Wednesday, December 31, 2008



multiplied by this

then divided by this

is, in an approximate, abstract way, what my 2008 was like.

Moving on...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sing a Seasonal Song

What does one do in the afternoon once the internet's been disconnected but packing the suitcases can be put off for another couple of hours?

Bash out a (sort of/not really) seasonal cover song to hurl into the online ether at the behest of the yuletide spirit!

Merry Christmas (and a belated Happy Hanukkah) y'all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Year of the Yawn, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Guitar

In a year where musos, blogdom, and the chattering classes were preoccupied with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Vivian Girls, Bon Iver, and the Last Shadow Puppets, I'm far from the first person to note how colossally dull 2008 was. I also guarantee that many of those now complaining about the annus stolidus are the same who catapulted the Prozac-'n'-pot mediocrity of Panda Bear's Person Pitch to the top of about several dozen End of Year lists in 2007. Gee, who'da thought lauding a reverb-soaked, well-produced snooze would only encourage more of the same?

But, since it's hypocritical to ramble at length on how the past twelve months were so unremarkable - cut to the chase, and click on the mix titles to download. Commentary below.

Five Songs from '08 Albums I Actually Dug

1. "The Guitar"
(by Young Widows, from Old Wounds)
2. "Night of the Lotus Eaters"
(by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, from Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!)
3. "Sag Harbour Bridge"
(by Women, from Women)
4. "Rise to Glory"
(by Earth, from Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull)
5. "Death Goes to the Winner"
(by Harvey Milk, from Life... the Best Game In Town)

Ten Songs from '08 Albums That Were Decent But Disappointing

1. "Life Is a Movie"
(by GZA, from Pro Tools)
2. "Golden Age"
(by TV On the Radio, from Dear Science,)
3. "Beginner's Falafel"
(by Flying Lotus, from Los Angeles)
4. "Ummer"
(by Zach Hill, from Astrological Straits)
5. "Vox Celeste"
(by Deerhunter, from Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.)
6. "Last Day of Magic"
(by the Kills, from Midnight Boom)
7. "Late Repeat"
(by Charlottefield, from What Are Friends For)
8. "Africa Just Wants to Have Fun"
(by Volcano!, from Paperwork)
9. "En Papier"
(by These New Puritans, from Beat Pyramid)
10. "Immediate Mate"
(by Grails, from Doomsdayer's Holiday)

Fifteen Songs from Albums That I First Heard This Year And Now Thoroughly Enjoy For Various Reasons

1. "Just As the Day Was Dawning"
(by Big Business, from Here Come the Waterworks)
2. "Sedan"
(by Todd, from Purity Pledge)
3. "Now I've Got a Sword"
(by the Muggabears, from Night Choreography)
4. "Spywatchers"
(by Icy Demons, from Miami Ice)
5. "Danse de L'enfant et du Roi des Mouches"
(by Jean-Claude Vannier, from L'enfant Assassin Des Mouches)
6. "Stoned Out of My Mind"
(by Speed, Glue, & Shinki, from Speed, Glue, & Shinki)
7. "I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape"
(by Teenage Filmstars, from A Day In the Life of Gilbert and George)
8. "Keep Warm, Keep Well"
(by the Advisory Circle, from Other Channels)
9. "Obedience"
(by Jade Warrior, from Last Autumn's Dream)
10. "Knockout"
(by Jean-Pierre Massiera & Bernard Torello, from Turn the Radio On)
11. "Hell Hound"
(by Sir Lord Baltimore, from Kingdom Come)
12. "Soft Sugar"
(by Noxagt, from Noxagt)
13. "Some Kind of Sad"
(by Ringo Deathstarr, from the Ringo Deathstarr EP)
14. "Crooked Head"
(by Fucked Up, from The Chemistry of Common Life)
15. "City of Dreams"
(by David Lynch & John Neff, from Blue Bob)

In terms of what tickles my sonic libido, I'm tipping my hand enough as it is with that first mix. Preferring not to be patronising, I'll leave you to connect the dots between Nick Cave, Earth, and Harvey Milk for yourself.

More worthy of discussion is what exactly is lacking in that second mix. Most of these releases were accomplished if unconvincing mimicry of sounds that perenially occupy my stereo. "Golden Age" is Prince as produced by Soul Coughing, far surpassing everything else on TVOTR's third album. Zach Hill's solo debut sounded like the Mars Volta covering Brainiac without the crisp production of either. Charlottefield is an impressive post-hardcore lyre bird, doing what was done over a decade ago by Bluetip and Cap'n Jazz as they came down from their adolescent charge. Volcano! join Deerhoof and Ponytail on the growing list of bands whose Jehu/QANU-esque contrapuntal guitar batshittery is ruined by cloying vocals - in this case, David Longstreth-style self-indulgence. These New Puritans are the Fall minus the ramshackle grit and lunatic wit.

So on and so forth - notice the pattern emerging. Granted, Christgau is correct when he says, "Kneejerk vanguardism is an important reason so much online record reviewing sucks." Pedantic envelope-pushing leads to those dead-ends, devoid of critical thought or coherent philosophy, where fashionistas cavort in unitards woven of bacon & emu feathers just 'cuz it ain't been done before. But then what's the alternative? Apparently, it's a lazy, defeatist self-appeasement that affords Pitchfork the hypocrisy of lamenting "a(nother) year when many young bands thrifted decades-old material with déjà-vu results" whilst placing Fleet Foxes atop their year-end album roundup.

The greatest problem posed by the nanosecond hype-cycle of online crit isn't bloody-minded trailblazing as an end unto itself. It's the cliquish fractalisation of subcultures so that the context for enjoyment of a given band or music is so narrow that it's damn near inaccessible. What am I talking about? Okay, Deerhunter are a band that I kinda like. I think their production is half-assed, their melodies predictable, and I can almost see Bradford's bullshit hippy swimmy arm movements when I listen to his self-conscious delivery. But the obvious points of reference are all bands that I really dig, so I can't categorically dislike Deerhunter. Ergo I often ask myself what I'm missing about the band that sends so many listeners over the moon. Well, according to Matthew Perpetua...
It helps to have the context of other Deerhunter records, and probably also Atlas Sound and seeing them live, to get the bigger picture of who Bradford Cox is and what he’s doing, and why it’s special and good, especially in the current context of indie rock circa ‘08.
In other words, only completists need apply to the fanclub. What the fuck good does that do anyone not immediately enthralled with their music? A band needn't be popular to be "special and good," but for them to be important, something needs to resonate beyond a certain navel-gazing blogipelago. But evidently, that's a door I'd need four keys to unlock, and I ain't got the time for that.

I ended my own recap of '07 with the following quote, which at the time was sort of lumped in without proper context. But if *ahem* "underground" music culture continues along its current course, this may become an annual epitaph upon the preceding 12 months:
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"
Happy holidays, everyone. Take care.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Upon further reflection... during a recession, a gesture far more revolutionary, defiant, and indeed practical than burning legal tender would be to print/draw/construct bills of original design without prescribed value. Blank cheques, born of an artist's hand, that can be denominated in exchange, labour, or user value as the transaction demands. A bank built on the corner of artistic endeavor and financial flexibility.

Bit of a strange one last night. Had a dream I was visiting my sister's new house, which looked uncannily like an abandoned psych ward where I worked on a film shoot last year. I was grateful to come in from the snow outside, and even more pleased to see some familiar faces from Halifax - among whom, unaccountably, were at least two members of the Black Lips. The room was festooned in typical retro-mod bobo claptrap - plastic lamps, puke orange rugs, and such. There were also various vintage instruments hung about the walls, familiar in their form & function but disfigured like inanimate victims of Chernobyl. I pulled down what appeared to be a 3/4-scale Fender Jaguar hand-crafted by a drunk with a glass eye; the whammy bar was in an odd position that required the instrument to be played more like a dan bau zither, but it produced the crystalline, swooning drones of a lap-steel.

A voice in back of my head complimented the unrecognisable version of "Candle" I was bashing out (Thurston's part). I turned to see a gaggle of women pacing somnambulantly around the fridge. In appearance and garb, they all looked evenly split between the kind of Brazilian club furniture Lenny Kravitz might marry for a weekend and the girl in high school whose romantic overtures I totally botched translating.

I blinked hard, was back on the couch, and saw Frank Pembleton staring back from the TV, my own stress reflected in his stony expression: that suitcase ain't gonna pack itself, you lazy bastard. Coffee first, Frank. We're not barbarians around here, after all.

Non-Sequitorial Postscript: When satire doesn't go far enough...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Autobahn Kriegeren

Via the always-awesome WFMU blog...

The creative geography employed by the editor is fantastically random. The largest geographic jump created by a single cut is, I guesstimate, just over 3km. Perhaps charting the chase on a municipal map will reveal some secret pattern or message - a constellation perhaps?

What I honestly find so intriguing about various filmic depictions of Hamburg from decades past is how rough the city looks - a bona fide blue-collar shithole with enough character to power the Tom Waits songbook. It's got stubble, grit, and spittle on its chin that makes the Baltimore of The Wire look clean-cut. Who'd have imagined then that, less than a generation later, it would be such a reserved, starched platter of bourgeois predictability?

Ludd Gang

Description of a performance by (a) a pig-in-lipstick has-been pimping themselves of the state fair circuit, or (b) a big fish in the little pond where the chief currency is cred from chin-strokers & dudes in Japanese hand-silkscreened Ts?
He was literally lip-synching to his own voice. Beyond inspired.
Perhaps just incredibly hackneyed scene-blogging with emphasis on the wrong details? At any rate, that the former phrase appears in direct contradiction to the second is why my engagements with members of the "creative class" are infrequent & often hostile.

(Tangentially via Ms. Hopper - and yes, unless the burning of money is part of an anti-Keynesian satirical portrayal of Big Gov't by survivalists who listen to Of Montreal, the gesture is nullified by a recession.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Explaining Us to Each Other, Part 1-A

Yesterday, ads without products did such a marvelous bit of bicultural translation that I'm jacking it to expand and franchise. I'll be skipping the first contrast (about the availability of alcohol at family Christmas festivals) because the English shindigs are knock-offs of the spirit-soaked German Weihnachtsmarkt, and the Japanese don't really have Christmas festivals - y'know, what with the whole not-being-a-Christian-nation thing. I'll compensate by adding a new comparative criterion at the end. Allons-y!

1. Canadians are baffled and intimidated by these:

Germans are baffled and intimidated by these:

Everyone except the Japanese is baffled and intimidated by these:

2. On a crowded subway train at rush hour in Toronto, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person A thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. Person A casually remarks, "Geez, ya think with all the fuckin' fare they're havin' us pay, the TTC could buy some bigger trains, eh?" Person B replies with a familiar grin and chuckles, "Yah, you said it, buddy," because - by social mandate - Canadians are too polite to get into shouting matches on the subway. That's what Americans do.

On a crowded subway train at rush hour in Hamburg, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person A thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. Person A does nothing but glance icily at person B because - by social mandate - to publicly display any more emotion than an Easter Island head is a sign of human weakness and, thus, defeat.

On a crowded subway train at rush hour in Tokyo, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person A thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. Person A says nothing, though his ribcage is likely being compressed to the size of a soup can, because - by social mandate - the nail that sticks out is hammered down. In fact, person A feels meagerly grateful that he wasn't additionally kicked in the shins or elbowed in the gut. Meanwhile, the faint musk of gin & guilt is wafting up from under person B's collar.

3. In any ER across Canada, a young man enters with two of his front teeth missing - a consequence of the questionable tradition of combining cheap alcohol, ice skates, and adrenaline-charged men armed with sticks.

In any ER across Germany, a young man enters with tear-gas poisoning and a smattering of bruises - a consequence of the questionable tradition of combining cheap alcohol, riot cops, and inflammatory rhetoric with a theoretical basis flimsier than a B-52 built from balsa wood.

In any ER across Japan, a young man enters with second-degree burns and singed hair - a consequence of the questionable tradition of combining cheap alcohol and rocket-propelled explosives.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Operation Humble Kanye

Don't do it for me in my absence, America; don't even do it for Stephen. Do it because feigning ignorance is the worst comeback imaginable, and because this half-talented caitiff's rush-job release is little more than Rick James' romantic sociopathy dressed in a Value Village knock-off of Kid A's tundral production. We're talking about a guy exhibiting the same specious symptoms as one of the most famous fictional psychos of our culture, fer chrissakes.

Update (Dec. 5): Boo-yah!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Took You to Make Me Realize

Hey, remember this guy? Of course - at least, this is how we'd prefer to remember him. This uncharacteristically placid candid was snapped back when Axl was my age. That was twenty years ago.

More recently, when the titular first single from Chinese Democracy hit the air, it was swiftly ripped and uploaded for all to hear. Appetite For Destruction was the first cassette I ever bought, so of course I gave it a listen. The tune opened with the hiss of that same cavernous reverb that swells at the beginning of Historical Military Epics For Dummies movie trailers. Slithering in the background was that pterodactyl-call throat-clearing effect that Axl famously bellowed over the intro to "Welcome To the Jungle" - a recollection Rose undoubtedly is counting on his listeners making. After the yawn of another several seconds of ebow drones, the first power chord hit - that metallic teeth-gnash of fleshless guitar recorded direct-to-DAW, toasted by SansAmp then reheated by Guitar Rig. You know it: that digindustrial distortion perfected fifteen years ago by Trent Reznor on the Broken EP.

That was fifty seconds I could have spent refilling my coffee cup. I sighed and closed the audio stream, and haven't listened to a minute more of Chinese Democracy.

Though I was pretty certain I already knew what the rest of the album would sound like, all my suspicions were confirmed by a friend last week. "It's pretty bizarre to hear someone just lose their mind via ProTools," he said. "I mean, it's a Nine Inch Nails record. Just not a very good one."

It's long been part of the G'n'R folklore that Axl's fixation on the post-Ministry industrial sound (by way of 120 Minutes) irreparably split band consensus on their 1990s direction. By almost all accounts, Rose had become smitten with the little-known electro-hysteric act that opened a European leg of the Use Your Illusion tour and never looked back. Rose probably saw more than a little of himself in the up-and-coming Reznor: a pasty, brooding frontman fighting an intermittent heroin addiction, prone to onstage tantrums at shows that occasionally descended into violence, screaming songs of distinctly male adolescent angst that exuded enough sass to get girls to the gigs. Axl also probably knew that, having been the hood ornament on the ugly transitional moment sandwiched between the Reagan & Clinton eras, Guns 'N' Roses would not enjoy the same predominance in the dawning decade.

Chinese Democracy's stylistic nods to NIN (not to mention poaching a member or two) are oft-remarked-upon enough as to be unavoidable, which casts the whole album in a very odd, unseemly light. This ersatz fourteen-track parade float to ProTools is a desperate attempt by Axl Rose to surpass younger, harder, faster rivals who first reared their heads fifteen years ago. The album was only ever deemed done (enough to release, at least) once Rose had stared so deeply into his own megalomania that the project became its own hypotextual simulacrum, Synecdoche, New York-style. Of course, as such & without the barest hint of objectivity, Axl was in no position to guage if the album was any good, let alone whether he'd surmounted The Downward Spiral. That it took him this long to decide that he had guarantees that he hasn't.

Surely it hasn't escaped Axl that the Elvis engraved upon our cultural memories is not the young, hip, dangerously sexy Elvis, but the bloated caricature bedecked in gold lamé, an asphyxiating bullfrog lamely executing karate kicks with a rock of coke in each nostril. That should have been warning enough for Axl to enjoy the mystique that compounded with each additional year of silent seclusion. But it's too late to leave well-enough alone now. He could have been the Syd Barrett of the LA jet(trash)set. Instead...

Non-sequitorial postscript: And you didn't even have to wait 17 years for it.