Wednesday, February 25, 2004

After The Fact

Music is a soundtrack to life - ever changing, advancing, revising, revisiting, abandoning. I value initial impressions and early immersions, but more often I find insight and worth in considering music after it has been lived with and adjusted. Of course, all this could just be my excuse for not really reviewing or addressing "the album of albums" from last year - Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Now that I've had five months or so to break it in (oh, and it won some polls and Grammys and stuff in the meantime), I figure its as cooked as it will get (I mix metaphors like I'm melting Velveeta/Straight from the microwave, too hot to eat, yeah).

I really think most of The Love Below is shit. It's highs absolutely soar - the doubts amidst the joyous noise of "Hey Ya!"; the hopefulness of "Prototype" (which, to my mind, sounds like some sort of hybrid of Jeff Buckley and Cameo); the slutty near cha-cha grind of "Spread"; the (gasp!) skits "God" and "Where Are My Panties?" However, things go horribly, undeniably wrong. "Roses really smell like boo-boo"? I keep hearing comparisons to "Sign 'O' The Times", but I hear more eighties electro-funk like the aforementioned Cameo. "Behold A Lady" sounds like an outtake from She's Strange, but not in a good way. I just can't get into the spiral of narcissistic obsession and retro-retreads that is the second half of The Love Below.

Speakerboxxx isn't all gold stars either. However, for what I assume are thematic reasons, Big Boi's disc gets the one culture bomb concocted by the self-styled funkateers: "Ghettomusick". I brought this up in my singles post (which, excepting the Maroon 5, I stand by):
The craziest single by a major artist that I can remember. At least three different songs are merged into this genre busting techno/soul/rapalicious spectacular. Nothing prepared me for hearing this song for the first time - Stankonia, masterpiece that it is, did not clue me in to this possibility.
Yet Speakerboxxx keeps the bar fairly high, with "Unhappy", "Bowtie", "The Rooster", "Knowing" and "Reset"; all of which stand up well in comparison to best of The Love Below. It fails too - the tracks featuring guests outside of the Dungeon Family crew ("Tomb of the Boom" and "Flip Flop Rock") are particularly purge-worthy - but it fails by reaching out too far (see "War") instead of reaching in.

Speakerboxxx is another step on the trail blazed by Aquemini and Stankonia; perhaps not as big a step (seeing as it is one not two), but a further evolution. The Love Below is a step to the side, and in many ways a look back. If Andre can learn from the rich and mostly untapped heritage of eighties funk and soul instead of aping it (even if it is out of love), the slight change of paths may make the road ahead wider and richer.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Unsolicited and [unintelligible-ed.] Thoughts on D. Rascal

I hate starting things with a disclaimer, but any mention or discussion of Dizzee Rascal that does not come complete with cultural signifiers and proper Garage/Hardcore/Grime resume seems to require one. I don't know his background, anymore than what I've read in pieces like this one at Slate, or through absurdly long ILX forum posts like What Drugs Are You On?, and the more tentatively titled Not Sure About Dizzee Rascal.... Of course, none of this gives me any real insight into him or his scene, and yet I have in my possession his CD. That, in reality, is all the context I need. I'm not, and never will be, part of the scene that birthed him and his esthetic; same as I'm not part of Warhol's Factory, but feel I can talk about the Velvet Underground; same as I'm a white Northern New England boy who can appreciate and discuss the music of Public Enemy or Morris Day or "The Water Dance".

Here's where I'm coming from: I'm bored with most mainstream rap - whether the mealy-mouthed rhythm-less New Yorkers led by Jay-Z and 50 Cent; the ass-obsessed and musically bankrupt southern crunk of Lil-Jon and the underachieving Ludacris; the AWOL or irrelevant LA contingent; even the forward-looking Neptunes seem to be tentative and recycling (is "Milkshake" that different from "Light Your Ass On Fire"? Or "Beautiful" any further than a kissing cousin from "Pass the Courvoisier"?). Underground rap (I refuse to call it "undie-rap" until someone does a song with the line "swaddling ho's") is slightly more interesting, though my somewhat limited exposure leads me to believe the figure of Kool Keith is still too large an influence, and Prince Paul and Dan Nakamura-esque sonic stylings too prevalent.

Onto this landscape, so reminiscent of 1997, comes Dizzee Rascal. With a beat too hollow and open, a cold, electronic, soul-less sound - Vangelis through a tweeter, all too much treble - "Sittin' Here" introduces a thoughtful man in a thoughtless world, a land never changing, the beat matching it in complacency and vigilance. Sounds of the outside filter by - sirens, tire squeals, the whistle and hum of a train, the sadly relevant and all-too recognizable pop of low-caliber firearms.
"And it’s the same old story, students truent, learn the streets fluent
Yeah it’s the same old story, strange, there’s no sign of positive change"

Boy In Da Corner isn't just another document of hopeless life - like all musical documents of modern inner city living, there are liberal doses of bragging machismo ("Fix Up, Look Sharp", "Jus' A Rascal") and tales of loose women ("I Luv You", "Jezebel") amidst the squalor and lack of opportunity. Dizzee is not a lyricist without peer - there are times his young age comes through in childish rhymes - for example, "Cut 'Em Off" rhymes "a lot" with "a lot" six times in eight lines. Where Dizzee makes marks is as a producer, for Boy In Da Corner is constantly interesting and inventive, recycling old samples into new rhythms, creating digital beats strikingly inorganic yet lively. It's the sound of the wind blowing through a slow growing field of transistors, capacitors and microchips; the sonic translation of the smell of ozone and shrinkwrap.

I think it is important to note here that this album is a product not from a rap tradition but from a dance culture, and is not something sprung like Athena from his mind full formed. I don't know his antecedents, but in my mind's ear I hear more of a Jamaican toaster over dub plates rather than a rapper over a dj mix. The musical tracks are so stripped and simple, beat over depth, like an evolution of Lee Perry or Augustus Pablo. Perhaps that explains it's profound difference when compared to the American rap traditions, mainstream or underground; it's not apples and oranges, it's steak and eggs - compatible, yes, but comparable? No.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004



As I speak, the violent are getting justice, whether they are unjust or just, deserving or not, for they are undeniably violent; and by acting thusly we, as Americans, are a safer people throughout the world, thanks to our men and women in uniform.

Our borders are secure; secure with the knowledge we have gleaned about our own people through means legal and means yet unchallenged in the court of law. The good citizens and now recently legitimized illegal aliens have nothing to fear, excepting the fear engendered by my policies and practices and color-coded alerts. The nasty, evil, vile and despicable citizens and illegitimate illegal aliens shall also feel this aforementioned fear, as well as other abstract fears justified by their possible thoughts and actions.

It is this fear, suspicion and violence that clutches at America’s heart, stymieing her economic growth, limiting her ability to care for naught but her wealthy, causing untold hardship for her young and her elderly. The only way for us to rise above this calamitous situation is by doing all we can to enable the best of us, the captains of industry, to operate freely and unhindered. These shining lights of corporate responsibility will lead those of us most deserving through the haze and destitution to a bright future astride the world.

War on Terror

To many of you, there is a hope that in the two years after the tragedies of September 11th we have put the worst behind us. To those Americans, optimists one and all, I am here to tell you it is a false hope; a hope born from the belief that as your President I would find a way to stem the tide of terrorism, to counter the hatred and fear of Americans felt throughout the World; a hope that I would make you safe. This belief is like a false god that has led you all astray. It is not yet within my power to turn this tide – only if you allow me to continue the work I’ve started with the Patriot Act, with wrongful imprisonment and “enemy combatant” categorization of American citizens, with willful disregard of international laws and institutions – only then will my government begin to take the first meager steps towards confronting and quelling the rising terrorist waters that threaten to drown us all.

In Afghanistan, some people were caught, some niggling progress has been made; but really, other issues arose and I’ve lost interest in these poor and uncooperative people who can’t offer my friends and I anything of consequence. Please pay no attention to the fact that I have yet to fulfill the one promise I made to the American people that would make a difference: I have yet to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive.


In an unrelated action - one which only last year I incorrectly and incoherently connected to the ongoing War on Terror we are intermittently waging - we are finding in Iraq not weapons of mass destruction, as I led you all to believe, but a political nightmare of guerrilla insurgency coupled with mewling cries for “Democracy”. The ingratitude of these people, liberated from a tyranny long supported by the West, I find personally repellent. One man whose word was law once ruled them; no one, and no law now rule them. This newfound freedom is scorned by those who would have us leave them to their own devices. To these people I say only this: America will not be told what to do by a small band of thugs, killers and hypocrites who ignore the rules of law and who would dare to operate outside their boundaries, hoping and conniving to seize power for themselves.

The success of operations in Iraq has changed the face of the world. No longer do international scofflaws flaunt their deviant and illicit behavior like painted queens and nancy boys, or strut like leather-clad lotharios, bragging of missiles and powerful “biological agents”. No, those days are past. Former bad boys like Moammar Gadhafi are changing their ways and being straight with the international community. We hope that this same, firm, hand will help loosen things up and enable us to penetrate the uranium programs of the North Koreans. The crisis there will only end when Kim Jong Il stops rebuffing our advances and acquiesces with full, naked, capitulation. When we are finished, there will be a large opening in North Korea.

Some of you, for some strange reason, do not agree with my so-called War on Terror. Some do not believe in my faith-based intelligence programs, or my firm belief that God removed all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq in order to ease our victory. Some of you question my decision to ignore international law in my personal jihad against the man I now call my bitch, Saddam Hussein. I answer you thusly: you can never know the strength of something until it is torn down and utterly destroyed. Without my systematic, piece-by-piece, dismantling of the UN and NATO, who would now truly understand the power and importance of these institutions?

For those of you who doubt the possibility of free and democratic societies in the Middle East, I say, “Poo on you.” The nations of Islam have a chance now to prove that they are not the backward pits of ignorance and hate I have often portrayed. Programs are underway to counter their anti-American propaganda with pro-American propaganda like the Voice of America and Fox television’s The Simple Life. The protection they are providing for Michael Jackson is a small step towards a better life for their people.


My tax cuts have cured all our economic ailments, and are so far reaching as to have positive effects around the globe. The Indian economy grows in leaps and bounds as more and more high-level technical jobs are exported there from locations here at home. This export surplus allows our corporations to continue to pay dividends to you, the stockholders.

The productivity of the American worker is as high as Dick Cheney’s hairline (He, He, He. Dick - didn’t think I’d leave that zinger in did ya?) – of course, with the number of jobs decreasing, we must expect everyone to work harder to stay employed. In solidarity with the average American, I have cut my four-day weekends to a bare minimum.

The skills needed for the future American workforce can often be learned in schools, of which we, as Americans, have many in public. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind act, our public schools are learning in ways never before accounted for. And, as is implied in the name of the program, all of our American youth are now being properly prepared for the Rapture.

I would like now to return to the crux of my economic policies: tax cuts for the rich and well connected. As you know, in order to finagle these cuts through Congress I had to put expiration dates on them of 2010. That allowed me to portray them as far less devastating to future generations then they in fact are. In this election year, when I must appeal strongly to my exceedingly rich constituents and cronies, I ask, nay I demand, that this cuts be made permanent. You know they aren’t going to expire anyways – the rich people would have a cow – so I expect them to be made permanent so my political opponents can be fairly portrayed as the taxing taxers they truly are.

Health Care

By adding token prescription drug support, I have taken a huge plank out of the Democratic platform and smacked them in the face with it. And, thanks to the good work of Dr. H.M.O. Frist, I don’t even have to propose paying for it until after the election, since coverage doesn’t start until 2006. Dr. Frist also got a big gap in coverage to open right in the range most seniors fall in so we won’t be depriving the drug companies from their profits. This new coverage also prevents the States from negotiating prices with the drug companies – something we do through the Veteran’s Administration. But what’s good for the Feds can often bite States in the ass.

Oh, before I forget – Kids, stay off the drugs. Trust me on this one, okay? For once I know what I’m talking about.

Let me take a moment here to speak on something close to my heart; America’s many multi-millionaire athletes. It is a shame, all them drugs you’re doing. Especially you baseball players. When I was the owner of that Texas team – the uhm… Textros, none of my players did drugs. And if they did, I wish I knew about it. Then, not now – I’m clean and sober thanks to God and Laura and that weird therapy where they forced me to watch porn and graphic violence with my eyelids held open.

Same-sex Marriage

Activist judges are scourges on the rights of the nation. Activist judges declare themselves above the law, interpreting clear things through the haze of activism. As everyone who counts knows, the sanctity of marriage is as sanctimonious as it can get. What people want to do with their privates is one thing; when people want their privates recognized in public we’re talking about something else altogether.

It is time for us to recognize that our country was founded by religious wackos kicked out of Europe due to their extremist beliefs. As the heirs to their religious heirlooms, we should take all steps necessary to ensure that the only acceptable marital state is man and woman, excepting when they get divorced, which could be for any reason under the sun. Since, as Britney Spears said, “Marriage is not something I take lightly,” I anticipate and urge all of you to work toward codifying this in some kind of code.

If we fail in this, we will soon reach levels of depravity only dreamed of by Senator Santorum: man on dog.

Faith-based Initiatives

It is also important to strengthen our communities by unleashing the compassion of America's religious institutions. For only through this unbridled compassion will we indoctrinate the next generation with our proper faith-based bigotry. Someone once said, at least I heard it once in Texas, “God is a concept…um, meaning… he didn’t sign up for the armed services but was drafted.” So, like God, we must, whether we want to or not, be willing to have faith that those imprisoned, their mentors, and their mentors’ children will repent, convert, tithe and proselytize. If we are unwilling to be concepted into this cause, the terrorists will have won.


In the past, Americans welcomed in strangers, forgave those who asked for forgiveness, and turned the other cheek, all as Jesus taught us to do. Since September 11th, all of this has changed. We have faced the challenges that many of you amongst them were unsure were ahead or behind, with a steely resolve and compassionate fortitude unbeknownst to all the others. We sense we live in a time outside of time, like in Clockers. And in this time, we have faced the challenge victoriously.

I’ve seen many things, both real and imagined, and pulled a few boners, like that “Mission Accomplished” bit on the aircraft carrier. Last month someone in Guam, which my people assured me was in someway a part of this fair nation, sent me a letter. I was told that in this letter, from an “ashy person”, aged 10, a question was asked. This question was not, as I was hoping, “What would Brian Boitano Do?” but was asking what this dry skinned American of Guamese descent could do to save our country.

My answer is this: study hard, go to church, do what your parents ask (unless, of course, they’re heathen democrats), and when you see a man in uniform, thank him for conquering your country at some point in the past. Because I know from school that Guam isn’t one of the consequential United States.

May God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

(CNN has the transcript of the original, broken into these same sub-headings, available here.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

Christmas Listening

Caught up in all my Christmas joy of Reason 2.5, I forgot to say that my wife gave me a couple of the albums that I mentioned I hadn't gotten to in my Best of 2003 post; M. Ward's Transfiguration of Vincent and the Drive-By Truckers' Decoration Day.

Transfiguration of Vincent has so far cut closer and deeper than the Truckers latest. This is by no means a slight to Decoration Day (which I will get to later), just that M. Ward's meditations on death and loss have an engaging openness that hold and comfort me like a well-worn blanket. Rarely have I come across a work of art that deals with loss that makes it seem, at least for now, that it'll be alright. On some tracks there is a strong Neil Young influence - the Southern country shuffle via the sunny West Coast provided by backing band the Old Joe Clarks often touches on the Harvest/Harvest Moon sound of Neil's backing band the Stray Gators - but it seems to be equally marked by little guitar figures reminiscent of Ira Kaplan's work in Painful-era Yo La Tengo, particularly on the sublime "Outta My Head".

Part of this album's appeal is in it's timeless quality. The recording gives a great illusion of space - it sounds like a group of musicians around an old condenser microphone with "RKO" or "Columbia" in shining steel running down the side - and in parts sounds like a pristine 78. "Get to the Table on Time" is a great example of this effect - voices fall behind one another, echoing, with the tempo slipping slightly at the start of the second verse as in a live take. Ward's voice, which on prior releases hasn't always seemed right for the music, here fits to a tee. In a gentle falsetto - often reminiscent of Ward's friend Jason Lytle of Grandaddy - he teeters on the brink of pathos and bathos, managing that delicate art to perfection.

Everyone who knows the album is now waiting for the inevitable; what do I think of his cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance"? A delicate, fragile reconsideration of Bowie's dance to the end of the world pop trifle. It's good - surprising and even revelatory on first hearing - but is not up to the level of some of the other songs on this album. "Sad, Sad Song" is my current favorite, a jaunty little number about the loss of love (imagine "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free" if the songwriter took lethal levels of percocet and methamphetamine and realized he was suddenly alone in the world).

Drive-By Truckers' Decoration Day is the follow-up to their sprawling Southern Rock Opera (a two-disc meditation on the Lynyrd Skynyrd tragedy and other Southern rock mythos, for any of you who may be wondering). The Truckers are still mining that classic Southern Rock sound, though mixing some more countryish picking and metalesque rawk into the mix. I like the Truckers sound (there is something to be said of any band that would fit in fine behind the chicken-wire in the movie Roadhouse), but what I find most appealing is how they ground the sound of the South with a lyrical portrait of the South missing from Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet or Black Oak Arkansas - it's not all good beneath the Stars and Bars.

Patterson Hood seem as influenced by the Child Ballads of Appalachia as the experiences of those around him; the lyrics of "Sink Hole" mix a classic murder ballad theme of righteous killing with a threatened foreclosure on the family farm. The other songwriters, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell draw more on the anger and feelings of futility of the present day (for examples, listen to "Pin Hits The Shell" and "Outfit", respectively) . This mixture of tropes, truisms and observations makes the album move along, never staying overlong with one style or singer.

This is not to say that individual songs aren't too long or don't drag internally. While the album flows nicely, like many musicians these days, the Truckers aren't always succinct. Why stop after three minutes if you can play for five, six or seven? What may seem fine live can seem long here (my wife would argue that the 3:51 of "My Sweet Annette" is roughly a minute too long, as they repeat themselves musically and lyrically to no good effect). But it is a small quibble for such a quality piece of work.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Pretender to the Crown

I am so glad Frodo left Bilbo's book behind when he went off on that boat with the elves. Elves! Why, Samwise Gamgee, who would ever think you would be so casual with dropping elves all over the place, willy nilly? Why, not your pa, Ol' Gaffer, that's for sure. Yes, I sure am glad I got this here book - There and Back Again & The Lord of the Rings. Frodo said, he said to me, "Sam, I was able to finish my tale. But there is still space in the book; space for you to tell the further tales of the Hobbits." Well, I'm no storyteller like Master Frodo, but maybe with the help of Merry and Pippen I'll be able to carry on. But first, I really ought to see what good old Frodo wrote about us.

Well, I'll be! This just won't do. I better get Merry and Pippen to have a look...

After a couple of pints at the Green Dragon Inn, we all decided Master Frodo took all the high drama and amazing feats of Hobbit derring-do out of his Lord of the Rings. "That just won't do," I said to Pippen, "Why, he forgot the part where I said, I said to him, 'Master Frodo,' I said, 'I may not be able to carry that there ring for you, but, pardon my language, but darn it all, I can sure as sure can carry you!' I said to him."

And Pippen, well, Pippen slammed his mug right down on the table and he said to me, he said, "You're right there Sam, right as rain," he said, continuing, "Why, he wasn't even in Gondor when I, with just my rubbery toes, climbed up the outside of the highest cliff/tower in the city and lit the beacon fire! We have to add that part in - him saying that the fires were lit before I even got there - why, to even think that any of them tall folk could do anything without us Hobbits!"

Merry then jumped up, crying out that Master Frodo had done him wrong. "I knew all along that the rider I was with from Dunharrow to Gondor was Eowyn," he said to me, "I could tell because of her, you know, scent..." I had to nod, knowing it was probably true. Why, Meriadoc Brandybuck is known all throughout the Shire for having a nose for a piece of tail.

Merry also said that as he was the one of us who was right in the thick of things out on the Pelennor Fields he should get to "add some color." "Frodo didn't talk about the cool stuff - like when Legolas cut the strap on that oliphaunt tower, and used it to go right to the top!" he said, with a crazed cross-eyed grin, "It was just like one of those stories ol' Georgie Lucas tells out at the Ranch. Though maybe we should leave out the part where good old Wedge - that's what the guys at Edoras all call Eomer - riding his horse, wrapped up that mumakil's legs with a rope and tripped him up."

I told the Fellows' - that being the short name Merry and Pip and I, Samwise Gamgee, use for Fellowship, you know - I told them I would take all their ideas and put 'em all in Frodo's book. And, I have to say, after making those changes, after putting in some of "the old whiz-bang" (as Gandalf, bless his heart, was fond of saying of his fireworks), it's almost a spectacle! Though, I got to say, as my Ol' Gaffer wouldn't have it any other way, that I did take a little liberty when it came to the elves. All elves, all the time! I'm just a sucker for elves. And Lady Arwen - Aragorn's old lady, nowadays - well, I always did wish she had played a part in our story. So I made up something about her being tied to the fate of the ring, yadda-yadda, and there it is.

Why Samwise Gamgee, you've done a good thing, even if you have to say so yourself. I can just see it - in the future, millions of people will think this is the true story of the Ring, and none will be the wiser.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Erik's Lists: The Best Albums of 2003

It's that time of year. Largehearted Boy has his list up, with video and MP3 links to boot. Apparently, Spin magazine also has published their list. So what am I waiting for? Am I likely to buy all the best albums of the year in the next three weeks? I've taken a gander at what is waiting in the wings and I don't see a great mythical monster on the horizon. So, with all together too much ado, here are my favorites of the year.

6. Dear Catastrophe Waitress - Belle & Sebastian.

After the cataclysmic failure of the Storytelling soundtrack, coupled with the mediocre at best Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, I had all but written off Belle & Sebastian. But something about this intrigued me; the departure of the amazingly bad Isobel Campbell, coupled with Trevor Horn's production and the return of Stuart Murdoch to the position of primary songwriter seemed worth a listen. At first I was puzzled with the new sound - on top of the expected sixties chamber pop sound (the word "twee" has always been an apt descriptor) are layers of seventies jangly guitars and lush strings, even a touch of - can it be? - new wave Britishisms not unlike XTC or The Squeeze - album closer "Stay Loose" flirts heavily with "Cool For Cats"/"Up The Junction" guitar and vocal sounds. Even Thin Lizzy gets a nod both lyrically and with the dual electric guitars on the infectious "I'm a Cuckoo." And the more I listen, the better this album gets. It's definitely a step forward; the first real progression since If Your Feeling Sinister. It's the Belle & Sebastian album for people who don't wear cardigans and courderoy pants.

5. Tiny Voices - Joe Henry.

I covered this one pretty well already, but suffice to say it won't loosen its grip. Better experienced as an entire piece, rather than individual tracks, though the title track, "Leaning" and "Your Side of My World" are all highpoints. I missed a chance to see him in Portland last month; I just couldn't bring myself to pay to see him open for Ani DiFranco. Must... not... support... Ani DiFranco; for she is the female Robert Pollard, and desperately needs to learn to weed the good from the very, very, bad.

4. Deliverance - Bubba Sparxxx.

In a year when the Crunky South rose again in force with some seriously good albums (Ludacris' Chicken and Beer and the Outkast bomb Speakerboxxx/The Love Below come to mind), Bubba sits in heaviest rotation in my household. It must be noted that the production, from both Timbaland and the Organized Noize crew, is better than anything else I've heard this year. Original, contagious, and tight, with loops and samples that add to Bubba's rhymes. "Comin' Round", featuring a chorus from the Yonder Mountain String Band, is an early highlight, a fiddle and blooping synth masterpiece. But Bubba doesn't rest on his laurels like he did on Dark Days, Bright Nights - here he follows up with "Warrant" and "Deliverance", and punches it home hard with "Like It Or Not" and album closer "Back In The Mud." It must also be noted that there is only one skit. One. Plus an album intro. So refreshing in this day of filler and padding. Fifteen tracks, thirteen actual songs.

3. Sumday - Grandaddy.

I can't help but hear this in relation to the Flaming Lips last album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Digression: Isn't Yoshimi just a remix of The Soft Bulletin? Except actually less original than a remix would have been? Just a thought). Treading similar grounds of technology v. humanity; sentimentality amidst disillusionment; falsetto vocals from grown men; Grandaddy grips me with their postcard vignettes and melodic banality. Cutting the BS from that load I just penned, Jason Lytle and company have, with Sumday, done a wonderful job of capturing the quintessentially American malaise of having too much, yet amounting to nothing; the ennui of an age of electronic efficiency and the growing obsolescence of the human being. Wow, did I not cut the BS at all. How about Galaxie 500 jamming with Gram Parsons, or the Flaming Lips covering Lambchop's Nixon without a lyric sheet? Regardless, I like it and listen often.

2. Give Up - Postal Service.

Forgiving the geek weakness of the premise (they mailed the tracks back and forth, adding lyrics to music, thus the band name), the Postal Service's first (and hopefully not last) album is just a wonderful piece of pop electronica that expands upon the band member's collaboration on Dntel's "This Is The Dream of Evan and Chan". After the first time I heard "Clark Gable", I knew that I must own this album. From the opening organ-like notes and computer claps of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", through the lush synthesized tones and manic percussion of "The Natural Album", Give Up rarely falters. Were the lyrics as consistently sharp as on "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" (You seem so out of context/ In this gaudy apartment complex/ A stranger with your door key/ Explaining that I am just visiting/ And I am finally seeing/ Why I was the one worth leaving) without the quality drops of all of "Sleeping In" or the cringeworthy opening of "Such Great Heights" (I am thinking it's a sign/ That the freckles in our eyes/ Are mirror images and when we kiss/ They're perfectly aligned) it would have been a harder choice for my album of the year. But the inconsistencies leave them a bit behind the frontrunner, despite a valiant effort.

1. Neon Golden - Notwist.

Though released overseas in early 2002, it was not widely available here until February of this year. Last year I heard the haunting banjo & electronica track "Thrashing Days" on an Uncut magazine cd sampler, and waited patiently for the albums' US release (having never even heard of them before, I couldn't justify import prices). But "Thrashing Days", as unique as it is, did not prepare for the way the band works its hybrid sound. In my mind it is the most organic and soulful use of an electronic compositional base I've ever heard. The fuzz tones, gleeps, beeps and synthetic strings serve as a counter texture to the solid bass, guitar, drumming and percussion. No element dominates; even Markus Acher's vocals are subsumed in the mix, broken and reworked as another piece of the puzzle. From song to song they explore different techniques and soundscapes, but rarely do they seem to sound like anyone but themselves ("Pilot" does have an updated New Order vibe, particularly the percussion and drum tones). I never expected to hear a band sample a Michael Nyman score to a Peter Greenaway film ("Solitaire" samples and loops a string progression from Drowning By Numbers), or to like a song whose entire lyrics consist of the phrase "neon golden like all the lights. neon golden. don't leave me here for I glow. neon golden." And yet, I find it hypnotic and engaging, an original and powerful piece of art.

Special Award for Best Collection Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush: The American Song-Poem Anthology - Various Artists.

The idea of making these vanity recordings (these are all recordings of songs that "ordinary" people would pay companies to record and press onto vinyl. A vanity press for songwriters, costing anywhere from $60 - $500 or so. For more information, the liner notes are online) more widely available is both wonderful and perverse. Either you love it or you don't. Either the premise works for you, or it is the most horrifying thing to ever be played in your hearing. For me it is liquid crack, an addiction I don't know how to break (I went so far as to spend a recent Saturday morning downloading each and every MP3 from the American Song-Poem Music Archives website. Until you've heard all three versions of "Midwifery" you really can't make any comments as to quality). Now, in addition to this collection of the "best-of" these recordings, there is a Christmas album Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?". In case you were wondering, "Jimmy Carter Says Yes" is the best political song of my lifetime.

A note about this list. There are a few albums that I have heard in part or in full, but have not purchased that I want to mention. I believe, based on my first impressions, that they would have been in the running if I had gotten off my ass and picked them up. They are, in no particular order; Transfiguration of Vincent - M. Ward, Decoration Day - Drive-By Truckers, Charm School - Bishop Allen, Boy In Da Corner - Dizzee Rascal. The Dizzee Rascal I am sure to pick up upon its US release next month, so it may make next year's list. The M. Ward and Drive-By Truckers are on my list to get, but they have yet to make it into my grubby little hands. Lastly, the Bishop Allen I had never even heard of until David put them on his Largehearted list. The MP3s on his site made me realize that I must get Charm School, and fast.

Monday, November 24, 2003

A Day In The Life: Melissa's Mix

I took the approach of a radio show with Bobby's mix - good flow for three or four tracks, obvious break, another short sequence, pause, etc. With my sister's mix I made a soundtrack, a possible day, with highs and lows and in-between. So it is very different, but I think works because of the goal I had set.

1. "Hyper-Ballad" - Bjork. Hands down my favorite Bjork track. It has the feel of the time between sleeping and wakefulness, a hazy melange of two very different states. It is the time of day when anything is possible.

2. "Drop" - Cornelius. Water moves, the tempo swells. Cleansing the auditory palate for another's days journey. Yes, I occasionally talk like this in real life.

3. "Close To Me" - The Cure. This is the version from Mixed Up. I feel this is the rare case of a remix adding to the feel of the original instead of remaking it. It's hard not to smile and bounce a little to this, which is a good way to get going as the day awaits.

4. "Bowtie" - Outkast. Big Boi melds Clinton (George) with Crunk and celebrates self-expression with style. It's the sound of a big booty'd peacock, strutin'. The horns call to the sun, daring it to shine in the face of such radiant splendor.

5. "Peek-A-Boo" - Siouxsie & the Banshees. The horns get weird as the late morning starts to ask you why you got out of bed. Sometimes you wonder, and your mind wanders...

6. "Run On For A Long Time" - The Blind Boys of Alabama. A bit of a startling shift, a clarion call to judgment. It's high noon, and where do you stand?

7. "I Cry" - Lamb. The beat pulls, the synth soothes. Over this comes a voice, disembodied, floating. It's an inward song, a song of self. It sounds milky to me, reminiscent of a tryptophanic state of mind. Digestion music.

8. "PMS" - Mary J. Blige. If there is a better song about this particular female condition I don't know it. Plus, Mary rules.

9. "Cure For Pain" - Morphine. The day is long, work drags, the heart and mind want new stimuli, or at least a way out.

10. "Harder To Breathe" - Maroon 5. Silly riffs, poorly played. Under three minutes of a tempo change, as we go to -

11. "The Stroke" - Billy Squier. The workday is done, and the pulse needs shaking. It's a driving home song, crude and simple, easy to sing, easy to nod to.

12. "Darling Nikki" - Foo Fighters. So earnest and true. Dave Grohl sells this with a different kind of dirty than Prince did. It's a sweaty-mechanic dirty, stringy hair and all. Everyone likes to sing along to Prince, and when it's heavy, it's a different kind of fun.

13. "Well Did You Evah!" - Debbie Harry & Iggy Pop. From the seemingly forgotten Red, Hot & Blue, the king and queen of scummy majesty take Cole Porter into gutters and dives in search of the party. Are you ready to go out now?

14. "Hey Ladies (Paul Nice remix)" - The Beastie Boys. Clubbing circa '89 via '78. Just a great dance tune, silly and throw away as all pop should be. Irrelevant and essential, a winning combination.

15. "Informer" - Snow. I'm sorry, but the Snow man once claimed us all. This and Ice Cube's "When Will They Shoot?" ruled my party mixes in 1993. It's my party that I'm playing for my sister, so of course it's dated. I don't get around much anymore...

16."Who's In The Tomb?" - Black Uhuru. Dub version of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" mixed with the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The party begins to slow and wind down, but there's still a little movement left in the feet and hips.

17. "Everything I Own" - Ken Boothe. Bread's treacle recast here as a soulful reggae masterpiece, which lords it over Boy George's weak reggae travesty. Ken Boothe means his words, painfully, skillfully, truly. The party is over, the day nearly done, and home you head with the one you love.

18. "Sweet Child of Mine" - Luna. A G'N'R lullaby to close your eyes and drift away, soft and gentle. Nothing follows but dreams of a new day.

A very different mix, with highs and lows to follow the tides of a day. Not perfect - no day is - but a mixture of different styles and thoughts. Now that these two are done, it's time to get in gear and ramp up for Christmas.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Erik's Lists: 2003 Single Possibilities

I never have been known not to fold under pressure. As more and more people start compiling year end lists, I guess I should let people in on some personal highlights of music from the last ten plus months. Here for your consideration, in not too particular an order, are some singles I've enjoyed.

1. "Ignition (remix)" - R. Kelly. Easily my favorite R. Kelly song ever (though the remix of "Feelin' On Your Booty" is mighty fine), here he really seems to be having fun. There just isn't enough fun in music anymore. Every release seems so calculated, with just the right guest spot or hot video director or what-have-you. I like fun. I love how he slyly begins, "Now, usually I don't do this, but..." I like fun.

2. "Harder To Breathe" - Maroon 5. Utterly derivative, catchy and, again, fun. Plus the drummer sings a falsetto harmony during the chorus, and it's actually not very well done. Maybe I just like white-boy guitar funk. Something about it strikes me as Jamiroquai jamming with "Detroit Breakdown"-style J. Geils Band, except it's good.

3. "In Da Club" - 50 Cent. I'm not a fan - I pretty much hated the album, but this song is undeniable. Just a party definite for years to come. That "techno stab" keyboard with the hand claps is just another Dr. Dre masterpiece. Plus 50 manages to keep to the rhythm for an entire song, which is undeniably a record for this cut rate Biggie wannabe.

4. "The Laws Have Changed" - New Pornographers. The return of the Canadian indie-pop supergroup, which is comprised of every Canadian indie rocker not in Sloan. Pure power-pop in a head-shaking 4/4 every hipster can sway to. A song a liked better the first time I heard it, but it's still a head nodder months later.

5. "Crazy In Love (crazy Chinese version)" - Beyonce f/Vaness Wu. I need to thank Matthew for this - it kept the song fun long after Jay Z ruined the original for me. Again, my criticism of Jay Z is his inability to keep a beat, and, based on 50 Cent and others, it appears to be contagious. He's not on some sort of Kool Keith rhythmic meta-plane either - he just sounds lazy and disinterested. But Beyonce, buoyed by the drums (as Thomas and I discussed, it is the fact they accelerate when the choral horns kick in that makes this so amazing), soars like the big-booty diva she desperately wants to be.

6. "Ghettomusick" - Outkast. The craziest single by a major artist that I can remember. At least three different songs are merged into this genre busting techno/soul/rapalicious spectacular. Nothing prepared me for hearing this song for the first time - Stankonia, masterpiece that it is, did not clue me in to this possibility. It scares me when I think that the two subsequent singles, "Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move", are further ahead than any other mainstream releases this year. Go to and help pick their next singles. If "Bowtie" and "Prototype" get released before New Years, you could almost argue for an Outkast top five. That is scary.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Vol. 1

Query: what do you think of when you see Vol. 1? Honestly, now. A book series, some archive of information - audio, visual, other? When I see Vol. 1, I think Wilburys, the Traveling kind. I am assuming you all know of The Traveling Wilbury's, the 1988 super-duper-group of George Harrison (Nelson), Jeff Lynne (Otis), Roy Orbison (Lefty), Tom Petty(Charlie T. Jr.) and Bob Dylan(Lucky). If not, there's your introduction.

Last spring I was poking around in my local library's CD collection and came across this long-forgotten gem. Being the upstanding RIAA loving citizen I am, I quickly checked it out and made a copy. But before anyone's undies take the north road to cracktown, I own the cassette so I have duly paid for this music. Of course, my mom abducted my Wilburys back in '94 in my last stint at home so it has been Traveling without me.

This afternoon, as I was browsing through the latest news, smiling quietly to myself about the atrociously bad tongue-twister I left in a comment thread somewhere, and generally just pissing about, the Wilburys traveled (I promise that's the last time I play off the Traveling part of their name. Okay, maybe promise is too strong a word, but we can all hope), or should I say shuffled, their way into my random-playing MP3 software and "grabbed me from behind." (That's a lyric quote from "Dirty World", by the way. Please continue) I had once again, as in 1988 and the spring of 2003, been pleasantly surprised by the smiling benevolence and exuberant joy that is Vol. 1. Maybe it's just the fact they wrote and recorded a song a day; that Bob Dylan actually is having fun in a non-vitriolic or cynical way; that the Jeff Lynne/George Harrison combo that made the last great Harrison record Cloud Nine got to continue riding that wave; that Roy Orbison was flush with his rejuvenated career; and that Tom Petty was pulled up by his ears to a level where he wasn't embarrassed playing with his idols. Yet Vol. 1 is a joy I can't share. I can't say, "go get a copy now!" for, alas, the album is out of print. The last I heard, the widow of Roy Orbison wanted some astronomical licensing fee for the rights to his vocal contributions. And without Lefty, you get the better left unmentioned sequel Vol. 3.

On a side note - of course this whole thing has no point so is really just a big side note - I have some inklings about what happened to the missing Vol. 2. With Lefty's death falling a mere six-weeks after Vol. 1's release, the remaining 'Burys got together in New Orleans and celebrated a full "ragin' cajun" funeral celebration with the Meters. The recordings made that night were quickly swapped for a pair of galoshes and three corn cob pipes (Charlie T. Jr. was afraid the tobacco would ruin his beautiful teeth), and somewhere near Hannibal, Missouri, were given by a shoeless riverboat gambler to a drunken, vest-wearing Tom Waits bootleg trader. This same man - some called him Eustis - hopped the rails and took the master tapes to Tucson, Arizona, where a Sino-Arabian smuggling operation (transporting Alsatian puppies across the border, through Mexico and Latin America, into the underground Alsatian markets of Lima, Peru) agreed to take the tapes if Eustis would also give them the first knuckle from his left thumb. Realizing that he was being hornswaggled, Eustis lit on out for T. T. LeGrandes' dental floss ranch in Bongo, Montana - but never made it. Outside of a little all-night joint in One Horse Town, Colorado, Eustis met his end in a bizarre bobbing-for-apples incident best left to the imagination. The tapes? Why, I don't rightly know where they went from there. Traveling, I guess...

Monday, November 10, 2003

Erik's Lists: The Complete Stax/Volt Singles

1) "The Hawg, Part One" - Eddie Kirk
"Root! C'mon root baby!" Eddie Kirk, an old-time country blues artist does the harmonica grunt with the Stax band of the MGs. It's Howlin' Wolf doing "The Dog" a la Rufus Thomas. It's the sound of forty people in a one room shack with 8' ceilings. Sweat, musk, cigarettes and whiskey. Jubilant glory at 45rpm.

2)"After Laughter (Comes Tears)" - Wendy Rene
Her biggest hit (really the last of The Drapels, but only Wendy gets the credit). It's not the talent of the singer- she's occasionally flat, and is only okay at best - it's the delivery, supported by the opening organ's "bup-bup." It's a Timbaland riff, slowed till sultry, organic like only a Hammond can sound. It's got that "wet lung" sound that modern computer synths will never capture. I alternate between this and "Bar B-Q" as my favorite Wendy Rene tracks.

3)"Outrage" - Booker T & The MGs
Hands down my favorite Booker T track. I want it as the music behind the beginning of the movie of my life. On screen I fumble with the alarm clock, hop in the shower, fall over putting on my pants, grab toast and coffee on the way out the door. As I get in the car, you see I'm wearing only one sock as the song fades away and I shut the car door. Of course, the above scene has never once occurred in my life.

4)"Tramp" - Otis & Carla
The King and Queen get everything but medieval on each other, and Otis coos quietly "mamas, grand-mamas", ad-libbing the path Andre 3000 would follow to great acclaim. Better than Carla, better than Rufus and Carla, and dare I say, better than Otis? Sloppy and free (but in a good way) - the sound of Otis toeing the line but squirmin' on the balls of his feet.

5)"Soul Finger" - The Bar-Kays
Another song from the soundtrack of my movie - It's party time, and the freaks and weirdos are now cool (thank you for it all, Mr. Kurt Cobain). My mohawk is spiked, but soft at the top 1/4", the blonde tips like stamen waving with each shake of my head. It's the sound of Boone's Farm meeting Olde English with Camel chaser, everyone smiles and answers the trumpet: "Soul Finger!"

6)"Sophisticated Sissy" - Rufus Thomas
The Godfather of Memphis' dances, the Lord of the Dog, as it were. "They were doing the sissy/Sophisticated sissy/Everybody's doing the sissy/Sophisticated sissy." Man, in a perfect world the B-52's covered this with tongue firmly in cheek. It grooves through and through - carried by the barrel of the baritone sax.

7)"A Tribute To A King" - William Bell
One of the greats, singing the glory of The Man Who Was Otis. Released just months after Otis died, Bell gives one of his greatest performances. If you don't know the song, imagine "Nightshift" (the Commodore's tribute to Marvin Gaye) sung to the tune of "Midnight Train To Georgia" at a Baptist funeral. Than imagine how great that would be, and weep.

8)"Able Mable" - Mable John
Don't fuck with Mable. She'll kick your ass and make you like it. Donald "Duck" Dunn gives Mable's menace teeth, the slow walking bass like knuckles rolling into the palm to make a fist. The only response is, "Yes, Ma'am!"