at the Kitchen, 2 December 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Moe Gets Tied Up (Village Voice blog)
Filth and Wisdom (Paste)
Walnut Creek, Phish (Paste)
Christmas on Mars (Paste)
Chagall: A Biography by Jackie Wullschlager (San Francisco Chronicle)
o Paste #48 (Of Montreal cover): feature on Lou Reed, movie reviews of Filth and Wisdom and Christmas on Mars
o Paste #49 (She & Him cover): feature on movie-hopping, Harvey Milk’s hometown; movie review of Waltz With Bashir
o December/January Relix (Ryan Adams cover): album reviews of Lou Reed, David Grubbs, Vic Chesnutt/Elf Power; book review of Best Music Writing 2008; DVD review of A Technicolor Dream.
“My Big Nurse” – David Byrne and Brian Eno (download) (buy)
This was supposed to have run this month, but it somehow disappeared in my editor’s inbox.
DAVID BYRNE and BRIAN ENO
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
We’ve been living in David Byrne and Brian Eno’s world for so long that their rekindled relationship–28 years dormant before the new Everything That Happens Will Happen Today–shouldn’t be too surprising. But, being their world–their ideas about rhythm and aesthetics formed in the crucible of the late ’70s Talking Heads, and now well-institutionalized by indie-punx, hippies, and pop fascists alike–it’s all a bit less shocking this go-round. Indeed, the two aren’t overly ambitious, either, the simple changes of “Wanted For Life” and “Strange Overtones” recalling the twang-enhanced Heads of True Stories. (“These beats are 20 years old,” Byrne admits on the latter tune.)
Written as a cross-Atlantic collaboration behind the concept of “electronic gospel”–Eno on backing tracks, Byrne on vocals–the producer’s work truly improves in higher resolution than mp3s allow, worn synth swells blossoming into holographic depth. Regardless, the two succeed best at being graceful, including the lullaby-like title track and the C&W sunset gallop of “My Big Nurse.” “A million kinds of possibilities for dancing on this lazy afternoon,” Byrne sings before a right lovely organ figure trickles by, an ethereal burst of vintage Eno, as recognizable as a Frippertronic guitar cloud on Another Green World.
It is not a perfect union. When the music slips uptempo, such as “I Feel My Stuff,” one can almost hear quotation marks appearing around the grooves–the implications of music to dance to, rather than the act itself. But, concepts be damned, Byrne himself is in marvelous form, lyrically and vocally, having evolved into a powerful singer in his post-Heads years. The future is here. And it sounds remarkably like music.
Mr. Wouters’ Machines: Dutch artist Xelor (Paste)
Catching Up With: Alex Holdridge, director of In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Paste)
In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic – Kasai Allstars (Village Voice)
The Fall Apartment – Brad Barr (Relix)
Radiolarians 1 and Zebos: Book of Angels, v. 11 – Medeski, Martin, and Wood (Relix)
Such Fun – Annuals (Paste)
Me and Armini – Emiliana Torrini (Paste)
Dirty Laundry/More Dirty Laundry – v/a (Paste)
Brazil Classics at 20: Anti-Aging Solutions Revealed – v/a (Paste)
Droppin’ Science: Greatest Beats from the Blue Note Labs – v/a (Paste)
Only By the Night – Kings of Leon (Paste)
Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails – The Baseball Project (JamBands.com)
Willie Nelson at Radio City Music Hall, 25 September 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise at Knitting Factory, 12 October 2008 (Village Voice blog)
The Holy Modal Rounders… Bound to Lose (Paste)
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson (San Francisco Chronicle)
o Paste #47 (Violence issue): album reviews of Emiliana Torrini, Kings of Leon (Dischord), movie review of Happy-Go-Lucky, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, DVD review of Phish: Walnut Creek
o November Relix (The Clash cover): album reviews of Medeski, Martin and Wood, Brad Barr, Jolie Holland, DVD review of Cornelius.
Congo Fury, Kasai Allstars profile (PaperThinWalls.com, RIP)
The Thick, Wild Mercurial Movie, Todd Haynes profile (Paste)
Shall Noise Upon – Apollo Sunshine (Paste)
Fate – Dr. Dog (Paste)
All Alone in an Empty House – Lost in the Trees (Indy Week)
Indie Weirdo Round Up, featuring: Anamanaguchi, The Lift Boys, Negativland, Sonic Youth with Mats Gustafsson and Merzbow, Space Oddities (JamBands.com)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (Paste)
“666: The Coming of the New World Government” – Apollo Sunshine (PaperThinWalls.com, RIP)
“Lebah” – Suarasama (PaperThinWalls.com, RIP)
Bob Dylan at Prospect Park, 12 August 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Yo La Tengo at McCarren Park Pool, 24 August 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Silver Jews at Music Hall of Williamburg, 6 September 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Paste)
Trouble the Water (Paste)
Hamlet 2 (Paste)
Columns & misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Space: Still Totally the Place (JamBands.com)
Mike Gordon v. Phish (Indy Week)
o Paste #46 (Best of What’s Next cover): album reviews of Apollo Sunshine, Dirty Laundry compilations, movie reviews of Trouble the Water, Hamlet 2
o September/October Relix (Conor Oberst cover): album reviews of Okkervil River, Christian Kiefer/Matthew Gerken/Jefferson Pitcher, DVD review of Gary Wilson
o Signal to Noise #51 (Concordia Salus! cover): live review of Rhys Chatham
“What Kind of Friend Is This?” – Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo (download) (buy)
from I’m Not There OST (iTunes-only) (2007)
“Bessie Smith” (live) – The Crust Brothers (download) (buy)
from Marquee Mark (1999)
“Visions of Johanna” – Lee Ranaldo (download) (buy)
from Outlaw Blues, v. 2 (1993)
“Goin’ To Acapulco” – Bob Dylan and The Band (download) (buy)
from The Basement Tapes (1967/1975)
(files expire September 9th)
This is an expanded version of my October 2007 Paste profile of I’m Not There director Todd Haynes, intended for the web, but which somehow never made it there. A year later, I still love the movie, maybe even more. Though, I suppose, I’m also the target audience. Of all the things the film did, it reintroduced The Basement Tapes to me–the official, cleaned-up two-disc version–as a concept album about running away to a weird, self-isolating internal place.
And some INT-related tunes to go with: an iTunes-only Stephen Malkmus/Lee Ranaldo cover of “What Kind of Friend Is This?” (from the ’66 hotel room tape) left off the official soundtrack, Malkmus’s piss-take version of The Basement Tapes‘ Band-penned “Bessie Smith” with Seattle’s Silkworm live in ’97, Ranaldo’s reading of “Visions of Johanna” from 1993′s Outlaw Blues, v. 2 compilation (with Mike Watt, Steve Shelley, and the late Robert Quine), and–finally–the Dylan version of “Goin’ To Acapulco,” pretty much the theme song for my summer.
The Thick, Wild Mercurial Movie: Todd Haynes and the Weirdness of Bob Dylan
by Jesse Jarnow
(originally published in shorter form in Paste #38)
Todd Haynes is affable, enthusiastic, and forthcoming — in other words, the complete opposite of Bob Dylan, the subject of the 46-year old director’s recently released I’m Not There. This, of course, does not mean that the six different Bob Dylans that occupy his film’s non-linear plot (none of which is named ‘Bob Dylan’) and two-plus-hour running time are any easier to grok than Dylan’s work, nor — for that matter — any less dense with magpies’ bags of allusion and theft. Haynes is just more willing to talk about his than Dylan.
“Ray Charles’ music couldn’t be further from Johnny Cash’s, so why put them in the same-shaped box?” asks the former semiotics major, who rendered Karen Carpenter’s anorexic demise with Barbie dolls in 1987′s Superstar. Though he expresses admiration for Ray, Haynes says, “Dylan is more like dropping acid than reading a Cliff’s Notes, and that should be true for all these artists at one level or another, if it’s possible to find a cinematic language to get to the core of what their music is about.
“All biopics combine fact and fiction, and this one does it, but lets you in on the process,” continues Haynes, who turned David Bowie into Brian Slade in 1998′s Velvet Goldmine. “You know [Dylan] wasn’t really a black kid who called himself Woody Guthrie” — as sweet-voiced newcomer Marcus Carl Franklin does in the film — “so then you have to think ‘why are they doing it this way?’ That’s saying something about what Dylan was at this time.
“What was so remarkable is the unstated joke in all the accounts of him is how none of these unbelievable tales of his past made any calculable sense to anybody listening, but the sheer performance was so compelling that no one cared. That idea, of projecting yourself so passionately that nobody added it all up, I thought to take that one step further, and make the joke a visual joke where he’s also a black kid and nobody mentions his color through the whole time.”
Todd Haynes has never met Bob Dylan, though — in the fall of 2000 — the songwriter approved a two-page proposal titled “Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan” which quoted French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud and declared a “strategy” of “refraction, not condensation.” Haynes’ Dylans are amnesiacs all, Cate Blanchett’s thin, wild Jude Quinn trapped in a lush Felliniesque black-and-white and unable to reach Richard Gere’s heavy-handed Billy, exiled in Riddle, a town comprised of Dylan’s characters and indebted to Greil Marcus’s Old Weird America and Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (in which Dylan appeared).
For all of its flaws, and it has many, it is obvious that Haynes is a stone Dylan freak, a fact that lends a certain charisma to the proceedings. He gets Dylan right, to the point where one could imagine a mash-up integrating I’m Not There with sequences from 1978′s Renaldo and Clara and 2003′s Masked & Anonymous, Dylan’s own garbled autobiopics. As an anthology of myths fashioned from interviews, liner notes, song lyrics and hearsay, I’m Not There might be daunting to non-fetishists, but it’s exactly this half-knowledge that Haynes wants to play from.
“People probably know more about Dylan than they know they know,” Haynes argues. “Whether it’s songs that we grew up singing and thinking ‘was that a traditional or did somebody write that?’ to literal things like ‘right, there was a crash! That sounds right!’ or how that echoes James Dean’s crash. And that’s fine. That’s actually so correct to see a repercussion of events in these very self-conscious anti-heroes that they themselves were the key architects of.”
For all of its shattered intentions, I’m Not There remains a series of a storylines, each character driven by his own boundaries, personal and cinematic. Some, like Blanchett’s Jude, ring with enough emotion to keep the runes of Dylan’s cryptic life aligned. Others are kind of hilarious, like Ben Whishaw’s Zoolander-like reading of the weary Dont Look Back-era press conference surrealism.
“I’m a consumer of biopics,” Haynes says, “and I think mostly what they offer as their raison d’être, and it’s a good enough one, is an extraordinary vehicle for performances, where an actor gives you something unique to bowl you over or frustrate you. That’s true for all those films. The performance Sissy Spacek gives in Coal Miner’s Daughter is one of the most astounding performances on film and makes whatever limitations the genre has, the formula has, pale at the power of that extraordinary performance.” But even if it is a good enough reason to exist, Haynes has his sights aimed much higher.
Like Dylan’s catalogue, I’m Not There frustrates. As Haynes points out, though, as experimental as it might be, it does deliver the “hit songs, the hit moments.” It gives enough of the songwriter that it makes perfect sense to talk about the film in the same breath as Martin Scorsese’s equally flawed No Direction Home, though in many ways the two semi-official features are opposites — Scorcese’s the Approved Baby Boomer Myth, Haynes’s a more gleefully modern and imploding deconstruction.
“He’s yours,” the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert introduced Dylan onstage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, and he has been for over 40 years now. While Dylan might miss himself, as he suggested in his 2004 autobiography Chronicles, his listeners probably don’t. One can keep discovering bootlegs, session tapes, outtakes, rehearsals, film clips, interviews and miles of other musical arcana from a functionally infinite body of work, all capable of yielding something seemingly new.
I’m Not There does exactly this, its name calling attention to one of the great, lost basement tape ballads recorded with The Band in 1967. The film plays by Dylan’s rules and is enjoyable for many of the same reasons his music is. Finding the real Bob Dylan isn’t the point. There’s probably a song or two about that. “It’s not all in there,” Haynes says. “It’s not all there.”
Some of my stuff has made it into books lately:
o A previously unpublished short story, “The Night Before I Got Home,” will be featured in the Real Magicalism comics/fiction anthology, edited by James Burns.
o A 2003 interview with Hunter S. Thompson, originally in Relix, was reprinted in Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Beef Torrey and Kevin Simonson, published by the University Press of Mississippi.
o A 2001 interview with Bob Weir, a 2003 interview with Mike Doughty, and a 2004 interview with Lou Reed (the latter two in different forms than originally printed) are featured in Song: The World’s Best Songwriters on Creating the Music that Moves Us, published by Writers Digest Books.
o New biographical essays on Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and David Bowie are featured in the Greenwood Icons edition, Icons of Rock, published by Greenwood Press.
o New biographical essays on Prince and Stevie Wonder are featured in the Greenwood Icons edition, Icons of R&B and Soul, published by Greenwood Press.
o Educational book, Presidents: The Race for the White House, illustrated by Scott Peck, published by innovativeKids, edited by Russell Kahn (not necessarily recommended for anybody above, oh, the third grade — though it does come with a nifty jigsaw puzzle)
Sorry for the lack of updates lately. Y’know: life/summer, etc..
James Brown? James Brown!, on the James Brown auction at Christie’s (Village Voice blog)
Emergent: Todd Rohal, interview with Guatemalan Handshake director (Paste)
Repeater, James Blackshaw profile (PaperThinWalls.com)
Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex edited by Ellen Sussman (San Francisco Chronicle)
Sonic Youth books: Goodbye 20th Century by David Browne, Psychic Confusion by Stevie Chick, and The Empty Page edited by Peter Wild (London Times)
“Black Rice” – Women (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Veins to the Sky” – Alexander Tucker (PaperThinWalls.com)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: African Scream Contest, Animal Collective mixomixes, Colin Meloy, Yeti v. 5, John Zorn (JamBands.com)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: James Blackshaw, Eric Chenaux, Andy Votel Presents Brazilika, Do You Smell What Barack is Cooking? (JamBands.com)
Alan and Richard Bishop at the Knitting Factory, 22 June 2008 (Village Voice blog)
The Guatemalan Handshake (Paste)
BRAIN TUBA: Morgan the Lion, no. 3
BRAIN TUBA: Morgan the Lion, no. 4
o August Relix (Jerry Garcia cover): cover feature “How Jerry Got Hip Again” (feat. Akron/Family, Megafaun, Greg Davis, Animal Collective, Sonic Youth, Will Oldham, Black Flag, Earth), album reviews of Beck, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Mike Gordon, Inara George with Van Dyke Parks, The Music Tapes, Brian Wilson, Patti Smith and Kevin Shields, Karen Dalton.
o Paste #45: profiles of CSS and Roel Wouters, album review of Brazil Classics at 20.
Tristan Perich: The Tinkerer (Village Voice)
The Spirit of Radio, long-ass WFMU 50th anniversary profile (Signal To Noise)
The Record Store: A Good Thing, blurblets on Other Music and Turntable Lab. (Paste)
Mimidokodesuka – Osorezan (Village Voice)
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea – The Silver Jews (Paste)
Electronic Projects for Musicians – Apples in Stereo (Paste)
Jesus That Looks Terrible On You – A Big Yes and a small no (JamBands.com)
Spiritual Unity (Marc Ribot & Henry Grimes) with the Joshua Light Show at Issue Project Room, 30 May 2008 (Village Voice blog)
“Majesty” – The Music Tapes (PaperThinWalls.com)
“The Frozen Lake” – Arms (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Depart (I Never Knew You)” – Bellafea (PaperThinWalls.com)
My Winnipeg (Paste)
BRAIN TUBA: Morgan the Lion, no. 1
BRAIN TUBA: Morgan the Lion, no. 2
o Paste #44 (My Morning Jacket cover): record store blurblets (Other Music, Turntable Lab), album reviews of Dr. Dog, Coldplay, Mudhoney, book review of Haruki Murakami, film review of My Winnipeg, DVD reviews of The Guatemalan Handshake, Persepolis (see: Paste digital edition)
o July Relix (Dr. Dog cover): album reviews of Sound Tribe Sector 9, The Fiery Furnaces, Tony Allen remixes, Dennis Wilson, Daptone anthology
o Signal to Noise #50 (Our Favorite Things cover): WFMU feature
(Back to regular posting after Memorial Day.)
DIY Gondry: Even Better Than The Real Thing (Paste) (with Silencer of Music short film!)
Doses Wild, Dark Meat profile (PaperThinWalls.com)
Hammer, Tongs, and the DIY Inspirado of John Rambo, Son of Rambow/Hammer and Tongs profile (Paste)
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/archives/2008/04/live_dark_meat.php">Dark Meat at Cake Shop, 20 April 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Dump at Maxwell’s, 24 April 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Bent Festival at DCTV, 24-26 April 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Lou Reed at the Highline Ballroom, 5 May 2008
In A Cave – Elf Power (Village Voice)
Superfuzz Bigmuff: Deluxe Edition – Mudhoney (Paste)
Walk It Off – Tapes ‘n’ Tapes (Paste)
Attack and Release – The Black Keys (Paste)
Pancho and the Kid – Chris Barron (JamBands.com)
“Nurses 5 Float Past” – Hallelujah the Hills (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Miami Ice” – Icy Demons (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Shoulder Full of You” – Blitzen Trapper (PaperThinWalls.com)
“We Both Go Down Together” – Colin Meloy (PaperThinWalls.com)
Shine A Light (Paste)
o Paste #42 (Ben Gibbard cover): Philip Glass blurblets, Hammer and Tongs profile, I’m Not There reassessment
o Paste #43 (Scarlett Johansson cover): “Running Into Stonehenge” essay, album review of the Silver Jews, Be Kind Rewind reassessment.
o June Relix (Tom Petty cover): album reviews of Phish, Imaginational Anthem, v. 3; book reviews of Sonic Youth, Bob Dylan Drawn Blank
Fun, Money, Dolphins, profile of Jake Szufnarowksi (Village Voice)
Glossed in Translation, interview with Michel Gondry (Paste)
Metaphors, memories, and miscellany from South by Southwest (Indy Week)
The Heady /Poetry/ *Of* Paul Siegell (Paste)
Getting A Head On At Umass, on a conference of Deadhead scholars (Relix)
Akron/Family at Maxwell’s, 5 March 2008 (Village Voice blog)
The Mountain Goats at Webster Hall, 18 March 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Rutlemania at the Gramercy, 27 March 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs (Paste)
Heretic Pride – The Mountain Goats (Paste)
Exercises in Futility – Marc Ribot (JamBands.com)
Invisible Baby – Marco Benevento (JamBands.com)
Indie Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Animal Collective, Blitzen Trapper, Yamataka Eye, Sun City Girls, Disco Not Disco (JamBands.com)
Indie Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Eugene Chadbourne/Jimmy Carl Black/Pat Thomas, Cornelius, Jeffrey Lewis, Megafaun, Pete Seeger (JamBands.com)
“Anagram” – Ecstatic Sunshine (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Drops in the River” – Fleet Foxes (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Deception Island Optimists Club” – Laura Barrett (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Hold in the Light” – The Weird Weeds (PaperThinWalls.com)
Great World of Sound (Paste)
Columns & misc.:
Georgie in the Sky, fiction (False)
BRAIN TUBA: These Guys Are From England and Who Gives A Shit? (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Three Thoughts on Love and Hate (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: War on War, parts 14-15 (JamBands.com)
o Paste #40 (Michael Jackson’s Glove cover): charticle on Why?/Lyrics Born; album reviews of the Mountain Goats and Jim White, DVD reviews of Pete Seeger, the Holy Modal Rounders, Great World of Sound; book review of Jumbo
o Paste #41 (Gnarls Barkley cover): features on Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, Paul Siegell; album reviews of Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, the Black Keys, Lee “Scratch” Perry; Cuts and Paste singles column; movie review of Shine A Light
o April/May Relix (Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood cover): album reviews of Howlin Rain, Man Man, DeVotchKa, Colin Meloy; DVD reviews of The Trips Festival, Super High Me; book reviews of Downbeat’s Miles Davis Reader, Howard Mandel’s Miles, Ornette, and Cecil, and John Darnielle’s Master of Reality.
o January/February Hear/Say (Amy Winehouse cover): album reviews of Vampire Weekend and the Steve Reid Ensemble.
o March Hear/Say (Avril Lavigne cover): album reviews of Why? and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
o Signal To Noise #49 (Diamanda Galás cover): album reviews of Phish and Beck
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – The Black Crowes (download) (buy)
“Mixed Emotions” – The Black Crowes (download) (buy)
Yeah, as usual, it’s gauche to repost, but I’m doing it anyway.
These Guys Are From England and Who Gives a Shit?
Recently, Maxim editors caused a kerfuffle when they ran a review — credited to David Peisner — of Warpaint, the 17th and newest album by reunited British rock band the Black Crowes, without actually listening to it. Peisner said he wrote an album preview that was given a star rating, presumably rewritten, and made into a review by editors, which is understandable, given how big magazines sometimes operate. But the problem, of course, wasn’t that Maxim didn’t actually have a copy of the album to review, but that they didn’t do more with the opportunity. After all, it’s a well-known fact that reviewers don’t actually listen to the music they write about. Who can really listen to an album until he’s heard it at least 232 times, anyway?
“Now that they’re legitimately grizzled, they sound pretty much like they always have: boozy, competent, and in slavish debt to the Stones, the Allmans, and the Faces,” Peisner wrote, not saying remotely new or, in fact, justifying its existence on a thin, dyed slab of environmentally disasterous treemeat. That Crowes lead singer Jumpin’ Jack Robinson called for Pesiner’s head on a gilded spittoon should maybe not be surprising, given the zombie-related rumors about the Robinson brothers’ falling out after brother Jimmy ate a groupie’s brain.
But it’s still disappointing that the Crowes bothered to call for an apology at all, especially given their repeated and obvious yearnings for ’70s rock culture, when their beloved Creem magazine was stocked with writers like Richard Meltzer who (in his own words) would “throw chicken bones at some annoying singer at the Bitter End, review (harshly) albums I’d obviously never listen to (or concerts I’d never attended), reverse the word sequence of a text to make it read backwards (or delete, for no particular reason, every fourth word).”
It’s a testament to the age not that Maxim would be shamed into apologizing for their behavior, but that they were so dreadfully goddamn boring in their fabrication. I am sure with fairly unflagging certainty that Peisner or whatever editor signed Peisner’s name to it was completely correct in his assessment of the Crowes’ music. In a way, the band is equally correct in their refusal to send out advance records to review, and not merely because they are trying to foil piracy. The Black Crowes are at the point in their career — some 28 albums, 32 labels, 13 ex-drummers/bassists, etc., in — that they’re not going to change, and will continue to make exactly the same kind of music they always have, regardless of whether or not some rock writer makes up some crap about a band he clearly doesn’t care about.
In other words, anybody likely to have a position on the Black Crowes already has a position on the Black Crowes — save, of course, some 14 year old kid somewhere who is hearing about them for the first time, simply because there comes a time in every dude’s life when he discovers that bands can somehow make hefty livings by mimicking classic rock and that this music may or may not be to his taste. For that reason alone, Maxim should take their job a little more seriously. Clearly, trying to publish for a broad audience hasn’t made their writing any more interesting, so why not occasionally hone in on one as finite as possible? In these Wikified, shark-jumping times, rumors circulate as fast and furious through the cultural ecosystems as they ever did — and, certainly, people should do everything their power to fight misinformation — but we’re talking only about the Black Crowes here.
Really, Maxim screwed up a golden opportunity. Clearly, they felt their reading audience — as potential consumers of the Warpaint product — required information about the album. Instead of using the fact that they couldn’t hear it as a springboard to highlight the absurdity of perpetual hype machines, advertising dollars, demographics, ’70s nostalgia, and semi-pompous rock stars who dress like an Australian’s worst nightmare, they just propagated the absurdity of a system that allows brain eaters like the Robinson brothers to have maintained a nearly five decade long career.
I’m blogging a bit this week for Raleigh’s Independent Weekly. (My posts found here.)
Field of Schemes, on the Mitchell Report (Village Voice)
Interview with Walk Hard director Jake Kasdan (Paste)
Anthology Recordings Brings Forgotten Music To The Web (PaperThinWalls.com)
Pazz and Jop 2007: ballot, comments
Idolator 2007: Ballot & Comments (Idolator.com)
Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, 4-11 December 2007 (Village Voice blog)
Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, 8 December 2007 (Relix)
Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night, 15 December 2007 (Village Voice blog)
Smokey Hormel’s Roundup at Sunny’s, 23 January 2008 (Village Voice blog)
Jukebox – Cat Power & Ask Forgiveness EP – Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Paste)
I’m Not There OST – various (Relix)
Give Thanks to Chank – Col. Bruce Hampton & the Quark Alliance (JamBands.com)
White Moth – Xavier Rudd (Paste)
“Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” – Of Montreal (PaperThinWalls.com)
Starting Out in the Evening (Paste)
BRAIN TUBA: The Bohemians (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: War on War, parts 14-15 (JamBands.com)
o Paste #39 (Art House Powerhouse cover): feature on Michel Gondry, blurblet on Todd Haynes’ Superstar, album reviews of Cat Power, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, La Belle Epoque compilation, movie review of City of Men
o February/March Relix (Black Crowes cover): features on Ween and Unbroken Chain symposium, live review of Yo La Tengo, album reviews of North Mississippi AllStars, Zox, Grateful Dead, book review of Will Hodgkinson.
o Signal To Noise #48 (Devendra Banhart cover): album review of A Hawk and a Hacksaw & the Hun Hangar Ensemble, Os Mutantes
o December Hear/Say (Angels & Airwaves cover): album review of Michael Showalter
Plus, “Ghost Stories” (from Paste #33) made Short End Magazine’s “40 Film-Journalism Must-Reads & Sees of 2007.”
Ballots for the Village Voice‘s annual Pazz & Jop poll were posted today. Mine is here. My full comments are below:
The other night Sancho and I were toasting the arrival of the Huns. His belief about the record industry’s collapse, which I support, is that it is wonderful that nobody can make a living playing music anymore, because then only people who really give a shit will try. I like it because it reaffirms the fact that everybody, it seems, does it anyway.
Granted, I write about music, and do so in Brooklyn, taboot, but I am optimistic that the glut is not local. I will have Sancho confirm this upon his annual return to Santo Domingo next week, but really, it seems that music is ephemeral again. The corporate bloodlettings — which greatly please Sancho’s North American Zoroastrian urges — are the final sign that the technologies for production and consumption are virtually interchangeable, a decidedly pre-modern balance.
Coupled with the pervasive and overwhelming data smog, one might even read the omnipresent desire to write/record/edit/curate music as culturally bred defense mechanism. Territorial pissing, more or less. Bodily fluids being what they are, this — needless to say — only exacerbates the issue. What is uncanny, though, are all the specific ways that music can make itself cut through, well, the crap. Sometimes it’s at least pretend-innovative, other times plain as day.
Released on a circular disc and judged strictly on its sonic youth, Radiohead’s In Rainbows would likely have been greeted as a songy disc by blokes reaching middle age. By selling it through ice cream trucks as they have, though, Radiohead has added a layer of (at least) temporary meaning to their work — ideally enough to get a listener listening long enough to really give the music a fair shake. (Which it’s worth. Really.)
Wilco (to use another example from the dwindling set of shared references) took a tried and true route: make it as plum pleasing as possible. Sancho thinks Jeff Tweedy is a stone shark-jumper (but that’s okay: more blood, potentially), though the shimmering guitars and dulcet tones of Sky Blue Sky wooed me endlessly.
There was just something I liked about the way it sounded, and couldn’t get enough of it for a while. Does that make it good? Dunno. I couldn’t really tell you what the songs are about, or even how I necessarily relate to anything beyond one or two lines, or — when it comes down to it — why I still consider it great even though I actually deleted the second half of the album from my iPod, cut out a plodding jam, substituted a live version of “What Light” and added some B-sides. Even with all of that, it holds up as a vessel, floating.
My enjoyment of the album is totally abetted by technology and its resultant lesson: the notion that music isn’t sacred. And it’s not even necessarily made by people with cool haircuts, righteous attitudes, or business sense. In the case of the latter, it sometimes just takes 40 years to reach who it needs to reach. Discovered anew, everything sounds current. Sometimes, everything current sounds old — like Vampire Weekend, who (on first listen) already sound like a band sucked into the hype grinder and spat out. I kind of hate myself for liking them. Sancho probably just hates them, though he’s got some theories about that, too.
“Start a blog,” I said.
“Bite me,” he said. “Then I’d have to write.”
Planet Waves: The Sublime Frequencies label hunts down the world’s elusive soundtracks (PaperThinWalls.com)
The Kite Runner: Marc Forster Flies Kites (Paste)
No Country For Old Men (Paste)
Romance & Cigarettes (Paste)
“Yo Yo Bye Bye” – Dump (PaperThinWalls.com)
Indie Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Akron/Family, Black Dice, Robert Wyatt, Sublime Frequencies, Darjeeling Limited ST (JamBands.com)
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2007_11_17.02.phtml">Sun Ra Arkestra at the Iridium, 1 November 2007
BRAIN TUBA: An Academic Explanation of the Jamband Moment (Minus Footnotes and, y’know, Proof)
Only in print:
Paste #38 (The National cover): Todd Haynes/I’m Not There feature, Marjane Satrapi/Persepolis feature, Cuts and Paste singles column, film reviews of Redacted and Starting Out in the Evening, year-end blurblets on The Darjeeling Limited, Persepolis, Margot at the Wedding, Ghosts of Cité Soleil, preview blurblet on Be Kind Rewind.
December/January Relix (Beastie Boys cover): album reviews of I’m Not There OST, Os Mutantes, The Dragons; DVD reviews of Help! and Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror
Not quite print/not quite web:
several reviews — possibly/probably including CD reviews of Woody Guthrie and the Akron/Family and a book review of Noise/Music: A History — are in Relix‘s digital-only October issue. Registration and proprietary format load-time patience required. (I don’t have the latter.) No direct URLs, blech.
Dragon the Line: The mystic in Dragons of Zynth walk into the light (PaperThinWalls.com)
In Rainbows – Radiohead (JamBands.com)
“Never Found” – Johnny Lunchbreak (PaperThinWalls.com)
Devendra Banhart at Grand Ballroom, 27 September 2007
Akron/Family at the Bowery Ballroom, 30 September 2007
Animal Collective at Webster Hall, 1 October 2007
BRAIN TUBA: Revolution is a Feeling
Only in print:
Paste #37 (Ryan Adams cover): feature on Marc Forster/The Kite Runner, film review of No Country For Old Men
November Relix (Tool cover): album reviews of Ween, Akron/Family, Iron and Wine, The Fiery Furnaces, and Devendra Banhart; book reviews of Oliver Sacks and Best Music Writing 2007.
October Hear/Say (KT Tunstall cover): album reviews of the Octopus Project and Mum.
(A list in progress of personal faves, etc..)
Reed and Right, Lou Reed profile (London Times, 7/04)
The Spirit of Radio, WFMU 50th anniversary profile (Signal To Noise, summer 2008)
How Jerry Got Hip Again (part 1 only) (Relix, 8/08) [see also "Hippie" below]
Hunter S. Thompson Keeps Moving, my visit with the late Doctor. (Relix, 4/03)
Happier In Hoboken, Yo La Tengo profile (Paste, 4/05) [see also "Yo La Tengo" below]
The Fugs: American Peace-Creeps, a visit with Ed Sanders (Relix, 11/09)
The Tinkerer, Tristan Perich profile (Village Voice, 6/08)
The Numero Group, a visit with the Chicago archival label (Indy Week, 11/11)
Running Into Stonehenge, essay about my Dad (Paste, 6/08)
Circuit Bending Lets Old Toys Play Tunes (Associated Press, 4/06)
Trey Anastasio’s Empty House (unpublished, 8/06)
Dreams Less Sweet, Circulatory System profile (Indy Week, 8/09)
The Penguin is Mightier Than The Sword, Berkeley Breathed profile (Salon.com, 11/03)
On Long Island, Memories of Harvey Milk Have Expired, a trip to Harvey Milk’s hometown (Paste, 11/08)
American Beauties, Akron/Family profile (Village Voice, 4/09)
Turning the Kleig Lights Around, Mountain Goats profile (Paste, 6/05)
Nobody Expects the Cricket, Glenn Kotche profile (Signal To Noise, summer 2006)
Unleash the Love!, Mike Love profile (Times Herald-Record, 4/06)
Passing the Turing Test With Brian Wilson (unpublished, 12/05)
How To Steal A Smile, on the flawed by wonderful reconstruction of the Beach Boys’ lost classic (Relix, 11/11)
Simple Meals, Talking Cats, an email interview with Haruki Murakami (Paste, 4/07)
Tapes ‘n’ Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, on Abandon Ship and the noise tape scene (Village Voice, 8/09)
The Jazz Loft: A Rare Find, on the convergence of W. Eugene Smith and Thelonious Monk in the Flower District (Indy Week, 3/09)
Fun, Money, Dolphins, Jake Szufnarowski profile (Village Voice, 1/08)
CBGB Closes (Associated Press, 10/06) (audio report, photos by Jack Chester)
Viva Talibam!, Talibam! profile (Village Voice, 3/09)
Monster Island’s Last Hurrah, profile of the arts space (Village Voice, 9/11)
Janka Nabay, A Bubu King, Grows in Brooklyn, profile of the Sierra Leonean transplant (Village Voice, 11/10)
Jimmy McMilllan, Rent Is Too Damn High dude’s musical past life (VillageVoice.com, 10/10)
NYC Taper & the Proud, Obsessive Lineage of Audio Hoarders, on tapers & taping (Village Voice, 1/10)
Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? – Of Montreal (Paste, 1/07)
Her Majesty, The Decemberists – The Decemberists (Salon.com, 9/03)
Feels – Animal Collective (Paste, 1/06)
An Open Letter to My Friend Chris Regarding the Mountain Goats’ We Shall All Be Healed (Pop Matters, 2/04)
Americana: Home Recordings – Jim Croce (San Diego Fahrenheit, 12/03)
“Suffer For Fashion” – Of Montreal (Paper Thin Walls, 12/06)
“Boy With A Coin” – Iron and Wine (Paper Thin Walls, 9/07)
Of Proust & Potter, reading Marcel Proust and J.K. Rowling (Paste, 5/09)
Phil Spector & Brian Wilson bios (London Times, 4/07)
Spook Country by William Gibson (Paste, 8/07)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (Paste, 5/06)
Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/08)
The Dead at Red Rocks (JamBands.com, 8/03)
Paul McCartney at Madison Square Garden (JamBands.com, 10/05)
Smokey Hormel at Sunny’s (VillageVoice.com, 1/08)
Cornelius at Webster Hall (VillageVoice.com, 1/08)
Yo La Tengo:
Yo La Tengo, Hanukkah 2007 (VillageVoice.com, 12/07)
Yo La Tengo, Hanukkah 2008 (VillageVoice.com, 12/08)
Yo La Tengo, Hanukkah 2010 (VillageVoice.com, 12/10)
10 Years of YLT Hanukkah (Village Voice, 11/11)
A Recent Rap With Jerry Garcia (Perfect Sound Forever, 2/06)
America On-Line (Dave Matthews Band in Central Park) (unpublished, 9/03)
Phish at Coventry (JamBands.com, 8/04)
Throwing Down With the Upper Crust, Jerry Garcia guitar auction (JamBands.com, 5/02)
Phish: The Biography, a review (Indy Week, 1/10)
Gospel Zone, on Bob Dylan’s gospel period (Boogie Woogie Flu, 12/08)
Bob Dylan at Sunfest (JamBands.com, 5/03)
On the Outside Looking In, Dylan’s Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric (The Forward, 1/10)
The Multiplex Dreams of Bollywood (San Diego Fahrenheit, 8/03)
Searching For The Next Little Thing, a trip to the Consumer Electronics Show (unpublished, 1/06)
HST (VegasTripping.com, 3/05)
E-Pro, or Why We Shouldn’t Be Mad at Beck for Being A Scientologist (Pop Matters, 12/05)
Living In Hope, an appreciation of Tuli Kupferberg (Boogie Woogie Flu, 12/09)
Spook Country – William Gibson (Paste)
I’ll Follow You – Oakley Hall (Paste)
Indie Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Caribou, Nels Cline Singers, Dr. Delay, Marissa Nadler, Odd Nosdam (JamBands.com)
Indie Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Bishop Allen, Sir Richard Bishop, Diplo, Kamikaze Ground Crew, Patton Oswalt, Brazil 70 comp. (JamBands.com)
“Boy With A Coin” – Iron and Wine (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Phenomena” – Akron/Family (PaperThinWalls.com)
“No Dreams” – Oakley Hall (PaperThinWalls.com)
“I Used To Try” – Nancy Elizabeth (PaperThinWalls.com)
Bob Dylan at Jones Beach, 29 June 2007
Os Mutantes at Rose Hall, 17 July 2007
Columns & misc.:
Georgie in the Sky, wunderkammern27.com microfiction
BRAIN TUBA: i is in ur ipod listening to ur spams (JamBands.com)
BRAIN TUBA: The Infinite Improbability of the Boognish (JamBands.com)
Only in print:
Paste #36 (Iron and Wine cover): album review of Oakley Hall; film review of Romance & Cigarettes; DVD review of Yo La Tengo/Jean Painlevé
September/October Relix (Ben Harper cover): album reviews of Thurston Moore, Sir Richard Bishop, The Sadies.
“The Multiplex Dreams of Bollywood” (San Diego Fahrenheit, 2003, via wunderkammern27.com)
Twelve – Patti Smith (Paste #31)
The Horseshoe Curve – Trey Anastasio (JamBands.com)
Americana: Home Recordings – Jim Croce (San Diego Fahrenheit, via wunderkammern27.com)
“Rain” – Bishop Allen (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Tripper” – Le Rug (PaperThinWalls.com)
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Happenstance Overthrown (fiction, JamBands.com)
Only in print:
Paste #34 (White Stripes cover): book review of William Gibson; album reviews of Young Galaxy, Xavier Rudd, Great Northern, the Grateful Dead; film review of Rocket Science
August Relix (String Cheese Incident cover): album reviews of Architecture in Helsinki, Mushroom, Love is the Song We Sing box set, Sonic Youth; book review of 33 1/3: Daydream Nation; DVD review of the Flaming Lips.
June/July Hear/Say (festivals cover): reviews of Hallelujah the Hills and the Thieves of Kailua
from San Diego Fahrenheit, circa winter 2003:
Americana: Home Recordings – Jim Croce (Shout! Factory)
A roommate of mine once told me of an opulent summer week he spent sailing around a vast lake on a private yacht. Every day, he said, they would drink white wine on the deck, dive off the sides, and float in tubes on the cool water. At night, they would go ashore via a tricked-out speedboat for parties on sprawling waterfront estates, returning to the ship to stare dizzily at the milky stars and enjoy the warmth of their drunkenness. The soundtrack for their unassuming debauchery – and the only thing preventing it from entering F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world of idle rich – was a collection of lite-folkie Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits. “It was,” my friend frequently insisted, “perfect,” as if that circumstance alone is what made his vacation transcend to the sublime.
The belly-filling warmth my roommate felt is present in spades on Americana: Home Recordings, a collection of kitchen table folk and country covers recorded before Croce’s career took off. They are songs of hard-luck hoboes and fallen working class heroes — the same stuff of Willie Nelson’s compatible (and heartbreaking) Crazy Sessions. But, where Nelson’s voice is pure ache, there is a lingering optimism in Croce’s, even in jailhouse laments like “The Wall.” That difference is what makes Nelson’s music appropriate for lonely barroom nights and Croce’s appropriate for giddy boating excursions.
In a way, it is the purest realization of depressing folk music as entertainment. Croce is an easy-going pop singer born in an age of acoustic troubadours, his vocals retaining a deftly mechanical sense of momentum while remaining impossibly laid back. It’s the kind of voice that makes one feel like a man of action despite lazing idly on a yacht, projecting movement upon silent canvases of stillness, vapidness turning to golden magnificence.
from San Diego Fahrenheit, circa summer 2003:
The Multiplex Dreams of Bollywood
by Jesse Jarnow
“These seats are real comfy,” my friend whispered as exotic birds fluttered floridly across the movie screen and landed.
“Yeah,” I giggled. “It’s almost like they want you to stay.”
We were somewhere in the middle of Winged Migration, a low-grade Disney-style nature flick, in the fourth theater on the third floor of the local multiplex which featured – give or take – 20 or so inexorable looking pieces of shit. But, despite the theater’s dubious quality, they also possessed a refreshing lack of security, coupled with labyrinthine system of escalators and a pair of unwatched smoking decks. It was an unbeatable deal: for $10 one could construct his own Indian-style multi-hour epic replete with sweeping drama, garish dance sequences, and – hell – even a mutant slasher or two. So we did.
From the anthropomorphic goodness of Winged Migration, we dropped into some previews. If Winged Migration was an abstract tune-up, then the previews were an overture. They acted as a series of condensed plot arcs, keynotes for the dramatic themes to be explored later. Under The Tuscan Sun (chick flick), Cat In The Hat (future cult-favorite dark horse), and Brother Bear (a Disney cartoon with a puzzling appearance by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising the McKenzie Brothers in the form of a pair of talking moose), attuned us as viewers to the range of emotions we would likely be expected to feel later.
Then, a dash into the thick of it, to the movie we had actually bought tickets for, the 9:20 show of Spy Kids 3D. As I turned to survey the theater, I realized the other viewers had actual 3D glasses. “Yeah, it’s in 3D,” my friend confirmed, noting my puzzlement.
“Well, why don’t we get some?”
We zipped down the escalator to the Guest Services Counter and demanded what was rightfully ours: two pairs of gloriously old-fashioned cardboard glasses with blue and red cellophane lenses. Back in our seats, the screen instructed us to put our glasses on. We had worn ours up the escalator and into the theater. Suddenly, the landscape morphed into a grid, Tron-like and perfect. For the next 40 minutes, minus a quick nip to the smoking balcony, we were immersed in a genuinely vintage 3D world. It worked as well as could be possibly hoped. Objects shot out of the frame, characters progressed with no other motivation than that it might look cool.
And it did. A senseless feast for the eyes unfurled in a picaresque series of spectacles. The plot was occasionally stirred by a suitably bizarro b-movie villain played with Jerry Lewis aplomb by the impossible-to-take-seriously-ever-again Sylvester Stallone. In 10 years (or even 10 months), this could be a serious midnight classic, assuming theater owners have enough ingenuity to track down (or make) a crate or two 3D glasses. So, the little kid and Grandpa saved the universe or something and it went back to plain ol’ two dimensions, and we split.
Falling plum into the middle of a movie can be disconcerting. At first, one clutches desperately to the dialogue, trying to figure out who is who, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. After doing it two or three times in a row, plots became irrelevant. Other details took on new importance. Dialogue and acting could be taken objectively on their own immediate merits as performances. Messages could be found, y’understand? Any film could be turned into a Rocky Horror-style gimmick-fest with cues and whistles.
I looked for triggers for us to leave: a parrot escaping in a cage in Winged Migration, the end of a montage sequence in Freaky Friday, which we checked out after Spy Kids. Montages kick ass, instantly understandable dumb shows that rarely fail to express cinematic momentum, regardless of the quality of the movies they’re nestled in.
Gigli was the final stop for the evening. A guard hovered by the door of the theater, though made no attempt to stop us, despite the fact that we still wore our 3D glasses. Though it was supposedly legendary in its terribleness, Gigli didn’t seem all too bad — or, at least, no more horrible than a random 10 minutes out of Freaky Friday. There was Ben Affleck, and Jennifer Lopez, and a retarded kid, and Ben Affleck sticking a syringe in his character’s mother’s thong-dipped ass. What’s so bad about that, eh?
It still looked way cooler with 3D glasses on, though, red and blue hues swirling the film to Stan Brakhage-like abstraction. The guard stood by the door. “What if he doesn’t let us leave?” my friend hissed as J-Lo launched into a display of histrionics.
“You got a problem with the retarded kid?” I asked her. “Are you insensitive?”
Apparently, the guard was, because he soon left. And so did we.
The Mix-Up – The Beastie Boys (Relix)
The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s – The Stanley Brothers (from Paste #16)
Indie-Weirdo Round-Up, featuring: Dandelion Gum by Black Moth Super Rainbow, While My Guitar Violently Bleeds by Sir Richard Bishop, Mirrors by Battles, Corona: Tokyo Realization by Jim O’Rourke, and Spider Smile by Tarwater (JamBands.com)
“Melody Day” – Caribou (with interview) (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Wave Backwards to Massachusetts” – Hallelujah the Hills
Columns and misc.:
http://www.jambands.com/Columns/JJarnow/content_2007_06_22.00.phtml">BRAIN TUBA: Friends & Other Hippie Pap (JamBands.com)
“Summer Salt” demo
“Meet the Mets” cover
Paste #33 (Can Rock Save the World? cover): feature on Ghosts of Cité Soleil director Asger Leth, film review of Death at a Funeral
July Relix (Page McConnell cover): album reviews of the Beastie Boys, Praxis, Buffalo Tom; book review of Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae)
“More A Semiotician Than A Guitarist: Marc Ribot Goes to Jail” (JamBands.com)
“Trey Anastasio’s Empty House” (wunderkammern27.com)
Mago – Billy Martin and John Medeski (Relix)
Gilberto Gil – Gilberto Gil (JamBands.com)
Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became A Southern Thing – Roni Sarig (Paste)
“2…” – Lorkakar (PaperThinWalls.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Devil’s Advocacy (JamBands.com)
Only in print:
June Relix (Jeff Tweedy cover): feature on Europe ’72, album reviews of Wilco, Billy Martin and John Medeski, Soul Sides, and Michael Barry; book review of John Peel.
Paste #32 (Parker Posey cover): feature interview with Haruki Murakami; film review of Crazy Love.
“Empty House” – Trey Anastasio (download) (buy)
What with Trey Anastasio beginning his court-ordered dry-out, it seems a fine time to post a profile I wrote for RS.com last summer that got killed when RS instead ran an Austin Scaggs Q&A where Trey admitted to freebasing and, er, listening to Neutral Milk Hotel.
Also, “Empty House,” while not a terribly original sentiment, is one of the few cuts from last year’s Bar 17 that (I think) is unequivocally rather good, a solid Paul Simon-like ballad in a sea of acoustic tripe.
by Jesse Jarnow
Trey Anastasio could be having a nervous breakdown. Either that, or everything is just really funny. Anastasio laughs a lot.
The 42-year old ex-Phish guitarist laughs about the label he has just started, Rubber Jungle, which released his own Bar 17 in early October, and how he found the term on a website for hot air balloon enthusiasts. He laughs about touring with yet another version of his solo band, as he will for most of this autumn. He laughs about how the album’s two year creation was one of great catharsis, so much so that he’s not even sure if the songs are good or not.
And he laughs when asked about the decidedly dark tenor of the recording, which features titles like “Let Me Lie,” “What’s Done,” and — during one particularly uplifting stretch — “Empty House,” “Gloomy Sky,” and “Shadow.”
“Did you ever see Mighty Wind?” Anastasio asks. “When Mitch and Mickey break up, [Eugene Levy's Mitch] puts out those three albums?” While Bar 17 isn’t exactly Songs From A Dark Place or Cry For Help, the comparison isn’t unwarranted.
Begun during the disintegration of Phish in 2004, and temporarily shelved for the buoyant summer-pop of 2005′s Shine, Bar 17 is part expansive modern rock and part mid-life crisis. Elaborate big band breakdowns (“Cincinnati”), playful orchestral epics (“Goodbye Head”), and earnest horn-driven head-bobbers (“Mud City”) are liberally distributed, but so are a half-dozen acoustic numbers with exquisitely representative titles.
As the veteran Vermont jamband closed up shop, Anastasio fled Burlington, first for Atlanta, where he recorded Shine (working title nixed by then-label Columbia: A Circular Dive), and then Brooklyn, where he decamped at collaborator Bryce Goggin’s Trout Studios.
“Everything is good now,” says Anastasio, who is again spending time in Vermont, and recently toured with ex-Phishmate Mike Gordon. “But for a year there, it was hard to see clearly, not to mention the fact that I was such a wreck, to top it all off. Probably virtually everybody else I knew was waking up from six years of raging, or ten, all at the same time.”
“It was some shit to go through. It becomes cathartic to write this stuff, and there’s no value judgment about whether you’re writing good music or bad music. You’re writing just to clear your head.”
Following the souring of Anastasio’s relationship with Columbia — which included both Sony’s digital rights management debacle and Shine‘s poor reception by Phishheads — Anastasio spent his time on Bar 17. Anastasio clearly enjoys company with his catharsis. Either that, or he just hates being alone. “I really like collaborating,” he says. “It doesn’t make any difference if they’re a musician or not.”
In fact, one common trait of the scattered sessions that produced Bar 17 was their spontaneity. Even when jamming with world-class instrumentalists, the work was sudden, such as when Anastasio and Goggin roused Phish bassist Mike Gordon and indie-jam upstarts the Benevento Russo Duo late one Brooklyn night. For the man who piloted the country’s foremost jamband for two decades, this should come as no surprise.
Non-musicians included Anastasio’s 10-year old daughter Eliza (lyricist on “Goodbye Head”), and a sailboat captain named Kevin Hoffman (who was unaware Anastasio was demoing “A Case of Ice and Snow” into his cell phone at two in the morning in a St. Martin hotel room).
Anastasio says he is fond of the “fly-by-night” approach. And though Phish were known for their improvisation, Anastasio often describes how hard it was to maneuver them as their popularity grew. It is likely not coincidental that he describes the quick writing and recording of 2005′s Shine as “reactionary.”
“In 1996, we were already talking about how huge the scene had become, and the sense of entitlement around Phish. It’s virtually impossible not to get sucked up into it yourself. I’m completely guilty of that. It never stopped. It just kept going and going and going. Same old story.
Anastasio grows philosophical. “You’re surrounded by people who have an interest, everybody has an interest, and you lose yourself. Any kind of art is an attempt to point at something bigger than human beings. That’s what art is. It’s always a failure, it’s destined to fail, all art. But sometimes people can point a little bit, and sometimes people can get a glimpse of something beyond humans. But if you start celebrating the human who’s doing it, you have a problem, ’cause it’s not supposed to be about the person.”
He sighs again. “It just got so big, so many people, so much money, so many expectations, that we just lost our bearings.”
Part of Anastasio’s attempt to regain his footing has been a return to one of his first loves: composition. Though Phish started partially as an outlet for Anastasio’s fugues and mini-musicals, they rapidly evolved into their own beast. After releasing Seis de Mayo in 2004, a collection of string quartets, Dixieland fantasias, and bursting prog-rock, Anastasio met Don Hart while preparing for a Bonnaroo performance with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra.
“Before I started [Bar 17],” Anastasio remembers, “we started having lunch in New York City, and talking about ways we could integrate the string thing, into the rock music I do, improvised music. He did the arrangements on this album, and he did a great job.
“Sometimes, it sounds like the strings are riffing off the guitar solo, and sometimes it sounds like the guitar solo is riffing off the strings,” Anastasio says, describing the construction of “Shadow.” “We spent a lot of time talking about how to accomplish that. I like the sound and I like the emotion it can bring, but it can get real cheesy, if you’re not careful. Whoa, here comes the orchestra!” Anastasio laughs again.
Tearing Down the Wall of Sound – Mick Brown
He’s A Rebel – Mark Ribowsky
Inside the Music of Brian Wilson – Philip Lambert (London Times)
“Open Your Heart” – Lavender Diamond (PaperThinWalls.com)
“The Pushers” – Wooden Wand (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Omstart” – Cornelius (PaperThinWalls.com)
“The Crystal Cat” – Dan Deacon (PaperThinWalls.com)
The Search – Son Volt (Paste)
Headphones Jam – Phish (Relix)
Page McConnell – Page McConnell (JB.com)
BRAIN TUBA: Department of Ombudsmanship
BRAIN TUBA: The Gentrification Tax (A Reasonable Proposal)
(accompanying my lovely buildingmate in her 365Songbird Project, my contribution in parentheses)
“My Personal Genius” (guitar)
“The Tambourine Takes Soul” (bass)
“Kevin Federline is a Douchebag” (bass/vocals)
“Jesse’s Eye” (bass/inspirado)
Only in print:
o April/May Relix (album art cover): mini-essay on the future of album art; album reviews of Phish, Tin Hat, and Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid; book reviews of Billy Martin’s Riddim and Mitch Myers’ Boy Who Cried Freebird. All typos added by Relix staffers, for your convenience.
o Paste #30 (Modest Mouse cover): film review of First Snow, DVD review of the Decemberists.
o Paste #31 (Hold Steady cover): album review of Patti Smith, book review of Roni Sarig’s Third Coast, film review of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie For Theaters.
o Got a book review about Phil Spector and Brian Wilson http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article1649633.ece">published in the London Times.
o Got called out by Wooden Wand over a review of his song, “http://www.paperthinwalls.com/singlefile/item?id=583">The Pushers.” (My response is below his.)
o Accidentally got my eyelids stuck behind my eyeball, then made up a punk song about it with my buildingmates. I play bass and shout “1, 2, 3, 4.” (Via my lovely neighbor’s 365songbird project.)
“Rats” – Sonic Youth (download here)
from Rather Ripped (2006)
released by Interscope (buy)
(file expires March 14th)
Yeah, it’s gauche to cross-post, but it’s pretty gauche to be reviewing for JamBands.com to begin with, so wtf. Mostly, I just wanted to enter this one into the blogologue…
NYC ROLL-TOP: Sonic Curfew
It’s too bad Webster Hall is killing rock music in Manhattan, ’cause (in theory) it’s kind of a cool place to see shows. “It’s good to be back at the Ritz,” Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore cracked not long after his 26-year old band hit the stage on Friday, February 16th. Known by that name during the glitzy glitzy ’80s (when Sonic Youth were making their name in dingier quarters a bit down Broadway in SoHo), the club is currently where Bowery Presents, the city’s largest indie promoter, puts on their big rock shows. It’s got beautiful marble floors and cool reliefs on the walls, and — on good nights — almost feels grand.
For Sonic Youth, it was a homecoming. Besides a night at the soon-to-be-defunct CBGB last summer, it was their first major gig in Manhattan proper in two years, and they were their usual art-punk selves: the 6’6″ Moore careening around his side of the stage, bassist Kim Gordon in the middle like a displaced gallery goddess, and grey-haired Lee Ranaldo gracefully attacking his guitars like an avant-statesman. Moore addressed the entire crowd as “man.” As in, “thanks for coming, man.” Laconically jovial, he sounded like he was happy to be home. But what home were Sonic Youth coming back to?
It was city officials who banned smoking in bars a few years back. In one fell swoop they removed the proverbial (and fairly literal) vaseline on the lens of the rock experience, as well as a convenient mask for pot smoking, eliminating both social and ritualistic elements of live music’s allure. But it was Bowery Presents who started booking major weekend shows that had to be over by 10 pm so the place could be cleared out for a dance club, even more tightly regulating the idea of a rock show. What hopes of transcendent chaos could one possibly have at that time of night?
Sonic Youth were great. They did their best. Focusing mainly on 2006′s Rather Ripped, in places, they were even majestic. On Moore’s “Do You Believe in Rapture,” the band moved at a silken, relaxed clip. “Do you believe in sweet sensation? Do you believe in second chance?” Moore sang, almost tenderly, over the noise. “City streets so freezing cold,” Ranaldo exclaimed (quite accurately) on “Rats,” working from his usual fantastic formula: half-spoken poetry erupting into full-blown melody. Moore played “Or,” his ode to DIY-era fanzine life, for comedy. It worked, though missed the sublimity of its closing slot on Rather Ripped.
With former Pavement bassist and touring SYer Mark Ibold playing along with Gordon, and holding it down when she took off her instrument to front the band, the quintet sounded lean, if never exactly gnarly. Beginning and ending with older numbers (1988′s “Candle” and 1986′s “Expressway To Yr Skull”) and sprinkling a few others throughout, everything ran like a polished road show. Perhaps too tight at times, the occasionally jam-happy Sonics’ improvisation was limited to one song, and only at the tail end of the final encore.
When Sonic Youth closed a show at Brooklyn’s Northsix with “Expressway To Yr Skull” in 2005, it stretched for a half-hour, Gordon leaving the stage while Moore, Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley, and Jim O’Rourke, urged out quieter and quieter spirals of noise. That the same segment at Webster Hall was a quarter of the length, the band dutifully filing offstage at 10:07, would seem to be a result of the environment.
As I do after most Sonic Youth shows, I do believe in rapture, but almost definitely not at Webster Hall, where the dance beats start pounding up from the lower floors as the shows run to their end. Music isn’t dying in New York City. After all, at least at Webster Hall, the indie crowds are just being replaced by different kinds of music fans. But, for heaven’s sake, there’s gotta be a better place to do it. I also believe in rapture and unpredictability being closely related. Subsequently forced to go find alternative means of chaos for my Friday night, and having plenty of time to do it, the Sonic Youth show lingers like something less than the real deal. Which is too bad. Because it probably was.
Klosterman Appropriation Project (Perfect Sound Forever)
Pazz and Jop Ballot, 2006
annotated 2006 top 10 (Hear/Say)
“The Comet” – Tin Hat (PaperThinWalls.com)
“And You Lied To Me” – Besnard Lakes (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Must You Throw Dirt In My Face” – Charle Louvin feat. George Jones (PaperThinWalls.com)
“She’s A Bad Girl” – Shuttah (PaperThinWalls.com)
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer – Of Montreal (Paste)
The Conch – moe. (JamBands.com)
The Amber Gatherers – Alasdair Roberts (Hear/Say)
Album reviews as fiction:
Futurismo – Kassin+2 & Cê – Caetano Veloso (JamBands.com)
Slow Down – Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (JamBands.com)
Millennial Territory Orchestra at Tonic, 11 January 2007
Columns & misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Jazz & such
BRAIN TUBA: Ye Shall Be Changed (Gimmie Indie RAWK)
Only in print:
o Paste #29 (Norah Jones cover): album review of Son Volt, film review of The Situation, DVD review of Bob Dylan
o January/February Hear/Say (Gnarls Barkley cover): album review of Charlie Louvin
“Making ‘History’ With Nicholas Hytner” (profile of History Boys director, from Paste #27)
“America On-Line” (wunderkammern27.com, a trip to see the Dave Matthews Band in Central Park)
“Engine 27′s Rational Amusements” (wunderkammern27.com, feature on the defunct NYC sound art gallery)
Jackin’ Pop Ballot & Comments, 2006
“Suffer For Fashion” – Of Montreal (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Freckle Wars” – Ecstatic Sunshine (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Caledonia” – Ghost (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Welcome To My Room” – Vietnam (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Tas Var Kopek Yok – Bunalim (PaperThinWalls.com)
“The End” – David and the Citizens (PaperThinWalls.com)
Stages 2 – v/a (JamBands.com)
Love – The Beatles (JamBands.com)
We All Belong – Dr. Dog (Relix)
Joanna Newsom at Webster Hall, 13 November 2006
Tenacious D at Madison Square Garden, 1 December 2006
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Gratuitous Post-Jamboree #4
Only in print:
o February/March Relix (Lucinda Williams cover): album reviews of Dr. Dog, What’s Happening in Pernambuco compilation, and Ghost; book reviews of Best Music Writing 2006 and Show I’ll Never Forget anthologies; DVD review of Nirvana.
o Paste #28 (The Shins cover): album review of Of Montreal; film reviews of An Unreasonable Man and Venus.
o Signal To Noise #44 (Comets on Fire cover): album reviews of The Diminisher, Icy Demons, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, and Jean-Claude Vannier.
“Brokedown Palace” – the Grateful Dead (download here)
recorded 11 April 1972
Newcastle City Hall, Newcastle, UK
from Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead (2002)
released by Grateful Dead Records (buy)
(file expires January 24th)
It’s hard to find an excuse to publish a two-and-a-half year-old review of a show by a band I don’t like very much. But I’m going to, anyway, because it involved a pleasantly bizarre excursion to Central Park, and this thing has stewed on my harddrive for way too long. At one point, it was supposed to have run in the Interboro Rock Tribune, though — if it did — I sure never saw a copy.
And “Brokedown Palace”? Well, why not? Consider it a spoonful of honey for all the theorizing about Dave Matthews. Or maybe it’s just honey because honey is fucking delicious. Anyway, I came across this version tonight, recorded in Newcastle on April 11th, 1972, and I love it. For some reason, I can’t remember ever hearing a version from ’72 (or ’73 or ’74, my fave Dead period), though DeadBase swears there are plenty. Except for the high harmonies near the end, it’s all so perfectly assured, maybe even more than the American Beauty rendition, especially Garcia’s monstrously concise solo.
America On Line
by Jesse Jarnow
When guitarist Warren Haynes took the stage with the Dave Matthews Band during their massive free concert at Central Park on September 24th, few cheered. That was to be expected. Though Haynes is revered in some quarters as the ever-active guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s eponymous quintet, he’s mostly unknown in the mainstream.
After dueting with Matthews on a rendition of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer,” Haynes ripped into a soaring solo. It was typical Big Rock fare, Haynes’s fingers flying impassioned up the fretboard in a show of bluesy virtuosity, face scrunched in anguish and splayed across the nine jumbo screens to underscore the point. The solo blew to a volcanic climax, the tension released from Haynes’s body, and he stepped back.
And, again, few cheered.
This raises some questions. Likely, it wasn’t a show of displeasure. Nobody was booing, nor were people offering up any particular show of criticism. And it wasn’t abject boredom. Around me, on the fringe of the crowd, people seemed to be having a grand evening under the stars, laughing and smiling in all directions. So, what was it? Why hadn’t that old reliable, the Big Solo, ignited them?
On the surface, the Dave Matthews Band appear to have inherited the stadium rock mantle once held by bands like Led Zeppelin and, more recently, U2: an old-fashioned rock outfit (give or take) capable of creating best-selling records and filling impossibly large halls wherever they choose to roam. But, as the crowd’s reaction to Haynes indicated, perhaps not all is what it seems.
Beneath the same ol’, same ol’ exterior of the rock concert as suburban coming of age ritual, the practices of young concertgoers have subtly mutated. To say that they are having shallower experiences at the shows they attend because, say, their experiences are apparently non-musical is to miss the point. They’re still having a good time and they’re still, like it or not, coming of age. So, what is it that they latch onto?
Given the truly epic surreality of the event, from its conception to is execution – light years removed from the uncomplicated cause-and-effect of liking a band, hearing about their show, buying a ticket, and going (and even further from the vaunted free concerts of yore) – it’s right boggling to conceive of the AOL Concert For Schools as a teenager’s first rock show. Rock concerts have always been theaters of the absurd, but the dramatis personae seem to be changing of late. In Manhattan, anyway, ads had plastered subways and buses for several weeks. Typical copy depicted a picture of a row of school desks, the AOL running man logo branded onto the corner of each (a frightening thought), and the caption “Life needs a music lesson.”
Waiting on line, the acquisition of tickets seemed to be the most popular topic of discussion. Officially, they had been distributed for free via white AOL vans that parked at various Manhattan street corners throughout the week. But, being free and pretty much indiscriminately passed out – in a relatively mysterious way, at that, some seemingly arbitrarily, some after participating in contests – they quickly fell into other hands. We heard tales of a temporary black market that had sprung up to accommodate the distribution of tickets, funneling them out to the suburbs via EBay and co-workers and friends of friends with favors to call, sometimes free, but mostly not.
The line coiled through the park, a human Great Wall of China drudging in slow motion through Frederick Law Olmstead’s Arcadian landscaping, disappearing into the greenery at one end, stretching out onto Central Park’s bordering avenues on the other. On the east side, we had followed it south from the park’s entrance at 72nd Street with no end in sight, as Jon looked for somebody to bestow his spare ticket on.
A kid overheard us. “Do you have an extra?” he asked, with a slight accent.
“Maybe,” Jon replied
“Ya, I came from Germany,” he said.
“Oh yeah?” I replied, glancing at his Ithaca College hoodie.
“Ya,” he confirmed. “I’m from Munich.”
“Okay, you got it,” Jon said.
“Oh, danke!” Munich Boy grinned, and scurried off, ducking under a barricade and cutting into the line.
“Do you ever get the impression that the way these kids act on line might be a good metaphor for the way they’ll turn out later in life?” I asked Jon.
He paused. “Nah, that’s stupid.”
We pressed onward. Near 70th Street, past a row of port-o-lets, the line suddenly changed directions, as if we had passed the equator.
“The line doubles back somewhere down there,” a girl groused.
“This sucks, I wanna go home,” a nearby cop grumbled. “I could be in class right now.”
“Down there” was 65th Street, just north of the Central Park Zoo. “Screw this,” Jon announced, and turned into the park, following the sidewalk along the thru-road. A hundred yards into the park, we hopped the small stone wall, climbed a grassy embankment, and looked down on the line, which we could see in the distance. We could see dozens of other dissidents, looking for alternate paths into the concert. I wondered how many of them were first-time concertgoers.
We cursed Munich Boy as we clamored through the underbrush after the hillside we were following suddenly dropped away. We roamed the Ramble, occasionally catching sight of the line. It was a lovely evening for a stroll, and we wandered up paths and down stairs and past the pond and the gondolas and rowboats peacefully adrift. At the Boathouse, men in white linen suits dined, seemingly unaware of the horde of teenagers milling on the other side of the treeline.
We slipped into line. “Hey, good idea, man!” a guy said, unbothered by the fact that we were blatantly cutting in.
“How long have you been here?” I asked a girl next to us.
“Five hours,” she replied.
“Man, I got here three hours ago,” said a kid standing next to her.
“Really?” said somebody else. “We walked up, like 45 minutes ago. Didn’t even cut.”
The line had broken down their sense of time, it seemed. Mine, too. I have no recollection of how long we were there. People talked. Besides how they got their tickets, they rarely spoke about the band they were there to see (unheard of at show by Phish or the Grateful Dead, two bands the DMB is frequently lumped with). They didn’t even speak with particular frequency about other bands, but mostly about movies or television shows.
While this might not seem worth remarking on at first, it seems some indication of the way the Dave Matthews Band (and, thus, the rock concert as an entity) might now be viewed by young fans: music as something undifferentiated from other pop culture mediums, as opposed to an autonomous experience that exists outside of the mainstream of American life. In other words: rock not as rebellion at all, but as a completely sanctioned experience. Though this has probably been the norm for some time, the concert form has seemingly transformed around this ideal.
We passed a row of ticket takers, a pile of confiscated lawn chairs and blankets (for a day in the park, at that), a thoroughly crouch-mauling patdown (hands placed and suddenly jerked UP), and a bag search (though, officially, they weren’t allowing bags in at all; terror, etc.). Though our tickets had been ripped, and word had come that the show had started, we still couldn’t hear any music. Abruptly, two girls in front of us shrieked, charged up a small hill in the vague direction of the concert field, and disappeared into the woods. There was a rustling, then silence.
The lush green of the Great Lawn sprawled before us, the stately regency of Belvedere Castle and the midtown skyline at our back. The music ricocheted between speaker towers in an echoed maze, bearing strange sonic resemblance to an avant-garde multi-channel sound installation. Six giant screens stood in V-formation, pointing towards the distant stage, which was adorned by its own screen. Though the field was half-empty (presumably, most were still on line), clumps of people gathered around each of the screens.
Each was mounted on an elaborate scaffolding which also included several banks of lights, and a smoke machine. The former flashed constantly, moreless indiscriminately (which didn’t matter, since the images were hardly synched with the music coming from the speakers). The latter, positioned below the screen, jetted smoke straight upward, thanks to industrial fans just beneath the chute. The lights and the smoke both came between one’s sightline and the broadcast images, which simultaneously drew the eye in and created the impression that one was, indeed, watching something real at the center. Crowds sat cross-legged at the bases of the scaffolding, goggling upwards.
A camera mounted on a crane swept over the crowd. Another camera stood on a smaller scaffolding that rose from the midst of the throng. With the exception of a few songs in the middle of the band’s set, the operator trained the camera away from the stage for the entire night, presumably for the DVD of the concert, already set to be released on November 4th. There was no shortage of striking images. A girl holding a bouquet of heart-shaped balloons of silver mylar wandered by, the balloons momentarily framed by smoke billowing from the screen.
Instead of the usual between song pandemonium, the air vacuumed to near silence after a brief smattering of applause. Despite this, the music was not an unimportant part of the event. There was dancing, though it was frequently directed at each other in clusters, like a school dance, as opposed to at the stage. There were singalongs, though only at preset moments, as opposed to when the mood struck. There were giddy screams when favorite songs were played, though they were usually followed by cell phone calls, as opposed to intent listening.
So, why is the Dave Matthews Band the premier party band of the early 21st century? Surely, part of their appeal is in their Joe Rockband quality. Matthews is, as Rolling Stone’s David Fricke called him, “the ultimate Everyman.” Their music maps to that description, too. Despite several long instrumental excursions, there was little extreme about the band’s performance. They played at comfortable tempos with no distortion. All of this accounts for the band’s accessibility, for the college following that was Matthews’ bread and butter in earlier years, but doesn’t explain why listeners seem to be applying different standards to Matthews’ music than previous generations.
Or does it?
Despite its size, despite the screens, the show in Central Park was as close to a non-spectacle as one could get at that magnitude. When soloing, bandmembers would make a point of stepping close to each other and making eye contact. Again, it was an old rock trick (e.g. Robert Plant drawing the crowd’s attention to Jimmy Page by moving near and watching him solo), but effective. But, when Plant looked at Page, he frequently did so with awe, putting the guitarist on a pedestal for the audience by temporarily playing low status.
By contrast, the Dave Matthews Band’s gestures were far more humble. By design or happenstance, each revealed the band as six men playing music in real time. In an age where jump cuts are the norm and linear performances are practically unknown in popular culture, that can be powerful good. It is well possible that the Dave Matthews Band appeals for the same reason that country music suddenly found itself in vogue in the late ’60s. There is not so much an authenticity to the Dave Matthews Band as there is an undiluted simplicity — which is a helluva thing to say about a rock and roll band playing music in front of an estimated 100,000 people at a concert sponsored by one of the biggest corporations in the world.
In this case, it’s not what the guitars are doing, but that there are even guitars at all. Through all, Matthews inspires a certain comfort level. And, hey, as an audience member, that feels great. It is precisely because the rock concert has become such an ingrained ritual that the Dave Matthews Band thrives: simply, at a Dave Matthews Band show, one doesn’t have to behave like he’s at a rock concert.
There are no pretensions of revelation, no high art or inflatable pigs, not even any obvious attempts to get the crowd riled up. Nobody was beat over the head being told that they were having the time of his or her life. Is that rebellion? Maybe so, maybe not. It’s definitely a “to each his own trip” philosophy, minus the drugs and writ large. Like every Everyman, Dave Matthews is a blank slate. Life needs blank slates.
Around us, boys approached girls awkwardly, smoking the second or third cigarettes of their lives, as the new template for a rock show burned itself into their heads. They had meaningful experiences.
“This is the place to be!” a guy in a turquoise Alligator shirt bellowed as he stumbled by. “These guys are the bomb, right?”
A moment later, he held his head and staggered towards the scaffolding, where he vomited. He removed his shirt, revealing a lacrosse uniform, wiped his mouth, and lurched back into the crowd.
Happy 2007. Still recovering from various reveleries, but here is another Greatest Miss: a brief item circa November 2002 for a now-defunct (I suspect) NYC freebie paper whose name I don’t recall about the sound art gallery, Engine 27. I picked up copies for a few months after I submitted it, but never saw it in print and never heard back from the editor. I was a little premature in calling Engine 27 firmly established, it seems, but so it goes. http://www.diapasongallery.org/">Diapason is still kicking.
Engine 27′s Rational Amusements
by Jesse Jarnow
Lower Manhattan has long been rife with the so-called rational amusements: scientific dream factories like PT Barnum’s American Museum where exotic worlds might be conjured. And where Barnum displayed the curios of destinations fantastic, Jack Weisberg’s Engine 27 multi-channel sound gallery allows visitors to walk through jungle darkness, strange symphonies erupting from every corner. Housed in a decommissioned TriBeCa firehouse, the space open to the public is little more than a long, dark room adorned by 16 custom-built speakers. Below the floor, though, mind-bending technology hums and directs sound, creating what managing director Eric Rosenzveig calls a “physical three-dimensional landscape.”
Multi-channel sound-as-art has existed at least since Iannis Xenakis and Le Corbousier’s 1958 Brussels World’s Fair collaboration with Edgar Varése, but the form seems to have blossomed in the past two years, with the firm establishment of not only Engine 27 and Michael Schumacher’s midtown Diapason Gallery, but a nod from the Whitney, who included a sound room in their most recent biennial. “I think [one of] the primary directions in music in the past 10 years has involved breaking open the stereo field,” says Rosenzveig, who thinks “all music can work well in a multi-channel environment, if the artist is interested in addressing [one].”
Electronic musician Tetsu Inoue, who had never created for multi-channel before, sculpted the rich Active Dot (for 16 lines). Though he admitted having trouble adjusting to the new spatial palette, he claims that after his residency, “CD format is kind of boring, very timeline based.” Engine 27′s first batch of artists-in-residence, a “Noah’s Ark” of 30 composers combining invited guests and open-call applicants, tried to sample a multitude of aesthetics. As highfalutin as the specifics of Engine 27 are, the results played like rotating weekly features at one of William Gibson’s futuristic stim-parlors: magical, and all for a fair buck.
“Wind on the Mountain II” – A Taste of Ra (PaperThinWalls.com)
“If You Rescue Me” – Gael Garcia Bael & co.
“Minute By Minute” – Girl Talk
“Naomi” – Neutral Milk Hotel (Joe Beats remix)
“Wizard’s Sleeve” – Yo La Tengo
“Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Guthrie
Eisenhower – The Slip (JamBands.com)
Meek Warrior – Akron/Family (JamBands.com)
Modern Times – Bob Dylan (Relix)
Out Louder – Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood (Relix)
The Eraser – Thom Yorke (Relix)
Colorado ’88 – Phish (Relix)
Live in Brooklyn – Phish (Relix)
Beck at the Knitting Factory, 26 October 2006
The Music of Bob Dylan at Lincoln Center, 9 November 2006
Fast Food Nation directed by Richard Linklater (Paste)
Columns and misc.:
Looper in the Dark, wunderkammern27.com micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: War on War (What’s It Good For), parts 11-13
Only in print:
o December/January Relix (Les Claypool cover): album reviews of the Apples in Stereo, Norfolk & Western, and Phish.
o Paste #27 (Christopher Guest cover): profile of Nicholas Hytner
“CBGB Closes” (audio slideshow for Associated Press, photos by Jack Chester)
“Tio Minuter (Ten Minutes)” – Pärson Sound (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Good Things Are Coming” – New Sound of Numbers (PaperThinWalls.com)
“God Bless the Ottoman Empire” – A Hawk and a Hacksaw (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Untitled (Track 4)” – Talibam! (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Trial By Lasers” – Icy Demons (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Time Passing” – Max Richter feat. Robert Wyatt (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Soul Master” – Edwin Starr
“I’m Your Puppet” – Yo La Tengo
“I’d Love Just Once To See You” – The Beach Boys
“California” – Dr. Dog
““In a Different Light – The Bangles
The Information – Beck
Live at the Warfield – Phil Lesh and Friends
Of Montreal and Jamie Lidell at Irving Plaza, 26 September 2006
Yo La Tengo at Loews Jersey City, 29 September 2006
The Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom, 1 October 2006
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Five Little Thoughts (It’s a Scientific Lifestyle
Two new Funny Cry Happy demos
Only in print:
o November Relix (Tenacious D cover): album reviews of Bob Dylan, Tortoise, Joanna Newsom, Four Tet; book review of 33 1/3 Greatest Hits
o Paste #26 (Beck cover): movie review of Fast Food Nation, DVD review of Jeff Tweedy
“Masa Depanmu” – Ariesta Birawa Group (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Three Woman Blues” – The Wowz (PaperThinWalls.com)
“Word Up Forever” – Curse ov Dialect (PaperThinWalls.com)
“ﬂ°” – Trap Door
“NYC’s Like A Graveyard” – The Moldy Peaches
“I Don’t Wanna Leave You On the Farm” – Ween
Bar 17 – Trey Anastasio
Os Mutantes at Webster Hall, 21 July 2006
Revenge of the Bookeaters at the Beacon Theater, 23 August 2006
Bustle In Your Hedgerow at the Rocks Off Boat Cruise, 30 August 2006
Columns and misc.:
The Animals I Saw, wunderkammern27.com micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: Contrarianism
Only in print:
o August/September Relix (Widespread Panic cover): album reviews of Four Tet, Ollabelle, Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, Stephen Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, Sex Mob, Baby Loves Jazz Band; book review of Les Claypool.
o Paste #24 (Alvis Costello and Allan Toussaint cover): album reviews of Yo La Tengo, Shapes and Sizes, book review of David Shenk
o Paste #25 (Zach Braff cover): album review of Harry Smith Project
o Signal To Noise #43 (Lewis/Abrams/Mitchell cover): album reviews of Brian Joseph Davis, OOIOO, and Sublime Frequencies
“Nobody Suspects The Cricket,” profile of Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Signal To Noise via GlennKotche.com
">17 Other Things To Do With $226 (Besides Spending Them on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young),” Times Herald-Record (see if you can guess which Dylan comment was added by my editor)
“Two Sheep Asleep” – Dirty Projecters (I’m reviewing songs for PaperThinWalls.com, with a bunch more already in the can)
“Freckle Wars” – Ecstatic Sunshine
“Wait For You” – The Mountain Goats
“Bat Macumba” – Os Mutantes
“UMA” – OOIOO
High and Mighty – Gov’t Mule
Radiodread – Easy Star Dub All-Stars
Columns and misc.:
The Island, wunderkammern27.com micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: How I’ve Been Spending My Summer
Only in print:
o August Relix (Pearl Jam cover): “Plugging the A-Hole,” feature on Digital Rights Management; album reviews of Phish, The Sadies, and Thom Yorke; book review of Ben Fong-Torres.
o Paste #23 (Thom Yorke cover): album reviews of Sufjan Stevens, The Mountain Goats, Danielson, Elf Power, Yo La Tengo, Guillemots, The Ditty Bops, and Robert Fripp.
“Yo La Tengo Is Not Afraid of You and They Will Beat Your Ass,” RollingStone.com (interview with Ira Kaplan)
“Os Mutantes Reunite for U.S. Shows,” RollingStone.com (interview with Sergio Dias Baptista)
“Lesh is More,” Times Herald-Record (interview with Phil Lesh)
“Searching For the Next Little Thing,” wunderkammern27.com (a trip to the Consumer Electronics Show)
Play Pause Stop – The Benevento Russo Duo
Gypsum Strings – Oakley Hall
Welcome To My World – Daniel Johnston
Of Whales and Woe – Les Claypool
Ganging Up On The Sun – Guster
http://www.jambands.com/CDReviews/content_2006_06_22.03.phtml">Requiems der Natur, 2002-2004 – Cloudland Canyon
Ramble Dove at Irving Plaza, 31 May 2006
Phil Lesh and Friends/The Ambiguously Troy Duo at Jones Beach, 7 July 2006
Columns and misc.:
Dead Bird, wunderkammern27.com micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Downloading
BRAIN TUBA: Pleasant Valley Tuesday
Only in print:
o Summer Signal To Noise (Tony Conrad cover): feature on Glenn Kotche, live review of Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, album review of Sun City Girls
o July Relix (Michael Franti cover): book review of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, DVD reviews of the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart, album reviews of Sonic Youth, Spinjunkies, DJ Deep See, Stuff Dreams Are Made Of compilation.
This got recently excised from a magazine because the editor (as I interpret it) didn’t want to be responsible for the residual spreading of Manson’s bad juju. Here ’tis.
Original freak-folker shows ‘em how it’s done.
Though the Beach Boys covered one of his songs, and Neil Young lobbied for him to be signed, it was simply not to be for a struggling L.A. singer-songwriter named Charlie Manson. Instead, he earned himself a cult following significantly different than most of his acoustic-slinging brethren. Recorded in September 1967, six months after Manson’s previous release from prison and two years before the killings that brought him to notoriety, Manson set down two-dozen of his original compositions. Considered in the wake of Devendra Banhart and others ragged folk-psych revivalists, Charles Manson’s music — originally issued during his 1970 trial — is quite listenable. “Arkansas” is dotted with weirdly barbed guitars, off-kilter harmonies, and hippie agrarianism, while one can hear what appealed to the Beach Boys about the rising chorus of “Cease to Exist” (effectively repurposed by them into 20/20‘s “Never Learn Not To Love”). Too bad he didn’t get signed. Banhart might’ve rediscovered him.
I’ve already posted my photos and field recordings of my adventures at the 2006 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show, but my reason for being there — the piece I was supposedly writing — kinda fell through the cracks. I pitched this story and went to Las Vegas thinking I was writing a tech-oriented travelogue, only to discover upon my return that my editor had wanted a simple review of the Show’s hottest new gadgets. After another publicaiton promised to run it, it got bumped for adspace, with the intention of running it on the website, at which point it officially fell through the cracks. Half a year later, here it is.
Searching for the Next Little Thing (or A Consumer in a Strange Land)
by Jesse Jarnow
The only reassuring thing about the chaos across the 1.6 million square feet of carpeted exhibit-space at the Consumer Electronics Show, held January 5th through 8th in Las Vegas, is that nobody among its 150,000 participants seemed to know what was going on — which is exactly how I found myself offering fanboy suggestions to one of the dudes from San Jose who invented the iPod’s trademark clickwheel.
We’d both come upon the same CES woman in a yellow information shirt, who’d told us (with stunning inaccuracy) that it was “about a mile” to the other side of the building. She explained why we should wait for the next shuttle bus rather than walk — as we did — down the service driveway and past loading docks stacked high with wooden crates that resembled stage props.
“Tell me,” I asked Clickwheel Dude promptly, “the next generation of iPods is gonna be a cell phone with a faux-modernist rotary dial clickwheel, right?”
“Where’d you hear that?” he asked, mildly taken aback. “No, no,” he said, hinting that a virtual clickwheel could potentially be “extremely tactile.”
“We really need this kind of feedback,” he added.
Once he finally made it through registration and onto the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center and into the teeming ecosystem of buyers, exhibitors, press, and other non-consumers (mostly dragging roller-suitcases), he would get plenty more.
To tramp from the Convention Center’s monorail stop to its furthest rim, attendees crossed more than a mile, from the two-level South Hall (starring Google and their giant Legos), across the massive Central Hall (featuring a Sony floor installation that required its own sub-map), through the bass-booming North Hall (where bikinied booth babes demonstrated the hottest backseat subwoofers), and into the Hilton next door (whose modest stalls sported clever Asian miniaturizations). And that’s not to mention the additional floor at the Sands (conventioneers mingling with silicone-enhanced attendees of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, held next door).
Feedback for Clickwheel Dude came on like locusts in a plague. One could barely step without crunching down on the sleek plastic exoskeletons of imitation iPods (like http://sandisk.com/Products/Catalog(1166)-SanDisk_Sansa_e200_Series_MP3_Players.aspx">SanDisk’s sporty Samsa, pimped by toned pep-dancers) and artifacts from its attendant cottage industry, including mini-speakers (mostly mimicking http://www.alteclansing.com/product_details.asp?pID=IMPLUS">Altec Lansing’s popular inMotion), crazy protective shells (http://www.h2oaudio.com/">H2O Audio’s waterproof pod-cases and earbuds), and teddy bears (Sakar’s SoundPal). If iPods are the present of music, then its future is undoubtedly a world of variations, and — eventually — commonality, cheapness, and Salvation Army bins.
While pundits pontificated about an “iPod killer,” the most innovative products recognized music tech’s new paradigm of flexibility. With ATO’s iSee, users can store videos on regular iPods, dock them in the iSee, and watch them. Many forward-thinking products served as reminders of the entertainment industry’s ongoing copyright wars. Timetrax’s TraxCatcher allows users (with perhaps questionable legality), to snatch individual mp3s from satellite radio systems like Sirius (now starring Howard Stern) and XM (whose roster includes DJ Bob Dylan).
As always (as demonstrated by the latter), the future includes cars with TVs in them (possibly in their trunks), screens that are bigger, and speakers that are louder. The main halls were characterized by a nearly comical largesse that suggested a World’s Fair without the nobility. Utopian living room sets (such as CyberHome’s wireless video network) were interspersed with displays of fantastical architecture (such as DirectTV’s cube-dangling high modernist dreamscape), as well as temporarily constructed meeting rooms that recalled conjugal visit trailers.
Google’s presence was a breath of fresh air, stocking their booth with real live engineers to showcase the Mountain View wunderkinds’ fabbest inventions. Likewise, following a canned Friday morning keynote-cum-product-roll-out from Yahoo CEO Terry Semel (abetted by token celebrities Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres), Google co-wizard Larry Page took the afternoon by storm.
The deliciously geeky opposite of Semel and his fake living room set, Page (in a white lab coat) spun a science fiction vision, pleading for industry-wide standardization in hardware and power supply and inter-gadget communication.
“One wire should do everything possible,” he said. “If you plug a wire into something, you should be able to do anything you could possibly do with that device -– run software on it, charge it, power other devices from its battery, or whatever, just with that single wire. We could basically do that with the hardware we have. And it should work the same whether you plug that wire into your house, your neighbor’s house, or all the way around the world.”
Following the help of his (gloriously freestyling) celebrity, Robin Williams, Page soon introduced Google Video — the search company’s first foray into retail, and their response to Apple’s iTunes store.
Featuring CBS shows, day-old NBA games, and Charlie Rose interviews, Google Video will also sell content by anybody who cares to create it. Much of the major programming will only work on Google’s proprietary viewer, however, preventing users from watching their purchases on their iPods (bummer, Clickwheel Dude).
But the most mindblowing product described by Page wasn’t the integration of Google Earth into mobile phones (though that’s pretty rad), nor was it even made by Google (though they donated $2 million dollars to its development). It was a mock-up of MIT scientist Nicholas Negroponte’s hand-cranked, wifi-enabled, open source $100 laptop. At a convention dedicated to making the world move faster, Google seemed committed to moving the world quantifiably forward.
After Page, the hum of the Consumer Electronics Show — a din of voices, bleeps, and New Age music blasting from demonstration speakers — seemed literally meaningless. Page had veritably declared it: nobody knew what was going on.
Somewhere in the acres upon acres of the Las Vegas Convention Center, there must have been the perfect gadget, that front-of-the-curve device that won’t be really profitable for another few years, and will soon be on the road to ubiquity, but — well — a consumer can get dizzy.
In the immaculately ordered Asian displays at the Hilton, surreal devices like clothing-hangers-with-inboard-dryers, CD shredders, and folding keyboards sat between infinitesimal variations of keychain USB drives, wireless toys, and microscopic neon-colored mp3 players, spiraling smaller and smaller and smaller.
When I found myself gazing woozily into a TV that was playing Revenge of the Sith (stretched, for some reason), my eyes glazing into the CGI, it was time to go. I reached for my iPod, put on George Harrison, and headed for the monorail.
“Frosted Ambassador Suite” – The Olivia Tremor Control (download here)
from Those Sessions EP, recorded 18 March 1997 with John Peel
“Through My Tears > Oh Comely > Now There Is Nothing” – Neutral Milk Hotel (download here)
recorded 14 September 1997, Broad River Outpost, Danielsville, GA
“Trombone Dixie” – The Beach Boys/Marbles (aka Robert Schneider) (download here)
via Optical Atlas
(non-Marbles files expire on June 29th)
Ah, Jah bless Brewster Kahle and archive.org. Via their most rocking Wayback Machine, I recovered the Signal To Noise article I wrote, er, way back about a trip to Athens, Georgia to “find” Elephant 6. In a lot of ways, I was pretty naive and a few years too late. In other ways, I wasn’t. Maybe they’re not putting out records as furiously as they once did, but that’s life, and the facts of that make this group of people no less extraordinary. If anything, it makes them more so.
Here’s an E6 sunshine fix for while you read, a pair of live suites from Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control, and an obscurity from Apples in Stereo leader Robert Schneider. “Through My Tears > Oh Comely > Now There Is Nothing” is pure psych-punk joy, hot from the soundboard, shortly after the band returned to Georgia after recording In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The Olivas’ “Frosted Ambassador” suite — this version is from a John Peel session — is considerably more considered, and (to me) perfectly captures the feeling of watching the sun rise after a long, strange night. “Trombone Dixie,” meanwhile, is http://www.opticalatlas.com/marbles3.html ">a young Schneider’s bedroom attempt to finish one of Brian Wilson’s incomplete instrumental beds from the Pet Sounds sessions.
“‘Circuit bending’ lets old toys play tunes,” Associated Press
“Unleash the Love,” Times Herald-Record (interview with Mike Love)
“I Know There’s An Answer,” wunderkammern27.com (interview with Brian Wilson)
Estudando O Pagode – Tom Zé
Surprise – Paul Simon
The Wind at Four to Fly – the Disco Biscuits
Congotronics 2: Buzz ‘n’ Rumble From the Urb ‘n’ Jungle – various
Really Don’t Mind If You Sit This One Out – Mushroom
self-titled – Carneyball Johnson
‘Sno Angel – Howe Gelb
Broken Social Scene at Webster Hall, 28 January 2006
Marc Ribot at Issue Project Room, 16 March 2006
Medeski, Martin, and Wood at the Society For Ethical Culture, 6 April 2006
Tristan Perich, Corn Mo, and Captured! By Robots at North 6, 6 May 2006
Jim O’Rourke at the Stone, 16 May 2006
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, published in Paste #21
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Back to the Future
BRAIN TUBA: Fairweathering
web notes for AUX compilation
Only in print:
o June Relix (Pete Townshend cover): album reviews of Billy Martin, Billy Martin and Grant Calvin Weston, Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden, Glenn Kotche, Marley’s Ghost, Johnny Cash; live review of the Rhythm Devils; DVD review of Leo Kottke.
o Paste #22 (Bob Dylan cover): Jeff Tweedy entry in “100 Best Living Songwriters feature, album review of The Raconteurs.
o May Hear/Say (Taking Back Sunday cover): album reviews of Danielson and Elf Power.
From Relix, April/May 2003:
The Mountain Goats
With lyrics that scan like terse prose, The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee paints a disintegrating marriage of an “alpha couple” in suburban Florida with sympathetic, literate strokes. Achieving a rare mopeless melancholy, John Darnielle’s songs are rendered with a subtly glorious production: a tapped cymbal here, a wash of static there. If concept albums tend to reach for the bombastic arcs of opera for their inspiration, then Tallahassee finds its forebears in the understated drama of Raymond Carver and John Cheever’s short fiction. Darnielle’s couple could be anybody anywhere, but they’re in Florida, in the lush air, and there’s no mistaking anything about them.
I made my Associated Press debut today, with a story about last week’s circuit bending festival. It’s been picked up by the websites of (at least) 42 news organizations, including the Washington Post, Canada.com, the Chicago Tribune, and the Local News Leader in Olberlin, Kansas. Whee. I’m not sure if that means it’ll be the treeware editions, too, but maybe? For some reason, the San Jose Mercury News has filed it as “gossip.” If you haven’t looked at ‘em yet, I posted some pictures, too.
I interviewed Mike Love recently for the Middletown Times Herald-Record. They called it “Beach Boy Mike Love at West Point.” I like my headline better: “Unleash the Love.”
And a “hullo” to Times Herald-Record readers.
Please to be enjoying some other Beach Boys-related writing I’ve done.
o I Know There’s An Answer: Passing the Turing Test With Brian Wilson — Brian Wilson interview, circa December 2005.
o Endless Summer — Contemplating Endless Summer as a concept album on a snowy day.
o One Final Smile, part I, part II — Thoughts on Tim Smolen’s reconstructed Smile.
o Wouldn’t It Have Been Nice — My February 2004 Smile feature for Salon.com.
The following Brian Wilson interview (the most frustrating I’ve ever done) was supposed to have been published in December 2005, around the time of the release of Brian’s What I Really Want For Christmas holiday LP. It didn’t, and — as soon as the New Year rolled around and the album’s press cycle ended — it became instantly unsellable. Here ’tis.
I Know There’s An Answer: Passing the Turing Test With Brian Wilson
by Jesse Jarnow
Brian Wilson has a mindblowing deadpan. At least, that’s the most reassuring explanation.
Having unexpectedly returned to the critical and popular limelight last year with his resurrected 1966 masterwork Smile, the 63 year-old Wilson and his associates seemingly achieved the impossible. As if to affirm that assessment, Wilson has followed the final realization of his greatest accomplishment with its polar opposite: an infinitely unassuming, shinily packaged holiday CD titled What I Really Want For Christmas.
While it’s hyperbole to say (as Wilson’s website does) “that it’s not hyperbole to say that [Wilson's new songs] are destined to become instant Christmas standards,” What I Really Want For Christmas — which includes a title collaboration with Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin — is a must-have for anyone who thinks that both Christmas albums and the Beach Boys are pretty nifty ideas. (Others might need more convincing.)
When Wilson led the Beach Boys through the 1964 recording of the #6 charting Beach Boys’ Christmas, it was totally natural. For starters, they were family. Wilson co-founded the band with brothers Dennis and Carl, first cousin Mike Love, and neighbor Al Jardine. What’s more, they were an American family.
“We used to Christmas carol to our neighbors,” Wilson says simply.
What songs did they sing?
“I just remember singing Christmas carols.”
And who was there?
Any particular memories?
“No, we just had a lot of fun doing it.”
“The relationship between the Wilsons and the Loves was very similar to the Hatfields and McCoys,” Love reflected in 2000′s Endless Summer documentary, recalling the legendary Southern families who’d feuded so long that they’d forgotten the origins.
“But there was one time of year [our] families would get together and there was sort of a truce,” Love continued, “and that was Christmastime, when we would do all our Christmas carols and get together musically. After the carols were done, we’d segregate into age groups and do music that was of our time.”
Nowadays, remembering the causes of the Wilson/Love feud isn’t so tough. The Beach Boys’ decades of hits gave way to — like Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums — “decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.”
The tension has never been far from the surface. During the ’60s, the two went face-to-face over the contents of the original Smile, and by the mid-’70s Wilson abandoned his band amid drug abuse and depression.
There was late brother Dennis’s marraige to (and child by) alleged Love daughter Shawn Marie Love, and the remaining Beach Boys’ 1991 battle to remove Brian from the care of svenghali psychiatrist Eugene Landy. And there was Love’s late ’90s squabble with Wilson over “Good Vibrations” royalties. Just in time for the holidays is Love’s latest lawsuit, this one over Smile (with some nasty words about Brian’s management on the side).
It’s no wonder that Wilson doesn’t want to speak of Christmases past. Is he going to revive the tradition for Christmases future with his family, which — in addition to grown daughters Carnie and Wendy — now includes three adopted daughters with wife, Melinda?
“No, no reason, we’re just not going to.”
At its best, What I Really Want For Christmas evokes Christmas in southern California, plastic reindeer strung afront low-slung bungalows, tinsel wrapped about the drive-through at the burger shack. As he has the since ’60s, Wilson faces down pain with elaborately layered harmonies and bouncy organs.
Christmas — his third album in under two years — is the latest in Wilson’s most productive period since his prime. Besides constant touring, Wilson recently offered to personally telephone any fan that donated $100 or more to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Did he have funny conversations?
How many people did he talk to, anyway?
“About 10,” Wilson replies earnestly, with what one strongly hopes is extremely dry wit. (According to Wilson’s office, the pledge drive raised $210,000 in donations via over 500 phone calls by Wilson.)
Those tempted to apply British mathematician Alan Turing’s famed test to determine the difference between human and artificial intelligence would be frustrated. Publicly, anyway, Wilson has long championed harmony over intellect. But who needs to answer questions over the holidays when he can just sing, anyway? Surf’s up, mmmhmmhmm.
This week marks the release of AUX, a compilation organized by Ideas for Creative Exploration at the University of Georgia. It features a host of Elephant 6 conspirators — including Heather McIntosh (The Instruments), Will Hart (The Olivia Tremor Control/The Circulatory System), Hannah Jones (Lorkakar/Tuning the Air), and the long-awaited official debut of Korena Pang (do some Google searching)– as well as a host of other fine Athens-based musicians. I really like “Waiting For the Dawn to Break” by The Leapyear, an act I need check out more from.
With gorgeous, handmade artwork, AUX is truly a labor of love. I’m proud to have contributed an essay to their equally handmade website. To read it, enter the site, click through the AUX logo, wave the cursor until a map of Athens appears like Brigadoon, click, find the shadowed outline of the falling aeroplane, click again, and check out “Another Set of Flowers in the Museum.”
Taught To Be Proud – Tea Leaf Green
solo Live Tonic 2002 – Billy Martin
Live at Houston Hall – Billy Martin and Grant Calvin Weston
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Brazil
Only in print:
o Paste #21 (Flaming Lips cover): album reviews of Live, Loose Fur, Gospel Music compilation; DVD review of Joel Gilbert’s Bob Dylan: Rolling Thunder and the Gospel Years; book review of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.
o April/May Relix (Frank Zappa cover): Fourteen Instances of Possible Conceptual Continuity (recurring sidebar), Zappaesque or the Story of the Dots (feature on Zappa’s composition, co-written with Matt Van Brink); album reviews of Tom Verlaine and Jack Johnson; film review of The Devil and Daniel Johnston; DVD review of the Velvet Underground.
o Spring Signal To Noise (Elliot Carter cover): album reviews of the Grateful Dead and Dimension Mix compilation.
o March Hear/Say (James Blunt cover): album reviews of Field Notes and Nicolai Dunger.
Colin Meloy Sings Trad. Arr. Shirley Collins EP – Colin Meloy
Rubber Traits EP – Why?
Dead Drunk EP – Terrestrial Tones
The Hidden Land – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Colin Meloy at Town Hall, 26 January 2006
Phil Lesh and Friends at the Beacon Theater, 15 February 2006
Columns and misc.:
http://www.jambands.com/Columns/JJarnow/content_2006_02_16.00.phtml ">BRAIN TUBA: Theme From the Bottom
Only in print:
o March Spin (My Chemical Romance cover): Noise item on Mothers Against Noise.
o Paste #20 (Philip Seymour Hoffman cover): reviews of John Fahey tribute, Bush Chemists, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Clogs, Sonic Youth, Robinella, and Taylor Hollingsworth. (These will likely appear eventually on Paste’s website.)
o February 10 Times Herald-Record: preview for (later cancelled) Lou Reed show (n.b.: the TH-R is the newspaper Hunter S. Thompson was fired from for kicking a soda machine).
The Village Voice posted the results of their annual http://www.villagevoice.com/pazzandjop05/">Pazz and Jop poll. My ballot is http://www.villagevoice.com/pazzandjop05/ballots.php?cid=4895">here. I made the comments section this year, however blandly, under the “http://www.villagevoice.com/pazzandjop05/0605,comments,71956,32.html">Earphone Heads” category.
Here are the full comments I submitted with my ballot, which I am going to indent because I think it looks nifty:
Since one can only take small planes off the island, I opted to take the ferry back. It was choppy as fuck, and I tried to listen to my iPod and watch the horizon. The boat was a jungle of sounds, all leaking queasily through my headphones: deep rumbling engines, calypso-tinged Christmas muzak piped through the cabin’s tinny speakers, chattering families, and emerald Caribbean waters slapping against the window.
Halfway across, I noticed that one noise — beats — had grown more distinct than the others. I turned, and studied the skinny island kid on the bench seat next to me. He scrolled through ringtones and detonated them one after another, a hit parade of instantly gratifying hooks. He noticed me watching and I took my headphones off.
“You like hip-hop?” he asked, studying me back. “Probably not, huh?”
“Sure,” I said. “I like all kinds of stuff. Who do you like?”
“Mike Jones,” he replied.
“Who?” I asked.
“Mike Jones,” he repeated, unimpressed.
“Mike Joooooones,” he sang and laughed. “You like that shit?”
“Meh,” I shrugged. “I like the screwed and chopped stuff more than his regular stuff.”
“That shit’s weird,” the kid declared.
“Yep,” I nodded happily, and somehow found myself in another conversation about Houston hip-hop, some quarter way across the hemisphere from Brooklyn’s indie-dork enclaves (let alone Houston itself).
He went back to his ringtones, 50 Cent thugging out in the background picture on his cell, as the ferry pulled into the harbor.
Despite making for retarded hard copy, Mike Jones’ shtick made for a hell of a meme: news vessel as pop hit, doesn’t even matter what the song is (hell, sing it in every song), and doesn’t even matter if that news is merely the arrival of Jones himself.
R. Kelly did it, too, in his boggling serialization “Trapped in the Closet.” Then there are the mash-ups, like the Notorious K.O.’s “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People.” Give or take the Texas robo-trippers — who are truly psychedelic and have added a cool new tool to the pop kit — it’s all just the latest iteration of novelty, except these novelties have concepts that somehow play with the technology of the moment, and that’s sorta nifty. Sorta.
“It disappeared up its own fundamental aperture,” Tom Wolfe snarked in The Painted Word, his 1975 treatise on contemporary art, “and came out the other side Art Theory! … a vision ineffable as the Angels and the Universal Souls.”
Lord knows, Mike Jones (who?) ain’t, um, a Universal Soul, but his meme-pop is the very definition of ineffable, the place where music — that self-contained world of melodies and performances — takes steps towards a broader universe of breathing things.
And, of course, if Jones’ endlessly circulating mp3s are steps, then the ringtones are crowbarred intrusions — sudden infections that come unannounced from somebody’s pocket, and disappear just as suddenly. And if you don’t have ‘em on your phone, you can’t play ‘em again.
Which is exactly why ringtones are music and not just sound: if done right, you want to hear them again. I’ve seen it on the subway, too: kids clicking through ringtones because it makes them happy.
When The Residents recorded their Commercial Album in 1980, cramming 40 60-second “pop” songs into 40 minutes (with instructions to play each thrice), they were operating on the assumption that the entirety of a pop song could be condensed into a minute. As Mike Jones has proved, they were off by about 50 seconds.
While ineffable, it’s hard to think of Jones’ hook as particularly transcendent in and of itself. But it points towards the new — or, more accurately, the old. Like every new medium, it will be used to reassess and repackage the past.
As of this writing, a half-dozen old tracks — call them proto-meme-pop — are scattered across Billboard’s top 50 Hot Ringtones chart: “Jingle Bells,” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the “Super Mario Brothers” theme, the “Pink Panther” theme, and — blessed art thou, oh Lord, our “Bob” — “Sweet Home Alabama.” Like all truly classic folk works, each can be boiled down to one central idea that pretty much anybody reading this can almost surely remember.
If the advent of mp3s returned us to the New Golden Age of the Single, then ringtones may well introduce an even more primitive age, one that never really existed outside the head of people who thought ’70s rock was a good idea: the Age of the Riff, where the popcraft of Skynyrd will meet the genius Japanese techno-artisans who code the sound of chirping crickets.
And what a challenge! Who can create something magnificently short? Who will be the first to cram meaning into a 10 second statement? It’ll be like building ships in bottles, or carving micro-sculptures in the heads of needles. When will the ringtone mash-ups start to drop? Will “Smells Like Teen Spirit” come ricocheting rudely up the ringtone charts during 2006′s inevitable grunge revival? Will it still rock? Can it?
Forty Years Upon Our Heads: A Recent Rap with Jerry Garcia on Perfect Sound Forever (an interview from late last year about the Grateful Dead, life after death, the Deadheads, and copyright, among other digressions)
Feels – Animal Collective, published in Paste #19
Lookaftering – Vashti Bunyan, published in Paste #19
Omnibus – Tarkio, published in January/February Hear/Say
Slow Rewind – Sam Champion, published in Paste #19
Nice Talking to Me – the Spin Doctors, published in Paste #19
Thumbsucker Original Score – Tim DeLaughter and the Polyphonic Spree, published in December Hear/Say
self-titled – No Use For Humans
Iron and Wine/Calexico at Webster Hall, 5 December 2005
Come On Falcon/Bustle In Your Hedgerow/Danjaboots at the Tribeca Rocking Club, 7 December 2005
Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, 27 December 2005
Freaks Ball (Metzgerville and Coxygen) at Coda, 21 January 2006
Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: How I Spent My Christmas Break
Only in print:
o February/March Relix (Bob Weir cover): album reviews of Derek Trucks Band, Robert Fripp, Wilco, and Robert Wyatt; book reviews of Grievous Angel: An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons and The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu
o December Hear/Say: albums reviews of Lightning Bolt and the Grateful Dead
For those of you who didn’t end up here via my post at LiveMusicBlog.com: I made the first of what will hopefully be occasional guest entries over thar, a rant on the aforementoned.
For those of you who did end up here via that post: hallo!
Either way, Brewster’s post at archive.org restoring access to many Grateful Dead recordings seems to conclude this misfit-brand news cycle, though there’s plenty left to the story, though.
Oodles of catching up to do. Here goes, organized for your convenience…
Café Curiousity: A Shot of Herbie With That Latté, Sir? – feature interview with Herbie Hancock, published in Paste #18.
Video Overview in Deceleration, 1992-2005 – The Flaming Lips, published in Paste #18.
Cripple Crow – Devendra Banhart, published in Paste #18.
The Sunset Tree – The Mountain Goats, published in May Hear/Say.
Shine – Trey Anastasio
Sixty Six Steps – Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon, published in Paste #18.
Bootleg Series, vol. 7: No Direction Home – Bob Dylan
The Jerry Garcia Collection, vol. 1: Legion of Mary and Pure Jerry: Warner Theater, March 18, 1978 – Jerry Garcia
Takk – Sigur Ros, published in September Hear/Say.
You’re Only As Pretty As You Feel – Caroleen Beatty and Mushroom
Acoustica: Alarm Will Sounds performs Aphex Twin – Alarm Will Sound
Bande Orignale du Film da OUTRE MER – Garage A Trois
Mehenata: New York Gypsymania – various artists
Sun Ra Arkestra and the MC5 at Summerstage, 30 July 2005
Trey Anastasio at Jones Beach Amphitheater, 6 August 2005
Sufjan Stevens at the Bowery Ballroom, 19 August 2005
Seu Jorge at the Bowery Ballroom, 12 September 2005
The Disco Biscuits at Spirit, 13 September 2005
The White Stripes and The Shins at Keyspan Park, 24 September 2005
Paul McCartney at Madison Square Garden, 1 October 2005
Mike Gordon and Leo Kottke at Irving Plaza, 29 October 2005
BRAIN TUBA: Time Passes Slowly
BRAIN TUBA: An Open Letter to Tapers
BRAIN TUBA: Bobology, fall 2005
BRAIN TUBA: Digital Rights Management and Other Digressions
Only in print:
o Rolling Stone #984 (Evangeline Lilly cover): Hot List item, Hot Attempt at Cataloging Everything (p. 92, next to the half-naked hipster chicks).
o Paste #18 (Cameron Crowe cover): album reviews of North Mississippi Allstars and Brian Eno.
o September/October Relix (Santana cover): Only the Pronoid Remain: John Perry Barlow Rides Again; album review of Phish; DVD reviews of Bernie Worrell and Woody Guthrie.
o November Relix (O.A.R. cover): Smoke. Stacks. Lightning: A Librarian Catalogues the Dead; album reviews of Why?, Seu Jorge and Bob Dylan; combined book/DVD review of current Pink Floyd product.
o August Hear/Say: album reviews of John Vanderslice and Son Volt.
o September Hear/Say: album reviews of Steve Kimock and Blues Traveler, book review of Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork.
o October Hear/Say: album reviews of Apollo Sunshine and Iron and Wine/Calexico.
o November Hear/Say: album reviews of Bell Orchestre and the Fiery Furnaces.
The Mountain Goats: Turning the Kleig Lights Around; feature inteview with John Darnielle, published in Paste#16
Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman, published in Paste #17
Illinois – Sufjan Stevens, published in Paste#17
One Step Closer – String Cheese Incident
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_07_07.00.phtml">David Byrne at Central Park, 29 June 2005
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_07_13.00.phtml">Yo La Tengo and Stephen Malkmus at Battery Park, 4 July 2005
The Olivia Tremor Control at the Bowery Ballroom, 2 August 2005
BRAIN TUBA: Sea Change?
In the current Relix (Jerry Garcia cover), only in print: Mike Doughty and the Unsingable Name feature, album reviews of Lake Trout, Erin McKeown, and the Grateful Dead; DVD review of Brian Wilson presents SMiLE; book review of Anthony DeCurtis’s In Other Words
Got a lotta catching up to do.
Picaresque – The Decemberists
Face the Truth – Stephen Malkmus
">Bonnaroo 2004 – various artists
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_05_01.01.phtml">Sun Ra Arkestra and the Dub Trio at the Knitting Factory, 24 April 2005
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_05_05.00.phtml">Bob Dylan at the Beacon Theater, 25 April 2005
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_05_15.01.phtml">Caribou and Four Tet at the Bowery Ballroom, 4 May 2005
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_05_26.01.phtml">Yo La Tengo at Rose Theater, 18 May 2005
http://www.jambands.com/ShowReviews/content_2005_06_30.03.phtml">Derek Trucks Band at Rocks Off Boat Cruise, 22 June 2005
http://www.jambands.com/Columns/JJarnow/content_2005_05_08.00.phtml">BRAIN TUBA: The Catalogue
http://www.jambands.com/Columns/JJarnow/content_2005_06_05.00.phtml">BRAIN TUBA: Black and White Hiss
In the current Paste (Billy Corgan cover), only in print: The Mountain Goats: Turning the Klieg Lights Around, album review of The Stanley Brothers.
In the previous Relix (Trey Anastasio/Robert Randolph/John Butler cover), only in print: album reviews of Mike Doughty and A Hawk and a Hacksaw/Four Tet/Caribou; book reviews of Dave Van Ronk and All Yesterday’s Party: the Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1970
In the current Relix (Jack Johnson cover), only in print: album reviews of Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys, The White Stripes, and Spirit; DVD review of Classic Album Series: The Band; book review of Greil Marcus. (I am also interviewed in Shain Shapiro’s article about message boards.)
In the current Signal To Noise(Four Tet cover), only in print: live review of Sonic Youth; album review of A Hawk and a Hacksaw.
In the current Hear/Say(Vans Warped Tour cover), only in print: album reviews of The Bad Plus and Head of Femur.
Happier in Hoboken, my 20th anniversary Yo La Tengo feature, from Paste (on newsstands now, yo).
BRAIN TUBA: The Clock Ticked, At Times, A Regular Tock
This Feeling’s Called Goodbye by Brothers Past
The Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theater, 21 March 2005
Medeski, Martin, and Wood at Tonic, 7 & 8 March 2005
In the current Signal To Noise (Genesis P-Orridge cover), only in print: album review of Sound Tribe Sector 9.
In the current Tracks (Lucinda Williams cover), only in print: album review of Jack Johnson, and book review of Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason.
In the current Relix (Disco Biscuits cover), only in print: album reviews of Andrew Bird and the Chris Stamey Experience, DVD reviews of Bob Dylan World Tours 1966-1974 and Looking For A Thrill: An Anthology of Inspiration
Finally finished/posted my Hunter S. Thompson rememberence.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. — Raoul Duke
BRAIN TUBA: iTunes A Go Go
Corn Syrup Conspiracy by SeepeopleS
Dick’s Picks, v. 33 by the Grateful Dead
brief reviews of 10 bands
Real Gone by Tom Waits
In the new Tracks (John Lennon cover), only in print: album reviews of Frank Zappa and the North Mississippi All-Stars, and a book review of The Wilco Book.
And, in the new Relix (Gov’t Mule cover), only in print: a live review of Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s, a feature I edited (and wrote chunks of) titled “36 (Studio) Albums By Which To Get Yer Jam On,” album reviews of Pinback, Precious Bryant, and RANA, a DVD review of Vida Blue, and book reviews of Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004 edited by Mickey Hart and Rolling Thunder Logbook by Sam Shepard.
My review of the leaked version of Guero is up on Salon.com.
I s’ppose I’m probably going to hell (or the non-union Scientologist equivalent) for reviewing a leaked album. Consider it a news report on a work-in-progress. Please?
Out of the Aeroplane Into the Sea. My Salon.com debut. A fairly navel-gazin’ stab (ostensibly) at The Decemberists’ Her Majesty, The Decemberists.
A review of Yo La Tengo at Southpaw, 2 September.