Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Rearview Ear, Or: What Didn't Suck in '07

It’s that time of year! Everyone, set sail across the ocean of cyber-soapboxes and offer hyperbolic-yet-half-assed rationalizations for whatever records turned your crank over the past 12-month period! Huzzah for the forced fossilization of personal opinion!

Having ignaminiously slunk out of the music press over a year ago, I’m mercifully exempt from pleading with people to believe my banter about why Artist X is on some, as they say, Crucial Shit. All the better for not having done my homework: I still haven’t heard Kala, American Gangster, Curtis, or Graduation beyond whatever video’s in immediate rotation; I was achingly underwhelmed by a grab-bag of MP3s by Deerhunter, Grizzly Bear, the Celebration, Yeasayer*, the Black Lips, and other hippy-happy blog-buzzees and subsequently ignored their releases utterly. But scanning the scant smattering of CDs I actually bought this year, I grew suspicious: have my tastes started to ossify into crusty “specialization?” Has my record collection become self-copulating? My year-end toppers are a line-up of the usual suspects: angular, Amphetamine Reptilian rock; smarmy, satiric singers; epic instrumental workouts – same ol’ shit as the past five years. Dare I ask myself the same question at every year’s end: am I losing my edge?

Which begs another question: the edge of what? A knife, a cliff, or a ballpit at Chuck E. Cheese’s? I honestly can’t tell, looking at the parade of technicolour banality and melodic doldrums marching across MTV & the Forkcast. The truth is that The Edge is not only a pathetically mediocre guitarist, but the very concept is suburban high-school insecurity, the bourgeois delusion that life is perfectable via checklists. An analogy: I’ve met a number of people whose travel C.V. dwarfs mine, but very rarely did they earn anything more substantive than a few snapshots and superficial observations – the typically incurious narcissism of backpackers who “do” countries and spend most of their travels drinking with other foreigners. I may not have hit as many countries, but I always prefer to linger and learn the layout of a town, to wander the streets and absorb the flavour of the place so I can relate the experience beyond a binary Pass/Fail mark. So I haven’t been to Thailand or Bali, but I can give fifty reasons why the city of Nanchang sucks.

I hadn’t realized how far from the rat race I’d strolled until I almost relapsed. Early this summer, while enjoying the rare luxury of a lazy day in western China, I was reading the about the current listening index of Battles (one of maybe 3 bands I’m actually kinda jealous of musically) over at the Wal-Mart of Indieness. Well, I almost spit blood when Tyondai Braxton leaked what had been my under-lock-and-key musical secret of this decade: Nino Rota’s score to Fellini’s Il Casanova. Fan-fuckin’-tastic, now every sweater-vested scenester would be name-dropping one of my treasured audial experiences like a back-biting housewife comparing brands of toaster oven. True, I could console myself with the fact that I was still several years ahead of the curve, but relief only came when a friend reminded me, “You’re not even on the curve. So the record will be on some hipness index by which some smug little shit will size up other people at his favourite bar for the next little while. In another year, you’ll still be listening to it while they’ve run along to the new flavour, trying to convince themselves it really matters the way Rihanna or the Klaxons ‘matter’ now, like Ashanti and the Strokes five years ago.”

I’ll drink to that. Happy New Year. (Click on the mix title to download.)

A Baker’s Dozen From ‘07

1. The Heads – “Your Monkey Is My Master” (from Under the Stress of a Headlong Dive, 00:00)
2. Feist – “My Moon My Man” (from The Reminder, 01:46)
3. Tarentel – “Dreamtigers” (from Ghetto Beats From the Surface of the Sun, 05:05)
4. Jarvis Cocker – “Running the World” (from Jarvis, 08:11)
5. Patton Oswalt – “Alternate Earth” (from Werewolves & Lollipops, 12:48)
6. The Horrors – “Count In Fives” (from Strange House, 13:57)
7. Bachi Da Pietra – “Altri Guastri” (from Non Io, 17:09)
8. Battles – “TIJ” (from Mirrored, 21:10)
9. Grinderman – “Grinderman” (from, you guessed it, Grinderman, 28:10)
10. Pissed Jeans – “Bad Wind” (from Hope For Men, 32:34)
11. Qui – “Belt” (from Love’s Miracle, 35:37)
12. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “Golden Frost” (leaked rough mix, 40:23)
13. White Rainbow – “Waves” (from Prism of Eternal Now, 44:05)
14. Acid Mothers Temple – “Crystal Pyramid Under the Stars” (from Crystal Pyramid Under the Stars, 48:05)

And to give credit where credit is due, here's a handful of tracks from older albums that opened up my audial horizons over the past year...

Why You Gotta Keep Bringin’ Up Old Shit?

1. The Psychic Paramount – “Perpignan Pt. 1” (from Live 2002: The Franco-Italian Tour, 00:00)
2. Sonic Youth – “White Kross” (recorded live 1990, 02:23)
3. El-P – “Deep Space 9mm” (from Fantastic Damage, 05:05)
4. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “If Love Is the Drug…” (single, 08:46)
5. Magma – “Zombie Dance” (from Üdü Wüdü, 12:39)
6. Selda – “Yaylalar” (from Selda, 16:54)
7. Machida – “Doteraiyara” (from どてらい奴ら, 20:39)
8. The Fall – “Wings” (from Perverted By Language, 23:57)
9. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Write a Song” (from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 28:20)
10. Meiko Kaji – “Jin’s Blues” (from 梶芽衣子全曲集, 30:11)
11. The Billy Nayer Show – “Only I Can Save the World” (from Return to Brigadoon, 33:42)
12. Radiohead – “In Limbo” (from Kid A, 36:30)
13. SunnO))) – “Orthodox Caveman” (from Black One, 39:47)
14. Angelo Badalamentani – “The Pink Room” (from the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me OST, 46:01)
15. The Skatalites, “Herb Man Dub” (50:01)
16. Laddio Bolocko – “The Going Gong” (from The Life and Times of Laddio Bolocko, 53:12)
17. Ween - “The Stallion Pt. 2” (from The Pod, 01:03:05)

I asked my friend James Marshall if he thought the current dismal state of music was likely to improve. “No,” he said. “It’s got to get worse, because everybody’s into their own thing and doesn’t wanna know. Pretty soon every band will have no more than three fans, and nobody will have even any friends. Then after that you’ll start resenting the other guy because he likes the same thing you like: it’s your turf! How dare he encroach? So then people will start killing each other for appropriating each other’s musical tastes and thus infringing on the neighbor’s hipness space. How can you be smug about being the only person in the world cool enough to appreciate some piece of New Wave shit, or a blues band or arcane jazz artist for that matter, if you find out somebody else likes it? Don’t dare tell ‘em! Don’t even tell your wife or girlfriend! Keep it safe inside your Walkman!”
~Lester Bangs, from “Bad Taste Is Timeless”

*Full disclosure: Two of these dudes and I started our first band ever together. It admittedly makes it a little hard to take someone’s art seriously when you can remember them covering Weezer back in 8th grade.

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