Thursday, December 07, 2006

I've been amused this week by a conservabot's comments on The House Next Door about his perceptions on The Wire's political leanings. David Simon himself steps in:

Did someone actually describe me as a "self-confessed" liberal? Self-confessed?

Since when did liberalism become something that requires confession? After the last six disastrous years, I would think that to have your political allegiances on the other end of the spectrum might be cause for some angst, shame and reflection. But even harboring such sentiment, I would not be so insulting as to call anyone a self-confessed conservative.

I won't go into a long political diatribe about the content olf that particular email, its willful ignorance of the profound economic, social and political limitations at work in the West Baltimores of the world, places crippled by decades of deindustrialization, profound social deprivation, political marginalization at the hands of gerrymandering, racialist political parties, a prohibition-induced drug economy that has become the only meaningful economic engine and naturalized unemployment rates at over 50 percent for adult black males -- including those who do buy into the system and make "choices" of a kind that would not not bring the judgment of trickle-down, up-from-the-bootstraps, i-know-the-game-isn't-rigged-because-I-did-so-well-coming-from-the-suburb-I-came-from-motherfuckers down on their already burdened selves. I am sure there are plenty of people who want to debate whether all the characters in The Wire made all of the right personal choices, will find that they did not -- Randy for example should have never taken that five-spot to deliver a message to Lex; damn his fourteen-year-old ass to hell -- and will find a new way to calculate the degree of personal blame without regard to the two vastly different Americas that we have built for generations now. And I'm sure others will excuse all personal foible by citing political, social and economic conditions -- something that The Wire has also resisted doing with its characters. The two sides can have at each other and argue to their hearts' content. I am indifferent to the nature-versus-nurture pissing match. It doesn't matter to people on the ground, anymore. It doesn't matter to a boy in West Baltimore looking to a future that isn't there. It is the stuff of lame ideologues, each trying to shape facts to fit story. Have at it.

But the next time anyone suggests that I have "confessed" to my political beliefs, they have an invitation to kiss my ass. I am on some issues conservative, on others middling, and on many matters way left of liberal. In Europe, I might be called a social democrat, maybe a green, or, depending on the country, a labourite.

In these United States, I am someone who has spent enough careful time in the other, marginalized America to be wholly contemptuous of anyone who equates raw, unencumbered capitalism -- absent any other social or political framework -- as even a poor excuse for how to run a country and take care of its people.

Self-confessed. Like I'm guilty of anything other than speaking my mind. Fuck you, asshole.

David Simon
Baltimore, Md.

It's amazing to me how easy it is to be an expert. With that in mind, I offer my expert summation on the Richard Thompson box set:

Scroll down the page a bit.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman died last night.

He was a hell of a brilliant filmmaker, such an original that his followers can't capture his seemingly effortless ability to combine naturalistic dialogue, improvisation, ensemble casting, and (in his great movies, at least) his profound belief in humanity, for good and for evil.

If you'd like to read what some great, if obscure, writers think about his movies, please go read our Bob Altman issue of The High Hat, published just last week. The editorial at the top should soon be modified to include our sorrow over his passing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

High Hat #7, ready for the public.

This issue, the Potlatch section is an assessment of Robert Altman, good and bad. There's also articles on pop culture artifacts as widely-flung as:

  • In music: Schoenberg, Bonnarude, and death metal
  • In literature & art: comics continuity, drunken novels, Charles Schulz, Prayer, and Pryor
  • In movies: Artificial Intelligence and monkeys; and
  • In TV: Deadwood and The Wire.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I've been sick. I'm at about 35% right now. If I felt better, though, I'd be dancing in the streets.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I think I got this link from Slate: a fascinating article on the iPod shuffle mode.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A meme borrowed from the inestimable David Schwartz at Mumble Herder:

So, here's how it works:

  1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
  2. Put it on shuffle
  3. Press play
  4. For every question, type the song that's playing
  5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
  6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool . . .
  • Opening Credits: "Chatterboxes" - Deerhoof. A jittery song without a rhythm section, basically a pretty melody over percussive guitars. The lyrics are about passing stories through generations, and I like this as a good opening credit song. To wit: "Set sail, seaworthy vessel/Fill your holds with the sound/Of daughters and sons/Wagging their tongues."
  • Waking Up: "Dr. Schwitters Snippet" - Faust. An optimistic, Moog-driven, 49-second snippet from The Faust Tapes ending with a theremin and the beginning of an explosion. Sounds like a hell of a day.
  • First Day At School: "Lisbon" - Six Organs of Admittance. Wow, this is pensive stuff. This track is solo acoustic guitar, in the style of Robbie Basho or John Fahey, all minor-key moody mood music. I guess the first day at school is a sad one. This track calls for a half-speed montage. Now!
  • Falling In Love: "Always" - Tom Verlaine. Kinda rockin' post-Television Verlaine track that sounds like many kinda rockin' post-Television Verlaine tracks. I have no idea what he's singing about, but "think it over" is repeated in the chorus. Killer guitar lead.
  • Fight Song: "I Love You So Much It Hurts" - Ray Charles. Hey, is my iPod off by a song? Maybe I'm just a lover, not a fighter.
  • Breaking Up: "I Summon You" - Spoon. Damn, I take it back. This is a perfect break-up song. Consider: "Where are you tonight?/And how'd we get here?/It's too late to break it off/I need a release/the signal's a cough/but that don't get me off/I summon you to appear, my love/Got the weight of the world/I summon you here, my love."
  • Prom: "Elevate Me Later" - Pavement. Built on a fantastic riff, this is a kiss-off to, well, somebody. I know every word to this song -- in fact, it's nigh unto irresistable to sing along -- but I have no idea what it's about. "Those who sleep with electric guitars/range-rovin' with the cinema stars/well, I wouldn't want to shake their hand/because they're in such a high protein land." Yeah, you tell 'em, Stephen.
  • Life is Good: "Der Vaum" - Faust. OK, more Krautrock from The Faust Tapes. This has a jaunty little melody, with lots of dramatic pauses, but it also has two heavily-reverbed competing vocal lines that appear to mix German and English. All I know is that something is "breaking my head." I guess that's good.
  • Mental Breakdown: "Holy Train Wrecks" - The Weird Weeds. Remember when I went to see Jandek and made a bad joke about one of the drummers being in Jandek's death-cult youth group? That guy was Nick Hennies. This is his band, and they're freakin' great. Another sign of alignment between the current assignment and my iPod, because this song is strange and beautiful enough to cause the fragile to experience hallucinations.
  • Driving: "Needing Someone" - Gene Clark. Alright, a bit of 60s folk-rock for driving. I'm guessing that the movie would just appropriate some of the groovier motorcycle scenes from Easy Rider for this.
  • Flashback: "Dog" - Sly and the Family Stone. Maybe this part of the movie is an extended Walter Mitty segment where I imagine life as a late 60s hippie hepcat. Maybe I could be a hoofer hoping to break into a supergroovy production of Hair. Or did that come later? I have no idea. 'Cause I'm not young, but I was born years after this song came out.
  • Getting Back Together: "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" - Brian Wilson. Ha! OK, then. No, wait! Ha! Cue the fireman's helmets! This is going to turn out well.
  • Wedding: "Yellow" - Okkervil River. Wow, a sad song about people who love each other but break up, anyway. That's harsh, iPod. There's some beautiful moments in this song, I have to say: "Our paths and our futures are hidden in mists that are stretching out over impossible distances/totally obscured/And I really do think that there's probably more good than anger or selfishness, sickness, or sadness would ever completely allow us to have in this life/I think I'm sure/But that doesn't mean it's bad." This seems better for the next category, so maybe I fell asleep through one song.
  • Paying the Dues: "Victory Garden" - The Red Krayola. Oh, I love this song. I was familiar with the Galaxie 500 cover first, but the original is just great. It's a bit more 60s psychedelia instead of the late-80s psychedelia of the G500, but man, this is great stuff. Less than two minutes long, too.
  • The Night Before The War: "The Sweet Sounds of Summer" - The Shangri-Las. Yeah! I'd rather hear teenage symphonies to god before holy hell rains down on me.
  • Final Battle: "We've Been Had" - The Walkmen. I have a Walkmen song on my iPod? Really? I'm stunned.
  • Moment of Triumph: "A Song About Walls" - The Geraldine Fibbers. A rather upbeat song, but the lyrics, all fractured fairy-tales, are most decidedly NOT upbeat. A girl junky (with a "needle in her eye," yikes!) hurls her addiction through the walls. Well, that's ok, I guess, but there's a lot of darkness about boyfriends and sex with dealers and stuff like that. The noise-to-melody ratio is about 1:1, and that's freakin' awesome.
  • Death Scene: "Le Grande Illusion" - Television Personalities. Niiiiiiiiiiice. I'm going out to the sound of a forlorn teen implicitly comparing his secret love to one of Renoir's greatest films. How are you going out?
  • Funeral Song: "NightEndDay" - Pelican. Superbombastic funeral, ja! Jesus, I hope they're setting my death-boat on fire, releasing a flock of endangered birds into the wild, razing and salting the land, and sending my body over Victoria Falls to justify using this music. Even then, it may not be enough. This song's over 10 minutes long, so they should probably intercut some scenes of rampaging marauders setting villagers on fire to keep people into it.
  • End Credits: "Now That I Know" - Devendra Banhart. Well, this song seems to say, "Thanks for watching this downer of a biopic. Hope you don't slit your wrists much on the way home!" Lovely stuff, but sad, sad, sad.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dear Rob Thomas:

I love the hell out of Veronica Mars. It's usually a witty, provocative, complex, and a thoroughly satisfying entertainment, even taking the occasionally misstep into account. However, your use of the Stanford Prison Experiment for this week's episode was poorly conceived and ultimately disrespectful to a lesson that should be more important to Americans now than at any point in the last 230-odd years.

Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of adapting the SPE to a tv show, preferably one dark enough to carry the lesson forward. VM certainly has that darkness, but here, as with your ill-conceived episode from last season that inverted the point of 12 Angry Men by switching the protagonist from a defender to a prosecutor (sheesh), you have undercut the point that I believe you were trying to make. In the wake of Abu Ghraib and the current Administration's cowardly, casual gutting of the Geneva Conventions, people need to remember exactly how easy it is to blur the line between regular joe and heartless torturer or faceless torturee.

True, you had your professor, played by the man who voices Homer Simpson, state this in no uncertain terms. But then you removed the professor from the experiment, whereas in the real SPE, the professor lost himself in his role. You had the only psycho "guard" be a guy who started an ass and then finished one. You had the only prisoner who lost control of himself be weak from the start and weak at the finish (although your casting here was also superb, so make Samm Levine a regular, for the sake of all that's good and holy). You also allowed the prisoners to retain their names and to undertake some fairly minor hardships, given the horrors of the original SPE, let alone the horrific dehumanizing and inhumane methods currently employed in officially sanctioned U.S. torture centers (excuse, I'm throwing up in my mouth a little right now) around the world. What's even more unforgiveable is that you justified allowing your "guards" to torture your "prisoners" by asserting that a bomb would go off in 48 hours. Most - if not all - of the people being held and tortured in the name of this misguided War on Terror (I always marvel at the stupidity of that name) do not have any such knowledge. Even if they did, they are being held and tortured for years, not days, long past when any knowledge they may have once had would have been useful.

Anyway, I think you did not mean to suggest that the darkest corners of humanity are like some college creep being mean to others. I think you meant the inverse: that almost anyone could become the epitome of evil if permitted or encouraged by an institution to do so. But your execution was lazy, sir, and this issue is far too serious to be treated so casually. Please try harder in the future. I have faith in you and in the other creators of this show.

In the meantime, I assume from the show's hilarious references to Battlestar Galactica that you are a fan. Please consider gravity with which that show is treating the subject of torture. Again: don't take lightly that which dehumanizes us all.

Your faithful servant,
etc. etc.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Random iPoddage:

  1. Slayer - "Altar of Sacrifice". I've been on a bit of a metal binge lately. This is from Reign in Blood, which is, in my limited understanding, one of the first metal albums that verged on free jazz.
  2. The Beach Boys - "Here Today". This is the diametric opposite of Slayer. From Pet Sounds, one of the greatest albums, period.
  3. Kleenex/LiLiPut - "Nice". Catchy pop-punk from the women who made Sleater-Kinney possible.
  4. Boris - "Akuma No Uta". See what I mean about a metal binge? This is from the album of the same name with the odd allusion to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter cover. It's a great song, with a good combination of sludge to speed.
  5. Os Mutantes - "Panis Et Circenses". From Swiss punk to Japanese metal to Brazilian psychedelia. We're going all around the world! On a yellow balloon! While the timber wolves gnaw on the freaky lava lamp of your mind!
  6. The Mekons - "32 Weeks". An early single from the Mekons' primitive-art-collective days on the Fast Product compilation. One chord, a lower-class Brit guy hollering a Marxist critique of the British class system, and a backbeat.
  7. Chris Brokaw - "Tournament". A mellow instrumental from Red Cities, this is Brokaw (of Come, Consonant, and another band starting with "C") at his noodliest.
  8. Richard Thompson Band - "Sibella". This is a live version of the song from the mostly unnecessary Semi-Detached Mock Tudor official bootleg. I say "unnecessary" because most of these songs are uncomfortably close to the studio versions, but I say "mostly" because it's Richard Fucking Thompson and the guy's an interesting performer even when half-assing it.
  9. Calexico - "Vinegaroon". Hey, it's another noodly mellow instrumental that sounds like it came from a great movie.
  10. Cardinal - "Dream Figure". Remember when I wrote about Eric Matthews in the last post? No? Well, I did. And this is his original composition for Cardinal. All the other songs were by Richard Davies and arranged by Matthews. On this one, Davies provides some rockin' guitar and odd whispery back-and-forth backing vocals. The song sounds like rockin' Eric Matthews songs sound, with a sing-songy verse followed by long, stretched out notes on the chorus. If you love 'em (like I do), that's alright.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I bought new albums the other day! But I haven't listened to them all yet, at least not enough to have a fully formed opinion.

I got Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, which is either their best album yet or will eventually tie with I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and Painful for the coveted top spot. What's great about it is that it sounds unmistakeably like Yo La Tengo in all their myriad permutations, but it also sounds older and wiser than previous albums, as if they've taken the skronk-folk-pop of the past and synthesized it with their recent jazz inclinations and Love-like whispery-dreampop. It's strong stuff, and after 3-4 listens, I love it wholeheartedly. Here's the album cover.

Eric Matthews - Foundation Sounds.

I love this guy's work. Back in the early 90s, Matthews first played bass in a Sebadoh offshoot called Belt Buckle, which transformed into the chamber-pop band Cardinal for their Toy Bell EP. When the Sebadoh guy, Bob Fay, dropped out of Cardinal, the only two members left were Matthews and a brilliant Aussie named Richard Davies, who had been in the psych-punk band The Moles (both of the Moles albums [Instinct and Untune The Sky, re-released as On the Street] are fucking brilliant and you should stop reading this and go buy them now. Back? OK, let's continue...). Cardinal's sole album (re-released last year with bonus tracks) was just perfect, a mish-mash of psychedelia, arch rock, folk, and simulated chamber-pop strings, like if Syd Barrett, David Bowie, and Nick Drake had all been the same person. Matthews and Davies didn't get along well, though, and that one album was it. Davies put out 3 great solo albums in the late 90s and subsequently (and horrifically) appears to have retired. Matthews put out 2 brilliant solo albums in the late 90s and also vanished for 8 years. Last year, he released the EP Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit, which was sweet and beautiful, although a bit light. It reminded me of Paul Westerburg's Grandpaboy project, on which Westerburg did his best post-Replacements work, but which was also a trifling, disposable thing. Just not a bad one, if you follow me.

So this is his new album, Foundation Sounds. I've only listened to it once or twice, but it lacks some of the spark of his earlier works. There's also at least one track that has a less-than-subtle message proselytizing about his Christianity. Songs of faith work well, I think, when treated as personal statements of subjective truth, like "Amazing Grace" or Richard and Linda Thompson's "A Heart Needs A Home." The same does not hold, though, for songs that treat your beliefs as objective truth, and Matthews definitely steps over the line there. I need to listen to the album more, I think, but it's problematic when the only song that's really stuck out for me is one that I find offputting.

I also bought the Decemberists' The Crane Wife and Mastodon's Blood Mountain, but have given neither of them enough attention to write about yet. I know that Joe Gross mentioned over drinks a couple of weeks back that he's having an issue with the mastering of Blood Mountain, which he thought over-compressed, but I'm not sure that my ear is sophisticated enough to hear overcompression on a metal album. When I think of overcompression, the example that leaps to mind is the Go-Betweens' Oceans Apart, where the clean guitar tones and vocals go fuzzy in every song because of studio-generated volume and depth issues. With a metal band like Mastodon, the fuzz is so prevalent that I just can't distinguish guitar distortion from studio distortion.

Friday, September 29, 2006

It may seem strange to follow yesterday's bleat of anger with anything else, but my outrage has left the realm of the verbal today. Call your fucking elected representatives and remind them that their first duty is to protect this noble experiment of democracy from its enemies. In a world where George W has executive power that George III did not have, I believe that we can safely say that his brand of creeping tyranny is an enemy of democracy.

That said, I want to talk about a song I like.

I downloaded Akron/Family, the s/t album of a freak folk band with some good press, a month or two ago from emusic, and thought the album ok but not even close to the greatness of Animal Collective or Devendra Banhart. Anyway, I was listening to my ipod in bed last night and one of their songs just blew me away. I thought it was the Red House Painters at first, but then it got seriously weird and transcendentally beautiful in a way that Mark Kozelek doesn't have in him. The song, "Italy," which is 8 minutes long, is built on a slow, sweet melody, and starts over minimal electric guitar accompaniment. Then the band comes in all alt-country with a slide guitar, quiet drums, and slightly faster tempo. The band stops and there's a brief moment where it sounds like someone is fiddling with a microphone. Back to the slower-tempo melody with electric guitar, this time with creaky sounds in the background, as if it was recorded in a shack about to be blown down by a storm. Full band back, with a Band-esque choral response to his melody, then full stop. A capella line. Then the melody (one lyric repeated: "When is time going to change?"/full choral response: "I'm ready!") with cymbals crashing, distorted guitar, almost half-speed tempo, all kinds of bizarre noises in the background, including the chimey percussion one would normally associate with Pharoah Sanders, building into moogy analog keyboard noise, a trumpet, waves of distortion, and it all sounds just incredibly profound, as if a creek just turned into a raging flood.

Download it here, if you dare.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The historian George Santayana's great gift to the soundbite-inclined was "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Let's be clear on the concept here: by stripping people of their inalienable rights as human beings and explicitly ignoring world standards on torture, the Bush Administration has set the United States on an unprecedented course of tyranny. This is far more severe than the policies of containment and casual genocide of Native Americans or concentration camps for Japanese-Americans or rape and pillage in the Phillippines, because those were all of limited official sanction. The Republicans (along with a few cowardly, embarrassing Democrats undeserving of the name) have removed the checks and balances that once kept the executive branch from stripping the rights of freedom from anyone at any time for any cause.

Don't expect the US equivalent of secret police or brownshirts at your door today or tomorrow. That'll take another 8 years or so of growing public complacency, because tyranny works slowly, like boiling a frog alive degree by degree. But you need to believe that this trend leads inexorably to government-sanctioned thugs kicking in your door - or the door of someone you know - in the middle of the night. No one in history has used unchecked power wisely. No one.

Someone should send a plaque of congratulations to the tiny, ragtag, stone-age-mentality group of men who made this happen (and I'm not talking about the Presidential Cabinet or the DLC). Although the number of terrorists in the world wouldn't even add up to the number of daily commuters on the Chicago public transit system (and back in 2001, they wouldn't have even added up to the number of commuters in Cleveland), as it turns out, our values are so fragile that it only took a handful of them to shatter the most important of them.

In terms of Orwell's 1984, it's 1978 right now. What are you going to do about it?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Well worth the read: The Wire and the Art of the Credit Sequence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wow. Richard and Linda Thompson playing "A Heart Needs A Home" sometime between 1972 and 1974.

Here's a noisy & dark video from Parks & Wildlife's Sept. 9 show at the Carousel Lounge in Austin. The song is titled "My Only One," and I wrote the basic melody ten or eleven years ago, before I started dating Mrs. Obscurity. I've never been able to write another part for the song that had the immediacy as this basic melody, so this one is basically about dynamics. Using my Boomerang phrase sampler, I record the break by playing the melody forward and backwards at the same time and layering it so often that it builds up to a My Bloody Valentine-like wall of noise. At least that's the idea. Amber plays a beautiful trumpet part on this song, too, pulling some wonderful Miles Davis-over-the-skronk moments out of thin air, and K.C.'s woozy keyboard parts bring the psychedelia home. For me, that is; I wouldn't presume to say what brings psychedelia home for you.

Friday, September 15, 2006

At long last, do we have no decency? Why the fuck haven't we impeached this joker already?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

One more season guaranteed! Fuck yeah!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Saturday's show went well. Follow That Bird were even better in the Carousel's more intimate setting than at Trophy's. The Dialtones are somewhat hard to describe (electro-folk? ambient Childe ballads?), but were wonderful. We had a good time during our set, too.

Last weekend I read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas while traveling, and I highly recommend it. It's a series of matryoshka first-person narratives, leaping (sometimes mid-sentence) from a 19th-century Pacific sea-voyage to a preening young composer caught up in family intrigue in 1930s Belgium to a 1970s Silkwood-style journalist to an aging foppish British publisher in roughly current times to an enslaved clone awakening to consciousness in a horrible corpocracy in the near future (shades of Never Let Me Go) to a tribal Hawaiian at the end of civilization hundreds of years from now, then back again through all the narratives. Somehow it manages to integrate all the stories, despite the widely disparate styles and scopes, and while I was a bit bored and confused at first, the narrative caught me completely before the first temporal shift.

Last night Mrs. Obscurity and I watched the first episode of S4 of The Wire (thanks, Scott!) , and this one's going to be a motherfucker. There was so much to love about the episode. The show got the mix between spending time with familiar characters and introducing new characters just right. My favorite things about the older characters: Carcetti going bugfuck crazy in a hellish situation of his own devising (and I got the biggest laugh of the episode out of his deputy campaign manager explaining why he wasn't going to vote for Carcetti), Herc missing Carver (and it's clever to have him working for Mayor Royce), Carver's interactions with Bodie, McNulty turning Daniels AND Bunk down, Daniels filling Bunny's shoes, the comparison of the Homeland Security briefing at the Western with the teacher training day, how Prez's introduction to his classroom mirrored his first visit to the Major Crimes Unit, that Snoop more or less used the nail gun appropriately, Kima and Lester's complete duping of their new Lt., Syndor's role as the new Prez, and shit, I could go on and on.

Wire-heads don't often enough emphasize how funny the show is. Hey, folks, it's hilarious.

Emlyn Lewis, I'm calling you out in particular: go rent the dvds, now. You can thank me later.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Verbatim from Slate:

Caesarian sections may nearly triple the chance of infant death among low-risk U.S. women, according to a huge study. The death rate is 0.062 percent for vaginal births and 0.177 percent for C-sections.

Speculated reasons: 1) Labor produces hormones that improve babies' lungs. 2) Labor squeezes dangerous fluid from their lungs. 3) C-sections may cause cuts and infections. 4) C-sections delay breastfeeding.

Skeptical reactions: 1) The rest of the world would kill for a neonatal mortality rate under 0.2 percent. 2) The reason C-sections correlate with more deaths is that the riskiest women get C-sections.

Authors' replies: 1) We restricted the study to low-risk women. 2) C-sections correlate with more deaths from multiple causes even after we adjusted the samples for medical factors and socioeconomic status. 3) C-sections are up nearly 50 percent in a decade; maybe we should stop this train. A second, much smaller study suggests that the risk of maternal death is also three times higher in C-sections. (For Human Nature's previous update on births to women over 50, click here.)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Long article on Season 4 of The Wire, which starts Sunday, you feel me?

This show says more about American culture than any number of documentaries, newsmagazine thought-pieces, or op-eds - it's more real than real - and it's crazy entertaining, too. When TV wants to give you this much love, you gotta give some back, y'know. So watch it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hey, this is that place where I post random songs from my iPod! What a world!

Recent viewings:

The Corner - This is the mini-series that made The Wire possible, based on a true story of a family torn apart by drugs. The book was written by David Simon and Ed Burns, the creators of The Wire, and produced by Robert Colesberry (who produced The Wire and played Ray Cole until his untimely death shortly before S3). Many of the actors later turned up in roles both small and large on The Wire. Anyway, the mini-series (6 1-hr episodes) is profoundly affecting, especially when the real people portrayed in the story appear at the end (and, watching the end credits, you realize how many people whose lives are being dramatized in this thing have appeared in little roles). Given The Wire's inherent pessimism, don't be surprised to find that the moments of uplift and grace are few and far between, but that makes them so much sweeter.

I've started the BBC's Bleak House, which has been wonderful so far (although the transitions are extremely odd and jumpy, as if they brought in Renny Harlin to help change scenes), but Netflix, for some reason, refuses to send me the 2nd disc. I conjecture that they have only one, and it's been taken out by someone who keeps discs for 6 months or more.

The first season of the U.S. version of The Office was the slightly-more shallow little sister of the absolutely brilliant British version. Highly recommended. It lacks the solid gut-punch of the original, but that, to me, makes it slightly more easy on the eyes and noggin. Speaking of self-important bozos, I also highly recommend the smart and funny Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story, about the egos involved in filming an unfilmable novel.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I keep meaning to update this, but it's hard to find the time.

Anyway, here's a big-ass interview with David Simon, the creator of The Wire. Link courtesy of Scott Von Doviak.

Itty-bitty iPod Random Rules:

  1. Gene Clark - "Here Tonight" (Roadmaster). Lovely song from the progenitor of alt-country/folk-rock that is also power pop.
  2. Olivia Tremor Control - "Marking Time" (Live in Toronto 11/5/99, from the Elephant 6 site). Unusually quiet version of this song with unusually dissonant harmonies.
  3. Love - "She Comes In Colors" (Da Capo). Rocks the flute so hard that you can hardly believe it. Unfortunate side-effect: Jethro Tull.
  4. The Feelies - "On The Roof" (The Good Earth). I described this album as "Hoboken pastorale" in Lost in the Grooves, and stand by that description, lo these many moons later.
  5. Andrew Bird - "Tables and Chairs" (The Mysterious Production of Eggs). Quirky but somehow deeply affecting.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

For some unspeakable reason, I've never added a link to über-mensch Joe Gross's blog. Until now. You can even see his smiling visage there!

Here's what my iPod has to say about this, in five songs:

  1. Manduka - "Entra Y Sale" (Manduka). The title means "it enters and it leaves" in Spanish. Why the title is in Spanish and not Portuguese (given that the artist known as "Manduka" is Brazilian) is anyone's guess. Presumably my iPod is telling me that all life is transitory and my shame over adding a link to my friend's page only now - yes, this, too - shall pass.
  2. Curtis Mayfield - "Get Down" (People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Story). Orgasmic panting, conga beats, fuzz bass: aw, yeah! "We're all children of the world/a hungry man in search of a hungry girl": these are profound truths, but they unfortunately have little bearing on the situation at hand. Joe's cool, but he gets no special love privileges (well, from me, at least) for this. As with all attempts to decodify the iPod's mysterious pronouncements, again I fail to be an adequate emissary of the oracle.
  3. Os Mutantes - "Magica" (Mutantes). More Brazilian psychedelia! You'd think I had half the damn thing filled up with this, but I swear that it's no more than 48%. This song has trippy tempo changes, odd and heavily reverbed percussive noises, wah guitar, descending motifs that are probably played on a harp, and a very abstract bridge that suddenly shifts to double-time before turning into the riff from "Satisfaction". Dude! Maybe the iPod is telling me that only time, love, and drugs can heal this rift. Which doesn't exist anywhere but in my head. Whoa!
  4. Doctor Mix and The Remix - "Out of the Question" (Acute eMusic Sampler). These guys (plural? I'm not sure) are a Metal Urbain side-project, I think. The sound is a wall of keyboards-meets-an infinite number of monkeys playing heavily distorted guitars in the bottom of a well. A very funky well with black lights and a disco ball. And a very hot French chick looking bored by all this over by the bar. Which is manned by a robot. A monkey robot in short pants and a black turtleneck. Sorta like that, y'know.
  5. Tortoise and Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "That's Pep!" (The Brave and the Bold). Devo cover played by the original abstract post-rockers and indie/faux-countryboy Will Oldham. Yeah, it's alright, really.

So, what does this tell us? Nothing! My iPod is not really omniscient. It only pretends to be, especially when I keep telling it that I want to hear the Stooges and it gives me experimental psychedelic foreigners, funk, and a Devo cover, as if to say, "I know what you really want, chump." Perhaps this is a dysfunctional relationship I have with this iPod. Wait, it's playing The Fall now! It's like it's reading my mind.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My brain's been working overtime on a) the book, b) my contributions to the next High Hat, and c) my job (where they pay me to think about things! and write about them, too).

With all that ruminating and cogitating and such, I haven't had much time for y'all, my beloved blog readers. I've been toying a bit with the idea of adding mp3s for download if and when time exists for that. Until then, though, here's today's iPod Random Rules Palm Reading.

  1. Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo - "Dedicated Thespian Has Teeth Pulled to Play Newborn Baby In High School Play" (Strange But True). YLT sounding like Mission of Burma, Jad Fair sounding like Jad Fair, this is a great tune, one of the best from their tabloid-inspired collaboration Strange But True.
  2. Pão com Manteiga - "Virgem de Andrômeda" (Pão com Manteiga). One of many downloads from the wonderful Brazilian Nuggets site. This is a trippy instrumental, nothing too special as far as psychedelia goes, but pleasant, anyway.
  3. Hüsker Dü - "Terms of Psychic Warfare" (New Day Rising). One of my favorite Grant Hart tunes, full of pure pop, crazy loud distorted guitars, and one of Greg Norton's best basslines. If you haven't heard this, well, you're probably not a Hüsker Dü fan.
  4. Young People - "El Paso" (War Prayers). More distorto-rock! The guitar tones are droning and loud, the drumbeat simple and direct, and the vocalist seems to think she's singing a country song (it doesn't hurt that her voice is lovely and tinged with a Southern accent).
  5. The Hang-Ups - "Waltz" (He's After Me). I always think songs by these guys are Go-Betweens b-sides until the vocalist comes in. Sometimes the illusion continues until the chorus. Gorgeous power-pop, perhaps not as complex as the Go-Betweens, but great stuff, anyway.
  6. Camper Van Beethoven - "All Her Favorite Fruit" (Key Lime Pie). This song makes me so emotional. It sounds like 1990, graduating high school and heading off to college, falling in love, drinking cheap beer, and hanging out with your friends for what may be the last time. "We dream our dreams and sing our songs of the fecundity of life and love." Can you feel your heart break?
  7. Piri - "As Incriveis Peripécias de Danilo" (Vocês Querem Mate?). Another Brazilian Nugget. The percussion is mighty, but the flute solo grates.
  8. Richard & Linda Thompson - "The Gas Almost Works" (Strange Affair). A Celtic-style instrumental dominated by accordion and soprano sax. 'Sokay.
  9. Yo La Tengo - "Tears Are In Your Eyes" (...and then nothing turned itself inside-out). Beautiful and melancholy. I don't think Ira and Georgia have ever harmonized better.
  10. Mike Watt and the Black Gang Crew - "No One Says Old Man (To The Old Man)" (December 9, 1997, from Another beautiful, sad song. Joe Baiza's guitar is touching and semi-abstract throughout, more tender than you'd expect from the guy who drove Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress Of.

Friday, August 04, 2006

From Pitchfork:

Arthur Lee of Love Dead at 61

Arthur Lee, legendary frontman for the influential psych-rock band Love, has died. He was 61 years old.

As previously reported, Lee was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Several recent benefit concerts, including one at New York City's Beacon Theater featuring Robert Plant, Yo La Tengo, and Ryan Adams, among others, raised money to help pay Lee's medical expenses. Lee's manager, Mark Linn, sent out the following email just minutes ago:

"Arthur Lee died peacefully at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, a little after four in the afternoon Aug 3, 2006 with his wife Diane by his side. His death comes as a shock to me because Arthur had the uncanny ability to bounce back from everything, and leukemia was no exception. He was confident that he would be back on stage by the fall.

"When I visited with him recently, he was visibly moved by the stories and pictures from the NYC benefit concert. He was truly grateful for the outpouring of love from friends and fans all over the world since news of his illness became public. We watched the DVD of the great House of Blues concert from '03, and he told me how much he appreciated [backing band] Baby Lemonade's dedication to his music.

"Arthur always lived in the moment, and said what he thought when he thought it. I'll miss his phone calls, and his long voice messages, but most of all I'll miss Arthur playing Arthur's music."

So will we.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Leonard Pierce's 99-pt rant is the best thing since sliced bread. Heck, it's better than Hitler's nutsack.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday iPodomancy (Random Rules-style):

  1. The Magnetic Fields - "Dust Bowl" (The Charm of the Highway Strip). A short instrumental to kick things off featuring a guitar, a slightly out-of-tune piano, and a percussive click that I can't quite parse, similar to the one used on Paul Westerberg's "Black-Eyed Susan" on 14 Songs. It sounds like nervous fingers drumming lightly on a snare.
  2. Calexico - "El Picador" (Scraping). An early live version of the wonderful mariachi/indie track from Hot Rail. Another instrumental, too.
  3. The Band - "Unfaithful Servant" (The Band). This is a near-perfect slice of blue-eyed soul, up there with The Flying Burrito Brothers' version of "Do Right Woman". The song captures the mournful feel so well that when the horn come in, they sound like a New Orleans funeral march.
  4. Yo La Tengo - "Drug Test" (President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dogs). YLT's first masterpiece song. Best line (natch): "I'm not ready to face a thing today/I wish I was high."
  5. The Congos - "Noah Sugar Pan" (The Heart of the Congos). This is deep dub, so heavy and iconic that I have this same track on two other compilations under Lee "Scratch" Perry's name. Like the best dub, it's built around a solid reggae rhythm with reverbed & phased guitars fading in and out with looped bits of vocal parts and analog noise. Awesome. Makes the listener wish he or she was high. Virtually an instrumental.
  6. David Bowie - "He Was Alright (A Song for Marc Bolan)" (Early Bowie Vol. 2). This is a track from a mix CD round robin from late last year (I think). Good stuff. I forget what category it represents.
  7. The Black Swan Network - "I" (The Late Music). OK, now we're in the avant-psychedelia place. Keyboards drone, reverbed water bubbles from ear to ear, a piano plays repetitive low notes while picking out an almost-melody, found noises filter around the edges. This is the Olivia Tremor Control (The Black Swan Network's alter egos) on drugs.
  8. The Shangri-Las - "Footsteps On The Roof" (The Best of the Shangri-Las). A great slice of girl-group pop built around running away with your bad-boy boyfriend. I'm not sure what to make of the iPod's tendency today to jump back in forth between abstract music and compact pop songs.
  9. Olivia Tremor Control - "Medley: Sylvan Screen/Greentypewriters/Not Feeling Human" (Terrastock 4/27/97). OK, that's a great transition. This live OTC track combines elements of the last three offerings. Prominently features theremin noise.
  10. Richard and Linda Thompson - "Shoot Out The Lights" (Shoot Out The Lights). What a great song! Someone should write a book about this album!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Even the supposedly left-leaning TX blogs suck, so I'm taking all those links off the site.

Tom Block unleashes the fucking fury on violence in film and the recent shocking fistfight on Deadwood.

Also, Emlyn Lewis makes me sound smarter than I am.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Recently seen: A Scanner Darkly

It's been years since I read the novel this was based on, but it seems an accurate representation of Philip K. Dick's ideas about control, self-alienation, and paranoia. There's a lot of great stoner humor wrapped inside this claustrophobic little story about an undercover cop (the futuristic conceit is that all cops are anonymous in uniform by virtue of a suit that constantly shifts appearances) who is assigned to investigate a dangerous addict who just happens to be his underground identity. The rotoscoping provides a wonderfully shifting perspective providing viewers with the slightly askew world of the high, and the themes of government intrusion on private lives and out-of-control corporate malfeasance could not be more timely. Some reviewers have thought the plot hard-to-follow and the characters overly chatty, but I didn't find the movie to be either.

Current listening: The Congos - Heart of the Congos

Speaking of shifting realities, this album is one of my favorites, one of the rare albums where production and performance combine into a lovely muddy funk with diamond-crystal points (so you know that the mud is there on purpose). Lee "Scratch" Perry produces the album so that each song is built around a rich, heavy bassline (playing slightly off-kilter, the reggae way) with all sorts of phased percussive sounds weaving in and out of the songs (the dub way) while the Congos wail and harmonize over the top. The best song - "Congoman" - layers the Congos' voices so many times with such heavy reverb that they sound like the voices of forgotten gods. The rest of the album is almost as compelling, full of brainteasing noise and ass-shaking grooves. This is the sound of your brain on drug music.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday iPod Reading:

  1. The Bats - "We Do Not Kick" (At the National Grid). Beautiful, summery instrumental that I initially thought was Yo La Tengo.
  2. The Go-Betweens - "Boundary Rider" (Oceans Apart). Ah, Grant McLennan. The world is a lesser place without that guy. Some interviewers proposed that this was the sequal to "Cattle and Cane," and I can certainly live with that.
  3. Fairport Convention - "Time Will Show The Wiser" (guitar, vocal). I can't hear this now without thinking of that video I posted a few weeks ago.
  4. Sleep - "Jerusalem (Pt. 3)" (Jerusalem). From the kinder, gentler edited version of Sleep's masterful stoner rock manifesto Dopesmoker. Heavy and trancelike.
  5. Terrestrial Tones - "Untitled" (Blasted). Experimental noise. Great when short like this.
  6. Richard Buckner - "Picture Day" (Dents and Shells). This was a nice surprise. I like this album, but many of the songs haven't grabbed me like earlier Buckner songs would. In a mix like this, the greatness of this track sticks out.
  7. Faust - "Mamie Is Blue" (So Far). More experimental noise, although it turns into a song. A great song.
  8. The Go-Betweens - "Girl Lying on the Beach" (Bright Orange Bright Yellow). Okay, iPod, you're killing me here. Another superpoignant McLennan song.
  9. The Fiery Furnaces - "Does It Remind You of When?" (Rehearsing The Choir). From their "grandmother album," written to accommodate their grandmother's voice and memories, this track is about her playing the funeral of an old love. The instrumentation is typically trippy and works fairly well outside of the context of the album (unlike some of the other songs).
  10. The Go-Betweens - "Going Blind" (The Friends of Rachel Worth). Hey, it's another sad McLennan song! Maybe the iPod is telling me I'm going to die suddenly today. If so, I sure hope I don't have to spend it at work. Starting to feel like a sick day to me. Yep.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday iPodomancy (aka Random Rules):

1. The Mekons - "Blow Your Tuneless Trumpet" (Mekons Rock & Roll) . The message: U2 are self-important twits. This song is from 1989, mind you.

2. Richard Youngs - "Once It Was Autumn" (The Naive Shaman). Youngs, who I pursued after he backed Jandek on the latter's English live dates, makes abstract bass-oriented electronica with vocal lines inspired by Brit-folk. Sometimes it demands a bit too much attention, but sometimes it's right on.

3. Low - "Alone" (Long Division). Stark, beautiful mope rock.

4. Califone - "One" (Quicksand/Cradlesnakes). A short sound collage from the indiefolk-blues band.

5. The Carter Family - "Wildwood Flower (1935 version)" (Carter Family Vol 2: 1935-1941). More lovely than their earlier (1928?) version, but still haunted and bare.

6. Stuff Smith - "The Red Jumps" (Time and Again). Swing/blues violinist equal in inventiveness to the great Stephane Grapelli.

7. The Kinks - "Apeman" (Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round). This is the third time the iPod has played this song in as many days. Think it's trying to tell me something?

8. The Dexateens - "Coal Mine Lung" (Red Dirt Rising). The best thing they've done so far, this song takes their Skynyrd-meets-Stooges aesthetic and adds electric piano and a pitch-perfect coda (the point at which the song goes from good to great) that would make grown men weep. It's no wonder that Patterson Hood wanted to work with them after hearing this.

9. Mitty Collier - "I Had a Talk With My Man" (Chess Soul - A Decade of Chicago's Finest). Killer stuff, so great I thought Dan Penn had written it.

10. Dolly Parton/Porter Wagoner - "If You Go, I'll Follow You" (The Essential Porter and Dolly). Harmonies as pure as a mountain creek with sugary countrypolitan backing. Pushed by Dolly's great delivery, Porter's voice was at his most emotional. You can hear him just fucking go for it when she turns the lead over to him.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

RIP, Syd Barrett.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada has often been compared to the ouevre of Sam Peckinpah, probably because both deal with horses, guys talking to corpses, and Mexico. However, this is a wrongheaded comparison. Here's why:

  • The editing: As a director, Tommy Lee Jones employs a jerky editing process that is unconcerned about where the camera is and what POV it is expressing. The scenes leap from one to another without any feel for what that actual picture on-screen means or why the scene was paced in any given way. Peckinpah may have sometimes failed to edit certain scenes in a self-explanatory way, but it was always clear that he thought about where the camera was and how the pace of the scene worked internally and from scene-to-scene.
  • The timeline: What the hell was up with the leaps back and forth in time in the first third? It was unclear if this was intended to speak to the memories and awareness of any particular characters or just to draw out the shooting of Melquiades Estrada. When someone remembers something in a Peckinpah film, by god, you know what's going on.
  • Flat characterization: After watching the Evil Border Patrol guy beat up some Mexicans, rape his wife, and cover up a murder, you have to start wondering what the hell is going through this guy's head to make him so freakin' mean. Compare him to Mapache in The Wild Bunch: Mapache is a mean motherfucker, a small beans warlord having to prove time and again that he's tougher than anyone around him and don't forget it (think of the telegraph scene, as mortars burst around the man, while he stands there, as oblivious and untouchable as Duvall's character would later be in Apocalypse Now). Evil Border Patrol guy is mean without meaning from the first scene on, and his redemption is wholly unearned. Melissa Leo does pretty well with her philandering waitress, but EBP's wife's transformation from bored ex-cheerleader to woman who will sleep with a Mexican cowboy she doesn't know for no apparent reason is truly one of the biggest WTF moments in a movie full of them. Also, all of the Mexican characters are straight out of noble savage territory. If they were black, people would be wondering how to get to the Land of Magic Negroes. As it is, we learn that all Mexican people are self-sacrificing, good with herbs, enigmatic, and beautiful. Sam Peckinpah knew that people are neither all good nor all bad and that when they do something, it's for a goddamn reason.
  • Contrivance: Peckinpah may have granted himself a few contrivances (Major Dundee, for instance, is predicated on the unlikely shared past of Dundee and Richard Harris's character), but in Three Burials, we have a) the man who Evil Border Patrol guy accidentally kills (namely, Estrada) is the same man that his wife inexplicably allows herself to be whored to earlier, b) without any natural transition in their conversation, Estrada suddenly tells his buddy in laugh-out-loud detail that he wants to be buried in Mexico, and goes to the point of giving incredibly detailed information about a place that apparently doesn't exist, c) the magic Mexican herb lady just happens to be the woman who EBP guy hit in the face in an early scene (left unclear: why there is only one magic Mexican herb lady and why she wanted to go to the US in the first place), and d) Levon Helm's character decides that he would rather side with some random dudes who wouldn't help him die rather than the law, 'cause... well, we don't know.
  • Rancher Pete: As the main character of the film, Tommy Lee Jones's character is a big nothing. I think he's supposed to be a typical stoic Texas cowboy, but his deep lack of affect led to some amazing non-reactions that left me wondering if he was supposed to be retarded. For instance, upon finding out that Estrada's murderer is married to the woman Estrada slept with, he does... nothing. Upon finding out that the town Estrada claimed to be from (and indeed provided, I'm not kidding with this, insanely detailed information about) doesn't exist, Pete does... nothing. Upon finding out that his girlfriend won't leave her husband and run off to Mexico with him, Pete's face shows... nothing. Looking at his friend's increasing mummified face is also similarly inspiring to a drunk Pete. He might as well be looking at some of the lovely Big Bend locales of the movie. Sam Peckinpah would never have wasted a movie on Rain Man Ranchhand here.

This is not to say that Three Burials is a complete waste of time, but seriously, if you want to see a movie about a guy trying to make things right despite the consequences, go for Ride The High Country. If you want to see a movie about a guy talking to a corpse, go see Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. If you want to see a desperate flight to Mexico, there's The Wild Bunch. If you're into dubious redemption stories, besides all of the above, there's Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid. And if you just like to see quiet cowboys try to express themselves, then by god, go see Junior Bonner.

Inspired by (or "ripped off from," your pick) the Onion AV Club's Random Rules, here's the first 10 songs to pop up on my iPod this morning:

  1. The Cramps - "Goo Goo Muck" (Bad Music For Bad People)
  2. Les Savy Fav - "Meet Me In The Dollar Bin" (Inches)
  3. Caetano Veloso - "Jorge de capadocia" (unknown, from a friend's Tropicalia mix)
  4. Minutemen - "It's Expected I'm Gone" (Double Nickels on the Dime)
  5. Andrew Bird - "Banking On A Myth" (The Mysterious Production of Eggs)
  6. Belle & Sebastian - "Seymour Stein" (The Boy With The Arab Strap)
  7. Husker Du - "It's Not Peculiar" (Warehouse: Songs & Stories)
  8. The Mekons - "Only You & Your Ghost Will Know" (OOOH!)
  9. The Clean - "Trapped In Amber" (Anthology)
  10. Belle & Sebastian - "Mornington Crescent" (The Life Pursuit)

That's fairly representative of my taste in music, although I'm almost shocked at having two Belle & Sebastians show up like that.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My loving spouse reminds me that I have been remiss in my duty to keep her and the other (theoretical) readers of this blog occasionally entertained with my pithy observations and snotty asides.

So, let's see. I went to Seattle & Portland last weekend for a conference. Hefted many a brew with my friend DJ William F. Buckley, Jr. (no, seriously!) (but that's not his real name). While walking about downtown Seattle, the two of us encountered the Juggalo Army and lived to survive. Favorite moment in that was a young Juggalo decked out in his Insane Clown Army best shouting to a parking lot full of similarly-made up young people: "Can I get a whoot-whoot?" Dead silence.

I visited my wife's aunt at her store in Pike Place Market, Cibola (stop in and buy something) and got a tour of the Market from her friend, who presides over the scene from his overlooking apartment.

I drove down to Portland and stayed with some great people and met a few others. Also got to visit Powell's City of Books and drop some dough.

On the pop culture front, Deadwood is still killing me. The episode this week even mocked the High Victorian locution of the characters, which is so very, very rich. I've been rewatching The Wire, too. Season 1 is even better on second viewing. Knowing what's going to happen demonstrates the care and craft of each well-laid plot point and characterization. Even as pissed as I am about HBO not giving Deadwood a full 4th season (and believe me when I say that I'm mightily pissed), I'm torn by my love of the network's willingness to back these dramas despite their lack of any concessions to mainstream TV.

Books: Since the last update, I've read Beto Hernandez's Palomar (I mentioned this a while back), Caetano Veloso's autobiography Tropical Truth, Miles Marshall Lewis's There's A Riot Goin' On (a 33 1/3 book), and a shitload of books about Sufism and Sufi wisdom for my own forthcoming literary attempt for the fine 33 1/3 series.

Speaking of that, how can I leave without some plummy youtube goodness? Here's one of Richard Thompson at age 17 tearing it up with The Fairport Convention (the lead singers are Ian Matthews and Judy Dyble):

And HEY, here's the adult Richard Thompson on the ever-popular "1952 Vincent Black Lightning":

What the heck. It's been a while since I posted, so one more. This one is from the Live at Austin City Limits dvd with Michael Jerome on drums and frequent collaborator Danny Thompson (no relation) of the great 60s band The Pentangle on bass.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

From Tom Block, Master of the Flying Guillotine:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Deadwood is just plain exhilarating. Here's my paltry attempt to write Milch-speak in a post about the first episode of this season:

On this brilliant fucking show in which sudden violence and carefully crafted intrigue (interwoven with language that would give Shakespeare a cockstand) flow like mother's milk to a suckling babe, last night's episode gave us the viewers the most insane, ballsy, provocative, breathtaking act ever seen in Deadwood (which is, as I say, truly a microcosm of humanity) in the form of one man drinking another man's whiskey. My jaw hit the floor and I said "HOLY MOTHERFUCKING SHIT!" out loud before I caught myself. Any show that can demonstrate the inner workings of power struggles with such clarity and vision deserves a goddamn Nobel Prize, not the crude assfucking its corporate overlords dealt it this month.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I've been meaning to post this for a couple of days. To hell with poverty! Let's get drunk on cheap wine!

Giving credit where it's due: this link was sent to me by Andy Axel, who is not just a vigilant YouTube monitor, but an all-around mensch.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The House Next Door (Matt Zoller Seitz's blog) is doing Deadwood all this week. Check it out, (gratuitous profanity deleted).

Friday, June 02, 2006

A meme I took from the brilliant Leonard Pierce regarding my iTunes:


FIRST SONG, ALPHABETICALLY: "'64 Ford Fairlane", Calexico
FIRST ALBUM, ALPHABETICALLY: 'Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology

SHORTEST SONG: "All" - the Descendents (00:03)
LONGEST SONG: "Gondwana" - Miles Davis (46:49) [There are a few longer spoken word things, including a few This American Life episodes and a couple of books]

1. "Nothing New" - KaitO, band red
2. "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" - Elvis Presley, The Complete Sun Sessions
3. "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) [Vocal Only Track]" - Beach Boys, The Pet Sounds Sessions
4. "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)" - Richard Buckner, Nothing Left To Lose: A Tribute To Kris Kristofferson
5. "The Happening" - the Pixies, Bossanova
6. "Dread Dub" - Lloyds All Stars, Trojan Dub Box Set
7. "Ton of Joy" - Otis Redding, The Otis Redding Story
8. "Visiting The Ruins" - Macha, Macha
9. "Streets of Baltimore" - Gram Parsons, The Lost Recordings
10. "Toxika" - Plastic People of the Universe, mix by Gary Mairs
11. "Into The Night" - Golden Famile, Eastern, Cloudy
12. "I Got Kinda Lost" - Chris Bell, I Am The Cosmos

(Shield your eyes, O weak of heart:)

NUMBER OF SONGS CONTAINING THE WORD "COCKSUCKER": 0 (but 1 with "cocksucking" and 4 with "cock")

(Bonus Round)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

We are requesting pitches for articles to appear in The High Hat #7 ( We hope to have articles on all the usual subjects (music, comix, literature, politics...) but this issue will feature a special section celebrating the career of director Robert Altman. We welcome pitches on all aspects of his career, from individual movies to career retrospectives. Pieces questioning his reputation as one of the great American filmmakers are also very much welcome.

As always, we will consider all manuscripts, but we would like to encourage greater concision with this issue. Extremely lengthy pieces will be accepted only if they are of astonishing quality.

We'd like to thank Dana Knowles and Tom Block, who originated the idea of a section devoted to Altman, and we'd also like to welcome Paul Hernandez to the editorial board this issue.

Please send pitches to highhatsubmissions at gmail dot com by June 14.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our move to Texas in 2000 was prompted by my acceptance into the History Ph.D. program at UT. Despite the best of intentions, I never started the program, spurred by my awareness of certain realities in the Ph.D. job market, some of which are outlined in this article in Slate. While working on my Master's degree at Duke, one short-term job I held was entering applicants into a database for a single teaching position at the public policy school. There were thousands, many from desperate professors trapped at East Bumfuck University (EBU!) with degrees from fine state schools like UT. UT's History program was one of the best in the nation when I came here. Even so, most of its graduates who found work (and some didn't) were going to EBU, usually as adjunct faculty (who make slightly less than your average Dairy Queen cashier). The sad truth about my database entry job was that Duke wasn't even going to think about any applicants without a degree from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or (on the outside) Chicago. This state of affairs was far too similar to the economics of making a living as a musician, only without the glory. I sometimes wish that I'd pursued it more, but it's for the best that I didn't.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My good friends Mike & Melissa had a son last night!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Flyer time!

Wanna listen to the bands?

The Glass Family
Sally Crewe & The Sudden Moves
Parks and Wildlife
The Platforms

Friday, May 12, 2006

This Salon article on dominionist Christians is terrifying. Definitely worth a click-through of the ads.

Speaking to outsiders, most Christian nationalists say they're simply responding to anti-Christian persecution. They say that secularism is itself a religion, one unfairly imposed on them. They say they're the victims in the culture wars. But Christian nationalist ideologues don't want equality, they want dominance. In his book "The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action," George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote:

"Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.

It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.

It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.

It is dominion we are after.

World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less...

Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ."


Sunday, May 07, 2006

My heart goes out to the family & friends of Grant McLennan, underappreciated genius and Go-Between. He was way too fucking young to die.

From the Go-Betweens site:

On Saturday 6th May, legendary Australian singer songwriter Grant W McLennan died in his sleep at his home in Brisbane. McLennan was one of Australia’s greatest songwriters who created an outstanding musical legacy as a founder member of The Go-Betweens and as a solo artist. He was enjoying enormous acclaim for the band’s most recent album Oceans Apart, which has received five star reviews around the world and won had a prestigious ARIA award.

McLennan was born in Rockhampton, Queensland on 12th February 1958. While attending university in Brisbane he met fellow student Robert Forster and together they formed The Go-Betweens. After releasing a string of singles the band recorded their debut album, Send Me A Lullaby, in 1981. The Go-Betweens recorded a series of exceptional albums that achieved widespread critical acclaim and were fundamental in bringing Australian music to a global audience. He was an unparalleled lyricist and a prolific and meticulous composer. His auto-biographical masterpiece ‘Cattle and Cane’ was recently voted by the Australian Performing Rights Association as one of the ten greatest Australian songs of all time.

In 1989 The Go-Betweens took a ten year sabbatical and McLennan recorded four powerful solo albums including the vivacious debut Watershed and the epic Horsebreaker Star as well as forming satellite groups like Jack Frost with Steve Kilbey of The Church and The Far Out Corporation with Ian Haug of Powderfinger.
When Robert Forster and Grant McLennan reformed The Go-Betweens in 2000, the band was greeted with adulation by a new generation of musicians like Belle and Sebastian, for whom their songs had been an inspirational teenage soundtrack. The three albums the band subsequently released were universally acknowledged as containing some of McLennan’s greatest compositions.

McLennan was a passionate supporter of the arts, extremely well-read and maintained a keen interest in all contemporary music, cinema and visual art. He was an exceptionally charming and polite man who endeared himself to everyone who met him and was one of the rare individuals worthy of the epithet ‘larger than life’.
His singular contribution to music and his commitment to his craft simply cannot be overstated. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. He is survived by his mother, sister, brother, girlfriend Emma, bandmates Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson and lifetime musical colleague and friend Robert Forster.

Bernard MacMahon, Lo-Max Records, 6th
May 2006

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Unexpected but wonderful! It's finally here! The new High Hat, only 14 years after we ceased being relevant to anyone!

(Strangely enough, the following graphic appears to be unfixable. Apologies for the offense to your eye.)

Flyer for next Wednesday's show at the Chain Drive:

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

RIP, John Kenneth Galbraith, the greatest economist of the 20th century. Scratch that. He was the greatest economist of the contemporary world.

Salon has a nice eulogy from his biographer (you'll have to click through ads on that link, but it's worth it).

He also believed that the real audience for a deeper understanding of power was the public and its leaders, not just colleagues behind ivy walls. He argued with professional colleagues because he thought the trend to mathematicize economics led too easily to obscurantism and irrelevance. Economies weren't governed by "natural laws," like gravity or the speed of light in nature itself, but by social conventions, habits, customs, laws and fears. Human beings weren't thus "rational maximizers of their self-interest" but as often frail as they were strong, and highly susceptible to the influence of leaders of all kinds, simply because as Aristotle had long ago noted, humans were zoon politikon, social beings.

The idea that "markets" were somehow best left ungoverned by governments was on the face of it unimaginable to Galbraith. The term "markets" itself merely described the simple daily exchanges of all human life, back to the Neolithic. We lived specifically in one type of market, in modern capitalist economies, and moreover in a special stage therein. The 19th century had been the age of "production capitalism," when human beings had moved (or been moved) off the land and into cities, from farm work to factory work. The result had been the design, building and operation of what William Blake first called "satanic mills" but that grew into factories and companies of all kinds. Here, Galbraith said, was merely the first stage of capitalism. The second dawned with the 20th century, the era of "consumer capitalism" in its early form, when fully productive capitalism now had to figure out how to sell what it made. Advertising, branding, easy credit and the cultivation of status goods and insecurity that consumers weren't partaking in the latest fashion were its hallmarks.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I'm sure this is everywhere today, but good lord is it sweet to see Colbert in action in front of George W. himself.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Friday, April 28, 2006

The show last night went well. We played ok despite some technical difficulties, and the other bands - Sally Crewe & the Sudden Moves and The Distant Seconds - rocked the house.

Also, check this out.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Q: Thursday at the Carousel? Really?

A: By "Thursday," you mean this Thursday, April 27, 2006. Parks & Wildlife are playing with The Distant Seconds and Sally Crewe, no less.

Q: Wow! Where is this fabulous Carousel Lounge? And what time does the music start?

A: The fabulous Carousel Lounge is located at 1110 52nd Street in Austin. Parks & Wildlife are playing around 9, Sally Crewe & The Sudden Moves around 10, and the Distant Seconds around 11.

Q: You seem to be prevaricating about the estimated time of rockage.

A: Was that a question?

Q: Actually, it was a statement intended to provoke a response. A conversational gambit, if you will. But now the tables are turned! You are the questioner while I am the answerer! Ha!

A: Our official response to that is "Whatev, dude."

Q: I'd like to switch letters. Seriously. It sucks being a "Q." People stare in the supermarket.

A: Ummmmmmmmmm, wellllllll... Hm. No.

Q: You still didn't clarify about the start times on Thursday.

A: I have already answered the question. We will not comment about an investigation that is ongoing. We'll be happy to explain about the start times when the investigation is over, and we promise that anyone found tampering with these start times will lose their job. However, in no way should this be interpreted to mean that we are actually promising that anyone actually found tampering with the actual start times will lose his or her actual job. Next question, please. I think Sumil had one.

Q: Why did these guys hire you to promote their show, anyway?

A: This press conference is over.

Q: Fuck you, McClellan.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Too busy to write any thinkin'-type words, but here's some pictures...

Apparently some sickos out there are finding my website by googling the words "child nudist" based on a lousy joke about Jandek and a photo of my son that used to live here. This message is to those people: either get therapy now or go blow your goddamn brains out, you fucks. If you choose the latter option, be sure give everything you own to the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect here: You owe this to humanity if you aren't trying to get better, shitbird.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I read Beto Hernandez's Palomar, but I'm waiting on a promised review from my friend Joe so I can post his and my own review side-by-side.

In the meantime, here's an entertaining flyer.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pitchfork has a great article on the RIAA lawsuits against their own customers.

I think Steve Gordon is far too kind, if anything, to record industry executives with his suggestion that they have some worth to music biz. Well, maybe I'm going too far here. They have some worth in terms of promotion, but that worth is nowhere near the compensation they receive.

Gordon is dead-on, though, in his argument about the willingness-to-pay of customers and the prevalence of risk assessment, however subconscious. For instance, putting ethical issues aside, most people don't shoplift because there's a, say, 50% or greater chance that they'll get caught. If caught, they'll have not just the public shame to deal with, but the costs associated with reimbursement, court costs, lost work, and so on. It's not only that it's wrong; it's potentially very expensive to try to swipe that new Wilco album from one of the (disappearing) big box stores. With P2P file sharing, though, the potential of being caught - the risk - is far less. The RIAA has quite a bit of hassle to go through just to get your name once they've identified you as a person with music files on your computer (which is apparently the gold standard, as the RIAA now seems to believe that all ripping and burning violates fair use). However, some people are being caught and the RIAA is asking for a settlement that would be cheaper for the defendant than court costs. On the user end, the number of legal downloads are up significantly (although not enough to cover the drop in record sales). This shows that despite the low risk of being caught illegally downloading music, people will use legal sources if the price is right. Clearly, a high-quality, low-cost alternative to illegal downloads would be successful if the price is right, but it is just a clear that the RIAA would rather pretend that they are the mafia and it's 1954 than attempting to come up with such an alternative.

Gordon also nails the reason behind this: the RIAA is concerned that legal downloading is not as profitable to the executives, promotional departments, and other music biz leeches (wanna meet these bozos? Come to SXSW). Although this means greater profits for the artists themselves,* who gives a shit about those people?

Thus, the RIAA's current strategy is deplorable. When faced with the crisis of shifting paradigms (see how I use the biz talk correctly?), the only incorrect stances are digging in one's heels and attacking one's own reluctant supporters.

* Excluding Metallica (natch) and/or the other multi-gazillionaire artists who are the ~1% that actually profit from the current record industry.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Book No. 7: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Roach, a sometimes Salon columnist, has written a witty, breezy book about dead bodies. You've probably heard about this book from friends or on NPR, but it's well worth a read. Roach somehow turns the subject into something so light that the stories stick with you without any distaste for the subject. There's a lot of reviews about this one out there, so I'm going to just mention that I read and recommend it.

Book No. 6: The Devil and Sonny Liston by Nick Tosches

This is the best Tosches book I've read thus far. The arc of Sonny Liston's life is laid out as a tragedy on the grand scale. The marriage of boxing, mafia, and race relations in the mid-20th century are the real story here, playing Liston like more rook than pawn, pushing him forward in straight lines towards some goal that he could not possibly understand. Someone should write an opera.

Book No. 4: Love's Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans (33 1/3)
Book No. 5: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno (33 1/3)

In preparing myself to start working on my book, I thought it best to read a few more 33 1/3 titles, and these two, which I'd been wanting to read, seemed the most promising choices. I read Forever Changes back around the end of January/early February and Armed Forces through the middle of February, so my impressions are a bit duller than they were when I had just finished the books.

Hultkrans's book is much more enjoyable than Barney Hoskins's Arthur Lee book, which I read last year, although he uses Hoskins as a source. Hultkrans is mainly concerned with the voice of Forever Changes, a voice he calls prophetic in the Old Testament sense. I'm a little distanced from my initial impressions now, but I have a new, greater appreciation for the lyrics of the album, which I had already thought fantastic. "Live and Let Live," in particular, sounds even more like the end of the world, and maybe it is.

Bruno's book doesn't seem to have a central thesis about the album, but is full of fascinating little details and detours (rather like Bruno's music, I think) and similarly heightened my appreciation for an album already near the top of my personal pantheon. One of my brother music geeks described this one as the greatest 33 1/3 book thus far. I don't think I'm willing to go that far, but it's certainly a damn sight better than the one on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and definitely in my top rung.

So. I didn't plan to take a two-week hiatus, but there it was.

I took my little boy down to SXSW day shows every day, but we didn't see anyone really worth mentioning. I got out one night for the Fiery Furnaces at Red's Scoot Inn, and they proceeded to tear the roof off the mother. Well, there's no roof on the back patio there, but ok. No keyboards in sight, and some of the crazier-ass rewrites of songs I've ever heard, as if Tony Iommi is Matt Friedberger's muse these days. Yowza.

I should catch up on books, but I'll do those in separate posts. Research on the book is going well. I'm working on refining my interview questions for the people who've agreed to talk with me.

TV: My wife and I obtained copies of the rest of Battlestar Galactica's 2nd season (the first half is out on dvd, but I haven't seen any announcements about when they're going to release the rest of it). As with the previous season-and-a-half, the show has some serious quality control issues, but when it's good, it's pretty decent. Also obtained copies of The Sopranos first two episodes of S6 (I'll watch the third tonight). I'm interested to see where this goes, and highly recommend Matt Zoller Seitz's analyses.

Music: Picked up Wilco's Kicking Television, a live double-CD. I love the sound of Nels Cline integrating with the music, but they occasionally tip the scales from lovely Television-esque guitar god perfection into thoughtless, crappy Jerr-Bear noodliness. The main offender is "Ashes of American Flags," and I halfway suspect it's the guitar tone that I hate more than anything. Also bought Richard Thompson's release from last year, Front Parlour Ballads, that's like almost every album he's put out in the last 16 years: some tracks are brilliant and some are half-baked. The man has made some extraordinarily well-conceived albums, so it's a shame to hear him put out songs that feel like he could have spent a little more time fleshing them out, but, then again, who the hell am I to judge him? The sheer volume of his best work is stunning. I could pull a single five-star album out of his last two (which are both 3-4 stars at best), but perhaps the less-great tracks provide some valuable context for RT's brilliance. I read one review of his box set saying that his brilliance is best appreciated in a mix with other artists. Maybe the varying factor of having another voice is why I put 4 of the 6 albums he made with Linda (his ex-wife, not that I think anyone reading this needs a RT primer) in my top tier, while I would only put 4 of his 15 solo studio albums in that same tier. For those keeping score at home, those 8 best RT albums are: Starring as Henry The Human Fly, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Hokey Pokey, Pour Down Like Silver, Shoot Out The Lights, Amnesia, Rumor and Sigh, and Mock Tudor.

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm playing next Saturday, March 18, at 5 or 6 pm...

UPDATE! I'm not playing next Saturday as I've just been unceremoniously tossed out of the band! This sucks for me because I've been wasting my leisure time learning someone else's music. But I am not the guitarist they are looking for. I just wished they had known this a month ago!

Fortunately, I have Parks & Wildlife, and I actually care quite a bit about that project.

Stolen from Maud's blog, as usual.

Sandra Day O'Connor takes on right-wing assaults on the judiciary, including the following warning: "We must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

Folks, that's Sandra Day O'Connor warning about the slippery slope to dictatorship in the U.S., not Mark Crispin Miller. Gives me the shivers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

This fantastic video, easily the most rockin' thing Stephen Stills has ever been associated with (not that I don't think that Neil Young should shoot him in the face), features a bassist who our friend at Oily Rags contends might be a young Rick James, not long after playing in Neil Young's Toronto-based band.

Consider. From the video and from the web.

I think that's the same guy. Same nose, same cheekbones, same chin.


Anonymous points out in comments that this is Greg Reeves. It would appear that he or she is correct. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brilliant post on McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Deadwood. Recommended by our good friend Scott of Moonshine Mountain.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Parks & Wildlife with The Distant Seconds, The Guise, and Basic at Trophy's on March 9. We go on at 9 pm.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Richard Thompson - RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson

Finally! I ordered it weeks ago, and it finally came yesterday. This is a release primarily for fans, but wow, this is a rich treat for us. Mostly taken from live performances (with a few demos and rareties thrown in for good measure), this thing is a motherlode of greatness.

Lemme start with what I don't like: the artwork. Once you crack the box, the discs look like shitty passed-around-the-record-show-a-few-too-many-times bootlegs. The booklet needed at least one more run past an editor, too, because the construction is confusing (in that some sections refer in shorthand to events that will be covered in later chapters, leaving the reader thinking, "What? When did they talk about that?") and there's more than a fair share of typos.

But what's on the discs is phenomenal. The sound quality is occasionally cruddy (and I think a good mastering studio could have cleaned these up significantly), but almost all of the performances are breathtaking. The third disc in particular (called "Shine In The Dark - Epic Live Workouts") captures exactly what it promises - the sort of guitar craziness that a fan like me has been pining for. That's not strong enough by a large margin. I wept. I renounced years of gleeful agnosticism. The version of "Calvary Cross" is so hotshit amazing that I can barely believe it didn't melt the mixing board.

The booklet (book? It's pretty long) is quite informative (and will directly contribute to my book, so I'm writing this off my taxes: YEAH!), and there's a brochure for Vincent motorcycles thrown in for the fun of it. I bought one guaranteed to have the mail-in postcard for a limited-edition bonus 6th CD.

Yes, I am in sonic heaven today.

Oh, I've finished two more books recently, but haven't yet written about them. Coming soon.

Monday, February 27, 2006

From Pitchfork:

Os Mutantes Reunite for One Night Only

David Nadelle and Amy Phillips report:

What Kurt Cobain couldn't do, a London arts center will: on May 22 at the Barbican, Brazilian psychedelic rock legends Os Mutantes will perform for the first time since 1973. Unfortunately, brothers Sergio and Arnaldo Baptista (as well as drummer Ronaldo "Dinho" Leme) are not scheduled to perform with original singer Rita Lee. But as Meat Loaf would say, two out of three ain't bad.

This remarkable concert is part of the Barbican's "Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture" festival, which is on now and will continue until May 21. The celebration of music, art, film, theatre, and dance examines the revolutionary Tropicália movement of late-60s Brazil. Government censorship inspired a creative outburst of provocative and spontaneous art.
Musically, the scene exploded after the 1968 compilation album Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis, attracted worldwide attention. Os Mutantes began their career as the house band on a Brazilian TV show, but became weirder and weirder as time went on. They worked with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, wore crazy costumes, put on multimedia performances, and recorded experimental sound collages long before it was cool.

In 1993, Cobain attempted to reunite the band, but they refused. Oh, snap! David Byrne's Luaka Bop label released the Os Mutantes compilation Everything Is Possible. Beck has also given the band mad props. So this is a pretty big deal.

Other performers during the Barbican's Tropicália festival include such heavy hitters as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Tom Zé, as well as a "Tropicália Remixed" showcase featuring new arrangements from original movement collaborator Rogerio Duprat and UK special guests Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), Sean O'Hagan (High Llamas/Stereolab), and Isle of Wight throwbacks the Bees. Check the Barbican website for additional installations, films, and live shows.

Despite Pitchfork's need to rely on Kurt Cobain and Beck to make Os Mutantes sound cool (because, seriously, Os Mutantes is infinitely better than either of those guys ever were), all I can say is: DAMN! WOW!

Friday, February 24, 2006

YouTube: Ornette on SNL 1979

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here's the liner notes for a mix I made in an ongoing Round Robin with friends. The goal is to meet the categories and maintain a good disc flow (and, of course, to shock & awe the recipients of the disc):

1. Dramatic entrance:

o Robbie Fulks – “Gravid & Tense” – The Very Best of Robbie Fulks. A hum, a drum, a few strums, all minor-key and full of foreboding and over in 30 seconds. Welcome to the mix.

2. Boastful song:

o The Third Bardo – “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time” - Nuggets. Most of the rap I like wouldn’t be all that illuminating to this bunch, so I went with weird garage hippie boasting. That’s right! He’s five years ahead of his time, making him, um, 1972.

3. References another song:

o The Mountain Goats – “My Favorite Things” – live Mountain Goats mix by Misha Tepper. This would have worked well for the extended metaphor category, too, but it traded places with The Hold Steady (a different Hold Steady song than the one in the metaphor category, though – one that references “Fairytale of New York,” not the one with the line “tramps like us and we like tramps”). Goddammit! He loves John Coltrane! And he loves getting’ some and Elvin Jones’s drumming. Nice.

4. Song about food:

o Mississippi John Hurt – “The Chicken” – The Immortal. It ain’t food yet, because it’s running away from M.J.H., but that’s not going to last long because the second C is to season the bird and K fills him in. That’s the way you spell chicken.

5. Reminds you of your first love:

o Fairport Convention – “I’ll Keep It With Mine” – What We Did On Our Holidays. Recorded earlier the same year as the masterful “Who Knows Where The Times Goes?,” this is a bit overheated but clearly pointing the way. My first love loved Dylan (who wrote this song, natch), folky rock music, and female singers. I loved everything about her then. I was unaware of the Fairport Convention at the time, but every time I hear this song, everything about it reminds me of being 18 (the same age as lead guitarist Richard Thompson was when this track was recorded) and being in love. Like most things you do when you’re 18, it doesn’t quite work out, but when it was great, it was the best thing you’d ever done in your life.

6. At least 30 years old but you heard it for the first time within the past year:

o Vashti Bunyan – “Window Over The Bay” – Just Another Diamond Day. From her 30-years-lost nursery rhyme/Britfolk classic, produced by Joe Boyd, who, incidentally, produced the previous track, too. I love how her gorgeous voice carries the halting rhyme structure to a perfect and perfectly wistful place. I love how the acoustic guitar comes in on the second verse, but panned all the way to the right, as if it were a lace handkerchief carrying a fragile spider web. Then the trumpet in the left on the last verse appears and quietly mirrors the melody. This is what I wish more 60s hippie princess music sounded like.

7. Changes tempo at least once:

o The Fiery Furnaces – “Duffer St. George” - EP. Switching tempos three times or more in each rotation, this track has moments that combine several of the FF’s nutty musical obsessions: hyper pianos, wacky synths, crunchy Who chords, and vast dynamic in instrumentation through parts. In this case, the original bashing chorus becomes a yearning repetition the second time through. Nice stuff.

8. Features an unexpected transition:

o Deerhoof – “Lightning Rod, Run” – The Runners Four. I know it’s cheating to use Deerhoof for unexpected transitions, because that’s their stock-in-trade, but hey, this is good stuff. I originally used the bizarre chamber-pop song “Spiral Golden Town” from the Green Cosmos EP, but this track is well nigh irresistible to me, from the guitar wizardry to the rhythmic oddness to the J-pop squeaky vocals to the super-catchy, dub-like bassline to the sudden howling guitars to the odd call-and-response on the bridge. These guys are geniuses and The Runners Four is their most accessible album yet.

9. Mentions a superhero and/or comic book:

o Suicide – “Ghost Rider” – Suicide. I couldn’t think of anything else that worked here at first. By the time I came up with a couple of alternates, Suicide had thoroughly claimed this spot, and I couldn’t conceive of doing this mix without this track. This might have worked for the metaphor category, too (as Ghost Rider = America killing its youth), but it’s just better here.

10. Used in one of your favorite movies:

o Neil Young – “Guitar Solo 3” – Dead Man. I love Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and I love this soundtrack. Like most of the album, this track features two electric guitar voices and the sound of waves washing onto a beach. The first part of the song has a steady pulse, but the second part drops it and goes for the sheer thrill of Young’s heavily distorted and phased guitar playing a few spacey chords. It’s sonic heaven.

11. Mentions one of your favorite books:

o Andrew Bird – “Opposite Day” – The Mysterious Production of Eggs. This slot originally belonged to Pere Ubu’s “Heart of Darkness,” but I needed something to transition better to the next song. After a lot of searching (and discarding as sonically inappropriate, such as with Mastodon), I realized that several of the tracks on this album featured cast-off lit references: one to Don Quixote, another to Chekhov, and this one, which refers to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in the first verse, where the narrator is shocked that he has not turned into a bug (let alone that any number of other inversions haven’t occurred) because it was supposed to be opposite day.

12. Song your parents liked/One of your father's favorite songs:

o Doc & Merle Watson – “Summertime” – Remembering Merle. My dad sang this to me all the time when I was little. I suspect his dad, a big country music fan, sang it to him. My mom doesn’t like any music, best I can tell, but my dad is big with romantic composers and the occasional folk or soul song. Doc’s version is lovely with a sweet solo by Merle. Now that I’m a father, I can better appreciate how horrible it must be to lose a beloved child, and listening to these two chokes me up.

13. Six-letter title:

o Devendra Banhart – “Anchor” – Cripple Crow. Allmusic lists the title as “Canela,” which is Spanish for “cinnamon” (and makes more sense in the context of the lyrics), but eMusic had it as “Anchor.” Strange, huh? Either way, it works for this category. This is the final song on Banhart’s sprawling Cripple Crow, and I think it’s arrestingly beautiful.

14. Mentions a city you've never been to, but would like to:

o Mission of Burma – “Peking Spring” – Peking Spring. The best out-take from the original run, this song has a great melody, killer performances, and some wonderful Martin Swope electronic weirdness. I like the overdubbed chiming guitar that comes in just before the coda (and nice tempo change, too, right?). And yes, Peking is Beijing now, but who cares? I want to go.

15. Shape in the title:

o The Clean – “Diamond Shine” – Anthology. What a great, simple, pointedly perfect guitar line! You can practically hear the indie bands dying of jealousy around you.

16. Has a specific connection to weather:

o The 6ths + Lou Barlow – “In The City In The Rain” – Wasps’ Nests. As succinct, charming and complete as any Stephin Merritt composition can be, this song actually carries Lou Barlow’s semi-bored delivery better than most Sebadoh songs.

17. Great song. Stupid lyrics:

o Norm Burns & Singers – “Human Breakdown of Absurdity” – The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood and Brush?. Yeah, I’m cheating here again, this time by using song-poems in the stupid lyrics category. This is one of my favorite song-poems, where you can hear these hacks throw off their ennui and just fucking go for it. Like Scott Walker covering the Archies, this song has great pseudo-profound lyrics, backing singers who moan like they’re getting paid by volume, and a chord progression so catchy and personable that you can completely forgive the song seeing if it will outlast its welcome.

18. Much better live than in its studio version:

o Yo La Tengo – “Today Is The Day” – Today Is The Day EP. Originally a quiet, Ira-sung track from the whispery, light Summer Sun, “Today Is The Day” sounds infinitely better with supercharged guitars and Georgia’s sweet/shy vocal delivery. The wordless melody ooo-ooo’s (do we have a word for these) have more bite and the dynamic range sounds like the great Yo La of the 90s.

19. To be played EXTREMELY LOUD:

o McLusky – “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” – McLusky Do Dallas. Un-fucking-hinged, yeah. Simple as fuck, too, which is partly why it’s so great. The tempo upswing in the final verse is choice.

20. To be played very quietly:

o The Moles – “Cars For Kings Cross” – Instinct. This album is mostly a Richard Davies solo album and this song is the most beautiful quiet song he’s ever written. It’s a barely-there song: the lead part is on bass (and I think there’s a second bass playing the low parts), the percussion is minimal, the guitar parts mostly supporting arpeggios until the wordless bridge, and the vocal tracks crossing and supporting each other with an almost psychedelic effect. Oh, and Xmas bells = pop heaven.

21. Built around an extended metaphor:

o The Hold Steady – “Cattle and Creeping Things” – Separation Sunday. This song introduces the Biblical themes that will dominate the album (mostly about the recurring character Holly, whose real name is Halleluiah), starting with the Apocalypse, which is used to describe a loud rock show on acid, and moving backward to Cain and Abel, used to describe a drug deal gone wrong. The song ends with Holly talking about a blissful, Edenic acid trip and asking a guy about his trip to New York, a hellish comedy of errors which he describes as being like he’d lived through it before. Fucking brilliant.

22. From an album that you denounced as crap before ever hearing but now like:

o Elf Power – “O What A Beautiful Dream” – A Dream In Sound. Because of their worst possible band name, I mocked this album mercilessly when it first came out. Surely, I thought, this could be nothing but the feyest of fey proggy crap-indie wuss music. Then I heard it and fell in love.

23. This song is brought to you by the letter 'X' (out of title, artist, and album, two must contain an 'x'):

o Pavement – “Texas Never Whispers” – Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Deluxe Edition. I cheated more here than in those other categories. Did you know that Calexico only has two songs with “x” in the titles? Neither worked here. I scoured my collection for something that would work (skipping X because obvious), and this was easily the hardest one to fill. However, I decided that my previous decision to avoid repackaged albums was bunk, so here we have it: a decent, but not great, Pavement song.

24. You remember it from elementary school:

o Bob Dorough – “Three Is A Magic Number” – Schoolhouse Rock. The greatest Schoolhouse Rock track, all brought over on two chords, a choral call-and-response, a supertight rhythm section, and Dorough’s weirdo voice. The oddly semi-religious opening leads to a funky math lesson and then repeats the “man and a woman had a little baby” part, which just kills me. I love the marimba riff, too. That’s a magic number.

25. A song by the last band you saw live:

o The Casting Couch – “Strawberry” – Row Your Boat. I’d say nice words about this album even if I didn’t have to (and I guess I don’t really, but man, I just want to). This is a kicky upbeat number that doesn’t fail to bring a smile to my face. Clever lyrics, dual horn lines, handclaps, crunchy lead guitar that leaps in on the second verse – what’s not to love? Did I mention the handclaps? Yeah!

26. Changed your idea of what music is capable of:

o The Feelies – “Slow Down” – The Good Earth. Among the artists that have claimed this spot in draft versions of the mix were The Minutemen, The Meat Puppets, Can, Mission of Burma, the Velvet Underground, and Love. And all of them deserve it, as well as quite a few other bands. But this one got the slot because a) it’s a bit more unexpected, which leads to b) because although it’s not that amazing a performance, it’s one of the first songs I could play through on the guitar and the slow build was the first time I remember being really aware of dynamics and songcraft. It’s also a wonderful mix-closer. I had to cut my dramatic closer, the Minutemen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” for space, but this song finalizes things on just the right note.

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