Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some Quickly Jotted Notes On Songs Selected from iTunes Shuffle Play

First up, it’s…

Air: Not the French band, mind you, but the improvising jazz trio, Air and their tune, Keep on Playing Right Through the Mirror Over the Water- which kinda sounds like the title to a lost Genesis cut, circa 1973. But there’s no Tony Banks here, no sir. At best, this kind of free form improvisation acts like dental floss for my mind, getting into and between all the nooks and coral crannies to clear out unwanted sonic detritus like, say, that cheesy refrain in Outkast’s The Way You Move, which I don’t really like but can’t get out of my head. This music also affects me a hell of a lot more live. It feels slightly neutered here at my desk. And it makes me nostalgic for Chicago’s Velvet Lounge or the Empty Bottle.

(Note: I’m a big fan of the iTunes crossfade playback option, which allows you to fade out a song as the next fades in. This makes way for some inspired moments of one-song-into-another flow.)

Suzanne Vega’s Undertow: It’s December 1986, at least I think that’s when I first recorded Vega’s debut, which is incredibly evocative of that time in my life. I’m surprised by just how many of the lyrics I still remember. This was on constant rotation then, and it lost my ears sometime in the early 90’s. It’s really nice to be hearing it again, even if the 80’s production glaze dates things a bit.

Follow that up with Altern 8’s (“the cheapskate KLF”) Move My Body! Ha!! Mid-80’s Greenwich Village folk into ‘ardkore ’92 rave! But let’s not forget DNA’s version of Tom’s Diner, right? I DJ’d a house party in Athens, Ohio (Ohio University) in the Autumn of ’93 and I remember Move My Body getting a great response. The kids loved it! It might have been the first time I ever DJ’d. I was in heaven. In every music junkie there’s a DJ trying to claw his or her way out. Some dude who owned a club in Athens even gave me his card (I wasn’t that good, but it was Athens, not exactly a hotbed of second wave rave music). It’s that killer breakbeat and the swirling ecstasy of the infamous ‘mentasm’ sound that does it for this song- “like a swarm of bees.” Pure sugar rush, this one.

Sinking, The Cure. Oh, how I once flirted with the gothic romanticism of the death rocker fashion aesthetic! I was far from the inner circle of the Smith inspired wind-swept hair teases, black finger nail polish and dabbing myself with patchouli, but I did dye my hair black and proudly wore my Doc Martins. (I still wear Docs- they may very well be the most durable shoes around…and practical, too!) but I’ve always had too much of the suburban preppie in me (what marketers now refer to as “metrosexual”) and back then my fashion sensibilities were equally informed by hippies and ravers- this meant colors other then black had to be introduced into my wardrobe. What a mélange! But I could (and still can) wallow in Robert Smith’s pathos for hours. That run of Head on the Door, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration (and I still have soft spots for Boys Don’t Cry and Pornography) –such a perfect combination of Technicolor pop and histrionic gloom.

(Quick aside: Another album, to go along with those I wrote about missing in my previous post, Leo Kottke’s My Father’s Face. My introduction to the man and his guitar…heard again today for the first time in almost a decade!)

Brand New Friend, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions: I can’t stress just how much Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ first album, Rattlesnakes, meant to me. It was one of the first “College Alternative” albums I ever owned, and probably did more to influence my late-80s music listening habits then any other. My brother, Randy, went away to college in the Autumn of 1985 and came home with a tape of it for me. I remember he gave me the follow-up, Two-Easy Pieces, from which this great song comes from. The creamy crooning backing vocals are particularly irresistible- and such lovely strings…is it Anne Dudley on string arrangements again? The outro is simply perfect. Why is this album out of print? Are there any Lloyd Cole solo albums worth buying? Is he still listening to Arthur Lee records and making all his friends feel guilty about their cynicism…and the rest of their generation?

Contempt, The Books: The second song from their dynamite debut, Thought for Food. Great music meshed with a hilarious reenactment of the famous opening scene from Goddard’s film, Contempt (hence the name) wherein the studio demanded that the director offer up more Bardot cheesecake. Obligingly, he did, volunteering her derriere as she interrogated the object of her attention with dry questions like, “Do you like my legs? What about my ankles, do you like them? Do you like all of me, my eyes…my nose?” “Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another, “ as John Berger wrote in his Ways of Seeing. In the film, it’s the first gesture of contempt.

Take It or Leave It, The RollingStones: Very unfamiliar with the track. I like the spacious quality of the production. Nice enough as it is, though a bit on the slight side of things, eh?

Certainly, Erykah Badu: Had always thought this debut would be cheesier then it actually turns out to be. In fact, it’s anything but. It’s silky, sexy and filled with feathery, soulful grooves. Should have known. I love Mama’s Gun- huge fan of it. What little I’ve heard of the new one, Worldwide Underground, sounds great. Neo-soulrrific!

Prisoner of the Highway, the Coctails: The iTunes crossfade flow really worked splendidly between these two songs- I thought the Badu song was still fading out but Prisoner of the Highway had already been playing for 20 or so seconds. That’s the crossfade action I’m talkin’ about! We’re so easily delighted these days. I like this album quite a bit…it’s so mischievously innocent. Perfect North-Side Chicago bar music. Give me a couple pints and this music would sound positively revelatory. (Well, come to think of it, most would!) I like it most when I can hear Archer Prewitt’s guitar gesturing toward the greatness that would come to such stunningly gorgeous fruition in The Sea and Cake.

Contort Yourself, The Contortionist: From the always dependable Soul Jazz Records. It’s a hot thang right now…the post-punk sound…and why not? It puts My Life in A Bush Full of Ghosts into perfect late 80's post-punk/New York perspective for me- the scene it came out of. All that “angular” guitar, those quick splashes of squirty sound, the frantic drumming. Everywhere, little splashes of, hey, contorted rhythm. It’s all herky-jerky-David Byrne-drowning-in-the-big-suit-and-flopping-around. Brian Eno’s in there, too. Not the suit, the sound.

Intermission, The Coctails: Again. This is kitschy! Yes, it’s not bad at all, even better after a couple pints. This is cartoon music, isn’t it? Doesn’t Archer Prewitt have his own comic? Oh, now it all makes sense. I feel like a cartoon when I listen to it. There are thought bubbles above my head. Look out, ya’ll!

Gunning for the Buddha! Shriekback. This was their Alterna-hit, played by college DJ’s on those low powered left-of-the-dial FM frequencies…. Synth steel drums, or the real thing? If I remember correctly, the liner notes for the album included hilariously penned descriptions of every instrument played in each song. Did they have steel drum samples on synths back in the late 80’s? Break out the tiki torches, it’s backyard barbecue music. It all crashed and burned after this one. Remember that awful cover of Get Down Tonight?

Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation, Funkadelic: …Bernie Worell! Glurpy syths galore! Hands down, the best title of any of the songs played over the past hour!

Dominator, Human Resource…this is the Frank DeWulf version (he of the famous Acid Rock single, an early entry in the Belgium New Beat scene that began with big chugging keyboard riffs of Smoke on the Water). There was a remix CD of this song, right…I think my friend Mike Kraus might still have a copy…with like 10 remixes of this song, right? Insane! Easily the most popular song to ever use the mentasm sound mentioned earlier. When is the mentasm sound going to have its revival?

The Coctails win! Three tracks pulled from over 600! All in a hours time. Cakewalk, this time, from Early Hi-Ball years. It’s really deceptively simple, isn’t it? If you listen closely enough you can hear the cartoon cars zooming down Ashland.

Ooogum Boogum Song, Brenton Wood: I do so love the sweet soul music. Almost never fails to sooth me. First time I’ve ever heard this song and it’s entirely, outrageously, wondrously pleasing. A sweet little snare groove, a charming lead vocal and some nicely placed rhythm guitar. “You got soul! You got too much soul!”

That’s enough, I’m exhausted. Is it time to eat yet?

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I’m Standing Exactly Where I’m Supposed To Be
The feeling, and it’s been with me for a few weeks now, is that I’m exactly where I should have been two years ago in November. For the past few months I’ve been volunteering every morning in a Berkeley elementary special education classroom for children with mild to moderate disabilities. Additionally, most of my afternoons are spent interning at a youth development organization in Alameda, working with a group of teenagers to get a languishing sound recording studio up and running again. I doubt if I've given half as much to either of these two endeavors as they've given to me.

There are very good (albeit entirely unfortunate) reasons as to why it’s taken me so long to get here. I wouldn’t wish what I’ve gone through over the last couple years on anybody. The best analogy I can think of is to imagine being in that archetypal tunnel whose terminus, at best, offers light and, at worse, holds only promises unfulfilled. I've caught flickers of that light from time to time, in interviews that went well or during those times when I felt giddy with possibility and potential. I was ready to turn off the headlights and join my peers in doing work that was going to have an impact, however subtle, dozens of times. I have craved the discipline that work imposes, the social validity it offers and, most importantly, the self-sufficiency it allows. With the internship and volunteering, I have the first two covered. Monetary compensation is the last piece of the puzzle.

This isn’t ideal, where I’m at right now, but it’s something, a small victory against odds that have only been there in part. I shouldn’t downplay it either. It’s, in all honesty, a tremendous step in the right direction. If that fucking light isn’t going to come to me, I’ll go to it.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Musique Non Stop II

Many thanks to Joe for feeding the need!
Creamy Buttered Num-Nums
As some of you are already aware, I happen to be married to one of the Bay Area’s premier culinary adventurists. Over the years she’s honed and perfected her gastronomic craft through the chopping, spicing, splicing, squishing, rolling, stirring, spicing, assimilating, mixing, frying and baking of foods that do more then just fill bellies- they create happiness.

Which brings us to dinner the other night. With the help of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking, and Shehzad Husain’s Vegetarian Indian, Cathy, making liberal use of numerous pots and pans, prepared a regalement of Indian dishes. They included Bombay style chicken with red split lentils, creamy buttered saag panir (of course she made the panir cheese!) and fried lentil wafers. Do I even have to mention that it was amazing?

Next up, Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Musique Non Stop

Some albums I used to have on tape, but never got around to buying on CD, that I am currently craving to hear again:

Love and Rockets: Express and Earth*Sun*Moon
Siouxsie and the Banshees: Hyaena, Tinderbox and Through the Looking Glass
Lloyd Cold and the Commotions: Two Easy Pieces
OMD: Crush and Junk Culture
The Pet Shop Boys: Actually and Introspective
The Replacements: Tim and Pleased to Meet Me
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow (oh, and I really miss some of the songs on Morrissey’s Viva Hate, like Everyday is Like Sunday and Late Night Maudlin Street.)
Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Abacab
Shriekback: Big Night Music
Suzanne Vega: her debut, especially Cracking and Solitude Standing
Laurie Anderson: Big Science and United States I-IV
Book of Love’s debut (especially Modigliani, You Make Me Feel So Good and Boy)
Depeche Mode: Black Celebration and Violater
This Mortal Coil: Filigree and Shadow (It’ll End In Tears, however, is one of the last things I still have on tape!)
Shelleyan Orphan: Century Flower
Virginia Ashly: Hope in a Darkened Heart (Quite possibly the best album I ever checked out from the Bay Village public library).
The Pogues: If I Should Fall From Grace With God (especially for Fairytale of New York).
The Cure: Head on the Door and maybe Pornography…oh, the B-Sides from Staring at the Sea: The Singles…that, too.
Psychedlic Furs: Talk Talk Talk (Richard Butler has one of the greatest voices in rock, does he not?)
Echo and the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain
The Chruch: Heyday
Dead Can Dance: The Serpent’s Egg (especially for Ulysses)
It’s Immaterial: just for their song, Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)
Peter Gabriel B-Sides- Shosholoza, Curtains, Don’t Break This Rhythm and especially the studio extended mix of In Your Eyes
XTC: Skylarking
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra and Stratosfear
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands
The Pixies: Bossanova
Paul Simon: Graceland

Probably lot’s more that I’m forgetting…
fey, adj.

I was particularly delighted by Dorothy Burnham's realization of the word. I ran across this while looking it up in the Sherlock dictionary earlier tonight.

a. Having or displaying an otherworldly, magical, or fairylike aspect or quality: “She's got that fey look as though she's had breakfast with a leprechaun” (Dorothy Burnham).
b. Having visionary power; clairvoyant.
c. Appearing touched or crazy, as if under a spell.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Junior Boys

I’m really loving Junior’s Boys Last Exit. Give it a listen here. Taps into vain of synth-pop nostalgia I can’t quite peg yet. The best I can come up with is OMD’s Souvenir and maybe David Sylvian circa Secrets of the Beehive. A dry, soft croon bathed in even softer billows of sonic breeze and all resting atop a pillow of dubbed rhythms that would do King Tubby proud. And that bass! It might be what, in the end, carries this song over into classic territory. It’s that sumptuously thick analogue bass Derrick May made so famous on his classic techno track, Nude Photo, only here it’s brought way out front in the mix, tightly clipped and shorn of anything but the silkiest groove.

Fennesz’s remix is definitely worth listening to as well. It, too, is a classic, completely overhauled but still evocative of the original and maybe even better. The billows are granulated, the bass made a cavernous thud and the vocals outlined in tin. A burst of guitar (which has been quietly residing in the background all along) rises to the front of the mix about 2 minutes in and blossoms into a wall of feedback that quite simply rocks. It’s perhaps de rigueur (let alone banal) to compare such glorious walls of guitar feedback to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, but if anybody has done more over the last few years to take up where Kevin Shield’s left off in continuing the exploration of the near endless possibilities and rewards of processing the shit out of guitars, it’s been Christian Fennesz. My favorite moment comes around the 3 and a half minute mark, when another burst of guitar feedback heralds the introduction of an accoustic guitar strum that turns the song into an anthem. It's like the sun shining through an unexpected, fleeting opening in a thick settlement of November cloud.
Brontosaurus Collapsing

PBS aired Howard Hawk’s great screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby this past Saturday evening, which I happily watched for the second time. The film, originally released in 1938, was a box office dud. Since then, however, it’s gone on to claim the honor of being one of the greatest American comedy films ever made. I’d stand beside that claim as well.

Misunderstandings pile on misunderstandings, lies atop of lies, conniving undermines conniving, shenanigans overwhelm shenanigans and by film’s end, a one ring circus has blossomed into three and everybody’s become a clown. The final act of Bringing Up Baby, when all plot lines and characters fortuitously end up in a local jailhouse, is easily one of greatest and most delirious half hours of comedy ever put onto film. Everything comes to a gloriously outlandish head. It’s dizzy with the pop and fizzle of its silliness. The film, fun enough up to this point (it’s always a joy to watch Cary Grant’s suave vaudeville honed acrobatics- slipping on olives, tripping over curbs, sliding down hills…the man was a genius) shifts up into slaphappy overdrive and you can’t help but be overwhelmed by its manic glee. It’s immensely clever, with witty, ricocheting dialogue that couples and radiates the mirthful with the austere and the ludicrous with the droll.

How else to end such hilarity but with the skeleton of a Brontosaurus collapsing under the weight of Katherine Hepburn?