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.


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


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.)