Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Raveonettes vs Warlocks

Consider two bands, A and B. Both bands release new albums at around the same time (usually this is the case, but not always, sometimes this situation applies to albums released in different years). Band A's album happens to tread on similar ground to whatever Band B is doing, and actually surpasses it -- they have essentially beaten Band B at their own game. The end result is that you end up devaluing, or even dismissing Band B's work because of the music of Band A. There should be a phrase for this.

Sure, it's not really fair -- it's not Band B's fault that Band A put out new music at the same time as them, so why can't both albums be judged separately, on their own merits, without one's perception of the quality of one being correlated to the quality of the other? But our brains don't always work that way, and besides, music listening habits *are* correlated, because listening time is finite, which means that we frequently must choose to prioritize what we want to hear. I could easily find myself thinking "I have Band A now, I don't need Band B so much anymore".

With their most recent albums, Warlocks have been Band A, while the Raveonettes have been playing the part of Band B. It's funny, because Raveonettes played the opposite role last year, acting as Band A and virtually shaming Band B's (Jesus and Mary Chain) debut album. But this year, they've moved past their "Psychocandy" phase and into their "Darklands" phase. They've toned down the cacaphony and the huge choruses, and moved toward something darker and moodier. Enter Warlocks, who have ironed out the jammy tendencies of past albums that usually resulted in a few tracks carrying on for seven or eight minutes as if by force of habit. They've stopped trying to make "Sound of Confusion" (with one exception, "Surgery" where they went girl-group and made their best album by far) and have moved on to making "The Perfect Prescription". The two sides meet at "There is a Formula to Your Despair", where Warlocks manage to outdo the Raveonettes on the latter's turf. Warlocks' previous attempts at girl group pop were highlighted by swagger and arrogance, but they had never convincingly pulled off anything tender or vulnerable.

Here is the albums ballot that I submitted for Pazz and Jop (numbers in brackets are the points awarded):

YYY's (20)
Moderat (19)
Lisa Germano (15)
Ben Klock (10)
Animal Collective (8)
Tim Hecker (7)
Moritz von Oswald Trio (6)
Matthew Robert Cooper (5)
Shackleton (5)
Warlocks, "The Mirror Explodes" (5)

After much thought, I removed Courtney Love's "Nobody's Daughter" from the list because it hasn't been released yet. As a reflection of my own listening habits and my favourite "new" music in 2009, it belonged, but it didn't feel appropriate to include it in a poll (I have thus disqualified myself from picking it for my own top ten of 2010, but reserve the right to vote for it in P&J if I choose ... this seems fair!) The points rankings are top-heavy, as they should be because only the top two albums stand out for me as classics right now, deservedly ranking amongst the decade's best music.

So with Courtney Love out of the picture, I put Warlocks "The Mirror Explodes" in the #10 spot. It's another patchy album in a list full of patchy albums, and it might be more of a "comfortable" listen rather than a work of truly great art, but I kept returning to it throughout the year and that counts for a lot seeing as my attention span has been whittled away to almost nothing thanks to my iPod, using Youtube as my personal jukebox, etc. Warlocks have been getting the shaft from critics for years, which is baffling because they consistently hit on a bunch of crit-love touchpoints (love of druggy 60's pop, girl groups, Spacemen 3/JAMC ) -- all of which can be applied to the criminally underrated Raveonettes as well. How many rock bands this year wrote a song as good as "It's Just Like Surgery"? How strong was 2005? How can a band write a song that good, and only make the 11th best album of the year? I really have no idea why the likes of Pitchfork have turned Warlocks into a punchline, consistently giving their albums grades that are comparable to a C-student's GPA. Do nostalgia trips and California bands who aren't afraid to use the word "psychedelia" add up to some kind of crit-poison?

Little White Earbuds and me: check out the mindmeld. Four albums in common, plus two others (Martyn, Redshape) that IMO didn't live up to the hype but were still pretty good.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I can't believe it's December 15 18 already

Let's do this ...


My excitement level with regard to this list is a bit muted, and compiling felt decidedly dispassionate and undramatic. But it's to be expected -- I blew my listmaking wad amongst all the "end of decade" excitement this year (that list is complete but has yet to be posted). What's unexpected, however, is the fairly uneven quality of these ten records. I'm not sure if there is a slam dunk classic among them, not a single one that I can promise you that I'll go to bat for in five or ten years time. Each of them are great, albeit flawed albums, there's a little bit of Verve in nearly all of them.

I've posted about how in the past couple of years, I've been discovering music more or less at random -- rather than scouring music shops, blogs, and message boards for news about new releases and making sure to check out anything that might interest me, I let the music come to me. Sometimes I tracked down a piece of music right away, and stuff I didn't get around to hearing could be easily forgotten. Sometimes I couldn't wait to hear a podcast by some unknown DJ mixing two hours of c. 1991 Sheffield bleep, and often I didn't have the patience to sit through the entire new Lindstrom and Prins Thomas album because one prog disco epic after another gets to be a bit too much. Compared to past years, this year I spent far less energy tracking down new releases and heard fewer whole albums (listening to entire albums in one sitting has become much more of a rarity for me). But I listened to more mixes and podcasts than ever before -- just another step on the road to hearing music one track at a time, rather than one album at a time.

The decline of the albums as an artistic statement (and more so as a product mover) is nothing new. But this year, I did start to wonder about my long term listening habits, and the consequences of taking the "random" approach to its logical conclusion. Eventually, my listening habits would become completely scattershot. Contextualizing music becomes more difficult if you've cut yourself off from everything going on around you, i.e. the music that's considered to be notable by whatever passes for critical consensus these days. If I can't contextualize what I'm hearing, if I lose the ability to compare my tastes with those of others (and in order to do that, I must hear at least some of the music that "they" are hearing) then my own writing is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

[OK, let's not brag ... it's already fairly irrelevant, but it's in danger of losing whatever small bit of relevance it might have.]

10. Shackleton, "Three EPs"


One person's urban decay might be another person's dreary atmospheric boredom. "Three EPs" might be bleak, but it conjures up images of Indiana Jones-style chase scenes through mossy temples in humid climates. There are no murky city streets here, no ragga croaking, instead, its spidery basslines and eccentric percussion maintain a brisk, energetic pace throughout the album. David Holmes might have made an album like this if he decided to go dub on one of his film soundtracks.

9. Matthew Robert Cooper, "Miniatures"


This was released in September 2008, but I didn't see the album reviewed until this past January. Save for one track, I didn't hear anything from "Miniatures" until 2009 and listened to it regularly throughout the year, so I'm including it here. Compared to the denser atmospheres that are typical of Cooper's work as Eluvium, "Miniatures" feels like a collection of tossed off experiments, or even demos for tracks that could be further fleshed out and recorded for an Eluvium album. If so, even Cooper's leftovers handily slay most other "ambient" composers best work. It's a solid effort until you reach the final track, "Miniature 9", which pushes the album into "must hear" territory. It not only could have appeared on Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works II" but could have been arguably the best track on that album.

8. Moritz von Oswald Trio, "Vertical Ascent"


So you may have noticed that I didn't like this album at a time when most like-minded techno heads were repping it as one of the year's best and most original albums. I've been coming around on it, partly by realizing that it demands patience and concentration, and as you allow it to envelop you, new details and phrases emerge from nearly every listen, jumping out from hidden corners of the record that you hadn't noticed before. From a cursory listen, these four long tracks seem to chase their tails. In fact, there is virtually no repetition here, but rather a stream of complex rhythmic patterns that constantly interlock and play off each other.

7. Courtney Love, "Nobody's Daughter"


Show of hands, who expected Courtney Love to reinvent herself as an elder stateswoman of rock with an album of grizzled rockers and acoustic balladry? Her nearest contemporary now seems to be Kristin Hersh, but if you compare "Nobody's Daughter" on a song-by-song basis to Kristin's widely praised 2007 album "Learn To Sing Like a Star", Courtney has her soundly beat on nearly every track. And even her voice sounds better preserved than Kristin's. How the heck did all this happen? You certainly wouldn't have believed it based on what you still hear about Love from the tabloids -- losing custody of her daughter is simply the latest disaster in what seems to be an endless sequence of unsightly news, pictures, and public embarrassments -- because on record, she's rarely sounded more determined or more focused.

6. Tim Hecker, "An Imaginary Country"


Tim Hecker's biggest strength has always been his biggest weakness -- he makes more or less the same album over and over again. He's reliable, but not particularly inventive, and his albums have become a bit too predictable. But the same is true of AC/DC! Do you see anybody complaining?

5. Animal Collective, "Merriweather Post Pavilion"


Animal Collective became almost inescapably big this year, and not only within indie music enclaves. Five years ago, who would have thought that a bunch of Brooklyn noisemakers would reach this level of critical mass? It wasn't just that the album was widely praised, lots of albums receive high praise, and in the case of this one it was all either a) deserved, b) patently ridiculous and completely OTT, or c) lamentations for the supposedly halcyon days of "Sung Tongs" (all three cases appeared in nearly equal proportions). The catch was that the album felt canonized from practically from the second it was released, its reputation wrapped up and made final before the end of January. The speed at which all this happens puts "Merriweather Post Pavillion" in a category with albums like "Kid A", or "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot".

I'm not even sure I can properly evaluate this record anymore. I'm not even sure I was able to do it eleven months ago, not after hearing nearly every track countless times on live bootleg after live bootleg over the previous two years. In 2002, I experienced this with GYBE's "Yanqui UXO". By the time the album was released, every note was already a known quantity. Expectations were set in stone and fans delivered their pre-prepared pitch right on cue. Like with "Yanqui UXO", I don't really listen to MPP too much. The studio versions might paint a different sonic palate from the live versions that evolved over the preceding twenty months, but I never felt a pressing need to listen to this album because everything on it seemed so absurdly familiar.

Get back to me in five years with this one.

4. Ben Klock, "One"

ben klock

Rarely has one techno record managed to collect virtually all the sounds that I want to hear out of clubland in that year. "OK" still feels like the last word in the dubstep/techno crossover, and "Check For Pulse" and "Underneath" hit all the cavernous minimal dub techno sweet spots. But Klock isn't afraid to deviate from his safety zone. "In a While" is a ringer for the material put out by R&S in the mid-90's, and "Cargo" is a reminder of why Richard D. James did his best work under the guise of Polygon Window. In all, "One" is an extremely accomplished debut by an artist who was firing on all cylinders this year.

3. Lisa Germano, "Magic Neighbor"

lisa germano

Hazy piano balladry and the warm feeling of shriveling up into a cocoon never sounded so sultry.

2. Moderat, "Moderat"


With most collaborations, it's enough to expect that the artists will combine their strengths. It's unreasonable to expect that the pairing will also lead to a cancellation of each others' weaknesses. As for Modeselektor, they have a tendency to dabble in goofy ragga and other assorted knob-tweaking silliness in an OTT attempt to be edgy and unpredictable. With Apparat, it's an inability to forge their bleepy melodies into memorable hooks or anything that would stand out in a club. "Moderat" goes from strength to strength, steamrolling over all those potential weaknesses, resulting in an album that's as close to the spirit and genre-bending variety of mid-90's Orbital as anything that's been released this decade.

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "It's Blitz!"


Yeah Yeah Yeahs were always more than just shouty NYC brats, but countless listens to "Maps" didn't really prepare me for the delicate neo-shoegaze balladry of a track like "Little Shadow" (although "Modern Romance", particularly when they played it live, should have prepared me for it but I wasn't paying close enough attention at the time). After hearing the starry-eyed wonderment of tracks like "Little Shadow", "Soft Shock", and "Skeletons", suddenly it made sense to cast Karen O as the token grownup to sing with a bunch of kids on the "Where the Wild Things Are" soundtrack.

Oh yeah, they don't do that thrash-y garage rock stuff anymore, they've tweaked those tracks and they now sound like Blondie-esque disco punk dancefloor fillers. And "Hysteric" is the best ballad they've ever done.

What, you still want more?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Minilogue are the marathon men, plus, the new Portishead track, "Chase the Tear", is freaking SICK

It was originally advertised as a six hour live + DJ set, updated announcements during the past week claimed it would be seven hours. I'm in no position to judge, because when I arrived at Barzilay last night, Minilogue's Sebastian Mullaert was at the decks, and when I left five hours later (at 6:30), he was still there. In between, the duo shifted down the table to their live rig for a two hour live performance that relied a bit too heavily on strange effects and tweakery, but was solid nonetheless. Mullaert's two DJ sets, featuring pounding tech house and LONG transitions between tracks, were the highlights. Minilogue are obviously no strangers to this type of performance. They paced the night perfectly, building from 120 BPM to the harder and faster material of their live show, and returning to slower tempos so to not tire out the crowd as dawn approached. It certainly worked -- I can't recall the last time I saw so many people in that club after 6 AM, and many of them were the same people who were on the dancefloor when I arrived five hours earlier!

And now, for your music link of the weekend week YEAR.

My jaw dropped after the first ten seconds. Please, please PLEASE tell me that the next Portishead album will be ten tracks of "The Rip" mashed up with Pete Shelley's "Homosapien".

Friday, December 11, 2009

Could I attempt to rank mixes/podcasts this year?

Answer: ugh. My head hurts just thinking about it.

I probably should do some sort of review, seeing as I tended to be more excited about the appearance of great new mixes or podcasts than for the release of new albums. The announcement of release dates and tracklists for new albums don't seem to match the overall "wow" factor of reading the tracklist for a forthcoming mix.

I should keep updating this space to list more of my favourites, but for now, two stand out in particular.

Ben Klock, "FACT Mix 31". Ben Klock was arguably the year's finest techno artist, his DJ sets helped to further refine the rougher edges of minimalism, and his album "One" was a techno love letter that paid homage to classic Detroit, Polygon Window's "Surfing on Sine Waves", and the banging techno styles of 2009. His FACT 31 was the year's most consistent, effortlessly cresting from peak to peak, and hitting its finest stride around the forty minute mark with his own hypnotic, deathly sparse "Before One".

Surgeon, "Resident Advisor Podcast 144". Typical Surgeon: driving, manic, absolutely relentless. True to his name, he slices up some thirty tracks in little over an hour, skillfully colliding one fierce techno and dubstep track after another. His style hasn't changed much over the past decade plus, I've always been amazed by his stamina (this stuff isn't all a bunch of studio trickery, he maintains this breakneck pace in his live DJ sets too), and how he finds ways to shoehorn non-conventional dancefloor tracks into his sets without ever breaking the mood or the rhythm (track down some sets where he slots in a bunch of mid-90's Autechre tracks, dropping them every fifth track or so).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top Eleven Remixes of the 00's

I considered making a list of my favourite songs of the 00's, but it was a non-starter. The root of the problem was this: a "best tracks" list that is full of album tracks is boring. It's just a "best albums" list that is bent into a slightly different form. And one's favourite tracks *should* be mostly composed of album tracks, because for the most part, the best albums feature all the best songs. Naturally, there are exceptions such as TATU, who released some of the most brilliant singles of the decade but made extremely patchy albums. But without multiple TATU's and a slate of one hit wonders (which are also rarer these days), the "best tracks" list would be mostly made up of songs from the same bands on the "best albums" list, which is a bit ridiculous because there's certainly no need to essentially compile the same list twice. What could be more boring than reading through a "best tracks" list that consists of someone's favourite album tracks?

Of course, a "best tracks" list should be first and foremost a "best singles" list, thereby clearly differentiating between great albums, great singles, the artists responsible for creating both types of music. I've always tried to approach my "Top X Tracks of the Year" lists in that way, but the distinction is starting to wane I become ever more slowly estranged from the pop charts and find fewer and fewer actual singles to get excited about. I honestly haven't given much thought as to what was the best single of the decade, although if you pointed a gun at me and gave me five seconds to either choose or die, I'm picking "Silver" by Jesu. If we're talking about proper mega-hits, i.e. one inescapably massive chart single to represent the decade, I'd probably choose "Umbrella".

Remixes, on the other hand, are a different breed, a different category of "hits". They can be sort-of singles (in that the originals get played on the radio but the remixes almost always do not), they can be random tracks that were remixed and tossed onto blogs/webpages, they can be tracks that were notable enough to be pressed onto the b-side of a vinyl release. And they are definitely not album tracks. They occupy a niche of musical parameter space that is distinct from that of albums, and largely speaking, distinct from what is happening on the pop charts. (obviously I'm not referring to hip-hop remixes here, or fluke-y exceptions like "Ignition (Remix)")

Unlike ten years ago, remixes now occupy a prominent niche among my favourite songs of the past decade. Chalk it up to a glut of vinyl purchases (mainly in first half of the decade) and an overall increase in dance music listening (thx internet). A "Best Remixes of the 00's" list, even a fairly informal one, felt necessary and appropriate. So, I started listing my clear and obvious favourite remixes from the past ten years, narrowed that small shortlist down to eleven, and assembled a SPECIAL MIX that features all eleven of these amazing tracks. Since this is supposed to be a fairly stress-free exercise, the list is unranked, what follows is the tracklisting on the mix along with comments for each track. Planning the mix itself was quite the challenge though -- I put a lot of thought into the song order since many of these songs would never ordinarily find themselves lumped together in the same DJ set.

What makes for a great remix? For me, the quality of the original track is a non-factor. I'm not looking for a remixer to "save" a track by taking a crap song and converting it to greatness, although with all of these tracks, the originals (at least those that I've heard!) pale in comparison to the remixes. In short, I'm not operating by any kind of convoluted selection process, I'm just compiling a list of my favourite songs of the 00's, except that the pool of choices is narrowed down to remixes only. If, by some vague stretch of the imagination, I was making the effort to compile a top 30 or 50 or 100 "Best Tracks of the 00's" list*, all of these remixes would surely be included (although none of the originals would be)**.

* All would be in the Top 100 for sure. Most would make the Top 50. A few would be in the Top 30
** maybe "Mr Brightside"

Download the mix here!

1. Pyramids, "The Echo of Something Lovely (Jesu Remix)", Hydra Head (2008).

I've said it before, but in latter half of the decade, Jesu became the band that I always wanted Mogwai to be. In the years following "Rock Action", Mogwai deviated from the industrial sludge rock route that they appeared to be treading upon, but Jesu picked up the ball and ran with it, peaking with the massive "Silver" and this remix. Pyramids, who are capable of making astonishing shoegaze/metal hybrids of their own, decided to soften up with this dreampop-like track, as if they were moonlighting as a goth AR Kane. Jesu reshaped the lullabies on the original track and amplified them into psychedelic gothic sludge, proving that Justin Broadrick is only too happy to invent new genres of music that you didn't know you could crave.

2. Ciara, "Goodies (Richard X Remix featuring MIA)", LaFace (2004).

I caned the hell out of this track in '05, and it's still the best thing MIA was or ever will be involved with -- on this remix, she even outshines Ciara. Richard X retained the stripped-down funkiness of the original and turned out an equally sparse remix that still comes off sounding like a club banger.

3. Freiland, "Frei/Hot Love (Justus Köhncke Feat. Meloboy Mix)", Kompakt (2004).

The Kompakt 100 project was rabidly anticipated and with good reason -- two discs of Kompakt artists remixing their label brethren's most well-known tracks, a spectacular array of talent engaging in a cross-pollination exercise to celebrate the mercurial label's one hundredth release. On paper, the concept was mouth-watering, but unfortunately the results were far less than the sum of their parts and arguably signified something of a "jump the shark" moment for the label. Rather than diversifying the styles that Kompakt had become known for, or accelerating the label's creative edge further ahead of the pack, most of the remixers churned out fairly ordinary efforts, with tracks that had seemingly appeared in superior form on many earlier Kompakt releases. Rather than advancing the label forward, Kompakt 100 found them treading water, as if the label's ideas had now been summarized, anthologized, and effectively capped.

There were only two tracks from Kompakt 100 that I would always return to, and Justus Köhncke was featured in both: The Modernist's remix of the deliciously silly "Weiche Zäune", and Köhncke's equally daft and ridiculous remix/cover version of "Frei/Hot Love". It was practically outdated from the moment it was released (schaffel lol), but it's just so damned fun. Somehow, Köhncke took the Profan formula beats, which make you feel as though you're dancing on the deck of a boat that is lurching in the high seas, added a dose of "Hot Love", and ended up with something unashamedly and irresistibly pop.

4. Datach'i, "Memorandum (Mogwai Remix)", Caipirinha (2000).

My opinion of this track hasn't changed from what I wrote on ILMixOR a few years ago, so take a moment to reread that blurb. This remix preceded "Rock Action" and hinted at the inventiveness they'd display on that album. The 2000-1 period stands out as the peak of Mogwai's career, a time when they were so recklessly creative that they could effortlessly make new noise-electronica-rock hybrid genres by night and forget about them before the morning. Although they remained brilliant at times, they unfortunately spent the latter half of the decade trying to be the shoegaze Black Sabbath instead of the shoegaze NIN.

5. Rhythm and Sound with Willi Williams, "See Mi Yah (Hallucinator Remix)", Burial Mix (2006).

This remix seemed to come out of nowhere -- Hallucinator hadn't been heard from in ages but returned to remix "See Mi Yah" into a monstrous palate of echo and bass. This is what I always hoped that the long awaited/rumoured Scion and Tikiman album would sound like.

6. Shackleton, "Blood On My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos Apocolypso Now Mix)", Skull Disco (2007).

I often have pangs of doubt about the quality of this remix, which is related to the notion that Villalobos was completely half-assing here. The beat is so simple, it might as well be a Minimal Preset on a groovebox. I can picture him stapling that beat to the spooky vocal lines from the original track and proceeding to tweak filters for twenty minutes while sipping his coffee. On the other hand, the track is relentless, hypnotic, and scary as fuck. The line "when I see the towers fall ... fall ... fall", with its zombie-like delivery and spooked-out menace laid over zonked-out acid squelches, adds up to possibly the most unexpectedly great refrain of the decade (in any genre). On both sides of the coin, a collection of simple tricks done well can certainly result in something greater than the sum of their parts, which is basically minimal techno in a nutshell.

7. Ellen Allien, "Go (Marcel Dettman Remix)", BPitch Control (2007).

By mid-decade, a lot of minimal had fallen into a comfortable rut, but tracks like these symbolized a shift away from all that, as the genre stopped being all plink plonk and started to quake again. This might be the definitive Berghain track too, a record that sounds like the environment it was meant to be played in, eight minutes of horror dub, bleeding the reverberations of cold, monolithic stone slabs.

8. Pantytec, "Elastobabe (Soul Capsule's Cosmic Warrior Mix)", Perlon (2002).

On a personal level, this record was one of the most significant vinyl purchases I ever made. It completely exploded all of my preconceptions about what styles of techno I could conceivably like and profoundly influenced my future listening habits. My preferred styles were nicely pigeonholed, on one hand you had the Mills/Lekebusch-type bangers when you wanted the hard stuff, ultra-stripped down minimal or atmospheric dub techno when you wanted the softer stuff, and in between there was virtually nothing except for the odd Thomas Brinkmann record. Anything with vocals was dismissed without a second listen, nearly without exception.

On the surface, "Elastobabe" fit into that hazily defined "in between" area but there was a lot more to it than that. "Elastobabe" was ... strange. The vocals seemed to be swirling into a hidden vortex, garbling the lyrics and rendering them incomprehensible. The pulsing rhythms were infectiously danceable, but the record still had an alien, otherworldly feel to it. I had no idea what to make of the record, but knew I had to own it because it felt like one of the hardest techno tracks I'd ever heard, with enough bass to kill a small animal. In a way, I never forgave minimal techno for quieting down so much after this.

9. Motor, "Sweatbox (Chris Liebing Remix)", Novamute (2005).

Liebing stayed fiercely loyal to hard, banging techno (occasionally getting carried away into pop trance territory) even when those styles had seemingly lost their cred among all but a few music critics and fans living in Berlin. This is the one of the ultimate "more is more" tracks, with one of the most audaciously huge breakdowns ever committed to vinyl in the name of techno.

10. The Killers, "Mr Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Dub)", Island (2005).

Jacques Lu Cont/Thin White Duke remixes will turn up in plenty of "best remixes of the decade" discussions, which is a testament to Stuart Price's remarkable ability to transcend genre boundaries over the past several years. Like Ric Flair in the 80's, Price has a formula (loop secondary melody line during intro, stomping chorus, bridge, stomping chorus, stir for approx. eight minutes and serve) and could plug virtually any artist (Colplay? yes, even Coldplay) into that formula and turn out a great remix. At the time, this searing tune from the Killers seemed like an unlikely candidate for a club banger, but fast forward a few years and you have Price producing the band's third album and hardly anybody blinks, so what did I know? I specifically chose the TWD Dub Mix, which to me is head and shoulders above the more commonly praised TWD ("Club Vocal") Mix thanks to stronger, beefier beats and more selective use of the vocals. When Brandon Flowers' voice crops up to sing the anthemic chorus after about five minutes of buildup, the effect is uncannily similar (at least for me) to Dave Gahan's voice hovering over the triumphant finish of the legendary Split Mix of Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again".

11. The MFA, "The Difference It Makes (Superpitcher Remix)", Kompakt Pop (2004).

If you ignore the fact that the Beloved's "The Sun Rising" (whose legend was grown thanks to a million drug-fueled dancing-til-dawn parties) was not one of their better singles, you could say that this remix was "The Sun Rising" for the 00's without insulting Superpitcher's finest achievement. Its hazy, ambient synth washes (which are what MAKE the record, hands down) and slick, propulsive beats are as positive and uplifting as any balearic anthem ever conceived. Sometimes, it almost feels like it's a shame to dance to this song and not to simply bask in it, gazing at it as if it were a painting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Party weekend

Most of the happenings during the Tabac Weekender were not really my style, but seeing Rhythm and Sound ft. Tikiman was a must. I still have strong memories of the Scion ft. Tikiman show that I saw in 2002 (which was one of the very best shows I have ever seen) and I couldn't miss the opportunity to see (some of) these guys again, to hope that they can reproduce the magic of their recordings together.

Warming up the crowd beforehand is "A1 - Live Dub PA", and from the title I was expecting a guy playing records while his friends joined in with percussion. In fact they were a full-fledged drums/bass/keys/brass live band, making this the most live "Live PA" I've ever seen. The guy working the mixing desk was punching buttons like an ADD-riddled child on a sugar rush, but otherwise, this was a strong, tight performance.

A few years ago, I saw Rhythm and Sound perform a DJ set in Toronto, IIRC, Tikiman was supposed to join them but had to cancel at the last minute. This performance was more or less what that one was slated to be -- Ernestus plays the records and works the FX, while Tikiman sings on top. He's such a great vocalist that it's great to watch him work no matter the material, but needless to say I miss the techno elements of this collaboration. They've sounded great together when they've stuck to more traditional dub reggae (on "See Mi Yah", for example), but I start losing interest when they venture into dancehall.

For their 6th Anniversary party, Pacotek went the extra mile and booked a fantastic double bill. Falco Brocksieper, performing live, worked an energetic set of streamlined, Detroit-ish techno that was fairly reminiscent of Dave Angel's mid-90's work. I was a bit surprised to discover that Mike Huckaby is a bit of a sloppy mixer behind the decks, but what he might have lacked in precision was more than compensated by his ability to keep the set flowing with one massive techno soul anthem after another.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lisa Germano, "Magic Neighbor"

It's shame that casual listeners and reviewers will hear this album and wave it away as just another Lisa Germano album. Every review will feature at least one Michael Gira reference and take note at Germano's signature talent for being simultaneously twee and glum. They'll tell you that it's a nice listen, and present a 7/10 rating to ensure that nobody other than her fans will get too excited about it. It's really a shame, because "Magic Neighbor" might be her best album.

Sure, it's partly Germano's fault. She's long since settled into a comfort zone where she's comfortable playing for her small and devoted fan base and has no interest in taking new risks to get noticed, which is why you don't see her trying to expand into piano-led dubstep or anything.

During the album's perfectly brief 34-minute run time, she repeatedly hits upon the magic formula that made "The Darkest Night of All" one of her very best tracks -- the combination of angst and heart-swelling delicacy, where the whole track floats gently by and you find yourself asking whether you dreamed the whole thing once it's over. It's her most "4AD" album, even more so than the albums she made for 4AD. It feels like dreampop even though it doesn't resort to a lot of studio trickery, which is a tribute to the strength of the songwriting, Germano's use of her voice as a simple yet powerful lead instrument, and light embellishments (echo or double-tracking on the vocals, using the piano pedals as subtle percussion as in "Snow") that give the album its other-worldly qualities. In fact, it's her simplest album in terms of instrumentation. With little more than piano or guitar carrying nearly every track, these are almost fully formed stage-ready arrangements for Germano's solo gigs.

The few mis-steps happen when Germano tries to be too lighthearted and cute, but it's a pill you have to swallow when you listen to her albums. On the title track we get the obligatory cat reference, "he must be G-d, he can turn cats into pieces of furniture, or a couple pieces of furniture" ... OK, she loves cats, we get it, but oh wow is that a horrible line. Even so, she buries this song midway through the album, so it's hardly a focal point on the record. Yeah, the sequencing here is also great, starting with the pretty instrumental piece "Marypan" (which acts like a mini-overture), bouncing between sombre tunes and lighter interludes like "Kitty Train", and finally dropping the hammer with the closing triumvirate of "Snow", "Painting the Doors" and "Cocoon". "Snow" is the album's standout piece, with its sparse opening swelling into almost unbearable tension by the end, reminiscent of (and comparable to) Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" (oh yes, I just went there, believe it, and if you play the songs back-to-back you'll notice the similarities too). After a two minute, piano-only intro, "Cocoon"'s refrain of "make the butterflies go away" feels devastating, regardless of whether you take the line literally or as a plea for the banishment of nervous feelings in the pit of one's stomach.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Priceless bit from Ralf Hutter interview

Pitchfork: What about the place of humor in Kraftwerk's music?

RH: It's really good humor, I think it's also very serious. It's simultaneous. So I don't know; I can't express in words, but it's in the music, and it's in the words, and I think people understand. It's also what I call "black humor", because we wear black shoes.

He blindsides you with that line and plays it completely straight, but that just *has* to be a joke, it just has to be. He might be a bit of an eccentric, but this is proof that Ralf Hutter is funnier than you. Read the whole interview here.

And this wasn't even the most awesomely bizarre music-relating thing I read today ... that honour goes to the news about Ladytron working with Christina Aguilera on her next album. She's done poppy, skanky, jazzy, and now ... goth-y? I'm there.

Orbital, Live at Manchester Academy, 18/09/2009

Orbital returned to gigging this year and amidst all of the bug-eyed excitement over the setlist, I quietly noted that it wasn't all that different than what they were playing over the last few years of their career (including the often wretched "Doctor" as an encore), plus, no tracks from "Snivilisation" and the worst track from "Middle of Nowhere" does not add up to my dream anything.

And of course, then I heard a live recording.

Reading the track list doesn't do the gig justice ... it doesn't capture the four minutes of "The Mobius" that gets dropped into the middle of "Out There Somewhere", or how "Lush" is repeatedly peppered with snippets from the still-arresting "Lush (Euro-Tunnel Disaster '94), or the way "Chime" also cycles through a bunch of different versions, or how "The Box" gets yanked out of mothballs and segues its way into "Doctor", which sounds like a disastrous transition on paper but works brilliantly because of how they tame most of the latter track's innate silliness. Orbital are BACK, and they've tweaked the old formulas just enough so that it actually feels like a near-complete reinvention ...

What's more, the timing of their comeback is fitting -- now that the minimal fad has receded and big, melodic anthems have picked up in popularity, Orbital's music feels more contemporary and relevant than at any time in the past ten years. After their "Orbital II"/"Snivilisation"/"In Sides" run, almost any follow-up album would have to be viewed as a disappointment, but ten years removed from that context, it's a lot easier to hear "Middle of Nowhere" as a stand-alone work and to recognize how brilliant and forward-thinking it is. At the time, I felt that the album peaked during the first minute of "Way Out", from that moment on, they said goodbye to the sweeping cinematic scenery that made "In Sides" so magical, and settled into being just another techno act. Well, I was wrong -- "Middle Of Nowhere" is a complex work, packed with more bleepy hooks than should be legally allowed, and "Nothing Left" is by far their most underrated single.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Old Fart Musician complains that things aren't what they used to be, film at 11

The musician in question is John Taylor of Duran Duran, and he actually makes a good (albeit not particularly original) point.

The internet has not stunted our collective musical growth, so ignore that slightly batshit comment for the moment.

However, there is unquestionably "immense power in restriction and holding back". Celebrities are celebrities because we, who are not famous, revel in watching people do things that we cannot do. You, me, and Kanye West can all post updates on Twitter. However, me and you will not appear on MTV.

Duran Duran became megacelebs because there is nothing cooler and sexier than being on TV and having your music played over video montages of the band lounging speeding yachts, throwing champagne parties, and frolicking with girls in skimpy bikinis. Of course, it was all possible because a few major labels controlled all the music, and one channel (MTV) controlled which videos were played -- when your video was in heavy rotation on MTV in 1983, EVERYONE saw it. Those times are long since gone, the industry is too fractured now. This fact seems to be lost on John Taylor.

But the question remains: given that attention spans are shrinking all the time, partly thanks to our gazes being averted to a zillion nodes in a multimedia sea, how can a musical artist seek the kind of "magnetic attraction" over that can only come with being *less* interactive with their audience? The formula has worked in dance music circles for decades (Burial, "who is Rex the Dog?", the list goes on and on). REM became exponentially more famous when they stopped touring in the early 90's and captivated music fans with two somber, emotionally draining albums accompanied by a series of unforgettable videos (this model for success is of course dead in the water now, I am simply pointing out what they did). Could the next wave of pop stars find their breakthrough by following Taylor's advice -- by finding a way to become more famous by receding from the spotlight? It would be a refreshing change ...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Various, "Five Years of Hyperdub"

There is plenty of like on this massive, 32-track compilation. Start with Samiyam, "Return", and its irregular lurching rhythms that would have fit perfectly on virtually any release from Wolfgang Voigt's dearly departed Profan label. Or Darkstar, "Need You". It features playful, almost carnival-like melodies, and vocoders that Daft Punk would certainly be proud of. It also unites those elements with windy synth passages and sparse ambient noises, making for quite the chilling combination of sounds. Or Zomby, "Tarantula", which takes Juan Atkins mid-80's robo-funk style and strips it down to its barest melody and percussion. Or Martyn, "Mega Drive Generation", an unreleased track that kills virtually anything from his so-so "Great Lengths" LP, with its simple uncluttered percussion and gliding bassline that produces something bizarrely akin to the gentle ebb and flow of minimal techno.

I've never taken much to the music of label boss Steve Goodman AKA Kode9. He's the most "classical" dub artist on his label, but he tends to go overboard in trying to add a spooked-out, creepy feel to his music, and often it's just a bit too much. It was entirely predictable that Kode9 would pen a track called "Ghost Town", as the phrase sums up just about everything his music strives for.

It might be boring and cliche to say it, but what this compilation accomplishes most of all is to show just how far ahead of the pack Burial truly is. It's the sort of obvious revelation you get when you lump one artist's work along with 2+ hours of the best stuff his contemporaries have to offer. I can be nodding along pleasantly to virtually any track on these CD's, but the start of a Burial track suddenly and decisively shifts the mood to an entirely new level of fear and tension.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yo La Tengo, "Popular Songs"

Depending on who you want to believe, this album either continues YLT's career resurgence, or is simply a fine albeit forgettable record. I don't understand the "resurgence" narrative because it's not like ten years passed by without a good albums, in fact the only widely acknowledged stinker in their recent catalogue is 2002's "Summer Sun" (although they also released the very good "Nuclear War" EP in the same year, so that year was hardly a total write-off).

The "fine but forgettable" angle has some merit, and I could even feel it developing only two tracks into the album. I listened to "Here to Fall" and "Avalon or Someone Very Similar" and found them to be perfectly enjoyable tracks that I'd be happy to throw onto a random playlist, but couldn't remember much about them even twenty minutes later. Most of the album carries the "nice but bland" air of "Summer Sun", and then someone might as well have shown up carrying a big "ACT II" sign because the epic tracks signal the start of a completely different record. "Fireside" resembles an acoustic jam from the likes of Bardo Pond or Charalambides, within its beatless, zonked-out, dreamlike air we find the only track on the album that truly sounds different from anything YLT have recorded previously. "And the Glitter Is Gone" rocks on interminably, which is both good and bad because I appreciate a good Velvet-y jam as much as anyone, but I couldn't stop thinking about how bored I'd be if I was watching them perform it live (dirty little secret: ALL of YLT's epic tracks are fairly boring to watch live, but on occasion I take some pleasure in hearing them stretch out the intro to "Blue Line Swinger" as much as possible).

The half pop/half jam sequencing is fairly bizarre, and makes me appreciate what they did with "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass" a little bit more. Bookending the album with 11-minute jams was a brilliant bit of sequencing, where the album gets a fiery start, a fiery finish, and leaves them plenty of room in the middle with which to to pack in all the twee/goofy/garage rock experiments.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My really belated two cents

Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and Lady GaGa's "Paparazzi" are two of the biggest singles of 2009, and both are fantastic, as good as any megahits to hit the charts in any year this decade. BEP have always straddled a line between addictively catchy pop pleasure and wretchedly unlistenable annoyance, but then the fantastic David Guetta produced them, and all was good. In fact, I thought that "I Gotta Feeling" *was* the new David Guetta single the first couple of times I heard it. It was some time before I realized that the BEP's were on the record. How exactly did David Guetta manage to bring actual 4/4 dance music back to the charts for the first time since the Aqua/"Missing"/"Believe" era? Would it have been possible without Timbaland, i.e. without "Sexyback" and "The Way I Are" paving the way? (answer: obviously not) And through it all, despite the 14-week run at #1 for a song that is also featured on the producer's new album, Guetta's "One Love" topped out at something like #70 on the American album charts, as opposed to runaway success in virtually every other western country in the northern hemisphere. He needs to re-release "Love Is Gone" for the American market, like yesterday.

"Paparazzi" won a million MTV VMA's and deserved probably a million more, one for every different costume she wears in the video. If Peaches hadn't been on a mission to out-raunch everyone else in clubland, and given in to being a bit more of a girly girl (and why not, Gwen Stefani learned how to do it), then this could have been her career. And "Paparazzi" is the best hit song to crash the charts since "Umbrella".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Which is more ridiculous?

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, or Michael Jackson's five AMA nominations, including Artist of the Year and Album of the Year?

Both artists promised big things this year, but failed to deliver.

Obama may yet deliver on his foreign policy initiatives (which may or not actually bring peace if he does manage to deliver on them).

Michael Jackson has already been given these honours at countless award shows over the past 30 years, and these new nominations have a whiff of double jeopardy about them.

The recognition given to both men is horribly misplaced, in the sense that the methods chosen are poor ways to "honour" them.

The decision is left as an exercise to the reader.

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Pornographers in the 2000's

In sports, they say that flags fly forever, which is another way of saying that you're more likely to be remembered for one outstanding year than a number of merely good years. The quickest and safest route to history is to burn excessively bright for a short time, just ask the Sex Pistols (or even the blasted Libertines).

New Pornographers didn't release a world-conquering album that stands apart from the rest of their music. But they did release four very good albums of punchy guitar pop that are deservedly beloved by indie rock fans. They haven't strayed far from the blueprint of their first album, 2000's "Mass Romantic", or the formula that turned that album's centrepiece track, "Letter From an Occupant" into a minor anthem (I think the next track, "To Wild Homes", with all its outlandish Spectorian piano-pounding drama, is the true heart and soul of that album, but let's stick to the other storyline for a moment).

So at decade's end, bands like the New Pornographers arguably find themselves in an unusual spot: warmly remembered and respected in the present, but without a secure legacy to ensure that it'll stay that way in the future. Now, if best-of lists were the be all and end all of guaranteeing that a band will remain popular, then not having one album that is widely acknowledged as classic would be problematic. But in the big picture, lists don't mean shit. Radio is what matters -- what's key is to have at least one or two hits that remain fixtures on radio playlists. I'm not sure that New Pornographers could make that claim either, even among indie circles. There's something about the replayability of their albums that I've never quite understood, basically, I hear one of their album and will happily sing along throughout the record, but never feel the need to play it a second time straight through, or even just to replay one or two songs. They write fantastic pop songs, but don't write "hits". It's an illogical feeling, I know, particularly when every sensible bone in my body tells me that, say, "Sing Me Spanish Techno" is hit-worthy and should be a radio staple.

There is so much more indie rock music now than there was in 2000, and now they must compete with more bands to carve out that legacy. The indie scene is become ever more interdisciplinary, cross-pollinating itself with other genres, but New Pornographers remain proudly "plain".

In that make-believe world where lists actually influence a band's reputation, then New Pornographers are left out in the cold, without a clear favourite album (in the opinion of both fans or critics) that will rank along the decade's uber-classics. They are a "down-ballot" band, furthermore hurt by their own consistency, because that will lead to vote-splitting among their albums. This is definitely a weakness of listmaking: there is room for the band that released one classic and a load of crap otherwise, but the consistently good bands get squeezed out ... unless the voter essentially invokes a "lifetime achievement" clause, and gives inflated marks to whatever one deems to be their best album. I personally try to resist the urge to do this, and I keep reminding myself of that when I think about albums by bands like Mogwai and Xiu Xiu. What should definitely be avoided is what we can call the "Maps effect" -- that is, the overrating of a fairly ordinary album like the YYY's "Fever To Tell", not because they think it's a classic album, but because they feel the need to rep for classic songs on that album. So people vote for it even though they're really just repping for "Maps".

Friday, October 02, 2009

End of Decade Lists: P4K and Uncut

Various comments about the top ten albums on these lists ...


10. The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"

I don't think I've knowingly listened to any of this (except the title track) since it came out ... it always struck as the sort of album Norman Cook would make if he was more into hip-hop. I like bonkers albums. I do find it remarkable that this album had so much staying power, particularly because the follow-up has yet to appear.

9. Panda Bear, "Person Pitch"

Still great.

8. Sigur Ros, "Agaetis Byrjun"

Good album, but it's the worst of Sigur Ros' four 2000's albums, by far. It's also surprising that this album has had so much staying power, considering the hate that's been thrown at Sigur Ros in the years since then (although we can now clearly see that it was a relatively brief phase, 2001-4). Many people have come around on "{}" since then, and it's placing lower in this chart is one indication of that.

7. The Strokes, "Is This It"

At the time, I refused to buy into a lot of the hype and called them wholly unoriginal (check the blog post from eight years ago), even while finding plenty to like about the actual album.

People spend far too much time and energy ascribing "importance" to albums, or claiming that such-and-such "defined the era" or whatever. I've tried my best to avoid making such characterizations about the music that I like. But if it must be done, I can't for the life of me understand why people are spilling that ink on Radiohead and not on the Strokes. "Kid A" didn't define the decade yet to come, as much as it summarized a lot of the electronic music trends from the 90's. These days, when I hear a track like "Someday", it makes me nostalgic for 2001 in the fondest sense of the word. It is the sound of 2001, just as "G-d Save the Queen" can be said to be the sound of 1977, or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the sound of 1991.

In fact, if any band were the Nirvana of the 00's, it was the Strokes. They didn't break new ground, but they carefully assembled their influences into something brash, arrogant, and unapologetically pop. They took a sound that had been bubbling under the radar for some time and let the charge to bring it into the mainstream. I was as cool on grunge in the 90's as I was on garage rock in the 00's, but as the years passed, the greatness of the Strokes (and Nirvana) became more and more clear as their imitators all tried and failed to make music that was any better. When the scene hype faded away, leaving nothing behind but the music with which to judge it, the brilliance of the scene's original superstars stood out even more than it did in their prime.

"Is This It" is a great album.

6. Modest Mouse, "The Moon and Antarctica"

I haven't heard this. When the follow-up was released, I couldn't see the BFD about "Float On" and haven't given them a second thought since.

5. Jay-Z, "The Blueprint"

Good stuff, can't argue much here, although the crushing inevitability of its crowning as the decade's best hip-hop album was second only to the inevitability of "Kid A" topping this list.

4. Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"

I think I heard this once back in 2002.

3. Daft Punk, "Discovery"

A great EP and a bunch of filler. But unlike "Kid A", nobody is pretending that G-d had a greater purpose for this album. No sociology theses, no "the world we live in" grandstanding. Nobody is saying that "Discovery" reinvented house or techno, or that it pushed the boundaries of what great dance music could be. They're saying that Daft Punk made huge, stomping, sometimes tearjerking dance floor anthems, and that they were the best at it. It's all about the music, and a shared communal experience spent enjoying that music. As it should be.

2. Arcade Fire, "Funeral"

Great album. I'm not sure which is better, this or "Neon Bible", but the latter certainly got the shaft in this poll, didn't it? That seemed to be a trend -- if this list is to be believed, virtually every major band got worse with each new release. I call b.s. on that ... every band in this top three arguably made a better album after the three listed here.

1. Radiohead, "Kid A"

Maybe three decent songs here.


10. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Nice harmonies, I guess. Haven't heard the whole record.

9. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

Haven't heard it.

8. Bob Dylan - Modern Times

I don't know how, but I'd avoided hearing the albums since Dylan's return to critical greatness in 1997. Until "Modern Times". This is embarrassing, and is nothing to be proud of.

This album didn't resonate with me.

7. Arcade Fire - Funeral

6. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand

Hmmm. Haven't heard it.

5. The Strokes - Is This It

4. Brian Wilson - Smile

I'd thought we'd all forgotten about this. I haven't heard it since 2004, and haven't felt the least bit inclined to do so. The "completion" and eventual release of "Smile" was a critics' rite of passage, like losing one's virginity ... you look forward to it seemingly forever, then it happens, and afterward, you never feel the need to think about it ever again.

I'm sure I will give this album a spin sometime in the next couple of months, for old time's sake in the end-of-decade spirit.

3. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

They went with the unexpected choice -- Uncut, more zany and unpredictable than Pitchfork: official!

2. Bob Dylan - Love And Theft

Shame on me for not having heard this yet.

1. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

"Fell in Love With a Girl" is nice, I guess. Good video, too.

All right, so Uncut's top ten isn't really my bag, but Uncut's 11-20 > Pitchfork's 11-20!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2004 was a strange year, plus Pitchfork's Best 200 Albums of the 2000's AKA T-3 days to "Kid A"'s inevitable win

Or maybe you haven't heard about how parts of "Kid A" were made with computers, thereby making it a prophetic statement on the futuristic info-age that we now live in. Causality vs correlation, people! Anyway, let's just prepare to take our medicine and move on to the 010's.

I'm getting some bad vibes so far from that list (through 200-101). There are some placings that seem inconsistent with previous charts, for example, Mountains Goats' "Sunset Tree" which was #24 in 2005 and #102 of the entire decade, and ahead of a few other albums that ranked much higher on the '05 chart. Not to pick on Mountain Goats, but I wasn't aware of any slow-burning critical consensus behind that record, so I found that placing a bit odd, but I won't lose sleep over it. After all, we're looking at, on average, twenty albums per year for this list (actually more from 2000-8, since 2009 will surely be underrepresented) and these lists aren't compiled by crunching statistics from past charts, they represent the opinions of actual people (and not even the same people who were writing for the site in 2005) whose feelings can change over the years.

No, what's weird is the inconsistencies between the placings of albums on their 2008 chart, and their placings on the Top 200, for example, TVOTR's "Dear Science" (#6 in 2008, #140 of the decade) was outplaced by Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah Part One" (#13 in 2008, #133 of the decade) and M83's "Saturdays = Youth" (#8 in 2008, #111 of the decade). This represents the opinions of virtually the same people that were compiling the 2008 list, and how much could their opinions have changed in the past nine months? Is a TVOTR backlash setting in as part of a reaction to that album's more mainstream critical acceptance (e.g. winning P&J 2008)? If so, shouldn't a serious critics' list be above those sorts of about-face evaluations? Aren't these lists supposed to stand the test of time, to serve as critical benchmarks? People do rely on P&J as a benchmark of the "critical mindset" from that given year, and you can quibble about details (who did/didn't vote, genres not represented, points schemes) but given the size of the poll, it's hard to think of a better representation. But where's the value in lists drawn up by critics who change their minds every year?

Maybe I'm overanalyzing (probably). Maybe I shouldn't read too much into half of a list. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks that #200-101 contains a lot of second and third-best albums by a lot of acts, suggesting that more albums by those acts will be appearing in the top 100, making for a someone predictable list, not to mention one that will be lacking in variety due to all of the repeat acts. But the bad vibes aren't going away ...

As for my own ongoing introspection, I'm not sure how to evaluate 2004. It's looking like a freakishly abnormal year with a great many good albums, but very few great ones. A puzzling combination, to be sure. Or consider this: for me, that year was a turning point, in which the majority of my new music consumption/listening shifted from CDs/music stores to computers/internet. Suddenly, I needed to find a way to process more music in a shorter time span than I ever had before, and it's possible that I couldn't adjust that quickly. I heard a lot of good music, but was overwhelmed and couldn't connect strongly with most of it. By 2005, and in the following years, my musical body clock found a way to handle the volume, leaving 2004 as my personal transitional anomaly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Musical triple-bill

Last night I found myself watching back-to-back-to-back movie musicals (none of which I had seen before), although I use the word "watching" very loosely because there was quite a bit of muting/listening to other music/putschking around the house/five minute naps while in the vicinity of the TV during those five-plus hours. Especially during the first film, "Mamma Mia".

I love ABBA's music, and didn't like the musical when I saw it live several years ago. But the movie is just horrifically bad, and everyone involved just be embarrassed that their sloppy, amateurish karaoke was caught on film (except for Meryl Streep, who is incapable of having a truly bad performance in any genre, even if she has absolutely nothing and nobody to work with, as she did here). Did you know that this movie is the biggest grossing movie ever in Britain, surpassing "Titanic"?

I can't believe that "Chicago" won the Academy Award for Best Picture, well, strictly speaking I can believe it because it's not such a stretch to imagine Academy members falling for the simple gimmick of a few big movie stars trying their hands at singing and dancing. Along the way, we learn an important lesson -- the media is vicious, uncaring, and in the blink of an eye you can be yesterday's news. Wow, I'd never thought about it that way before, that's so deep. And look everybody, Catherine Zeta-Jones (who was good but hardly worth the hype given to her performance) and Renee Zellweger (who was tasked with the burden of looking button-cute but hardly did anything else notable) are doing a closing dance number, who ever thought we'd see that? Give them an Oscar! However, the whole thing *looks* great, I'll give it that, it was a "Moulin Rouge"-esque splash of constant light, colour, and flashy costumes. The real star of the film was Richard Gere. I can't recall ever liking him in a movie before, but he pulled off the part (and the singing and dancing!) better than I would have ever thought possible.

After those two films, I really didn't have the energy to stay awake for "Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights", but somehow I couldn't turn away from this trainwreck. I had to keep watching to find out how much horrifically bad dialogue could force its way into a single movie, and to see how they'd oversimplify the issues in the Cuban Revolution for easy consumption by an under-12 Disney Channel audience. The homages to the original movie were obvious, but not overbearing (e.g. the water scene, the hair-combing scene, the scene where PATRICK MF'IN SWAYZE reprises his "Johnny's Mambo" dance routine OMG!!!!!). Sela Ward is meant to play the Jerry Orbach role as the overprotective parent, but she wasn't on screen enough to have much of an influence on the direction of the movie, and a sweet ex-ballroom dancing mom isn't much of a rudder compared to a steely, rich and influential dad who will do anything to keep his little girls out of harm's way. Oh, and Sela Ward is no Jerry Orbach.

There was no conflict in the movie because the villains were villain-y enough, which is what happens when you have to sanitize everything for a pre-teen audience. Ooooh, that rich boy tried to make out with her and she didn't want to. Scoundrel! The sister character can't establish her unsavoury-ness by sleeping around like in the original, so she shows her true colours by ... using racial epithets? What kind of lazy cheap heel heat is this? And remember kids, it's OK to follow your dreams and support the revolution, just remember that America is still #1.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cloaks, "Versus Grain"

I'm finally getting a move on with all my End of the Decade musing, which has involved revisiting a bunch of music from that 2000-2002 bygone era that feels like it happened twenty years ago instead of ten. I heard Fluxion's "Vibrant Forms II" for the first time in probably five or six years and was happy to discover that it still sounds incredibly fresh. This actually isn't so surprising, considering that dub techno still worships at the altar of stuff like the original Basic Channel records and seminal compilations such as Tresor 3. As it was for acid house and acid techno 15-20 years ago (another musical form in which the diversity of the music was limited almost by definition), the slow evolution of the genre is its greatest strength or its intolerable weakness, depending on where you stand on appreciating the relatively few tricks that the genre has to offer.

Like many people, I couldn't get enough of dub techno from 2000-2002 but suffered serious burnout afterward. Then we skip a few more years, and we all rediscover dub techno to the cries of either "are we really about to listen to exactly the same stuff all over again?" or "oh how I've missed you". If I have to pick sides, I'll side with the latter group, but I prefer to lurk between the two camps. Dub techno is a comfortable blanket to wrap oneself in, but as it is with the synth pop revivals that pop up from time to time, I can't find myself obsessing over music that so outwardly relies on nostalgia to hook its listeners.*

On the other hand, industrial techno is one genre that I never thought would make a comeback, partly because it was never big enough or cool enough to be realistically considered for a comeback. And yet, magazines like FACT are proudly trumpeting its return and anointing a recent Ancient Methods podcast as the finest and most essential mix of the year. I was really surprised to read that, for although I was really feeling that podcast, there was nothing about it that screamed "bloody essential" at me, unless you were big into dark/horror techno and could hold out through the somewhat boring middle third and stay awake for the strong finish (but then again, I get bored about a half hour into most podcasts these days). It felt more like a harder, bass-ier set of minimal than an authentic noise/industrial coming out party, but never mind that, hurrah, my ant-zen CD's are cool again, at least if the sound of this Cloaks album is anything to go by. And Speedy J was ahead of the curve yet again (listen to "A Shocking Hobby", from 2000, if you're still skeptical). Always trust the Paap!

* "Wait, aren't you the guy who puts M83 at the top of his lists every year??"

"I'd argue that M83's music incorporates a lot more originality than a lot of the other 80's copycats, and relies on elements from a bunch of other more modern genres (shoegaze, techno, ambient) to make the music work."

"I'd argue that you're dodging the question."

"I know."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

She's Like the Wind

Jake Houseman: Don't you tell me what to see! I see someone in front of me who got his partner in trouble and sent her off to some butcher, while he moved on to an innocent young girl like my daughter!


Johnny: [angry] Yeah, I guess that's what you *would* see.

He had so many great lines in that movie, and this exchange is surely one of the most underrated. I always found THAT line and scene at the end to be a bit too hokey, but the movie is supposed to be a fairy tale with a happy and tidy ending, so I wouldn't begrudge anyone who disagrees.

Based on some of the reactions I've been seeing around the 'net, are there really some Swayze and "Dirty Dancing" fans out there who didn't realize that he sang and wrote "She's Like the Wind"? How can this be? The soundtrack, of course, is unimpeachable. Much like the "Big Chill", it collected a bunch of classic old songs and it OWNED them to such a degree that today, many of these songs are so well-known for being featured in "Dirty Dancing" that their reputations as sizable hits in their own right has been outstripped. "Dirty Dancing" is still the first thing I think about when I hear "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" or "Big Girls Don't Cry" (out of all the old songs, I think only "Be My Baby" escapes this association completely)*. It also revived the careers of Bill Medley and Eric Carmen. What more could you want in a soundtrack?

* OK, OK, I know that those songs were featured on the "More Songs From ..." companion soundtrack and were not on the "official" soundtrack ... does that distinction really matter so much?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's starting to feel a lot like the 90's (and the 80's ...)

Every once in a while, I remember that it's 2009 and I'm supposed to be working on some kind of splashy best-of-the-decade thingy, complete with charts compiled using a ranking/calculation scheme that makes sense only to me. That chart would take shape over several months, as I stare at more or less the same shortlist of albums every day, glacially evolving the rankings by performing the most mundane changes, such as switching M83 and Bardo Pond at #15 and #16 after thirty minutes of pondering, coming away with a feeling of complete satisfaction that I did indeed accomplish something meaningful today.

So, yeah, I've been basically forgetting to do all of that stuff. I've got the shortlist, but every time I look at it, it looks incomplete, as if I'm forgetting about a bunch of classics. It doesn't help that 2000-2002 feels like a million years ago, and how is it possible that the second half of the decade passed twice as quickly as the first half (I mean, doesn't it seem that way to you too)?

Actually, 2000-2002 might as well have happened a million years ago. Those were the days when I still purchased all my music in stores, and generally heard things for the first time in a store or at home by physically picking up a black or silver disc-like object and pressing "play" on some sort of standalone playback device. The bands I was listening to during those years were mainly holdovers from the 90's, although calling them "holdovers" would be selling them far short, because many of them produced the best music of their careers during the first couple of years of the decade. But afterward, those bands just seemed to disappear, and didn't fit into the rest of the decade's narrative.

Strangely enough, everything I wrote in the previous paragraph seems to apply to 90's music as well (or at least, the 90's music I was listening to).

Then came 2003-2005, which are the years that featured all the best music of the decade. The most memorable pop hits were released during these years. And in general, the "sound" of the decade seems much better defined by the music released from 2000-2004 than that released during the second half, 2005-2009.

I'd say the same was true for the 90's as well.

Then came 2006, which was a bit shit (not sure why), but 2007-8 were quite a bit better, but 2009 is confusing because I haven't heard a slam-dunk classic album that no Top 30 or 50 of the decade could be without, and I basically don't have a clue how much of this year's music will still be bragged about in ten years.

In the 90's, 1996 was crap, 1997 was quite a bit better, but 1998 was horrific (this is the one serious divergence from the expected pattern), and 1999 is mainly an interesting exercise for seeing who ended up being major players over the next decade, and who faded away despite slam-dunk expectations. Britney and Justin are two of the biggest mega-stars that the business has ever seen -- who saw that coming? Orbital, Suede, GYBE! -- gone, all of them. Mogwai did a bit of burning brightly, and bit of burning out. Which album will drop later this fall and be the "69 Love Songs" of the 00's, i.e. the album that was released too late to factor in anybody's lists but will retroactively get slotted in in a few years time (and due to it's unusual release date, will never really feel like it's identified with any one decade)?

Oddly enough, I think most of this template could apply to the 80's as well -- 1980-1984 "defined the decade", the second half was a slow decay in comparison (albeit with some awesome peaks and valleys); 1980-1982 contained some extremely creative work, which was somewhat washed away by the megapeak of pop (accompanied by the rise of a game-changing technology, in this case MTV) that occurred from 1983-1985, and so on.

Like I was saying, I have a list to compile, and I think I'll be compiling it mostly on instinct this time. Which means that the final ordering will likely be decided upon in a quick, and mostly visceral way.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Decade In Pop

Tom Ewing's essay for Pitchfork is one of the best pieces of criticism that site has ever published. Unlike most "review"-style articles on P4K (including year-end lists), he doesn't attempt to fool the reader into thinking that a year or decade can be neatly summed up into simple "year X was the year of Y" proclamations, as if pop (or any other type of music) could be conveniently summarized into such catchy little policy statements. Ewing isn't afraid to leave a bunch of open questions on the table. His role as a critic, like that of any good teacher, is to cull what he feels to be the most relevant information, set the context as best he can, and suggest his opinion on the matter. Then it is up to us, the students, to run with his arguments and build on his ideas. And this essay is as full of ideas as any of its kind. It's fantastic work -- I wouldn't even know where to begin with such a wide-ranging assignment like "The Decade In Pop".

I do find some serious faults with the piece, the most glaring being the complete omission of race from any part of the discussion. The way in which white artists have been trying to cross over to black markets (and vice versa) is intricately woven into the very fabric of American pop music -- more than just the elephant in the room, Ewing has overstepped a giant blue whale in avoiding any and all discussion of this topic, which is fairly unforgivable considering that 90% of his essay deals with American artists. This is unfortunate, but not so unexpected, because British misunderstandings of American multiculturalism is the single biggest difference in the perspectives of American and British music critics. In other words, I expect a British critic to ignore this stuff, because he doesn't understand it, whereas it would be impossible for an American critic to ignore the stuff.

Ewing writes about the convergence of the pop, R&B, and hip-hop scenes but somehow manages to dodge the issue of which ethno-cultural groups were affiliated with those genres for most of their histories. Surely this had to warrant a mention in regards to one of Justin Timberlake's many guest collaborations? The "Class of '99" was really no different than any other loosely associated bunch of superstar artists from any other period in pop history -- they were white kids who took traditionally "black" forms of music and mass-sold it to a predominantly "white" audience. If New Kids on the Block were a concerted attempt to create a "White New Edition", then 'N Sync were ... a "White Blackstreet"?

For my money, the real "anything's possible" pop moment was the release of 'N Sync's "Pop", produced by trance megastar Brian Transeau aka BT. At the time, I thought that if trance artists were producing boy bands and scoring big hits, then there couldn't be any other kind of cross-genre collaboration that could surprise me. The funny thing was, hardly anybody batted an eye at the time, pretty much because nobody in the pop sphere had any idea who BT was. His style wasn't so different from what the Neptunes were doing at the time, and they were certainly both influenced by the same sorts of electronic-leaning artists, but the Neptunes were crossing over from the hip-hop world, whereas BT was crossing over from what might as well have been Mars. Even so, the Neptunes didn't become megastars in their own right until 2002 or so, but they did have a all-star base of production credits to keep them working with the biggest acts in the business for a long time to come. Whereas "Pop" was a bit of a dud in 'N Sync's career and they essentially split up not long after, so it was hardly the kind of breakthrough success that BT could have built his career upon. Maybe, if BT had worked with them just a few months later, when producers themselves were becoming household names, then he would have had a more memorable career as a pop producer.

And for my money, the genre convergence became complete following Justin Timberlake's (yeah, him again!) guest spot on Snoop Dogg's "Signs", from 2004. That sort of collab is commonplace these days, but in 2004, it was a bit mindblowing. The pretty boy lead singer from an all-white boy band teaming up with a gangsta rap icon? Even eighteen months earlier, that partnership would have been completely unthinkable (for a laugh, can you imagine, say, Jordan Knight guesting on "Doggystyle"?).

Techno actually had a good decade in the charts. From Timbaland throwing the electronica kitchen sink onto Missy Elliott's albums (and don't forget about "My Love"), to the Neptune's minimalist glitch-funk productions, to Kanye West's "808's and Hearbreak", techno was sort of the secret weapon for the pop producer. Y'know, they've already heard it all from rock and hip-hop, so let's throw something at them that they haven't heard, e.g. a rave siren! Timba's "The Way I Are" was a smash hit, and L'il Jon's screaming and cheapo 90's raver effects relegated Usher to a near afterthought on his own record. How could there ever have been any doubt that Eurobeat and rave would be the electronic genres of the 90's that would produce the most chart successes? Remember when people honestly thought that the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy were going to be rock stars??

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pet Shop Boys Live at BBC, and RIP Ellie Greenwich

This one-hour special, containing near-complete clips of PSB TV performances interspersed with contemporary comments by the duo, is easily the best music-related airplane viewing I've ever seen (the second best would be ... well, no comparative examples come to mind, actually, but the PSB collection was quite good on its own and is well worth seeing even if you're not stuck on an airplane for 7.5 hours). I didn't know that their current look (knee-length black coats) was recycled from the start of their career. The interviews added some curious, minute details to the clips (what, you were expecting less arcane ruminations from Neil Tennant?) and I certainly wouldn't have noticed Tennant's trembling hands without being prompted, so cheers for his trainspotter's sense of detail. Their live gear setup for 1994's "Liberation" was nothing more than an ancient laptop. Whether Chris Lowe was doing anything "live" with that computer is irrelevant to me, but can you think of an earlier laptop "performance" than this one? Was this the first laptop gig of consequence in the history of music?

I am baffled at the relative lack of attention that has been given to the death of one of the greatest songwriters of the 1960's, Ellie Greenwich. Her Spector-resume was the most impressive of any songwriter he regularly worked with ("Be My Baby", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "River Deep Mountain High", "Then He Kissed Me", to name just four). And she co-wrote "Leader of the Pack"! And discovered Neil Diamond! What a career ... and I assume this story doesn't get much play because she was predominantly a songwriter, with far less name-recognition and visibility than that of the acts she worked with.

Here is one of my favourite Youtube clips.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blur, live at Hyde Park, July 3, 2009

I always struggled to define my relationship with Blur. I searched for definitions, and they were the band I liked the most without ever really loving. They effortlessly churned out one amazing song after another, they were versatile, they had longevity, and they were great live (for a long time, their 1996 Toronto gig at the then-Warehouse was one of my top five favourite concerts ever). They were a great great band, but there was one problem -- they didn't truly matter to me. Ever loved somebody without being IN love? Yeah.

I wasn't clamouring for a Blur reunion. I didn't miss them when they were gone, and besides, "Think Tank" was unforgivable tripe which at that time served to profoundly justify all of my nagging suspicions about not committing myself to this band. They'd screwed up, they simply weren't worth it after all. So I couldn't get excited about the reunion, even though I privately knew that the concerts would surely turn out to be great.

Almost everything in this set feels fresh because I haven't heard most of these songs in years. This is what helps make "She's So High" such a welcome opener. Even though it's far from the best moment on "Leisure" (that would be "Sing"), it's naivete and simplicity make for a memorable comeback singalong tune, and of course the best is yet to come.

This set is heavy on "Parklife" tunes (eight of them), which is understandable for a held in a huge outdoor venue in July (and nearly 15 years to the day after their famous "Parklife"-era Glastonbury performance that launched their career to another level). If it was up to me, I would have stacked up those songs in the middle of the set, because the mid-set "Tender"/"Country House" section feels a lot more like the triumphant end to the gig than the somewhat obvious and perfunctory "Parklife"/"End of a Century"/"To the End"/"This Is a Low" four-song run that they actually chose, although I can understand "This Is A Low" as the main set-closer. "Tender" is arguably the highlight of the gig, and not just because is it one of the few truly sexy moments of the concert (and in Blur's oeuvre in general). This extended, nine-minute version gets a spectacular reaction from an emotional crowd that sings along with every word, which surely sends a bit of an f-you to the people who dismissed this song in 1999, claiming that it was unnecessarily long, or indulgent, or nothing more than sludgy, rewarmed Spiritualized. It simply has to be Blur's most underrated single, what else could it possibly be (maybe "End of a Century"? I think a lot of people would say "Coffee and TV" but they couldn't be more wrong (it's one of their plainest songs, any one of a million indie-rock bands could have written it). And who would have thought that "Country House" could sound so glorious in 2009? Wasn't it the throwaway Blur-by-numbers track that didn't really need to exist after the band succeeded in their goal to beat out Oasis' "Roll With It" for the #1 spot on the British singles charts?

In the long run, it was probably inevitable that Blur's critical reputation would be rehabilitated. Americans just needed time to forget about all of the quirky things they hate about British music scenes and scenesters (e.g. the moptop hairdos circa "Leisure", goofy stuff like the "Country House" video). Once those memories faded, people were left with nothing but the music to judge them by, at which point it becomes clearer that Blur rocked harder (and weirder) than most critics gave them credit for. Weird stuff doesn't always work in a festival-like setting, so this set leans toward rockier renditions, no doubt thanks to Graham Coxon's well-known distaste for some of Blur's poppier side. "Chemical World" and "Beetlebum" deserve special mention for being particularly fierce. And of course, "Advert".

After all the bounce-along hits, Blur close the second encore (and the show) with "The Universal". It's their most epic, dramatic, and emotionally wrenching single, and the fact that they return to it for their final bow is one of those things that make me almost love them all over again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

RIP Les Paul

I don't even know where to begin with this one, and judging from the writing I've seen over the past two days, it doesn't look as if anyone else knows where to begin either. Les Paul basically invented the electric guitar and multitrack recording, so virtually all music that was recorded over the past fifty years bears his fingerprints. Now go, write 500 words summarizing exactly that. Jeez. It's like eulogizing Gutenberg or something.

Les Paul also had the temerity to live so darned long. He outlived so many other rock and roll pioneers -- so many of whom were given the full-on legend treatment after their deaths -- that it's become more difficult to properly contextualize the passing of other music greats without resorting to greater and greater (and more colourful) hyperbole. Then Les Paul goes ahead and dies and the load has long since been shot. There simply aren't enough never-before-heard praises that are left to be sung.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Hughes RIP, Bimble RIP

With the last two days, plus Michael Jackson's death last month, the 80's as a whole are all but dead as well.

John Hughes was the Tycoon of Teen for the 80's, his movies defined the decade for anyone who lived through the time and was born after 1968. He made Molly Ringwald. John Candy was at his best when working with Hughes. "Planes Trains and Automobiles" is one of the funniest movies ever made, and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" might be the most rewatchable movie of all time. He even made the careers of musicians -- the biggest hits in the careers of OMD and Simple Minds were songs recorded for Hughes' movies ("If You Leave" and "Don't You Forget About Me", respectively). His film soundtracks were practically period pieces, hell, throw those things in a time capsule and let Hughes guide future generations through the 80's if they dare. Where else, other than a John Hughes film, could you have heard the Star Wars Theme, "Oh Yeah" (a starmaking turn for the otherwise esoteric Yello), and the Dream Academy covering the Smiths (that's the "Ferris Bueller" soundtrack, which was never even officially released! Can you believe that??) One might argue that Cameron Crowe's soundtracks defined the 90's better than Hughes did for the 80's, although I wouldn't be the one to argue that.

I don't spend much time on ILM anymore, and rarely interact with people off the board these days, but I was shocked and horribly saddened by the sudden death of longtime poster Bimble (I won't print his real name here). He was a connaisseur of all things 80's, and was arguably the most excitable and enthusiastic poster ever to have graced the boards. His style could be overbearing sometimes, and I know that got on a lot of people's nerves. I never minded any of that though, I just laughed when I'd check ILM and discover that a drunken Bimble had revived seven different Chameleons threads at 3 AM. Even though I only knew him from the boards, but this is hitting me hard for some reason, probably because he was a guy straight out of my generation -- he was about the same age as me, he grew up listening to Joy Division, Cocteaus, etc. (and never grew out of those listening habits), and never got tired of posting about how his favourite music was SO BEAUTIFUL. He was the kind of guy with whom I would have been swapping cassette tapes in high school. I'll miss him very much, and send my condolences to his close friends and family.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random stuff ...

As anyone who regularly reads this site would know, I'm not the sort of person who callously nitpicks reviews and reviewers, but:

1. Full disclosure: I haven't heard the new Fiery Furnaces album, and I don't consider myself a fan of the band.

2. It's fairly well known that the reviewer is a huge mark for Fiery Furnaces

3. Knowing #2, this website gave the reviewer a platform for fawning over one of his favourite bands. Now hang on a minute, I'm certainly not saying that critics shouldn't be assigned reviews by bands they like. Naturally, you'd expect that a band's fans would excel at describing what makes that band's music so great, and you'd also expect that a critic (who also happens to be a big fan) would excel at communicating this in a balanced and sober way without having the review come off as a piece of fan fiction. There are a million good reviews of this sort, for example, check out this review of Depeche Mode's most recent album. But there's nothing ressembling actual criticism in this FF piece, it's all "nakedly emotional" this and "brilliantly crafted" that, the boring old knee-jerk "this album doesn't sound like the band's past work ... it's because they made a progression" intro meme (Band Makes Progression From Their Last Album -- Film at 11 ... such hard-hitting, insightful music criticism), one OTT compliment after another, strained attempts to canonize the band's work through desparate comparisons to the best work of Bob Dylan and Elton John, and downright batshit claims such as "Eleanor's vocal cadences are as distinct and unmistakable as anyone in contemporary pop this side of Snoop Dogg and Lil' Wayne" (shielding the band's uber-indie scenester rep behind sacred contemporary chart icons -- "look you guys, don't hate on this album, I like rap music too!").

4. In light of #3, the album earns 7.8/10. People (rightfully) complain about readers paying too much attention to number/letter/star grades in music reviews, at the the expense of reading what the critic actually had to say about the album. Here, we have the reviewer going out of his way to say great things about the album, only to have a completely unremarkable 7.8 attached to it, which just reeks of the editorial stench of "some people might ridicule us if we give yet another good grade to yet another album of college kid indie wankery, especially considering to whom we assigned this review, and besides, we only bust out the 9.4's for up-and-coming bands because we might want to take credit for breaking those bands six months after the fact. Except that we certainly don't want people to think that we're hating on FF because that sort of band is our bread and butter, so let's compromise -- 7.8/10."

The story behind the "true" inventor of the iPod has been getting some play (hat tip to RA), and it's worth a read as long as you ignore certain gaps in the logic (e.g. Apple shielded themselves from a patent infringement suit by "admitting" that a third party (NOT Apple themselves) invented the iPod ... huh?) but you hardly expect the tabloid-y Daily Mail to legally and factually precise in a story such as this. Especially when the story claims that Kramer is one step away from the poor house but still makes a point of shilling his latest super-duper-gonna-change-the-fabric-of-the-universe invention. But hey, that 30-year old drawing (if real and not some sort of garbage-y fake) does look a heck of a lot like a real iPod ...

Read this interview with DJ Poontz, you'll thank me later. You might dismiss this as high school toilet humour that completely fails in its supposed purpose (i.e. to make you want to hear his music), and I wouldn't argue too strenuously against that viewpoint. But I'd rather read more interviews like these than any more theoretical eyesores like the lauded Kode 9 interview from the Wire, whose micro-detailed, analytical trip through the tiniest minutiae seems to just suck all the fun out of music making and music listening. (I have never understood the appeal of this sort of theoretical treatment, or why genres like dubstep and grime are magnets for that sort of thinking and writing).