Friday, December 28, 2012

It's IV: Gay People, The Walls, The Middle and the Base

Yin yang of sorts

Favorite albums, 2012

[1] Frida Hyvönen – To The Soul
[2] Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
[3] Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
[4] Frankie Rose – Interstellar
[5] Ken Stringfellow – Danzig in the Moonlight
[6] Chromatics – Kill For Love
[7] Grimes – Visions
[8] Julia Holter – Ekstasis
[9] Himanshu – Nehru Jackets
[10] Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…


The mystery of life and death; radical honesty.

1. “Earthling, earthling, when you die part of you goes like the fruit on the ground. Part of you live on through memory or blood but what happens to the soul?” One of the greatest pop songwriters since her countrymen Andersson and Ulvaeus, but less indebted to a disco beat.

2. “I am done with it.” The album that scared me most, so beautiful I could sometimes hardly bear to listen to it, as if to look away was to preserve it.

3. “I’m not sure why I’m infatuated with death.” Someone my age is thinking about his own, but not in any way that’s tragic, self-fulfilling, depressed, or anything. Instead he’s imaginative, expansive when he holds his dream of death and wonders how he’ll perceive himself at the moment it finally already comes. “Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?”


Only in music and animation do humans create the laws of physics. Behold a gleaming, weightless city, one that never had to be built, that never crushed anyone, as perfect as a drawing of itself. How else to explain such a serene album being made in Brooklyn? And playing so well in Albuquerque?


How is this possible? Except for maybe Frosting on the Beater, a Posies album is never perfect, trading consistency of inspiration for consistency of sound, but every time one of these guys makes a solo album, they trade back and produce a masterpiece. Danzig is Stringfellow’s third great solo venture, even more stylistically varied than 2004’s Soft Commands, but shot through with a beautiful somberness that holds it together.


If x-, y-, and z-axis correspond to time, “the album,” and solitude, then the coordinates of Kill For Love are (0,0,0). It pushes me back to important primordial experiences of committed music listening, in a way I never expected might happen again. I’m lying in a bed, alone in a dark room, with headphones on. The only time I know is the album’s time, and there’s no other version of time I’d rather surrender to. Zen Arcade exists near these coordinates.


Triumph of the non-musician. She’s probably worked out a solution by now, but I read a while back about Grimes’ GarageBand origins, and the difficulty she had in replicating live songs that had been built in private. I’m happy to add her to the small list of people who, by painstaking, backwards, impractical means, can produce something so accomplished. There’s a type of creative process that can’t be looked at until its work is complete.

7b. Most should never mean best, but that Visions had the most melody of any album this year is some major part of its achievement, I think, and the major part of its fun.


Triumph of the musician.


a. I ignored the law of comparisons (in which two things don’t merit comparison just because they both exist) when I pulled Nehru Jackets and Ekstasis together into a malformed idea about space, simply because they were the two albums at the forefront of my mind at one point this summer. But I still think there was something there. Nowhere else this year but in Ekstasis and the best rap mixtapes did I encounter a sense of space that might be said to bear some relation to reality, with the artist surrendering part of his wide ambient world and allowing foreign parties, elements, humidity to infringe on something that’s usually supposed to be just between himself and the listener. The year’s two best live albums.

b. It starts with a bad remembrance of Paula Cole, but the density of inspiration across 25 tracks obscures and eventually elevates any lesser moments. Among the great moments are Ravi Shankar talking about the elixir of life, followed by a song about drugs, and, per the juxtaposition, ambivalence or guilt?; the rattling intensity that keeps increasing from “Swate” through “NYC Cops” to “You Have to Ride the Wave,” the latter featuring one of Danny Brown’s greatest entrances. Also, Heems says more great things, on average, than anyone else in music today, than “Gold Soundz,” maybe. “If you wear a turban you can’t be a cop, but you can shoot one.”

c. I don’t often look to Sasha Frere-Jones for guidance in my listening, but he said something about Nehru Jackets earlier this year that I think qualifies as important criticism. It was simple enough, when he called the album angrier even than Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, but the statement had a way of cutting through the fun confusion I always feel when trying to parse Heems’ sense of humor, grounding the music in an unambiguous emotion.


An album about feelings of futility and frustration that’s also an endorsement of hard work. Fuck anyone who takes anything for granted: Idler Wheel’s best qualities are also signs that it could so easily never have been made. But it was made, and then, we imagine, the feelings returned and the sense of relief was small and quick, but at least we got a small, quiet classic out of seven years’ worth of all that shit that builds up that either you have to tell, or do nothing.

almost but not quite

Beach House – Bloom
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Wild Nothing – Nocturne

almost “almost but not quite” but not quite

Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man a
Best Coast – The Only Place b
Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors *
Big K.R.I.T. – Live from the Underground *
Death Grips – NO LOVE DEEP WEB c
El Perro Del Mar – Pale Fire
Kishi Bashi – 151a *
Le1f – Dark York
Lightships – Electric Cables
Lower Dens – Nootropics
Sinéad O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
Orbital – Wonky
Ty Segall and White Fence – Hair *
The Shins – Port of Morrow
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game

a Please don’t suppose that my not-quite-love for Haunted Man devalues my love for Two Suns, which is still absolute. It was the same thing last year with M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which was greeted by many as a purer expression of… something, as if the different features of Saturdays = Youth had suddenly been revealed as mere noise and distraction. I love the impurities of Saturdays and Suns, because they sound like essences.

b The album I most feel the need to defend, because however good or bad her lyrics, however intentional or not, who can’t see that they add up to such a generous portrait of a personality type? Nothing on Only Place is as good as the title track, but it’s enough for me that one of the year’s greatest, easiest songs is followed by ten admissions that nature is no absolute buffer to your mental health, not when your favorite pastime is staring into space and not seeing the mountains for the blurred middle distance. And what other songwriter besides Cosentino dares to imagine her own imminent irrelevance and poverty?

c Nothing’s very scary in the age of the Internet, because nothing has a physical reality, so I hope I can be forgiven for finding the Death Grips experience more purely entertaining than abrasive. NO LOVE puts me in the nicest of headspaces, in keeping with the way rap music has almost totally replaced my need for wordless electronic music. But I want to let it shake me, because only then does the real learning begin, right?

* Among my recent listening (while on break in Montana) are some late additions to the year’s surplus of very good albums: Hair is a crazy weird rock ‘n’ roll album just when I needed it most (see below); Vicious Lies is as surprising and exciting as you allow it to be; Live from the Underground is the new standard for a successful major label debut, so well does it consolidate the strength of previous mixtapes; and 151a is another musician’s triumph, this one more in the manner of Owen Pallett. I’m tempted to pillage these four records for yet another addendum to last week’s post on the year’s best songs, but I’ll restrain myself and note only that K.R.I.T.’s stunning “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” might’ve been on Macromix 12. He always brings it home in the final songs.

(Speaking of, if you want a physical copy of Macromix 12, just comment here within the next three days and I’ll mail you a cassette. It’s true.)

Rock music

Rock ‘n’ roll, if you want to call it something so general, has been my favorite music for most of my life, which you probably won’t believe after glancing at the lists above. I had a hard time finding much of it I even wanted to hear this year, but I’m hoping this was an anomaly.

Past In earlier years, the little new music I cared about was usually made by still-active 80s punk veterans and four- or five-piece British imports. That kind of thing has been harder than ever to find this year. In the former group, Lee Ranaldo’s album was quite good, and Bob Mould’s very exciting but by far the least interesting of his nine solo albums, unless you judge it only on its attack, which maybe I ought to have done. In the latter group, Maxïmo Park still hit pretty hard, weirdly and suddenly peerless for a band that’s still somewhat new.

Present The rock albums I liked best this year (Chromatics, Lower Dens) were rock albums only in theory, I guess. I enjoyed both of Neil Young’s new records with Crazy Horse, if only because these guys have given up on the idea (not that they’ve ever held it in any kind of vain way) that their music makes any difference to anyone but themselves, which is where the important letting go really begins.

Future I heard a little or a lot by all of the newer rock bands that got the most attention this year, most arriving via hardcore or psychedelic impulses: The Men, Screaming Females, Ceremony, Royal Headache, Tame Impala, Ty Segall, Cloud Nothings, Japandroids. I tolerate to really enjoy all of these people, but none have yet secured a vested interest, with the possible exception of Ty Segall, whose album with White Fence, Hair, is gaining some traction. It’s only when we come to Japandroids that I start to grow a little bit exasperated with the state of things. I just don’t get it: Rap music still gives us all the words, all the feelings, all the sounds its artists know. Japandroids give us one word, one feeling, one sound – alive – and then sell it as a kind of generosity. But isn’t this the ultimate form of stinginess? Perhaps my real problem is with those people who continue to compare Japandroids to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, bands that, you know, wrote great songs documenting a wide range of human experience and feeling. Every time I listen to Japandroids I remember that they have no interest in doing anything like that, which is not their fault, of course, because like anything else they are what they are. But I was never one to be taken by a high that has no knowledge of a low, and I can't help but question the desperate energy of people who are.

On a related note, I’ve seen the Pitchfork review of a reissue of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness held up as an example of excellent music criticism (perhaps ironically), but I don’t remember reading anything more aggravating this year. Who are these teenagers, and why can’t they feel anything that isn’t written in bold? I remember being able to interpret subtlety when I was younger, and loving it.

Methods of listening

A lot of commentators, in wrapping up the year in music, have also offered their insights about how we listen to music in 2012. As a person without Internet (sort of like a person with disability) who has nonetheless listened to a wide variety of new music this year, I’ve found these accounts to describe an alien way of living (example). So I thought I’d provide a brief overview of how I heard new music in 2012, with horribly inaccurate and misleading percentages.


60% – Music magazines (Big Takeover, Under the Radar, SPIN R.I.P., Magnet)
40% – items tagged “new releases”

Some acts of discovery were motivated online, but not many fully took place there.


33% – CDs, on the stereo or in the van – Still the cheapest and most convenient way of hearing new music, due to circumstances. Often purchased at a discount or checked out from the library.
33% – iTunes – For example, I’ll download free rap mixtapes and then listen to them upon returning home.
33% – iPod – On the walk to and from work, or to and from the bus stop. I’m back at the edge of downtown Albuquerque anytime I hear Frankie Rose, on Copper near San Mateo anytime I hear Kendrick Lamar.
1% – Other – Concerts (too few). Friends’ music. Crap that imposes itself outside the home. Also, earlier in the year, I joined Spotify so I could hear Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game and Neil Young’s Americana, then ceased using my account when I found both albums at the library.


90% – The Cool TV – An unaccountably extant music video platform available in a number of large markets.
10% – Other TV – But I missed Frank Ocean on Fallon, and haven’t sought it out since, because my imagination of it is no doubt better than a video viewed seconds at a time on my crappy computer, or even if it played more smoothly than that, my dread of that kind of experience is a pretty major psychic determent.
0% – Internet videos

A friend recently confessed to his love of watching older movies on VHS, because it gives him a better sense of how old they are. I bought a lot of new CDs this year, most of which are currently collecting dust upon a worn copy of a box set that Rolling Stone once called the cornerstone of any music collection. Can a stone exist in a cloud, and if so, what keeps it afloat? Does it age in any meaningful way?

There’s no intended value judgment in any of this. I just wanted to point out another way that the past is not even past, because it will always persist into and embarrass a present that supposedly has no use for it. Long live the CD.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Macromix 12

“The best song wasn’t the single!” (sometimes)

A 76-minute mix CD of my favorite songs of the year. It flows (per its guiding principle). Check out the eloquent Blip Plimpton for brief commentary on each track.

Track/ Rank
1/ 20 Tennis, “It All Feels The Same”
2/ 19 Trailer Trash Tracys, “Los Angered”
3/ 18 Killer Mike, “Untitled”
4/ 17 Sharon Van Etten, “Leonard”
5/ 16 Ken Stringfellow, “Pray”
6/ 15 Laura Gibson, “Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed”
7/ 14 Twin Shadow, “Beg For The Night”
8/ 13 Le1f, “Wut”
9/ 12 Beach House, “Wishes”
10/ 11 Frank Ocean, “Thinkin Bout You”
11/ 10 Chromatics, “Into The Black”
12/ 9 Lower Dens, “Brains”
13/ 8 Fiona Apple, “Anything We Want”
14/ 7 The Shins, “Simple Song”
15/ 6 The Men, “Candy”
16/ 5 Best Coast, “The Only Place”
17/ 4 Orbital, “Never”
18/ 3 Lotus Plaza, “Eveningness”
19/ 2 Perfume Genius, “Take Me Home”
20/ 1 Frankie Rose, “Gospel/Grace”

But the list doesn’t end there. First: A special salute to Wild Nothing, who created three really great (and no bad) songs this year, “Nowhere,” “Through The Grass,” and “Counting Days,” none of which quite made the cut.

Also: Patti Smith’s “This Is The Girl” (perfect gauze of poetry on a celebrity life, tender but not morbid, specific but not obvious), Rufus Wainwright’s “Montauk,” Bat For Lashes’ “Laura,” Angel Haze’s “Cleaning Out My Closet,” Ice Choir’s “Bounding,” Sinead O’Connor’s “Queen Of Denmark,” Ceremony’s “Repeating The Circle,” Cate Le Bon’s “Ploughing Out” (both parts), and El Perro Del Mar’s “Hold Off The Dawn.”

And: Songs called “Daylight Sky” and “Floating Spit” would occupy my top two spots if their respective artists didn’t already.

My still unwritten reflection on the year’s albums arrives next week. Five-tenths of its selections (as I currently have them arranged) are represented on the Macromix. The other five-tenths contains a wealth of great moments, but I’d be lying if I said I left those moments off the Macromix because I didn’t know what the very best ones were. Not to spoil a future post (well, to spoil, yes, to), but they’re called “In The Same Room,” “Gas Station,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “NYC Cops,” and “Oblivion.” Those songs should’ve made the cut. To explain the vague reasons why they didn’t would collapse an already flimsy, meager project to organize the world’s crazy creative wealth.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I Hate The Trees

I hope to create a space on Tumblr for photos taken with my new camera, but while they resolve their network issues, here are some final shots from a borrowed cell phone camera:

Goal for Tumblr: trees, mountains, streets, towns, signs, buildings, cactus. The world of stuff. All the things that the narrator of "Trees and Flowers" hates towering over her. I become the praying mantis that Zac helped to the other side of the street it was determined to cross.

New camera preview:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lines (Between the Age of Words)

I got my drink, I got my music, I will share it, but today…
Where my mind is tomorrow, it don’t matter until the dawn. I can feel your energy from two planets away. Until my mind is made up I’ll be really, really gone.
Things I don’t understand. Could go to a million places, could sing a thousand songs.
My city found me then put me on stages. To me that’s amazing.
When I hear the radio play I don’t care that it’s not me. Remember the days I’d shout anything for you to see me.
My new year’s resolution is to stop all the pollution. Talk too motherfucking much, I got my drink, I got my music.
I could never sing, now my voice, it…

Didn’t you know I was a boy before you came? I was my own, didn’t you know, before you came.
I don’t mean to make a drama. It’s against all I believe in.
Sometimes I need to be alone.
Nothing mattered.

Close enough for counting – in seven days you won’t remember this.
On the way towards your descent I could count every flower on the hill.
The roses on the lawn – don't know which side you're on.

Learn how to be figurative, less literal. Beauty is for the books and I'm illiterate.
I know combat facts, yes, I read books. I’m addicted to literature.
I’m trying to put Wikipedia down on paper so I got something to read when the web turn into vapors.

d. (Bonus Heems)
Bad business, a hundred million. Wait, wait, Mike says this should be a song about women. But then he said he don’t know any women. I told him yo, I know like seven women.

(Earlier in the year, a majority of the music I liked most—and anticipated most—in 2012 had been made by women, so I was planning for a year-end narrative centered on strategies for loving women, something about how listening to music by women allows a degree of intimacy I’ve otherwise been denied by chance. As it turns out my musical preferences have ended up being pretty well gender balanced this year, so instead I’ll opt for a narrative in which I have the traits of an average human being.)

Kendrick Lamar, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”
The Men, “Candy”
El Perro Del Mar, “I Was A Boy” (imaginative in a way the “if” of Beyoncé makes impossible)
Frida Hyvönen, “Saying Goodbye”
Frank Ocean, “Pink Matter”
Ken Stringfellow, “Jesus Was An Only Child”
Wild Nothing, “Counting Days”
Beach House, “Wishes”
Heems, “Bangles,” “Combat Jack Show Freestyle,” “Deepak Choppa,” “Womyn”
Killer Mike, “Willie Burke Sherwood”

Top five music moments of the year
(non-lyrical category)

1. Frankie Rose – “Gospel/Grace” 1:33-1:47 – Total peace.
2. Julia Holter – “Our Sorrows” 1:19-1:39 – The early morning lookout crowd.
3. Lotus Plaza – “Eveningness” 3:37 – Slight diminishment in energy but the rhythm continues. Another Pundt classic that could go on forever.
4. Lower Dens – “Brains” 1:47 – Similar moment (an energy creeps out from under another energy) but too much entropy to hold forever.
5. Orbital – “Never” 2:12 – One big moment.

Cream of the Crop*
*pop crap

1. One Direction, “One Thing”
2. One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”
3. Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

I especially love “One Thing,” its sounds so bursting and sharply defined, its melody so inherently emotional, from melancholy to joyful, that it requires nothing of its singers except smooth boyness. Speakers haven’t pulsed so healthily since Deerhunter’s “Helicopter.” The Swift song has that same level of clarity in its production, too, but what’s really touching with her, always, is her essential naïveté. When she sings about an “indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” you can believe for a second that the difference between corporations and people really is just a matter of perspective, and that an indie record by Swift wouldn’t net any extra sincerity.

Greatest thank yous

a. Nas, Life is Good: his ex-wife and his daughter’s mother, side by side.

Signs of a generous era, if the title wasn’t enough.

b. Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It: “[…] Gay People, The Walls, The Middle and the Base.”

I still believe my review of the latter album, and this, are my only notable contributions to listening this year (if only my own), even if they were partial pictures. I’ve since had a chance to look at the lyric sheet, where I found the revelatory thank you page (more strange, primal simplicity), and some lyric clarification. On “Take Me Home,” it’s not the parting eyes of a dead god, but the popping eyes of a dead dog. Gosh! I photographed the entire lyric sheet, one song at a time, which I also felt great about as a creative act and a means of talking to the album. Still lives #8, 9 & 11:

This concludes preliminary year-end stuff.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turn Off Town b/w Crooked Lines of Fire

Side A: An item on Mark Hogancamp’s to-do list before he leaves Marwencol for New York City. The necessity of leaving fantasy for reality, or vice versa. (via Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol)

Side B: A line from Mrs. Parker’s poem about the beauties of early Manhattan, Kansas. But because that place is so cold, because its only warmth is the hearth, its crooked lines of fire must be those traced by the people moving among its cold beauty. (via Geoff Ryman’s Was)

Also in Was: Ryman’s amazing way of taking a zero-dimensional literary character (Baum’s Dorothy) and a fully dimensional historical figure (pre-Judy Garland), upgrading the former and downgrading the latter so they become equally dimensional. Dorothy has her awareness of death and Frances Gumm her trained response to social cues*, and in these remarkably fictionalized human traits, they are mirrored portraits of sensitive girlhood.

*A while ago, a thing was going around the social media world asking you to go to page 52 of the book closest at hand and post the fifth sentence, and pass it on. In mine, I found a revelatory detail that might have gone unnoticed, a perfect distillation of a central character, the possible secret to Judy Garland’s sadness: “Frances decided to laugh too, even louder than they did.”

And this, from Was’s near-present-day storyline – It was impossible to catch the past. "You know, someday they’ll do a computer model of every town every ten years. The shops, the cars, the parks, the houses. The people in them, the clothes, everything. And you’ll put on your electronic glasses, and your earplugs, and you’ll walk through it. You’ll say hello to women in cloche hats and brown silk stockings and they’ll say hello back." He paused, and Ira saw that he was almost near tears. "In very slightly tinny voices."

Which sort of describes what happens in Marwencol.

Other movies:

At the 2012 Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival:

Sexual Tension: A very thorough study of the title subject, and, by extension, eyes.

Keep The Lights On: Give an Oscar to Thure Lindhardt, please. Portrait of the selfless lover (there’s one shot during the first getting-high-together scene, of orange-red face and yellow wall, that I especially need to see again). Extra points for the Arthur Russell soundtrack.

BearCity 2: The Proposal: The original leans heavily on an appealing cast, the inherent humor of their situations, and scenes of honest talk. This one has that, too, but also snappy editing and dialogue and real comedic momentum. It’s still pretty dorky, but probably the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year.

Gayby: These titles don’t lie, do they? This one conceals a very likable sitcom movie.

- - -

Never have I seen such a fine replica of the physical reality of a town as I saw in ParaNorman, and its cracked plain of sidewalk and asphalt out of which buildings and stuff grow.

Premium Rush joins the Phone Booth-Red Eye-1408 school of frivolous and mildly violent late-summer delight (but, I’m not certain all of those came out in late summer).

Dark Horse starts as a single character portrait a la Welcome to the Dollhouse, and ends up Todd Solondz’s strangest movie yet. To enter the consciousness of one character and emerge out of the consciousness of another is an old literary trick, but I’ve never seen such a long-form example of it, or found so much that is pure dream in between. Critics tend to offer the most pat, uninspired descriptions of what a Solondz movie does (quirky misanthropy, blah blah blah), but I’ve yet to see his art put into words. Nor am I capable myself. There’s a scene between Jordan Gelber, talking about how no one understands his problems better than he does, and Mia Farrow, maternal and ineffectual, that’s so bleak and heartbreaking, my tears emerged as sweat, or vice versa.

On the big screen: Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. But I was as much newly awed by how smart these movies are about the disappointments of war, as I was by the major appointments of the cinematic experience.

I’m not the first to call Don Hertzfeldt’s mind-blowing It’s Such A Beautiful Day (here I refer to the film that compiles his Bill trilogy of films, including one called It’s Such A Beautiful Day) an animated Tree of Life, nor can I think of any other way to come close to suggesting what this movie is, or does. Particularly resonant with cosmic sensation is a moment when Bill looks at some brains in jars and wonders if they still contain pieces of the people they were, or if the archives (I love the use of that word, archives) are erased at the moment the body dies. This has been on my mind a lot lately: How can the soul survive when all the soul knows is from the body? Our experience of the world is our body’s experience; our loves are what our bodies love. Bill’s body experiences unimaginable crisis.

The Master [insert reckoning].

What we have here, in Margaret, a.k.a. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), is failures to communicate, and Kenneth Lonergan’s tribute to the Metropolitan Opera. At the end, two women who will never be able to talk to each other find they share a horror of the anxious, endless, exhausting, futile attempt to communicate, and, inspired by the opera, finally come together in a crying, wordless embrace.

The great, sweet Perks of Being A Wallflower, like other great high school movies, makes me feel not just regretful, but a little guilty, for not having had a similarly momentous teenage experience. But, the vicarious thrill remains. I liked, a lot, the way this one divides its sensitive youth into those who think The Smiths are a great breakup band and those who know The Smiths are the band of eternal loneliness, and then, alas, allows them to come together and turn The Smiths into something shared and permanent.

Among other things, Looper knows what to do with a voiceover. Just go ahead and tell us what we need to know about the rules of your world, as long as you can establish its more intangible but just-as-fictional textures through purely visual means.

From a community humming in the subway tunnels as bombs fall on London, to a drunken sing-along in a pub years later. The Deep Blue Sea reminds us what drinking songs mean, how they only get sadder as times get better and solidarity becomes optional.

Probably my favorite movie of the year, Searching for Sugar Man is a limitless procession of total awe. Chief among its fascinations are those that appeal to anyone who’s ever beheld an album sleeve, wondering what, if anything, can be gleaned from its weird, fragmentary collection of details.

At least Samsara, unlike Koyaanisqatsi, has a cumulative sense of real anger in its images, and doesn’t try to bend them to a “life out of balance” message that doesn’t fit. I know these movies want to show us life in a way we’ve never seen it before, to see what feelings it might stir up. But again, I can’t help feeling that this strategy of beautiful images set to music is anathema to understanding, that the overwhelming propaganda of the results rules out any attempt at analysis. Speeding up an image might make you feel something, but you shouldn’t bother, because real life doesn’t move at that speed.

God Bless America is smart, and then a little smarter than it appears to be, if you ask the question: Why won’t Frank just turn off the radio and TV? A: He’s actively seeking reasons to kill. The movie then becomes as much psychopathic character study as wish fulfillment/revenge fantasy.

Argo Fargo, adj.: Artsy fartsy, but with Oscar potential. Not that Argo is very artsy, or that Ben Affleck is more than a capable director with a keen understanding of story… but Jim Emerson suggests ways that Argo’s climax is so absurdly suspenseful that the suspense takes on an abstract quality.

Some Days Are Better Than Others gets a lot of nice observations out of its somewhat quaint perspective. I especially liked how patient the movie is in setting up the visual joke about how roommates live in different worlds.

Top ten Portlandia moments, season two:
1. Around the World in 80 Plates
2. Pre-school record donations
3. “Oh L’Amour” performance art (I am still very confused about how this has affected my relationship with one of my all-time favorite songs.)
4. Come watch me spin tonight.
5. Origins of Catnap
6. Night preparations of a sentient fruit
7. Joanna Newsom’s harp
8. Johnny Marr’s bike
9. 18,000 unsold jewel cases (pickled)
10. Two Girls, Two Shirts

For the record:

Movies that were showing in theaters during the last weekend of September in Albuquerque (commentary courtesy of Alibi):

Runaway Slave: “Who knows more about the history of slavery than Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart?”
Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed: “Our gung ho guys attempt to liberate some members of the French resistance… Oh, and spread the word of Mormon.”
2016: Obama’s America: “Take it with a pillar of salt.”
Last Ounce of Courage: “Then, he gets kicked out of school for bringing a Bible. Black people, homosexuals and other un-Americans are destroying our way of life!”
Unconditional: “Don’t expect revenge or romance or anything like that—just an endorsement of God, forgiveness and community service.” (That sounds like a movie I can finally get behind, sort of.)

- - -

Albums from 2012 that I’ve sold to the citizens of Albuquerque:

2 Chainz, Based on a T.R.U. Story
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel
Bloc Party, Four
Ben Gibbard, Former Lives
GOOD Music, Cruel Summer
Insane Clown Posse, The Mighty Death Pop
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
Maybach Music Group Presents Self Made 2
Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Van Morrison, Born to Sing: No Plan B
Nas, Life Is Good
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Pet Shop Boys, Elysium
Pink, The Truth About Love
Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
The Shins, Port of Morrow
Taylor Swift, Red
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp
Waka Flocka Flame, Triple F Life
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Americana
ZZ Top, La Futura

(Some other notable ones, too, I'm sure, but these are the ones I distinctly remember passing my register.)

- - -

Dreams I’ve recently dreamt about musicians, from a bed in Albuquerque:

The early Beatles, playing some lounge where the people sitting at tables are only mildly interested. I’m viewing from behind the band, and want to shout at the unresponsive dark beyond how important this night is, or will be.

My old band, and the fatigue of playing the same few songs live, all these years later.

Two separate explanations, in different dreams, of what the name Perfume Genius means, but I can’t remember either. I think one of the dreams had the name as a sort of response to Chocolate Genius, singer of the great “My Mom.”

Many involving Danny Brown, from the academic to the, um… less-than-academic.

- - -

People who have recently played or will soon be playing Albuquerque:

Ghostface Killah
Big K.R.I.T.
Brother Ali
Open Mike Eagle
Waka Flocka Flame
Kendrick Lamar
A$AP Rocky
Danny Brown
Schoolboy Q

(A much better average than any other style, here. I’ll be seeing these last three tonight.)

…and, at the New Mexico State Fair, an excellent group called Vengence played an excellent set to almost no one. I haven’t been able to turn up anything about them on the Internet, but a tree fell, and it must have mattered. And there was amazing art everywhere, but especially at the African American Pavilion. Remember the names: Kabu MBII, the Aakil-Bey family.

Secrets laced with Stand-Up Comedy, & other Ideas:

-Highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s, and already my hands are ice most of the time. My desire to return to Minneapolis looks more and more like a death wish.

-We are often to be found carrying bags of our future feces.

-Dirt is Jesus. It turns water into wine, via grapes (the hands of Jesus?).

-I worship dirt (for unrelated reasons).

-I never learned how to read. It just happened.

-And what of the world’s other sensitive receptors? Does a thermometer feel heat like this? A scale weight?

-Everything reminds me of music, and music reminds me of everything. (adapted from Scanners)

-Everything I see and experience becomes a sound metaphor. (direct quote from a guy, name misplaced, who once recorded some music in Canyon de Chelly)

-Music is the biggest piece of my sedateness. Sedateness is the biggest piece of my happiness. (all me)

-I read fiction for poetry, not story. I don’t read poetry. As ever, I am very confused about what this means I ought to write.

-I never had to work very hard to squeeze out meaning.

-America’s a lot to believe in. And, conversely, a lot to not believe in.

-They say zombies are all played out, but I can think of two very interesting things left to do with them: 1. Employ them as a metaphor for the life force. They just won’t stop; hence, a kind of optimism? 2. Develop a character who enjoys having sex with zombies, in particular the thrill of avoiding their mouths and hands, as he seeks pleasure so close to death.

-A body-swap story, except this one involving two gay men, as a means of confronting the unspoken taboo that surrounds the act of masturbating in front of the mirror. Story culminates in a sex scene unlike any other.

-We speak about “reliving” the past, which means that the past is something that was lived.

-When Paul Westerberg sings about “the way they used to do in the last century” on “Androgynous,” the moment now refers to itself. Somehow it had never occurred to me.

-Maybe we’ll all be dead and forgotten, but things* seem more meaningful to me when I imagine them from the next century looking back.

*For example, the lists I offered above (for the record). Those are my gift to the future, as they are mostly uninteresting right now.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Photo Album

A two record set on one compact disc.

A: 1. Condensed Milk (intro)

2. Wolcennic Ection

3. Splotch

4. Hair Trash

5. Lesbian Thrift Store

B: 6. Black Hair

7. Over The Wall (Echo and The Bunnymen)

8. I Saw A Tree

9. Square House Kirby

10. The Essential Cat Smear

C: 11. Tuff Gnarl (Sonic Youth)

12. Soft Albuquerque Nights

13. Extremely Difficult

14. Better Than You Are

15. Six Exposures

D: 16. Unattainable Room

17. Farewell Horizontal

18. Wild Horses (Rolling Stones)

19. Enchanted Hollywood (outro)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Polka Dot Lives On

17 images from The Gang's All Here (Busby Berkeley, 1943).

Featuring the very affecting Alice Faye and the very sporting Benny Goodman, among others. An awesome movie, if you can't tell.

/ / / / / / /

Some others I've seen, going back quite a few months:

All my greatest movie experiences now take place at the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque, in sparkling, vivid, and very large Blu-ray presentations (I think): Frankenstein and Dracula; the original Journey to the Center of the Earth (spectacles don’t really become any less spectacular as they age, but they demand a certain reverence, and a big screen; this one features a mostly naked and surprisingly attractive Pat Boone); Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Stray Dog (especially remarkable is the latter’s wordless but very noisy slumming sequence, capped by an amazing shot of serene night sky-gazing, drawn with comic book neatness); and the Albuquerque-filmed Lonely Are The Brave, a masterpiece.

The screening of this last one sticks out in hindsight as one of my formative Albuquerque experiences, along with my recent, and complementary, hike to the top of the same mountains where its climax was filmed. And what a climax, an impossible-seeming feat of filmmaking on par with Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, one that offers the Sandias as an undeniable cinematic force, a great place of the imagination, an obstacle of major symbolic weight, and, to stoop to the dumbly physical world, a beautiful hell of hard, hard earth. The movie provided Kirk Douglas with what he considered to be the best role he ever played, and his performance, and the film itself, deserves more champions. He’s at his best in a jailhouse scene, planning his escape, talkative and relaxed, with an expansive calm that has an imminent expiration. We can see this man could never survive prison, but he’s bolstered by such supreme confidence in his ability to release himself from any tight space that his nervous energy only barely registers.

Anyway, the movie informs my every waking moment in this city, in a mythic sort of way the other great Albuquerque photoplay, Breaking Bad, doesn’t quite get at, though I appreciate more than ever (and get distracted by) that show’s honest attempt to inhabit a real place.

And, for similar geographical reasons, I really like that Pixar movie Cars these days.

/ / / / / / /

We Need To Talk About Kevin is the only movie I remember seeing recently that’s edited almost entirely according to the graphic qualities of the individual shots. That might be why the circling-around-horror structure of the story is much more than a lurid tease. Instead, a network (a lifetime) of visual associations leads to the awful scene at the movie’s center.

Kent Jones puts it in funnier terms, but needless to say, accusing an artist of indecisiveness is often the last recourse of the critically indecisive. Bernie is a specific and intentional film, as Jones smartly describes.

“I see so many opportunities to do things in movies, and I don’t see them taken very often,” says Alex Ross Perry, director of The Color Wheel. Amen to that, and to his movie, which I can hardly describe because it does things I’m so little accustomed to describing. And if I “like” the lead characters a lot more than most critics, it’s only because I understand how a well-cultivated sense of futility can feel as good as a real act of youthful rebellion.

By the time Hushpuppy gets to the island brothel and the kitchen of her very temporary surrogate mother, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, it would be easy to view that room’s vision of falling dust as another example of the chaos of the universe. But in this movie of striking images, this one (a field of gentle, light-catching particles, like goosebumps) struck me most, with its sudden, previously unseen sense of… what? Feminine order?

I can get behind any movie that lists “Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain” in the credits, but the real pleasure of The Cabin in the Woods is the opportunity to see Richard Jenkins repeatedly shouting “Fuck you!” at a television showing a roomful of Japanese schoolchildren.

Woody Allen has said that he gives indifferent titles to his indifferent movies, so if To Rome With Love is more than indifferent, it’s because the original intended title was Bop Decameron.

If I had to rewrite the beginning of his Manhattan: “He lay awake thinking about New York, a city he had never been to and would probably never see. He cared nothing about the people, real and fictitious, who had lived there, who lived there still, who’d mapped the city over thousands of nights of cramped solitude. He cared only for his own imaginings of a place and a life forever unclaimable.”

/ / / / / / /

Some things I read a while back:

When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek: First I’ll propose that future printings of this fine book use an inverted title—A Good Man Was Still Captain Flint When—and then I’ll say that the book, as it actually exists, asks some pretty profound questions about music, and the act of listening to it, despite not describing in very interesting terms any of the music it features (overuse of the word “lilting,” etc.). One character lives her life in her record room; another comes to inhabit the same room later in life, and wonders how it might have been if everything he knew he’d learned in that room. He says that the music he plays marks time (because he has no other way to track it) while remaining outside of it, and then explains that music is love without the betrayal that real contact eventually requires. A lot of these ideas must be born of the solitude of a true listener.

June Moon by George Kaufman, Ring Lardner: They say American literature, or the strand of it that Kaufman and Lardner represent (see the latter’s You Know Me Al) is the literature of “talk,” so the success of June Moon is in its talkativeness, and in the success of its individual lines. Here are a few I liked:

1. “There won’t no woman untangle me.”

Fred mishears the word “entangle” (probably doesn’t even know the word), replaces it with another word that implies he’s a tangled mess of a man, and then surrounds it with hideous grammar contortions, poetic because they’re so thoughtless and natural.

2. “Wait—don’t you want to hear a great song? You know who I am, don’t you? I’m Benny Fox, the hit-writer. I write words and music both. I’m like Berlin, only more pathetic. Now I got a new one. It’s about a couple that have a baby without benefit to a clergyman, and you can dance to it.”

I don’t know if this is the origin of the phrase “and you can dance to it,” but it’s a much earlier occurrence than one might have imagined.

/ / / / / / /

Geoffrey S. misses the point

I’ll probably spend the rest of the year trying to figure out a way to explain why Frankie Rose’s Interstellar is such a beautiful experience, as I’ll necessarily have to do when I place it toward the top of my first post-apocalyptic top ten. To start with, I know I need to abandon the notion that Interstellar sounds like anything else that has ever existed. Because, no good band/album truly sounds like any other, right, the way no two words have the same meaning? I wrote previously about my personal dislike of the word “nostalgia” re: modern music, and now it might be time for a general application of the concept’s necessary retirement. Because, I keep wondering, if young musicians were really so deeply nostalgic, why would they bother making new music at all? A lot of music writing these days underestimates the pleasure and process of play, as if musicians are constantly aiming for some target and have no physical, unthinking relationship to sound. So, one might liken the supposedly retro Interstellar to The Cure, at times (I’ve done it), but what I really hear when I listen to it is a willful vision of peace from the rooftops of a crowded city. It’s a New York album. The humming interlude of “Gospel/Grace” is maybe the most profound denial of chaos I’ve ever heard, until those melancholy chords rise up underneath and scatter everything into a neat delirium, again. Most importantly, all of this takes place in the present: To paraphrase David Byrne, everything that happens (on Interstellar) happens today.

Elsewhere, the Pitchfork review of Big K.R.I.T.’s official debut concludes that, “at this point, good isn’t good enough.” I guess I can accept the idea, the same way I fail to understand yet accept the idea that a nation’s economy must forever grow larger (how does one ever come to terms with the knowledge that some people lived in the same cliff dwellings for a thousand years?). What I challenge is the notion that we’d heard K.R.I.T.’s album before, and, further, the failure to hear the unique qualities, the singular physical needs, that exist above and underneath and in between the generic narratives of sameness we ascribe to every album (like that “dead-end trip to the 80s” new Twin Shadow album, which is quite good).