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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8 Mar '02 09:20:38 AM

I feel tempted to make a joke about Tesla's cover of "Signs", but this is nice.

7 Mar '02 09:06:40 AM

Today I started falling in love with De La Soul is Dead.

Because of the circumstances, I shouldn't be surprised, but it still feels surprising. I bought the album last fall but didn't even get through a listen before I was bored and slightly annoyed. I hadn't listened to it again until today - the surprise arises from the long absence, if it can be called that. Or the sense of it, at least, since the fact that I never really tried in the first place, never struggled with the record or just gave it time to sink in with repetition as I often end up doing, means that the absence was never one at all.

At this point I still don't think that I'm totally hot on the beats, or the flow, or the production in the sense of the way each part sounds. Part of that is just due to the record sounding 'dated'. Part of it is due to my being out of sync with rap from that date. Past that I'm content to keep listening and see if the raps that don't do as much for me, or the weaker-sounding beats, grow on me. Because I 'heard' two things today that make me want to keep listening.

One is the production, not in the sense of the way each part sounds, but the cut-and-paste, 'sampladelic', bricolage strategy for constructing the record as a whole. Of course, it's prototypical, and it's not as if I haven't experienced De La and Prince Paul's take on the hip-hop aesthetic before (since I've heard and enjoyed, some, 3 Feet High and Rising). But it came together for me today with this record like never before. One reason, I think, is that it's more pervasive; the principles of construction are employed on multiple levels. The whole record is a patchwork of more 'proper' songs, skits, less 'proper' songs that are more aptly 'tracks' when juxtaposed with the 'songs'. Individual songs change styles for different parts, using different samples or different beats, sometimes for different rappers, sometimes for different narrative or thematic segments. Bursts of sound from 'outside' intrude into tracks and songs; sometimes they end up being integrated in some way (think of the connection to the recapitulation in sonata form), sometimes they don't. The music for tracks and songs is made up from parts from different records.

Besides the structural level, this kind of polymorphic method of construction takes place on the level of meaning. The most conspicuous kind of meaning is the verbal meaning, from the lyrics. We get dramatic elements in the skits, but with some aspects like the fight sound effects that reinforce that they're a specific kind of drama. We get 'straightforward' rapping, which is thoroughly bricolage anyway, perhaps just moreso from De La with their penchant for in-jokes and semi-private codes, something a little different from the already highly semantically encoded language of, say, mainstream rap. We get the rappers and a guest woman maybe acting out the dozens, in the midst of some more dramatic elements, only elements that seem to have a different character than the skit ones because they're rapped and related sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly through narrative. (Again, this is often standard, not just a De La thing.) We get metacommentary on De La and their reception by their fans (and nonfans) - and not just from the skit characters' comments on the De La tape they find in the garbage (ahem). (But speaking of which - music that comes with its own reviews! And ones from 'amateur' listeners at that.) We get at the very least a sense that things are adding up from track to track, so there's unity to the fragmented tracks and album as a whole. There's explicit and implicit social and moral commentary ("Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa", "My Brother's a Basehead" are obvious and polemical but not overstated). Some of the range of life is reflected - we get radio announcers, preachers, conversations between friends, fights, and all that outside of the narrative frameworks that contain even more elsewhere on the record. There's more musical commentary - a disco (and roller skating!) jam, complaints about gangster rappers, a send-up of hip house that I'm not sure maintains its parodic distance (and I'm not sure it even means to), and more. And more and more. These are just some of the obvious carriers of meaning, the ones that it's easy for me to talk about.

So, yeah. The record is thoroughgoingly hip-hop because of this, hip-hop in the way that maybe I imagined it would be before I had really listened to any. This makes the experience of listening to it abstract, and slightly unusual because of that.

The second reason the record came together for me is - and this will sound corny and I'm not going to support it much but fuck you - that I heard the love that went into the record, the care. That's care for the record. A palpable sense of the effort that went into the entire thing. Not that I don't think most hip-hop records I listen to (or any other records) sound like the musicians didn't care much about them - but it sounds different here, maybe stronger because of the distinctive specificity.

6 Mar '02 07:40:17 AM

Tonight I saw Dave Holland's quintet at the Dakota in St. Paul. I can't recreate the setlist, but they played "Looking Up", "Herbaceous", "Make-Believe", and closed with a new number, "Free For All". (There was only one other, but I forgot the name.) I had cheap overflow seats which put me behind a pillar in the corner, which wouldn't have been as bad if the screen behind the stage (and right behind Holland) hadn't broken in the down position five minutes before the show. So I could see Holland and Nelson a bit, and Eubanks and Potter some - unfortunately I couldn't see Kilson at all. So Nelson was quiet and Potter and Eubanks slightly quiet but otherwise, I didn't lose much.

Everyone was looser live than on record, though Eubanks and maybe Nelson seemed to play the most like their recordings. Kilson was much louder and more energetic - I think this may have obscured some of his time-manipulating powers somewhat. Holland's bass was the most satisfying sonic difference, since it was much thumpier, more resonant, than I've ever heard before. I've not heard Points of View so I don't know how "Herbaceous" sounds on it, but Potter went pretty far out tonight.

Maybe I'll have some more perceptive things to say later.

5 Mar '02 12:38:25 AM

Go! to the Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group and See! the fifth run of the feature with its rankings of P!O!P! music and comments from many usual suspects. I barely participated this time so I'm not sure if I have comments anywhere.

5 Mar '02 12:35:50 AM

Also, and significantly, I never get the impression listening to Mehldau of an ecstatic repetitive element in his music like Jarrett's, even in his cover of Nick Drake's "River Song", which seems to be one of the ones where Mehldau applies his interest in the building-something-from-almost-nothing techniques of classical composition to not much more than a melodic fragment - that is, a song that by its very nature succeeds because of its brooding over-and-over-again-ness. This is because of the dynamic arc, I think - the sense is always there that Mehldau is heading up for something and then will come down - whereas in Jarrett's Easternish ruminations time becomes much more circular (hence linear on to infinity), at least for a time, so that it's easy to forget (despite knowing how it's going to turn out thanks to recordings' re-playability) where he's going next.

5 Mar '02 12:30:32 AM

One thing that became clear to me just a couple of listens in is that the comparisons between Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett, or to a lesser extent Brad Mehldau and Bill Evans, are mostly daft. I can only imagine that they arise out of a general inattention to what's going on in the various pianists' music. It's hard to even adumbrate the differences, but I think they're pretty apparent. For instance, and just offhand: Mehldau's sense of structure seems to be a lot more expansive than Evans', which means that when he stretches out the music is more peripatetic, and it goes more different places while on those walks. Jarrett has a similar expansiveness but I always get more of an impression of linearity from him, because even when he ends up wandering long distances he does so more smoothly, so that it's hard to notice along the way that he's going to end up somewhere very different. Jarrett's rhythm section seems to chug more, and they seem more like they're all working toward a common goal or something. With LaFaro's prominence in Evans' group, it feels more like distinct voices with distinct goals. In Mehldau's group, something else is going on: though Mehldau is often the primary focus (Grenadier rarely takes center stage as often as LaFaro), a significant part of the interest in what he's doing comes from the way he's often set against the rhythm section - the way that Grenadier and Rossy chop up the time in different and perhaps conflicting ways.

I often get the sense, listening to Mehldau, as if he's going to break into some well-known song at any given moment, but that he holds back and doesn't complete his launch. This isn't just due to his covers, which I've never heard any of the originals of, to my knowledge, at least on Progression. There's a similarity there, I think, to Monk, only with Monk my impression is that he's constantly going to break into some other Monk song, which is a very different experience from breaking into someone else's song. There's more recognition involved, in Mehldau's case, and that makes it more exciting somehow. For Monk it also involves recognition, I suppose, but it's recognition of a less differentiated familiarity, a vague Monkness.

I haven't written anything yet about Mehldau's liner notes, but of course I must.

3 Mar '02 07:24:18 AM

I submit that if you "didn't really notice" the bass and piano in as fantastic a piano trio as Brad Mehldau's, then you don't know how to listen to piano trios.

2 Mar '02 09:40:27 AM

"Pinky Ring" came on the tape I made for him and my roommate told me that his girlfriend automatically had the "this is gangster rap" response to it. My other roommate has made similar remarks (upon hearing Mystikal). Correctness of assessment aside (yes, whatever it means for them to be "gangster", in some sense they are - but?), I wonder if this is a general sort of tendency that people who are unfamiliar with rap have. Is it spurred by hearing something specific? (Murph tried to convince his girlfriend that the presence of horns in "Pinky Ring" meant it wasn't gangsta rap, uh oh heh heh.) "Motherfucker" a lot, or references to guns and violence in the lyrics? And what significance does the fact that this response exists, have?

(Similarity to different response, "rap is crap, ha ha ha" - power of naming, etc. etc.)

2 Mar '02 08:59:36 AM

My apologies for the brief downtime today. The PHP software which runs this page was upgraded, and a minor problem resulted.

What I have listened to mostly during the past week: Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians when I go to bed, and the Blue Note reissue of guitarist Grant Green's Am I Blue when at home in my room and awake.

One aspect of the record that sticks out for me is the Hammond organ. I've heard Hammond organ before, of course, but never in a setting like this, and never one where they played so much with the overdrive setting (which is I think what he's doing here, but I don't really know) - so the playing has a lot more texture than I'm used to. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of that texture makes me think of an organist playing "Baby Elephant Walk" in an ice arena. It's hard to shake. Especially at the end of "For All We Know", where the organist is most prominent, sort of in some big end-of-song spectacularities.

At other times, though, when it's more subtle, the organ makes for an interesting backing for the other instruments. Its voicings are distinctive, compared to say a bass together with piano, or even a horn section playing long notes behind an improviser (the latter of which sort of occurs on the record, for a point of comparison, because Johnny Coles is on trumpet and Joe Henderson on tenor). In a moment of confusion I even thought there was a bassist on the record, because of the way the organist's left hand line had a sort of relaxed, sonorous feel to it, like the sound was underneath everything else as I expected. (Somehow the idea of it coming out of the organ's amp just like the right hand line eliminates the possibility that the same sort of thing would happen, sonically, but that's just my dumb bias.)

Green has an album where I think he does a version of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" which I of course must have (cf. The Big Lebowski.).