Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Tis once more the season . . .

. . . when cheerful holiday music and alchoholicly-lubricated good cheer are at our throats. It requires all my strong moral principles to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off (thanks Ishmael). And so I retreat to my pile of oddball Christmas cheer.

Merry Christmas, and to all, a Happy New Year.


Eels: Christmas Is Going To the Dogs

I always liked Eels. To eat, to serve as a container for my money and credit cards, but most of all, to listen to.

Yo La Tengo: It's Christmas Time

They're from Hoboken. Yup, them and Frank. If there's a band that every music nerd, regardless of their taste, loves loves loves, it's YLT. These guys also are a walking iTunes collection of covers.

The Knife: Christmas Reindeer

Swedes! Who are neither Jens Lekman nor Peter, Bjorn & John. Wow, what are they doing on an Irate playlist?

Jens Lekman: Christmas

There had to be something from Jens, right? Off his wonderful blog that I check obsessively in the remote hope that he'll play a secret show at my house.

Arcade Fire: Jinglebell Rock

Yeah, they're from Montreal. They're popular or something and play arenas now.

Okkervil River: Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas

You can never go home again, but thankfully, you can listen to Otis. Bonus song is Otis's "I've Got Dreams To Remember." It's not a Christmas song, but that's the song Okkervil reference here. It's one of Otis's most beautiful.

Big Star: Jesus Christ

If you don't know Alex Chilton and Big Star, you should reexamine your life choices. Their songs in the 70s resulted in so much of the New Wave, college radio scene, etc., and even a TV show (that's a bonus song, "In the Street," later covered really well by Cheap Trick for what I've been told was a popular show on the televisions.)

Belle & Sebastian: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Performances of this carol can often get a little precious for my taste. But I love the way they force their way right through the lyrics. This was the first Christmas song I heard played in public this year....way back in October.

Tom Waits: Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis

Tom Waits basically is the business. I'm trying to think of anyone else who could write a song about a Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis and have it taken seriously. If anyone has any ideas, lemme know.

Low: Little Drummer Boy

I hate this song. Hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it. It's the kind of carol that in three minutes usually manages to incorporate 8 million pop music cliches. But this one is special. There's no bullshit, the focus on the lyrics really is a wonderful reminder, and means a lot to me. Turn it way up, the breath at the beginning is so beautiful.

The Pogues: Fairytale of New York

And just like last year, here's my favorite Christmas Song and yours. Shane looks fantastic in this. I saw him this year at the 9:30, and there was an audible gasp from the crowd when everyone realized that the horrifying train wreck of a human being slithering across the stage with a cigarette and a pint glass full of a clear liquid (I'm assuming not water) was one of the great lyricists of the 20th Century.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In which praises are heaped upon My Bloody Valentine . . .

In 2006, I was driving alone across the Mojave desert, not far from Edwards Air Force Base (I was trying to recover some stuff you guys picked up from us in the 50s). There was no moon that night, and the only light came from my head lights and the stars in the completely cloudless sky.

When it's that dark, there is no external reference point and it feels like you're standing still and floating as the yellow lane marker flashes by. With the stars over my head, it felt like when I first got here, so many years ago. (Think star gate sequence in 2001.) When all of a sudden, my iPod's shuffler decided to play this:

I've made a few friends here whom I love dearly, and shared things with them that I wouldn't trade for the world. But that moment, especially during the bridges, like from 2:29-3:04, was so completely perfect I feel silly trying to write about it.

Blown a wish is so beautiful, but it's over so cherry blossoms fluttering down in the breeze at the end of the season. You wish it would go on forever, but the fact that this song is going to be over in just 3:17 makes it even more beautiful.

And then there's Sometimes.

Oh, Sometimes.

The Sometimes Guitar is one of my favorite sounds I've ever heard. People always get on about the ch-chung in Radiohead's Creep, Link Wray's Rumble, or Mogwai's apocalyptic feedback at the end of their shows.....but that's like comparing a drippy kitchen sink to Sometimes Guitar's Niagara Falls. I'd rank it up there with a purring kitten or laughter. It does what it does better than it has any business doing.

So, thanks to you, Kev, Bilinda, Debbie, and Colm. You're one of the things that have made my visit here really worthwhile.

Monday, October 31, 2011

In which the Alien blows his eardrums out

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
Probably we can argue about what the greatest first sentence in the history of English-language literature is, but there is no doubt in my mind that the greatest fourth sentence in the history of the English language is that one.

When it's November in my soul, I retreat to the quiet comfort of having my eardrums blown out. The prototype for this:

This to me is a related phenomenon to "the drone." Except turned to eleven. The drone soothes, while the burst eardrum overwhelms. I remember a time when I was so overcome with noise at a show that I thought I was having a stroke. I could not move, see, or think, but it didn't matter.

There's something almost dehumanizing about doing this to yourself. I love feeling completely exhausted by the sensory overload. First comes enervating, then comes energy depletion. I just don't care any more.

I'm not sure what the essential element is. It's not just volume, because My Bloody Valentine don't really have it. I think some bands insert an element of malice, even when they're trying to be pretty. Listen for the sawtooth wave, which sounds exactly like what it's called.

And after that, all you can do is listen to white noise and hope the ringing isn't too bad the next day.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In which the Irate Alien makes a new friend . . .

I was walking down the street the other day when I happened upon an escaped pygmy slow loris . . .

. . . It appeared lost and disoriented, but after chasing it for about an hour, I finally managed to capture it. Despite being bitten and scratched by the enraged primate, I delivered him to the authorities. The police--having only limited experience with members of the family Lorisidae--charged me with his care and he became my ward. At which point (and here's where this story starts to get weird) he told me to call him Ishmael..........

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In which the Alien issues a hipster fatwa

So, the New Yorker hates Coldplay. Don't we all?

The certainly are the beloved object of hate for all who wear western shirts, cuffed jeans, and Frye loafers. We must all hate anything that's popular! You must all be individuals! (In as similar a way as possible.)

But I'm issuing a hipster fatwa declaring hatred of popular things to be boring and predictable, and therefore, totally not cool anymore.

Unless it's done ironically.

I think.

I'm confused now.

Coldplay really are harmless, and not in a harmful way. I don't look down on anyone who likes them, I just think they (the band and their fans) could try harder (try M83 or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart). Anyway, I liked that Yellow song, and Beaker is cool.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.....I like:

n.b.  I've seen them live, they're terrible musicians, and this album is the clear product of heavy heavy heavy production. The vocals sounded like a cat being swung around by its kidding, people at the show gave each other looks whenever any singer--each one more off key than the last--made an entrance.

M83 (Another great French act):

Monday, June 13, 2011

In which the Alien considers "The Drone"

I am extraordinarily comforted by drone.

That, by the way is some of the sickest shit I've ever heard in my life. The hippy-dippy crew who busk with didgeridos should feel great shame when they hear this stuff.

I've been thinking about why, though, the low frequency drone is such a relief. I think it must have something to do with buried memories from inside the pod, before I hatched, while I was still fermenting. Muffled noises from outside and the sound of blood rushing--all while floating in zero gee.

I'm so relaxed now, this post is ending.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Great War in Modern Memory

Yeah, I know that's not the title of the book.

PJ Harvey just put out a new album, Let England Shake, that I cannot recommend enough. It's about the First World War, and it seems absolutely appropriate for today. The century that began at Waterloo with the demise of Napoleon ended 1914, and it seems that--much more so than 1989--another century is ending right now. Economics as we know it doesn't work any more, the Middle East is eating itself, and China is slowly supplanting the US.

Pre-millennial tension produces great music, like Tricky's 1996 album, Pre-Millenium Tension.

Tricky - Christiansands (live, with a nuclear-powered bass amp)

But fast forward 15 years to 2011, and that's not the sound we have. PJ Harvey's new album isn't so much pre-millennial tension as it is post-funereal elegy.

PJ Harvey - Written on the Forehead

That's a sentiment that must be even stronger in the UK, where they seem to have taken their economic crisis by the horns and recognized their decline far more firmly than we have in the US. US culture continues to produce either degenerate art like Katy Perry and Justine Bieber (nope, no links here) or rage.

Tyler, the Creator and Hodgy Beats - Sandwitches

Note here the same underlying drone, low frequency rumble, and static that were all over Tricky and Massive Attack's best at the turn of the century. It's like paranoia has its own sonic footprint.

But that sound is not really there in PJ's album. Her album is a eulogy or a lament. One of the things that caught my attention was her sample in Written on the Forehead of Niney the Observer's Blood and Fire. How interesting is it that a requiem for an empire would quote from an outgrowth of that empire? Even more interesting is that during the 1970s, a similarly low period in England, they also borrowed from Jamaican music and launched the 2 Tone Ska. I wonder if that's a sign of England having exhausted itself, or is it a sign of hybrid vigor?

Niney the Observer - Blood and Fire

But the real sound of Let England Shake is very English. PJ in The Last Living Rose (how much more elegiac can you get?) used a jangly, reverby guitar and out-of-tune saxamaphones that recall skiffle and early early rock. No homage to Bollywood here, if anything, it's an inward turn: "God damned Europeans - take me back to beautiful England - and the gray damp filthiness of ages and battered books." The words of a homesick English soldier on the Western Front?

PJ Harvey - The Last Living Rose

This is not a fully formed thought in my head yet, and I'm still working it out, but I'm wondering what we'll start quoting as we realize that our imperial moment has passed.

I'm pretty sure that in rough times like these, in the US we'll fall back on something similarly culturally conservative. It probably won't be as backwards looking as the indie-folk scene in the UK--denial and optimism are too ingrained in the US--but I wonder if the sound will be the garage rock revival that started in about 2000 or so with acts like the Strokes, the White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, the 5,6,7,8s, Ty Segall, etc. It's been vaguely popular for about 10 years now, but it can certainly go even more mainstream. Or, acts like Toro y Moi and Caribou are quoting heavily from the late 70s and early 80s, certainly not a conservative period, but a familiar sound, and further back than it should be if it were just part of the usual 20-years-gone revivals.

Ty Segall - It #1

Toro y Moi - Still Sound

Caribou - Odessa

But the other possibility is an even stronger turn to Americana. Where country and bluegrass recover from the nightmarish 80s and 90s and return to their roots:

Hank III -Long Gone Daddy (yup, that's the grandson...I've seen him live, this is not really what he does, but the resemblance is uncanny)

Justin Townes Earle -Mama's Eyes (Unlike the Williamses, only 2 generations of geniuses far)

Hayes Carill - KMAG YOYO

Brief word on Carill....fascinating to me that he's writing a song about the war in Afghanistan, and equally fascinating that it hearkens back to Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues. Good show on how old stuff can be revisited without choking on nostalgia, I think.

But anyway, I hope the rage bit wins, because that's a much more constructive sentiment than nostalgia. But if we go the route of elegy ourselves, and have a wake for America, here's the soundtrack...provided by an Irishman:

The Pogues - Body of an American ("Put the fuckin' song on, Hugh!")

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The good, the bad, and the ugly of live music

OK, in no particular order culled from stuff I've seen over the years:

This is awful (don't watch it) . . .

. . . but I've seen almost as bad (I told you not to watch it, didn't I?). Just to demonstrate how masochistic I am, I'll tell you I watched this 3-4 times to figure out what went wrong. I would say it was the bassist's fault--he can't find the one to save his life--but that would be like blaming Gavrilo Princip for World War I. (It's not like this is a hard song, it's straight ahead 4/4. WTF?) Anyway, I'm not so masochistic that I'd stick around for this. First pet peeve: lazy bands. I WILL walk out before you finish your 35 minute set. So take that.

What I really wanted to get into was behavior that annoy me at live shows. Proper comportment will not only not annoy those around you, but it will also impress the band. Remember, they are there to judge you just as you are there to judge them.

1. The hippy-dippy dance:

Unacceptable. 1.) These movements are neither graceful nor flowing. They make me want to put a wallet in your mouth and make sure there are no sharp edges around. 2.) These people--lost in their selfish dreamworld without regard for anyone else--take up loads of space and clumsily knock into others who just want to enjoy the music 3.) If this is possibly acceptable amongst other hippies at some godforsaken hellish hippy jam band festival in a muddy field when you're high on toad skins, it is certainly NOT/NOT acceptable anywhere else--least of all in my presence. I did once, however, enjoy seeing the shock and horror on the faces of such hippy-dippy idiots at a "world music" show when the band turned out to be more capable of rocking out than their condescending Orientalist asses were expecting. Corollary: You may do the following dances: "The stand still," "the subtle head head bob," "the knee-dip-in-time-to-the-back-beat," the pogo, the Charleston, anything that resembles Guy Picciotto (but beware, do it badly, and you're a hippy-dippy shithead). The best moves I've ever seen? A guy who was wildly swinging a full drink around over his head in a pint glass without spilling a single drop. Clearly, an alcoholic.

2. Talking

ARRRRRRRGH!!!  The bane of my existence. I once learned quite a bit about shoes at a Junip show because two idiot college kids talked non stop in high-pitched, squeaky voices throughout the whole thing. I have also learned about Rolexes, BMWs, and other things that were too prolie for them from two yuppies at a The French Band Air show (they didn't know what they were talking about, which made it even funnier). Maybe this works if you're out to see a mindless pop act; it's not acceptable at a serious show. You might be there because you're bored, because you want to be seen, because you want to say you were there. Some of us are there because we're obsessive compulsive and have nothing else in our lives (except collections of vinyl and comic books). Corollary: You may make brief comments on the music, especially if you make pretentious comparisons to seminal indie bands ("the drummer reminds me of Richard Edson's days with Sonic Youth"), talk about times you saw the band "before they were big," or snark bored condescending comments. And yes, Richard Edson, the parking attendant from Ferris Bueller, was the original drummer with Sonic Youth.

3. Bad band banter

Banter from the band is not mandatory; (The Man Himself) Mark Lanegan has about as much personality on stage as Mount Everest. Done well, however, it can be an integral part of the show (even if scripted). I think my all time favorite was Frances McKee of the Vaselines discussing her secret to keeping a clear complexion. (Frances and Eugene were two of the loveliest, most gracious performers I've ever seen in my life, btw. I think every man and woman at the 9:30 left that show with a mad crush.)

But if you're going to chat with the audience, please make sure you're witty and have something interesting to say. Please do not pander to the crowd by telling them they're "the best crowd we've had on the tour yet" or talk about alcohol unless you're channeling the spirit of Charles Bukowski; booze is not "cool" unless you're 16.

4. "WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!"

Danger, Will Robinson. Solo WOOOOO! during a lull in the music sucks. If a band wants silence, that's part of the music. Don't ruin it by making an ass of yourself. Corollary: I once saw a young girl having a near crisis over a foppish lead singer. The "OMG it's the Beatles!" scream is a little annoying, but it is what it is: slightly amusing for the rest of the crowd, especially if there's only one person doing it. (btw, God bless DC for all ages shows.)

 Ooooh! A tone box!

Wanted to take a break from whining to ask a question. Dear readers, do any of you obsessively scribble down set lists in a little pad during the show? It's a weird hobby. Kind of like bird watching, I guess. Just curious if anyone did it and why. Anyway, it's innocuous and doesn't bother me (I kind of respect that degree of obsessiveness), I was just curious.

5. Scalpers, ticket brokers, and ticket resale sites.


6. Tall people.

Yeah, not their fault. Corollary: To the 6'4" 280 pound manimal at the Bradford Cox show who picked me up like a rag doll and placed me down in front of him, saying, "stand in front of me," you're cool, though.

So why bother putting up with this nonsense?

Because Nick Cave puts most Pentacostal preachers to shame.

Because Los Campesinos! can make even a clumsy idiot like me feel like Fred Astaire.

Because Lighting Bolt prove there's nothing like being hot and sweaty (with all your clothes on). btw, I wonder if it's the same guy hanging from the ceiling at every Lighting Bolt show?

Because sometimes for $8 you accidentally find something wonderful like the Luyas.

Because Iggy Pop can do with his body what John Coltrane did with a saxophone. (His words, not mine, unfortunately.)

Because Mark Lanegan is like any other man, only more so.

Because Mogwai make me feel all frozen and floaty like I'm having a stroke.

Support live music. Only go to arena shows if you hate freedom and you want the terrorists to win. (You--and if you're reading this, you know who you are--get a dispensation if you're seeing LCD Soundsystem's farewell at MSG...even an epic venue snob like I would suck it up to go to that one.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dismemberment Plan reissue

The Dismemberment Plan, "Emergency and I" (1999)

This is a great album, and fully deserves the 10 from Pitchfork. But reissues like this always make me a bit sad, and remind me of that passage in the Hagakure about "what is called the spirit of an age...." When I saw the reissue treatment of Air's "Moon Safari" (1998) I almost cried, and a piece of me died when I saw the "collector's edition" of Spiritualized "Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space" (1997). There's a reason I couldn't bring myself to see Spiritualized on their recent tours.

I walked today past the store that used to be Commander Salamander, which along with Smash!, was kind of a mainstay of my memories of DC in the late 90s. (Smash is still in my head the greatest commercial establishment in the history of the universe; if a miracle occurs and they reopen, I will be at work the next day with an orange mohawk.) Fugazi have been on hiatus forever, Hank Rollins has turned into a grumpy old man, etc.

I guess the point is that you can't go home again. It's a great album, and since I lost my CD somewhere along the way, I've ordered a copy. And I really really wish I'd noticed the 9:30 or Black Cat websites in the 4 minutes between the shows being announced and selling out. (I can't even imagine seeing the Dismemberment Plan at the Black Cat....'twould be the show to end all shows.)

But anyway, I guess I'll "make the best out of every generation" and see if there's some redeeming quality to Justin Bieber.

p.s. Ian MacKaye did an interesting interview with Ian Svenonius (another "DC guy") a couple years ago that had a good discussion about 5 minutes in regarding the nostalgia movement. Then again, when he walked on stage at the 9:30 to introduce Tinariwen last year, I think I was the only one in the room who cheered. Anyway, it's a great interview; I love the notion of not trying to slay the dragon, but trying to create your own world.

crap, I'm a white dude in my 30s, aren't I? oy.