The first thing you notice about Arcade Fire in concert is that Win Butler isn’t who you notice first.
If you just listen to Butler’s voice on Funeral, the way he yelps, stammers, cries, and testifies, wavering between religious ecstasy and utter madness, often forcing the music to swell up and follow him along through sheer willpower and lung capacity, you’d expect him to command a stage accordingly. Hell, whose vocal stylings are most often cited when describing Butler’s? That’s right, Conor Oberst. I rest my case.
And yet there he was under the bright lights of the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, being overshadowed by the endearing self-consciousness of his wife Regine Chassagne and the now-infamous seizures of spastic Nap Dynamite doppleganger Richard Parry. Sure, Butler plays at being Kurt Cobain with his stringy hair and disconsolate gaze, but he replaces KC’s self-martyrdom and uncontrolled chaos with baby fat and clear-eyed fixation (plus he looks more like the bassist from Ben Folds Five anyway).
I mention this accidental disappearing act only because it’s emblematic of the band’s well-publicized ensemble character, which I maybe didn’t understand and appreciate until I actually witnessed this album lived out in front of a thousand people rather than trapped in my car CD changer, where it sounded instead like a whole microbiotic universe crammed into a single petri dish.
Now, if there’s one adjective that’s guaranteed to get me to like a band or a record, it’s “childlike,” and I don’t mean childlike as in simplistic, because real children are almost never simple.
To me, the Arcade Fire embodies and expresses that other, darker side of childhood opposite the one so meticulously conveyed by the Fiery Furnaces or the Decemberists. Those bands capture the part of being a kid that’s all about fantasy and cognitive dissonance, spending hours building perfect sand castles and delighting in nothing more than knocking them down.
What the Arcade Fire understands, by contrast, is the enormity of childhood, the outsized sense of panic mingled with awe mingled with invincibility. While the Friedbergers’ or Colin Meloy’s visions of youth given free rein depend on willful solitude, a physical and intellectual hiding place where elaborate fancy can take flight from precocious minds, Butler, Chassagne, Parry and all the rest seek shelter from the storm that’s always on the horizon. Parents are vaguely-shaped, impossibly immense gods, kinda like the adults on Rugrats, and all their triumphs and (more frequent) shortcomings take on superhuman dimensions.
So why exactly does this quaint little indie-rock drum circle connect so deeply with the thousand or so kids in attendance? Is it just a covert strategy to ferret out all the goopy marshmallow scenesters, the unsuspecting, secretly emo chum in snark-infested waters?
While I’m consciously trying not to step into any rockist traps about the arduousness of creation or the worthiness of obstinacy, I think it has something to do with the fact that the Arcade Fire understands what Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder and their own stylistic mentors the Talking Heads understood, what Sleater-Kinney and Bjork and Outkast understand today, which is the value of truly, unabashedly joyful music made in the face of the greatest emotional obstacles, the deepest sadness and heartache. The Arcade Fire isn’t Win Butler up on stage fetishizing his pain, allowing it to turn him into just another indie-rock Christ figure. The Arcade Fire is a whole band taking all of its collective pain and tragedy and loss and turning it into something glorious and open, into a dialogue that allows room for everyone in the crowd to participate as well, putting their own pain in and getting rapture in return.
You might have heard about radio station Hot 97’s “Tsunami Song,” a racist little number about the victims of the recent disaster concentrated in southeast Asia. The artist Jin has created his own response to it. You can check it out at his website.
I’ve been listening to the new New Order single non-stop for the last two days. Underwhelming at first, it gathers force, like one of Hooky’s classic bass lines. When Barney acknowledges that there’s a bigger world of which he’s only recently become aware – a world in which people go to work “to get paid” instead of sleeping off weekday hangovers – it’s a quiet shock. You realize that, after almost 30 years of commenting on and then succumbing to decay, dissipation, and euphoria, he’s become the engaged adult which maturity is supposed to produce: maturity absent of complacency. The sweetness of the synthesized chimes rubs against Steve Morris’ muscular drumming in all the right ways: reality colliding with sentimentality.
I like how he still hasn’t lost his connection to whatever muse feeds him naff lyrics.
“I bet the world is a beautiful place
with mountains, lakes, and the human race”
Here’s some exciting news on the forthcoming album from the Mountain Goats:
It’s going to be called The Sunset Tree, and will be released 4/25 in the UK and 4/26 in the US and the rest of the world.
1. You or Your Memory
2. Broom People
3. This Year
5. Dance Music
6. Dinu Lipatti’s Bones
7. Up the Wolves
8. Lions Teeth
9. Has Thou Considered the Tetrapod
11. Song for Dennis Brown
12. Love Love Love
13. Pale Green Things
Personnel: John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, Franklin Bruno, Erik Friedlander, Scott Solter, Alex Decarville, John Vanderslice. Produced by John Vanderslice and Scott Solter. Recorded at Prairie Sun in Cotati, California, where Tom Waits used to record throughout the nineties and where a number of the great Bay Area thrash albums were recorded.
John Darnielle and Peter Hughes will be touring in March & April and probably in May & June and again in the fall.
guhh, i’ve been thinking all damn morning about lcd soundsystem’s vaguely “dear prudence”/floyd homage “never as tired as when i’m waking up.” when i first heard the record it provoked the Sigh/Puff of Discontent i usually have for those musical instances wherein the roots of a moment are so blindingly obvious that some might call it, ahem, stealing. despite the song’s lack of inspiration (conversely, its overreliance on it), i am finding myself mildly addicted to it, walking the streets and whistling its lilting, starry melody.
now, this filters into a huge debate i’ve been having in my head for quite some time: how much of my assessment of music’s quality should lay in its originality or invention? certainly, i prefer music that i can confidently call “original” or “creative,” but then again, there’s something to be said for good music as “an enhanced version of the preferred past,” to whatever degree (because on one hand, prince isn’t just funk, and dizzee isn’t just r&b/hip hop- but then again, interpol isn’t that much more than the chameleons or echo and the bunnymen, and all three are pretty good). so in that case, “never as tired…” can be praised for its craftsmanship, its distillation of a certain sound (i won’t say its perfection, because it’s not), a barely-enhanced version of the preferred past.
so what we get here is something like craft v. creativity. certainly, the best things merge both, but can we take “never as tired…” to be great simply for its pleasant replication of a sound most people have already heard? i’m not really sure. it’s just been bugging me, because for as much as i want to dismiss it as a happy genre-exercise (ultimately kind of mediocre), i have been listening and whistling all day (***weirdly tangentially, i’ve been thinking a lot about how chinese society has never had a concept of intellectual property that we do, and the standards of quality, aesthetically speaking, are in general, scaled much more in favor of imitation + craft. in turn, we’re having some economic, uhh, “problems,” because piracy is basically culturally + spiritually sanctioned to some degree***).
on the other side of the spectrum is stuff like mu’s “out of breach” (which i’ll be getting back to you all on in about 2 weeks), which is shocking to the point of almost occluding my ability to make up my mind on its quality- these are sounds i’ve heard traces of before, but shit, it’s a really arresting piece of work.
anyway, this is just to get your brains going and hopefully elicit some critical opinions about the way we listen to and process music. right? also, somewhat related-ly (in its total soullessness), i’d like to give jeff lynne and the electric light orchestra a big shout out for writing and recording “telephone line,” the other song that has been making me a huge, goofy sucker the last several days.
I live in a fairly small city, where shows that I’m interested in are generally few and far between. So I can’t help but express a bit of jealousy when a live act like Metric plays shows on four consecutive nights at Toronto’s Mod Club. Admittedly, I was in Ontario’s capital over the weekend and caught the first of Metric’s four shows on Friday night. And fortunately, they’re making a stop in my London (no, not that London) next Friday. Still, I can only imagine what it’d be like to attend Metric shows on four straight nights, if I had the time, the money, and the means of getting there.
I put some more thought into it though, and wondered if a weekend run like that would live up to my expectations. Are live shows, like movies and books, something better enjoyed in moderation, rather than night after night? Are my infrequent concert outings a blessing in disguise rather than another downside to living where I do? Having never experienced the alternative, I can’t really say. But I do know that after leaving the Mod Club at 1:30 am early Saturday morning, my feet and back were feeling the effects of having been standing up, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Metric fans, for the previous four hours. If overexposure to the music wasn’t a problem, the physically taxing aspect of attending shows every night might catch up to me quicker than I’d like to think.
Of course, I might be more torn over the issue of whether or not concert-going familiarity really does breed contempt if I was discussing a different band. Let’s be honest: I don’t think I’d ever get sick of seeing Emily Haines perform.
If Devendra Banhart is the bearded bard rhyming his strange truths, then Joanna Newsom is the female equivalent. Both are haunting, magical, and about as far from standard folk song structure as it gets. These artists are extremely important. They push the envelope for singer songwriters everywhere. It’s refreshing. How can you dislike the Newsom song that includes the line, “I killed my dinner with karate”?
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Newsom is her voice. Oh Jesus fucking Christ. These are the same people that worshiped Cobain and are currently listening to Isaac Brock croon his contradictions. No, her voice doesn’t sound like Joni Mitchel. So what. It’s something different and the lyrics and melody alone will break your heart.
So everyone that listened to Newsom sing that opening word “Saaaaaaadddieeee” and cringed – please go back and listen more. I promise it’s worth it. Of course you could walk down a crowded street listening to Modest Mouse’s “Float On” on your MP3 player. Hell, that’s pretty fucking cool too.
This morning I was getting dressed at 7:30, on my way to Ontario Model Parliament (clearly I’m even more of a nerd than the average writer). For some reason, I suddenly realized what the worst single “moment” in all musical history was.
It’s a moment in “The Thong Song” by Sisquo. The specific moment in this godawful song that gets me is, toward the end, when Sisqo decides to really emote: “Lettttttt meeeee seeeee thatttt thonnnnnng!!!!!!” As if his life depended on it.
I can’t fully articulate the effect this has on me into words. Suffice to say, I don’t normally think about whether a guy with silver paint on his head is more likely to catch fire, but I found myself thinking that, and other thoughts that might get the Feds after me, this morning.
On a happier note, I’m currently listening to Heart of the Congos by the Congos. What a perfect album. Even if you’re not big on reggae (and who is these days?), you should steal it off the internet and check out Cedric Myton’s voice, an absolutely gorgeous falsetto.
So inaugural ceremonies took place today, an occasion for tepid protest in capitols across the blue states. I didn’t commemorate the day, in fact, I barely remembered it. A casual look through the information still shook me a bit, if only because I realized the extent of my political numbness.
The coverage of the protests left me cold. Attention-seekers got coverage, the cleverest slogans and wildest costumes, and that’s the image of resistance, but it looks so sad and silly, political dress-up identity hopping, that it’s pointless.
On a fundamental level, Abu-Gharaib restagings (covered in the Times) and other shit like that, in which people claim to represent real suffering, are repulsive to me. So you think the media image is important, that makes sense, but do you think simulations of images known worldwide are necessary when, as an audience, we’re already so saturated by the real image that a fake isn’t going to reinforce it or revive the outrage it provoked? As an unnecessary reference to something that has already been completely consumed, the fake is dead. It has no political value. But the costume is still there, and it’s still generating attention, both from amused/impressed antiwar buddies and media, so what is it without some political utility? It’s a fucking theater piece based on real lives without consent, similiar to a 9/11 cash-in, done comic angry rather than a lump-in-yr-throuat maudlin. It’s easily dismissed as a second-rate knock-off or crass, depending on the severity of the spectator.
So I get to feel outraged (read: satisfied) and I don’t have to do shit, huh? Yeah, maybe it’s apathy (not quite right- I do sluggishly care), but I still think it’s better to be out of a protest rather than in it. If I had more money, I’d donate some amount to something worthy (not likely to be much), to abate the guilt.
Meanwhile, the avalanche of bad news (from my perspective) continues, my responses are hopelessly impotent, and my outrage (read: satisfaction) dwindles. That bad will get worse seems inevitable, and doom don’t feel good. I need an outlet.
Luckily, I still buy records (so…uh..sorry MoveOn….yeah I thought I clicked “send payment”…), and I can find sympathy with fellow doomnik Mr. Lif. He maps the apocalypse pretty casually, and the beats are good. The destruction will be as bad as I think, but it’ll be cool along the way. So I chuckled when I realized the Mr. Lif/Aesop Rock stop in Austin, was on the same day as the inauguration.
So, I’ll get my protest after all, huh? Put your hands in the air, Austin! Got me thinking about politics in music. The situation is similiar to my beef with protests, except music is obviously entertainment; you don’t have to abstract a step to feel uncomfortable. Still, I love me a good political rap song. They make for good rhetoric— they have the right attitude, confident and aggressive, and they’re inclusive— and if rhetoric makes the world go round, the lyrics matter. Rather than overanalyze (call me cowardly), I’m gonna trust that first impression.
It may not have yet received a proper review yet anywhere, but Doug Hilsinger and Caroleen Beatty play Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy can’t help but astound you in terms of its ambition and loving treatment of the original. It’s as tiny a record as I’ve purchased in the past year, but it’s artwork is gorgeous, and the liner notes narrate the album’s development, beginning as just two covers to the command decision to record the album in its entirety.
In the recent past, one might have dismissed this record as a Halloween prank pulled only by Phish and their ilk in a demonstration of taste that spits in the faces of their fawning faithful. Hilsinger and Beatty treat this material so reverantly that having lifted technology’s distorting veil, one hears not only the album’s compositional genius, but can better understand the once obscured lyrics with new clarity, revealing the complex and beautiful imagery contained therein. This record is singularly unique in its devotion without bowing too deeply to genuflect, or trading on novelty alone.
If you can’t find it at your local record store, independent or otherwise, it’s widely available through online retailers here, here and here.
With the inauguration, the pictures from Saturn’s moon, and the false promise of a new Cold War, it’s fascinating to see how many films were influenced by some combination of Nixonoid/Reaganite/Thatcherite doomsday politics and the creeping sensation that Earth’s best days were long past, or waiting to emerge from nostalgic cocoons. Apart from epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and its literary precursors, the Seventies and Eighties produced a new wave of interstellar paranoia fantasies, and many of them matched the overwraught brilliance of their forbears dating back to the Fifties and the height of McCarthyite “B” cinema.
Two notables in particular: Aaron Lipstadt’s Android, starring Klaus Kinski, and Silent Running, featuring Kinski’s spiritual brother, Bruce Dern. With stars like these, it’s readily apparent that someone will have to go completely mad and do it in such a way that it’s studious without being pretentious, and is thus the only redemptive aspect of the films themselves. Nevertheless, both films project their meaning and their main characters represent two worldviews, diametrically opposed in their outlook on life, and the prospects that the future holds.
Apart from their cosmetic similarities, the explicit nihilism present in their stories washes over the viewer: Earth, a scarred planet charred by fallout and defoliated by nuclear winter, coupled with the notion that only one messianic hero can defy history and return Earth to its state of natural grace, or that a devilish mastermind can revive his synthetic army to conquer the world from which they’ve been banished. These space cowboys represent the hopes and fears of mechanized society vis-a-vis the value of nature and the humanism that accompanies it, or a foreboding, narcissistic pessimism returning to finish its work with Calvinistic determination.
These films, unlike so many presently in theatres in an Oscar season rife with mundane tales of personal redemption, are connected to the overarching political and social context of the time in a way that a million producers and their million dollar babies can’t aspire as the triumph of the genre picture plays out in the bloated budgets of boxing pictures and biopics, wholly divorced from present day reality. Hollywood finds itself in a crisis of overpriced, meaningless films, and beset by the robotic auteurs of their own manufacture. What is the future of a meaningful American cinema divorced from the lukewarm pabulum and celebrations of imperial conquest? Can those cherished “small” movies take over and sway audiences with their precious humanism, or will the Huckabee-an menace prevail once and for all with medieval epics and third generation remakes?
It snowed on the way to work this morning. Quite heavily in fact, which in Dublin city, Ireland is a rare thing indeed. I needed some music for the journey, as always, but didn’t want it to completely drown out the stillness, the whiteness. So I listened to the hushed beauty that is Green Milk From The Planet Orange’s “Sweet 5 A.M.”. And then I listened to it again. I urge you to do the same.
A slightly edited, i.e. shorter, version of Sweet 5 A.M. can be downloaded from http://www.green-milk.com/ or http://www.blrrecords.com/
Worth noting, especially for those on the continent (as opposed to those in the drift), the excellent new paypal (etc) distribution site VOLCANIC TONGUE, set up to collect/catalog/aggregate/disseminate all things “free folk, new weird america, psych, industrial, experimental, outsider, avant garde, free jazz, minimalism, sound poetry, blues, hillbilly, jugband, noise, punk, bluegrass, american primitive, basement scum”. They are also the exclusive UK outlet for labels like Apostasy, Child of Microtones, & Hototogisu’s Heavy Blossom label. For those who can’t get enough out-folk in their lives. Generally very small-pressings and rarities for the obsessed.
Also, if’n you haven’t read Chloe Veltman’s extremely entertaining article “The Passion Of The Morrissey”, Beliver has archived it online, free: http://www.believermag.com/exclusive/morrissey/
I hate New Year’s resolutions. It seems best to cut right to the facts, and that is fact 1-A, as far as I’m concerned. I think they’re stupid, and nobody sticks to them; all they really do is give you something irritating to bother your friends and co-workers with for the month of January.
“Oh, Phil, what’s your New Year’s resolution?”
“I promised to stop cheating on my wife! And you, Dan?”
Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I decided to let go of my hate of resolutions for the time being, and make a bold statement that actually has a chance of happening in 2005. My New Year’s resolution for this year is to see Broken Social Scene and Built To Spill live. No, not on the same bill (though that would be great). I just want to see both bands. That’s it. That seems perfectly acceptable, doesn’t it?
I want to see Emily Haines in a non-Metric state, and see if she’s as exciting (I’d bet not). I want to figure out who does the vocals on the track “K.C. Accidental,” among other things. Most of all, I just want to see how those fantastic songs from You Forgot It In People sound live.
As far as Built To Spill, if I could hear their amazing cover of “Cortez The Killer” in person, I’m pretty sure that would be my crowning achievement in life as a spectator. That’s all I’m asking – just 20 minutes of guitar wankery from Seattle’s best non-coffee product.
Anyway, if I don’t see both bands live this year, I can always wait till next year. After all, it’s only a New Year’s resolution. What bands would you readers out there like to see for the first time in 2005?
“Art-Damage”, originating maybe with Richard Meltzer/Lester Bangs to describe elements of the No Wave scene, seems to have come back into currency as exponentially diluted fascination with No(w) Wave continues to creep into mainstream consciousness. It never really went away, long a favored fuzzy genre of critics of the Wire variety, as well as the name of a long-running Cincinnati radio show. 2003’s Rhino Records collection may be somehwat at fault for the resurgence, splitting it’s 4 disc punk retrospective (”No Thanks: 70’s Punk Rebellion”) into stylistic ziplock baggies, including Art Damage, enveloping Pere Ubu to Wire to Suicide, excluding Joy Division (electro-pop), Germs (hardcore), Dead Boys (punk), Stooges (proto-punk), Blondie (power-pop). I suspect mainstream use of of art-damage these days refers to all things pre- and post-punk in the early 80s sense of the word. The Grammies(.com) referred to the ‘new British Invasion” (Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol, Futureheads…Cooper Temple Clause?) as art-damaged.
The Wittgenstein-damaged among us might recommend playing language games to get at it’s shifty meaning, pinpoint both the art and the damaged referents: Midheaven Mailorder describes Mr. Dibbs as “Noise, punk, art damage and spoken word styles” [emphasis mine], and of Black Dice: they have “the balls of both the white belt and art-damage scenes firmly in their grasp”, nicely separating the Williamsburg fashion around the no-wave pop scene from the ‘dangerous’ “art damage” moniker. A 2004 SN&R review of The Little People: “may be the finest art-damage cartoon metal band you’ve never heard” in the teaser, but the review explains only that TLP are “the most brain-damaged metal band of all time”, inviting us to blithely puzzle at the chicken/egg relationship of brain-damage and art-damage. Alan Licht, commenting on his Siltbreeze solo set says: “I felt like this art-damaged NY jerk playing with his digital delay. Ron House accused me of “turning your back on pop,” which was pretty funny if you ask me…” Is it art or is it damaged? Is it cake or is it eaten? I am high art and low-crass: fear me!.
However, the Wal-Mart “Conscript the Margins” award for the most effective instantiation of the death of a quasi-heuristic critical device in 2004 goes to the Fashion house, Juicy Couture for their new line of “vintage, distress wash ‘art damaged’ low rise jeans”: ART DAMAGED blue jeans. Say the Juicies, “Juicy Couture takes having a rockin’ good time very seriously and it shows in their sexy, flirty designs. Warning: only for the fun at heart!“.
Also, Happy Birthday to one of my favorite composers of all time, Morton Feldman (aka Uncle Morty aka you got your minimalism in my timbral expressionism morty), who would have been 79 today.
P.S.>> Christgau today on Britney Spears’ Greatest Hits: “Her heart, her soul, her aesthetic maturation (”Oops . . . I Did It Again,” ” . . . Baby One More Time”). “
I’m supposed to talk about music here, and believe me, I will, but what I’m really jazzed about is the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. Now frankly, I’m not an expert, but I’m learning, and it’s currently my Affective Hot Button and might remain so for a while, who knows. Suffice it to say that it’s a very fascinating and troubling situation- a civil war and huge political/economic tumult, seemingly motivated by greed regarding the DRC’s natural resources (mineral deposits) have made the scene in the Congo “the widest interstate war in modern African history.” The eastern part of the DRC is basically no-man’s land: UN efforts have been largely unsuccessful, and by some accounts Rwanda may have actually invaded the DRC, but we’re not sure. I definitely take for granted the capabilities of technology, politics, and the media, otherwise this shouldn’t startle me. There are places in the world where we don’t really know what’s going on. Holy shit.
I could be wrong, but my assumption is that everyone who reads Stylus (and I guess I’m talking more about the music portion of it) regards music as a hobby, a pastime, even a passion, but ultimately as entertainment. And I’m down with that. Sure, I’d like to think music might change the whole damn world; I’m in pursuit of a transcendent art. But really, it seems like music, especially in the digital era, can appeal to the kind of people who are into sports, for example, insofar as in both cases you can fill your head with facts, get a sense of a historical trajectory, etc. That’s to say that not everyone who likes baseball finds within it an ideal, an apex of human physical capability, the startling grace of a good athlete. Some do, but some just like to have something to be into.
Okay, I realize I’m getting into touchy territory, but basically, my original thought was this: what would our relationship be to our “pop” music if we lived in a place like the DRC (i.e., danger, political upheaval, general instability)? I mean, would we spend time wondering aloud on the Stylus message board why “Izzo” was on our singles list, when surely there must have been several more worthy Jay-Z works in the last few years? Maybe, but probably not. That’s basically our luxury. In the Congo, music seems to be a unifying thing, something to temporarily relieve the collective pressures of the country, something that even the soldiers can drop their guns for. Granted, much of the music that we would hear is from Kinshasa, or made by people from Kinshasa who have since relocated to Paris or Brussels (Kinshasa is located in the western portion of the DRC, the government has control over it, it’s unstable but hardly as bad as the east, which is virtually anarchic). Still, it seems that in a place as, let’s say, “in flux” as the DRC that music would take on a certain cultural urgency that differs from the kind of neurotic passivity that marks so many of Us, the record geeks, the fact-gatherers. Noel Ngiama, aka Werrason (one of the DRC’s pop stars) even stated that “music is keeping the nation alive… in Congo, almost everyone can dance or sing.” For the Congolese people, music seems to act as more of a necessary and dynamic element, a true safety valve rather than our passionate but trivial pursuit.
Now please hear me when I say that I’m not making a moral argument- one relationship isn’t better than another, and it would be absurd to suggest it was. But reading about the DRC and Congolese music has proved to be a good way to remind myself that music is always taking place in a broader cultural context, and because there are countries different than our own, the relationship of the people to the music is also different. Simple. Sure, we could compare Congolese Soukous or the music of Kinshasa to the Fiery Furnaces (because, as the Beastie Boys remind us, there are “only 24 hours in a day/only 12 notes that a man can play,” i.e. that all music can be formally reduced to the same qualities of general sound, and beyond that, rhythm and notes). What’s more interesting is that the popularity of the Fiery Furnaces and our particular relation to them marks certain trends of our culture, just as the Congolese’s people to their pop stars (and furthermore, Europe and America’s relation to Congolese music). Now, imagine the Fiery Furnaces in the DRC- virtually impossible. You get the point- this is just food for thought, a reminder that any artifact of culture gets its meaning at an intersection with economics, politics, etc. and doesn’t just “mean” on its own, nor is it necessarily “good” or “bad.”
You’ll notice I basically haven’t talked about Congolese music (formally) at all. And I basically didn’t talk about what has actually happened to make the DRC what it is today. Okay, sorry, remember: this is just a blog entry, and I could have added a whole lot more research and depth. If you’re interested, there’s plenty of stuff online to read (both about the music and the politics, including that link I had at the top and the Economist article in the middle) and enough stuff going around P2P networks to listen to. I recommend it, partially because a lot of it is good/interesting, and partially because damn, things can get a little stifling up in these parts, and it’s good to remember that the joy of music, regardless of the contours of that joy and the conditions in which it grows, occurs all over the world.
Mclusky have called it a day. I may not have liked the last album as much as the peerless Do Dallas, but there were a bunch of really good tracks there, and “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” (which I wish I’d known was a single, as it would have made my list, but that’s my own fault) in particular made me excited to hear what they’d do next. Plus now I’ll never see them live.
Still, at least Andy Falkous says in the posting that “There’ll be more music soon, from all of us.” I hope he’s right. Mclusky were a damn good band, and they will be missed.
Of course, for today’s concerned citizen there’s no limit to the late breaking details, commentary, and analysis available immediately on almost any genuine news event, political revelation, celebrity incident, or media meta-happening imaginable — the interpretations are infinite and instantaneous. And yet, when searching for a more complete understanding of the forces that shape our world everyday, I find it is sometimes wise to first seek some distance and perspective from the often hysterical echo chamber full of cable news pundits, talk radio shock jocks, and internet bloggers then consider the filmography of Burt Lancaster. For example, anyone seeking to make sense of the Bush administration’s latest chicanery could do a lot worse than a screening of the 1957 classic The Sweet Smell of Success.
You can read the details here, but basically, last week it was reported that “seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.” In other words, with taxpayer money, Bush’s people were paying Armstrong Williams, a popular conservative pundit for continued positive commentary on particular policy initiatives.
And now, suddenly the quirky, brilliant, jazzy, noirish Sweet Smell of Success comes rushing to mind. What, with its two battling slime ball protagonists, how could it not? Lancaster is J.J. Hunsecker, the most widely read and popular newspaper gossip columnist in New York City; Tony Curtis is Sidney Falco, a press agent who makes his living by getting his clients mentioned in Hunsecker’s columns. Hunsecker works Falco to get his dirt, and on occasion to do his dirty work. Falco meanwhile, needs Hunsecker to print items or: no money. A symbiotic relationship indeed, but Falco’s definitely the bitch more often than not. And when the drama begins, Falco’s on the outs and in trouble with Hunsecker for having failed to breakup a relationship between Hunsecker’s sister and a real cool jazz musician. From there it only gets more complicated, and of course, more wonderful. It’s all fog and back alleys, cigarette girls and nightclubs. Add to that some killer dialogue and thrilling one-liners in a screenplay by Ernest Lehman and lefty playwright Clifford Odets, and you’ve got something that seems, at once, gritty and stylized, corny and insightful.
To be sure, you’re not going to get very far by drawing direct parallels. Though it would be fun and interesting: “So let’s say Bush is Falco, Williams is Hunsecker, the No Child Left Behind Act is Hunsecker’s sister, and the American taxpayer is Falco’s ugly but loyal secretary Sally…” Instead, think about the interplay of the film’s two characters, the bargaining that underpins their relationship and the different ways in which they use other peoples’ reputations, true and untrue, as currency in their own demented personal exchanges. Don’t think too hard, though, it’s an entertaining fast-moving film that’s more wry than grave. Just watch the film because it’s damn good and today, more compelling than ever. Besides, it beats watching the news, any day.
I’m 25 and cynical and burnt-out and fed-up; I don’t get excited by new bands anymore because I’m past it. I’ve never heard of half the groups that younger writers at Stylus are crowing about, and what’s more most of the time I don’t want to. That whole New Rock Revolution / art rock / garage rock / New Wave of New Wave of Postpunk stuff? Balls to it. The Strokes had one song which they played 12 times. The Libertines didn’t even have one song! So my attitude towards most of the guitar groups emerging over the last four years has been one of don’t believe the hype.
Bloc Party fuck all that shit, because they’re straight-up amazing. I’ve avoided them until last month, not consciously, just vaguely, but now I’m hooked. It wasn’t a single song that got me, no road-to-Damascene style conversion when a killer single hit the radio within hearing; and in fact, the couple of times I had heard them on the radio I’d been nonplussed in the extreme. But hearing the album (Silent Alarm, due out in February) in full before Christmas, it slowly grabbed me and now it’s got me good.
Bloc Party have some of that NME clique’s spiky guitar energy, certainly, but what they also have is a sense of adventure, romance, belief and intelligence which combine to make them eclipse any of their so-called peers. They have the yearning chord-change down pat, but they’re not yearning for a fix or for a quick shag up a back alley - they’re yearning for some kind of truth and progress. They make my eyes feel too big for my head. A quick jaunt around their website reveals a refreshingly pretentious attitude, and a proper listen to the singles “Helicopter”, “Banquet”, “Little Thoughts” and especially next single “So Here We Are” reveals a band with a much wider scope and greater degree of nuance than one might expect. But like I said, it’s the album that’ll really grab you.
I’m getting Damon Albarn if he was actually from London and not an idiot. I’m getting Long Fin Killie gone razorsharp. I’m getting early Disco Inferno with less accent on the defeatism. I’m getting New Order. I’m getting Wire, I’m getting Radiohead if they weren’t miserable. In the twin guitar solo of “Plans” I’m getting Television and Love. In the opaque and nearing horizons of “Blue Light” I’m getting 3 of the most beautiful minutes of music I’ve heard in a long time.
A proper review of their album to follow on Stylus next month. But for now… don’t quite believe the hype, but don’t dismiss it either.
One of the major highlights of Wes Anderson’s latest film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for me was Seu Jorge’s fantastic solo acoustic Portuguese versions of David Bowie’s ’70s catalog. “Starman,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Rock And Roll Suicide,” and especially “Five Years” made me smile wide and proud. It worked as a fairly bizarre inside joke for those who knew the tunes, enjoyable interlude music for those who didn’t, and made me personally want to plunk down my money for a soundtrack CD for the first time in years right then and there. If they had sold it in the lobby next to the popcorn, they would have had my greenbacks right then and there. I can’t wait until the inevitable Director’s Commentary on the DVD comes out and hopefully I can hear the story behind how this concept came to make its way into the film.
Anyway, this morning it got me to thinking — any other artists whose back catlog might benefit so strongly from such a radical reinvention, and in a foreign language? I’m picturing those awful “classical” versions of Pink Floyd and the Beatles and thinking that it isn’t just any classic rock artist who might work that way. Post your ideas below and perhaps Wes will read this and put it in his next project.
The Aviator My two favorite Scorsese films from the second half of his career are Kundun and My Voyage to Italy. The former is largely an anomaly within the oeuvre of a textbook auteur (Even The Age of Innocence was technically a New York Movie! At least Last Temptation had Harvey Keitel!); the latter is a breathless Bazinian paean to Italian cinema. The Aviator, while not as great as either of those films, represents both a refreshing change of pace and a prime opportunity to have some fun with Old Hollywood, Scorsese’s other major source of filmic inspiration. It’s certainly his most dazzling-looking film since New York, New York, another personal favorite, and the director-subject empathy seems deeply felt. Plus, it’s never remotely boring any time that Cate Blanchett’s on screen here. She’s a hoot!
Ocean’s Twelve ‘Better than the first one’ doesn’t even begin to do this justice. Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven was a more or less by-the-numbers heist movie livened up by some nice stylistic flourishes; better than the classic-by-default original without hardly trying but not even in the same universe as, say, Kubrick’s The Killing. Ocean’s Twelve is not only a sequel that’s vastly, almost incomparably superior to its predecessor, but something even rarer than that: It’s an event movie that actually feels like an event! The heist(s) here are strictly MacGuffin material; Ocean’s Twelve is ultimately about nothing so much as itself–and it’s terrific! Here is a movie loaded with A-list celebrities that simultaneously playfully satirizes and shamelessly revels in the very idea of a bunch of movie stars (to borrow a line from Eddie Izzard, who turns in a great cameo) just hanging out and being groovy in gorgeous, endlessly photogenic European cities. This is E!: The Movie, but made by a filmmaker good enough (when he feels like it) to out-Tarkovsky Tarkovsky.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Wes Anderson’s quirkily pop-friendly mise-en-scene is as instantly recognizable as that of any director making movies today. The only problem with this is, it gets very predictable very quickly. The Life Aquatic feels like lame self-parody. It’s, by a long shot, his least funny effort to date, and, worse yet, (despite the Jacques Cousteau tribute in the closing credits) it’s his first film that registers less as a loving homage than as a broad spoof. It has its moments, to be sure, and I have to admit the Sigur Ros song caught me off-guard and was quite beautifully used, but, on the whole,…eh.
Finding Neverland A movie made for nobody. (Well, except maybe the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.) It’s certainly not going to cross-over with the kids, I can tell you that much. They want Spongebob Squarepants and The OC–not some sanctimonious pap about the magic of imagination rah rah. The film earns that PG rating, too, awkwardly dodging decidedly less whimsical adult matters. The most curious thing about this is that it was apparently made by the same guy who did Monster’s Ball. (Right–the one with that Halle Berry sex scene you downloaded.) Try and wrap your head around that one! Oh yeah–the Willy Wonka trailer was pretty fantastic!
The Door in the Floor If you’ve ever had the strange desire to sit through a lethargic filmization of a John Irving novel that features a lifetime supply of Jeff Bridges’s ass (surprisingly, not as aesthetically pleasing as Charlize Theron’s), then by all means, rent this.
I got a bit confused in December. I found myself including albums that had not yet been released on my year end list. Ahhh, the wonders of the pre-release digital era. Thieves without thumbprints are we all. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Patrick Wolf’s Wind in the Wires. Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm. LCD Soundsystem. These were the albums that swirled through my days as winter approached the yuletide. And none of them could be spoken for or about as the year closed.
Now, with the new year finally here, I’ve been scouring the internet for signs of Spoon’s The Beast and Dragon are Adored. A rather fruitless Sherlockian effort thus far, I must admit. It’s no longer enough to be dominated by new releases. I need to be secluded within those not yet unveiled, an insider’s insider. And when I fail to find something I know must be finished, must have had those final studio fingerprints applied, I feel cheated. Please, to those of you out there, assure me we’re on the same page. Let me know the nonreleases that are dominating your thoughts this first week in January. . .
The blogosphere had some interesting year-end thoughts to share: John Darnielle loves the idea of year-end round-ups, DJ Rupture hates them, Jess Harvell and Michaelangelo Matos both held forth at length on a variety of genres, while Simon Reynolds seemed to hone in on one. Geeta Dayal predicted the future of blogs, while Tom Breihan encapsulated the sound of now pretty well. But I guess if I had to identify with one, it’s Jon Dale, who somewhat courageously just opted out.
Todd Burns | 2:37 am | Comments Off
Current Listening / Watching / Reading
UNDER THE STYLUS
Stewart Voegtlin WOLFMANGLER, Protected by the Ejaculations of Wolves [Split CD
NEGATIVE PLANE, Et in Saecula Saeculorum
MORTEM, De Natura Deamonum
Theon Weber The Hold Steady - Seperation Sunday
Annuals - Be He Me
Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food
Ethan White Bruce Nauman - Raw Materials
Ennio Morricone - The Red Tent OST
Stereolab - Serene Velocity
Bryan Berge DJ Olive - Sleep
The Chap - Ham
V/A - Trap Door is an International Psychedelic Mystery Mix
Jonathan Bradley Green Day - American Idiot
Fall Out Boy - From Under The Cork Tree
Brand New - Deja Entendu
Justin Cober-Lake Stevie Wonder - Music of My Mind
Keith Moon - Two Sides of the Moon
Allen Toussaint - Life, Love and Faith
Ian Cohen Maritime- We, The Vehicles
Mannie Fresh- The Mind Of Mannie Fresh
Lupe Fiasco- Food And Liquor
Elizabeth Colville Magnetic Fields - Get Lost
Joan as Police Woman - Real Life
John Vanderslice - Pixel Revolt
Iain Forrester The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia...
Hot Chip - Coming On Strong
The Knife - Deep Cuts
Andrew Gaerig Trick Daddy - Thugs Are Us
Broadcast - The Future Crayon
V/A - Rio Baile Funk: More Favela Booty Beats
Todd Hutlock Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992
Rockpile - Seconds of Pleasure
Andrew Weatherall - Hypercity
Andrew Iliff Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Mr Lif - Mo' Mega
Tricky - Live at Leeds Town and Country
Thomas Inskeep Cameo - The 12" Collection and More
Sonic Youth - Really Ripped
Panic! at the Disco - A Fever You Can't Sweat Out
Josh Love Cassie - Me & U
Paris Hilton - Paris
Alan Jackson - Greatest Hits Collection