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March 25, 2004

Back to front

My favorite single image from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I think, occurs in the Barnes and Noble, where Joel and Clementine have one of their many meetings in his memory-space. In one of the subtly disorienting details of the film, all of the books have been placed on the shelves with their spines to the wall, and the room swims with the dazzling white-out of the hundreds of thousands of pages as they reflect the light, erasing all context in a burst of anonymity.

Intentional or not, the image reminds me of Rachel Whiteread's marvelous (and much contested) Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust at Judenplatz in Vienna. Typical of Whitread, that memorial presents the stone cast of a library that's been turned inside out; what seems at first a classical mass of bricks turns out to be shelf after shelf of books facing outward, their pages weathering the elements, each fossilized page a micro-memorial in constant peril of the erosion of forgetting.


When iTunes and CDDB decide to be mischevious, they can be squirrlier than Bernie Goetz' band of followers. I thought it amusing when a scary dark ambient album -- not intentionally scary, but still pretty gloom 'n' doom, like if Pottery Barn marketed domestic soundtracks for dungeons, say -- was mistakenly identified as a Halloween sound effects CD. But today's data glitch takes the cake, as Funkstörung's Disconnected was magically transmogrified into the History of Funk compilation. I often forget what CD I've put in almost as soon as it begins playing, so my head fairly spun around when I saw that Sly & The Family Stone were the alleged authors of the folktronic ballad that opens the album.

(It's too bad, actually, that iTunes and CDDB can't just go the distance and load up the music they say I'm listening to; I'd sure rather hear the Bar-Kays' "Holy Ghost" as track 7, instead of the flaccid strings, glitches, and crooning of Funkstörung's "Sleeping Beauty." And while the real track 13, "Mr. Important," featuring Rob Sonic of Sonic Sum, isn't awful, it's nothing compared to its accidental doppelganger, Cameo's "I Just Want to Be." I just want to be listening to Cameo.)

March 24, 2004

There's no bailout when even the bucket's full of holes

If for even a moment you ever doubted that America is, at present, a sinking ship, you owe it to yourself to read Katherine Boo's account of the devastated economy of South Texas, one of the most depressing and disempowering accounts of American life that I have ever read.

Acquisition spree

Back before I became a full-time part-timer, which is to say, a proud member of the ranks of uninsured and self-employed, I used to work for a rather large internet company. I learned a lot about corporate behavior in that volatile environment, having the opportunity to watch the company morph from a 100-person startup to a 750-person minor behemoth. We were essentially a search engine, although as the company tumesced, it came to seem more like a stasis engine. Still, busybody executives needed to do something in order to generate the illusion of their usefulness, and so a bout of acquisitions ensued. All manner of small companies were plucked off the market and folded rather unceremoniously into our company – rather like origami as performed by a jack-hammer operator, say – and our ranks swelled with unfamiliar, dazed-looking employees shunted into makeshift desks in conference rooms, hallways, and cubicle farms.

It became clear that our company would need to acquire another search engine, as our underlying technology was woefully inadequate. The search was eventually narrowed to just two companies, and the engineering team undertook a careful analysis of the technology of each. When the engineers finally made their recommendation, their choice was a small, private company that was already gaining a reputation as a masterful search engine, perhaps the best there was. (They were prescient: that search engine’s name would eventually become a verb in common usage.) The executives listened to the engineers’ recommendation, and promptly turned around and acquired company B, a company whose technology was clearly inferior. Over the course of time, the error of their ways became almost laughably apparent. We had spent an ungodly sum of money on a lemon. But the executives, it seems, had their minds made up from the beginning. The engineers’ “bake-off” was a mere formality. The executives – one of whom occasionally carried a baseball bat – had rigged the game from the start.

Reading Richard Clarke’s allegations that even in the first hours after the 9/11 attacks, George Bush pressed him to find a way to link Iraq to the attacks, I’m struck by the parallels – in method if not scale. What we see, it seems, is a particular type of corporate director: the Prejudicial Executive, for whom all data must bend to his will. (This appellation gives the phrase “terminate with extreme prejudice” an intriguing new resonance, in the era of “right-sizing.”) Bush was hell-bent upon attacking (or, to extend the metaphor, acquiring) Iraq, no matter what the engineers had to say about it.

When Bush was elected president, the economic boom was still in full swing (even though the boom in question turned out to be like the boom of a sail, ready to snap back and brain us all with the slightest shifting of the wind), and executives were revered as rock stars. Bush, we were told, was the first CEO president.

How true that turns out to have been.

March 22, 2004

Some notebooks on cities and clothes

I am saddened by many things in Rolling Stone, but I am particularly saddened by the fact that they are championing white sneakers. White sneakers are currently one of the only things making me truly, giddily, unreasonably happy (note: cleaning white sneakers is not), and I fear their increased exposure can only kill off this particular trend/fad (what do you call something that’s not quite one or the other? A trad? A fend? Can we fend off the trad with subverso trends and anti-fads?). Once the white sneaks go, I’m afraid I’ll have no options but, say, camouflage Tevas, and nobody wants to see that.

Speaking of all things sartorial (well, some things sartorial), how goddamn excited am I that both Veronique Branquinho and Hussein Chalayan have launched menswear lines? (Answer: very.) Now, the only trick is figuring out how to afford these Continental coutouriers on $.10 a word. Yo Vero, Chally, you know that jetsetting hacks and hobbyist DJs have gotta look good whilst grubbing down microwaved mini-pizzas during our five-hour layovers at JFK. Hook a scribe up! I’ll plug you, promise. Here’s a sample: “Superpitcher’s hyperengineered gloom-pop is as sleek as the lines on Branquinho’s re-constructed racing jackets for SS/04; unlike the Belgian designer, though, who carefully snipped all logo patches from her uniform-style outerwear, leaving a teasing outline of corporate branding in the seamed outlines around the negative spaces of the excised badges, Superpitcher wears his affiliations – windswept New Romantics and glossily painted glam godz – proudly on his sleeve.”

(Note: this offer also open to representatives of Martin Margiela, Dries van Noten, Dirk Schönberger, and Exquisite Vestments, makers of some of the finest ecumenical attire on the Good Book circuit. To participate in our strategic partner plan, just send an email to sharpdressedman@sartorialsellout.com!)

Idle googlings and the subverted ego

According to Googlism:

Phil Sherburne is doubting Thomas.

Thomas, Thomases, all of you - my humblest apologies. I never meant to convey the impression of your untrustworthiness, and I am deeply disturbed that the internet would show me in such an unflattering light.

(Note: actual musical content coming soon, really. Let it not be said that this blog is falling off! Even when it sort of is.)

March 17, 2004

Looking for a way out

A disturbing new development in the world of PR flaks and music hacks: more and more, it seems, I'm receiving emails from publicists that conclude, "We're looking for features and reviews on this one!" Is it just me, or are things going all topsy-turvy? I know, dear publicists, that your job is to sell me on your musician's story, so that I turn around and pitch it to one of my editors. (Or, if I'm an editor, to assign it to a hack like me.) But it's that "we're looking for" that really rubs me the wrong way; I'm hardly here just to satisfy your desires. I mean, sure, I'm looking for a lot of things -- cheap airfare to Europe, a Democratic president in 2004, an attractive woman with good shoes who doesn't think there's something wrong with me just because I listen to techno instead of indie rock. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest.) But I don't go appending that to the end of my every email; such appendage would signify, among other things, that I actually expected to attain said goals simply by specifying them.

And also (now that I'm in full rant mode), doesn't the publicist's little wish-list seem a mite redundant? Of course you're looking for coverage of various sorts for these upstanding artists of yours. That's why you sent me the CD; that's why you keep emailing me. I'm under no illusion that you're doing this for your health, and neither am I (though timesucks like this blog suggest that I do way more work for free than otherwise). And my job (or "job," if you like), ultimately, is not to accede to your desires, nor to facilitate your aims in some kind of some kind of super-lubed workflow of global information management, but rather to decide if your artist sucks or not, and if not, how much she/he does not suck, and where, if anywhere, might be an appropriate outlet for me to pitch/assign a story, much to the betterment of humankind, or at least next February's Pazz & Jop poll.

It has nothing to do with what you're looking for.

Right now, I'm looking for your artist's crap CD so I exchange it at Amoeba for, oh, I don't know some Echo and the Bunnymen cut-outs, or maybe a new spool of CD-Rs. I'd say I was looking for the delete key, but that'd be a lie -- I've got command+delete down to an automatic motor function, so come correct or be whisked away to magnetic non-existence faster than you can say "manufactured buzz." Next!


Who says there's nothing left to say about Dizzee Rascal? Well, me, kinda. Perhaps noting that folks need to shut up and listen is stating the obvious. (Metacritical plus hypocritical! A genius maneuver.) But really, have you noticed how godawful most of the coverage of Dizzee is, especially in the lifestyle press? From Rolling Stone to Planet, everyone's rushing to regurgitate the press releases -- when they're even that capable. I could swear that somewhere I saw him referred to as drum'n'bass.

Anyway, enjoy, or don't. Maybe all the kids who called me a racist fassyman for declining to rate Wiley will send me love letters now. Then again, maybe not.

March 16, 2004

Spring breakin' 2 (electric boogaloo)

We're way overdue for an update, but we're also still suffering from alcohol poisoning (or maybe just the sticker shock of $7 Red Stripes and $40 cover charges) after Miami. Besides, what, exactly, is there to tell? Miami was about as I expected -- long lines, endless guestlist hassle, the strange elasticity that time takes on whenever you attempt to do anything in a group of more than three people. Still, a few moments stand out:

Friday night's DFA party at the SoHo Lounge, where I waited two hours to get in, looked like someone had chartered a bus from Williamsburgh. Even in the Miami heat, rock kids wear blazers. (Then again, so did Crockett, or maybe it was Tubbs, so perhaps I can't begrudge them this.)

But you know that scene in Hedwig where the band is playing some Lilith Fair ripoff on a stage perched on a small, grassy knoll -- and there's a lone goth girl watching them from beneath her umbrella, while the real festival takes place one hill away? That's kind of how the Vice stage felt at Saturday's day-long Ultra Music Festival. The oversized stage dwarfed performers and skimpy crowd -- consisting mainly of a few New York girlfriends and well-wishers, seemingly -- while a reported 50,000 kids raved away just steps away to the friendlier sounds of breaks, jungle, house, and of course trance. I actually felt more than a little bad for the Vice/DFA folks, who looked a little lost. (Funk-punk apparently doesn't play in Peoria.) It didn't help that one of 2ManyDJs was reportedly ejected from the festival after a scuffle with his girlfriend and a beatdown at the hands of security guards. "You may be wondering the same thing we are," quipped James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem as the band took the stage, "which is, what are we doing here?" Might be the first and only time you'll ever see New York hipsters as underdogs, which is charming, in a strange way.

The rest of the Ultra fest was about as I would have expected it; between the whitehats and the meat-on-a-stick booths, it felt a little like a state fair, but with more glowsticks. Still, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, so I can't begrudge them their kicks, even if hearing Tiesto play a trance mix of the theme from The Mission (why didn't anyone think of this before?) isn't exactly my bag. I did enjoy watching the trainwreck-in-progress that is Tommy Lee flail away on a drumkit while some anonymous DJ gamely attempted to play along, and P. Diddy's bewildering appearance between Tiesto and Oakenfold was just as amusing. Dude didn't so much as pick up a microphone; just strutted on stage and allowed a DJ to spin his most recent single. One of the most godawful things ever put to wax in the name of "dance music," it pretty much killed the epic vibe Tiesto had so skillfully built up. If a DJ set is a journey, P. Diddy's interlude was a bus plunge off a steep cliff. The government might want to look into licensing that sucker for use at Guantanamo, because I've never seen a more effective spirit-killer.

The rest of Miami is more or less a blur, at least until the final night's XLR8R party with Michael Mayer and Superpitcher. What can I say? I saw god. It's that simple. I arrived to hear Luomo tweaking his way through Present Lover tracks; effective if underattended. Stacey Pullen roused the crowd with a punchy set of house and techno that had me moving for about 20 minutes, until I decided that all motion was off for the rest of the night. By the time Mayer assumed the decks at 2 a.m., I'd resigned myself to a night of spectating. But Mayer's slow, steady creep into action had me moving in spite of myself, and for the next three hours, I was in total bodily thrall to the Germans. While the highlights were unforgettable -- Mayer dropping an a cappella of "Milkshake" over a gritty St. Plomb track off Mental Groove, or that enormous, spine-tapping chorus of Rex the Dog splitting the room in two -- for the most part the evening's arc is hard to map precisely. Indeed, what's so impressive about Mayer and Superpitcher is how subtly they mix tracks (like the Speicher ones) that are, on their own, total monsters. Try to play those records and you instantly see that each, on its own, is almost overkill on all but the most aggro floors. But Mayer and Superpitcher, seductors without peer, make Kompakt's walloping proto-trance feel like a caress -- albeit one with sting.

March 11, 2004

Mmmmm, donuts

One of today's many dozens of spam emails just arrived bearing, buried in its subject line between strings of garbled type, the phrase, "killer creampies."

Is there anything spam can't do?

Thread of the goddamn week

"From the grave of six million dead, Walter Benjamin rises to say, "Fucking ASSCLOWN" and poops on Crowe's head."

Black Earth

Outside perhaps Morton Feldman or George Crumb's Black Angels, can't think of more fitting tribute music to today's Spanish tragedy than Bohren & Der Club of Gore's Black Earth (out May 4 on Ipecac), which arrived today. Despite the death metal overtones of the artist and title, it's actually a slow, mournful assemblage of bowed standup bass, death-march jazz drumming, and keyboard melodies that bubble up from underwater depths where no light reaches. It is coelecanth slow and chillingly wise, killingly lonely music. There is tenor saxophone, which is something is something I usually do not suffer, but it works (it sounds, perhaps, like the saxophone that must play in one of Murakami's characters bars, noirish but strangely without affect). Elegaic in a non-saccharine way, yet not without a wry sense of humor, it is music for the after of everything.

Maybe a trip to Mars isn't such a bad idea

Today's one of those days where I feel like killing someone -- any motherfucker with an extremist's bent and the audacity to act on it. (And yeah, Mel Gibson, aesthetic carnage doesn't let you off the hook, although your bigoted ass is admittedly far down the list from Al Quaeda, Ariel Sharon, et al.) Perhaps today's attack will make people who were quick to suggest that Americans had brought it upon ourselves reconsider. Sure, Aznar's got troops in Iraq alongside the US battalions, but that isn't the fault of average Spaniards, most of whom are whole-heartedly against the war. Step to me with a jock-in-a-date-rape-trial "they were asking for it" excuse and I'll clock you too.

I'm also worried that the Bushies will use this as election fodder: proof that the world is still unsafe from "terror," and therefore proof that we still need our father figure. All right-thinking Americans (by which I mean, left-thinking Americans), though, should be raising this question now, and shouting it from the rooftops: if this bombing turns out to have been the work of Islamic militants, and not the ETA (as the BBC and NYT are beginning to suggest), isn't this just proof that America's adventure in Iraq is even foolhardier than we thought? Instead of finishing what we started in Afghanistan, instead of wiping out Al Quaeda, we were following the ideological obsessions of a few hard-righters with no grasp on reality and invading Iraq -- indeed, creating photo ops for every new Al Quaeda recruitment poster. Perhaps, just perhaps, had we not been wasting our time (and our middle-class taxpayers' money) fucking up Iraq and turning worldwide opinion against us, we (eg, the CIA, Pentagon, NATO, the alleged "global alliance" against "terror") just might have stopped the fuckers that wreaked havoc in Spain today. A sorry day for all of us.

March 06, 2004

Miami breach



Miami is a snob's nightmare. Long Island pricesses in Abercrombie and Fitch ass-logo shorts; SUVs trolling for action, men catcalling at anything in a bikini or a miniskirt; the endless parade of surgical flesh and strategically suspended scraps of fabric; running the gantlet of sidewalk restaurant barkers. The gawking. The public drunkenness. Even the surf is paltry; the attempt to ride the choppy waves looks like a second-rate display of machismo, a mere excuse for the ritual of peeling off a wetsuit in the parking lot.

My first experience of a WMC party was more stylish, but not necessarily more enjoyable. (In fact, I prefer the voyeurism.) Two hours to get into the DFA party. Six dollar Red Stripes. Intense claustrophobia on the dance floor. Fashion like a parody of Williamsburg. I can't exactly say I enjoyed myself, though I suppose it all beat sitting in my hotel room watching Martha Stewart trial updates on CNN. And Twitch did play Crackhaus's new single on Musique Risquée, which pretty much made my night.

Today's goal: find a cell phone charger, mine having crapped out. I'd be lost without text-messaging here.

March 03, 2004

Lessons in suckitude

Nothing sucks like sucking in public.

Although, given that perhaps 90% of the crowd cleared the room within my first half-dozen records last night, when I took the decks after incredible sets by Lusine and Matthew Dear, perhaps that no longer counts as "in public"? You certainly could not have called it a quorum.

I blame the braining. Early in the evening, during setup and soundcheck, a monitor hanging from the ceiling failed to yield the right of way when I stood up suddenly, sending me straight to the ground, clutching my head and marveling at the strange new way my teeth seemed to fit together when I closed my mouth. The rest of the night, despite steady application of Red Stripe and Red Bull (not mixed: I wasn't that confused), everything felt... kind of... off. If there are any brain surgeons out there, get in touch, because I'm looking for expert medical witnesses to testify on my behalf that only short-term brain damage could have accounted for the fact that, not four hours later, in mid-set, I mixed out of one record, pulled it off the turntable, and proceeded to hit the power switch on the active turntable, killing the sound then and there.

Like I said, nothing sucks like sucking in public.

March 02, 2004

This is how we walk on the moon

Did the world’s axis slip a bit today, spinning it – as a DJ would – a half-beat closer to a more perfect rhythm? I’m inclined to say so. Perhaps that sounds overly puffed up with gravitas, but c'mon; people have been bitching about the New Yorker's pop culture coverage for how long? And now this? Hot damn.

Critics shore up their failings by aping other critics, which is in part why I’m embarrassed, at times, by my admiration for SF/J. But his writing, like his first piece for the New Yorker, on Arthur Russell, does things that I don’t see anywhere else. You can hear him thinking, phrase by phrase, untangling thoughts and taking the time, while his fingers prod and buckle, to crack little private jokes to himself. But unlike the word-glutted puns and pileups of most of our contemporary scribes, my alliterative self included, Sasha’s asides are worth eavesdropping on. His quips are understated: “One of the singers, Melvina Woods, repeats, ‘Is it all over my face? You’ve caught me love dancing,’ which is fairly unimposing, as chants go.” He downplays his observations without being deprecating. His sentences trail off into obviousness that you or I would not have thought to phrase so cleanly: “Patient business partners and label owners paid for these sessions, hoping for pop products to sell, not avant-garde experiments. It is to Russell’s credit that they are somehow both.” And he always unearths an innocence in even the most complex subjects, in part by paring down phrases to become something you could say to a mother or a cousin or a coworker. “His dance singles were sounding more and more like birthday parties, possibly for people turning six.”

I’m glad that Sasha is writing for the New Yorker; this can only be good for everyone. I’m overjoyed that his first piece concerns Arthur Russell, an artist who should be everyone’s. A good day for populism, in the best sense.

March 01, 2004

Feeding pigeons = class war

At least, that's what's stenciled on the bathrooms at the bar where I DJ on Sundays. I don't understand it either. I just put on Tracy + the Plastics' Culture for Pigeon for the first time, a title that seems suspiciously related to said propaganda. (Is there a revolution afoot? A real life 12 Monkeys plot?) I also do not understand Culture for Pigeon, but only three songs in I love it with a fierceness. I am trying to put my finger on what it is that appeals so furiously and immediately, and I think it is this: for all of its ostensible lo-fi simplicity, there's an incredibly rich (I do not want to use a loaded word like "sophisticated") sense of space to it. On a track like "Henrietta," voices jump out at you like ghostbots in a carnival haunted house, and you think, "Where did that come from?" as they slip back into a velvet nothingness. Meanwhile all the blurpy bass patter and prickly hi hats offer a similarly three-dimensional perspective, as though mapping out a blackness with sonar and putting you at the pilot's controls. Instead of charting objects on a screen, though, the music registers them on your skin, turning the world instantly, simultaneously, alien and intimate.