Friday, June 20, 2014

A Quick Housekeeping Note

 

It's been a while since I've devoted consistent and considerable words to this space. Really, 'cos there wasn't a need. I published words elsewhere. And then the usual: life, etc., etc.

Recently, I got the itch again. I was thinking about dude I used to ride the bus with, Jonathan Maack. Jonathan was one of those dudes in my musical life. He helped shape my interests. He was a year older, had good taste, and a personality that screamed, "I have to sit you down and tell you what to do." So, he wrote me a list. It was a list of must-have/-listen albums. The most familiar things on that list were The Clash. He had some things that haven't aged well, like KMFDM. And he also had some wholly unfamiliar shit like Einstürzende Neubauten. I spent years going through that list. In fact, I still haven't finished that list (still haven't gotten into Einstürzende Neubauten). No matter, the experience of chatting with him on sweaty afternoons and the list itself were instrumental in introducing me to new sounds, music crit, and all that good shit.

What triggered this rando thought? The Kid. I'm sure the Kid will have an equivalent experience (and it may not even be about music; maybe it'll be about civil service or quantum physics), but I got to thinking on how much that list and all of Jonathan's scribbled teenage musings meant to me.

For years, I've been making lists of what I listen to. I've written about some of it. But most of it stays in my head. I'd like to change that.

The plan is to write a few bars about music. Posts about good music. And bad music. It'll be a guide about a bunch of music. Like a more realistic Desert Island Disc catalog. And all of it will be directed at the Kid.

I admit, strong chance the Kid won't read this. Maybe the Kid will. Even slimmer chance the Kid will hang onto any or part of this. And, sure, there are plenty of better-suited platforms. But, eh, fuck it.

P.S. I may also write about films. Variety is the spice, right?

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Day



"peace"

Thank y’all for all the love in ‘13. Some listicle action below. Video playlist includes 2013 video and song picks. Hit the link for a little mini-mix thank you. Otherwise, let’s keep it moving.

One.

--

2013 Videos
Starlito & Don Trip “Paper Rock Scissors
Why not?

Mayer Hawthorne “Crime
COPS nostalgia.

Ab-Soul “Illuminate
From his 2012 album Control System. Video came out in ‘13. And has the “I used to wanna rap like Jay-Z / Now I feel like I run laps around Jay-Z” line.

Beautiful people wandering through the fields.

Bill Callahan “Small Plane
Brooklyn twee.

Chance the Rapper “NaNa
Random observation: second Hot Karl sighting in the last month? (see Burning Love) Oh, and this is how to flip a new style over the “Red Clay” bassline.

Chance the Rapper “Smoke Again
Even better.

Earl “Whoa” (Feat. Tyler, the Creator)
Spike Jonze nostalgia.

Brandt Brauer Frick feat Om'Mas Keith – Plastic Like Your Mother
Thanks, Marina.

Travi$ Scott “Uptown
Mobs of white people scare me.

Duke Dumont “Need You (100%)” (Feat. A*M*E)
Good, clean fun.

Dizzee Rascal “Bassline Junkie
Kids saying adult things > Adults yelling at kids? Eh, both have their qualities.

Rich Homie Quan “Type of Way
Fight music.

2013 Songs
DJ Day “Land of 1000 Chances
No need to wait for the Avalanches...

Classixx “Holding On
Classic filter.

Kanye West “Send It Up
Better on record than live (strangely).

NIN “Copy of A” or “Came Back Haunted
Better live than on record.

Vampire Weekend Step
Cute.

Rich Kidz “Caution
Nice build.

Future “Shit
Future dookie chain.

Neko Case “Midnight in Honolulu
Better than most comedy albums.


2013 Albums
Laura Mvula Sing to the Moon
Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The Knife
Lena Hughes Queen of the Flat Top Guitar
James Blake Overgrown
DJ Jazzy Jeff @ The Do-Over L.A.
Chance the Rapper Acid Rap

Albums & Joints I enjoyed
The Americanas The Rebel Sounds Of... The Americanas 7"
The Beach Boys Party!
Big L Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous
Brand Nubian Foundation
Burial Street Halo
Busdriver Temporary Forever
DFL My Crazy Life
John Cale Vintage Violence
The Carpenters “Rainy Days and Mondays” (Acapella)
Jesse Davis “You Belladonna You
DJ Falcon & Thomas Bangalter “Call On Me”
Future Pluto (still a classic)
Nico Jaar Space Is Only Noise
Kilo America Has A Problem Cocaine
Dave Mason & Cass Elliot s/t
Shuggie Otis Inspiration Information
OutKast “Morris Brown”
Les Paul & Mary Ford “Vaya Con Dios”
Pixies “Winterlong”
Prince “7”
Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks 2000 Years With Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks
Romanthony “Hold On”
Nina Simone To Love Somebody
Ultramagnetic MC’s Funk Your Head Up
Townes Van Zandt Whole Coffeehouse, Minnesota University, November 1973
V/A Pomegranates
Bill Withers ‘Justments
X “Fourth of July”
Los Xochimilcas “Y La Amo
Young Bleed My Balls and My Word

Read (and reading). And liked.
Taylor Branch “The Shame of College Sports
Coleman Collins “Exporting the N Word
Tony Judt Post-War
Brendan Koerner The Skies Belong to Us
Josh Levin “The Welfare Queen
Robert Palmer Deep Blues
Music posts on The Toast
Helen Wecker The Golem & The Jinni

Concerts Bucket List
Prince
Tom Waits
Stevie Wonder
Aretha Franklin

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

BBQ Sauce in the 'Drawls



winter 2013

Told you so.

Merry merry.

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2 Shots

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Here, There, Everywhere



I'm out of school for the summer, so I've had a chance to do some leisure reading. I'm currently re-reading Nelson George's The Death of Rhythm & Blues mostly because I hadn't read it in about 15 years and it was in my line-of-sight when I scanned the bookshelf. As such, I don't remember much, so it's been a pleasure revisiting the book. It's an obvious read for the historic observations, but a better source for observations on the changes in the music industry, particularly radio, that phased out rhythm & blues and introduced rock & roll. Like a lot of George's writing, it's heavy on opinion, but there are some great insights. The part about the decline of the Negro Baseball League and the tradeoff of black business sovereignty potential in the face of Jackie Robinson and integration in the Major Leagues is pretty great.

Unexpectedly, Death has been a great resource in thinking about EDM and the new Daft Punk album.

First, a point about EDM and DP.

Part of the chatter leading up to Daft Punk's 'return' (from where exactly?) has been to historicize the group's relevance. Take for example The Guardian's framing of the Random Access Memories release announcement as a grand affirmation of the group's status as "EDM Godfathers." This pat narrative suggests on Day One ('96's Homework? '01's Discovery?), there was Daft Punk and sometime later in the week/decade, Skrillex, wackawackwackwacka, dubstep, EDM, The End. Of course, this is ridiculous, but this is the land of marketing language, not journalism or history writing.

Oddly enough Daft Punk weathered a similar conversation around the time of its first album when the chatter-of-the-day was about "electronica," the catch-all-term for The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Orbital, and anything that came out of a club/open field. Little surprise that Guy-Man would respond to a question about EDM artists Skrillex & Deadmau5 with this gem: "At first I thought it was all just one guy, some DJ called EDM." Marketing and cultural terms like EDM and electronica are rarely of significant use for an artist, but the conversation about where the group fits into the EDM, electronica or whatever narrative is interesting,  because they provide cues about where the market would like to place the group.

Electronica's distinction was its broad market push. In Los Angeles, it (both the term and its artists) was pushed on diverse outlets ranging from KCRW (the grown & nebbish) to KROQ (the young & horny; remember Jason Bentley's one-hour slot on the station?). The term failed to stick, perhaps the messaging got muddled, i.e. the music couldn't reconcile being both young and old. On one hand, these artists had roots in the clubs and rave scenes. However, the effect of William Orbit producing Madonna's Ray of Light was not so much a reinvention of the artist, so much as an aging of the relatively young club art.

Which may explain EDM's tighter focus and appeal as a youth form. Although the stupidly generic term "electronic dance music" does a better semantic job of capturing the myriad types of club/rave/dance music (as opposed to sounding like the Esperanto-ish "electronica"), EDM is not meant to speak to the past club-goers and older heads who can talk about Paradise Garage, the Loft, or any person, song or place mentioned in Michaelangelo Matos's great piece on NYC house. It is meant to alienate my middle-aged mother friends who ask, "Who is Molly?" It is meant to alienate me, simply because I was never within spitting range of EDM's target demographic.

Which brings us back to Daft Punk and why it is a) ridiculous to even place the group within the canon of EDM, simply because they've been around too long; and b) though the group plays coy with their cute "Who is Mr. EDM?" comments, Random Access Memories is turning out to be a great inversion of what electronic dance music can encapsulate.

Let's pivot quickly and bring in Mr. George. Early on in Death, George makes a point about the contrasting appeal and 'soul' of rhythm & blues versus rock & roll (emphasis added):
The generational schism and teen-eye view that has always been the crux of the rock & roll ethos was mostly foreign to black consumers, young as well as old. That is not to say that all blacks rejected rock & roll, both as a business term or social attitude, but R&B made a connection to black listeners that was both musical and extramusical. Music made by the white bands was inevitably (and often deliberately) adolescent, addressed to adolescent ears about adolescent fears. Black teens might listen, but their heads were in different places, and R&B articulated that difference not just in vocal or aural effect but in attitude. Rock & roll was young music; R&B managed to be young and old, filled both with references to the past and with fresh interpretations, all at the same time (68-69).
Surely, there's room for argument here, but George makes an interesting point about how rhythm & blues had been pushed to all ages, whereas rock & roll was strictly for the young, dumb and blue-balled. George points to the rise of black radio and its open branding of stations as gateways to black communities—not communities of teens versus adults, but whole, black communities. WXLW proudly proclaimed it was "serving and selling 328,000 Negroes in the St Louis area since 1947." Jackson, Mississippi's WOKJ called itself "the ONLY way to the 107,000 Negroes" of that community. The name "rock & roll" alone makes clear the contrast, as it is code for fuckin'rockin' and rollin' all night long... More telling are the specific examples. George quotes Robert Palmer's point about the shift in Leiber and Stoller's songwriting, "There is a definite progression in the Coasters records, from an in-group (black) humor o a more universal and teen-oriented sense of fun" (66). In sum, "if rhythm & blues was the discovery of the black market, rock & roll was the exploitation of white teens..." (George, 67)

What irks me about the supposed conventional wisdom of electronica and EDM is the familiar notion that music must be either this or that, simply because to suggest otherwise wouldn't make for a neat narrative. And, because we're all marketing geniuses courtesy of Don Draper's folk wisdom, we should all wonder, "Why does everybody need to talk about everything?" Because we need to sell these nylons, dammit.

The brilliance then of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is its throwback not just to different artists (Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers) or recording styles (live instrumentation), but the idea of music for multiple generations. Certainly, this is not a dance record in the popular, contemporary sense. In all of the chatter leading up to the album's release, the pair made it clear their direction was both backward and forward, not now. Which, like all things different, is difficult to reconcile at first. Diplo, another major face in the EDM world, posted reactions to the album on Twitter, which were characterized as "trashing." Sure, suggesting Julian Casablancas should be replaced by Eddie Adams is hardly a complement. But looking at the Twitter posts in chronological order, you can see a progression in conflicted feelings, ranging from a familiar nostalgic twinge ("Reminds me of when I was 19 really high and listened to kid a over and over again but I don't know if yung kids will get It") to confusion ("These guys are way smarter then me.I'm definitely missing something.") to dismissive/makesmybrainhurt ("This album makes me not like LA now I jus wanna hang out with mexican kids and tag ur car"). Given that Diplo has built a career on nowness, yet is also old and knowledgeable enough to understand a good chunk of Daft Punk's reference points, his range of reactions should hardly be surprising. It is not au courant to be a little of this and that. Random Access Memories certainly hits notes on a number of scales.

Sidenote: Diplo's subsequent non-apology is yet another nod to the current trend of non-apologies.

I'll close by noting I'm still, like you, listening to a shitty, low-bit version of the album, so it's hardly fair to give a full assessment. I also don't have much else to add to the chorus of accolades for the songs themselves. That said, here are some Twitter-sized random thoughts:
  • The Paul Williams joint "Touch" is pretty Muppets-y, which I dig. 
  • I didn't get the album until "Fragments of Time." Todd Edwards channeling his inner #yachtrock. YES.
  • Daft Punk doesn't make music for fucking. It's cool. It's very listenable. But in spite of the hard guitar work on "Lose Yourself to Dance," Daft Punk generally doesn't inspire fucking.
On a related note, this Triple J Radio interview began circulating in mid-May. Thomas's response to the DJ's suggestion that Pharrell doesn't need to stay up late "getting lucky" (@1:33) sounds amusingly naive and cute. He side-steps the idea of sexual innuendo and instead talks about "the collective we," "timeless bubbles," and "celebratory and optimistic lyrics." That said, his response sounds completely not ironic, which is incredibly refreshing. And confirms my feeling that "One More Time" intentionally sits in the same tonal lane as Cher's "Believe," given the blinding enthusiasm of both tracks.

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