Thursday, May 29, 2008

Estelle- Shine

Over at PopMatters, I've got a review of Estelle's Shine. Unfortunately, it's not laced with 12 "American Boy" singles as I anticipated, but it's still pretty damn good in an age of really shitty R&B.

A point the article didn't get to, but bears mentioning: "More Than Friends" is a smooth lament that a lifelong buddy has not taken their relationship to the next level. Specifically, Estelle asks "Why must we pretend?/ Why can't we be more than friends?" My guess? Perhaps, it's because later on in the song she tells him he's a "bitch" who "sound like shit like you're taking a piss". After such endearing words, who wouldn't want to take things further?

Unrelated, I have long since stopped my old blog and am rather embarrassed by much of the shit that still lingers on it. I had planned on taking it down for good, so I made my final post. I shit you not when I say this is completely unplanned: According to the blogger counter, the final post on the site is post #555. Freaking weird.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barry Adamson- Back to the Cat

I've got a review of the new psychosexual canvas by the former Magazine bassist/ Bad Seed Barry Adamson posted over at PopMatters.

Check it out.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Although it's about two months old and has probably mad the round, there's an article over at Hitsville that outlines why rock criticism is a laughable, ignoble trade. It's circular logic, sure, but a fun illustration of Rolling Stone's ass-kissing initiative.

Read: "If you can't say something nice..."

P.S. I picked up the link from the Marginal Utility blog at PopMatters, a savory survey of markets definitely worth scoping out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Al Jourgenson Calls it Quits

I've got a new review of Ministry and Co-Conpsirator's Cover Up over at PopMatters. This is the final album in the Ministy canon and they've chosen to take down classic rock with them.

In Last Rites of Ministry, with whom I share a long history, here are the 8 best Ministry-related covers that didn't make it to onto Cover Up.

1. The Revolting Cocks- Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? (Rod Stewart)

It's hard to tell which cock is more revolting, the one who originally sang it or Chris Connelly, who here truly embodies sleaze to the fullest extent that law allows. Covers are odd beasts that rarely improve on the original. In this case, the original wasn't even any good, so it's perhaps more of a marvel that the Ministry/ Revco crew amped and fuzzed it up and transformed it into a stupendous late night orgy. The chug-a-lug guitars go directly against he grain of the glitzy funk wah and the result is a pre-intoxicated jaunt into the seediest of the subterreneans.

2. Lard- They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Haa! (Napoleon XIV)

Known in some circles as the ultimate novelty song, Napoleon XIV's loopy and dated POV shot of mental illness at the time seemed a bit too Dr. Demento for Biafra and the Ministry boys, particularly on a song laden with songs about drug raids and anarchists who got off on blowing up trains. In suite with the alarmingly fierce set of temporal dictums that make up the 15 minute "I Am Your Clock", this song provides a deliriously exhaustive and hallucinogenic parade through a Magic Kingdom as imagined by Bosch. Like a version "Everybody Has a Laughing Face" that refuses to end.

3. Ministry- The Light Pours Out of Me (Magazine)

Perhaps the only good salvagable scrap off of Animositisomina. Ministry play it straight, which is exactly how the song sounds best.

4. Nine Inch Nails- Get Down Make Love (Queen)

Jourgenson rarely produced anything of significant merit outside of his own worth, save for this collaboration. At the time, this must have been like the merging of two gods. A match made in synth-filth heaven.

5. Ministry- Friend of the Devil (live) (The Grateful Dead)

Another surprisingly straight cover that departs from anything the band has ever done. A high quality rendition recorded for Neil Young's Bridge benefit.

6. The Revolting Cocks- Let's Get Physical (Olivia Newton-John)

A throbbing industrial rendition that serves as the pre-cursor for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" and just about any ironic industrial cover for that matter.

7. Ministry- Smothered Hope (Skinny Puppy)

Appearing as a B-Side of the Burning Inside single, this one ups the ante from the original. Not that that was too hard to do.

8. The Revolting Cocks- Public Image (Public Image Limited)

Sadly never recorded in any official form, you can find this track on several bootlegs. Or, better still, for free through any of your friendly local file sharing services.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lynching the Lynch Mob

I'm a little baffled by Sean Murphy's article on what he refers to as the David Lynch Dilemma. Is the dilemma really one about David Lynch or is it about idolatry and hero worship? Lynch seems to be as good a catalyst as any for discussion on blind approval, rightfully cited as an administrative tool of realpolitik. But Murphy also seems to take cause with Lynch's entire career, criticizing the way in which Lynch's films, in his view, pretends to seek, using pre-established accolades as an excuse to essentially wank off against a film canvas. The advocates most certainly exist, but beyond my disagreement with his assessment (or his inability to assess) I find certain faults in survey of Lynch's cult, which seems to simplify a broad a diverse range of people.

To my recollection, Lost Highway was not reviewed very favorably upon its release. Dune, which was before my time, wasn't either.. And Blue Velvet, though now regarded somewhat unanimously as an American film classic (which I, like the author, would dispute), had its fair share of naysers.

Much of this argument seems to imply that the discourse regarding Lynch starts and ends with "If you don't like it, you don't get it", which couldn't be further from the truth. There are scores of books written about Lynch's movies, websites and listservs dedicated to pondering even the most minute of his many splendored arcana, Twin Peaks conventions, and countless college term papers (including a few written about him by yours truly). While no one has ever come close to cornering an absolutist interpretation of Lynch's murkier work, there have been plenty of interesting ones posited. Check out The Modern Word's take on Mulholland Drive, for instance. Speaking unscientifically, Lynch may be the most discussed American director living today.

Fanboys will be fanboys and it's hard to relegate God to the deist, but of those I know and have discussed Lynch with, none would claim his every work to be a masterpiece. I find him endlessly fascinating, each of his films worth repeat viewings. I can only claim two to be priceless endeavors (Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead) and only one other that qualifies as a great film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, though it was very difficult to divorce that film from the tonally antithetical series, which may surpass all of Lynch's other work combined).

Film, along with perhaps music as its only brethren, holds a perplexing identity in Western culture. It is essentially an artistic and creative medium, but its entire output is coordinated by market forces. As such, film audiences are trained to consume media, not to think about and analyze the social, political, and economic ways in which it shapes them. It's unsurprising then that moviegoers of various stripes are unable to describe why they like something they've seen. My parents, for instance, think that examining a motion picture beyond its surface narrative "ruins" the flick. They've involved for entertainment, escape, and hence surrender.

Why the draw towards Lynch then for viewers of similar mute consent, albeit of sensibilities decidedly divergent from the popcorn viewer? Lynch offers the abstract within a digestible form. His experiments take place within the context of narrative films, often with potable themes, photogenic tableaux, hypnotizing sound sculptures, and recognizable film archetypes- be they extolled, admonished, or perverted (the small-town boy, the femme fatale, the cocky director, amnesia, a "woman in trouble").

It's ironic to me that viewers are often left unable to vouch for their love of Lynch's films since much of his work seems to be concerned with the inability of language to articulate our desires (hence the "empty" dialogue), or to save ourselves from danger. They are, after all, enslaved to their script. It is a "recording. It is all an illusion".

Film, as a visual and audial form of communication, has the verisimilitude of being the ultimate artform, and hence the ultimate artistic language, in that it assimilates all other art forms. Lynch's work shows the faults in this assumption by presenting sideshifting events, editing out large portions of important information, and leaving in huge gaps of unnerving speechlessness that confront the relationship between the author and the user. By focusing so heavily on non-plot-advancing devices, Lynch dictates that no narrator/director is reliable and that the altered state of film viewing is a tempered form of thought control.

Lynch's films mandate participation by making his viewers force meanings out of them. We interact with the characters all the more, because we too are put under great duress, cognitively of course, in being isolated in an alien world that defies a conventional categorical apparatus (shot from Chaplin's oft-quoted long-shot, all Lynch films could be Monty Python sketches). Those who reject the actions in a Lynch film as unperceivable weirdness for weirdness's sake refuse to accept disparate actions as narrative. It may as well be splatterart in this instance. Downright rejection of the existing plotlines and story arches, disparate though they may be, is also a refusal to draw corollaries based on the prerequisite of assumption as acceptable determinism. Being in a film universe is not enough. One must know this world, crack it, and thereby segregate it from one's own. Most films outside of the avant-garde usually leave a few stones unturned, but overall transpose an acceptable certainty of gaze to the minds of their audiences. Certainty not only that something has happened, but that it has happened for a specific purpose. Barring specific explanations, it has at least happened for the purpose of reaching the film's conclusion and to suspend our tension until the next time we enter the darkened multiplex.

Lynch's films are not so simple. His work informs us that sometimes reality only leaves us with crumbs. Our fate bears no specific seal, our lives leave no imprintable purpose. Weird shit happens and we'll never understand why. This is why Lynch's work is so commonly focused on the work of the unconscious mind, the dream state. About a third of our lives are spent asleep. Of those years spent unexamined, the most significant times is when we are watching our own personalized abstract films in dreams. If modern psychology is, as I believe it to be, one of the greatest breakthroughs of the 20th century (albeit probably still in its nascent stage and already being domineered by the corporate drug state), then we should agree that what goes on in dreams can teach us a great deal about our lives, even as their direct "meaning" is obscured.

People often criticize Lynch for proposing that even he has no idea what his films mean. Sometimes, he doesn't. He has often admitted this in interviews. As Salvador Dali once said, "The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning". Sometimes it's enough to recognize a visible cue, like an ear in a field or a melting clock, that will set the mind aflame in contemplation. Despite, or even absent a filmmaker's intentions, a film can have as many interpretations as there are vantage points, director's commentaries be damned. Call it Rorschach cinema (Maddin, Brahkage, Anger, Jordowsky, Deren, etc.).

Every year, millions of people hoard themselves to the cinemas to watch thousands of people die and hundreds of good looking people fuck each other, often within moments of each other. They walk out of the theaters smiling, never question what this could possibly do to their psyche. The sex in Lynch can be redemptive or manipulative (Twin Peaks), collaborative (Mulholland Drive) or alienating (the implied impregnation of Eraserhead), uniting (Wild At Heart) or devastating (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). The violence, however, is always putrid, regressive, and earth-shattering.

Lynch asks us to not surrender to cinema, to become its passive victim, but to become lucid in our viewing habits. The great art of the 20th and 21st century must always dangle in front of us the possibility that what we have experienced is not really art at all. We must be left with the perception that perhaps what we've been experiencing all along in every passing phenomenological art piece- cynical or optimistic, abstruse or obvious, is life itself. We live life while art gets to experience us. By its borders and its determinism, art is free to fool us into thinking it is still unpredictable years after it has already been created. If we feel used, it is because we have been. Our life is merely the catalyst for that old parasitic art. It has allowed us, to paraphrase Greil Marcus, to view heaven as hell and vice versa. Lynch, rather than showing the puppet strings, intoxicates you, spins you around in circles, drops you in the middle of the desert, and forces you to examine how you got there.

See also:
Salon's "Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About Mulholland Drive"

Also Recommended:

Both seasons of Twin Peaks. There's no better guide to demystifying David Lynch than this series, which essentially guides you through the process as Cooper, Truman, et al. try to solve a metamystery.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stockhausen Returns to Ground Zero to Feast on Corpses, the NYT Reports.

The NYT has a brief story about an upcoming performance near the Ground Zero site of a performance by the ensemble Bang a Can of Stockhausen's "Stimmung". Unsurprisingly, the article focuses on Stockhausen's infamous statement regarding the events, which are best explicated in the transcript of an interview given after the controversy, reprinted in the comments section on that page.

I wrote a response, which is awaiting "approval". In case it doesn't make it, here is my reaction to the piece:

I think there's a crucial question absent from this heated discussion. Why were Stockhausen's comments even mentioned at all? It seems to be central to the article's main talking point: that a dead composer who said something controversial about 9/11 is now having his works performed near the site of the atrocities. Yet by the author's own admission, Bang a Can hadn't received a single comment about including Stockhausen's piece in their lineup. I'm sure that has since changed.

These journalists, they're artists too. The real news story is not about a piece of music by an important composer being performed near a historic site. It's about a news publication who have decided that the merging of these two things is worth your thoughtspace, despite a formerly staggering silence on the part of the public.

In the information age, any one with a pen or a podium is trying their damndest to make art out of the cultural landscape. Every man his own artist indeed. Every mind is culture's sandcastle.

Much has been written, less controversially, about the terrorist's horrendous acts as public relations stunts for their mass movement against Western culture; timing it for maximum impact so it would catch the morning headlines all over the world, targeting symbols of power rather than maximizing destructive effect (one of the flights flew along the Hudson River where it easily could've crashed directly into Indian Point, causing far more catastrophic devastation). Aren't public relations an extension of the performative arts? Look at Bush's press conferences with fake journalists or his town hall meetings with fake townies (like "Our Town", but with an unlimited budget and empty rhetoric rather than empty stage props). The reason they haven't struck again is not because all this money we've tossed at the military industrial complex has made us safer. As far as I can tell, sales of boxcutters are steady. It's because they are watching us closely, reading our news, and studying the ways in which they can effect us most deeply (like the American equivalent of flushing a million Korans down the toilet at once).

Of course, there's plenty of disagreement with the arguments of calculated mass spectacle as political art statement. Notably, Baudrillard, who spent his life uncovering the diverging layers of simulacrum seperating ourselves from reality, called the September 11th attacks the "absolute event", less a simulation than the terrifyingly real birth pangs of a globalized society beginning to eat its own tail.

9/11 was the most talked about movie all over the world for months, debatably years. It perfected a formula Hollywood execs would die to get their hands on; a film no one wants to see, but watch repeatedly anyway. In fact, their very fear of a sequel causes them to line up at the multiplexes for whatever irrelevant retaliatory piffle the studios roll out (see the Iraq War).

And the journalists, ah, what beautiful art they made when they were called to help write that feel-good blockbuster.

It's amazing that seven years on, there's still such a sensitivity to the subject- as if it were a piece of shared cultural heritage (the holocaust, slavery, etc.). Perhaps what Al Queda proved more successfully than anything with their act was that Americans feel like participants in an event after merely watching it on TV, that by simply existing on a rotating earth we somehow effect its axis. We identify virulently with a culture known only second-hand. 9/11 seemed to be about removing the protective armor of television's gaze, its promise of safe distance from the U.S.'s devastating foreign policy. Yet, we still play war like a video game and hold elections like an elimination challenge. Judging by our own ignorance of the how and especially the why of Septemeber 11th even this far down the line, America can relax secure in the knowledge that the terrorists did not succeed in teaching us anything.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cloudland Canyon- Lie in Light, Lights- Lights

In celebration of all things related to illumination, I have 2 new articles posted and ready to read.

The first is Cloudland Canyon's second long player, entitled Lie in Light,a swelling mass of spaceship vibrations and sundry fuzzed-out magma.

The second is by yet another new Language of Stone band, the self-titled debut by Brooklyn's Lights, a band that takes a different approach to the same esoteric material that has become LOS's haute couture.

As a thematic sidebar to Cloudland Canyon's excellent new album, I've provided below a list of my top picks for 2008 so far. I should also point out that I've been a bit disappointed by the music so far this year. Perhaps we've hit a bit of a slow season, but rarely has anything (particularly in the pop vein- verse, chorus, verse, vocal, et. al) really shaken me. I find myself more often than not continually popping in Burial's mindblowing Untrue from late last year, which has yet to get old. I guess it's hard to live up to that. Also, I haven't gotten around to the new M83 yet, so...

The Best of 2008 So Far...

Rod Modell- Incense & Blacklight (plop)
Read my review here

Cloudland Canyon- Lie in Light (kranky)
See above

Belong- Colorloss Record (St. Ives)
A phenomonally exotic EP of "covers". Their source material is so far removed that they're barely recognizable and the songs are so obscure that only the most devout psych fans will have heard of them (FTR-I hadn't). Yet, there's an arcane beauty to the lingering dusk of the album's Gas-like distance. Like the originals, they're only heard fading from memory, as if each successive listen is your last. Cue in some allusion to William Basinski here, sure. But the difference is that Belong's faded photo album is lit by the neon of parking lots, not just twilight. Perhaps the best album so far this year.

Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sonny Murray- New York Eye & Ear Control (ESP-Disk)
Technically a reissue. With the names and record label attached to this one, I hardly feel like I have to explain. Recorded for a soundtrack to an avant-garde film, it's hard to imagine any editor's hand being able to keep up with the mad alchemical science going on here.

The Advisory Circle- Other Channels (ghost box)
Another fantastic new surrealistic pastiche of library music on Ghost Box with sounds ranging from concréte sound experiments to fictional child safety adverts. It works surprisingly well for such a seemingly random conceived obscurant collage.

Ricardo Villalobos- Enfants (sei es drum)
Recommened by the Wire Blog, this is strangely entrancing slice of minimalism, with Go Team style schoolyard chanting and a very simple piano riff. It's amazing how lost you can get inside of it for 17 minutes.

Orion Rigel Dommisse- What I Want From You is Sweet (language of stone)
Didn't even know when I requested this album that she's originally from New Paltz! And used to play shows Simon Thrasher, who has yet to put out that "dream" compilation I submitted a track to over two years ago, threw for her. She's even got a song about him called "Simon Sent For Me" which name checks Forcefieldsforever.
Read my Review Here

Fleet Foxes- Sun Giant EP (sub pop)
Stately and polite, a band the B&S-bashing Steven Wells would surely hate, Fleet Foxes should be applauded for merely fine songwriting and pitch-perfect production. The lead singer sounds more than a bit like Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket, but with a country-folk-pop bent that reaches beyond Neil Young. And four-part harmonies. A lot of people are gonna hate this band...

Willits and Sakamoto- Ocean Fire (12K)
Read my review here

Looking Ahead...

Estelle- "American Boy" (Atlantic)
Her album Shine drops soon and I can not get enough of this single. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean anything (I like Kylie's new singles too, but apparently the rest of the album is crap). And I'm probably one of the only people who doesn't really understand the appeal of Kayne, but he doesn't bother me here. Perfect pop bliss in 4 minutes