Friday, February 27, 2009


new dinosaur jr!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I’ve been writing a novella loosely based on the life of Daniel Johnston, relocated from Texas to Montana and renamed Sam Barry (like Robert Johnson, if Daniel Johnston didn't exist, someone would have had to invent him). A lot of the main action takes place in 1983, so I’ve been fairly immersed in the music of that year recently. This includes, of course, two of Johnston’s 1983 masterworks, Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You, but also a good amount of synth-pop. Johnston had nothing to do with synth-pop, as far as I know, but his fictional alter ego likes it a great deal. Sam Barry plays a Casio, not a chord organ, so this particular area of his musical taste doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. one of the big names in 80s pop music, at least in my narrow world of listening. He was a founding member of Depeche Mode and one-half of the duo called Yazoo, renamed Yaz for American audiences. Clarke could not have had a better chanteuse for his songs than Alison Moyet; I'd like to think of her as the guiding spirit of my writing, both because she wrote the duo’s most affecting track, 1983’s “Nobody’s Diary” (a particular favorite of Mr. Barry), and because of the pervasive influence on my emotions of her lovely cover of Jules Shear’s “Whispering Your Name” (also 1983) on her 1994 album Essex.

When Yazoo broke up, Clarke placed an ad in British music magazines looking for a new singer, and found Andy Bell, who sounds a great deal like Alison Moyet and is also a man. Clarke and Bell then started recording together as Erasure, just about the greatest thing that ever happened in pop music.

I’ve also just started listening to The Three O’Clock’s Sixteen Tambourines and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Dazzle Ships (both, by sheer coincidence, from 1983). The former is a fine artifact of the Paisley Underground scene; its standout track, “Tomorrow,” makes fine use of processed vocals.

[mp3] The Three O'Clock - "Tomorrow"

The Three O’Clock were once photographed eating pizza by the sister of a member of another early 80s pop band called The Pandoras. Kim Shattuck of The Muffs was also once a member of that band, and she was recently a guest on Big Take Over editor Jack Rabid’s online radio show!

Dazzle Ships was the follow-up to OMD’s ultra-classic Architecture and Morality, and the band used a lot of experimental techniques—synchronized speaking clocks, stitched together samples, including a child’s electronic spelling toy—to create the album and avoid writer’s block, in light of the overwhelming expectations of another masterpiece. But aside from the numerous, and successful, sound collages that punctuate the album, there are a number of more conventional standout tracks: “International” features one of the best pop vocals I have ever heard, while “Genetic Engineering” is Eno-esque to great effect.

[mp3] Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "Genetic Engineering"

But despite all these more expensively produced sounds crowding the ether, Mr. Barry does the Daniel Johnston thing for the most part, direct and sad.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Post 2

Two great and famous songs by women, about women, and why the forceful stating of their messages in the lyrics contributes to their greatness:

1. Lucinda Williams, “Passionate Kisses”

I used to dislike the third verse, believing that Lucinda was shouting overtly, in slogan form, what was suggested so beautifully in the details of the rest of the song. That verse seemed like space filler, waiting for further rich and yet unimagined details to take its place. But while the modesty of the song’s opening lines

Is it too much to ask?
I want a comfortable bed that won’t hurt my back.

strikes me as much more evocative than the forcefulness of the last

I shout it out to the night
“Give me what I deserve, ‘cause it’s my right.”

that last verse is in keeping with the progression of the lyrics, the subtle suggestion of multiplying empowerment. In the second verse, Lucinda wants a “full house and a rock ‘n’ roll band,” and by the third she is riding the momentum of her own rock ‘n’ roll song, recognizing her ability to make more than just small demands. She wants the things that Virginia Woolf knew a woman needed—“pens that won’t run out of ink and cool quiet and time to think”—while the song itself, the beauty of her own creation, suggests that she must already have them to a degree.

And still that last verse is more tentative than I have let on. First she asks if she wants too much, and when she shouts out to the night, perhaps no one is listening. She then arrives again at her desire for passionate kisses; she must already know what they feel like, and she sounds not like a woman who lacks anything, but like a woman who is reminding herself why she deserves what she already has. In the end, it is not so much a song of empowerment, but a distinctly American song about deserving happiness.

2. Tori Amos, “Crucify”

I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets
I’ve been raising up my hands, drive another nail in
Got enough guilt to start my own religion

I know a lot of people might be repulsed by lyrics like these, and their seeming indulgence, but I would hesitate to call them indulgent. There is a meta element to this song as well. It is not about searching for a savior and feeling victimized, but about a woman defining her sexuality in that context, defining herself as Jesus Christ. Tori convincingly occupies that role through the theatrical performance of these lyrics—she is self-aware, she knows what her project is. She may very easily start her own religion: the song, with its confessional lyrics and meticulous orchestration, is a comforting one to be alone with, and one in which the hand of the author is readily apparent.

Why write about these songs now, you ask, to which I respond, why not? I listen to them still.
Sunday Post 1

In unrelated news, I caught the culminating concert of the Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts at the Ted Mann Concert Hall last night. I missed the late show at the Bedlam Theater, with famed electronic act Pole headlining, and that would certainly have been the more instantly gratifying performance to see. The concert at Ted Mann was a more formal and traditional setting, though musically unconventional, for “serious” electronic musicians to showcase their work.

Keir Neuringer

The highlight for me was in fact the most conventional piece, Josh Clausen’s “she quietly enters and leaves the fray.” It featured a pianist playing Tori Amos-esque (since she’s on my mind) trills and runs against a glitchy soundscape that was a pale (but still solid) imitation of prime Autechre.

Another performance, Lorenzo Bianchi and MK’s “Comfort,” featured dancers engaged in strange rituals even more baffling than the description in the program: “The dynamic of exploration is set up through a permanent decision-making. Forms are crossed in view of constant mobility. The choreographic identity of the performer is entrusted to the ‘other’ as a continuous removal of the self.” Worst abstract ever! The only high point of that performance was the inexplicable blasting of Underworld’s epic “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You” (unattributed in the program) through the concert hall’s glorious soundsystem, followed by a Tim Hecker-esque drone that was probably just a Tim Hecker track, also unattributed.

The night “climaxed” with Joel Ryan and Keir Neuringer’s “OrAir,” composed entirely from live saxophone, processed mostly with delay effects. I agree with the general consensus that the piece was masturbatory and musically unintelligent, though there was a brief moment when something uncanny happened. Neuringer’s movements—frantic and deliberate noodling, especially on the saxophone’s mouthpiece—seemed to have merged so completely with the processed sound that it became unclear who was leading the performance. By controlling Neuringer’s sound with his computer tweakings, Joel Ryan seemed to be controlling his body by extension. Was this an intentional optical trick? Watching Neuringer’s jerky fast forward motions, I felt I had entered a twilight zone, or like I was watching a movie in which the gaps between frames were visible, or like Neuringer was illuminated with a strobe light. There must be a neurological explanation.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Make sure you listen in thursday night to Lloyd and Nolan's show. 8pm (Central Time)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The textiest edition yet! Tomorrow: find it on paper; listen to WMCN!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

way back in october, out magazine published a list they call "the 100 greatest, gayest albums of all time" ("The ballots have been cast. The gay experts have spoken.") when i saw the magazine this morning, i assumed "hunky dory" would top the list; it's not even in the top 20, while the comparatively heterosexual and slightly inferior "ziggy stardust" comes in at number one. still, it's a pretty good list even if you can quibble with bits of it (is "purple rain" truly prince's gayest album? what on earth is "sgt. pepper's" doing here?--the criteria aren't exactly clear). a few of the wmcn-endorsed discs on the list:

2. the smiths "the smiths"
8. madonna "the immaculate collection"
12. the velvet underground & nico "the velvet underground and nico"
38. dusty springfield "dusty in memphis"
45. bikini kill "pussy whipped"
49. patti smith "horses"
60. r.e.m. "automatic for the people"
61. sleater-kinney "dig me out"
71. t.rex "electric warrior"
88. husker du "zen arcade"
92. morrissey "viva hate"

what say you?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

My early vote for best band of the decade should come as no surprise, at least not to myself: it’s Idlewild! I first heard 100 Broken Windows roundabout eight years ago, and it was maybe the only new album at the time that I held, and still hold, in the same esteem as my other life-changing early 00s discoveries (Let It Be, Zen Arcade, etc.). The band recently announced they’ll be pulling a Radiohead and bookending the decade with a new album sold directly to fans. The bonus goodies are enticing, but what’s especially good news for American fans is that the release of this new album will put an end to years of Idlewild being shafted by American distributors. Most of their albums have languished in import limbo months and years after their UK releases; only their last album, Make Another World, got a timely American release, and that was on a label whose American branch folded not long after.

Idlewild are currently in the studio, and if they continue to follow R.E.M.’s trajectory (their last album was a Life’s Rich Pageant-esque return to rock), they should be making their Document right about now, which bodes well for commercial success. Here they are at their R.E.M.est best. Go to 2:56—that is not Michael Stipe on guest vocals.

(I find it most peculiar that MTV was still playing videos in 2005, and even more peculiar that some version of Alternative Nation was still on the air.)