Monday, June 30, 2008

Memory Span Makes a Memory Spin

I've got an article up at PopMatters on forgotten postpunkers The Lines, who were akin to a combination of A Certain Ratio and Soft Boys. Memory Span is a collection of their singles, but the band also has two fantastic LPs worth downloading (they're long out of print), which includes some fascinating things (and a few misses) like potentially the only fully backwards-masked track that even sounds remotely good and one track on Ultramarine so oddball spacey-feedback-oriented that it almost seems to anticipate A.R. Kane (or at the very least the rest of the 4AD roster).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

RIP George Carlin

Aka The Mad Misanthrope. As a young angry disgruntled atheist, Carlin was ironically like a God to me in high school. I came into contact with him via his Back In Town album, which saw him at perhaps his most angry and most curmudgeonly. After a huge obsession for that lasted several years and a few attempts at yearbook quotes, his cynicism eventually became too unfeeling and too simplified for me to bare sometimes. This, combined with other grating elements of his personality- his annoying boomer pony tail, his commercial career despite vitriolic assaults on advertising, the material he stole from Bill Hicks, his iconic "don't vote" routine, the fact that he was incredibly rich and charged upwards of $60 for his stand-up tickets- turned me off a bit. Yet reexamining his repertoire, there materializes a sense of general mistrust and disappointment in the society he seemed to care for earlier in his career. His late era career, by far more important in my view, saw Carlin divorcing himself completely from reality as it had come to be known and defined (doomed, in his view). He viewed our world with eyes as alien as Sun Ra's, the culture as a whole as a Debordian spectacle. Rather than try to recast himself as the mythological hero to save our broken planet, a truly American egotism in Carlin's eyes, he chose instead to view humanity's self-destruction as pure entertainment. Admittedly, it was from a very privileged perch that he could sit on and cheer for war, destitution, school shootings, and the general downfall of Western society. But part of the point was that his willingness to accept the fate of humanity was often an ironic gesture to wake up the rest of the world to a holistic picture. To some degree, this meant oversimplifying issues and avoiding current events altogether (Carlin always seemed to aiming for posterity over relevance- an odd take for such an apocalyptic prophet). Though within the terrifying truths he espoused often emerged a grander vision of a world so immensely fucked that you almost needed to step outside of it altogether to find it the least bit funny. Like Chaplin said, "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot". Carlin, whose later life especially was filled with close-up sadness, probably would have responded with "Close-up? Long-shot? Move out of the fucking way, I'm trying to watch that!"

He will be missed.

Here is a track composed in high school using a clip from Carlin's Playing With Your Head album.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Steinski's lessons, Jay Haze's ego, Girl Talk's challenge

A couple new things out there by me:

First up is a new review of the compilation collecting all of Steinski's work, including his now seminal Nothing to Fear disc. All out on Illegal Art.

Illegal Art is also home to Girl Talk who just released their new album Feed The Animals in Radiohead's set-your-price fashion. I have a brief blog piece over at PopMatters on the implications of releasing illicit art on a pay-what-you-will scale. If you're a fan, I'd suggest maybe donating a few bucks to the cause, rather than downloading the album for free because you can. It's important to support these prototypes as an alternative to the back-breaking music industry model. It might set the path for a more autonomous, less corporate-fueled music. Discuss.

Lastly, I have another review up at pm on the dissapointing new Jay Haze triple album. I was hoping it would be some kind of new hybrid of Super_Collider and Roger, but unfortunately it's infinitely obtuse and not in a good way.

I think a few recent artists have proven that R&B and Soul music are finally ready to enter the digital age, but I've yet to find an example of technology being fully integrated into an updated rendition of psychedelic soul, an experimentalism not muddled in overambition nor sacrificing its voice and accessibility. I guess maybe it's a lot to ask to have somebody come along and ask somebody to invent a genre for me. And i guess it's hard to explain. Here's a few things I'm thinking of particularly:

1. Junior Boys/ Herbert- "Around The House"- This music is light, airy and pitch perfect for the specific goals of each work. Why has nobody brought the use of digital reverb and icy synths towards a Curtis Mayfield-style slow groove funk, though? Or made at least some strides to sound more organic. The juxtaposition of the sweet voice and the slickly textured electronic sounds works astutely for both Junior Boys and Herbert, but why not any music incorporating the same premature aging effects Bibio adds to folk, Boards of Canada to ambient, and Ariel Pink to classic rock to electro-psych-soul music. And why not add, as Brian Eno once famously insisted, more Africa in those machines.

2. Freestyle artists/ Grandmaster Flash's "Scorpio"/ Zapp and Roger- There seemed to be a distinct split between the early hip-hop that yearned to be robotic, innovative and new and that which burned to carry the torch of funk further. I don't see why there wasn't ever a combination of both, perhaps even one you could sing pop songs over.

3. Aphex Twin- "Windowlicker"/ Jamie Lidell- "The City": Likewise as the machines should grow more human in works like Jay Haze's, the voice needs to undergo some 21st century reconstructive surgery. Part of reason Lidell's Multiply sounded so enervated and gooey-nostalgic was due to the singer's grandiose production of his voice. Clearly, Lidell was trying to get audiences to respect him as a true blue neo-soul artist, not just another weird Warp act dipping their gadgetry into the blue-eyed pond to tamper with the temperature. Yet, to these ears, his voice, though a fine one, seemed noticably unfucked-with. Compare this to the processed vocals of "Windowlicker", perhaps Richard James's most soulful track. I once heard a rumor (unsubstantiated and more than likely false) that the vocals on the track were neither sung nor sampled but completely emulated. Either way, the unreality of the processed vocs makes for one fine, if slightly daft, foray into the margins of pop (yes, it's a pop song!).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ellen Allien- BoogyBytes Vol.04 (BPitch Control)

O'er yonder at PopMatters, I have a new review posted of Ellen Allien's rarified mix disc BoogyBytes Vol.04. Read all about it and discuss.

Just When You Thought Elections Couldn't Get Much Worse

There's a nice wrap-up from a month or so ago of the racial and gender politics of the election by Betsy Reed in The Nation. . Most interesting to me is the fact that much of Hilary Clinton's most ardent support comes from a sort of anti-media backlash, a retaliation at the predominating sexism that shows no sign of slowing. At this stage, it became a battle rather than a mere historic election. Could this reinvigorate feminism?

For more evidence of this, see this video put together by the Women's Media Center: