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.