Come On, Let's Go.

Gypsy Death and You

Creating yesterday’s post, I wanted to have three songs ready for you. Unfortunately, my over-reliance on YouTube for any sort of visual/audio media I want to show off failed me. I was only able to come up with two tracks, as the third didn’t seem popular enough to so much as a Naruto mashup. Considering Halloween is almost upon us, it didn’t seem right to leave out the following piece of work, I couldn’t get WordPress’ audio player plugin to work at the time. However! After poking around, I resolved the issue and it is working marvelously. So, without further ado: Third Eye Foundation with Corpses as Bedmates.

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The track is long, slow to start. There’s a despairing ambience: whistling winds and inhuman screeches and a crusty beat in an odd signature. The beat, simple and grinding, drives the track along. Three minutes in, things get spooky. Like a horror movie, the fear comes from the suspense: the beat and screeches have died away, leaving only winds and wolf howls. Electronic music fans know what is coming: the drop. It starts with an anxious machine-gun repetition, breaks apart into a signature, and doesn’t relent. This is Corpses as Bedmates: a mad, manic dash through the haunted woods, no idea if you’re chasing or being chased. The beat, as if caught in brambles, begins to stutter toward the end of the track, eventually dropping out entirely. The samples die out except one, possibly modified from the opener: a high-pitched screech resembling all-too-human screaming. The screech plays along with a sample: a violin dirge. The latter is all that is left at the end, the music no longer simply exhausted, but dead and gone.

I have not managed once to play this track for guests without being banned from the stereo system. Their loss, I guess.


Pink, White and Brown

Young Master McGowan is right! New York is about as Liverpool-y as it can get outside -- my hoodie is still wet from the half-mile walk to work. So let’s get on with some noise to drown out a meteorological malaise so intolerable it’d make Travis Bickle say “fuck it” and stay home.

That’s the Jesus and Mary Chain, one of the first groups to mix feedback and pop music. The band didn’t just inspire decades worth of shoegaze and noise rock, though. Five years ago, every other gentleman on North 6th Street looked like one of their understudies. J&MC are also famous for playing a twenty-minute-long set that devolved into a riot.

...and that was Wavves, the kid who went from living in a poolhouse to being reviewed by the LA Times in about eight minutes. He also managed to have a very public meltdown at a concert in Spain. But, hey, thanks to the age of YouTube (Hi! I’m boomer print media journalist!) the line between publicity and entertainment has vanished. I saw him play live this summer. For all the hate he gets for riding the noise-revival wave without having any “actual talent,” all I saw was a kid in a Chicago Bulls cap and a skateboarding cast on his strumming arm, machine-gunning three minute surf-rock tracks. Why even bother to ask for anything more?

(Panel from The Invisibles #1, 1994, Morrison/Yeowell)


There is No Reason

On December 17th, 1977, Elvis Costello and the Attractions filled in for the Sex Pistols on the still-nascent Saturday Night Live. The band wanted to play Radio Radio. SNL requested Less than Zero. The former was a blast at the power grab corporations were performing on the airwaves and within the record industry during the rise of punk rock, dictating, for all intents and purposes, what was going to be music and what wasn’t. The latter was Costello’s response to an unrepentant interview with former Conservative Member of Parliament Oswald Mosley. Outside of being an MP, Mosley happened to moonlight as the leader of the British Union of Fascists, who gained not insignificant power in the 1930. Considering SNL was an American television show, Costello’s response was perfectly reasonable:

Elvis Costello did not appear on SNL again until twelve years later, in 1989. However, the story isn't over just yet. Twenty-two years after the Radio Radio affair, the dawn was breaking over the new millennium. It was 1999 and SNL was celebrating its 25th anniversary, inviting the Beastie Boys, now Serious Musicians, as the musical guest. They opened with Sabotage...

...and now you know the rest of the story.


Mors ontologica

After separating from his fourth wife, Philip K. Dick opened the doors of his newly-empty home to potheads, tweakers, junkies – you name it. He had already been using amphetamine to assist in the writing process (living off pulp novels means shooting out pages like a photocopier,) and now let his addiction run rampant among this crowd.

(Brief aside: this origin story may sound familiar to fans of the Mountain Goats, as John Darnielle's experiences in a similar environment were the foundation for We Shall All Be Healed.)

Eventually kicking the kids out and joining a group-recovery program, the result of this two-year-long nadir was A Scanner Darkly. Plot-wise, it is the story of Bob Arctor, an undercover vice officer whose junkie persona, Fred, splits off, and the troubles this causes for both Bob, and his attempts to narc on himself. The cause for the split is Substance D – a highly addictive and amorphously ingested narcotic, resembling amphetamine. D (for death, D for doom, D for despair, D for desertion) causes the hemispheres of the brain to no longer recognize each other as being part of a single entity.

ASD is not only a tour of the drug culture of ca. the 1970s, but is still pretty damn relevant today. Here we have the cover of the first edition:

This cover encapsulates both the themes and issues within ASD. Arctor's/Fred's split personality is presented in the most cliched way possible, but the simplicity works. Note the contrast between the needle and the old-school sheriff's star. The hand signals, too, are poignant. Fred is momentarily holding back with the junk while Bob is holding back and pointing out his authority. They're both wearing dead-eyed, annoyed expressions; they've interrupted each one another's existence.

However, before noticing any of that, you probably noticed something else: the incredible outdatedness of the photo. It screams 1977, even though the book is supposed to take place in the far-flung future of 1994. It is reminiscent of the second scene in James Cameron's Terminator. Contrasting the first scene's “2029” caption, the latter reads “TODAY.” Then, the caption vanishes and the film proceeds to take place, absolutely unmistakeably, in 1984.

Reading, you'll notice that this cover forebodes the content. ASD, much like Dick's Hugo and Nebula Award-winning The Man in the High Castle, is more speculative fiction, rather than science fiction. Certainly, there's technology we still don't have (MitHC's cross-continent passanger rockets and ASD's cephalochromoscope – a barely-explained entertainment device,) but outside of those details the only changes are slight-and-paranoid modifications to the local government and economy. Written in 1977, ASD's speculative-ness reflects the world of 1977. As the characters are all members of the counterculture, they speak the street argot of the time. If you haven't read the novel, imagine if the hoods in The Wire spoke like the cats in Superfly – anachrotastic! Fortunately, there's just not enough futurity in ASD to make this a fault.

One of my pet peeves regarding the popularity of ASD is the tendency (by whom? A Wikipedia editor might ask) to take the novel (and film) in the same vein as Requiem For a Dream: occasionally tender, but ultimately disasterous. No, no, no. Personally, I break it down like this: 50% Requiem, 25% 1984 and a good ole 25% Cheech and Chong. The scene above is practically vaudeville. Although stemming from tragedy – the Substance D has robbed the characters of their ability to comprehend how a gear train works, the result is a clownish back-and-forth where even the straight man (straight couple, rather) are sucked into the routine.

Speaking of routine, the film omitted my single favorite comic scene from the novel. I'll admit, it is a long conversation which would have slowed down the deliberate pace of the film. However, I was a bummed to see it cut. So, as a favor to the community, I reproduce, in full, Barris' scheme to get “two billion” dollars of hash through customs:

"Barris had his other way to smuggle dope across the border. You know how the customs guys, they ask you to declare what you have? And you can't say dope because--"

"Okay, how?"

"Well, see, you take a huge block of hash and carve it in the shape of a man. Then you hollow out a section and put a wind-up motor like a clockworks in it, and a little cassette tape, and you stand in line with it, and then just before it goes through customs you wind up the key and it walks up to the customs man, who says to it, 'Do you have anything to declare?' and the block of hash says, 'No, I don't,' and keeps on walking. Until it runs down on the other side of the border."

"You could put a solar-type battery in it instead of a spring and it could keep walking for years. Forever."

"What's the use of that? It'd finally reach either the Pacific or the Atlantic. In fact, it'd walk off the edge of the Earth, like--"

"Imagine an Eskimo village, and a six-foot-high block of hash worth about--how much would that be worth?"

"About a billion dollars."

"More. Two billion."

"These Eskimos are chewing hides and carving bone spears, and this block of hash worth two billion dollars comes walking through the snow saying over and over, 'No, I don't.'"

"They'd wonder what it meant by that."

"They'd be puzzled forever. There'd be legends."

"Can you imagine telling your grandkids, 'I saw with my own eyes the six-foot-high block of hash appear out of the blinding fog and walk past, that way, worth two billion do!lars, saying, "No, I don't." 'His grandchildren would have him committed."

"No, see, legends build. After a few centuries they'd be saying, 'In my forefathers' time one day a ninety-foot-high block of extremely good quality Afghanistan hash worth eight trillion dollars came at us dripping fire and screaming, "Die, Eskimo dogs!" and we fought and fought with it, using our spears, and finally killed it.'

"The kids wouldn't believe that either."

"Kids never believe anything any more."



Today is a busy day -- the following is offered with neither explanation nor apology.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


He Could Not Stop For Death

Many of us played some iteration of Super Mario as a kid. Growing up with a utilitarian single mother, I was usually a console or two behind the curve; I got my Atari 2600 when the first commercials for the SNES were airing. I used to go to friends' places to play the NES games before before my eighth birthday, when I received a Nintendo and a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 of my own. Later, my mom's boyfriend's son would occasionally bring by his SNES and I'd get my dose of Super Mario World (along with, be still my quivering thumbs, Street Fighter II.) By the time I got a hand-me-down Sega Genesis, my cousins received a Nintendo 64 as a birthday present, and my visits (they lived in the Baltimore suburbs) became marathon sessions of Super Mario 64. I had the honor of being the first one to catch that godforsaken yellow bunny in the dungeon.

This isn't about me, though. This is about some crazy son-of-a-bitch who made an AI bot that plays Super Mario World by itself. Well, not Super Mario World exactly, but Markus Persson's Infinite Mario. Using Super Mario World sprites, it randomly builds a level to play through. A competition was held using a modified version of this engine. Using the A* search algorithm (link contains math I do not even pretend to understand) Robin Baumgarten created the following piece of work:

Did you see that at 0:45? Yes. Incredible. The functioning is simple: the AI either goes left or right, with an option to increase or decrease speed. Mario can either shoot a fireball or jump. And, yet, from those few instructions, we get a of art. Well, I'm overstating it a bit, but it is beautiful. Especially if you spent your childhood years watching Mario die, having a fit of rage, turning the console off, realizing there's nothing on TV except a rerun Charles in Charge, and deciding to give that godforsaken plumber another go.


Curiouser and Curiouser

I'm going to be seeing Broadcast live tonight, for what may be the fifth or six time. I was introduced to them during the same summer I mentioned in my first post and have loved and listened to them ever since. I don't remember how many college nights I spent, hanging out in the club room after hours, chasing down obscure live sets on Soulseek. Everything about them just hits me the right way: the affected, child-like plaintive seriousness of the vocals, the way the synths sound like they're playing themselves, making it up as they go along, the 60's-retrofuture aesthetic of the band themselves. So here's a quick rundown of their history, along with a few songs. We begin in 1968...

The United States of America cut their only album in 1968. The eponymous release was a mix of synthesized and organic music by frontman Joseph Byrd and Grace Slick-style vocals by Dorothy Moskowitz. Harmonies and melody was broken up by loops and distortion.

The following is the song this blog is named after. The single off Broadcast's first "real" LP, The Noise Made By People (Work and Non-Work, their previous major release was an EP compilation.) Listen to about thirty seconds of it, and you'll realize the connection between this and the previous video.

Brought together by a mutual love of the United States of America, Broadcast upped the electronics and dropped the folk from USA's sound, creating something distinct and contemporary. Drawing on Dororthy's vocals, Trish Keenan knows it is no longer the 1960s. She is sterner than Portishead's Beth Gibbons, but still letting more life escape her lips than Helena or Mira of Ladytron (N.B.: I started listening to the three at roughly the same time and will forever associate them.) The music strikes a balance too: the synths can grate, but they can also soothe, and more likely than not they'll do both (at the same time.)

Their sound didn't take any breaks from evolving. Colour Me In, the opener to Haha Sound, their third, and my personal favorite, album (seen above, played behind Andy Warhol's Poor Little Rich Girl, starring Edie Sedgwick,) brings on the strange. Here is the great divergence in their sound, split evenly between modernized psychedelic pop and alienating lullabies. I can't say I am particularly fond of their fifth album, Tender Buttons, for reasons I cannot explain or articulate outside of “I was too lazy to get into it when it came out.”

We are currently on the cusp of the (official) release of Mother is the Milky Way, their sixth release. The fifth was a collaboration with The Focus Group, which is the recording alias of Julian House. House is also known for being Broadcast's album cover designer and the co-owner of the Ghost Box Music label (which will be getting its own post, soon enough.) Broadcast's first release in three years and entitled Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, the album sounds at once like their less pop-oriented tracks, and mellowed out moreso by the Focus Group's library music-calm. House's influence definitely “ages” their sound, taking it closer to the USA's – in contrast, the instrumentation on Tender Buttons verged on dance-pop.

So, now down to a duo from a quintet, Broadcast are on tour again. In two hours, I will get dressed and head out to the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the first time. Hopefully not just to get a dose of their brand of 60s nostalgia, but to get a dose of my own; of being a college freshman, scribbling off a half-assed history midterm, cutting just enough time to hop on the train and make it to my first Broadcast concert.

(Photo from Broadcast's official Myspace page)


Going to Happen to You Again

Last week’s post on Paul Robertson started as a wholly different animal: I wanted to explore music videos that resemble 8-/16-bit era video games. Consider this post a sort of tangential addendum.

We’ll start off with Syrano’s Ficelle. Syrano’s entire fanbase seems to lay in France; I’m not even sure how to legally obtain one of his albums in the United States (although, I have to admit, I have not looked very hard.) His instrumentation draws upon the during-and-post-Edith-Piaf chanson tradition melding it with simplistic electronica and hip-hop. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the lyrics are, and Google seems to be of no help right now. Fortunately, a few years ago, I asked a French (Canadian) friend of mine what exactly was going on in the song and I was told the plot matches the music video: a girl overcoming an eating disorder. The video’s style is classic platformer – the way each level ends is a direct reference to Super Mario Bros. 3. What really delighted me was a non-traditional addition that isn’t immediately noticeable, but serves to reinforce the content: note the degradation of the character model as she falls deeper and deeper into the disorder. We could have only wished that such attention to character-based atmospheric detail (not related to power-ups) was an industry standard in those days.

The other video I wanted to show off is Xiu Xiu’s Boy Soprano. Xiu Xiu are a …difficult… band to get one’s head around and even more difficult to enjoy. The vocalist does not make an attempt to appeal to General Audiences (whether he attempts to actively repel them is a different story.) The emotion he puts into singing is raw enough to rip your own nerves to match his. I could make (and probably will – STAY TUNED) an entire post on them, but I’ve found the best way to explain the music itself is with a formula:

Step One: Spend most of your life living a life of moderate means in New York City.
Step Two: Move to suburban Los Angele, car-less and broke.
Step Three: Despair at the utter, utter emptiness of all within and without.
Step Four: Walk into your town’s biggest cultural center (the indoor mall) through the parking lot and blast Xiu Xiu on your portable media player. Suddenly, every nails-on-chalkboard cringe you get from the music makes sense.

Sorry, got off track for a second. The video hits the same nerves as the music: pointless violence and Dadaist dialogue abound. The visual style is an interesting merger. There’s a definite deliberate choppiness to it that stems from lazy graphic piggybacking on Mortal Kombat’s successful use of digitized photos instead of drawn sprites. On the other hand, it also resembles the attempts to add reality to the platform genre through realistic scaling and movement that started with Prince of Persia and continued with games like Flashback and Out of this World/Another World. Halfway through, the game turns into a horizontal shooter that shows some definitely love (or at, at least, a good amount of research) for the genre.

(Controller image thanks to reintji)


A Brief Interview with Sue Storm.

Say, Lee/Kirby-era Invisible Girl, what exactly are you doing on this mission?

Well then, how about you, contemporary Invisible Girl Woman? Still keepin' up morale?

Sorry! Forget I even asked!

And now, with a musical interlude, L7:


Heart and Soul

I was raised by a trained fine artist – in the Old Country (well, Leningrad, which was built to resemble a cosmopolitan European city.) My mother learned and then taught painting and drafting at the arts university. I do not remember when she started taking me to museums. Much like reading, which I cannot remember learning (it feels like something I’ve always just been able to do,) there’s no First Museum Day in mind. I’ve been to the Hermitage repeatedly - I may have seen Michaelangelo’s David there, in fact. We moved to America when I was six years old, and by the time I was eight, I’m pretty sure I’d been taken to every major gallery in New York City. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy any of it; I had no patience for museums. I was bored almost immediately by anything without a narrative. I’d devour any book I could find, regardless of content, but standing there staring at enormous naked women or a seemingly random arrangement of multicolored splotches, I was bored out of my wits. In fact, the only intense emotion I can associate with this time is being scared shitless by either this or this Malevich painting. It felt like something out of a nightmare brought to life. Thinking back on it, maybe that was the experience that sowed the seeds for me: the unconscious realization that art could affect me, regardless of how pleasantly (or not.)

A little under twenty years alter, I am now pretending to be an adult. I pay rent and wear a tie and sip bourbon and assume I have developed my own taste in fine art. I go to the Met and the Museum of Art on a regular basis. The 2009 Armory Show (a living artist exhibit named after the original 1913 Armory Show, a coming-out party for modern art in New York) and the 2006 Outsider Art Fair are some are some of my fondest art-based memories. Sadly, for all the episodes of The Joy of Painting and abortive attempts at being art-schooled, my taste is not exactly refined. I go by my gut and my heart, which are more often than not triggered by sex, violence, pop-culture referentiality (or usually some combination thereof.) I can hold down a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about, but I am pretty damn ignorant regarding both history and technique. Paintings, like film and music (two other great passions of mine,) are produced by fairy dust and magic wands. I can observe someone paint or play the guitar or make a movie, but the step between the act and the finished product is a big question mark on the flow chart. By virtue of sloth, I’ve come to appreciate this fact – it’s nice to know there’s a little magic left in the world.

Anyway, let’s get to the meat. I wanted to show off a few artist I’ve found and really, really dig on. I subscribe to a couple of (often NSFW) art blogs (Right Some Good is my favorite.)

Interiores by Fernando Vicente.

Click for high-resolution version.
Fernando Vicente is a Spanish illustrator who created a set of paintings called Vanitas. The paintings feature somewhat stylized women in fashion-magazine poses, with sections cut away revealing textbook-quality anatomy. A friend of mine noted that Interiores (above) may also be referencing/borrowing from John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X. The mix of the scientific detachment of the anatomical sections with the sexual posturing of the models is what attracts me to this series. Unlike the fear of death associated with a zombie (the only figure I can think to associate with these women,) they are presented as healthy, if a bit pale, inside and out. There’s no decay, only the presentation of a healthy, working and, most importantly, sexually attractive body.

EvilLast by Brian M. Viveros.

Click for high-resolution version.
Brian M. Viveros (link mildly NSFW, paintings NSFW,) explains himself as a “Surrealist fetish/mutilation” artist. I hate to go against how an artist describes himself, but that description severely limits what I see in him. His paintings almost exclusively feature elongated women with enormous features and cigarettes between their blood-red (and often bloody) lips. Often there is an aura of violence about them: military gear, bloody noses and boxing gloves all feature in his portraits. He makes it easy to cry “misogyny” and completely write him off. Naturally, the devil (or saint, in this case) is in the details. Take one of my (and by his constant publicization it, his) favorite paintings: EvilLast (above.) Her lip is bloody and her nose may be broken but the blood on her body and helmet is not hers, and there's plenty more of it. One can even assume there's plenty of it on the boxing gloves just out of frame. The power and femininity collide in the face: flawless eye shadow and a lively red rose framing a battered boxing helmet, the blood on her lips mixes with the lipstick. The neck, oversized, is clearly feminine but in no way frail. The look in the eyes isn't exhaustion or fear: it's a challenge. The look of victory on a battered face is one of Viveros' trademarks. From a personal perspective, these are paintings of empowerment. The mix of over-implied femininity and equal give and get of violence is a clear message: standing up in a fight does not enmasculate a woman.

I think that’s enough for today. I had a few more, but these two exemplify my adoration of anesthetized sex and violence. Next time: nostalgia.

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