Sunday, September 23, 2007

A bandwagon worth jumping on...

"Fuck the Tarot, mate, let's use this website to guide us..."

Hell, all the cool kids are doing it, why can't I?

Here's what the Random Paragraph Generator spat out upon input of the proper nouns "Fipp" and "Eno":

When will Eno encounter the trumpet? The steel negotiates Fripp. Eno charts the advised parameter under the mechanism. Fripp retracts the countryside throughout a practised cheek. A tactless earth labels Fripp next to the wren. Fripp purchases the surface. Eno trails the appeal. Fripp bites whatever routed leader near the convict grace. Eno pieces the turnround against the vote. How can each charter encourage Fripp? Eno shifts. Fripp expires next to the frequent headache. The friendly hangover reasons into Fripp. Fripp volunteers Eno beneath a steel. Eno smokes!

And he did! Will the wonders of technology ever cease?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Radio Silence

Gotta sign off here for a bit, folks. I got roped into a 12-day-straight sound gig - and a "gig" it is in the most perjorative sense a la basement house-party hardcore shows: I'm getting paid in food. (And experience, I know - whatever.) But hey, the truth is that I spend all my time hunched over hardware, behind headphones, drinking too much coffee and generally ignoring the outside world anyway.

So in the meantime, allow me to leave you with a little entertainment: new tunes and new sights. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Modern Lovers

My kinda love story

Awright, let's cut to the chase: I'm a cynical, internalizing, unempathetic, antitheistic bastard. I roll my eyes at poetry, refuse to write love songs, and have occassionally treated weddings as a kind of funeral. I am as unromantic as it gets. Seriously, ask my wife.

But I would never argue that romanticism is dead.

If anything, it is the most alive & well it's been in at least a decade. Hollywood is starting the tackle the emotional toll & realities of war with what I'd consider a modicum of sincerity. Meanwhile, three of the most successful & acclaimed indie flicks of the decade have been romances. Hip-hop has found room for earnest, confessional MCs - and Christ, don't even get me started on indie rock.

There's also been steady influxes of youthful idealists into certain ascendent bourgeois-boho enclaves over the course of the decade. Five years ago, it was (and, albeit to a lesser extent, still is) Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Over the past year, thanks to the new crop of snotty art-rockers exploding out of ATL, the southern city has become a new magnet for students, artists, wannabes, also-rans, and cases of arrested development. As SixFootSubwoofer pointed out, "Kids have a romantic attachment to places where creativity seems to trump logic and formula."

Where I disagree with SFSW is on the notion that "romanticism fails utterly because it can be marketed and created, its potential energy turned into dollars." Strictly speaking, this is true - but it's far from a failure exclusive to romanticism. For all those of us who can shudderingly recall, "It's like punk rock... but it's a car," it's clear that rebellion, cynicism, party-time extroversion, icy isolationism - ALL these things can be marketed and created. But again, much like romanticism, all these ideas & attitudes can be used on a personal level to combat commercial opportunism & predatory capitalism. "Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right."

It's been a confusing couple of decades for romantics, though. After the thoroughly unsensual & materialist Reagan era, romanticism enjoyed a short-lived heyday, thanks to the heart-on-sleeve hysteria of Kurt Cobain and his acolytes. But combining personal pain with ironic distance proved too confusing for the public, and pop culture split into two opposing camps: the mainstream that confused the romantic with the histrionic (see: Korn, Limp Bizkit, and emo), and an underground that refused to admit it cared about anything (see: anyone who ever owned a Pavement record).

And then (you knew this was coming) 9/11 happened. The shift in paradigm there was that the snake ate its tail: people were pushed so far towards the extremes of their respective ends of the spectrum that they popped out on the other side. The amateur primal-scream culture crossed into straight aggro territory, and vomitted up such new spokesmen as Toby Keith and 50 "Bush is a Gangsta" Cent. Meanwhile, as the underground attempted to discuss the event in an honest, objective way, irony had to make way for earnestness, elevating such previously marginalized figures as Elliott Smith to near-sainthood and making basket cases like Bright Eyes homeowners.

Personally, I have little use for either extreme. Appealing to people's anger can be as dangerous as appealing to their sentimentality can be placating & appeasing. Histrionics are by definition false, and emotions as irrational phenomena cannot justify themselves. (Can you tell I'm not a big fan of identity politics?) I'm a staunch believer in civil disobedience as the perfect balance of the rational & the compassionate; on the other hand, the insulin shock of so much melancholic instrospection in rock & indie-pop (I've no use for capitalised Pop) has driven me to become oddly macho in my musical taste.

But smack me if I ever say romanticism never did anything for anyone, because how else could I possibly explain the singularly brilliant ouevre of Tom Waits? Seriously.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Above the Racket

Noise. I could say this is my business, yet the word frustrates me to no end. I've grown to loathe it much the same way that many loathe loaded terms like "emo" or "Baltimore Club." As with those other terms, I suppose "noise" began to grate on me when it became no longer a vague signifier of certain sonic qualities, but an ornately-embroidered banner flown with ersatz pride by various squabbling constituents. Because, in the end, what the fuck does "noise" mean?

We'll start by setting aside technical definitions; we'll also ignore the age-old use of the word as a glib dismissal by anyone not hip to the sound. In this case, probably the first person to reclaim the word from such nebulous definitional (ab)use was Lester Bangs. His 1981 essay "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise" built the theoretical road on which so many still drive. His choice exemplars of "horrible noise" - Yoko Ono, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music - employ most, if not all, of the hallmark sounds still used today by (or to categorize) "noise" musicians: atonal siren caterwauling, contra-technical primitivism, harmonic contrarianism, and of course head-exploding feedback.

Once the Bastille of "Musicianship" had been stormed by post-punk and no-wave, critics struggled to define or contextualize the expansion of the sonic pallette. Some thread linked the likes of Texan degenerates the Butthole Surfers, snarling antagonists Big Black, and the more obliquely ambitious Sonic Youth; similarly, how could the assaultive tank-tread thunder of Swans, Ministry, and Einsturzende Neubauten be lumped together? Well, Robert Christgau tried calling the former "pigfucker rock" (which didn't exactly catch on), and eventually the "Industrial" label was slapped on the latter (and sticks to this day). But it was still a good decade after Bangs' piece before consensus held that "noise" could be applied to music without condescension or scorn.

Since then, the use of the word has evolved. Initially, "noise rock" was the rubric under which particularly obnoxious punk descendents (e.g. the Jesus Lizard, the Melvins, and later Lightning Bolt) were tossed. Eventually, it grew to include more onstensibly "artful" rock abstractionists like SY and My Bloody Valentine. Then, somewhere in the late '90s, the "rock" was dropped and a capitalised Noise emerged. Of course, Merzbow wasn't born in a vacuum: this music was with such precedents as Xenakis, Varese, Ligeti, Zappa, and Zorn. But all these composers flew other flags - serialist, modernist, minimalist, "skronk" (to use another horrid Christgauism). Hell, even guitar-abuse godfather Glenn Branca qualified himself as "classical." What had changed was that the pretense of noise as a means to and end had been dropped; noise had became an end unto itself.

And from there, my relationship with the term goes south. Typically, Noise music falls into one of two basic schools - audially eviscerating maximalism (a la Wolf Eyes), or porcelain-delicate minimalism (e.g. Richard Chartier) - and I can't bloody stand either of 'em.

On the maximalist side, one thing counterintuitive to the violent imagery & hardcore histrionics of Wolf Eyes, Nurse With Wound, Hair Police, AIDS Wolf, etc. is that the music is suicidally dull. Once your body physically adjusts to the sensory extremes, it becomes lulling, a numb buzz - static in both senses of the word. You hear that gut-rumbling squall? That's all you're gonna get, so do expect any surprises or sudden hairpin turns.'s review of Wolf Eyes' breakthrough, Burned Mind, summed up the genre rather succinctly: "Bleep, scream, static, hiss, scream, bleep, static. This sucks."

The improvisational nature of the music also presents a problem. This may sound like a cue to start looking for the glass house in which I'm standing, but here's the truth: if all my bandmates and I wanted was to rape ear canals, it certainly would have required far less discipline, mutual creative respect, and rapport with our instruments than we employed. We could have shat out an album a week to be distributed via CD-R to the kinds of sport-collectors who covet eachother's Sunburned Hand of the Man bootlegs. But we didn't. Instead, we tried to play god on a small level, creating swirling form & balance where there was once void. Ergo, I can't sit through a set of hysterical, square-waving monotony without condemning the creative laziness on the part of the performers.

Meanwhile, noise minimalists are guilty of a different flavour of laziness. To make "music" that is an "exploration of the space between sounds and silence" is, to me, an abdication of the responsibility of a musician. I once saw Richard Chartier perform in Baltimore, and joked with a friend that his fundamental act of creation was prompting whatever billowed up in the minds of his audience to fill the vacuity of the music. Now, I'm a big fan of such "minimalist" composers as Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Meredith Monk, but there the term was used with regard to the limited harmonic range of the work. These artists employed the transcendental potential of entrancing repetition, rather than relying on listening as the essential creative behaviour. I dislike much minimalist visual art for the same reason: as soon as the title of a piece becomes a necessary indicator of intent or meaning on the part of the creator, then you've failed in your role as an artist.

This isn't to say I'm against such music exisiting in the first place. Often, deliberate challenges to the status quo and conventional taste are necessary to push beyond whatever boundaries are currently in place. But very often, by virtue of their direct conflict within immediate circumstances, such challenges are too reliant on context to withstand the test of time. Brian Eno once put it far more elegantly:

Duchamp's urinal, the famous piece, I'm sure was a very important work of art in 1914, and it is now not: this is my opinion. It has only a historical position in the chain of how things came into being. It doesn't live now. In the same way as some distant ancestral species undoubtedly was part of the story of how we got here, but it isn't alive now. Neanderthal Man is gone. That doesn't mean we say he didn't play any part; but it does mean we say it is not a present reality for us.

For me, noise has always worked best as a signifier, a symptom of: the gritty existentialism of the Velvet Underground, the ice-cold indifference of the Jesus & Mary Chain, the drug-induced technicolour miasma of My Bloody Valentine, the sensory overload & fury of early Boredoms, the multiculti hyperreality of Acid Mothers Temple. These and other artists employ noise as a tool, a means of psychic transport to a greater destination. To deploy noise for its own sake is the equivalent of an artist nailing his pallette to the canvas - not entirely unlike Duchamp's urinal, and equally meritous of being pissed on.

Don't Do As I Say!

Zizek said knock you OUT!

Though the Great I Cite Flame-War of '07 has burned itself down to glowing embers, I'm going to colonise the conversation by continuing here an exchange started with the mysterious-yet-engaging Six Foot Subwoofer (a.k.a. Hectoring Bore, a.k.a. Sincere Heckler - you know his steez!).

When we last spoke, SFSW was inquiring as to why I "take such stock in nonviolent disobedience and have such little faith in doing 'good works.'" Indeed, on the surface it would seem strange to praise & strive for one and not the other, but there are two distinct reasons why I value the former but not necessarily the latter.

The first is with regard to motive. My antitheism leads me to immediately distrust anyone claiming to do "good" in the name of "faith." Too often when a helping hand is extended, the other is clutching some evangelical tract, some recruitment scheme - a classic Bait-'n'-Switch. But even when the sales pitch isn't made, it's not an act of altruism but a matter of scoring points on some celestial tally. As Dominic put it so well recently, "this is simply a form of deferred gratification, a storing up of riches elsewhere that one will later enjoy at one’s (infinite) leisure... all one is really doing is making a metaphysically shrewd investment."

Also, in this global media-saturated environment, the corrupt motive of "good P.R." is a constant factor to consider. After all, one man's media blitz is another's opportunism.

The second, and more crucial reason I put civil disobedience above "good works" is the purity of negative definition. Now, as a Canadian, defining something by a negative is something I'm inherently adept at & comfortable with:

Q: What is a Canadian?
A: Well, it bloody well isn't an American!

But consider this: good works can be tainted by ulterior motives, unintended consequences, compromise, "the lesser of two evils," or the elevation of intention above result. (Remember with what the road to hell is paved.) Civil disobedience, on the other hand, is muddled by none of the factors because it is defined by what it does not do. Rather than leave a wake swirling with "Why?"s, civil disobedience succinctly answers the question "Why not?" by opening a vacuum in which we can clearly see one action that is missing. There is no room for rationalisation, appeasement, evasion, obfuscation, or half-assing in a void. As a wrinkled green Muppet once said, as simply as possible: "Do or do not. There is no 'try.'"

Also at the last juncture in our conversation, there was a question as to whether romanticism has a place in the revolution. I personally feel that it doesn't, even though I understand why SFSW would think romanticism is unfairly maligned by smug postmodernists. However, by definition, romanticism has little to do with the truth - and, in fact, even runs counter to it. This is not to cast myself as a staunch materialist, 'cuz I ain't. But romanticism is the same false path to the Real that religion is to a sense of purpose or morality.

Let's not limit ourselves to florid, purple fantasy as the only frame for our dreams. Even as rabid a materialist as Bakunin said, "By reaching for the impossible, man discovers the possible."

Next: Make an art noise here!

Friday, September 07, 2007

I've never felt better in my life...

I literally just got back from seeing the mighty Fall. I'm fuckin' exhausted, so details to follow. For now, suffice it to say they played this:

...and this:

...and I'm bloody floating right now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Self-PR P.S., FYI 2

I just posted a new batch o' Berlin photos here for yr viewing pleasure. Any feedback is welcome & appreciated.

Monday, September 03, 2007

End Hits: It was 20 years ago today...

From the 10th anniversary show

This makes me a lousy so-called devotee, but until I read this superb reminiscence at Chunklet, I forgot that today marks the 20th anniversary of the first-ever Fugazi performance.

In no way does my personal claim on the band come close to that of so many other people, but the sappy truth is that their music changed my life. I had always treated music in a very left-brained, mathematical fashion - more as a craft than an art. It wasn't until I sat slack-jawed, rewinding and rewatching footage of this performance of "Glue Man", that I realized the ferocity, the feral thrust of music was its true intangible magnetism.

Though I've often cursed my late arrival on this planet for having kept me from seeing so many musicians I love, I almost feel spared a greater pain for barely having gotten to see Fugazi. The little of them I saw live put teeth in the oft-repeated claim that the records can't touch the Real thing. Had I gotten to see them dozens of times, being limited to the albums as a sensory experience would be like being surrounded by only shitty photos of a loved one for the rest of my days.

No one's really willing to accept that it's over; I know I can't. I had to remind my wife just the other day that the last time we saw them (at Fort Reno, natch) was, in fact, their last American concert ever. This damn near put her into hysterics. And it's a shame that one last wish will (probably) never be granted.

But we're all better off for them having been here in the first place. Brendan, Joe, Ian, Guy - thank you.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

We've got a full-scale revolution going on...

"Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey... oh, sorry, Joel."

This year has seen a number of pathetic albums by aging iconoclasts. (See: The Fall's Reformation Post TLC, the Stooges' Weirdness, the Beasties' The Mix-Up, etc.) One by one, falling victim to Sick Boy's Grand Unifying Theory ("So we all get old and then we can't hack it anymore...") - but wait! What's that on the horizon? Why, it's a new Brian Jonestown Massacre record! And just what does it sound like, pray tell...?

Well, take a look for yourself.

Anton threw up rough mixes of the newly-tracked album before the recording heads have even cooled - bless his social-revolutionist heart! Though the mixes are indeed a bit burlap on the ears, dare I say this could be the furthest out along the spiral arms Newcombe & Co. have wandered. From the seasick stomp of "Golden Frost" (the video for which is linked above) to the time-warping Kevin-Shields-Vs.-El-P march of "Who Cares Why", not to mention the Expo 70-ish aural bog of "Black Hole Symphony" (imagine a slightly cuddlier SunnO))))... Newcombe is certainly tipping his hand by titling the record My Bloody Underground, but it's a damn hard hand to beat.

An ocean upholstered in people...

There are so many adjectives running through my head looking at this, I can barely pick which aesthetic instinct to follow. And I thought the wave pool at West Ed got full during the winter.

(Hat tip to the awesome Tokyo Mango.)