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.