Friday, June 29, 2012

Once More, With Loss Of Feeling...

Okay, at the risk of looking for a horse to beat in a glue factory, let's review the facts one last time.

Kill lists, murder by unmanned android, sweeping civilian deaths under a semantic rug, harshest enforcement of the Espionage Act ever, indefinite detention: a handful of "radical" leftists get upset.

Guarantee that citizens needn't go broke or die for want of quality healthcare: half the country loses its goddamn mind.

America: the fuck is you thinking.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Never Say Never

Almost exactly two months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Carl of The Impostume fame in a rank Fukuoka nightclub. He'd been kind enough to come see my band on the last night of our tour - a gig that promised to be, and indeed was, a sweaty madhouse with bodies & beer flying around the room. Not only is Fukuoka our bassist's hometown, but it effortlessly lives up to its reputation as a city of hard-drinking yet unreasonably good-looking shit-kickers.

Stumbling offstage a sweaty & smoke-wreathed mess, I joined Carl at the bar for a lively & lengthy chat that meandered from music to trade deficits and everything in between. Since we'd previously only been acquainted as brothers-in-blogdom, it was inevitable we'd wind up talking about life online and, specifically, how so many amateur bloggers are either turning pro or - more often - unplugging completely. Carl was refreshingly upbeat about this cyber-sea change: he felt that the expanse of online existence was helping crush provincial arrogance and petty indignities. "Once people get off their soapbox and take a breath," he said, "they might see that, actually, reality is far more interesting and varied than they might have thought."


I'm considerably more cynical about what's driving this shift. The thing that upsets me about the ballooning number of abandoned blogs is that so many smart, sharp voices have been steamrolled into silence by the bleating glibness of microblogging, the Book of Face, Pintrest, tumblr, Twitter, et cetera ad nauseum. It's a tl;dr world and a great many writers who refuse to reduce their ideas to bumper-sticker sloganeering have simply thrown in the towel.

Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't good writers to be found in abundance online. There's Mobutu Sese Seko at Gawker, Glenn Greenwals, Paul Krugman, and Adam Curtis, not to mention the whole of Alternet, Counterpunch and - oh yes - Cracked. But every one of those writers is a reliable shake of the left fist, as essential yet dully predictable as the coffee I sip while reading them. The writers unfettered by assignments or editors, writers with rangy & irregular interests who'd frequently delight, sometimes infuriate, and often surprise me - K-Punk, Ads Without Products, Pere Lebrun's Kasper, Owen, and yes of course Carl too - where have they all gone?

But if I'm so interested in keeping the conversation alive, why haven't I posted a damn thing in over two months? Well, because Carl is right. Every time some rant-worthy outrage would arise (Kony 2012, the coup in Mali, Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn, HBO's Girls) I'd promise myself a moment to type some appropriate invective... and then life would intercede in all its fluid, multifarious glory and I'd just never get around to it. Gigs, band practice, playing with new microphones, learning a foreign language, perfecting my Italian sausage soup recipe. Reality is indeed interesting and varied.

So why does it still bother me that I've been so absent online? It has something to do with Hipster Runoff - a website that has rapidly degenerated from a once-amusing, affectedly disaffected pomo think-tank into the bastard of Vice magazine and TMZ. The one qualitative buzzword that HRO seems to fret the most over the most is "relevant," and that is precisely what I am guilty of as well. Social media's hyperacceleration of the nanosecond news-cycle means that, between the time that an event occurs and that I finish doing the laundry, the window for pithy au courant commentary has already closed and what I have to contribute is no longer relevant.

But relevant to whom exactly? Who am I trying to impress? What am I missing that I can't elaborate, examine, and enjoy with my friends, my bandmates, my peers, my wife?

Obviously, I need to get the fuck over myself. I should consider myself lucky that anyone outside of my tight little cohort would find anything I have to say interesting. I should also stop kidding myself that this - spewing bile into chasmic indifference of cyberspace - is a priority. That doesn't mean I'm withdrawing exclusively to meatspace. I'm sure, on occasion, something will be so irresistibly aggravating or exhilarating that I'll be compelled back here. Hell, as long as I'm here, the blog's here. Or it will be until some of that unendingly-threatened legislative napalm is dropped on the internet.

But really now: I turn 30 today. I should at least start to consider growing the fuck up.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Re-Telling Someone Else's Story

The ability to summon Asperger-ish focus upon a task is mixed blessing: on the one hand, I always manage to complete a project to satisfaction by deadline; on the other hand, everything else gets sidelined. The closer I come to completing a mammoth project, the more I become a kind of music-studio Gollum: a wretched, washed-out creature that exists to the outside world only in rumour.

Then comes the happy day that I achieve my goal and can rush outside, arms outstretched to welcome the world back within me. Of course, this time, it was more a case of rushing outside only to jump back into a cargo van and heave away on a month-long national tour - hopscotching from one great undertaking to the next. Not that this is a problem. I love touring Japan, if only because truckstop service area food actually resembles food. But then the coffee's never strong enough. Trade-offs!

Anyway, enjoying a brief breather between jaunts, I figured it was high time I unveil what's had me waylaid for the past month: my new solo album, a collection of genre pieces & "re-scores" inspired by indelible scenes from various films I love.

Over the winter holidays, as per usual, I spent a couple-dozen hours on planes with nothing better to do than drink cheap whiskey and watch eight movies back-to-back. I actually quite enjoyed most of the movies I watched (with the notable exception Drive) yet found myself thinking, more often than not, that I could've composed a better film score. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but it seemed a wager worth taking.

Of course, unless I was content to sit around & wait for my first commission, I'd have to work with pre-existing material. The initial plan was to re-score a entire film from start to finish, but I couldn't imagine who'd want to sit through a whole movie, stripped of dialogue & sound-effects, simply to hear several variations on a single theme. Instead, I selected a handful of films that whose visual content offered a reasonable amount of stylistic leeway - films that didn't scream out for another blustering Holst knock-off or the moronic thrum of bad techno. From each of these films, I chose a scene or two whose mood & pace would benefit from musical support and set about giving it to 'em.

I continued watching movies for fun in my free time. Recently, though, I'd been revisiting the ol' poliziotteschi, those gloriously amoral Italian cop movies from the 1970s that apparently all star either Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli. So naturally, a couple of weeks into the writing process, I began churning out generic themes to the best & bloodiest of Italian B-movies, attempting my best impressions of maestros Morricone, Piccioni, Ferrio, Micalizzi and - as seen below - Cipriani.

In the end, three of these genre pieces landed on the album; the other twelve tracks, however, were are written specifically to picture. It'd be silly, of course, to compose soundtracks whose visual component would go unseen, so I've made a YouTube playlist of the songs synced with their respective scenes for all to enjoy. So... enjoy!

Friday, February 24, 2012


The following has been rephrased, re-presented, and reiterated in a variety of ways, some more scholarly than others, but Frank still said it best: if you're involved with music in any way other than making it, you are the problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Objects Collecting Subjects

Over ye Impostume way, Carl poses a small, concrete question which very quickly balloons into a mammoth, existential one. At the outset, I thought we were basically talking about storage media and instead we may as well be asking ourselves, why listen to music? Or even more broadly, why art?

Those questions are impossible to answer, so Carl does us the service of scaling it down:
...what is the impulse to keep hold of all that non-essential stuff, stuff you are not invested enough in to listen to more than once, yet alone pay for?
Which is still a damned difficult question, if only because I've no idea by what standard we're measuring - how much stuff? Is it non-essential by my own standards, or society's? What about the stuff we have paid for? To understand my trouble in establishing a workable baseline, let's take a look at some of my closest friends and their respective music-consumption habits.
  • One is an amateur noise-maker with a steadfast belief in the shamanic power of music - yet, as a digital Maoist, he listens to music primarily via YouTube. He occasionally buys vinyl records, but he doesn't own a turntable. (The son of an investment banker, he treats records much as speculators treat real estate.)
  • Another is a collector par excellence, who's plowed unfathomable amounts of time & money into every passing storage medium - yes, even MiniDisc - on the off-chance that this format will become the historical default. Consequent to his unyielding compulsion for accumulation, he possesses both an embarrassing assortment of obsolete petroleum-derived media and an unimpeachable record collection.
  • My band's drummer spends his waking life behind either the kit or the wheel. In Japan, every car still comes stocked with yer standard CD player, thus he listens almost exclusively to CDs.
  • Our singer approximates what I imagine is today's average music consumer: functionally computer-literate, he knows a couple of file-sharing sites that he infrequently downloads illicit MP3s from, but he relies by-and-large upon the iTunes store. He came of age during the CD boom, purchased hundreds of the damned things, and is thus uncomfortable with either going digital - divesting himself of physical musical objects - or fully embracing the frail, impermanent, totemic atavism of vinyl.
Of the above, I most closely resemble the collector, but with two heavy caveats: that I could never match his mania, and that I discard or neglect a far greater swath of music. If I may call myself, like him, a collector, I certainly can't call myself an archivist. I don't accumulate for posterity: sure, I love Ghostface, but I'm not going to buy The Pretty Toney Album just to complete the discography.

I'm actually quite vicious in my musical discrimination, to the point that I'm one of those so-called "music nerds" who is somehow ignorant of even the most popular music on the planet. (Lady Gaga? Still haven't heard a full song start-to-finish.) By now, I know my own tastes well enough to know when something isn't even worth investigating; or if an artist, though unimpressive at first, could become a slow-blooming favourite. Of course, over the past forty years, artists have become ever more self-aware and adept at deploying their particular potpourri of signifiers to establish themselves as more brand than band. The sole benefit of music's infection by the marketing brain parasite is that, simply by paying attention, one becomes well-versed in the signs, symbols, satorial choices, tonsorial maneuvers, promotional stratagems, and subcultural propaganda necessary to decide if something may be worth a listen.

The upshot is that the more I know about music, the less I listen to (a paradox I've addressed before). By the time I download a given album, I've pretty well decided that I'll enjoy it - all that remains is the question of how much. This could point to a key difference between me and Carl: whereas he's fairly certain he "could happily live without 80 percent of what I have downloaded over the years," I'm not so sure I could, because everything on my hard drive arrived there as the result of research & deliberation. There's only so much copper in the ground, there's only so much storage on my computer, and I've only so much time to waste upon whimsy & poor consideration.

But even then, is all my digital music essential? Because I own almost all of it on vinyl too. Granted, the acrimony of the collector's market has kept certain albums off my shelf (I'll be damned if I can afford a copy of Rid of Me) but such exceptions are relatively few. Just about every album that's ever "meant" anything to me, I have in physical format - which helps assure that these albums will continue to mean something to me.

Though this carries the stink of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, of course I don't mean my copy of Man Overboard is merely worth the hours spent crate-digging before plucking it out of a bargain bin, plus the ¥500 I paid for it. Records imbue the music they contain with import precisely because of the format's Achilles' heel: its physical fragility. Taking proper care of vinyl can be boring and expensive; handling & playing them so as not to do damage is precarious and prudish. So if I go to the trouble of putting a record on, I damn well want to listen to it, and the act of listening itself becomes center of my attention. The palaver of playing a record also insures that it's unlikely I'll overplay any given album and prostitute whatever mystique it once held.

Music is literally nothing if we don't afford it our time and attention; the ritual around playing a record is a gesture of respect to the music - the sacrifice of our time and attention.

The difficulty is that collecting always takes place in the shadow of the Big Other. At worst, this leads to the establishment-of-self-via-consumption that Carl finds troubling:
...the weight of all that accumulated culture reassures us that we are ourselves substantial, a kind of prosthesis, we must be smart, we must be committed, we must be artistic, or intellectual because the sheer range and diversity of our hard drive, as a kind of concretization of our restless seeking and searching memorializes us to ourselves.
Now, as I explained above, I've no idea how far out of step I am with the general music listening populace, but as a collector I too consider how my collection presents itself - its depth, its diversity, its material condition. But I'm not counting on my collection to buttress my reputation or enhance my cachet: I'm counting on the fact that these records are the only possible means of sharing my own aesthetic epiphanies with another person. I'm well aware of how counterproductive a distraction analog fetishism can be, but at least the lingering spectre of a record's totemic power is far more commanding of attention than an MP3 e-mail attachment or YouTube link.

More importantly, we human are subjects only to ourselves and mere objects to everyone else - noisy, unpredictable, combatative, delightful objects, but objects nonetheless. Some of us are gifted enough to translate our feelings somewhat effectively to other people by some form of vibration: physical, aural, oral, or corporeal. But most of us aren't. Most of us are bloody useless at making ourselves understood. The best hope we have is to find meaning inscribed upon some other, nonhuman object that we can pass to another human, who luckily will read the inscription with the same surprise and passion that we did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Déja-Vu Times Two, Part Deux

Could this little ditty, famously used as a daytime soap theme song...

...have been copied from this Italian thriller score?

It's possible: the first tune, "Cotton's Dream", was included in the score for Bless the Beasts and Children, released in August 1971... four months after the release of Una Farfalla Con Le Ali Insanguinate (a.k.a. The Bloodstained Butterfly). Of course, both of these songs inherited their harmonic spine from "(They Long to Be) Close to You". Originally released as a stiffly-performed single in 1963, Bacharach & David's famous ballad is most commonly remembered by the Carpenters' 1970 iteration, with the piano skipping daintily between the suspended-second & major-seventh chords - a motif extremely similar to that employed by the two tunes above.

But really, the sus2-maj7/min7 vamp is just an easy-listening trope in the same way every that "underground" hip-hop album starts with a B-movie or cartoon sample, you can't write a druggy rock song without the I-IV chord progression ("IV", get it?! So clever, those junkies!), and if it's got a Jew's harp it's a Morricone score.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dead Hear No Eulogies

So Whitney Houston dies and suddenly everyone gives a shit about the foghorn-voiced cokehead who gifted us with the only vocal performance more oppressive than Celine Dion's Titanic theme. How sadly predictable; how pathetically mawkish. Why does everyone rush to recall their Edenic first impression of a once-formidable talent once that person has crashed, burned, and kicked the bucket? Is it the public's way of absolving their own guilt for having used the fallen celebrity as a feeble punchline for the final decade-plus of their life? Despite the fact that some of us had problems - both aesthetic and political - with the woman from the very start?

Please. I really like some of Michael Jackson's records and I still didn't give a shit when he died, for reasons I'll let Kat Williams elaborate upon. Oh, and dig the bonus swipe at the cadaver du jour.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Misplaced Indignation Again?

Am I obliged to comment on M.I.A.'s "finger malfunction" because my most popular post ever - by a factor of over four times its closest competitor - is my 2010 takedown of her pop-provocateur persona? Because, like, I've got shit to do besides rehash two-year-old quarrels of stage-managed mischief.

But fine, let's get into it, if only because it'll be easy. Turning first to the finger itself: really? Really! Have we backslid into such petty puritanism that flipping the bird is cause for a proper conniption fit, as opposed to the single most overused & hackneyed gesture of juvenile waggery that packs all the symbolic punch of overcooked rice noodles? She doesn't even do it well! Look at her hunched shoulders, look at how tightly drawn in her arms are: a meek & defensive posture, like a toddler who's committed to misbehave deliberately just to piss off the parents. Pathetic. This is how you give someone the finger:

Boom! Ain't no equivocatin' when you're telling someone to fuck off.

Now, with regard to M.I.A. as riotous pop shit-kicker, a lame, recycled flip of the middle finger is merely the latest in her continued reliance upon lame, recycled gestures. The chorus of her latest single is a monotone bleat of "Live fast, die young" and it doesn't get more threadbare & depleted than that hoary countercultural trope. Hopefully, M.I.A. has accepted (as most of us have) that she's utterly inept at articulating a political position so we needn't reexamine precisely why her identity-derived political aesthetic is bullshit. Of course, she still covets the currency of being branded a "political artist," but she can shoot every one of her music videos within safe distance of a "conflict region" from now on, and everyone will understand it's empty & opportunistic provocation, like Madonna fornicating with Black Jesus and burning crosses.

Which returns us to the stock defense of M.I.A.: the provocation itself was the point. As I explained before, I'd have no problem with such an excuse - heck, I might even become a fan - if M.I.A. was able to transgress the form or process of "being a pop star," but she isn't. (In fact, no one has been - not even Lady Gaga, I'd argue - since Kurt Cobain.) Because M.I.A.'s transgressions are limited to the realm of content, she is - at the risk of repeating myself - doomed to one of several failures:
  1. The provocation fails to provoke. Congrats, you're boring.
  2. The provocation succeeds, at the expense of banalising the provocative.
  3. The provocation succeeds to the point of returning the threat to the provocateur, who stands by the ever-present escape hatch of "not meaning it."
And if anything is symptomatic of art's sickly & moribund state in the post-modern era, it's an absence of meaning.

Through the Looking Glass

It's amazing how sexy & dynamic the clinical tedium of recording looks when rendered in gorgeous, smoky cyanotype.

It's also amazing how totally unaware I was that my band look like a bunch of fidgety, unshaven chain-smokers. Or that I look uncannily like Dez Cadena circa 1983.

Anyway, for those of you who happen to be in Japan this coming March & April, we'll be touring behind the split single featured above. Come check out one of the shows. You shan't be disappointed.