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December 29, 2004

Eultide greetings

Dominik Eulberg, one of my favorite producers of late, has updated his website with December (and all-time) charts, downloads, and one hell of a discography (which confirms that he is, indeed, Rocco Branco -- whose "Blattschuss" EP on Platszhirsch you need, if you like your techno pebbly like mueslix).

Obrigado a O Som E A Furia para o link... Now if only I could read Portuguese!

A tip

(One of the occasional cantakerous outbursts which you've come to expect from me:)

CNN has just posted a list of "the best albums you didn't hear" in 2004. While the list is, I suppose, decently broad (Tegan and Sara bore the fuck out of me, but it's cool to see Isis in a place like this, I suppose), it's the trope itself that gets to me. It's a trope you see every year in mainstreamish publications (including, in the past, the New York Times, whose arts coverage I otherwise respect, and who I believe have moved away from the best-you-didn't-hear format), and it never fails to rankle me.

It's condescending, for starters. But moreover, it's incredibly myopic, because it fails to ask why people didn't hear this music. It goes on the assumption, I suppose, that such music wasn't covered on mainstream radio, but in the age of P2P, iTunes, CD-burning, satellite radio, and services like Last FM, that's a lazy argument. What these critics really mean to say is, "Music we didn't write about this year" – which has nothing to do with the market, and everything to do with their own disinclination to cover anything that's not already common knowledge. If these publications covered non-ubiquitous material in the first place, instead of waiting for the tokenistic, year-end column (which is really just a bit of candy thrown down to keep the writer happy, isn't it?), well, we wouldn't have the problem of underexposure in the first place, would we?

(Let it be said that the New York Times, and Kelefa Sanneh in particular, has done a bang-up job of mixing up top-of-the-charts pop coverage with things most readers really won't find anywhere else, like Ada or Ricardo Villalobos; and Blender's review section can be great as well, and of course the alt-weeklies are generally good places to discover new music. But the lesson that mainstream media ought to be taking from people like MP3 bloggers is this: readers actually want to read about things they don't already know about, in addition to gossip on celebrities with whom they're well familiar. Wouldn't it be nice if music magazines started breaking artists again, instead of waiting for the competition, not to mention a massive PR push and appearances on SNL, to confirm their worth?)

December 28, 2004

The new trend in blogging:

The new trend in blogging: blogs with no outbound links! It's cocky, but it doesn't matter if you're Scott Seward, and hence smarter and funnier than most of the competition. Read him. Link him. Love him.

(Thanks to Rock Critics Daily for pointing it out.)

A midwinter mix

Just posted, a 31-minute mix of minimal house & techno I did a week back. Nothing fancy, but it's got some fun tunes - something by Luciano (I think), Melchior & Baby Ford's remix of Villalobos' "Easy Lee," The Rip Off Artist's "Nasty," something by the amazing Frankie, and a few other tracks I can't even begin to identify. Download it here, and enjoy!

The wrap-up

Not to sound too negative – because if most readers got inside my head right now, they'd probably think, "Why in the hell should I read this depressive curmudgeon?" – but I could really give a fuck about a year-end wrap-up right now. I keep starting and re-starting this thing, in between extended bouts of cable TV and long, pointless periods spent sitting in suburban traffic. And, yeah, actually quite importantly, periods spent with my family.

In case you didn't pick it up from my last post – something I debated not putting up, but in the end, well, this blog is as much about my life as it is about its soundtrack (so, sorry, you've been LiveJournaled) – things are a little heavy right now. I'm spending more time reading pamphlets on the dying process, measuring out narcotics that would be highly illegal if they were in my sole possession, and googling things like "coping with dementia" than I am staying up to date on I Love Music. (I know, you'd think the latter two were almost synonymous.) I wish I could say that music were keeping me sane, but that's just not the truth. My records are at home in SF, I don't have any means of hooking up my laptop or iPod to stereo speakers, and in any case, it's somehow more soothing to just sit and gaze blankly at the TV, deep into the night. (I, Robot? Hell yeah. The title just about sums up my state of mind, anyway.)

Also, weirdly, the longer I go on writing about music, or perhaps just the older I get, the less I seem to forge emotional relationships with particular recordings. Or maybe that's just because we're going through a moment when the album isn't really the be-all and end-all, and that emotional state I'm thinking about – the 40-minute bond that you replay over and over, sinking into a repeated trance state, emotions a kind of accessory you don with the aid of a particular soundtrack – doesn't apply to singles. So few albums did I care about this year; and many of them were things for which I particularly admired (and often played out) a surprising number of individual tracks, as opposed to being in thrall to the album qua album. I think März was the only act to make me swoon this year, to make me flutter the way, say, Elliott Smith once did (and with only a fraction of his original impact, at that). I immersed myself with surprising frequency in Circle Square, but that's in part because it went down so well with, uh, herbal supplements. Their Pre-Earthquake Anthem precisely satisfied my need for aural wallpaper (and shag carpeting and lava lamps), and ain't a damn thing wrong with that kind of mood-oriented efficacy.

Still, I heard more good music this year than anybody deserves, even if at the same time I found myself – somewhat to my chagrin – gravitating almost exclusively toward techno and house (two genres that, incidentally, I'm caring less and less about bothering to divide, micro- and minimal fusions be damned – though hell if you'll catch me saying "tech-house"). Owing to availability and my own hermetic habits, grime and dancehall largely fell off my chart (and like Matos, I only got around to listening to the new Dizzee once I could download it from eMusic.com, since the copy-protected promo wouldn't play in my computer, and like many other people, I don't own a CD player that's not connected to a computer. (If you heard a "duh" at the end of that, it was purely your imagination. Really. Though I might have thought it.) I spent very little time listening to so-called "experimental" electronic music this year, or in fact, anything without a drum machine behind it. Rock? Aside from the Liars, I can't think of a new rock album I listened to more than maybe twice (ok, ok, maybe !!!, but aside from Maurice Fulton's production work, I didn't find much to love there). Hip-hop? Well, yeah, I enjoyed me some crunk, and the Kanye record was indeed purty fun. But for whatever it's worth, my heart beats at 128 BPM, and I'm comfortable with that, especially as good as it was this year.

While most of the discussion seemed to gravitate towards disco-inflected electro-house (a la Get Physical), nu-trance (Paul Kalkbrenner, Speicher, Mathew Jonson's "Decompression), or the resurgence of acid (which occasionally provided the common denominator between the two otherwise quite disparate tendencies), the development that thrilled me most was the opening up of a new wormhole I hadn't heard before – a deeply psychedelic, sprawlingly horizontal energy that achieves a trance state through subtle repetition and variations. Examples? Well, pretty much anything that Luciano or Villalobos put their hands to; Steve Barnes' masterful "Cosmic Sandwich" (on the otherwise solidly electro-house label MBF), the occasional Robag Wruhme/Wighnomy Bros track. I should say more about this stuff – in part because I think we're going to hear a lot more of it in 2005, and I should try to get myself ahead of the curve now (since I never did actually write anything substantial about schaffel, which seems to have enjoyed its swinging 15 minutes already – some careerist I make!), but that's going to have to wait for another time.

Anyway, without further ado: a very subjective guide to 2004. Predictable? Probably. Occasionally surprising? Just perhaps. Dependable? You bet!

Albums and compilations, in a vague sort of order of preference
Ricardo Villalobos, Thé Au Harem D'Archimedes (Perlon)
März, Wir Sind Hier (Karaoke Kalk)
Junior Boys, Last Exit (Kin/Domino)
Robag Wruhme, Wuzzlebud "KK" (Musik Krause)
Ada, Blondie (Areal)
Le Dust Sucker, Le Dust Sucker (Plong!)
Alter Ego, Transphormer (Klang)
Brooks, Red Tape (Soundslike)
Liars, They Were Wrong So We Drowned (Mute)
Bruno Pronsato, Silver Cities (Orac)
Superpitcher, Here Comes Love (Kompakt)
Circle Square, Pre-Earthquake Anthem (Output)
James Cotton, The Dancing Box (Spectral)
Melchior Productions, The Meaning of Love (Playhouse)
Various, Kompakt 100 (Kompakt)
Misc., Crunch Time (Sender)
Matthew Dear, Backstroke (Spectral)
Mouse on Mars, Radical Connector (Thrill Jockey)
Smash TV, Bits for Breakfast (Bpitch Control)

Singles/tracks/EPs in no particular order
Steve Barnes, Cosmic Sandwich (MBF Ltd)
Recloose, Cardiology – Isolee Remix (Playhouse)
Abe Duque & Blake Baxter, What Happened (Abe Duque Records)
Donnacha Costello, Colour Series (Minimise)
Mathew Jonson, Decompression (M_nus)
Tim Wright, The Ride – Luciano mix (NovaMute)
Alter Ego, Rocker (Klang)
Apparat, Can't Computerize It (Bpitch Control)
Luciano & Serafin, Funk Excursion (Cadenza)
Beckett & Taylor, Work (Hand on the Plow)
Tomas Andersson, Numb (Bpitch Control)
Caro, Super Contact Danse (Orac)
Tim Paris w/ Mike Ladd, Architexture (Virgo)
Rex the Dog, Prototype (Kompakt)
Closer Musik, 1 2 3 No Gravity (Ewan Pearson remixes) (Out of the Loop)
Kelis/St Plomb, You Got Lead In My Shake (no label) *"Milkshake" mashed up with St Plomb's "Mister Magic Evil" (Mental Groove)
Phonique, The Red Dress, Tiefschwarz remix (Dessous)
Roman Flügel, Gehts Noch? (Cocoon)
Das Bierbeben, Staub, Robag Wruhme's Im-Brokklio-Staub-Wisch-Remix (Shitkatapult)
Feist, Mushaboom
März, The River (Karaoke Kalk)
Hot Chip, Playboy (Moshi Moshi)
Justus Köhncke, Timecode (Kompakt)
Dorau/Köhncke, Durch Die Nacht (Kompakt Pop)
Mocky, How Will I Know You? (Fine)
Kiki, The End of the World (Bpitch Control) *1-sided single version
Kylie, Chocolate (Tom Middleton remix) (Parlaphone)
Kylie, Slow (Chemical Brothers remix) (no label)
Kylie, Slow (anonymous Swiss remix) (Sun)
Martina Topley-Bird, I Still Feel (Jori Hulkkonen Aura Mix) (Independiente)
Phoenix, Everything Is Everything (Astralwerks)
Alan Braxe & Fred Falke, Rubicon
Swayzak, Another Way (!K7)
Mr. Oizo, Stunt (F-Communications)
Decomposed Subsonic, Atlantic View (Ware)
Broker/Dealer, After Hours (Spectral)
Audion, Kisses (Spectral)
Misc., Rocket Kontrol (Sender)
Misc., Rocket Skating + Rocket Skating Remixed (Sender)
Minimal Man, Chicken Store (Perlon)
Kalabrese, Chicken Fried Rice (Perlon)

Labels that killed it consistently, even though I can't single out individual releases
Get Physical
Trapez LTD

Labels, in addition to the above, with a good chance of owning 2005
Musik Krause

Live & DJ sets that bruised my jaw
Luciano @ Watergate, Berlin, October
Wighnomy Bros @ ???, Berlin, October
Liars @ SonarSound São Paulo, September
Jamie Lidell @ Mutek, May
Jan Jelinek @ Oceanclub/Maria, Berlin, October
Ricardo Villalobos @ Beat Street, Berlin, October
Sense Club w/ Akufen @ Mutek Chile, January

That's all the list-making I have the energy for today. Stay tuned for potential punditry to come, and maybe even a new mix or two, should I ever get back to the turntables. We could all probably use a little immersive horizontalism right now – I sure as hell know I could. What I'd give to be back at Beat Street, Sunday raving from noon to midnight, without a care in the world. Then again, just knowing such things are possible offers some kind of solace. In the words of März: "If we return we will live here forever…"

December 24, 2004

Ten minutes to midnight

I can hear him rustling around in the next room, where we've put his bed now that stairs are no longer navigable. All the lights are out but for a night light in the kitchen and a reading lamp here in the living room, so it takes me a moment to focus on him. He stands unsteadily in the hallway.

"Do you need anything?" I ask. He nods, mutters that some water would be nice, forgetting that he has a full squeeze bottle on his bedside table. I grab the bottle, empty and rinse it, then refill it from the tap. "Ice?" I ask, pointing at the open freezer door. He can't hear me, with his hearing aid lying inert on the side table, but my request seems obvious enough. He steadies himself against the kitchen cupboards, looking into the darkened living room, suddenly unsure of himself, unsure of his purpose. His gaze has been beginning to wander a lot these last few days, arcing over whomever he's talking to, his head tilted back as though he's addressing the ceiling. I add an ice cube anyway, close the freezer, thread the cap back on the plastic bottle with millileter markings laddered up the side, and lead him back to bed, setting the bottle down on the bedside table.

He reaches for it, looks up at me. "Is this the water you just fixed me?" I just nod.

"It's some crazy situation," he says, or maybe something like "some fix we're in." That would be more his kind of phrase.

"It's hard to believe this is happening right now," he continues, and I think he means "right now" to mean "in real time," and I imagine him somewhere far above it all, outside of time itself, maybe gifted with the perspective of having already died, on some other level, and watching it all roll out in unreal time; blessed with the novelist's vision of knowing how and when it all ends, unlike the rest of us mortal suckers sweating it out to the ticking of the clock and the tearing of the calendar.

"I get the sense that they're just counting the days," he says, "waiting until it falls, until it has to come down."

Is he talking about dying? I start to nod, but then I hold back – no doctors have come to parcel out his days; no one is counting down. No one dares. I suddenly have no idea what he's talking about. It's like last night's question to me – or maybe it was the day before; my hours bleed together almost as much as his must – about the article he thought I was writing about plants and counting, to which I had to nod my head blankly. We aren't like this often, but now and then we find ourselves in these curious little cul-de-sacs, feedback loops of nonsequiturs.

"The painting," he says, and as he says it I can see his eyes cloud over. He's clearly confused by the dream shadow himself, losing the thread. "But it's probably a lot easier for you to read the article," he says, almost apologetic. And then, without warning, he's clear: "Did you and Mom watch a couple of movies tonight?"

I nod, sit there caressing his hand. "Are you going home tomorrow?" No, I tell him, not even bothering to remind him that tomorrow is Christmas day, the ostensible reason I'm here in the first place, or at least the reason I should have been here, any normal year. "I'm not going anywhere any time soon," I say, and I realize that it's true. Mexico is out, the gig I'm supposed to play is out; I'm here for the duration. I'm starting to hate words like "duration."

It's all confused. He's confused; I'm almost as lost, never quite knowing what he wants. He checks his watch, swallows his water. Swallowing is hard. "I'm burping a lot," he sort of croaks, looking confused at that too. "Maybe it was the ginger ale earlier," I almost sort of mutter, lamely, wondering how long a body takes to break down.

"You get some sleep," I half speak, half pantomime, and he agrees, but then sits up in bed. "I can't come over there to embrace you, so…" He sort of wavers there. I lean over his bed, hug him, kiss his cheek. He seems surprised that it was that easy; estimating space has become more difficult at times than actually navigating it. He lies back, fumbling with the quilt, and with the light off I pull it up around him and let him be. From the next room I can hear him struggling to breathe, clearing his throat. I hope that sleep comes soon, sleep that doesn't blur the border to waking, sleep without the dreams that confuse. I'm afraid to hope beyond that. Tonight, sleep is enough to ask for. Anything more is unthinkable, even though the unthinkable is getting more familiar with every passing day.

December 18, 2004

The Mudd Club

Required reading: Jace Clayton on distortionless hardcore -- a sine of the times.

(Thanks to J Shep for the link.)

December 17, 2004

The fourth element

Jane "Felizitas" Dark weighs in on genre, sonic form, and social content over at the corner of Frere and Jones. An intriguing theory, it's more or less on the mark, but to get there it ricochets off some soft targets.

As loathsome as the term "Intelligent Dance Music" is for reasons both aesthetic and ideological, it's always been my understanding that the phrase is at least partially rooted in Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence compilations, which conjured the idea of music made by sentient machines. I'd be curious to know, because I've never seen a definitive citation: which came first, Artificial Intelligence or the term "Intelligent Dance Music"? (It's entirely possible the album title derived from the then-nascent appellation, but I can't say either way.)

It's true, of course, that "IDM" is an insipid idea. Countless critics have pointed out that it automatically posits itself as the other to a strawmannish "dance music" which is a priori "unintelligent," and the discophobia I've seen on the IDM listserve over the years suggests that the very existence of the term helps to propagate this prejudice.

But Felizitas makes a leap when she argues that hip-hop was IDM's primordial foil, the original bogeyman, as opposed to techno or disco. (And I'm not just saying that because Autechre claim to have been B-boys back in the day; I find IDM's latter-day enthusiasm for old-skoolisms as nauseating as I suspect Felizitas does.) The tools Felizitas singles out as core components of hip-hop, the turntable and sampler, weren't really IDM's original instruments. IDM (let's say: the Black Dog, Autechre, and Aphex Twin, as reference points) evolved out of the machine music of Detroit techno and Sheffield bleep; it was a music of grooveboxes and, later, software patches, but never so much of the cut'n'paste methodology of hip-hop. (Obviously early hip-hop and electro privileged drum machines and arpeggiators as well, but that's not the point Dark is making.) Some IDM did foreground sampled and chopped beats, of course, like Squarepusher's drill'n'bass carpal-tunneling abuse in step-time of the command-V function, but I'm still not sure that's enough to make him an Elvis.

As a biographical note, I thought hip-hop was "real music" long before I thought techno or "IDM" was, but that may just be more proof that ass-backwardness is historically conditioned. But it also makes it hard for me to accept the necessary linkage between the music sometimes called IDM and the ideology behind the name.

IDM is a tough partner for a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-genre, simply because IDM isn't exactly a genre. It's one of those genre/not-genre things that plagues us in the memetastic era of accelerated information and formal slippage. Almost absurdly nonspecific, the term is a kind of umbrella covering any number of sounds that listeners want to position against a debased opposite. These days, through received wisdom and reification, IDM generally refers to grainy, schizophrenic (and yet strangely rhythmically impoverished), masturbatory software experiments that go tizz-a-whack-a-chikka-chikka-bzzzzz-skiflapple-narg, often to the accompaniment of a plaintive four-bar melody. (I'm sure there's some good stuff, too, but I haven't heard any recently.) It's a lot easier to define what IDM isn't (deep house, hard techno, Hot 97 hip-hop) than what it is.

But the sins of IDM, as identified by Felizitas, are the sins of reception, no? IDM itself is sort of a fake genre, a transparent overlay fans use to map a prejudicial worldview onto a complicated pop landscape. Few artists have ever called themselves "IDM," and it's a stretch to blame the artists whose work gets branded as such for the whitewashed tastes of its self-avowed fans. (Surely not every white kid who picked up a sampler and/or laptop after, say, 1989, grew up denouncing hip-hop as "not real music.")

But this whole essay is sort of going the wrong way. My intention isn't to defend IDM – because I hate the term and, for the past several years, 99% of the music that gets identified with it. Instead of an argument with Dark, then – because, mostly, she's right – I offer what I hope will be a useful complication: genre and their reception can open up a rift that creates supplementary social content. Musicians create sonic form and certain elements of its social content, but as critics, publicists, and fans add other elements, the social form gets awfully blurry. Perhaps a theory of genre needs to address where the genre ends and its caricature begins, or in other words, what is the scope of genre itself? How do you measure the mixture of sonic form and social content (or sonic content and social form) in such a way that it pours out into a single pint (imperial, if you will) of genre?

A few related questions:

Are there always racist undertones to exclusionary aspirationalism? Possibly, though race and class get mixed up here. Let's not forget that Detroit techno's middle-class originators favored European synthpop, dressed in GQ fashions, and named their clubs things like Charivari, in the effort to distance themselves from black underclass aesthetics. So perhaps hip-hop was always a foil for techno, though it's a complicated relationship.

Was the shortlived "intelligent jungle" movement mainly a response by select whitefolks to a largely black jungle scene? Intelligent jungle/artkore/etc, as much as they opposed the "artless," thuggish vibe of common-denominator jungle, were championed by artists like LTJ Bukem, Alex Reece, etc., which makes me suspect that in this case "intelligent" wasn't expressly a racially coded term. Simon Reynolds has written extensively on the plague of "progressivism" that besets all vital underground cultures, but I don't recall if there's a racial component there.

Oh yeah, I'm back.