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July 25, 2004

Man with a plan

How come nobody told me Jess is back[note: link corrected]? People, you can't just assume I'm tuned into every heartbeat of the blogosphere; I need tips! Anyway, thrilled to see man like Harvell back and in firing form, especially on everyone's favorite label to dissect in all its microsampled minutiae, Kompakt. (You're wrong though, Jess, Rex the Dog -- which is, according to M Mayer, not Ewan Pearson -- is hardly the weakest Kompakt single of the year; in fact it's up there near the top for me. But nothing's going to beat Ferenc's "Cronch." And how come nobody's talking about Justus Koehncke's "Durch Die Nach"???)

(PS - Thanks to Jeff Chang for the link to Jess' new home.)

July 24, 2004

Here are not the facts you requested

Alexis Petridis might be more convincing if he didn't have a habit of twisting the facts to fit his argument. In a recent article chronicling a minor new "British invasion" of the US pop charts, he documents at great length the recent successes of a number of UK artists on American shores (including, intriguingly, Mis-teeq, who apparently needed the green light from Carson Daly before they could land a deal here) before concluding on the wry, pessimistic note -- how quintessentially British can you get? -- that despite these blips, significant cultural hurdles remain.

Andy Pemberton, "English-born editor of US music magazine Blender," writes Petridis, "has reservations about talk of a new British invasion. Too many factors are ranged against UK artists, he says, from the sheer size of the country to the power wielded by 'gatekeepers' such as MTV and radio conglomerate Clear Channel, both of which are obsessed with music fitting demographics rather than breaking boundaries. And, he adds, there are some things that Americans are just never going to get. 'I played the Streets album to the managing editor of Blender amid much trumpeting and enthusiasm. It's had fantastic reviews over here, critics love it. He just said, "I can't understand a word this guy is saying", and that was pretty much the end of that.'"

Except, of course, that two months before Petridis published his piece, Blender had already run a four-star review of A Grand Don't Come for Free, written by none other than Petritis' Guardian colleague Dorian Lynskey. So what was pretty much the end of what, now?

July 23, 2004


Start salivating now:

Dittmar Frohmann:

"I am currently compiling an officially authorized and supported album with versions of The KLF's greatest hits, performed and reworked by german artists such as Toktok + Autotune, Tobi Neumann, Ricardo Villalobos, Justus Köhncke + Andreas Dorau, Tocadisco, Deichkind and Bela B. The 2CD set entitled "Justified" will be released this autumn in cooperation between Blaou and Superstar. Bill will write the liner notes, and both of them will provide some exclusive artwork for the album."

Thanks to Tobias for the link!

July 22, 2004

Grok a Korg

This palindromic headline brought to you by my long-lost twin, Geeta.

Tickle me Ashcroft

This just in: the Homeland Security department has updated its color-coded warning system.

July 21, 2004

El General

Does anyone else find Bush's comments on the alleged secret accounts held in General Augusto Pinochet's name at New York's Riggs Bank, now under investigation for all manner of shady dealings, more than a little bit creepy?

Reports the Associated Press:

"'I think the people of Chile must know that there will be a full investigation,' Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. 'It's important for the facts to be ... on the table so we know what course of action may or may not be needed. That's what you're seeing. You're seeing a transparent society dealing with allegations.'"

What's strange is the way his rhetoric carries a sort of middle-school-level civics lesson. Instead of confirming, say, that reports of illegal accounts are troubling, he feels the need to remind us of what seem almost to be Invisible Hand-like operations of the legal processes of a democracy. He sounds a bit like the tour bus driver for a group of Close Up students on the junior year visit to Washington. "And, on your left, you're seeing a transparent society dealing with allegations. No, Susie, not there. Just behind the two men in suits exchanging briefcases full of cash. Right, just over their shoulders."

I can't quite put my finger on what it is that disturbs me in Bush's rhetoric here, but there's something decidedly off-putting about it -- in fact, he almost sounds self-defensive, like a teenager who complains to his mother that he was, in fact, just about to wash the car before she started hounding him about it. "Mom, c'mon. I was just about to deal with those allegations. I mean, I'm already dealing with them, for crying out loud. That's what a transparent society does."

Right. This from a president who's done more than any American chief of state since Nixon to keep the workings of a transparent society as opaque as possible.

Dearly beloved

Writes a reader from New Duluth:

"So is this so-called 'blog' of yours becoming nothing more than a vehicle for the shameless self-promotion of your own writing projects? No new content? No top 10s? No hits and misses? No original thoughts here at all?

Giving up hope,
Luthing It"

Dear Luthing It:
As a matter of fact, you've hit the nail on the head -- except that I am, in fact, deeply ashamed. I look at my Moveable Type interface and scratch my forehead (and occasionally my unmentionables) trying to come up with something groundbreaking, neologistic, or at least vaguely witty. Meanwhile I am watching Ashlee Simpson on the MTV -- with the sound off, of course -- and listening to Hoobastank.

I am so ashamed, in fact, that I wish you would quit reading this blog right now. Instead of reading this blog, you could divert yourself among some of the fine links in the right-hand column. Or better yet, read this piece on Matthew Dear that I just did for Michaelangelo Matos at Seattle Weekly. Or if that doesn't do it for you, you could hightail it to Parkett, where it turns out that my own musings on Christian Marclay are the PDF text sample for the current issue. Just click on the link and enjoy the piece in all its well-designed splendor, and save yourself $32 at the same time.

I've gotta go. I think Ashlee's about to look bored again.

July 16, 2004

Wax, trax, and kleenax

Roused myself from the sickbed just long enough to open the new issue of Wax Poetics, aka the Analog Jones issue (as of this posting, the website hasn't been updated for the summer issue). How great is this magazine? You get RJD2 talking about the Geto Boys, Tears for Fears and Elliott Smith. You get Oliver Wang in convo with Dante Ross. You get a massive piece with luscious B+ photos on Joe Zawinul, including vintage ads for Rhodes and ARP that brought me back to my days of being a Keyboard reading middleschooler salivating over synthesizers (and occasionally rigging up my Korg Poly-800 with a guitar strap, just like they did it in the ads). And you even get part two of my piece on "experimental turntablism," this time featuring Philip Jeck, Janek Schaefer, and Institut Fuer Feinmotorik.

Extra props to Wax Poetic for being one of the only magazines out there these days to give its writers real space in which to stretch out. When my turntablism piece ran long, taking some 5,000 words to tackle Christian Marclay alone (in a style one of my readers calls "grade-school essay," but you can't please everyone all the time), they didn't even flinch at turning it into a two-parter.

Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for it. As for me, it's back to my sick bed and DVD of The Office's second season.

July 08, 2004

Lean, boy

Track of the week? Le Dust Sucker's "Mean Boy," off his new, self-titled album on Plong!. Sucker (dude and track) starts off with clap-happy percussion heavy on the two and four, an acid line that could scrub drains, and a bass line that sounds like the gunk that'd dribble out -- in other words, right in line with the current electro-house axis of Blackstrobe, Tiefschwarz, Chicken Lips et al. But then the strangest thing happens: horns -- heavenly, angels-harbinging-paradise kind of horns -- blare forth, and a male vocal sample sings, in a wavering perfect fifth, what sounds like "Money gets you lean boy, money gets you lover boy" -- which I'm sure isn't quite it, but that's what I hear, so that's good enough for me. Then a garish female chorus of "Oh, how I cry!" and the whole thing swells like the glass skin of an office building right before it explodes, as in the slow-mo erotic detail of a Bruckheimer or a Matrix. But it never blows up; it just bends, and bends, and bends.

July 07, 2004

Clocks are melting

I like the new Ulrich Schnauss album A Strangely Isolated Place (or rather, reissued, forthcoming on Domino). I do. But there's something bothering me about it as well. Listen to track 5, "Clear Day." Those overdriven strings and chords buried deep in the mix -- you've heard them somewhere before, haven't you? Let's not be coy: it's My Bloody Valentine all over again, and when he pulls out the detuned drone, seesawing in and out of key, there's no mistaking the source. The strategy is essentially the same as the one that Dykehouse followed on his new album -- take classic shoegaze sounds, and cover them the way you'd cover a song. It's a kind of pastiche driven by a laptopper's ego: "It took Kevin Shields et al a massive studio to put this sound together; I bet I can do it with a G4." And in many ways the laptoppers are right.

But something in me cries out: is this all there is?

Culture revisits the past, this much I know. After a spate of blazing forward, it will periodically slip into a loop, returning to recent aesthetics and picking up room tones the way Lucier's voice does in his loop composition par excellence, I Am Sitting in a Room. We've been looping for a while now across multiple genres -- rock, electronic listening music, house, techno, electro -- and it seems like we've got the recent past pretty much covered. Garage rock? Check. Acid house? Check. Shoegaze? Check, and check. (Grunge is still coming, of course.)

Are we exhausted? Out of ideas? Have digital musicians pushed the software as far as they can, discovering that rippling glitches are a dead end, and that the only way to go forward is to move back to the discarded songforms and stylistic signatures of recent movements?

It feels a bit Tourettic, to be honest. In Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, the protagonist, a Tourette's sufferer, often takes an inordinately long time to do simple things -- close the glove box, say -- because his syndrome compels him to repeat simple mechanical actions. For most of the book, his tic takes six as its magic number, and so everything he does, he does six times. Tapping acquaintances on the shoulder, clicking the lock of the car door. It seems like musicians these days are cursed with the same compulsion, that before they can move forward they have to perform a well-rehearsed dance of OCD. Tap the past on the shoulder -- one, two, three, four, five... how many times? And when they've fulfilled their quota, will they be free to do something new?

Almost everything feels apres garde these days. There are exceptions, of course. But the zeitgeist, the one that cuts across rock, hip hop, techno, etc., the whole pop universe of recorded sound, feels like it's lock grooving. And lock grooves wear down, scuff needles, collect fuzz and disappear in a firecracker string of fizzle and hiss and dusty explosions. Pop music today is a necrophile, in love with from-dust-to-dust, pulverizing its way back to some idealized, ashen origins one pilfering at a time.

July 06, 2004

How they find us, we don't know

Reader mail just keeps getting better and better. I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories, but anything that begins with a bottle found at Joshua Tree -- a bottle containing a scroll signed by Elvis Presley -- is enough to catch my eye. Interestingly, this is probably the first anti-racist conspiracy theory I've ever heard of, though I doubt Chuck D will subscribe to the theories herein. (Bonus factoid: did my mystery correspondant know that my birthday actually coincides with one of the key dates in the chronology?)

From: [expunged]@aol.com
Date: Tue, 6 Jul 2004 21:55:49 EDT
To: psherburne@mindspring.com
Subject: Elvis Conspiracy

You may be interested in a very unique website (www.elvis-conspiracy.com ), according to which the Beatles and Rolling Stones were involved in a conspiracy which was exposed and foiled by a secret society associated with Elvis Presley. Mention is also made of U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Don McLean, and Rush.

July 05, 2004

Sometimes I lie

Then again, my favorite disc this year might also be Mouse On Mars' Radical Connector, a record so joyous and poignant that it makes me want to don a coat of feathers and run, run, run. Aside from the Basement Jaxxiness of "Spaceship," I can't even think of any reference points for this thing. Niobe's voice is just the white peach in the yogurt. Send me shivers indeed.

I wanna be your number one

If you asked me today what my album of the year was, I would pretend to hem and haw, but that would be mere dissimulation. As of today it is Smash TV's Bits for Breakfast, and frankly I don't see that changing any time soon.

July 04, 2004

King cochlear

Attention artsy-tartsies: the new edition of Parkett features articles on Gillian Wearing, Wilhelm Sasnal, and Christian Marclay. Regarding the latter, included is a brief article of mine explaining why he is not a "sound artist," with bonus excurses on Mingering Mike and Elvis's posthumous run-in with the razor-wielding Master Tape Collection. Sure, the price tag ain't cheap, but hey -- my piece is included in both English and German. Read along comparing both texts, and consider it a budget crash course in a foreign language. Or, you know, just read it on the newsstand.

July 03, 2004

So slackin'

Kontent has posted a bang-up Sonar review, which means that I don't have to; at least not today.

That cat? It's about 100 meters from the flat where I lived last year (and stayed this year). The idea that there was a bonafide Botero (though he's Colombian, not Spanish, as Kontent places him) in my neighborhood public space never fails to tickle me pink.