Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It’s V: Rolling in Green Pastures


Top ten albums, 2013

[1] Julia Holter – Loud City Song
[2] Grant Hart – The Argument
[3] Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
[4] Kelela – Cut 4 Me
[5] The Men – New Moon
[6] Pet Shop Boys – Electric
[7] Deerhunter – Monomania
[8] Bye! – Dreamshit Surfer
[9] Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
[10] Danny Brown – Old


In words

[1] Pop music abstracted to the point it no longer resembles pop music – such a type of thing often lands at the top of these lists. Holter’s music retains its elusive moments but this is also a wonderfully contained set of songs, rich with physical detail. The subtle grounding of her astonishing musical imagination could have resulted in something too exacting or severe, but again Loud City Song seems just to happen.

[2] I saw Hart play a 25-song set the day after Christmas, new ones sewn in quite unobtrusively, and noted, as I’d already done, that more than one of them sound a lot like “Flexible Flyer.” That’s one of the things I like best about The Argument, the way the songs add up to a staggering piece but have such modest individual lives, to the point of recycled chords. His own catalog and a much broader, older catalog figure into The Argument so that it’s to rock ‘n’ roll what Random Access Memories is to its own corner of the musical landscape…

[3] I don’t care at all whether music sounds good (it all sounds good, no one can afford it not to), except for this, which sounds so good it probably has healing properties. It’s the first disco album I ever loved.

Early on, someone noted the total absence of women on this album, and it sounded damning, but: The world of men, men exclusively, signifies certain other things to me, not necessarily problematic. Forget what I said about Old re: displacement & imagination, sometimes I just want to hear an album according to my own priorities, and Random Access Memories can be a gay fantasia if I want it to be, as the evidence is quite striking.

This is going to sound either incredibly crass or incredibly obvious, but I’d like to submit that the “life” Daft Punk intend to give back to music is all that’s been lost—verifiably, tragically lost—since men danced to this kind of music in the years before 1981. There’s nothing trivial on the album, which contains, at the very least, moments of simple pleasure and grace of a kind stolen from an entire generation. That would make “Doin’ It Right” a song about the anxiety and ultimate helplessness of musicians, but no one can say they didn’t try.

[4] Not the first person to borrow specific sounds from Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” (on “Send Me Out”) but maybe the first to build her own intimate world, different and complete, from them – and all attendant sonic material, texture, feeling, atmosphere.

[5] No one sticks it out with bands anymore. Apparently only sheer physical impact counts. Deerhunter got typecast as skuzzy this year because that’s what people wanted them to be, The Thermals and No Age presented exquisite reductions of their craft, were thus ignored altogether, and The Men just weren’t loud enough, I guess, on their best and most engaging album by miles. This is the first time their music has shaken off the weight of its history and influences and gelled in a meaningful way. Still, it’s all here, and already by the time I get to the barely held together country of track four, “The Seeds,” there’s nothing I want that this album can’t or hasn’t given me.

[6] I always dreamed they’d make an album I’d love as much as this one sometime during my adulthood. They make everything better, especially when they’re slyly nodding outside the club: My favorite rap verse of the year is delivered quite ordinarily by Example on “Thursday,” but the beat sells it; my favorite guitar moment of the year is the album’s only allusion to the existence of such an instrument, that bit of processed goo on the highly affecting Springsteen cover. I referred to Discography as a guide for living; it’s been updated for modern man.

[7] Fragments of a live review I never wrote, 9/9/13:

Back again at the Fine Line (a more tolerable venue in its current unbranded, transitional stage), Deerhunter initially seemed to be playing a somewhat more difficult show until early chaos (a very long, droning intro to “Cryptograms,” their second song) revealed a method (the song itself) and a band in excellent form. Are they ever not?

This is the only rock group whose inner workings I wonder much about. For example, what are the unspoken rules for the rhythm section, during extended versions? How do they feel about these rules? During a long and then longer “Nothing Ever Happened,” who was accurately judging the audience’s absolute threshold of tolerance and who was simply lost in the music? For Bradford Cox, the one who generally gets to let loose over rigid architecture, if for no one else, there’s infinite potential in songs that get played every night. The locked nature of records (despite tangible unheard possibilities) breaks apart again live. That said, they tended to treat songs from Monomania as unalterable gems.

A catalog as great and varied as Deerhunter’s means that the setlist defines the band, every night they play. They were one thing, and then a great run of songs from Monomania, late in the set, created them again. And yet, despite little suggestion in the music, I believe if they say they only listen to The Carter Family.

Anyone who perceives Cox as an enigma or a weirdo has not seen him live, where it’s immediately apparent he’s simply a great performer. He wore the same black wig he donned for a TV performance of “Monomania,” and then during a set-ending version of that song finally tore it from his head. In drag this is a temptation not to be given into, but in Cox’s performance it marked drag’s violent end, an inverted drama. Later, an audience member, singling out the wig as the means of her assault, preyed on the performer’s reputation but failed to create a scene, was ejected from the venue instead, hopefully to die as ignominiously as anyone who might’ve gone to a Replacements show in the 80s hoping the band was drunk.

[8] Possibly unique among all those recent albums (My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star) that bear little relation to the present, parts of this actually were recorded as long ago as 1999, but no matter, as its 33 minutes, from incidental music to “Incidental Music” and back again, follow such a singular, compelling trajectory toward the data dump of our year (http://archiemoore.bandcamp.com/album/dreamshit-surfer).

[9] “This is a flawless record. I’ve spent hours and hours listening to it and enjoying it. Perfectly executed,” says Bradford Cox. It made me so happy to read that.

[10] An album I will listen to forever and ever.


+ 8 = 18

Ex Cops – True Hallucinations*
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady*
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
Pistol Annies – Annie Up
Primal Scream – More Light
Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt*

I can make convincing arguments for all of these, and the starred items might have been in the top ten as recently as two seconds ago (you’ll never know), but the ranking process unravels as soon as I defer to logic rather than what actually compelled me most.

John Everhart on True Hallucinations: “…exhibits just how deep the well of pop music runs when a band has a firm grasp of the fundamentals” – indeed! Universally applicable, too.


+ 7 = 25

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
Lisa Germano – No Elephants
The Mary Onettes – Hit the Waves
Sad Baby Wolf – Electric Sounds
The Thermals – Desperate Ground



On a personal note

Back in August, I had the great luck and fortune to get to know my #1 all-time music hero, Jack Rabid (a writer and editor, primarily, but also a musician), and so to the kids I say, meet your idols, sometimes it turns out unbelievably well and deepens into an easy feeling of friendship and a series of lovely evenings – four dinners and four live music events, by my count, sometimes with his family, sometimes with mine. At the time, the whole situation never struck me with the major disbelief I might have anticipated, so maybe it’s the fact that I first knew Rabid through his magazine The Big Takeover that I’m so struck by the print evidence, on the publication & acknowledgments page of new issue #73:


It’s also amazing to consider that the new issue of the magazine was put together in the very town where I used to read it so longingly. I’m as touched on behalf of my town as I am for myself.


Of course there’s much more coincidental, full-circle beauty for me in this situation than there is for Rabid, whose great editorial/elegy in the new issue is about the closing of his beloved Maxwell’s in New Jersey, effects of gentrification, and his mournful retreat to the big country. A must-read.


More lists, portrait of living edition

a. Two dollars in the 19 Bar jukebox (one in fall, one in winter):

Primal Scream – “Loaded”
Janelle Monae – “Tightrope”
Magnetic Fields – “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” (the original draft of “New York, New York” before Robert De Niro demanded it be rewritten, I joked)
ABC – “Poison Arrow”

Hidden Cameras – “Death of a Tune”
Suede – “So Young”
Yaz – “Nobody’s Diary”
ABC – “Tears Are Not Enough”

Formula: something by ABC + something from the World’s End soundtrack + something from the current century + something I fondly remember choosing or being praised for choosing years ago


b. Records played from the collection of a famous author when he was not at home last week:

Breeders – Last Splash (duh)
Seefeel – ?
De La Soul Is Dead
Massive Attack – Protection
Captain Beefheart – Bat Chain Puller
Big Black – Atomizer (a favorite, but I’d never heard the whole thing before, as Albini hates my kind and excised “Strange Things” from the CD version)


Final moments

But as we realized he was transitioning out of this world and into the next, everything, all of us, just went calm. They turned off the machines, and that room was so peaceful. I put on his music that he liked, Dave Brubeck.

[…] the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: “This is all an elaborate hoax.” I asked him, “What's a hoax?” And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion.
Chaz Ebert

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Macromix 13


Track/ Rank

1/ 20 Kim Deal, “Are You Mine?”
-/ 19 Kurt Vile, “Girl Called Alex”
2/ 18 Chance The Rapper feat. Noname Gypsy, “Lost”
3/ 17 No Age, “An Impression”
4/ 16 Jeremy Jay, “Covered In Ivy”
5/ 15 The Men, “Half Angel Half Light”
6/ 14 Neko Case, “Man”
7/ 13 Pet Shop Boys, “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct”
8/ 12 Kelela, “Floor Show”
9/ 11 Disclosure feat. Sam Smith, “Latch”
10/ 10 Club 8, “Kill Kill Kill”
11/ 9 Laura Veirs, “That Alice”
12/ 8 The Thermals, “The Sunset”
13/ 7 Ex Cops, “James”
14/ 6 My Bloody Valentine, “New You”
15/ 5 Deerhunter, “Dream Captain”
16/ 4 John Grant, “GMF”
17/ 3 Youth Lagoon, “Mute”
18/ 2 Yo La Tengo, “Ohm”
19/ 1 Marnie Stern, “Year Of The Glad”

An abundance of great 6-minute songs (two of the top three!) makes this the first macromix that doesn’t fit handily on one CD, so I’ll be omitting “Girl Called Alex” from any CD copies I make, possibly replacing it with the only song I can find that’s short (and great) enough, Waxahatchee’s “Coast To Coast.” Remember that albums without obvious standout songs are generally disqualified from macromix consideration, expected to hold their own on the album list, so “Coast To Coast” is only an unofficial space-filler (Cerulean Salt’s standout is its sequencing more than a song).

And here I become conflicted. I’d thought the same thing about Danny Brown’s Old, its sequencing vs. its standouts, but lately (too late) find that “25 Bucks” is a song that resonates individually and that I really like hearing on its own. It took me a while to warm to the sound of Old, a little overbearing compared to the more obviously desolate sound of XXX, but now I’ve remembered that parts of it, like the song under consideration, are the exact color and texture of certain passages from my childhood. It might be a bit of a stretch, since the poorness and the psychological discomfort of my life have never resulted in hunger, coldness, physical discomfort or major dislocation, etc., never required anything but time as treatment (Dad playing craps for a pair of shoes, though, these foggy, distant, unimportant events never really stop), but the way Brown goes over and over and over his past and comes up with songs as compulsively listenable as “25 Bucks”… no artist is doing more useful and instructive work right now.

“It gets tiresome, writing about the same things, hoping this will be the time that someone wants to read it,” I said to a friend, who has stuff of his own he’s tired of writing. It’s certainly true that Danny Brown repeats himself on Old (no sleep in x days; I came too far to fuck it up) but he still has the right attitude for the unending semi-autobiographical project, and the energy and artistry, I imagine, to someday bring it to every living listener, with an enviable lack of shame/embarrassment that makes him approachable on strictly musical terms (i.e. the trauma of writing doesn’t overwhelm the music; most musicians have that, I think, but I don’t, that’s why I mention it). So, the great opening line of XXX (“colder…”) could’ve stood as an encompassing metaphor, screw anyone who didn’t hear it (their own fault), but it gets repeated (inverted, turned inward) on the great opening line of Old (“…heat”). There’s always more to say, and we lose lines like that when writers imagine they’ve found the ultimate words and ultimate audience for an idea.

Back to “25 Bucks,” briefly. “I’ll not get old” – I remember when I thought that, but somehow the hook is as pleasurable as it is painful, and doesn’t make me swallow too hard. The next song on the album is “Wonderbread,” a story I dreamed of writing when I was younger (mine was about a gallon of milk), in an exaggerated epic mode (a mistake), but I lacked the details and experiences to realize it. I only knew what was going on inside my home, if even, not outside of it. But let’s not suppose that locating some thread of identification is key to appreciating Old, etc. I only wanted to suggest an angle from which the album’s method resonates, not some notion that it’s about me. I haven’t even gotten to its second side, which this bullshit article would have me ask, “What’s a gay man doing listening to all this heterosexual sex?” – insulting, especially concerning the work of an artist, not a fantasy peddler. Here’s to the thrill of displacement, also known as the thrill of imagination, which gay men have a historical, necessary affinity for (in more complicated ways than the author of the article has ever dreamed) but seem to be losing.

Also:

Cream of the crop*: Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”

Country songs: Pistol Annies, “Trading One Heartbreak For Another”; Ashley Monroe, “Like A Rose”; Kacey Musgraves, “Silver Lining”

Albuquerque song: Sad Baby Wolf, “Roaming”

*pop crap

And:

Also left to hold its own on the album list: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. But which song might I have chosen? Let me harmlessly yet probably somehow controversially rank them all, from favorite to least favorite…

1. Doin’ it Right
2. Within
3. Giorgio by Moroder
4. Instant Crush
5. The Game of Love
6. Fragments of Time
7. Get Lucky
8. Touch
9. Motherboard
10. Give Life Back to Music
11. Lose Yourself to Dance
12. Contact
13. Beyond

(If these images are meant to correspond to the two sides of Old then I have them in the wrong order. But no, the first one continues the preceding years’ nightlife theme and the second one is the comfortable alternative.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Breaking Bad 6.4-6.8

These comments will probably seem as quaint as the events of “Rabid Dog,” for example, seem after watching “Ozymandias,” but, in honor of maybe the first TV drama that ever truly ended, I didn’t want to leave this unfinished.


6.4

There have never, ever been that many people in Civic Plaza, not when Los Lobos isn’t playing a free show. Hank calls it the “most wide open public place in all of Albuquerque,” to reassure Jesse, and it’s true, but can you call it a public place when no member of the public has ever been there? Still, the weirdly populated depiction (food carts?!; children?!) of a reliably empty place is another of this show’s crucial amplifications, where reality’s overwhelming realness sets the course of events.

Skyler and Walt’s inability to say the word “murder” as they discuss killing Jesse, moments after Walt’s impatience with Saul’s euphemisms, is pretty funny. It’s easy to forget how timid these people remain on the subject of death.


6.5

I love the way that, even now, at the finale of one the most heavily plotted shows ever, characters are still allowed to have quiet private moments (though, given the nature of the show/the plot, these sometimes appear to be moments of cryptic motivation, initially, somewhat masking the beauty): Todd erasing the edge of Lydia’s lipstick on a coffee mug; Walt regarding Skyler and Walt Jr. at the car wash register before getting Jesse’s (Hank’s) fateful text.

I sensed as it was happening, and I think I was right, that the moment when Walt Jr. is star struck by Saul Goodman at the car wash (priceless!) would be Breaking Bad’s last straightforward comic moment (key word straightforward; almost everything in this show is funny from a certain angle).


6.6

“Sorry for your loss,” says Todd. He’s often described as the show’s ultimate psychopath, but I always saw him as just really dumb, eager to be useful and, therefore, to prove he knows what’s necessary. Maybe he’d even avoid killing someone if he didn’t see it as practical! (Or not; more about this in the next episode.) So when he says that to Walt I think he stupidly means it, as much as he’s able, and that he’s not trying to reinforce the evilness of Jack’s gang. It’s quite the opposite when Walt tells Jesse the truth about Jane – evil compounded.

So far the story of Skyler and Walt Jr. has been the equivalent of that great Pistol Annies song from this year, “Trading One Heartbreak for Another” (i.e. trading a monster for a fractured home), in particular that moment when the knife in Angaleena Presley’s heart goes in even deeper, with the realization that “he’ll always have me to blame.” I’ve admired the way this show has always protected Walt Jr.’s innocence (how easy it would have been to cut away to a scene of teenage drug use, or Walt Jr. reacting to confusion in some equally ineffective way) even as it’s been the cause of so much pain for Skyler. So that was satisfying when, during the frenetic interior scene (the kind that usually involves cocaine) of domestic violence we’ve all been waiting for (I love how an echo of the episode’s opening flashback, with knife and phone, introduces the scene), he responds to the chaos with something resembling clarity and finally takes his mother’s side. Innocence maintained!

Walt shakes Jack’s hand again, and this time, in daylight and from the opposite angle, we can see the swastika tattoo.

There is, again, a direct correlation between the deterioration of Walt’s physical condition and the amount of physical work he has to do. His cancer has returned, so he must roll a barrel full of cash through the desert.


6.7

Robert Forster. That was some brilliant casting, and certainly the appearance of the long-rumored vacuum man was contingent on getting an actor like Forster.

I’m very, very upset that Andrea had to die. It makes no sense and strikes me as the kind of mistake the show couldn’t afford to make in its final episodes since, by calling attention to the hand of the writers, the plausibility of every other decision is brought into question. It’s not that Jesse had anything left to live for, because already he didn’t, and it’s not that I saw Todd as the kind of clueless yet practical guy who would recognize that a bluff would be good enough to retrain Jesse (“I think she got the message,” he says to Lydia, about Skyler). No, it was just the last body/last straw that finally turned this show into a game of who lives and who dies, also an occasional shortcoming of the even bleaker Walking Dead. Up until now every awful thing on this show had a way of deepening an already overwhelming horror, but this time all I felt was a lapse into the void of inconsequence.


6.8

There’s a theory that the finale is a fantasy playing out in Walt’s head as he freezes to death in a car in New Hampshire? As far as trick finales go that wouldn’t have been so bad, as it would’ve been a clear response to the helplessness and dislocation of the previous episode. But I don’t see how the finale was any more fantastical than the rest of the series, nor how anyone could have expected that this modern yet far from revisionist Western would end with Walt dying on any but his own (vastly reduced, according to the original premise, but still his own) terms. He’s already mostly dead when he returns to Albuquerque, half-ghost half-myth, and carries out his final errands with floating ease. What happens really happens, literally, and yet… TV rarely requires interpretation beyond the level of, say, character motivation, and Breaking Bad, with its real locations and plausibility as a sturdy backdrop, has mostly inspired more of the same. So, unconvincing as I think the finale theories are, I’m glad that the perhaps implausible efficiency of Walt’s exit has opened the show up to consideration of its let’s say figurative language.

Jesse lives, and for what? Nothing, probably. That’s been obvious for a long, long time, and anything else would be wishful thinking, so how perfect that the last of Jesse is a flash of relief as he speeds away. That’s the rest of his life, right there. Paired with the beautiful vision of his box-making triumph (the show’s final non-narrative flourish), Jesse’s exit allows him to retain his soul, something that would no doubt prove impossible if we followed him another minute.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Breaking Bad 6.1-6.3

Or however you want to number these new episodes. I’m a little behind, but I’ll post my thoughts as I go along.


6.1

The world of Breaking Bad has been rotting from the inside out since the first episode, the present (future) state of Walt’s house in the opening scene being the latest, bleakest evidence.

Speaking of rot, Walt’s cancer is back. This seems like a sudden, soft revelation, but the show’s writers don’t do anything lazily, so I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to be found in the previous episodes, in hindsight. Or, it’s introduced in a way that makes it beside the point, which would be appropriate. And yet, for a while now, the only possible way I’ve imagined the series ending is with Walt’s cancer returning and killing him, per the original premise (final structure: terminal, solutions revealed as digressions). Come to think of it, he doesn’t look very well in the opening flash forward scene.

Breaking Bad becomes the second great AMC show to feature a character pitching a Star Trek episode. Badger’s concept for a pie-eating contest episode, in which the contents of Chekov’s stomach are beamed into outer space, sounds funnier and more wildly creative than the sober, allegorical script that Paul Kinsey gives to Harry Crane on Mad Men (but likely to remain unwritten). It’d be interesting to think of Badger and Paul as versions of the same guy in different contexts, so that what makes Badger funny, lazy, unconcerned (riffing with Skinny Pete), and what makes Paul serious, hardworking, desperate (pleading with Harry), are all the forces in their respective shows beyond their selves.

I’m still amazed by Breaking Bad’s efficiency. The main purpose of this episode is to get Walt and Hank to each acknowledge what the other knows. I could’ve predicted this playing out over a number of episodes, but even within one, it doesn’t feel rushed. And, funny enough, it almost doesn’t happen, but two small black objects (a tracking device, a garage door opener), and one of Walt’s frozen moments of misplaced pride, make it possible.

Jesse’s slack, stony mask of guilt and despair, sometimes broken with moments of vein-popping anguish, has long been the soul of this show, and Aaron Paul still finds new levels of inner torment to half-convey. When he looks sidelong toward the camera, away from Walt’s latest lie, there’s no sense that he’s looking at us, or anywhere closer than a million miles from here.


6.2

Skyler continues to get all the best lines. “Am I being arrested?” is nearly as shocking a moment as “I protect this family from the man who protects this family,” and another example of Skyler’s ability, on this show of towering lies, to perceive the reality of any given moment. Let’s not forget that she started the series as an apparently non-working writer, while proving her talents in her field every step of the way. She’s the show’s only successful liar, she manufactures its most convincing stories, and, given a little time to overcome the routine of a life with a man she thought she knew, she always figures out what’s going on.

I’ve read arguments in which Breaking Bad’s self-conscious trick shots are used as an example of what keeps it from the level of cinema. Well, it’s not cinema, it’s a TV show (although, that shot a number of seasons ago in which Walt lands a whole pizza on his garage roof is certainly an example of pure cinema), but I’ve always found these trick shots to be synonymous with what makes the show work, the way it hyper-adrenalizes every smallest fiber of its production. I liked this episode’s money barrel and merry go round shots, and the latter’s misty playground location—further amplification of the show’s raw materials. I never walked through a park like that in Albuquerque.

The comic relief duo (as I’ll call them, though I do remember that one is named Huell) has a great moment in the Whites’ storage container. I always thought the show made too much of Huell’s physical difference, but his decision to lie down on the money pile shows unusual agency, for him, and makes for a good visual concept.


6.3

This is the episode I was waiting for: the meeting of the now sparring in-laws takes place at Garduno’s, a restaurant in Albuquerque that would be closed for filming the day after I ate there with my own “in-laws” back in April. Look close enough and you might catch the shadow of our exit. No, you’ll be too transfixed by the scene, which features a lot of standard Walt hypocrisy, as when he demands Hank and Marie leave his kids out of the situation, while trying to use the image of Walt Jr.’s unraveled life as a way of getting Hank to back off.

Walt’s confession is a doozy, and overcomes so many leaps of logic that it seems pretty certain Skyler wrote it.

My only hope for this show’s outcome is that Jesse lives to see the possibility of a future. I’m not the only one. Breaking Bad knows we demand this, and cleverly taunts us with Jesse’s near-getaway. It looks like he blew that chance, but since his ongoing misery has something to do with his feeling of being jerked around by Walt for five seasons, his helplessness in the face of all the damage he’s caused, it seems pretty essential that he finally take an active role in his life and do something drastic, even if only by way of revenge.

Walt imagines for Jesse a future when all the events of the series might seem to Jesse like a bad dream. “It was all a dream” is the worst way to end a story, but, in a different sense, the only legitimate one.


---


“Lyrics are lyrics and poetry is poetry.” I read that somewhere recently, and agreed with it, and wanted to include it here for fear that history and my own published writing might appear to place me on the wrong side of truth. Earlier, I wrote that Julia Holter’s lyrics “constitute an actual poetry whose…” and very nearly included a footnote* with this statement, but decided it would be best to avoid overcomplicating the review.

*“Contrary to popular belief, lyrics are not poetry set to music. Holter proves this by way of exception.” Or something like that.

The other thing I tend to do is use the word “poetry” in reference to truth and beauty, rather than form. So when I wrote about Laura Veirs’s “America” and mentioned “the force of its poetry,” I can be accused of bad writing but hopefully not of mistaking Veirs’s lyrics for something else.


---


Since The World’s End is an Edgar Wright movie, all its greatness was sufficiently evident to me in the way it uses its soundtrack (the music, I mean, though the way a ringing bell entirely contains one long Simon Pegg speech is further proof of these guys’ art). The movie’s first four prominently heard songs, all early 90s, perfectly match their corresponding emotional/visual elements, and set the parameters of the universe Pegg’s character aims to recapture—for his pals and, yes (a sad discovery), himself. He’s ultimately failed to convince himself he still lives in that universe, even if the tape is still in his car’s deck:

Primal Scream, “Loaded”
Soup Dragons, “Free”
Suede, “So Young”
Teenage Fanclub, “What You Do To Me”

It’s not all bad news for Gary King. Three of those bands are still active, and two have excellent albums from this year.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Albuquerque

I like it here. It appeals to me, as a place, in ways that the one I’m moving back to doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean I want to stay. I always know I’ll end up back in Helena or the Twin Cities, but since I can’t imagine living here again until my life is different than what it is now, it feels appropriate to reflect on the best of Albuquerque as I’ve known it. A list:

1. Lonely Are The Brave at the Kimo. And then, a while later at the same theater, Ace in the Hole, another Kirk Douglas movie about the land of entrapment, mutating and making grotesque the other (later) movie’s adjectives, lonely, brave, until they’ve lost their romance. One moment Douglas is the last cowboy, sitting in a prison cell, with all the time in the world to make his certain escape, and the next he’s a reporter pacing a newspaper office (probably just a few blocks away in downtown Albuquerque and/or movie-land), desperate and cursing this town, a man who wasted every surplus. It’s noble to be trapped in mountains, less so to be trapped in yourself. And just like that, it seemed time to leave.

2. I mostly listen to music alone, and I especially listen to rap music alone. Something about being in Albuquerque, its space and anonymity probably, allowed me to turn my casual and intermittent interest in rap music into something more enduring and imperative. This is an ongoing change, but can also be reduced, by way of example, to a single album, Danny Brown’s XXX (so momentous that, once I learned to love it—a mental process, but also effortless—it left aglow a part of my mind that used to regularly dim), and then, further, to a specific moment of listening to that album: walking along a ditch outside a country club golf course, or waiting for the bus on the emptiest winter night. Later there was Kendrick Lamar, who mapped different streets, rescued from the void after our move from downtown, including a stretch of Copper that passes a mere block north of that earlier winter night’s bus stop! This strikes me as an excellent metaphor for the desolate parts of my mind being made less so by familiarity.

Also, among the new music from my time here, I can’t imagine Real Estate’s Days or Frankie Rose’s Interstellar or Dum Dum Girls’ Only in Dreams (even though it’s about mother) existing anywhere else, though I’m interested in trying.

3. The mountains, the plant life, the town, the weather (not always a lack thereof, but rarely registering as a presence, regardless). Walks and photo ops, a safe distance from water. I still need to launch my photo series Homes of Albuquerque: thoughtful arrangements of objects in dirt yards, in front of low, flat houses. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really so different here, and then I look around and remember, yes, to the exact point where every difference is casually striking and every similarity is excellent training in “what makes a town” or “what makes a place.”

4. It was something we did together, with a kind of self-determination that had no help from any higher institution. I thought this unremarkable, that people who move for work and other real reasons are the remarkable ones, but the general perception has been quite otherwise. This life is only the best simulation of momentum and progress and narrative I can manage, but I’m somewhat proud of the parts that are of my own creation.

5. Two things I’d never really done: made gay friends; been a (mostly sober, of course) regular at a bar. These are unrelated items, actually (the gay friends worth having are older and don’t live at bars; the gay men at our bar remained acquaintances), but both were great consolations for the solid kind of loneliness that otherwise prevails.

6. This place allows the kind of contained, unexamined, uncomplicated (but not easy, never easy) life I’d like to embrace someday. It was nice to glimpse it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paying It Back

I think I heard pretty much every type of sound while drifting along Central yesterday. Free summer festivals really complicate assumptions of what America’s popular music is. It’s still jazz, still blues, still soul (classic soul), still rock ‘n’ roll, still bluegrass. It’s hip hop, it’s salsa, it’s everything I don’t know the name for. In short, it’s everything, i.e. it’s the street reclaimed as a place for casual movement; it’s the moment of sudden quiet morph where one cell of musical space ends and another has already begun.


Previously

"…until I have time to write some paragraphs on important topics (life after Ebert1, approaches to music, awe of musicians and even halfway decent karaoke singers2, ideas for stories, the inherent evil of realizing them, the recurrent objects of town photography3, more4)”


1

I’d thought watching movies would be different now, but I’m surprised to find (though the surprise only registers at this moment of reflection) that Roger Ebert, the man whose love for any movie was already dissolved in my own later love for that movie, hasn’t in any conscious way been inhabiting part of my mind during recent viewings, even when the movie is about old age or death (A Simple Life, Night Across The Street; the latter barely made sense, but that was part of its effect, the sense of life accumulating in old age the same way it does in dreams; one character says something about “staying young with ideas,” meaning that being old could involve an erasure of ideas, or the logic of their organization, even if their imprint is still there. Either way, the best movie to ever include a scene that takes place inside the barrel of a gun.) I saw 56 Up a few weeks before Ebert died, so I was spared that devastation, though I’m sure it won’t be any bit softened in seven more years.

So Ebert isn’t around in the trite form of an intelligent/beneficent angel on my shoulder, but, for the lucky ones, the transference already happened and it’s no longer possible (it never was) to watch a movie with only my own mind, even if I think it’s only mine and I’m not aware of anything haunting it. But I also want to consciously remember Ebert, always, because there are the unlucky ones, for whom the internet amplifies every bad thought of every ungenerous writer and quickly destroys a legacy of good thought Ebert and others built slowly, year after year. Now that he’s gone: one day, one movie at a time, in the language exemplary day-wearer Ebert would understand. I should write more, obviously, but here’s a meager drip:

There’s been a refreshing non-obsession with masculinity at the movies this year, often where you’d least expect it. Mud was great in so many ways and especially in the way the kid’s interest in Mud has less to do with the man’s mystique as an outsider and much more to do with Mud’s reunion with his girlfriend and a deep need to believe in true and lasting love. // Chris Pine was on the cover of Out and spoke intelligently inside about men and movies, and then put this all to the test in that excellent moment in the new Star Trek where he watches his mentor/father figure die and his face goes all thick and flushed and dangerous with blood pressure. A man’s image, but it’s the kind of unselfconscious emotional moment of love between men, sans reflexive recomposure, eye-drying, mild embarrassment, that I thought had disappeared from theaters. // Let’s stop there, short of The Place Beyond The Pines.

Not Fade Away is a movie about lessons in disappointment and time, and thus a real musician’s movie, I thought (not least because of its daring juxtapositions, like where else would you ever find some weird version of “Roadrunner” paired with American Bandstand footage?). It’s also a movie about fathers and sons (for that version of the movie, read this obit), though not as single-mindedly as At Any Price—quite good, though I don’t know how many more times I can watch wives provide safe harbor for the secrets of their husbands and sons, especially when they’re complicit in silence, not active storytellers like Skyler White. And that movie wasn’t even as fruitful a message about expectation as the surprisingly really good Admission, a mainstream comedy where characters respond to contrived (but mettle-testing) situations with something like realness, or a mainstream comedy simulation thereof, so that their highs and lows feel like highs and lows, not the minutes of the plot.

As with movies about fathers and sons, so with movies about men and women: I’ve always had to accept on some level that depictions of male/female romance on film are telling the truth, having little personal experience with which to test them. And most movies are about men and their fathers or men and their women, or both, which is maybe why I’m not or should be a film critic. But I rarely feel alienated at the movies, really, and with Before Midnight I was totally convinced by its intimate assessment of the ways men and women argue about themselves, and then floored, like the characters, by the movie’s trump card, the old widowed woman talking about love as a sexless thing, as a situation of two people holding each other. I’d love to read the book that Jesse is brainstorming in the movie (about perception, not time!); these Linklater movies are the best substitute.

What I do find alienating at the movies is young characters suffering from bored intellectual privilege, or whatever it is that makes them so joyless in the face of amazing new adventures and experiences, makes them need to get high while visiting places I’d feel so blessed to ever see. No one in Something in the Air smiles until the final scene (a great one, though like all the great scenes in the movie, it involves great music), with the protagonist walking around the set of a trashy sci-fi movie. Yes, stay here, young man, in this realm of intellectual defeat, if it finally excites you. If the movie had been about the dissonance of his previous activity-yet-malaise, relative to his times, that would’ve been one thing, but instead it’s about the spirit of those times, minus the spirit. But I’ll allow I might be wrong, alienated as I was.

And so: Frances Ha, my favorite movie of the year so far. The spirit of the times, minus the times. What makes this one of the great character studies is evident in the final scene where Frances’ dance piece is performed, at which point you know her so well that you can easily say, yes, Frances created that.

Upstream Color comes together, it really does, along with the survivors of modern science it depicts, but while it was happening I found it almost totally unbearable. Exception: the first big sound montage, with three characters testing the world, answering each other as a sort of accidental symphony. But even that editing feat pales next to the less motivated sound design of War Witch, which at certain moments is just astonishing: the creak of a gate, all night, and then it’s day: a swing.

Holy Motors: The most purely entertaining head movie, even or especially pre-interpretation, since 2001.

Spring Breakers: The least mysterious movie since The Passion of the Christ.

From Up On Poppy Hill, the latest movie from Studio Ghibli and the second great one in a row not directed by Hayao Miyazaki, looks like a simple nostalgia piece at first, but then brings so much into its vision of ’63: the restoration and/or destruction of the past; youth, protest, and the spirit of inquiry; a girl (again as a protagonist!) drawn toward that boys’ world but crushed by the duties of home; straightforward treatment of the threat of incest; excellent melodrama; mothers and fathers, adopted and biological. Poppy Hill amplifies a past that’s stranded in the future in the same way Arrietty very literally amplified nature stranded in the industrial world.

Pacific Rim contained more that excited me in every single moment than I could possibly comprehend through subsequent hours of overwhelmingly exciting moments. Beyond that, due praise to the movie’s sense of proportion, physical (think how much better The Hobbit would’ve been if Del Toro had taken the franchise from Peter Jackson, who could never even figure out how Gandalf’s size compares to Frodo’s), psychological (locked into memories of yourself as a screaming child), and collateral (all action movies wantonly destroy cities, but only in this one did I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time a kaiju moved onto land). And then, beyond that, it’s the first movie in a long time to contribute an essential new term to the lexicon of humanist science fiction. “Drift” is as nonsensical as “the force,” in practice, but it does also name a relationship between humans so undefined and so powerful that a father can share it with a son, a brother with a brother, a stranger with a stranger, etc. The fact that, in the movie’s final shot, the heroes don’t kiss, but merely put their foreheads together, makes this an action movie for our times, if the times were really as hopeful, as buoyant with equality, as this movie left me feeling.

The old lesbian villain has a long history in Hollywood and there’s not really anything offensive about the way Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical release attaches itself to that history. But, satisfying as it is to have the movie’s web of conspiracies finally blamed on someone, Side Effects is best before it stops being totally Kafkaesque.

Older:

I finally saw Carrie beginning to end, and first among its great mysteries is one I’ve never heard asked, but which gnawed at me through the whole length of William Katt’s amazing performance: Is Tommy Ross having a good time at the prom? The opposite and (not quite) equal conspiracies that converge there are something I never knew about this story, and one big reason for its unbearable psychological intensity.

How short can movie scenes be before they’re just a parody of significance? Code Unknown steps really close to that line, at times, but the larger puzzle saves it.

---

The influence of Roger Ebert can only be paid, um, forward. When it comes to music, I feel there’s a lot that needs to be paid back, too. That is: My family paid a lot of money across many years for my (in a matter of speaking) musical education, and I keep wondering what I ought to do about that. The answer again, I think, is just to continue, even if that were to mean ditching all that old music for new, over and over again, while yearning for some kind of synthesis and fulfillment of so much listening.


2

I’m able to lump musicians and karaoke singers together because, from my point of view, their active engagement with song looks similar, so different from my own silent engagement. At the last karaoke night I attended, certain songs brought everyone in the bar togethera, or, at the very least, inspired their performersb, while I kept going to the quiet place in my mind where good music always sends me. I can’t help it. Consider The Four Tops’ “Ask The Lonely,” one of my favorite vocals of all time. Happy as I am to feel it, what’s beyond me is that someone can feel it and express it at the same time. No one sang that at karaoke night (I would’ve worshipped them, no matter how bad), but there were these:

a. “American Pie” (Zac called it “bipolar” and I was like, “yeah, in the spirit of the times”; an eternal lightning rod, that song); “Stand By Me” (the real quiet-making song; no one makes me quieter than Ben E. King, singer of the three most beautiful songs ever recorded; I realize that I learned about the shape and color of the night from these old songs, not from any direct experience; the instrumental break sounded lifted from the original, though I’m not afraid to admit that cheap karaoke instrumentals often move me as intensely as the originals, anyway); “I Think We’re Alone Now”; “Proud Mary”

b. “China Girl” (some people are David Bowie, or have the energy to try to channel their inner David Bowie, and these people are better than most)

---

Another blog post, another round of Bradford Cox interviews to attend to (months ago, already!). Of course I found the ones that accompanied Monomania nothing but endearing, hilarious, provocative, and they inspire only envy, even as they exhibit qualities I would never want to allow in myself. I wish I was an artist and could hate certain forms of expression (and/or Morrissey) as a means of committing to the forms I find useful for my own work. But I find that, in the capacity of a reviewer, I can’t hate or hardly dislike anything this year, and, worse yet, it’s hard to create priorities. My music preferences have become confusing, even to myself. There are a few standouts this year (RAM, mbv, Men, bye!, etc.) and then there’s a whole slew of albums that I can’t say I like better or worse than, say, the new one by Kacey Musgraves, who reminds me of a number of singer/songwriters I love but whose songs are much more mainstream country than I’d usually listen to.

I probably need to create some work, to figure out what’s important (if Musgraves ended up a priority, I’d be pleased). I wouldn’t say critics shouldn’t be artists, but I can see how not creating has a way of equalizing other people’s work, for better or worse.

---

Popular music is as popular as ever, and yet I keep reading things about how Random Access Memories and The 20/20 Experience contain pleasures that will certainly elude the masses. No review of RAM has failed to imagine some listener receiving the million-dollar album via shoddy mp3s and computer speakers (who cares?), as if the quality of a person’s engagement with a product is related to the quality of that product’s delivery.* The only conclusion I’ve been able to derive from this line of thinking is that there are some writers who need to believe their widely shared tastes are somehow exceptional. I thought artists as phenomenally popular as Daft Punk and Timberlake are supposed to democratize the audience, erasing the distinction of how and why each listener first heard them (I started listening to one of them in the late 90s, the other this year, but whichever is which, I still ended up here, now). Bring on the idiosyncratic reactions to the music, of course, but to keep conjuring these phantom, randomly appreciative hordes is just lazy. Think of Thriller, the album these two keep getting compared to: It’s maybe possible to make the context of your relationship with Thriller interesting, but the context of others’ relationships doesn’t need to be made a matter of question. Short of interviews with fans, just assume their love of the music is ancient, powerful and whole.

*Artists do care about this, often needlessly so (compiled here). What's different about the Savages manifesto is that they care about your engagement, not your soundsystem.


3

Familiarity with accident and light

“Seeking to identify their signature styles, Dyer looks at the ways in which such canonical figures as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Andre Kertesz, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, and William Eggleston, among others, have photographed the same things (barber shops, benches, hands, roads, and signs, for example). In doing so, he constructs a narrative in which these photographers—many of whom never met—constantly encounter one another.”

From the jacket of Geoff Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment. That’s the best idea for a book I ever heard, and there ought to be a name for what drives these encounters: “recurrency,” I thought, fancying myself a student of Toni Morrison. The primary objects in the pictures I’ve been taking have been the ubiquitous things of town life, streetlights in particular, but somehow I never noted their psychic/aesthetic/etc/etc power, and hardly their ubiquity, until they began to multiply in images. The natural world, even of the town and the city, has a beauty far beyond its function and the intention of the people who built it.


4

Lists

a. Dreams

1. I’ve written a book called The Prophet (I would never; I can’t think of a book I would write less), of which a notable religious studies professor is a major champion.
2. I’m watching Radiohead in the studio, and they’re using GarageBand! Really it’s just Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien, and O’Brien is editing the little blocks of data that correspond to a simple bass or drum rhythm while Yorke improvises a vocal, and I’m thinking, jeez, if Radiohead can create great sounds this way, I might as well be a music producer.
3. I’m a much more spontaneous poet asleep than awake. Someone is talking about red eraser smears on a standardized test, likening them to “blood on a tortilla.”


b. Glenn Kenny has a way of always posting the exact thing I need to read.

1. On prog and Rob Sheffield
“The implied demand that a more acceptable music is one that assists teens and post-teens in facing that adult world seems, frankly, unrealistic. But really, the fallacy of the generalization stems from a not-uncommon rock crit problem, that is, mistaking one's practice with that of a sociologist's.”
—Yes!!!

2. On orgasms
“…see Girls on the one hand, and the Hangover movies on the other (what they share in common is the view that pretty much all sexual relations are somehow predicated on hostility)”
—Again, I trust that Girls is telling the truth, but I've wondered about the weird difficulty of its relationships, too.

3. On Maxwell’s
A fine remembrance, made a little more real for me after finding out about the closure of the 400 Bar, which I always imagined was the Maxwell's of Minneapolis.

4. On jazz
“Secondly, jazz (that is, the form of Afro-American popular music that flourished between 1925 and 1945) means nothing to the young. This should strengthen us in our devotion to it. True, we must give up any notion we may have been cherishing that beneath our hoary exteriors lurk hearts of May: we may dig jazz, but the kids want something else.” —quoted from Philip Larkin


c. Summer U.S.A.

1. Friday night in June: On all ages night at Roller Skate City, we’re turning circles and listening to Future and Kelly Rowland’s “Neva End,” along with all the other rap songs that young teenagers want to hear.
2. Saturday evening in July: At the tables outside Blake’s Lotaburger, I’m alone, waiting for my onion rings and listening to Hunx & His Punx’s “Mud in Your Eyes,” Shannon singing in her best germfree adolescent voice, but, just like her, no one cares.


p.s.

People born in the 1990s have begun making valuable contributions to society. This is the natural fulfillment of the promise of any era (there’s nothing in the shape of the numerals that form 1990 that should make its decade immune), but if these kids are fucking up your concept of time, too, more power to them.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Placeholders 2-4

We start with an idea…

“Chicks with Dicks”: Two male lovers simultaneously figure out they are lesbians born in the wrong bodies, and their transitions into womanhood are so perfectly synced that they remain in love the whole time, and forever after.

Someone should write that story. I don’t know if I could. I sometimes feel queasy about assigning characters identities, with genders, races, names, wondering if it amounts to an abuse of power (I was going to say “sick power play,” but that sounds too mean). I’d prefer stories in which characters’ skin and genitals continually disappear and reappear differently, and not in a way that is tied to the arc of a story, but just as something that happens in a world that challenges the one we really live in, where everything is determined, and even the good ones, the artists, only spend their time making further determinations. Someone will tell me to read a book, remind myself why art is good, but even that doesn’t cut it, I just have to wait for the feeling to pass.


drops – famous – trans

Usually a word is enough to bring an entire dream back to memory, but if you leave that word sitting alone long enough on a scrap of paper, the word too will lose its memory. I’ve become very bad about writing down my dreams. I found those words written on a scrap of paper, and know they refer to a sequence of dreams I had, but what they contained I’ll never know. Also these:

mtn view – birds – ease of death

I do actually remember that dream (a single dream), it was sort of what you might expect from the words.


El Paso

I enjoyed a wonderful night of barhopping last Saturday, after driving into downtown El Paso with the windows down, listening to Odelay and feeling really cool and lucky, looking at the big yellow moon. Gay barhopping, I should specify (four bars all next door to each other, and one around the corner, and yet all pretty distinct), because in how many places is that possible? Plan your upcoming stay in El Paso accordingly:

8 1/2 – It didn’t occur to me right away, though it should’ve, given the principle of gay bar names, that most of these names are euphemisms for something, including 8 1/2, which I thought was just a movie reference (is this where the makers of half-made things come to drink and die?) until I saw the ruler in the bar’s sign. A small corner bar, gateway to infinite wonders mere cement slabs away, probably a good place to start, but having started late, elsewhere, we surveyed the scene and spent no more than a minute in here.

Tool Box – Kind of like a high school locker room reclaimed as a non-traumatizing place for adults. Two dirty and possibly insane older men, who I might normally try to avoid looking at, were captivating with their unwatched gestures of affection toward each other. Two threats removed by one of the happiest pairings-off I’ve seen, I watched.

Briar @ Hyde – This one’s euphemistic name, which I saw listed online as Briar Patch, is obscured by the more confusing way it now appears. I have no idea where Hyde is, but I know where the men of El Paso are, out back on the patio. Among them, a couple that was Zac and I in 20-30 years except we’re both Hispanic. Also our hair is more likely to be silver/gone, not black/silver.

Epic – The only used dance floor on the whole block, bypassed for the dark sloping driveway out back, a void a wall away from Briar’s fleeting mirage(s, mmm).

Chiquita’s – The “oh wow, yet another gay place around the corner” that you might as well stop into for a minute on your way back to the car.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Placeholder

I’ve been absent from this blog recently, and that’s probably not going to change. Another month is about to slip away, so this post is only a placeholder until I have time to write some paragraphs on important topics (life after Ebert, approaches to music, awe of musicians and even halfway decent karaoke singers, ideas for stories, the inherent evil of realizing them, the recurrent objects of town photography, more). Check back for that long addendum soon, I promise (as I’ve promised before to varying degrees of credibility). As soon as this blog hits the five-year mark (in June!; I’ll commemorate the occasion somehow), I’m happy to let it become whatever it becomes and use it only as needed, but until then, a couple more times, I’m adamant that something appears here every month.

Also in May

New music: Deerhunter, John Grant, Daft Punk
Live music: Handsome Family and Sad Baby Wolf album release shows, Built To Spill, Big Boi
Movies: Star Trek, Great Gatsby, Upstream Color, The General (to be my first Keaton in a theater!)
Out of town: Tucson/Phoenix
Photos: plants and houses, etc.
Sun: hot

See the viewing log.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Big Takeover

All in one place.

RECORDINGS

Devon Williams – Gilding The Lily
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Frankie Rose – Herein Wild
Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft
Gaytheist – Hold Me … But Not So Tight
Hunx & His Punx – Street Punk
Rogue Wave – Nightingale Floors
Sad Baby Wolf – Electric Sounds
Alex Bleeker & The Freaks – How Far Away
John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
Deerhunter - Monomania
The Thermals - Desperate Ground
The Mary Onettes - Hit The Waves
Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
The Deer Tracks - The Archer Trilogy Pt. 3
Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand
Lisa Germano - No Elephants
Ducktails - The Flower Lane
Diamond Rings - Free Dimensional
El Perro Del Mar - Pale Fire
Ryan Rebo - Western Dreams of Things Unseen
Ice Choir - Afar
Frida Hyvönen - To The Soul
Lower Dens - Nootropics
Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Tennis - Young and Old
The Stevens - EP
Sinéad O'Connor - How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
Hunx - Hairdresser Blues
Wild Nothing - "Nowhere" | Beach Fossils - "Shallow"
Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
Imperial Teen - Feel The Sound
Cate Le Bon - CYRK
Weekend - Red
Mazzy Star - "Common Burn"
Discotays - Concealer
Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls
Twin Sister - In Heaven
Holcombe Waller - Into The Dark Unknown
Devon Williams - Euphoria
Jeremy Jay - Dream Diary
Ryan Rebo - The Lonely Scientist
A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Autumn, Again
Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
Glasser - Ring
Weezer - Hurley
Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises
Procedure Club - Doomed Forever
Perfume Genius - Learning
Deerhunter - "Revival" | Panda Bear - "Tomboy"


LIVE

Jenny Hval with Briana Marela (9/1/15)
Rock The Garden (6/20-21/15)
Stephin Merritt with Advance Base (5/15/15)
Lady Lamb (5/5/15)
Death Cab For Cutie with The Antlers (5/2/15)
The New Pornographers | Stars (11/12/14 | 11/19/14)
Ty Segall with La Luz (9/24/14)
Mary Gauthier and Sam Baker (9/14/14)
Tori Amos (8/3/14)
Tune-Yards (7/17/14)
Sun Kil Moon (7/16/14)
Rock The Garden (6/21-22/14)
Local H (6/6/14)
Kishi Bashi with Busman’s Holiday (5/30/14)
Matt Pond PA (5/12/14)
Angel Olsen (5/1/14)
St. Vincent (4/3/14)
Against Me! (4/2/14)
Alejandro Escovedo (3/30/14)
The Sonics with The Suicide Commandos, Charlie Pickett, and Curtiss A’s Jerks of Fate (3/1/14)
JD Samson & MEN with Kitten Forever (2/1/14)
Cate Le Bon with Kevin Morby (1/25/14)
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (12/16/13)
The Breeders with Speedy Ortiz (12/12/13)
Mazzy Star with Psychic Ills (11/12/13)
My Bloody Valentine with Variety Lights (11/1/13)
Neko Case with Lucy Wainwright Roche (10/17/13)
Franz Ferdinand with Frankie Rose (10/9/13)
A$AP Rocky with Schoolboy Q and Danny Brown (10/31/12)
The Shins with Washed Out and Sad Baby Wolf (10/4/12)
Beach House with Wild Nothing (7/7/12)
Mary Gauthier (6/6/12)
Girls with Unknown Mortal Orchestra (3/5/12)
Laura Gibson with Breathe Owl Breathe (2/16/12)
The Lemonheads with Meredith Sheldon and Lousy Robot (2/4/12)
Ken Stringfellow (7/21/11)
The Rosebuds with Other Lives (7/19/11)
Bill Callahan with Hidden Ritual (7/1/11)
Bob Mould (6/15/11)
Gruff Rhys with Y Niwl (6/8/11)
The Cars (5/17/11)
Hunx & His Punx with Shannon & The Clams (5/1/11)
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart with Twin Shadow (4/25/11)
Pixies (4/24/11)
Wire with Arcwelder (4/10/11)
Cut Copy with Holy Ghost (4/9/11)
The Joy Formidable with Mona and The Lonely Forest (4/6/11)
Diamond Rings with PS I Love You and Aaron & The Sea (3/27/11)
Trash Can Sinatras (3/26/11)
Mark Kozelek (3/14/11)
Liz Phair (1/20/11)
Superchunk (12/1/10)
Mavis Staples (11/28/10)
The Replacements Tribute Show: 25th Anniversary of "Tim" (11/26/10)
Retribution Gospel Choir with Zoo Animal and The Starfolk (11/12/10)
Deerhunter with Real Estate and Casino Vs. Japan (10/23/10)
Teenage Fanclub (10/7/10)
Laura Veirs & The Hall of Flames with The Watson Twins (9/25/10)
Arcade Fire with Calexico (9/22/10)
Pavement with No Age (9/12/10)
Billy Bragg with Darren Hanlon (9/8/10)
Lou Barlow & The Missingmen with Wye Oak and Young Man (8/25/10)


INTERVIEWS

Robert Forster
Local H
Jeremy Jay


TOP TEN

1/2/16: 10 Favorite Albums of 2015
12/23/15: 20 Favorite Songs of 2015
12/2/15: Minneapolis Shows, September to October
10/30/15: Minneapolis Shows, July to September
8/4/15: Promo-shins
6/30/15: Leap Second
4/27/15: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Write
4/22/15: Shows, February to April
2/14/15: Initial Forays Into 2015
1/5/15: 10 Favorite Albums of 2014
12/26/14: 20 Favorite Songs of 2014
12/4/14: More Shows, September to November
11/15/14: Top Ten Ah Um
10/5/14: Autobiographers & Effects
9/28/14: More Shows, July to September
7/13/14: “When A Woman Goes Cold” b/w “My Offence”
6/8/14: Shows + 5
4/20/14: This Land Is Your Land 2
4/6/14: Spring Break
3/9/14: Real World/Real Life
2/2/14: Transition/Trudge
1/12/14: 10 Favorite Albums of 2013
12/29/13: 20 Favorite Songs of 2013, #1-10
12/22/13: 20 Favorite Songs of 2013, #11-20
12/15/13: The Ten Best Albums of … 1993
12/8/13: Overdue
11/17/13: Hollow Judgments
10/27/13: The Carpet and the Chairs
9/29/13: Some Things That Have Delayed My Consideration of Bill Callahan’s Dream River
9/8/13: Mostly Fast Tempos
8/25/13: Americaland
7/28/13: Waiting for Danny
6/30/13: Alternate Titles + Alternate Now
6/9/13: Live Drummers and Other Advantages
5/19/13: Old
5/12/13: Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
4/28/13: Rock ‘13
3/31/13: From A Hot Tub Near The Mountains
3/17/13: South by Fair West
3/10/13: Last Ten Mixtapes
3/3/13: Last Ten Purchases
1/20/13: Joyful Noise + 3
1/13/13: Notes for a Mixtape
12/30/12: 10 Favorite Albums of 2012
12/16/12: The Ten Best Albums of … 1982 and 1992 – BLENDER!!
12/2/12: Top Ten Addendum, Pt. 2 (2009-2011)
11/25/12: The Music of Being Young and Dumb
11/18/12: Top Ten Addendum, Pt. 1 (2006-2008)
10/14/12: Your Tax Dollar At Work
9/16/12: American Weekend
8/26/12: Crucify Your Mind
7/1/12: Travel By Foot
6/10/12: Shows + 5
5/27/12: When the Gravity Shackles Were Wild
4/22/12: We All Try: Blind Spots, The Ground Floor, and more…
3/25/12: The Joys of Being Filthy Poor in the Country
3/11/12: Strange and Unproductive Listening
2/12/12: By Two’s
1/8/12: 10 Favorite Albums of 2011
12/25/11: 20 Favorite Songs of 2011, #1-10
12/18/11: 20 Favorite Songs of 2011, #11-20
12/11/11: The Ten Best Albums of … 1991
11/20/11: Blue Turns To Pink (The Evening Sky)
10/30/11: Cleaning House
10/16/11: Passing Time In Fifty-Five Degrees
9/25/11: The Summer That Returns… ONE WEEKEND ONLY!
9/4/11: The Summer That Ends
8/7/11: Playlist: Punk Summer
7/31/11: Too Late… Too Soon… Right On Time
7/3/11: The Summer That Never Ends (Until It Does)
6/19/11: American Music (Gagauthier)
5/15/11: Dudes
4/10/11: Springtime Mixtape: The First Ten Songs (Rough Draft)
3/20/11: Initial Forays Into 2011
2/13/11: Latest Entries In My Musical Brain-Diary
1/2/11: 10 Favorite Albums of 2010
12/26/10: 20 Favorite Songs of 2010, #1-10
12/19/10: 20 Favorite Songs of 2010, #11-20
11/21/10: Heavy Rotation: Half "Old," Half New
10/24/10: The Late, Great Songs of 2010
9/5/10: The Ten Best Songs of the 1990s
8/8/10: Ten Great Shoegazer Jams of the 21st Century
7/25/10: The Songs of Summer 2010

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Statues



There's not much mystery about who's going to win, but here are my personal Oscar favorites, ballot mostly split between the two really superior movies in the running. Noted also that DDL and Christoph Waltz delivered another perfect performance apiece.

Picture: Lincoln
Director: Michael Haneke
Actress: Emmanuelle Riva
Actor: Joaquin Phoenix
Supporting Actress: Sally Field
Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones
Adapted Screenplay: Lincoln
Original Screenplay: Amour
Animated: ParaNorman (For the rendering of streets and sidewalks, primarily. On story alone, Wreck-It Ralph takes it.)



images: yellow lamp, BBC's The Hour / Shimizu-kun, La corda d'oro

Friday, February 15, 2013

The New 33

A couple mix CDs, for in between times weather, for the van or wherever, containing songs I’ve been enjoying in the past six months that new music mania mostly hasn’t touched, plus a few really old favorites (#3, 10, 16 on the first collection, in particular).


A.



1. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
2. The Roches – “I Love My Mom”
3. Paul Westerberg – “Let’s Not Belong”
4. Joni Mitchell – “Raised On Robbery”
5. Fleetwood Mac – “Mystified”
6. Van Dyke Parks – “Donovan’s Colours”
7. Kishi Bashi – “It All Began With A Burst”
8. En Vogue – “Yesterday”
9. Alison Moyet – “It Won’t Be Long”
10. Unrest – “I Do Believe You Are Blushing”
11. Vivian Girls – “The End”
12. Neil Young – “The Losing End”
13. Sir Douglas Quintet – “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day”
14. Bill Withers – “You Just Can’t Smile It Away”
15. Big K.R.I.T. – “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”
16. Built To Spill – “Sidewalk”
17. The Blue Nile – “Automobile Noise”
18. Rick Ross – “Keys To The Crib”

70 minutes, approx. (Foretold here.)

A re-imagining of AM radio. Songs of popular appeal and songs of personal shit. Music by adults, for adults. How they love, deal with ghosts, become ghosts. We end with a three-song ode to walking in town.


B.



1. Yo La Tengo – “Cornelia and Jane”
2. Rodriguez – “Crucify Your Mind”
3. Kool A.D. – “La Pinata”
4. Sleeping Bag – “Another Time”
5. The Fresh and Onlys – “Long Slow Dance”
6. Moose – “Everybody’s Talking”
7. The Reivers – “Cowboys”
8. Whiskeytown – “Yesterday’s News”
9. Moving Targets – “Right Way”
10. Half String – “Pelican”
11. Tamaryn – “The Garden”
12. Lisa Germano – “Energy”
13. Here We Go Magic – “How Do I Know”
14. Sloan – “Fade Away”
15. Heems – “Killing Time”

50 minutes, approx.

Leftovers, enjoyed in springtime. AM dreams become FM realities, or at least I’ve had quite a few FM hours in my life similar to this one. A thought: If I was in a band, now is the time in my life when I might start questioning the endeavor, wondering how long to carry on. Then I’d drink the drink of the poor and dissolve my doubt.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Another Year at the Theater

I went to the movies 85 times last year. Chronologically:

January

War Horse
The Artist
Weekend
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A Dangerous Method

February

Chronicle
The Secret World of Arrietty
Pina (3D)

March

A Separation
My Week With Marilyn
Rampart
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Haywire
The Hunger Games
The FP

April

Mirror Mirror
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
The Kid with a Bike
Footnote
Keyhole

May

Damsels in Distress
The Avengers
21 Jump Street
Frankenstein (1931)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Dark Shadows
The Dictator
Dracula (1931)
Men in Black 3

June

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Bernie
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman
Stray Dog (1949)
Lonely are the Brave (1962)
Moonrise Kingdom
The Color Wheel
Brave
Safety Not Guaranteed

July

The Cabin in the Woods
Magic Mike
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Your Sister’s Sister
To Rome With Love

August

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Dark Knight Rises
The Campaign
Neil Young Journeys
ParaNorman

September

Premium Rush
Dark Horse
Finding Nemo (2003)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
It’s Such A Beautiful Day
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Master

October

Sexual Tension
Keep the Lights On
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
BearCity 2: The Proposal
Gayby
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Looper
Searching for Sugar Man
Samsara
Argo

November

Wreck-It Ralph
Cloud Atlas
The Man with the Iron Fists
Skyfall
Lincoln
Life of Pi
Flight
The Comedy

December

Smashed
Detropia
Silver Linings Playbook
Pitch Perfect
The Sessions
Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Notes

Life is just adventures in physics, and while you’re watching Wreck-It Ralph, it’s hard to remember if it can be anything else. Adventures in chemistry, maybe, but the creatures of computer animation tend to be irreducible.

Best storyline in Cloud Atlas? The filmmakers’(/novelist’s?) storytelling ambition really starts to mean something during the ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, with their clear willingness to import heavy themes into just about anything, even something totally silly, but also, you know, a depiction of the type of imprisonment we all really fear most.

It’s hard to put into words, but the juxtaposition of those two scenes in Take This Waltz in which The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” plays, different in two key particulars, says something about pop music, solitude, romantic love and happiness that I’ve never seen articulated in a movie before, but that I felt all through my lonely, happy years of listening to the 80s. Let’s see: Until you’ve fallen in love with being alone, and learned that the soaring feeling in The Buggles, etc., refers only to the act of holding yourself, not the act of looking into the eyes of another, you’ll go crazy trying to fill that gap like some lunatic.

“The whole movie is a ‘share,’” someone said about Flight, and it’s a statement that makes a lot of sense after you also see Smashed and realize it’s the same movie, but different in all the small ways that makes a person need to share in the first place.

The Comedy is about the endless, pointless search for a response, and if not a single funny comedian numbers among its characters, well, at least some very committed ones do. Thus, its least funny scenes (that sickening feigned seizure, for one, or is it just feigned indifference to a real seizure?) are also, of course, the apex of its comedy.

“There’s room in this world for waste. Not everything can have meaning. You’d choke.” So says the idle musician father in I Wish, the first movie by Kore-Eda Hirokazu that has room for waste. But a filmmaker this good can’t help but make everything have meaning, even when the quaint soundtrack tries to sell a kind of modest, charming inefficiency.

“It’s a feeling.” –Ishmael Butler
“I can feel it.” –Hal 9000
“That’s a feeling.” –Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook …and she’s not wrong.

Did I miss something? Doesn’t all the violence in Django Unchained take place in the context of law and order and self-defense, until that queasy, giddy moment in the parlor when one character shoots another simply because he can’t resist? I’m not saying the movie doesn’t, at that point, become a revenge fantasy, but I love the way it contains, or implies, another complete movie, one in which the characters, forced to swallow their anger, achieve their goals entirely while operating under the laws of their world. Inglourious Basterds it’s not; that movie was all setup for its bloody finale. Django needs its own dreamy, violent coda, of course, so that Django can become the hero. Waltz, Tarantino’s mouthpiece, can’t resist and makes it happen. And that’s the movie people are talking, arguing about, but that wasn’t the movie I saw. I prefer the more painful one in which the righteous do resist, and walk away because they can. And that’s the movie Django would’ve chosen, if a tiny circumstance didn’t decide otherwise.

Hey, I love both “Take On Me” and “Debaser,” two of the best songs of the 80s! The biggest Alice In Chains fan I know is female! That girl can’t think her dad is uncool if she deigns to wear his Yo La Tengo t-shirt! Those are some of the things I wanted to shout at This Is 40, but at the same time I recognized that it has to partake in the either/or construction that so many people use for their dumb arguments, if it’s to be an effective “family vent” picture. And it is.

Something weird happens in Red Hook Summer, not in the story but in its enactment. Flik finds a dead rat in the church basement and teases his girl-friend with it, and not once does it look like anything but a big plushy toy. Was I seeing wrong? I hope not. Not long after, I saw the amazing Thief of Bagdad, a movie that begs the question, wouldn’t you rather see the cut, the dissolve, the fake dead rat, the special effect whose momentary dissonance only reinforces what it aims to achieve, than the more seamless effect whose dissonance is eternal? In an era when “fantasy” movies must look more real than reality (The Hobbit), it’s nice to see that Spike Lee’s movies are still so rich with theater (in more ways than that one possibly imagined example).

I’d never know how to end a movie like Oslo, August 31st. Who can say for sure what happens to a person like that? Chalk it up to the writer’s omniscience that the movie’s ending doesn’t feel like one of many possible.

Cosmopolis, like a lot of things that would be intolerable otherwise, works pretty well as science fiction. And the world of money is pure science fiction, so why should the context be otherwise?

I really liked Zero Dark Thirty, but wonder about the decision to use audio of 9/11 victims, and a black screen, as its dramatic impetus. Isn’t this the same tactic used in Fahrenheit 9/11 nearly a decade ago? Now it only feels like a reflexive artistic response to tragedy, consumed by the need to be sensitive but ending up less-than-sensitive. Are their voices, separate from their images, somehow fair game, containing no horror or vulnerability that might exist to be exploited? I thought in our voices is where we keep the really awful, personal stuff. The movie’s opening is a parade of sound, but still a parade.


Ten favorites, 2012: Searching for Sugar Man, Lincoln, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, It’s Such A Beautiful Day, The Secret World of Arrietty, Life of Pi, The Kid With A Bike, Take This Waltz, Oslo August 31st, Red Hook Summer

Ten more favorites: Damsels In Distress, ParaNorman, Keyhole, Dark Horse, Bernie, The Master, Keep the Lights On, Moonrise Kingdom, Detropia, Neil Young Journeys



TV, I will not be party to you.

While in Colorado last month, I had the opportunity to watch some cable TV, an occasion that reminded me why so many people despair for humanity – a sentiment that sometimes eludes me at moments in my life when I’m not inundated with media. My cable marathon culminated in the single worst hour of cultural product I have ever endured, an episode of the new show Catfish, a spin-off of the slightly less awful, but still awful, movie of the same name. This hour was a total void of meaning, except what is suggested by a ceaseless exploitation of the emotionally vulnerable by the emotionally undeveloped, which is probably considerable if you choose to pursue it, but who possibly could? Our tour guide through the lives of some sad people in Atlanta and the boring world of social media (oh, such exciting possibilities of identity subterfuge!) is Nev, a hirsute man who is often found shirtless for no reason and who plays the parts of interviewer and social worker when he has no natural or acquired talents for either. See the way he forces two women into an argument in front of an Atlanta apartment complex when one very much wants to leave the scene, and later, because the episode is reaching its final minutes, the way he cues a redemptive narrative (the soundtrack agrees) for one of these women, when no such thing has been earned, or even remotely suggested. It was bad, folks, enough to make you wonder if anything matters anymore.


I escape into strange culture dreams.

a. I don’t recall in what context, but the name Elaine Stritch occurs in my dream. A few days later, in real life, a group of guys sits at a neighboring table in a gay bar and one of them speaks the name Elaine Stritch. Why do I specify it as a gay bar? I don’t know, do they talk about Elaine Stritch anywhere else, or mysteriously rescue such trivial data from my dreams?

b. Even in my dreams I feel a strong need to capture images. I’m dream-watching Girls and there’s a shot I really wanna grab, an over-the-shoulder shot from Hannah’s POV, just her blurry profile and beyond her a sort of lens flare on a field of black, except it’s too geometric, a point of light with discrete colorful triangles extending from it.

c. I’m playing an 8-bit video game that’s intended as a corrective to the glossed-over American history usually shown in video games (like, this is a commonly known shortcoming of video games). And then the punch line, a new character appears, a little digital lump of irreducible humanity, and a word box indicates that his name is the N-word. I feel ill with the weight of this word, its strange physical reality in such an unusual space. Is this Django The Video Game, my subconscious critique of Tarantino’s screenwriting, um, tics? Either way, its gut-punch intentions are realized.

d. I’m riding through an imagined video for The Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning,” a song I have probably not listened to in years, on a bicycle, possibly one with a big front wheel (because it’s all my POV, and I seem to have a commanding view), through a colorful department store.

e. Don Draper is sitting on a toilet shouting the lyrics to some punk song and I, Roger Sterling, am pissing on him.


Epilogue

Some lines from the work of Henry Darger, as seen in In the Realms of the Unreal. Sometimes a screen capture of a Word document is the easiest way to take notes: