josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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16 Dec '01 10:00:05 PM

There are plenty of interesting things to think about in this Frank Kogan piece for the Voice on the Coup and their newest album, Party Music. I've only just heard the album a bit, so I can't say much about what Frank says, but the first read through I was struck by how angry the piece seemed. More than anything else, that made me sit up and want to pay closer attention to the record, which has received pretty damning because stereotypical praise in the other things I've read. So, over my winter vacation, I hope to think some more about this.

The music sounds strange to me, maybe because of a part of music history I'm missing out on. I can hear the ties to 80s p-funk, but it seems much less nasty (or fun!) and much more motorik, if that makes any sense. Some of it is very very good because of this, and on other tracks the music fails to overcome dangerous repetitiveness. (It has a harder job at this than it really has to, because Riley's flow is so tied to repetitive phrase structure mostly aligned along the structure of the samples or beat loops, and to end-of-phrase rhyming.)

Despite my saying it sounds a lot less fun than its ancestral p-funk, there is still something very exuberant about a good deal of the record.

16 Dec '01 09:50:01 PM

Simon Reynolds' annual favorites roundup is now up on his site. I only really have one thing to say at the moment. It's interesting how much of his list I'm familiar with, and even in agreement with, this year - and conversely, how little of it I've never heard of. I think that says quite a bit both about what I've been listening to this year, and what he's been listening to.

Note casual references to wunderkid Tim Finney and the ILM massive!

The director's cut of his post-punk piece, which I've been looking forward to since I never picked it up in print, is now also up.

14 Dec '01 08:04:41 AM

Jimmy wrote to me remarking on Electr-O-Pura and "trigger points" (little arrangements in history which create synchroneity, he said, citing novelist Richard Powers), and pointed out part of an essay on Dancing About Architecture by Peter Gorman that he appreciates in connection with why the album "seems so poignant as a 'trigger point'":

"There is a song on Yo La Tengo's 1995 album Electr-O-Pura called "Pablo and Andrea," a plaintive song of gentle longing. Georgia Hubley's vocals evoke a feeling that evening has come and gone, but it is too early to sleep. She sings, "Show me where you keep your secrets upstairs," and about a lonely stare and stolen roses. It is very late; a slide guitar solo slips in, little more than a note sliding up, hanging there, and sliding down, four times through, a lovely thing. The tension builds but only modestly, then a guitar erupts out of the speakers, it breaks out and celebrates, melodic ecstasy over a noisy rumble down below. It is the sound of being set free and running down the street, or driving down the road on a flight to freedom, however temporary. I know of few guitar solos that better sum up a song, or that for a single shining minute capture the sound of euphoria.

Robert Frank's children were named Pablo and Andrea; they were the subject and title of many of his photographs. I don't know if Yo La Tengo named their song after Frank's photographs, or if they meant the song to have any connection to him or his children, or if they were simply being ironic. But I do know that Frank is deserving of a song as beautifully written and performed as Yo La Tengo's, and so I'll leave it at that."

(After some searching I found my copy this morning and listened to it on the way in. It made me want to go back home, to bed. Not to sleep, but just to be in bed.)

14 Dec '01 07:34:27 AM

For a number of months the phrase "make a glorious noise unto the Lord" has been periodically popping into my head, when I'm especially surprised or elated at a piece of music, sometimes just a moment, that strikes me as noisy in the right way.

I'm not sure how the phrase started coming to mind. I must have picked it up somewhere floating freely in the culture, because I'm not sure that I've ever read the book of Psalms, where the correct quote, make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and a number of similar phrases, comes from.

I thought of it again tonight, repeatedly, while hearing Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian play "Mars" on their album Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane. I'm not sure if I've ever written about the original Interstellar Space before, aside from a comment or two. It's a difficult album to say something about, for me. Not that I've listened to it a lot, but I've listened to it pretty regularly since getting it. It's always a disorienting experience, especially if I sit through the entire thing (it's harder to do on headphones). I find it easier to be led astray by it, moment-to-moment (or maybe I should say, I find it easier to get stuck on a specific moment), than most other "out" music that I listen to, and I find that strange because the music seems so much more precise and ordered than all that other music. It should be easier to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. I don't think I'm being wowed by Coltrane's phenomenal technique, as if it were just the fact that he's playing very very fast or doing something people didn't do before, or something that's just too hard for most people to do, that I found so amazing. But I am amazed again and again by little moments that seem to have something important to do with the technical qualities of the playing. I think that the difference is that I have a reaction, and also notice that the reaction is due to something so aggresively unbeautiful, so apparently intentionally unlikeable. But it's beautiful!

Cline and Bendian are doing their own thing, but also doing Coltrane's (and Ali's) thing, in a way. Plenty of people have commented on the advisability of their doing this, and their success or lack of success at it. So far, it sounds to me as if they got it right. It is different, but that's to be expected. I can't say how they got it right at the moment, but my reaction to it, and to the original, makes me think that it worked. And also the phrase, coming to mind again. "Glorious noise."

I've been thinking about the phrase in response to a wide range of music, but all of it seems to have a similar quality to me. Even in cases where it might be considered "beautiful" sound, or at least the kind of sound that people don't normally think of as noisy now, as long as they are comfortable with pop or rock at all, the music strikes me as quintessentially noisy. In all the cases there's something to it that makes me say, when I hear it, "oh god, will you listen to that!" Grating, repetitious, squealing, vulgar, dirty, piercing, angular, fat, gaudy, garish, silly, primitive, exuberant, sublime. At one and the same time, the sounds seem glorious to me (which is why I changed the quote in my head, I suppose), but I have no problem with "joyful" in its place. There's something so pleasurable about these noises that they demand glory. They are the sort of thing that people should praise, that should make them jump up and down and shout, that should send chills down the spine and across the skin. The noises often seem as if they are the spontaneous expression of that kind of state. At first, when I realized that I had thought (more or less) of a phrase from the Bible, and that it was followed by "unto the Lord", I reckoned that this was the sort of thing that should be offered up to the Lord, if anything should be: these special moments of beauty, unbelievable in the way they seem so inimical to "beauty", that come out of the joyful interaction of people with one another and the world.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm talking about. I'm not religious at all. I don't mean this all to be some kind of indication that I understand the religious impulse, or that I believe in some kind of secularized or naturalized sublime state which takes the place of religon, replacing it with supposedly sacred joyful noise. I just want to make sense out of the phrase that keeps popping into my head, if sense can be made of it. Perhaps keeping something like this in mind from time to time can illuminate the way we hear music, too.

13 Dec '01 12:01:19 AM

I'm glad Ethan is still writing hip-hop reviews for Pitchfork, but his new Roots Manuva review seems to miss the mark. As Tom noted, it doesn't seem like the review (and thus Ethan) got a very good handle on the music - why is it supposed to be so bad, if it's that bad? Ethan gives some hints - the stabs he takes at Mauva's flow, lyrics, and production - but they come off sounding like generic reasons why any music of this sort would be bad, rather than reasons why this particular record is bad. Now, it may be that these are actually reasons why his particular record is bad, because records like it are just bad for the same reasons, but I doubt that that's true, and a record review of the sort Pitchfork runs isn't really the place to make that kind of judgment. (Though some would argue that, in keeping with Pitchfork's ever-growing pulsating tradition of offhandedly dismissing music that it doesn't understand, it's exactly the place to make that kind of judgment.)

Part of my reason for expecting less "generic" reasons is that the review would then be clearer about whether or not the things Ethan thought were wrong with the album are things that Ethan personally just doesn't like, or things that a number of people would be hard-pressed to like. (If it's the latter, then a number of interesting questions come up: would that be a specific group of people? would their reasons for not liking the record have much to do with what group of people they were? if so, would they actually be good reasons for not liking the record, or would more "enlightened" listeners be able to see past those group affiliations, or at least the preferences that mark them as members of the group?) Ethan, for example, is very much devoted to hip-hop, so it may be that he has a very different notion of what "good rap" is compared to your average Pitchfork reader, who maybe doesn't listen to much hip-hop.

I think that Tim was getting at some good points here when he talks about Run Come Save Me. I also think that the qualities he's getting at aren't especially limited in appeal to people who are British (well offhand I can't remember if Australia counts as "British" right now, but he's more British than me, ha), or people who like as much pop or rap or dance music or electronic music as Tim does. So it's not as if his appreciation of the music is just orthogonal to what Ethan is expecting, somehow.

I also happen to know that Ethan wrote the review at the last minute. I wonder if that didn't have something to do with his assessment. Often it's easier to tear into a record than be fairer to it. In talking to Ethan it seems that he likes the album a bit more than he admits in the review or on ILM, so I think that he could have more (good) to say about it.

12 Dec '01 06:08:04 AM

This morning was the first time I'd ever cried on hearing the national anthem.

Later at night I heard that at the WTC site they played it on a solo trumpet. That seems right to me. On the radio, I heard the band playing at the White House. It was indistinguishable from any old time that a band plays the anthem, like on the Fourth of July. A little nationalistic pomp here, a little bluster there. It's not as if they were trying - that's just how the anthem sounds. I don't doubt that a lot of it's just due to association. Take a blustery song thick with pomp, set it in front of a band, repeat for decades.

It didn't sound right to me.

So it was a political act, of course, not just an act of mourning. Even the solo performance was a performance of the national anthem. The national anthem is the kind of thing that you can't help but be making some kind of political statement, even a very indirect one, in playing. Was the song for the dead people? Or someone else?

This stuff bothers me, but I didn't think about it when I cried.

It was just sad.

11 Dec '01 07:10:05 AM

And now they're at the part where they're banging on metal and shit and it makes me wonder, are they really all that much more advanced than your typical droner since the 60s? (Did they ever claim to be? Well they've got respect at least.) I could be listening to Zoviet France or a quiet part on a Neubauten record right now. Is it the "compositions" that set them apart? Is the possibility of finding systematic, rule-like order really what clinches it? Is that order that intrinsically valuable, or is it just contingently the mark of western art music?

11 Dec '01 07:01:30 AM

The two albums sound very similar, but Deep Listening sounds like "electronic music" and Dempster's Cistern Chapel record does not (it sounds special, but not electronic). I guess that's why they felt compelled to emphasize in the liner notes to the former that it was done without "electronics."

(Although to complicate things I think the Greek guy fiddled with some knobs.)

The presence of trombone makes it hard to separate from the Dempster record, even though when I focus in I can tell that a number of the drones (oh and I guess there's didgeridoo too) are from Oliveros' accordion.

10 Dec '01 11:02:22 PM

I don't know why, but the old February 2000 page was missing from the archives. It is no longer missing.