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.

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