In which indierocket! editor Patrick takes on the year’s biggest disappointments and biggest stinkers. More...
A Place to Bury Strangers, A Place to Bury Strangers (Pimp City)
Don’t believe the blog hype. Total Jesus and Mary Chain ripoff.
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge)
Whereas Funeral was an outstandingly cathartic meditation on death and the hereafter, Neon Bible is too much of a Born in the U.S.A. carbon copy. Sure, Win Butler’s still one of the better songwriters in indie rock, but there’s too much morass here (see “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” “My Body is a Cage,” the title track), which drags down the stellar moments (see “Intervention,” “Keep the Car Running”).
Band of Horses, Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
Just because a record is disappointing doesn’t mean that it’s automatically bad. Au contraire: Cease to Begin is a fine record, far from a sophomore slump, applying a Southern spit-and-polish to the majestic Northwestern grandeur of Everything All the Time. But I said Ben Bridwell would miss Mat Brooke, and I was right — despite the addition of Columbia keybanger extraordinaire Ryan Monroe, Cease to Begin suffers from a ritualistic sameness, not from song to song, but within the songs themselves. While Everything All the Time relied heavily on pristine builds and emotional catharsis, Cease to Begin is too pristine, too precious and a little too tedious.
Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City (Vice)
Now this is a sophomore slump record. Was Kele Okereke too concerned about the rumours that he likes getting buggered by geezers to write good songs?
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud Thunder (Wichita)
What did I say two years ago? Clap Your Hands Say Meh? I hate to say “I told you so” ... wait, no I don’t. I fucking told you so.
Deerhunter, Cryptograms (Kranky)
Don’t believe the blog hype, part two. Yet another begulingly Pitchfork-loved record that's no good, yet people went absolutely ape-poopy over it. Why?
Lavender Diamond, Imagine Our Love (Rough Trade)
Don’t believe the blog hype, part three. More boring than watching baseball.
The Mars Volta, The Bedlam in Goliath (Universal)
How does one say “Just stop it!” in Spanish?
M.I.A., Kala (XL)
This is what I wrote about Arular back in 2005: “oh, i'm sorry. i didn't realize "galang" was the indonesian word for 'shit.' it's as if every single genre ever known to man took a giant shit into a pot, and said, 'lo, this, too, is music!' it's not. it's the densest, most inaccessible piece of crap i've ever listened to. the only reason indie kids like it is because they think they should, because no one else gets it.” Kala is even worse, taking the worst parts of genres I both love (baile funk, electronica) and loathe (dancehall, dub, dirty house) and turning into an unintelligible mush of yelps, squawks and rattles. Sure, perhaps it’s one of those albums that I’ll never “get,” but that’s what this list is about, innit?
Minus the Bear, Planet of Ice (Suicide Squeeze)
One of Minus the Bear’s strong points has always been its temporary-yet-fleet-footed diversions into King Crimson prog. (See “Women We Haven’t Met Yet,” “Let’s Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band,” basically all of They Make Beer Commercials Out of This.) But Planet of Ice’s downfall is its all-to-frequent excursions into bloated Floydian butt-prog. An underwhelming record from an extraordinary band with a nigh-impeccable track record.
Panda Bear, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
Admittedly, I’ve never been able to get into freak-folk. But after seeing this record top so many year-end lists — including the one penned by our dear indierocket! comrade Tug — I wanted to like this. But it just seems like paint-by-numbers ‘60s psychedelia a la The Beach Boys.
Pelican, City of Echoes (Hydra Head)
Disappointing only because Pelican is one of my favorite bands, and City of Echoes just isn’t up to the bar-setting snuff of The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw.
Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros.)
At least Jenny Lewis is still hot.
The Rosebuds, Night of the Furies (Merge)
This hurts. I love The Rosebuds, both as a band and as people; Ivan Howard possesses one of my all-time favorite voices, and Kelly Howard is a keyboard-mashing looker with no peer. But Night of the Furies is bogged down in end-of-the-dance-party melancholy, willful hook-freedom, cheeseball-synth string arrangements and unusually flaccid songwriting. While I reiterate that not all disappointing records are bad — and Night of the Furies is by no means bad — they’re disappointments for a reason. What was wrong with being a garage band people could dance to, guys? Why go all Smiths-via-Human League on us?
Smashing Pumpkins, Zeitgeist (Martha’s Music/Reprise)
You all know how I feel about this. Worst record of the year.
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
Anyone who says Sky Blue Sky is their favorite Wilco record is either a Nels Cline fanboy, a dad-rock apologist or a fucking liar. Sky Blue Sky isn’t bad, just boring, content to twiddle around with flat, second-rate ‘70s soft-rock songwriting. Still, “Impossible Germany” is one of the year’s finest guitar-driven songs, and Sky Blue Sky is at least better than A Ghost is Born.
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (Republic)
There’s a web site devoted to taking bets on Amy Winehouse’s date of death for a reason. Even rehab couldn’t save this trainwreck.
In which indierocket! editor Patrick takes on the year’s biggest disappointments and biggest stinkers. More...
In which indierocket! editor Patrick identifies the albums released in 2006 that should have made last year's year-end list. More...
Cinemechanica, The Martial Arts (Hello Sir)
Speedy, strong, shape-shifting post-hardcore that grabs you by the balls and refuses to let go.
Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
The free-jazz master’s best work since Science Fiction.
Colour Revolt, Colour Revolt (Esperanza Plantation/Tiny Evil/Interscope)
While the record doesn’t necessarily do the band the fullest justice, the grandiose nature of this Mississippi quintet’s epic indie rock is on full display. This is what ...Trail of Dead should be sounding like these days.
Gamenight, Simple Starts in the Mind (New Beat)
Nimble emo-prog from Knoxville buoyed by hyperliterate lyrics and acne-scarred broken-heartery.
Kaki King, ...Until We Felt Red (Velour)
Because when the horns come in on “You Don’t Have to Be Afraid,” you finally understand. Because “Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers” is extremely elegant in its simplicity.
Kickball, ABCDEFGHIJKickball (Yoyo)
I went to Nashville with my dear friend Jordan Blackmon in May to record with our dear friend Aaron Graves. I took a bus back to Columbia, and on the way to the bus station, we listened to this wondrous gem of Franco-tinged Northwestern indie pop. After that, “Shoulders” never really exited my head.
Midwest Product, Swamp EP (Ghostly International)
I first heard “Swamp” — the World Series of Love version — in a Hummer ad. True story. This EP remixes that gem and throws in four new tracks of haunting, delicate glitch-pop.
Plastic Little, She’s Mature (Traffic)
She’s Mature is anything but — the Philly-bred raunch-rap ensemble is as nasty as it wants to be, putting Luther Campbell and company to shame. And yet, for all the smut, there’s true street intelligence (“Crambodia”), outrageous satire (see “Rap O’Clock,” “All Y’all Niggas Dead”) and flat-out club-banging genius (see “The Jumpoff”).
This Moment in Black History, It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold us Back (Cold Sweat)
The names are meant to be provocative; the music is, too. This Moment in Black History’s raucous trash-punk lays Dirtbombs that explode with Sandanista! fervor.
So Percussion, Amid the Noise (Cantaloupe)
When I saw this acclaimed New York Ensemble perform Steve Reich’s Drumming in Columbia, I was blown away. When I heard its foray into glitchy, percussion-heavy blip-hop, I was eminently pleased. Like any ambient music worth its salt, it adheres to Eno’s requirements to a tee.
Alan Sparhaw, Solo Guitar (Silber Media)
I’m a guitar nerd, OK? I like when guitarists from critically acclaimed slowcore monoliths fuck around with ambient guitar works, all right?
Well, it's that time of year, folks. I've made my list, checked it twice, and here's my favorite music videos of this past year, with some slight commentary by myself along the way. Feel free to waste an hour or so of time that you're supposed to be working with these flickering images. More...
18. RJD2 - Work It Out
Directed by Joey Garfield
17. Bishop Allen - Click Click Click Click
Directed by Randy Bell
I just blogged about this one the other day, but hey, it's still good enough to get on the list. Beware the cuteness!
16. Robyn - Konichiwa Bitches
Directed by Johan Sandberg, Fredrik Skogkvist, Henrik Timonen
Pat posted about this video way back when, and it still makes me laugh almost a year later. Have fun picking out your favorite hip-hop simile. My favorite is 'Count you out like a mathematician!'
15. Bat For Lashes - What's A Girl To Do?
Directed by Dougal Wilson
14. Dizzie Rascal - Sirens
Directed by W.I.Z.
The fox-hunting metaphor in this video makes for some great music video gravitas.
13. Spoon - Don't You Evah
Directed by Hideki Kozima and Marek Michalowski
I'm not sure if this was the 'official' video for this song, but I think the story went that these guys made a video with their Keepon dancing to an older Spoon track, and then Spoon saw it and asked them to do this one. I may be making that up. Oh, and the cuteness threat level (CTL) has just jumped to RED, motherfuckers.
12. Feist - 1 2 3 4
Directed by Patrick Daughters
What can I say? I love it.
11. Final Fantasy - This Lamb Sells Condos
Directed by Stephanie Comilang and Jamie Shannon
Another one that I posted about earlier this year.
10. The National - Apartment Story
Directed by Banner Gwin
There's no real 'trick' or twist that makes this video great. It's pretty straightforward, but I think it's one of those instances where the music and the pictures just fit perfectly together. There's also some very well-composed shots in here.
9. Beirut - Elephant Gun
Directed by Alma Har'el
Whip out your mustache and do mustache-y things with it!
8. Grizzly Bear - Knife
Directed by Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch
7. Fionn Regan - Be Good or Be Gone
Directed by Si and Ad
If you haven't heard of Regan yet, do yourself a favor and check this video out. The concept behind the video puts Regan singing the song in various places, all recorded live and blended together so subtly that you can hardly tell. And it's a heck of a song too.
6. Animal Collective - Peacebone
Directed by Timothy Saccenti
This is the first of two appearance by Timothy Saccenti on this list - a feat that no other director managed to do. Could it be that Saccenti is going for total music video domination? Keep reading...
5. Justice - D.A.N.C.E
Directed by Jonas & Francois
4. Malajube - Montreal 40-C
Directed by Louis-Philippe Eno
Another one that I blogged about previously and is also supercute.
3. Menomena - Rotten Hell
Directed by Stephanie Comilang and Jamie Shannon
Yep, I blogged about it before, so catch my comments at the link.
2. Battles - Atlas
Directed by Timothy Saccenti
And Saccenti scores again! Originally released sometime in March, this was a tiny window into the awesomeness that would be Mirrored. The 'mirror room' was built by the band themselves, and well, if you haven't seen it already, just watch the damn thing and be amazed. So if it's so good, how come Mr. Saccenti didn't get the top spot on my list? Well...
1. La Blogoteque
I'm kind of cheating here, but it's my list, and I can do whatever I want. I'm giving my top spot to the guys at La Blogotheque and their incredible Take-Away Shows. It's a combination of live music and film that's quite revolutionary in it's sepia-tinged brilliance. Do yourself a favor and check out a few of my favorites from this year below, and then head to their website and spend days watching all the goodies they have to offer. Here's hoping they make some kind of DVD box set...
Get Out! is indierocket!'s occasional guide to getting down in the Soda City.
Descolada :: The 112 :: 7 p.m.
When a band cites such disparate bands as The Dirty Three, R.E.M., Massive Attack, Joy Division, Old Man Gloom, The Jesus Lizard and Isis as equal influence, the immediate, knee-jerk reaction is to call bullshit. But Asheville's Descolada incorporates all make and manner of styles into its unorthodox clamor, boasting a violin-wailing banshee and a heavy-as-fuck, take-no-prisoners rhythm section. It's as if Warren Ellis were playing with Neurosis, equal parts achingly beautiful and cathartically heavy. Highly recommended for the curious and adventurous. Bat-shit tech-metal quartet Sein Zum Tode and bass-driver post-rockers Jacob and I open. This is a house show, so we implore you: Don't do anything in this house you wouldn't do in your own. Damage: Donations highly encouraged.
The Engines :: University of South Carolina School of Music Recital Hall :: 7:30 p.m.
Forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Let’s play One Degree of Ken Vandermark, as each member of the Chicago free-jazz quartet The Engines — tromboner Jed Bishop, saxophonist Dave Rempis, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Tim Daisy — have all cut their teeth in one of the modern-jazz titan’s numerous groups. And while there are several hallmarks of the trademark Vandermark sound to be found in The Engines self-titled disc, particularly the blustery, blistering unison horn lines and steadfast-yet-inventive percussion, remember that these men have all distinguished themselves and composers and leaders outside of Vandermark’s realm. Indeed, it’s when The Engines cut loose and let fly with reckless abandon that the quartet shines, settling into ruthless, sometimes Zeppelin-esque grooves, particularly on “Jet Lag” and “Mash Tun.” Sure, these engines can go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat and stop on a dime, but its when set on cruise control — guiding the listener with subtlety and finesse rather than steamroller force — that the ride is most enjoyable. Saxophonist Aram Shelton, another notable Chicago player, opens on reeds and electronic manipulation. Damage: $7.
Los Perdidos :: The Whig :: 10 p.m.
Who says global warming is all bad? Look, aside from that brief cold snap at the beginning of the month, it’s been a relatively temperate winter here in the Capital City. Therefore, you have absolutely no reason not to break out your finest beachwear as our resident surfanistas return to The Whig for their annual yuletide extravaganza. ‘Tis the season, so expect a classic carol or two to sneak into Los Perdidos’ sizeable set of swingin’ instrumental surf-punk originals, which recall everyone from Link Wray to Santo and Johnny to Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Damage: Free.
Josh Roberts & the Hinges :: Five Points Pub :: 10 p.m.
Put simply, Josh Roberts is one of the finest songwriters the Capital City has to offer. The former helmsman of the good ship Captain Easy recently released his second record with The Hinges — and the first with the current incarnation of the band — My War Cry is Amor, which is chock-full of delectable tunes, from the raucous "Atom Inhibitor" to the sweet "B+1B" to the epic "Every Brick of Downtown" to the tender "The Hardest Part of Winter." And as good as those records — Amor and the debut, The Sugarbird Test — the live Josh Roberts experience is one to behold, as Roberts is a consummate showman and righteous gunslinger. Damage: $7.
Blinded by Underpants :: Hunter-Gatherer :: 11 p.m.
If Tug can blog about his band, I can about mine, dammit. Loud, earnest, riotous post-pop a la 764-HERO, Swearing at Motorists. Good time for all. Plus, the Hunter-Gatherer is a perfect spot for a night-ending nightcap after you've been to one (or all) of the above shows. Damage: $3.
Uhh, what else can really be said about this? It's Kermit the Frog singing (and aping the video to) "Once in a Lifetime," admittedly one of favorite Talking Heads songs. Still not as good as this, though. Or especially this.
I had almost forgotten about the movie project God Help The Girl headed up by Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebstian fame) until Pitchfork reminded me. Murdoch is hard at work casting the musical and will head into the studio to record the soundtrack in the spring. This early demo features Ladybug Transistor's Gary Olsen and B&S's own Catherine Ireton in a sweet little diddy about hipster girls. After a trip to Asheville a couple months ago, I started work on a song called 'I Want A Hipster Girlfriend,' but Murdoch beat me to the thematic punch, I'm afraid. And, of course, it's way better than anything I could have done. So while I shake my fist angrily at Stuart Murdoch, you lovely people can enjoy this great song he's written.
God Help The Girl (feat. Gary Olsen and Catherine Ireton) Perfection As A Hipster
Ah! It's just as cute as you knew it was going to be... Cuteness overpowering... Must lie down... Too much... cuuute...
Seriously, this is a great video. It reminds me of those neat camera commercials that were on all the time this summer. Props to director Randy Bell for a job well done.
This has apparently ruined indierocket! familiar (and occasional Free Times and Drawer B contributor) Logan's weekend: Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the great visionaries of 20th Century music, died on Dec. 5. Best known for his avant-garde electronic work, Stockhausen was an experimental musician who utilized tape recorders and mathematics to create innovative, ground-breaking pieces. Electronic Study, composed in 1953, was the first musical piece composed from pure sine wave sounds; Electronic Study II, produced a year later, was the first work of electronic music to be notated and published. Endlessly prolific, whether in fashion or out of it, he composed 362 works, including the world's longest opera, Licht, a sequence of seven pieces — one for every day of the week. Licht, which took him 25 years to complete, will be performed for the first time next year; the whole piece lasts 29 hours. Though rarely embraced by mainstream audiences, diverse musicians such as Paul McCartney, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa and Bjork cited Stockhausen as an influence, and he’s often mentioned in the same breath as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Morton Feldman as one of the most important experimental composers in the latter half of the 20th Century.
[Ed.'s note: You can find Logan's tribute to Karlheinz Stockhausen here. -p.]
We IndieRocketeers loves us some Dan Bejar. Under his Destroyer moniker, he released one of my favorite albums of 2006, so I was pretty excited when Merge released a promo mp3 of a track off Trouble In Dreams, the upcoming eighth Destroyer album (due out March 18th), I knew I had to share it with you beautiful people.
Destroyer Foam Hands
Let's just consider this reason No. 174 why your indierocketeers would want to live in Chicago. [via Pitchfork]
Have we mentioned that we're really excited about this movie? Walk Hard hits theaters December 21; the soundtrack is in stores now.
The South is notorious for its regionalism. Take barbecue, for instance. In South Carolina alone there are three distinct types of barbecue, each holding preference in a different region of the state. Throw in other Southern states, and you’ll find even more types— including that delicious Texas brisket. This regionalism applies to soul music as well as soul food, and Friday, Columbians can get the first taste of a new funk compilation highlighting R&B, soul and lots of funk acts local to the Carolinas from the late ‘60s to mid-‘70s. Out on London-based label Jazzman Records, which has put out other compilations featuring Texas and Florida funk, Carolina Funk: Funk 45s from the Atlantic Coast was put together by Chapel Hill native Jason Perlmutter, a long-time record collector and disk jockey.
The 22 tracks presented here are an assidiuous look at a bygone piece of local music history. According to local DJ Matt Bradley (perhaps better known as SinDoolah), 'Most of this stuff is super-obscure. I don’t think anybody knows about it but Jason.' Indeed, Perlmutter himself had to track down most of the producers or musicians himself to get the details and stories behind the recordings, which are all discussed at length in his meticulous and fascinating liner notes. 'The music isn’t out there,' Perlmutter admits. 'The history isn’t out there. It suggests a need for someone to write a book.'
The songs are just as varied and enthralling as the stories behind them. Rising out of the gospel music tradition and the socioeconomic plight of being African-American in the South during such a tumultuous time of racism and impoverishment, funk artists in the Carolinas definitely had plenty of blood, sweat and tears to put into these songs. With James Brown just down the road in Augusta, these artists also had the inspiration and drive to make some amazing music. There is an enduring nature to it that Bradley explains well: 'It’s desperate music. It comes from hard times, poverty.'
The compilation includes artists such as Asheville’s Innersouls, Florence’s Soul Impossibles, Columbia’s own Paul Burton and Winston-Salem’s Donnie Brown. While all the tracks are incredible, there are a few that stand out above the pack. Burton’s 'So Very Hard to Make It (Without You)' is one of the more soulful tracks on the album and one of the best baby-come-back-to-me songs I’ve ever heard, on par with some of Sam Cooke's stuff.
Female vocalist Sundia’s 'Stand Up and Be a Man' is a raspy funk groove that nears perfection. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, indeed. Frankie and the Damons drive a heavy funk frenzy while extolling the problems behind a 'Bad Woman.' If you’re not a funk fan, this comp has the power to convert you.
Projects like this are the type of thing that collectors, historians and music lovers everywhere hold in high regard, and Carolina Funk is no exception. It’s a collection worthy of the Numero Group Eccentric Soul series that bloggers and funk aficionados have been praising for years, and the fact that it all happened right here in our own backyard gives it even more gravitas. 'There’s people on this thing walking around town,' Bradley says. 'Maybe old dudes who are on here will come forward now.' Perlmutter certainly hopes so. 'I’d like to reach out to people who might have made records like these that I don’t know,' he says.
SinDoolah kicks off the night with some salacious soul and freaky funk, then Perlmutter himself will get on the ones and twos, playing more grooves including some of the tracks from the compilation. As Perlmutter forewarns, 'Tell people to bring their dancing shoes.' And don’t forget to bring $10 with you so you can get yourself a copy of the compilation. Believe me, 45 cents a song is well worth it for this eye-opening look at an important part of our local music history.
The spinning begins at 10 p.m. Admission is free; copies of the compilation will be available for $10. Call 931-8852 for more information.
Paul Burton - So Very Hard to Make It (Without You)
Go to Jason Perlmutter's myspace to hear more tracks, and head to GorillaVsBear to pick up Frankie and The Damons doing 'Bad Woman.'
Stay In! is indierocket!'s occasional guide to what's going on in the blog world.
We've already talked a little bit about how excited we are about upcoming music biopic spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but last night, I caught star and IndieRocket favorite John C. Reilly and director Jake Kasdan on Fresh Air on NPR. The interview is a lot of fun, but what really caught my attention was the discussion of how the music was written. Apparently, one of my old favorites Dan Bern wrote lots of the songs, including one called '(Have You Heard The News) Dewey Cox Died' where the titular character sings about how sad everyone will be on the day he dies. It's hilarious stuff. They play a bit of 'Royal Jelly,' a brilliant Bern-penned Bob Dylan send-up. And who better to spoof Dylan than Bern? Also, who knew that you could say 'rim job' on NPR?
The soundtrack is out today, and there's a deluxe edition exclusively out through iTunes that includes an extra disc with lots more Dan Bern songs. So check out the interview here and snatch the soundtrack. But you don't have to take my word for it! Here's a bit from Bern's myspace:
i spent well over a year writing songs for this movie, and wrote more songs than i can count, many of them with mike viola. an amazingly cool project. i am in dewey-withdrawal. the movie will have several songs i wrote or co-wrote, and there will be a double-album of dewey cox songs available on itunes, which will have a bunch more that i wrote or co-wrote. so, see these movies! get the soundtracks!
Stay In! is indierocket!'s occasional guide to what's going on in the blog world.
Ex Sleater-Kinney guitarist and all-around badass Carrie Brownstein dissects Rock Band on Slate, humorously comparing it to a real-life band experience. God bless whip-smart women who write about rock. Swoon!
So it looks like Battles have decided to give their fans an early Christmas present. Kinda like when you give your girlfriend that gift-wrapped lingerie a few weeks before Christmas because she's tipsy and, therefore, more likely to wear it and not realize that your 'gift' is just a present for yourself. Anyways, Battles. Sorry, I got distracted thinking about your girlfriend. Battles posted a little thanks-for-being-awesome-fans note on their myspace blog and included the lyrics to 'Rainbow,' 'Bad Trails,' and the impossible-to-decipher 'Ddiamondd.' They also decided to poke a little fun at the recent Prince debacle (Prince is kind of a dick? Shock!) with the picture posted above. Those guys... Anyway, check out 'Ddiamondd' and follow along with the lyrics. Use your mouse as a bouncy ball on speed if you want. You can find the other lyrics at their myspace page.
THE DIAMOND THAT WAS STOLEN HELD THE CODE THAT MELTED
WATER INTO LETTERS SPELLING WHERE IT HAD BEEN TAKEN TO
IN FACT I HAD A VISION OF THE NUMBERS CORRESPONDING WITH
THE LETTERS T-H-E-D-I-A-M-O-N-D
THEY'RE SUSPENDED LIKE A PRISM SPLITTING FLOODLIGHT TO
POLES OF PRIMARY COLORS CLAWING THE VEIL OF THE VACUUM
THERE'S A PICTURE OF THIS GIVEN TO AUTHORITIES, THE
SENTENCE "I'M AN ARCHITECT AND HERE'S MY PRISON" WRITTEN
WITH SCHEMATICS SO METICULOUS THE MEASUREMENTS OF
SUPERIMPOSITIONS OF A ROOM WITHIN THE WINDOW MAKE A
DREAM THAT ENDS UP BEING SUCH AN ENTITY IN YOUR
REFLECTION, YOU ARE THE DREAM TO IT, YOU ARE IN THE PRISM
THE MIRRORS IN THE CORNER THROWING IMAGES AGAINST THE
OTHER MIRRORS MADE COUNTING CORNERS IMPOSSIBLE THE
BREAKING NEWS HAD COUNTED ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE,
SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT, NINE, TEN, ELEVEN CORNERS OF THE
WHY HAVE YOU DONE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE SOMETHING IS SO
SINISTER WHEN STARRING AT THE DIAMOND SOMETHING YOU
HAVE DONE SO SINISTER WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS AM I IN THE
MIRROR AM I WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN STARRING AT AM I A
JUST LIKE A REFLECTION OF A FRIEND OF MINE, I AM A
REFLECTION OF AN ENEMY, AM I A REFLECTION OF AN ENEMY,
JUST LIKE A REFECTION OF A FRIEND OF MINE?
In other news, oh SNAP!
This weekend marks the release of two new EPs by two of Columbia’s finest bands. First up, dirty rockers The Unawares will be releasing Tooth Dip Friday night at Hunter-Gatherer. Recorded live to analog tape in three days at producer Chris Wenner’s home, Tooth Dip succeeds in catching the blistering live presence of the band. According to Wenner, “It’s about trying to capture the performance and making the band comfortable.” Shunning digital tricks, Wenner believes in the simplicity of his technique. “The tape adds its own saturation,” Wenner says. “Like sonic glue.” His methods certainly seemed to agree with the band, personally and sonically. “It’s minimalist, but definitely caught our authentic sound,” says drummer Rhett Berger.
And what a sound it is. The six tracks on Tooth Dip are a raucous, careening drive on a dark dirt road with the lights off. Vocalist-slash-guitarist John Watkins’s off-kilter lyrics match perfectly with his crooning vocal warble. Berger’s drums crash and crunch just as hard as they did when he and Watkins used to play together in high school, and in bassist James Wallace (erstwhile of The South Holes), they’ve found a perfect blend of technical skill and string-bending fervor. The music itself relies heavily on a garage- rock aesthetic with a dollop of Minutemen speed and a Robert Pollard-esque blend of lyrical absurdity and gravity. For a band a little over a year old, The Unawares have certainly found their groove quickly, making this type of recording possible — and preferable. While their first record, Hey Zeus, is equally satisfying, it was recorded before The Unawares even played a live gig together. “We didn’t have the chemistry that we have now,” Berger says. That chemistry is highly apparent on Tooth Dip — like a kid trying to blow up action figures with some fireworks and a chemistry set. The EP will be available at the show Friday and at Papa Jazz and Acme Records after that. But you can check out one track for yourself right here, and make sure to swing over to their myspace page for even more.
The Unawares Extract Lover
Saturday night at The Whig, Columbia can stop waiting for the new release from local phenoms Death Becomes Even The Maiden. Comprised of bassist-slash-vocalist Eric Greenwood (ex-From Safety To Where), guitarist Heyward Sims (ex-Bolt) and drummer Chris Powell (ex-Haunted Bulldozer), Death Becomes Even the Maiden has already garnered a well-deserved reputation as one of the best bands to come out of Columbia’s music scene in years, and this five-track EP, entitled The Arrangement, only gives that distinction more credence. Recorded at the Jam Room with engineer Steve Slavich, The Arrangement is another example of just how important it is for local musicians to have someone they trust behind the boards. According to Sims, “Steve knows how I work, and he and I just work quickly.” The album is technically brilliant: Greenwood’s vocals are especially impressive as he switches from melodic singing to scorching screams, giving his just-plain-fed-up lyrics weight; Sims’ guitarwork is as dexterous as ever, switching between nimble runs, heavy crunches and various squeals and beeps with seemingly effortless ease; then there’s Powell’s drums, tight and thunderous like the controlled explosions of a demolition crew. Like the band’s live shows, the EP is short and to the point — an ethic the band believes in. “Keep people wanting more,” is Greenwood’s credo, and the band certainly has. Speaking of Sims’ ability to constantly bring new material to the table, Greenwood says, “He’s just got so many ideas going; he’s so musical.” The members’ different backgrounds definitely lend to a unique sound. While not a perfect description, the best this poor music journalist can come up with is that Death Becomes Even the Maiden sounds like Nirvana doing Joy Division covers. But of course, all of Columbia will be able to judge for themselves on Saturday at The Whig, when they get to take home the best local recording of the year. Five bucks gets you into the show as well as a copy of the EP. Be sure to get there early. And bring earplugs.
Death Becomes Even The Maiden Control
The Unawares’ Friday night show at the Hunter-Gatherer begins at 11 p.m.; Glass Gnats (featuring Benoit St. Jacques and members of Grey Egg) open. Admission is $3; call 748-0540 for more information. Death Becomes Even the Maiden’s Saturday night show at The Whig begins at 11 p.m.; Black Swan opens. Call 931-8852 for more information.
(Note: This originally appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of Free Times.)
This is the way the blog world works: Someone posts something; someone else likes it, then links to it. Third person likes it, links it, ad infinitum. And so it went with this video about Brian Eno's Music for Airports, which I learned from friends Drawer B (via the Washington Post) celebrated its 29th anniversary this year. One of Drawer B's curators asked the question if anyone had heard Music for Airports in an actual airport.
In a serendipitous coincidence, I just so happened to be going on tour with Brave Horatius in a few days. As I don't have a passport, I'd be unable to cross the Canadian border into Toronto — where the tour began — with Jordan. So I'd meet him in New York City, which would require a flight from Charlotte's Douglas International Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. And while I couldn't rig it to where Eno's ambient masterwork would pipe over the airports' public address systems, I figured that I could do the next best thing: Listen to Music for Airports — completely uninterrupted — while within the confines of the airport. At the conclusion, I'd evaluate the piece — both in the context of Eno's intentions and its translation to the modern air travel experience.
I feel that I should mention at this juncture two things. Number one: I've always had a fascination with air travel, in particular airports. And while the 9/11 attacks have certainly made air travel considerably more difficult in recent years, I enjoy flying when I am able to do it. Number two: Prior to this little experiment, my exposure to Brian Eno's work was, at best, limited. While I was aware of his immense reputation, the only things in his ouevre I'd actually, you know, listened to were a handful of Roxy Music cuts and most of Here Come the Warm Jets, which my friend Matt had purchased for me a few years ago (along with, full disclosure, Rapeman's Two Nuns and a Pack Mule) as a Christmas gift. As for his ambient work, I was a blank slate.
Music for Airports: A Travelogue
"Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." — Brian Eno, liner notes to Music for Airports.
As part of this little social experiment evaluates Eno's original intention for Music for Airports, it's important to glean exactly what those were.
In the above video, Eno talks about what he feels is, in essence, the duplicitous nature of airports — in particular their music. It's too happy, he says, citing that you shouldn't play happy music given that the possibility of plummeting to your death from thirty-thousand feet is very, very real. (Though unlikely: You're actually much more likely to be struck by lightning or die in a car crash, statistics show.) At heart, Music for Airports speaks to an idealized version of emotionless, disconnected and "ignorable" music that Eno speaks of.
From the above video (and the liner notes to Music for Airports), we can assume Eno's design as the following:
• It musn't interfere with human communication.
• It should last a very long time.
• It should be possible to be interrupted without suffering.
• It must be ignorable, but still be interesting.
We'll discuss this a little later, but it's again important to note the crux of Eno's "ambient" definition: It "must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular." If you do, as I did, listen to it intently at times, you will find true moments of real, human emotion in Music for Airports' synthesized facade. But that's not the point, is it? It's Eno's opus, to be sure, but does it work as he intended it to? Is it truly music for airports?
The parameters: Music for Airports must be listened to in its entirety while in transit to and inside Charlotte Douglas and while inside and in transit from JFK. Stipulations for interruption: Public addresses, and public addresses only, as per Eno's intention. Should the album be completed, it is to be listened to again, ad infinitum, until a stopping point is reached. The starting point was arbitrary; the stopping point(s) serendipitous.
Music for Airports: A Travelogue
Charlotte Douglas International Airport
My parents live in Fort Mill, S.C., roughly 10 minutes from Charlotte Douglas, admittedly one of my more favorite airports. The thing about Charlotte Douglas is that it still adheres to the romantic ideal of air travel of Eno's time circa the writing of Music for Airports. Almost everything is immaculate in preparation and presentation — muted, calming colors; lots of brushed steel; intelligent design and architecture. Admittedly, I'm not a nervous traveler, but it's fitting that I'm at ease when I pop in the earbuds on my approach to the airport. I reassure my mother that no, I'm not being rude to her and yes, I will be able to hear any important announcement — so long as Eno accomplishes his goal of doing so, I remark. In turn, my mother reassures me that she thinks I'm kind of a strange bird.
"1/1" is built upon a simple, repeating-yet-not-quite-repeating looped piano figures and fleshed out with warm synthesizer swells. It's early on that I notice: Music for Airports is deceptively warm, breathable music. For all it's machinated tape loops and synthesized trappings, the tones on Music for Airports are remarkably warm and the record has a decidedly open feel to it, which makes the hustle and bustle of the drop-off seem remarkably slowed-down, as if I'm in the slow-motion opening credits to a Wes Anderson movie. (Indeed, as I remark to fellow indierocketeer Tug upon returning from tour, I almost felt as if I were high the entire time.) As I step out of the car and get my bag, a brief, cold wind snaps through the portico, and my eyes scan the horizon. It's a feeling that will return to my mind often.
My least favorite experience — and hey, let's be honest, everyone's least favorite experience — of modern air travel is the hassling, nigh-authoritarian check-in screening process. In that regard, "1/1" is remarkably calming and an interesting contrast to the authoritarian overtones of airport security; its simple loops twinkling and harmonizing in my ears. Then again, with it's dark, low, heavy piano notes, there's a foreboding air about it, and that feeling of the cold snap of the chilly wind comes back again.
I make it through the security checkpoint and into the concourse, itself abuzz with commuter traffic. Whatever usually insipid music the airport plays is blocked out by my earbuds. It's time to test Eno's first key tenant. I walk up to the information kiosk and — without removing headphones — where the ATM machine is. I'll freely admit that she could have been talking louder than usual, but I still heard her loud and clear. I jaunt over to the ATM, pick up some cash and head back to the concourse.
Time does not exist in airports — especially not major international hubs. It caters to the idealized comforts of common travelers — were I to, say, fly overnight, yet want a steak when I land, there's a good chance I can get one, more than likely from the national chain that's set up a twenty-four-hour location inside the concourse.
I'm not surprised then, when I am able to walk into a bar circa nine a.m. and order a White Russian. (Full disclosure: While the bartender's name wasn't Gary, he did, indeed, make a hell of a Caucasian. I told him so, but I don't think he got the reference. "1/2"'s effectiveness at soundscaping missed jokes: High.)
I pull up a barstool close to the awning that separates the bar from the concourse and point myself outward. "1/2" is built on soft vocal samples, looped and swelled at incongruous intervals. (The idea, Eno said, was to have the samples impossible to resync with one another in order to explore how the samples interacted. It's a genius idea, really, and it works — the samples repeat, but it's only discernable if you strain hard enough.) "1/2" passes Eno's biggest functional criterion: Several public addresses were made during my resting period, and although I could have, I refrained from pausing or turning down the music, and I was still able to clearly comprehend the announcement. (I was also able to hear the SportsCenter anchors talk about the Colorado Rockies very clearly.)
My flight was in Concourse C, the easternmost concourse. Charlotte Douglas provides moving sidewalks for such trips; I board one and make my way there. While "1/2" is the shortest piece in Music for Airports, I'm still slightly surprised when it ends abruptly. But I suppose that's the idea, isn't it? The last criterion — It must be ignorable, but still be interesting — is satisfied.
"2/1" is the piece in Music for Airports that comes closest to having a noticeable key signature. (Ed.'s Note: I haven't actually dissected the notes or the chord structure, so it's inherently possible that "2/1" could be in a major key. Regardless, I think the important aspect is that the minor key is somehow implied in the songs's structure — most notably when it ends on a slow, sad single-note run.) The piano chords and melody lines are decidedly minor and the vocal-loop swells play up the somber mood. Again, Eno plays with the traveler's emotional dynamic — it's soft and soothing, but oddly unsettling in its minor key, subtly reinforcing the ever-present (yet rarely thought about) danger of air travel.
Still, it's strangely appropriate for the trip on the moving sidewalk. Though I'm not a nervous traveler, there is that inherent trepidation felt when making your way toward a plane. As the sun continues its nascent rise to its apex, it alights the taxi area in an warm, golden glow that's as eerie as it is heavenly. I scribble in my notes that I wonder if I'd feel the same if "2/1" weren't so dark.
As I step off the moving sidewalk, I hear the beeps of an airport cart, one of the ones airports use to transport handicapped passengers. Its Doppler swell provides an organic and interesting ambient quality — its unexpected and wholly separate from the musical intention of the track, yet fits snugly as if it were intended.
Whatever unsettling feelings — real or otherwise — imparted by "2/1" are washed away by the thirty-five seconds of silence that separates it from "2/2," which begins with a slow droning buzz (a low-frequency note) that gives way to soft, sustained synthesizer notes that individually recorded but sampled into implied arpeggios. If "2/1" is the darket is Music for Airports' four pieces, "2/2" is the lightest — it's stoic and reserved, to be sure, but there's an undeniably triumphant and elegaic quality to "2/2" that's incredibly soothing and uplifting. Its a welcomely reassuring contrast to the doom-and-gloom minor key of "2/1."
I check in at the gate — again without removing my earbuds, which this time gives the ticket taker apparent cause for consternation — and slump down into a seat. The man to my left is a businessman of some sort; he's talking about the price of lumber. The girl on my left is younger, probably a student; she's listening to rap music much louder than I'm listening to Eno. Another beeping cart passes by.
I take a trek to the men's room, pick up a bottle of water in the gift shop and return to the gate to find my seat filled. I plant myself on the window ledge and stare off into the distance. I'm still clearly able to hear the boarding call for my zone — which is apparently how airlines board these days — and I take my seat: Middle of the cabin, next to the window. Even though it's Music for Airports, it's hard to believe that Eno didn't take into account the actual airplane itself, and the last trilling notes of "2/2" mesh well with the constant sigh of the fans, the bings and bongs of the Fasten Seat Belt sign turning on and off and the general clamor of pre-flight preparations. As we taxi, the stewardess taps me on the shoulder, telling me that I must turn my iPod off. As she tells me this, the last arpeggiated notes of "2/2" fade softly yet quickly. I nod, smiling at the pleasant happenstance.
Music for Airports: A Travelogue
John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport
We touch down at JFK earlier than expected. As I fire up Music for Airports for a second full run-through, the pilot informs us that we are, in fact, half-an-hour early — Aside: Such a feat has never happened, ever, in the history of everything — and that the outside temperature is sixty degrees. The first lilting, reverbed notes of "1/1" seem warmer with the delivery of the good news. I glance outside the window — the skies are completely gray and overcast. "1/1" immediately adopts a gloomier tone.
Terminal 7 at JFK is broken and bruised — it's undergoing a major facelift, and, as such, many things are closed and/or roped off. Still, it's a major internationl wing of the airport — many of the travelers are of East Asian descent. They all look exhausted after a long journey. "1/1" is equal parts calming and depressing music for the experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, I also took a dump while listening to "1/1." As far as I can tell, it neither helped nor hindered my movement.
JFK has a number of duty-free airports in Terminal 7. I debate purchasing a bottle of scotch whiskey — you know, just because — but ultimately just wander about the terminal for a few minutes. Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has a song on his Places record called "Airport Sadness"; something about "1/2" makes me think of that phrase here. Perhaps it's "1/2"'s distinctly lonely fell — the soft, swelled vocals loops don't ever sync up again. I could be overwrought and make a half-baked metaphor about the "alone with everyone" air travel experience, but Fight Club did it first and better. I think, rather, that it's a product of the music adapting to the environment. Just a few hours ago, "1/2" was calming and soothing as I was drinking a White Russian in a busy Charlotte airport. Now, alone in a near-abandoned wing of JFK, "1/2" is much colder and much more alien.
My hypothesis of the three most-purchased items in airport shops: Chewing gum, cold medicine, magazines. I buy the first two — again, mostly ignoring "1/2" aside from recognizing its existence — and continue wandering.
Admittedly, my notes for the second listen of "2/1" are lacking. I remember, though, being shooed away from a construction site by two JFK employees — one Hindu, the other East Asian, reinforcing the internationality of the airport — and sitting in a small, open coffeeshop, drinking some Airborne-infused water, eating a Snickers bar while staring out of the window at the overcast and watching the employees on the loading docks scamber about.
I remember being calm, yet distinctly ill at ease, which is, again, partly due to "2/1"'s minor key. This is not aided by the fact that my call to Mr. Blackmon reveals that he is nowhere near the city limits, and won't be for some time. I make my way out of the airport — literally alone in the city.
JFK is connected to Queens by the AirTrain, an extension of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Not knowing, per se, where I'm headed, I arbitrarily choose the train that takes me into Queens; Jamaica Station in particular.
It's on this brief jaunt that I realize Eno's masterstroke in full. A young Korean family stands toward the back of the car. It's obvious they're new arrivals, and each takes the city in differently. The man gazes in wonder at the not-so-distant skyline; the woman nervously rubs her arms and furrows her brow; the baby is amazed at every little thing. Yet "2/2," in all its resplendent glory, is the perfect musical touchstone for all of their sweeping and dichotomous emotions. Music for Airports, at heart, is music of contrast. It encapsulates both dread and wonder with equal aplomb. It's emotional, yet disconnected; warm, yet entirely disinterested. It is, for lack of a better phrase, entirely and utterly human.
And, seemingly as soon as it began, it's over. As I hit Jamaica Station, the last synthesized swell fades; fittingly, all I'm left with is the whine of the AirTrain as it lumbers toward the city.
Music for Airports: A Travelogue
Appendix: New York City Subway System
As I had some time — and money on my MetroCard — to kill, I decide to take the subway from Jamaica Station to Penn Station, on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Though the title of the work is Music for Airports and not Music for Subways, I figure the gist is the same — it's music for a mass transit system that while once romanticized is now claimed by hustle, bustle and the gripping paranoia of 21st Century terrorism. Unremarkably, the results are the same — "1/1" serves equally well as incidental music for a chatty Latino teen as well as an elegaic background for a sleeping transient. "2/2" is no less triumphant when I exit Penn Station as when I boarded my flight back in Charlotte.
Perhaps Music for Mass Transit could have been the more appropriate title — it's equally suited for the epic mundanity of Gotham's subways as it is the romantic grandeur of air travel.
Music for Airports: A Travelogue
What Have We Learned?
This is all Linda Kohanov of allmusic.com has to say about Music for Airports:
"Four subtle, slowly evolving pieces grace Eno's first conscious effort at creating ambient music. The composer was in part striving to create music that approximated the effect of visual art. Like a fine painting, these evolving soundscapes don't require constant involvement on the part of the listener. They can hang in the background and add to the atmosphere of the room, yet the music also rewards close attention with a sonic richness absent in standard types of background or easy-listening music."
Truthfully, little else can be said about Music for Airports, and little criticism can be lobbied against it. If I were to have one complaint, it's that there's often times too much empty space in between movements. But that's splitting hairs — and, in all fairness, such silence is more than likely deliberate — and Music for Airports is what it is: An absolute masterpiece, and a masterpiece the listenability and impression of which is ultimately dependent on context and listener emotion. Music for Airports isn't Ride of the Valkyries or even "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" — it's music designed specifically to be devoid of casually imparting any emotion on the listener. But I disagree with Eno: Music for Airports can be "happy music"; it can also be markedly sad and at times even incredibly foreboding. It functions perfectly as incidental music for a large, bustling crowd; it can also be a poignant touchstone for painfully alone moments. It wasn't intended to be beautiful music — it just so happened that it came out that way.
That said, one must ultimately evaluate Music for Airports based almost solely on the artistic intentions behind it. It doesn't interfere with human communication; it is, indeed, very long, clocking in at exactly forty-eight minutes (which can't be unintentional); it is able to be interrupted without suffering. Most importantly, though, it passes Eno's ultimate definition of "ambient" music — it's entirely ignorable, but, for the sonically studious, is richly engrossing, unfolding and developing in interesting — and oftentimes remarkably revolutionary — ways. Its greatest strength, ultimately, is its flexibility, as what can sound at one point as the darkest point of the record can at another point sound like the lightest. It's incredible, really, that Eno was able to create music that's one-hundred percent incidental and one-hundred percent contextual.
From Roxy Music to Here Come the Warm Jets to his production credits, Brian Eno's done a lot of things right. But with Music for Airports, it's possible that he's created something nearly perfect. It might not soothe the most cantankerous of travelers, but I think the world would be a lot better — if not a lot calmer — place if Music for Airports was airing where it was intended to.