Sunday, December 25, 2005

Mry. XMas, Y'all

Not Santa Claus by a long shot

Okay, so first off, I owe you all (All? Who reads this anyway?) an apology for my lengthy absence. I moved apartments in mid-November and was immediately beset upon by the dual-headed beast of Bureaucracy and Language Barrier. Thus, I haven't actually had regular internet access for the past six weeks. How did I survive, you ask? Just barely, I'm sure.

At any rate, 'Tis the Season, and so as I regain my sea legs surfing the web, may I offer you this little ditty, a cautionary tale wrapped up in holiday cheer, from my (and others') perennial favourites, The Fall.

No XMas For John Quays - The Fall (Peel Session, broadcast June 12, 1978)

I'll be back later this week with a few selections from my favourite releases of the past year - which, not coincidentally, the Fall's Complete Peel Sessions boxset topped. Granted, such an incredible document of a band's incessant evolution would have been my pick o' the litter any year, but this year it was barely a contest. I'll wait until my End Of Year post before I leap on my soapbox about everything that went wrong this year in music, but for a snapshot of how far from Hip I am these days, compare my personal picks for the year with the Tiny Mix Tapes collective list of Top 25 Albums.

Notice that the two lists share ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in common.

But as I reel from reverse culture shock at my in-laws' in Baltimore this holiday season, let's not forget that it takes different strokes and in the end, it's all just music. I raise a glass of eggnog to ye where ever ye be. Happy Holidays.

(By the way, though my taste is, uh, underrepresented on the TMT collective list, I managed to rant my way thrice onto the Eureka List for underappreciated underground albums that were released this year. Take a gander. Enjoy.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

I Can't Believe This Is How I Spend My Time

College Radio DJ

You scored a 133 Music IQ
You know your shit. You could easily have that widweek, 2am college radio timeslot. I would still sucker-punch you if you caved-in and took any Rilo Kiley requests, though.

How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 84%

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Losing My Edge, Pt. 2: Microcosm

Tabuchi Hisako (R): "Oh, stop whining and grow some balls, Mukai."

As disillusioning as a larger cultural disconnect may be, nothing hurts like a favourite artist falling off. This has happened to anyone who has ever loved music: that rueful day when repeated spins of So-And-So's new album failed to reveal the genius behind past achievements.

So it is with Shutoku Mukai. The indie-rock experimentalist first rose to notoriety with the late, great Number Girl. I've raved about Fukuoka's finest at length, and with good reason: they packed the hardest punch this side of Drive Like Jehu while boasting smarter songwriting than any of their post-hardcore peers. Allow me to present Exhibit A, from their stunning major-label debut School Girl Distortional Addict:

Pixie Du - Number Girl

The title says it all: quirkily catchy college rock delivered with meteoric force. But all relationships end one of two ways - death or bust. After four albums and seven years, Number Girl splintered in several directions. Bassist Kentaro Nakao pursued a quixotic solo career, guitarist Tabuchi Hisako joined punk powerhouse bloodthirsty butchers, and drummer Ahito Inazawa (briefly) enlisted in Mukai's new endeavor, Zazen Boys. While Number Girl had cracked the confines of rote indie-rock, Zazen Boys offered Mukai a chance to indulge all of his musical whimsy. "In Number Girl, we always had certain boundaries as a rock band," he explained to the Japan Times. "There was just no way that we could mess with something like Prince. With Zazen Boys, I feel that I can experiment."

Quiet Sleep Stick - Zazen Boys

And experiment he does. "Quiet Sleep Stick" gives a glimpse of Zazen Boys' grab-bag eclecticism: stutter-start rhythms, caffeinated wannabe-Beat vocals, and expanded instrumentation push the band towards the proggy realm of rock intellectuals like King Crimson. Note that I said "push towards," not "push into." Mukai & Co. can capture neither the narrative melodrama and behemoth majesty of In the Wake of Poseidon, nor the dark dizziness of Crimson's technical pinnacle, Discipline. Instead, it sounds like Steely Dan mastered in "Volcanic" mode minus the AM Gold melodies. Mukai dresses the music to impress, but emasculates it in the process.

You Make Me Feel So Bad - Zazen Boys

Solitary songwriter though he may be, "You Make Me Feel So Bad" demonstrates how Number Girl's strength lay as much in performance as composition. The song opens on a serrated riff that recalls the punk noir of Public Image Ltd. or Number Girl's own Sappukei... and proceeds to go nowhere for three minutes. Had this been a real Number Girl track, Hisako's fiery fretwork and Ahito's machinegun drumming would have blown the song stratospheric about thirty seconds in. Instead, we're treated to a faux-soul falsetto that even Beck abandoned and one of the most pusillanimous guitar solos since your high school band. As predictable as the soft/LOUD dynamic may be, it's preferable to a song as flatlined as this. So much for the man who once ruled via volume alone.

Wanderlust - Toddle

So now we turn to Toddle, Tabuchi Hisako's post-Number Girl project. After three years of taking a backseat to bloodthirsty butchers, the quartet dropped their debut, I Dedicate D Chord, a couple of months ago. That it bests the whole bloodthirsty butchers catalogue is no suprise; Hisako has always been a more imaginative player than Yoshimura Hideki. But Toddle makes me think Number Girl was more matriarchal than only in name: Mukai may be male, but it sounds like Hisako's the one with the balls. There's more insouciant energy and slash-and-burn intensity packed into I Dedicate D Chord's thirty-nine minutes than in both Zazen Boys albums. Granted, Toddle's songs are several shades sunnier than her old bandmate's, but it's hard for Hisako to hide how much fun she's having. Toddle are superbly prepared to play the Breeders to Number Girl's (very self conscious) Pixies.

Hey, maybe with a little luck, in ten years, Mukai will pull his head out of his ass and we'll get a reunion, too.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mending the Breach

Blame - Soul Coughing

I owe this to Courtney. Over four months ago, she tagged me for a meme, entitled "5 Things". In my state of eternal awareness, I completely missed the memo and never fulfilled my duty. Today, I make reparations.

Ten Years Ago: I was in eighth grade. Nine Inch Nails were my favourite band and I had hair halfway down my back. I was, by all accounts, happy.

Five Years Ago: I was back in Baltimore after a summer spent helping my family move to Halifax. Mr. Bungle was my favourite band, my roommate was brilliant and funny, and I was working as a tour manager. I was, by most accounts, happy.

One Year Ago: Still in Baltimore, turnover had made me the senior staff member at a record store after only nine months. My Bloody Valentine were my obsession du jour, I hadn't had a haircut in six months, and my wife was looking for a job in Japan. I was, in the most illusory of senses, happy.

Five Yummy Things:
Dark chocolate
Spicy tuna maki
Sponge cake
Shabu shabu
My homemade chili

Five Songs I Know By Heart:
"Cigarette Girl From the Future" by Beauty Pill
"The Passenger" by Iggy Pop
"Cut Your Hair" by Pavement
"Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond
"St. Louise Is Listening" by Soul Coughing

Five Things I Would Do With a Lot of Money:
Donate a huge wack of it to the Red Cross
Buy a house just so I could have a soundproof room for my work
Buy this guitar
Spend a year girdling the globe with Th' Wife
Stop worrying

Five Places I Would Love to Escape To:
Canada (cross-country road trip... again)
Northern France
Somewhere in England
Cold Lake, Alberta, circa 1988

Five Things I Would Never Wear:
A hemp necklace
A white belt
Custom-made hipster gear
Angular glasses frames
Anything that cost me more than a CD

Five Favourite TV Shows:
The Simpsons
Matthew's Best Hit TV
Whatever Japanese game show is on
...uh, that's it. I don't watch a lot of TV.

Five Things I Enjoy Doing:
Finishing writing a song
Finding a band that genuinely qualifies as different
Reading social & political commentary
Resigning myself to panic as a means of motivation
Having breakfast on weekends with my wife

Five Favourite Toys:
My computer
My guitar
My little orange monster
My obstinately obsolete portable CD player
My larynx

Et ca suffcit pour maintenant. Since I try my best to steer clear of the self-indulgence inherent in this format, I will refrain from tagging anyone else. But this is the least I can do for Courtney.

Also, check out the collective forum of musical ponderance known as Musical Chairs. They've always got something fun on the table.

Postscript:: I'd also like to dedicate the song posted above ("Blame" by Soul Coughing) to the Bush Administration and their Neocon kindred. You reap what you sow, you degenerates.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Respect Is Due

Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead - Mr. Bungle

An Open Letter to Status Ain't Hood:

This kind of conversation always starts with a confession of sin. First, please excuse my tardy reply to the post in question; I was caught in traffic in Hanoi at the time. Second, I'll admit to having taken a cheap shot or two at you in the past, and yes, your blog does not so much inform as remind me of all the bullshit in the American underground that I'm glad to have escaped. I do not mean to reduce your writing to aversion therapy. That's just how it serves me.

And I'll confess that I think southern hip-hop is some of the dumbest, irredeemably retarded music on the planet. (Don't think it's a genre thing, it's a Lowest Common Denominator thing: I think hardcore punk is analogously atavistic.) I also will say that, in late August, a friend and I guessed that you would be the Pitchfork writer who would review Cage's Hell's Winter, and that you would give it exactly an 8.3 out of a confused combination of indie-hop snobbery, collegiate overanalysis, and half-hearted wagon-hitching.

But I give credit when it`s due, my friend, and you will forever hold a place in my heart as Really Tall Guy who used to frequent the record store where I worked in Charles Village. And so, given that you seem to be the ONLY other music geek on the planet who openly criticizes Animal Collective, I salute you!

My heart swelled with joy as I read your dissection of their amoebic mass of echoing, mealy-mouthed, flaccid folk-rock. Finally, a kindred spirit unbowed by an excessive amount of reverb and delay! Someone else who says, "So what?", to facile chord changes and druggy Mother Goose imagery! Right on, fuck that! I understand that the hippie-cum-hipster schtick is a pastoral take on K Records' reactionary anti-machismo. But honestly, escapism has never sat well with me because it's willfully ignorant and solipsistic. I've always preferred bands who wanted to be my life than my fantasy.

At one point, you note that the Animal Collective guys didn't participate in Baltimore's ever-churning underground. "It was more about the back porch," claims Dave Portner. Okay, full disclosure: I went to high school with three of these four guys. It was a wealthy private school in a white suburb, hermetically protected from the more muddled culture of Baltimore City by a hundred acre wood. I was one of the school's charity cases and graduated with an unrepentent loathing for the rich. If Misters Portner, Weitz, Dibb, and Lennox relish the rural life, it's because they want to return to the womb of student life in a tree-sheltered prep school; it's because they can't confront the incoming crowds and chaos of daily life among other people. (They admit as much in their recent City Paper interview.) In high school, time spent away from the city was not out of preference for something as quaint and quietly reflective as "the back porch". It was because most of these spoiled brats were honestly afraid to enter a city inhabited by blacks and the working class.

Lest I be slapped with a libel suit, I am not asserting that the men of Le Collective Animale are scared of black people. But they did grow up in an environment that was stiflingly insular and naval-gazing. (One of "progressive" education's worse points is that it fosters the false notion that We Are All Special.) And so, dear Tom, there is a damn good reason you feel estranged from this music: it was born estranged from you and everyone else.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Losing My Edge, Pt. 1: Macrocosm

Top: Old Hotness the Fall; Above: New & Busted Art Brut

Tuning out is a side effect of living in a country whose language you don't speak. Since moving to Tokyo, I've become estranged from pop culture. The last movie I saw in theatres was The Life Aquatic; the last CD I purchased was Fantomas' Suspended Animation, an album well-known only to readers of the obtuse monthly tome The Wire. I now engage the entertainment industry the way parents do via their teenage children: from a distance, with a mix of bemusement and slight disgust at the parade of misguided attention-seekers. It's mildly entertaining but hardly worth investing much time or energy in.

And I'm not even out of my early twenties. Why bitch and moan as though I'm already old and grey? Why come down on what the kids are doing? Why regard the slang-slathered blatherings of musical otaku with the same mix of pity and piss-take that Triumph regards Star Wars fans?

Because it's bullshit, man. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the music industry/indie-stry is enjoying some new synergystic convergence of creative capacities when in fact it's mediocre pablum that offers nothing but a Pro Tooled repackaging of older (and better) ideas. Entrance is minstrelsy in Syd Barrett's chiffon scarf, Charles Manson beat Devendra Banhart to the punch by almost forty years, why listen to Louis XIV if you already own Electric Warrior, every band that's awarded above an 8.5 by Pitchfork qualifies as a Talking Heads tribute act, and don't even get me started on the ersatz twee escapism of fucking Animal Collective.

Now, I'm not didactic or conservative enough to believe there is no worthwhile music being made these days. Nonsense! But more often than not, the modern music that I get genuinely excited about is not what is being ushered into the cannon by the rest of society, mainstream or otherwise.

So I'm left railing against pretenders to the throne who steal the sounds of superior bands who I was too young to enjoy the first time around. Let us examine, for example, Art Brut:

18,000 Lira - Art Brut

Here's a band that has garnered the attention of the Underground Party organs with their recent debut, Bang Bang Rock 'N' Roll. The London band specializes in the spartan, snotty rock birthed by 1970s proto-punk bands like the Modern Lovers. Come to think of it, this sounds identical to the Modern Lovers. But then, that'd be asking too much that a band who gallingly call themselves "Outsider Art" to be, uh, not derivative, eh?

But it's not bad music. Bang Bang Rock 'N' Roll lives up to its name as a solid, unadorned, wham-bam-thank-you-Ma'am album; the proof is in songs like the minute-long romp of "18,000 Lira". A panicked narrative about a botched bank job, it's clever without being smart, but I can't help but notice the guitar riff's resemblence to a much older song:

Mere Pseud. Mag Ed. - The Fall

Backed by a dual-drummer batterie and Beefheart-class guitar butchery, Mark E. Smith unleashes one of his most scathing social critiques, perfectly skewering the press poseurs who cast themselves as prophets of the music world. A classic track from a classic album, the song kicks and flails so fiercely that it threatens to unravel at any moment, and yet the band never loses its locked step. This is true Raw Art, all the more impressive when considering the cultural climate at the time.

Lest this plummet into too much pining for post-punk, let's check back in with the Fall a full twenty-one years later when they excavated the song during a Peel Session:

Mere Pseud. Mag Ed. (Peel Session, March 13 2003) - The Fall

And the prosecution rests. To this day, Smith & Co. play with a rancor and conviction that makes other bands twenty years younger than Smith sound like self-indulgent exercises in irony and nostalgia. It's not a new offense for a band to build a career by aping the Greats of Days Gone By, but that's just a bad idea when said Greats are alive and kicking, showing these weak little whippersnappers how it's done. I doubt anyone ever suspected that the Fall would one day have members younger than the group itself, but why stop when all the young dudes have failed to render Old Man Smith obsolete?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Haters - Mu

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Or perhaps I'm just sick of white twentysomethings co-opting a craze that sprang from a source they wouldn't be caught dead in. I'm taking bets right now on how high the medical bill would be for any white-belted W.A.S.P. who actually tried getting down in a REAL Baltimore Club joint.

But regardless, a quick note to all the bloggers who are currently grinding on Baltimore Club's jock: name-dropping Rod Lee like you know something about B-More Club is equivalent to name-dropping Fugazi like you know something about harDCore. Give it a rest.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Oh! The places I go!

"Roam the World" - The Billy Nayer Show

So th' Wife and I are off to the sporadically sunny climes and French Colonial-styled chaos of Hanoi for the next while, not that the two of you who actually read this claptrap will notice a lack of new posts. I promise to be better about regular updates in the future. In the meantime, please enjoy the Official Theme Song of me 'n' my better half, a raucous and reckless little ditty by the most appallingly underappreciated band from NYC, the Billy Nayer Show (of The American Astronaut fame). I've posted on them before, but a mention on a music blog does not stem the seemingly endless stream of evocative, smirkingly emotional, instrumentally inventive, topically scattershot and surreal songs from this band of renaissance men. This tune is from their 2004 ode to bonin', Rabbit.

Et maintenant, je m'en vais. Peace out.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Who are the Brain Police?

If you don't recognize this picture, go Google "HUAC"

Submitted for your approval and to stoke your paranoia...

"A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid's A Dead Kid"
By the Nation of Ulysses

I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but Aaron Swartz did the research on some deja vu he experienced while watching Bill O'Reilly and produced this: a side-by-side comparison of chillingly similar quotes from Sen. Joe McCarthy and O'Reilly. It's a simple subsitution cipher - swap the word "communist" with "terrorist" and voila! Double-digit IQs are quaking in their boots across the country, dreading the treasonous dogs gnawing at their nation's soul.

Which raises the question of who is more morally despicable: the fearmonger who engaged in a witchhunt out of political ambition, or the disseminator of disinformation who does so becomes it earns him big bucks in the ratings game?


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It's official: Bono = Fucker

He's come here to play Jesus...

"I Hate U2" (Spoken Word) - Henry Rollins

Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I've maintained that Paul "Bono" Hewson is an arrogant huckster, a phony, a walking sack of histrionic bullshit. I am not alone in this assessment, either: Henry Rollins, Negativland, and even the occassional pundit have taken their swipes at the flag-waving frontman. The reasons for bashing Bono are as varied as the bashers themselves. For some, the music alone is enough of an affront. For others, it's those bloody sunglasses. (A friend once ranted for fifteen minutes about how Bono addressed the United Nations in a leather jacket and shades, while every other human being - war criminals included - has the decency to put on a suit.)

Personally, I've always abhorred show-boating, but more importantly, I distrust the sincerity of Bono's concern with the Third World. To begin with that classic criticism of political celebrities, what are his qualifications? A rock star since the underripe age of nineteen, Bono has never had to deal directly with the delicate balance of economics. (Nor should he be trusted to manage finances, as demonstrated by U2's 1998 PopMart tour, the Titanic of stadium tours.) Now, if Mick Jagger wanted to talk Third World Debt Relief, I'd listen up, because the man's got a degree from the London School of Economics. But Bono?

It should come as no surprise, then, that Bono is so desperately concerned with those less fortunate than himself. To be as filthy rich as he has as long as he has, and to be as dyed-in-the-wool Catholic as he has always been... now that'll produce a burden of self-loathing and guilt that dwarfs the weight on Atlas' shoulders. It makes sense that Mr. Hewson literally crawls on his hands and knees for his fans' affection, or that he would want to pull up the people to mitigate his guilt.

For the record, Chris Martin comes from a similar background.

So what's wrong with a visible public figure drawing attention to a noble cause? Well, what good does it do to engage in hollow sloganeering and opportunist photo-ops without, oh, I don't know, putting your money where your mouth is? To this day, Bono has yet to donate to debt relief or other Third World aid. But at the root of it all is my severe distrust of the Catholic church.

And here's where we draw open the curtain on Bono's soul.

What do a fascistic, homophobic, poor-bashing U.S. senator and Bono have in common? Their faith. And apparently, that's all it took for Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum to convince U2 to perform at a $1000/seat fundraiser for his reelection campaign.

I understand that, as an activist, it's occassionally necessary to shake a dirty hand; that's why I never begrudged Bono's personal meetings with conservative lawmakers. But to play a private event for a man who would criminalize a lifestyle, marginalize whole other portions of the population, and actively fuck over the very people Bono claims to care so deeply about is indefensible and unconscionable. I hate to say "I told you so", but...

Okay, I don't hate to say "I told you so." Feast on the comeuppance, you fools. I told you so. Fuck Bono.

UPDATE:: Okay, so Santorum stretched the truth; Bono does NOT actively endorse the senator. It turns out that Santorum's $1000/seat fundraiser is limited to a skybox at an upcoming U2 concert. That being said, all my other criticism of Bono still holds true. Ibid: fuck that guy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Anonymous File Swap Equals Punk'd!

Woops, this is that OTHER public-embarrassment-prone bleached blonde

Okay, what the hell? Who sent this to me? Why in god's name did someone send me three leaked Britney Spears songs? How old are they? How did they get leaked? Why should I care?

Come forth, silent rogue, and receive thy punishment like a man!

I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if I'm expecting a Clydesdale and get a hand-me-down burro from Tijuana, I'm going to be a little upset. Now, there are plenty of pop-positive MP3 blogs that would love sample these songs and wax poetic about whether or not "Chaotic" is a worthy sequel to "Toxic"; this is no such site. This kind of quantized and computer-corrected claptrap insults my intelligence. Sorry, but I don't dance either, so any pituitarily-driven joy I might derive from these songs is null and void.

The songs pick up where Mrs. Federline's last singles left off: breathing reedily over some post-Neptunes beats, surfing on sawtooth-synth basslines with the occassional Destiny's Child-esque orchestral melodrama. At least the production on "Over To You Now" isn't run-of-the-mill. It actually sounds like decaffeinated J-Pop, with the same wet-slap kick and laser-cannon sounds blasting over the P.A. in any Pachinko parlour. The insistent disco beat and woozy synth washes a la Thomas Dolby make the affair sound like a bona fide Basement Jaxx track.

Maybe it is. Who knows? Not I, and by passing the buck to, Dear Reader, it's no longer for me to figure out. Enjoy.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Eastern Bloc-Rockin' Beats

Now that the Baby Lester Bangses have gone gaga for Gogol Bordello, I found myself digging out the lone non-classical Russian album in my collection. A friend spent a semester studying in St. Petersburg and brought us back a few post-Perestroikan souvenirs: cigarettes that smelled like a combination of burning tires and old people, real Vodka, and the album Leningrad (2002) by Tochka.

The band was, and remains, a bit of an enigma. Our friend testified to their (at least) local popularity in St. Petersburg, and they'd had the werewithal to commission album art from Gorillaz guy Jamie Hewlett. But none of Tochka's albums are available via the usual commercial conduits (e.g. Amazon) and what little information I've found is (surprise!) in Russian, so fat lot of good that does us.

But Leningrad remains a curiously compelling piece of work without the usual media-made mythology. A bit naive of me perhaps, but I wouldn't have guessed that a band born into the post-Soviet landscape would steal from as many styles as Tochka does. True, about half the album occupies that crusty cabaret niche in which Firewater have nested. But the rest of the album bounds from Bosstones-style ska to Knitting Factory jazz freakouts, finally closing with an oddly sarcastic gyspy techno track. The stylistic schizophrenia is balanced by bright production and instrumental consistency, as every song roars with crsiply-recorded horns and the singer's gravel-road caterwaul - which bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Waits'.

Don't take my word for it, though...

"Into the Night" (Track 6 from Leningrad) -

This is without a doubt my favourite song on the album. It sounds like Mr. Waits, circa Frank's Wild Years, backed up by the ghost of goth greats the Birthday Party. The guitars shudder and scream, the rhythm section stomps like zombies, their plodding pace heralded by the horn section. A fierce piece of zoo music.

Title Unavailable for Translation (Track 8 from Leningrad) -

Though American ska-core (a la Fishbone) is a ubiquitous influence on the album, this song downshifts into some heavy-duty dub. It's missing the melting ambience of tape-echo, and I can't recall many Lee "Scratch" Perry records that featured accordian, but molasses-speed sway of the song is undeniably more Augustus Pablo than Petrouchka.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Q And Not U - Y Plus White Girl

Tonight, on the other side of the planet, before a capacity crowd at the Black Cat in Washington, DC, Q And Not U will play their final show. After a solid six months of not missing the Midatlantic (and frequently finding new reasons never to return), I suddenly really, really wish I was there.

Q And Not U are a band by which I measure my post-millenial musical life: their artistic arc mirrors my own maturation. Moving back to Baltimore from Toronto, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the critical blitzkrieg heralding the Return of Rock that had crowned puscilanimous pretenders like the Strokes and the White Stripes. It was then, as I searched for bands with sharper teeth and sharper minds, that I (like many) discovered the trio via the Dischord anniversary boxset. My sceptical, knee-jerk reaction was to be suspicious of these young lads who'd landed on the label of Rites of Spring, Fugazi, and Lungfish - alongside such illustrious company, what made these cats so special?

It took about twenty listens, but eventually I was completely sold. Under the superficial same-ness stamped upon every Dischord act - angular guitars, sing-scream vocals, quasi-political poetry - lay the Je Ne Sais Quoi, the fire, the mutant gene that seperates icons like Nation Of Ulysses from anemic also-rans like Hoover. The songs were fast, fun, a furious euphoria of guitar martial artistry, all wrapped in melodies that grew on you like earwax. None of this even begins to describe the intensity of the live show. I'm a faithless man, but the first time I saw QANU perform at the Talking Head was nigh on a religious experience. I still feel my nerves crackle at the thought of that night.

But to stay glued to guitar-driven post-hardcore is to think that Music ends at the release of Repeater. As QANU shed a bassist and I opted for a drum machine over a human being, both the band I loved and the band I played in were redefining our ideas of Rock, transforming our shortcomings in personnel into idiosyncratic strengths. While I spliced some Devo into my band's DNA, QANU released the harmonically spare, percussively explosive Different Damage (2002). The album was the arguably the greatest variation on the harDCore template in almost a decade, eschewing the same ol' Slash-'N'-Burn for more melody and delicacy.

The next two years saw the underground harden into a culture as demographically and economically controlled as the MSM. The internet became the Alpha and Omega of information, as everybody and their dropout roomie started a music blog and certain websites ruled like Rolling Stone in the '60s. Everybody was now a worldly, well-read music geek armed with more trivial minutae than an armchair quarterback. Unless a band wanted to engage in a reductionist race down the evolutionary ladder and play it bone-stick-stone stupid, their Sound had to be a chunky gumbo of every conceivable obscure sonic curio to oblige the One-Upsmanship in their listeners' interest.

Expanding their palette and blending influences with a grace unseen since the Dismemberment Plan, QANU dropped Power in October of 2004. Oh, there was many a danceable track, but this was no concession to the coy "Dance-Punk" craze that was already dying. This was the true sound of Punks Dancing. This was no-bullshit, funky, head-nod shit that owed as much to Prince as to PiL, but performed by awkwardly earnest white kids. Even better, none of the in-concert flailing and wailing had disappeared, though another, less desirable element had surfaced at shows: The Scene. Faux-hawks and white belts, snotty art students speaking loudly throughout the set, appearing to be seen... indeed, these are signs of new popularity and commercial promise for a band, but they also signal the moment when certain folks start pining for the purity of the Old Days back at the Talking Head.

Perhaps Q And Not U saw this and wanted to bolt before they bloated. They've described the dissolution as utterly amicable and appropriate given how much they've accomplished over their career. What better way to break up?

But I'm still going to miss them. They never failed to stun and elate at every date I saw them, and put out three of the finest rock records of my post-high school period. I realize choosing "Y Plus White Girl" (from their debut No Kill No Beep Beep) isn't terribly reflective of their current incarnation, but this song became a mental sedative when I was working a phenomenally shitty job back in 2003. My friend and I would e-mail each other anecdotes about the latest bullshit from our respective infernal employers, frequently quoting the rant from the song's bridge:

Type and file, I'm not paid to understand
That this position was always in demand

More inspiring, though, were the song's opening lines:

Since we breathe clock and telephone
Basement fires keep us so alive

Whenever I started to feel another piece of my soul slipping away in the employ of those assholes, I began playing that song over in my head, to remind myself that soon, very soon, I would be away from that office, playing and shouting and dancing and cheering in some dank, dark room, utterly elated by music that I truly loved. That'll always be what keeps me alive.

Monday, September 19, 2005

"Canada, Denmark to declare truce"

Uh... okay. I was unaware that Canada had enemies who required truces, let alone that Denmark was such an enemy. At least this is a considerably more civilized resolution to contested land than that other option.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lake Trout - Peel

A word to the Trout lads themselves:: You know I'm only tryiing to evangelise for my boys, get the word out on the street, buzz buzz buzzzzzz, etc., but I'm also not trying to make anyone feel robbed. Say the word and the song goes down.

As for the rest of you, may I present to you five young gentlemen who have done more for my musical education than any self-copulating record collection ever could, the quickest-evolving quintet I've ever encountered, a Baltimore band bound to rock both lobes of your brain... Lake Trout.

With four albums and at least one bona fide classic already under their belts, the boys drop their brand new full-length, Not Them, You, today. Amazingly, LT have again succeeded in producing an album that sounds little like anything in their catalogue. Building on the nocturnal post-rock that propulsed 2002's Another One Lost, the new album marks the rebirth of Lake Trout as a full-blown rock monster, armed with serrated guitars, tidal riffery, and a rhythm section that could flatten a town. The music is as dark and driving as ever, but never has is sounded this BIG.

Though the album's standout track is undoubtedly "Now We Know", that song is available as the B-side to the lead 7" single, "Street Fighting Man". (Yes, the Rolling Stones song, and yes, they do much more than another somnambulist garage-rock run-through.) So instead, I give you "Peel", a live staple at Trout shows for the past two years. The verse is vintage Lake Trout: an ominously rippling guitar riff rides on Mike Lowry's DJ Shadowy drums. It's tense and forboding, until a riff that could've been written by Kurt Cobain enters the fray. From there, the chorus explodes in cavernous reverb filled by shoegazer squall, and the beat thunders like a salvo of heavy artillary. Woody Ranere's vocals quake with a kind of raw honesty that today's top singers are incapable of.

I will grant you that there's a certain conflict of interest in blogging about a band whom I know (and who used to be my employers). To that I say: fuck off. I want to celebrate my friends, without whom I wouldn't have traveled to all lower 48, toured alongside a childhood idol, chatted up a crackhead backstage at the Palace in L.A., gotten a firsthand look at the pitfalls of the music biz, almost gotten shot by the Seattle cops, discovered how hard-rockin' Kansas City is, learned to live large on a ten dollar per diem, or witnessed the David Lynchian nightmare that was (is?) the backstage of the Stone Monkey in Huntington, WV. For that and so much more, I consider myself very lucky to have such friends - who just happen to be one of the best bands in America.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wankers For Charity: A New Hope

The other day I read about the world's fastest benefit record - recorded one day, released the next. Gadzooks, what wondrous times we live in! Huzzah, I say, huzzah for technology!

The problem is, of course, who buys benefit records? Sure, we care 'n' shit, but do we wanna fork over fifteen bucks for marginal material by one band we dig and a dozen we don't? It also takes the shine off "We Are the World" to know that it was written & recorded by a pederast. So how can everyday consumers be conned into buying something for the betterment of others?

Well, an idea struck me like a mop hitting the floor of a peepshow booth: why don't pornographers produce a film whose proceeds are donated to charity? That would sell like hotcakes, man! Especially in the US: for a Christian country, Americans buy a LOT of porn ($5- to $8-billion annually). So what better way to allay the weight of sin than to know your money is going to a good cause? Flog the bishop for Fair Trade! Have a wank for hurricane victims!

I think it's a bloody brilliant idea. Talk about a win-win-win situation: charities are funded, pornographers get good P.R., and the public can get happy, happy, happy guilt-free. That way, the next time you walk in on your room-mate teaching Yul Brenner some respect, you can at least appreciate their goodwill towards others instead of just getting grossed out and not speaking to them over breakfast.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hey, Remember Four Years Ago?

Aerial view of Manhattan from September 11, 2001...

...and New Orleans as it now wallows, September 11, 2005

Back before blow-jobs became an impeachable offense, Bill Clinton's second term was about establishing his Legacy - how would history judge the 42nd President of the United States?

Well, attentions may have been turned from policy to personal indiscretions, but now Clinton can thank his successor for securing both their legacies: Clinton's, as the Last Guy In Charge Before It All Went To Shit, and Bush's own as, well... a spoiled sociopath who only heeds his Blue-Blood thug colleagues and his own delusional fantasies. Cheer up, George, you dumb ape: not many presidents get the privilege of overseeing massive catastrophe and the deaths of thousands visited upon two iconic cities during their tenure.

Last night, my wife remarked that I seem rather nonplussed about the anniversary of "the worst terrorist attack on American soil." I shrugged, because that honestly is as worked up about 9/11 as I can get these days. I'd rather forget an event than remember it for the wrong reasons.

There is obvious value in remembering the events of 9/11, but not simply because seeing thousands of people die is upsetting. The true lesson of September 11 lies not in What happened, but Why: it was inevitable retribution for disasterously offensive foreign policy that only continues - and is in many ways even worse - today.

The collective reaction to the devastation of both Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 was one of utter disbelief: is this America or Somalia? While that speaks to the suffering of those in NOLA or NYC, it diminishes the suffering of those in Somalia, or post-tsunami Indonesia, or Afghanistan, or any other stricken country that is name-checked. Because it takes for granted that there are people suffering UNSPEAKABLY elsewhere all the time.

Yet Americans wanted to feel special in their suffering, that they alone possessed this pain, regardless that they were weeping for the same type of tragedy that has befallen Rwandans, Sudanese, Afghans, Palestinians, Isrealis, Iraqis, Kurds, Tibetans, Bosnians, and Serbs for decades. Rather than being remembered as the gruesomely ultimate lesson in Cause & Effect, September 11 has been fetishized by the War Corporation running America, its gravitas has been squished into the niftily tetrametric talking-touchstone "9/11". A nation weened on bad self-help books and instant gratification has commodified the catastrophe, replacing reflection with "Support Our Troops" stickers and wrapping not the dead but themselves in the flag.

9/11 has become America's favourite rape fantasy.

Some people have wondered aloud if July 7 - the date of the London Bombing - will be remembered by Britons in the same manner that Americans remember September 11. For their sake (and for their subsequent foreign policy), I certainly hope not.

"We need an instrument... to find out if loss could weigh." ~ Fugazi

Postscript:: I realize that, for a self-purported "music blog", a great number of words here have been devoted to politics. Sorry for those of you aching for me to post something from the new Afrirampo album, but my conscience won't allow otherwise. As Miles Rayner wrote in a wonderfully thoughtful post, "writing about anything else feels cheap."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

From bad to worse...

Let's review, shall we?

It's been six days since Hurricane Katrina bulldozed through the Gulf Coast. It's estimated that there will be 54000 troops in (what used to be) New Orleans by mid-week, and yet there are over 20000 people still awaiting evacuation from "Hell on Earth", the Convention Center. There are currently some 60-some fires raging across the city, but of course, no running water with which to fight them. Anyone encouraged by Bush's tour of the tragedy-sticken states will be fucking thrilled to hear that air relief was halted as a "security precaution" during the visit, and relief resources were used as mere props for presidential photo ops. The natural disaster and subsequent man-made catastrophe are turning into a political mudslide for BushCo. Meanwhile, Republican senators are still trying to schedule Tuesday confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts, a misogynist and racist goose-stepper.

Toss all this into your giant gumbo pot, bring it to a rolling boil, and now to really kick things up a notch...

Chief Justice William Rehnquist is dead.

Well, stomp on frogs and shove a crowbar up my nose! As Rob from Americablog so perfectly put it, the perfect political storm has begun. At the risk of sounding smug, I am so glad I left. America: love it or leave it. Fuck yeah!

Finally, while the convergence of this week's events has the blogosphere popping like gunpowder on a skillet, Steve Gilliard has been firing off some of the most inspired rage I've read in memory. I second that emotion.

Stay informed:

DailyKOS::Americablog::The News Blog::Firedoglake::Manchester Guardian::Globe and Mail::CNN::New York Times::BBC

Friday, September 02, 2005

Here Come the Rome Plows...

I never thought I'd see the day that the Deep South was swallowed by the ocean before California - but then I'm seeing a lot of crazy shit I never thought I'd see this week. I thought (like most, I imagine) that after Hurricane Katrina inevitably plowed into the Gulf Coast, a massive and efficient relief effort would rocket into action. I thought countless thousands of medical workers, military police, engineers, contracters, and millions of dollars would descend on Lousiana and Mississippi faster than the storm had. I thought, after the lessons of 9/11 (to which Republicans are so fond of referring), the Department of Homeland Security would prove Rome could have been built in a day. Instead...

::There has been near universal criticism of a slow and inadequate reaction by the federal government.

::Instead of Rudy Giuliani heroically riding into battle, apopleptic New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was reduced to calling WWL radio. When asked if he'd declare martial law, Nagin replied, "I have asked for martial law. I asked for it two days ago!" The fifteen-minute interview also allowed Nagin to vent his rage about the law that apparently prohibits federal disaster relief without a formal request by the state: "Did the tsunami victims ask us for help? Did the Iraqis ask us to come in? Did they have to make a request through formal channels? ...You pull off the doggone ventilator vent, and you look down there, and they're standing there in water up to their fricking neck!"

::Mayor Nagin also warned that many of the "hooligans", armed with looted firearms and taking potshots at both police and passersby, are drug addicts unable to find a fix and are in the maddening depths of withdrawal.

::Despite the fact that the military forces will reach New Orleans before food and water supplies, anyone looting (which of course includes those scavenging for sustenance) will be met by "troops [who] know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will."

::A nationwide gas crisis has sent prices saoring well past $3 and already the wells are running dry. A British analyst interviewed on CNN has said that the amount of crude oil lost in the wreckage eliminates the global surplus (which was only a scant 2 million barrels). Now the planet is barely breaking even between its production and consumption of crude oil. The impact of this is not localized: there has already been a ten-pence rise in gas prices in the UK. Bush's advice to his citizens: don't buy oil or gas unless you need it... as opposed to before, when I suppose people where filling and blowing up gas cans just for shits-'n'-giggles.

::It took the collective rage of millions of netizens to convince Condi she should get back to work instead of shopping for shoes.

::Two true signs of the End Times: paleocon Pat Buchanan critiqued the administration's lax initiative on an anti-war website and neocon perv Bill O'Reilly attacked Big Oil for profiting at the expense of America's working class.

::In spite of all of the above, Bush has yet to make plans to set foot in the disaster zone.

My mind is reeling as I watch the world's lone superpower implode into a third world war zone - and I'm sitting in the comfort of a Japanese suburb 9000 miles away. Last month, a friend was describing the recent spike in violent crimes against gas station attendants. "You can lie about the reasons someone's kid is shipped off to get shot in the desert," she said, "but you can't lie about the price of gas. You got out just in time."

This may seem like a horribly inopportune time to say "I told you so", but the utter failure of the American government to provide for and to protect its citizens makes plain what we snarky leftists have known for the past six years: that George W. Bush, his cabinet, and the Project For a New American Century are criminally negligent, self-serving, myopic war pigs who dine on the corpses of the poor. The epitaph that Hunter S. Thompson wrote for the revolutionary spirit of the '60s could just as easily have been written about these delusional fucks in the White House:

"Their loss and failure is ours too: ...the desperate assumption that somebody, or at least some force, is tending the light at the end of the tunnel."

But there is no one waiting at the other end of that tunnel - not in Iraq, and not in Louisiana. We are all blind, but now we all know better than to follow these assholes claiming to have one eye. Whether we make it through this tunnel remains to be seen.

"So sad to say it's over now: here come the Rome plows." ~ Drive Like Jehu

UPDATE:: It's 2:30 in the morning here, so by the time I've woken up, Fearless Leader will have taken his latest tour of the worst natural disaster in his nation's history, not to mention who knows what kind of insane bullshit to cap off the week. There are just a couple of developments upon which I want to comment before I hit the hay, because this shit is more bananas than a hot tub full of macaques...

::By now, mayor Nagin's enraged radio interview is blowing up the blogosphere and even finding some above-the-fold coverage in the mainstream media. Good. This will hopefully impress upon the public how atrocious the conditions in NOLA really are.

::There's been a lot of yelling on TV lately, and amazingly none of it has involved Jon Stewart. Mainstream media defending the public's interest? Challenging authority? Veteran reporters breaking down on camera out of empathy? What the fuck is going on?!?

::Okay, no, really, THIS shit is bananas: the United States is accepting disaster relief aid from Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and the UN. And Canada is deploying troops to the US.

::In spite of all of the above, there are those who remain pathetically preoccupied with bullshit or just fucking out to lunch. Am I surprised that the two examples I've linked here are New Yorkers? No. But that's another kettle of fish entirely.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord more shit not to hit the fan overnight. Take care of each other, folks.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Apres Moi, Le Deluge...

All it took was a scant twenty minutes in front of CNN to boil my blood hotter than a pipe in a crackhouse. But I needn't let this devolve into just another blog of some asshole blowing smoke out his ears; lord only knows there are plenty of folks who do a fine job fighting the good fight.

After all, ain't this a music blog? (At least, isn't it supposed to be?) Then let's stay on point and get thematic. Point, click, and prick your ears...

::New Orleans must be abadoned, governor says
As over eighty percent of New Orleans was swallowed by sea-swell and broken levees, the governor of Lousiana has declared the city of 480,000 people unlivable for at least three months. "It's becoming untenable," said Gov. Kathleen Blanco. "It's getting more difficult to get food and water supplies in, just basic essentials."

("New Orleans Is Sinking" by the Tragically Hip)

::"I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour after touring the destruction by air Tuesday.
Yeah, with the one minor difference between the two disasters being that Hiroshima was by man-made design, you ignorant hick. May the same atrocity never befall your country.

("Political Science" by Randy Newman)

::Lousiana Gov. Blanco declared August 31, 2005 a state-wide "day of prayer".
Because I guess seperation of church and state doesn't count for jack shit anymore. Don't laugh because I'm quoting Mark Wahlberg here, but how come we only ask ourselves the really big questions when something bad happens? And why do people turn to god for strength and guidance when he/she/it/dude just destroyed your fucking house? Why all the Credit but none of the Blame?

("Dear God" by XTC)

If those last two items weren't enough to grind my teeth, CNN treated us to a glib forty-five second encapsulation of the following...

::Over 800 people died in a stampede yesterday in Baghdad.
A rumour of a suicide bomber amidst a million shia pilgrims sparked a panic that led to massive casualties, mostly women and children. The greatest misfortune occured when a bridge railing collapsed, sending hundreds plummeting into the Tigris river.

And Our Network Of Record did not even treat us to that much detail of the tragedy. Evidently, you can't spin such a senseless accident into proof that the Terrorists Hate Our Freedom and so it's unworthy of further coverage. People dying in Iraq? That's not news! Quick, cut back to President George a.W.o.l. Bush waving from Air Force One and (I shit you not) some crying rednecks who tried to ride out the storm in their mobile home and - surprise - lost everything, including two family members.

To think at the beginning of the year, I heard people arrogant and callous enough to toss around the term "tsunami fatigue". Before we gasp collectively at the sinister speculation that Hurricane Katrina's final death toll will reach "most likely, thousands", let's remember that the death toll from the December 2004 disaster was up to...

two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people.

Keep that in mind. Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Don't call it a comeback!

Is it the man or the pants that used to be Puffy?

Doesn't it seem fitting that the MTV awards ceremony hosted by Diddy Wa Dizzle (or whatever it is this week) was the chosen venue for MC Hammer's comeback?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

As a Great Surprise To Absolutely No One...

"Folk singer supports anti-war protesters."

No shit. That reads like one of those Onion headlines that overstates the obvious for tragicomic effect. At least it made me laugh harder than today's other eye-popper: "U.S. televangelist calls for assassination of Venezuelan president."

What a terribly un-Christian thing to do, don't you think?

Edit (August 26, '05) : The Guardian reports, "Yesterday [Pat Robertson] apologised for his remarks. 'Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologise for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the US is out to kill him,' he said."

Hmm. Lord only knows why Chavez would think America is out to kill him, eh, Pat?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Love Life - Joy

As we've discussed before, one of the chief problems presented by the Internet is that the ease of communication creates a critical rat race in which sensible analysis is trampled underfoot. Everyone is so busy trying to be a shot-caller that an astounding amount of mediocre pablum slides in past the gatekeepers. After being told too many times to get excited over inane derivative drivel, my vengeful streak has gotten the best of me. Henceforth, when I see a blogger licking the boots of a band whose greatest acheivement is their anonymity, I will post a musical retort - a genuinely different and decent song to balance the bad one.

And so today, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the late Love Life, another great band from the Greatest City in America. For four brief years, the quartet attacked Kurt Weillian cabaret as only ex-punks could: with the howling melodrama of goth-punk godfathers the Birthday Party, physically attacking their instruments like Tom Waits at his most primitive. (It makes stylistic sense for this post to follow the one about Scratch Acid.) The creepy continentalism and ambitious arrangements also recall Mr. Bungle's masterwork, Disco Volante.

Flaming out after four years, Love Life managed to put out two brilliant records. The latter (from which this song was taken) was the consistently brilliant Here Is Night, Brothers, Here the Birds Burn, which effectively launched the producing career of TV On the Radio's David Andrew Sitek.

The ragged charm and world-weary grace of Love Life was, according to vocalist Katrina Ford, very much reflective of living in Baltimore. Recalling her relocation to Charm City in an interview with City Paper, Ford believes "there's a beautiful despair here that is unlike the surface beauty of New Orleans, which acts like a carnivorous plant that draws you in like a fly with a sweet-smelling exterior. Baltimore is ugly, but if you stay for a while you really discover something very beautiful about it. The beauty is in the people here. How hard they work and how definitely working class this town is."

This post was written in response to this post on the Simple Mission blog about the San Diego punk-lounge act Get Hustle, who I found to be undynamic, unrepentently sloppy, and too conceited to actually write songs.

If I ever regret leaving Baltimore...

...all I have do to is go here and I'm glad I'll never be sulking in the corner spitting bullets at the solipsistic scenesters in the Talking Head or the Ottobar again.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Tale of Two Davids

Arena-rock Everyman Dave Grohl...

...and David Yow during the glory days of the Jesus Lizard

Has anyone else noticed that the title track from the new Foo Fighters album, In Your Honor, nicks its keystone riff from the song "Owner's Lament" by Scratch Acid?

...No? Anyone?

That doesn't surprise me. As Jim H of Vinyl Mine would tell you, Scratch Acid remains one of the most criminally uncelebrated bands of the '80s post-punk/noise scene. Scratch Acid had less in common with the druggy dirges of fellow Texan sonic terrorists the Butthole Surfers than with the exorcismic squall of the Birthday Party, thanks in no small part to frontman David Yow. Armed with a voice "like a man with his genitals caught in a bear trap", Yow had (and maintains) little regard for physical danger, the Fourth Wall, and clothing. (Bassist David William Sims recalled that the craziest thing he's seen Yow do in performance was launch himself off of the 30-foot-high stage at the Glastonbury Festival.) A colleague of mine from Chicago once told me about seeing the Godfather of Onstage Psychosis, Iggy Pop. His only comment:

"It was good, don't get my wrong... but Iggy is no David Yow."

While some of Scratch Acid's contemporaries supernova'd (the Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth) or sold out (the Butthole Surfers - come on, we ALL remember Electriclarryland), Scratch Acid were torn apart by that classic combination of occupational hazards: a crooked record company, tour fatigue, and getting hassled by the cops. The two Davids of Yow & Sims moved to Chicago, where they joined forces with six-string sledghammer Duane Denison and seismic skinsman Mac McNeilly. That band, the Jesus Lizard, created some of the most viscerally satisfying rock in history - no one, from Big Black to Lightning Bolt, has produced a song as propulsive as "Boilermaker". Their legion of fans included other musical luminaries such as Buzz Osborne and Kurt Cobain. Anyone who saw them perform will swear on their mother's grave that it was the greatest show ever.

And that, Mr. Grohl, is something that you'd be hard pressed to hear from any one of the millions of Foo Fighters fans. Sorry.

Sing a Saccharine Song By a Pissing Pedophile

Call me Silky Jonhson, but am I the last damned person on this planet who thinks that R. Kelly is bullshit? Nevermind the fact that he's a twisted little horndog - his music sounds like an autistic Bill Withers on crank and his lyrics pack all the wit and power of a flaming Pinto. I've seen better pick-up lines on a shithouse wall.