Having knocked out a pair of papers last night, we join our hero ignoring the pile of work in front of him to dick around in the computer lab. Here is ten minutes of bullets hitting things in very, very slow motion.
It is Finals Week Eve, so for the next little while Come On, Let's Go is switching to low-content mode. Just pretend it's a Tumblr blog or something.
Also, if you live in/around New York City, come out to IBeam this Friday night to see the Vinnie Sperrazza Trio. Vinnie is a personal friend and a fantastic jazz drummer. I'll be soliciting donations at the door.
Now, it is time to show these papers what I'm made of. Or, as Dane McGowan would have it:
The Invisibles, Vol. 1, #23
This post is dedicated to everyone who has ever stated they enjoy “everything except rap and country.” I’ve always been confused by people (mostly rocker-types, you can pick your favorite genre thereof) professing that their musical tastes are defined by the exclusion of two immensely broad genres. I’m aware that I’m gazing far too deeply into a social network meme found mostly in the “Music” section of an individual too lazy to properly complete their profile, but the preponderancy of the phrase really irks me. So, acting as a cultural Sherpa, here is some very good rap and country.
First is the Devil Makes Three, who missed my top 8 countdown by a single spot. Pete Bernhard’s voice is incredible: young and punk-influenced, it is the antithesis of every Toby Keith-soundalike. DMT is more bluegrass/blues than straight-up country, but they pretty much define everything I like about the genre as it exists today.
Now for the rap half, here is Anti-Pop Consortium. Coming out of Brooklyn and signed to Warp Records for their 2002 album Arrythmia, their beats are closer to labelmate Aphex Twin than the standard recycled Soul and R&B tracks. This is the group that got me into hip-hop, and I present them because they’re a fantastic gateway act. I’m not about to start listing the myriad problems (imagined or not) non-fans have with the genre, but they’ll most likely not find them here.
I grew up on Coney Island, sort of. In the two or three summers between being too old for summer camp and too young and lazy to get a job, my mother sent me to live with my grandmother for the summer months. My grandmother lived in projects housing right off the Coney Island boardwalk. Now, this wasn't the sort of projects housing with the potential to give birth to the next big hip-hop artist (that were across the street,) but rather a gated-off, white stone enclave with private parking and a doorman. Built abutting a geriatric rehabilitation center, this building was mostly occupied by senior citizens who, like my grandmother, had recently emigrated from the former Soviet Union. The building was clearly designed with seniors in mind – all the bathrooms, for instance, had emergency “oh god I fell, help!” pull-switches. Google Maps doesn't actually go down the block, so I've tried to highlight the building in the picture below. As you can see, it is right on the boardwalk.
I spent my time time wandering up and down that boardwalk. A 36.6 kb modem can keep a young man occupied for only so long, and I found myself regularly venturing out there with Pretty Hate Machine or Jimi Hendrix' Greatest Hits album blaring out of my walkman and into my ears via those cheap-ass foam covered headphones we all had at thirteen.
One early afternoon, wandering to the Stillwell Avenue train station to get to my programming class – I spent a couple days a week learning C++ and Unix at a front for a diploma mill – I came across a pair of Latina girls wandering on the boardwalk. We didn't speak or even acknowledge our mutual presences, but they had a little radio. The radio was blaring a song I did not, could not acknowledge loving the ever loving hell out of until my freshman year of college...
I love this song. I love everything about it. It even transcends by unnatural love for the genre apparently referred to as “bubblegum dance.” It defines my teenage summers on Coney Island for no other reason than being played at just the right place and moment.
...and apparently Freezepop covered it.
(There's no video, just a black screen.)
Due to the gastro-fatwa my body has declared upon itself as a sort of digestif to the flu, I have been keeping myself from ingesting any caffeine or smoking any cigarettes until I can walk upright without feeling like I've been shivved every three steps. Unfortunately, I am not exactly a “social” coffee drinker or smoker; rather, I depend on the two substances as much as water or sunshine. The last 48 hours or so have taken a toll and left me feeling a little like Dr. Magnus.
As a special treat, I'd like to introduce you to my own little particle wave ray. Madame Chao is a video-art/glitch/noise project which used to air on BCAT (Brooklyn public access) and on the TV in my old clothing shop, Freaks (I found some of their old VHS tapes in the store VCR.) The videos are a melting pot of cult film, wuxia, and Simpsons references, all infused with a delightful ADHD sensibility and a necessity to shock the hell out of the senses. This is pretty much how the inside of my skull feels right now. Unfortunately, the conversion to YouTube has nearly destroyed the rapid-fire element. If you like what you see, you can visit the website and watch the videos in glorious full quality.
Finally, don't watch this at work. Or if you're epileptic. Definitely not if you're epileptic.
(Image from 52 v. 1 #49)
I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's half. Let's get right into the Top 4!
#4 - “Fleurs” - Former Ghosts
Former Ghosts are a supergroup of acquired tastes. Assembled by Freddy Ruppert, the sole member of This Song Is A Mess But So Am I, the group features Nika Roza of (as?) Zola Jesus and Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart. Ruppert and Stewart almost share a voice – in fact, I incorrectly though Ruppert was Stewart on the first few listens . Eventually, I could differentiate the two: Stewart's voice is plainer, more controlled, less ornamented by the affected anguish behind Ruppert's. Roza, too, seems oddly calm when she has lead vox. The music itself is simple synths melodies and drones. Usually one of each make up a track, feeling just as unnatural and restrained as the voices. Fleurs feels like a therapy session for the three, letting them express more mediated, calmer music than they usually do, but at the same time filling it with human emotion they wouldn't allow themselves to express in their own projects.
#3 “Candy Cigarette” - Boy in Static
Apparently, Boy in Static used to be a dream-pop/shoegaze band. I am very glad they gave up the aspiration to be where every third band seems to be trying to get to. There's no question that the album overdoes it a bit on sweetness, but does that have to be such a bad thing, necessarily? Alexander Chen's singing melds a heartbreak crooner and your buddy telling you how his girlfriend just left him. Chen is slightly piteous, but with just enough raconteurship and dramatic swelling to let you know that this is an act, a stage show. This artificiality fits into the music and production - his voice will be crystal clear on one track and sounding as if it is coming through an answering machine on the next. There is heavy sampling on these tracks, they are an electronic pop band, but it comes out in an organic fashion. A listener completely ignorant to electronic music production may be surprised by the fact that the tracks were sampled instead of played by a large and oddly instrumented band. And if all that isn't enough, Liz Enthusiasm, the lead singer of Boston darlings Freezepop, performs guest vocals.
#2 “Hands” - Little Boots
This is what a dance pop album coming out of the end of the new millenium's beginning should be. Victoria Hesketh uses nearly the entirety of 80s, 90s and 00s pop music to create Hands, all the while making sure it doesn't sound anything like it (to anyone paying attention, at least.) My biggest problem with recent dance pop is that it relies far, far too much on hip hop beats on the one side, and Gang of Four on the other, polarized in just that manner. Even Her Imperial Majesty Lady Gaga, who, according to anyone remotely qualified to call themselves a culture journalist, is David Bowie and Jesus Christ rolled into an Matthew Barney-decorated balls fits this pattern. Hesketh, fortunately, never tells us “okay I am going to do electroclash now” or “this is the 'Ace of Bass' track.” Her influences, the dance music that started hatching 30 years ago might be the bricks that built Hands, but the architecture is all hers.
#1 “In and Out of Control” - The Raveonettes
The moment I heard this album, I knew it was going to be my favorite this year. Sure, I may have though that once or twice before (mostly about albums that did not make the Top 8, even,) but with this one I was sure. Everything about the album. The instrumentation is the height of what the Raveonettes set out to do with 2003's Chain Gang of Love: 50s American Bandstand-style rock and roll meets My Bloody Valentine/Jesus and Mary Chain with some good old fashioned unveiled sexuality sprinkled on top. It isn't easy to make slower tracks feel more erotic than soporific, and while their previous album Lust Lust Lust proved that in the latter, this one proves it in the former. One of the greatest aspects of the Raveonettes has always been their refusal to step around sex, and they're out in full force here. One of the album's most intriguing songs “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)” is shocking in its complete plainspokenness. It is not a Tori Amos-style ultra-abstraction coping mechanism song, nor a revenge tale like Sublime's Date Rape. It is a simple and brutal “fuck these guys, sister” - an object lesson of utter and beautiful simplicity, and that's just what the album itself is.
About a week and a half ago, my internet hetero life-partner CJ declared that it was about time to pick our top albums of 2009, considering “unless Neutral Milk Hotel backs Public Enemy on a surprise LP next week, [we] should be set.” After a few minutes, we decided on a Top 8. Tonight, we present our individual choices for the Bottom 4. The following are mine:
#8: “Summer of Hate” by Crocodiles
Do you know how much I like this album? I like this album so much I had to go back and listen to a few tracks from it because I couldn't for the life of me remember what they sounded like, outside of the fact that if you Google “Summer of Hate” and “Summer of Hate” + “Jesus and Mary Chain” you'll end up with roughly the same amount of blogs written by people with roughly the same north Brooklyn hair and ZIP code. The album is good, referential, noisy, throwaway pop. I don't care that I can't remember what most of it sounds like, what I care is that I remember how I felt listening to it: cool, and in touch with the feel of a certain sort of transgressive pop music, the novelty of which is long-lost for my generation.
#7: “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Field Mice are a band almost twenty years gone from us, but they're still clearly loved. At least by the Pains. Their sound is definitely dirtier than you'd expect twee-pop to be, but there's a certain crafted, dainty sincerity about it; the absolute inverse of the sort of nostalgia gleefully banged out by Wavves, for instance. This album is a taffeta ribbon made of television static. It is a rare band that, in 2009, can film a video on Super 8 and have the feel match the song so precisely you have no idea (outside of the clothing and a brief glimpse at a Sidekick) when, exactly, after the dissolution of the Velvet Underground, this album was released.
#6: “Flight Paths” by Pocketbooks
To contrast the previous, this is an album of crystal-clarity. Every track is produced in the musical equivalent of deep focus – perfect for the concrete nature of the lyrics, and the facileness of the singers. The songs do something it seems pop music has become afraid to: tell stories. There are beginnings, middles and ends, interspersed with dialogue and letters. “Flight Paths,” is, at its best, sprightly and safe. The only welcome and genuinely retreat into suburbia I have ever had. Much like an electroclash fan listening to a Boards of Canada album for the first time and wondering when the beat will drop (I'm looking at you, 19-year-old me,) listening to Pocketbooks, jaded ears will want for the prick of the knife behind the sweetness that hovers evenly through songs about death and heartbreak. Fortunately, the wound never comes, and “Flight Paths” remains 11 tracks of magical retreat.
#5 “Passages” by Maserati
I wrote about Maserati earlier this month, mostly in the context of the untimely death of their drummer, Jerry Fuchs. Speaking of the album (although it is more a collection of releases found previously on splits, and a few remixes) as a whole, I have to say it is the first post-rock to genuinely overwhelm my senses since Godspeed You! Black Emperor's seminal “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” Certainly, the actual feel of the album is entirely different: this is no grave dirge to mankind; if anything it is a call-to-arms. GY!BE makes you feel as if you're slowly climbing a mountain, Maserati, appropriately enough, feel like a Formula One race. You get in the car, you wait for that slow tick of the lights, and right the hell off you go. The technical aspect of the guitar and pedal work is sensational – until I saw them live, I had no idea they didn't use any synths. Every noise you hear is either a processed guitar or drum. "Passages" is raw drive, taking the motorik beat from a reference to the 70s to a expression of the contemporary.
Now that you have read my picks, go on and read CJ's.