Art Finds a Way to Take Care Of You
February 16, 2012

And these country musics that are just so—you know, “Baby since you’ve left I can’t live, I’m drinking all the time.” And I remember just being real impatient with it. Until I’d been living here about a year. And all of a sudden I realized, what if you just imagined that this absent lover they’re singing to is just a metaphor? And what they’re really singing to is themselves, or to God, you know? “Since you’ve left I’m so empty I can’t live, my life has no meaning.” That in a weird way, they’re incredibly existentialist songs. That have the patina of the absent, of the romantic shit on it, just to make it salable… But that if you cock your ear and listen real close—that it’s deep, you know?… That we find, that art finds a way to take care of you, and take part. Kind of despite itself.

— David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself


Valentine’s Day Mix
February 14, 2012

Because why not.


Are You Not Entertained?!
May 25, 2011

Nathan Rabin, having just stumbled through volume 34 in the NOW That’s What I Call Music! compilation series, writes:

At this point in the THEN project, it should be apparent to everyone that pop music is just fucking with us. People with too much money and too little talent are taunting us to call their bluff and concede that they’re all empty vessels conducting an insane masquerade that has gone on entirely too long.

This is precisely what I (and, I think, many others) find so depressing about what passes for modern pop music: not its shittiness, but its poverty of ambition. I can respect the sort of woefully ill-conceived project that comes from a deeply personal place — hell, it might even make me feel a weird sort of awe. But virtually every popular medium is saturated with competently produced detritus made by people with a decent grasp on certain technical mechanics but no grasp at all on how to make something feel like it came from a goddamn human being. The fact that a handful of postmodern ironists have managed to elevate that soulless craftsmanship into a sort of self-referential joke doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better about the trend.

Sure, there’s always cool stuff happening at the margins of pop culture, and perhaps now more than ever. Sometimes, it’s even in the mainstream. But the continued flourishing of soulless craftsmanship creeps me out in all sorts of ways, and I don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

(Do I even need to explain how the same complaint applies to modern American politics? No? Sweet.)

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Nietzsche Blogging: Thus Spoke Thom Yorke
September 15, 2010

I’ve been slacking off on the Nietzsche blogging—so much so, in fact, that I missed all of Part Three of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Though perhaps that’s for the best, since Part Three lost some of the aphoristic style that has thus far defined Nietzsche’s work and instead added in a narrative arc. This arc begins when Zarathustra realizes that if time and the universe are infinite, then all things will recur infinitely, even the “small man” who he holds in such contempt and hopes would one day be obliterated by the overman. This throws him into deep despair, although by the end of Part Three he has come to terms with this revelation and decided to embrace the infinite and, by extension, all its constituent elements.

I’ve already written all I really have to say on the subject of eternal recurrence, so we might as well move on to Part Four; which begins, for me at least, with a different kind of revelation: I think the boys in Radiohead might be Nietzsche fans.

Consider the evidence: Much of the prologue to Part Four of Thus Spoke Zarathustra consists of Zarathustra elaborating on a metaphor for how he views mankind. In the Walter Kaufmann translation, Zarathustra sees man as “queer fish”—but another way of translating that might be “weird fishes.”

Zarathustra says that he wants to go fishing for these queer fish, baiting his lure with his own laughter and humor and then reeling them in to bring them up to the height of his wisdom.

Now listen to the song “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” embedded above. In typical post-OK Computer Radiohead fashion, the lyrics are pretty cryptic, so there’s a lot of room for interpretation; but one interpretation I’m finding increasingly plausible is that the song is being sung from the perspective of someone who lives “in the deepest ocean” among all the other unenlightened “weird fishes” and knows he would be “crazy not to follow” Zarathustra, yet is too scared.

I don’t know, maybe that’s a little far-fetched. But I wouldn’t put it past those guys.

M.I.A.’s Awesome Punk Rock Album
July 13, 2010

M.I.A. 7.31.07 :: Echoplex
Image by v e. via Flickr

Forget about the Tamil Tigers for a second. Put away your truffle fries. Whatever you think of M.I.A. the person has very little to do with M.I.A. the musician. Of course, having a strong response to music is such an intimate thing that we like to think that we’re somehow connecting with the person behind it. But we really have no idea who that person is, or what her intentions are.

That’s why it’s a little hard to sympathize with Pitchfork’s pop psychologizing of M.I.A.’s stellar new album, Maya. And when my friend Luis Paez-Pumar addresses M.I.A. directly, saying, “We want you to be who you really were,” well. Who exactly is that?

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a big fan of the new album. I might even go as far to say that it’s her best. But despite that, I’ve found the negative interviews more interesting than the positive ones. Part of that is because both flavors crop up in equal numbers; this truly is a love-it-or-loathe-it sort of disc. And the people who loathe it, I think, have done a lot more to help elucidate why I really, really love it.

Let’s hear the charges: Amateurish production! Egregious use of autotune! Instantly dated references to Twitter and iPhones! A listening experience that is overtly, teeth-grindingly unpleasant!

Not that any of this is actually unique to the latest album. Bird Flu, off of the sophomore effort Kala, has a beat that will rattle your fillings. Jimmy, from the same album, is self-consciously ridiculous and shallow. But the real tell is Kala’s big hit single, Paper Planes; read the lyrics, and you’ll find a pretty obvious satire of anti-immigrant paranoia.

All M.I.A. has done on the third album is crank the satire up several notches. This isn’t the techno world-pop album many of her fans were hoping for, but a vicious, snarling parody of a pop album. It’s a ferocious assault on the meticulously crafted, fundamentally soulless radio filler that my other friend Jake Moore derides here.

So yes, it sounds amateurish and ugly. But that doesn’t strike me as being a bad thing in and of itself. Punk rock, after all, long ago proved the worth of the amateurish and ugly aesthetic. The Sex Pistols might have just barely hit the right notes, but that was part of the appeal. They had no interest in crafting clean, gleaming pop rock; instead, their music was a curdled, snotty mockery.

Unpleasant? Sure, on one level. But it was also a ferocious amount of fun. Never Mind the Bollocks just fucking rocked, and so does Maya. You can’t dance to it, but you can sure as hell pump your fist.

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Point Blank – That’s The Law
July 2, 2010

Today seemed like a good day to resurrect an old tradition from my previous blog: Friday Afternoon Music. I missed the opportunity to rant about another one of my obsessions, and the Tumblr platform is more conducive to this sort of thing anyway.

Point Blank’s “That’s the Law,” from their stellar debut album, is as good a place to start as any. It’s not just that this song is emblematic of my infatuation with classic blues rock (“dad rock,” if you prefer, another indication of my premature middle age). It’s also that if I could choose a theme song, this would be it. Those opening bars are what I want blasting whenever I stride, probably in slow motion, into a room.

Sadly, I’m not remotely awesome enough to claim this song as representative of my day-to-day life. But then again, who is?

(By the way, Point Blank also recorded a song called “Uncle Ned” for their second album. But that one isn’t anywhere near as cool—and besides, a theme song with my name in it would be way too on-the-nose.)

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Friday Afternoon Music: Bob Dylan’s “Cold Irons Bound”
May 14, 2010

I found out about Time Out Of Mind a few weeks ago. Before then, it had been my habit to automatically dismiss any post-Desire Bob Dylan album, including the more recent critically acclaimed ones like Modern Times, which are okay, I guess, but not, y’know, classic Dylan good.

Time Out Of Mind is closer than any of the other ones, though. And its centerpiece, “Cold Irons Bound,” is the only Dylan song of any era that can give me the chills before Bobby’s vocals come in.

Friday Afternoon Music: Laura Marling’s “Devil’s Spoke”
May 7, 2010

I’m going to be maintaining a low Internet profile for the next week or so, but embedding music videos is easy. So here’s one:

Listening to this song has reminded me how cool I find open tunings in acoustic folk–they sound a lot fuller, and somehow more orchestrated. If I ever attempt songwriting on an acoustic again, it’ll probably be mostly in open D with a capo, like Marling is doing here.

New Black Keys
May 2, 2010

Via Christa, I see that the Black Keys have a new album forthcoming. The above video is for the second track.

This is good news. Attack and Release was a good album, but it’s still heartening to hear what sounds on the above track to be a return to the band’s grimier roots. And they couldn’t have picked a better time to release it; one thing the Black Keys have always had going for them is that their music oozes delta heat. This is going to be solid summer listening.

Friday Afternoon Music: Cavalier Rose’s “Button”
April 30, 2010

These guys haven’t recorded an album yet, but I’m looking forward to when they do. Then when everyone else discovers them, I can be really smug and talk about how I saw them when they were still playing showcases and bars in Williamsburg.

I always appreciate a proficient, soulful blues-rock band, and these guys are better than most. What sets it apart is Heather Christian’s vocals–you don’t often hear bands of this sort with a female singer, especially not one whose voice occasionally takes on this spectral, Björkish quality. It contrasts really well with the powerful, sturdy rhythm and grimy riffage of the rest of the band.

Seriously, if you’re in NYC, check out one of their free shows sometimes. And remember this post, because I’m going to use it as evidence of my hipster cred when you come telling me about how great they were at Bonaroo 2013.

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