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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5 Apr '02 09:48:44 AM

Simon Reynolds poses a question in Generation Ecstasy, "how do you write the history of a culture that is fundamentally amnesiac?" He also notes early on how there is psychological research to the effect that people's timbral memories are not as powerful as their melodic memories. Surely observations like this are relevant to lots of other music. I've been listening to Mogwai's EP+2 constantly the past few days, and marveling at how hard it is for me to remember the melodies of most any Mogwai songs. I think that this makes the powerful effects the music can have on me more mysterious. At the moment I can sort of come up with the horn melody to "Burn Girl Prom Queen", but it's hard: it's very slow, and made up of a four-note figure whose notes change a little bit from phrase to phrase, and it's played in chord with a big group of horns so it's hard to focus on one note. Some other things I fare better with, like the beginning to "Helps Both Ways" (the beginning being pretty good, because my memory for melodies isn't great anyway so it tends to trail off for most songs regardless of how melodic they are) or "A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters", which is admittedly a good deal more hummable than many others. Most of the parts I have the hardest time remembering are built out of the slightest melodies, or those which are the most stretched out; slower, relying more on the buildup of sound or the combination of different guitar tones or noises (that noise at the beginning of "Small Children in the Background": surely there is some affinity between that and the Roland 303 acid squelch, so far as Reynolds remarks that the latter is somehow instantly memorable, endlessly fascinating, impossible to recall).

By sort of mentally squinting now I'm remembering more and more things, but they feel hard to hold on to: the opening guitar part to "Dial: Revenge", "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" (that drum part).

3 Apr '02 09:51:38 AM

Five songs for Ethan:

  1. Mekons, "Myth"
  2. Mogwai, "Burn Girl Prom Queen"
  3. Autechre, "Rae"
  4. Bill Evans, "Gloria's Step"
  5. American Analog Set, "Magnificent Seventies"

3 Apr '02 09:39:46 AM

A few years ago I was stunned by the last track on Mogwai's EP+2, "Small Children in the Background", so I tried to write a paper around a review of it for an aesthetics class. I don't really think it came off. I was in exactly the right frame of mind to have the bejeezus scared out of me or something by the outburst at about 2:30 in, especially the way the bass comes in a few measures later, with its wounded-sounding thud. So it was hard to capture that frame of mind (whatever it was - I remember I was in the middle of walking home, at night, in the cold, and I had passed through a building to get warm for a few minutes) or even really hear the song the same way again.

Tonight it's different still - not the same but new. There's something relaxed about the way the figures come crashing down at the loud part. It may seem as if that might raise the tension, but it dissipates it all almost immediately, maybe because of the initial burst. After that it just feels so peaceful, so relaxing. The best I can come up with is that the violence is welcome because it eliminates any reasons I might have for doing anything other than sitting back and listening to the drift of airplane-engine feedback that follows, drifting.

3 Apr '02 09:11:52 AM

I haven't been able to articulate it but I find something interesting about the way Sadie Benning uses music in her videos. Aside from some concessions to golden-age and eighties black music, and some silly wicky-wicky funk guitar (and those things are easily accomodated I think), her soundtracks - which show the knowing touch of an inveterate music fan - seem entirely typical of young people who became (rock) music fans at the time she was coming of age. Moreover, she uses it largely in conventional ways, I think. There are times where she seems to explicitly subvert the expected effects gotten from the music, but I think she mostly just gets something like the usual effect that a semi-informed listener (maybe not even that much) would get from hearing the song. This is in contrast to a whole bunch of the other things going on in the videos, all kinds of avant-garde techniques and strategies for destabilizing notions of self, gender, sexuality, narrative, and so on and so forth. She doesn't go nearly as far with the soundtracks.

2 Apr '02 11:12:30 AM

Hmmm, I never posted here.

2 Apr '02 10:41:51 AM

Tonight I listened to the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin for the first time in months and actually enjoyed it some (I hadn't much really before). But I had the strangest experience. I'm not normally synaesthetic - maybe there have been a few times where I felt like that. I think I was listening to "Suddenly Everything Has Changed", but I don't know the album that well, so maybe it was something else. Every sound I heard - and there were loads of them - seemed to me to have a color, but I couldn't tell which ones. The sensation died away after about ten seconds or so. I know it had something to do with the way everything sounds, sort of super-intensified. I've heard "day-glo" applied to the album before and if not the colors then it certainly fits the intensities of the sounds.

This pleases me some because earlier I had been listening and wondering how useful a description 'psychedelic' was for any music that didn't actually have some kind of unusual mental effect. So what if a song can replicate or at least approximate what it's like for someone on psychedelic drugs to do x? If it doesn't do it to you then isn't it kind of like having all the meaning taken out? The Flaming Lips album wasn't doing anything to me, which made me doubt the worth of its being a supposedly fabulous psychedelic pop album. Now I'm reconsidering.

Listening to what sounds like it must be a really great album to love can be frustrating for me, because I know that if I had enough of the right kind of time with the album, enough time for all the key affective experiences to just happen, that all the things that seem interesting about the album would take on an entirely different character. The frustrating part is that it's not something that I can usually push. Those affective appearances have to happen in the normal course of listening, the normal course of life, and that means that like any other thing that needs to just happen, they might not. In which case there's not much to do but wait. And if I have to wait long enough it may start to seem like music that other people think is really great might just pass me by.

I've thought this when listening to some older albums recently too - some Tortoise and Autechre which didn't do as much for me as they once did. It's probably also key in many cases that I keep having the right kinds of affective experiences so that when I go back later I still 'know' how to have them, if that makes any sense at all.

2 Apr '02 10:10:14 AM

In some sense Absolutely Cuckoo is the perfect way to start 69 Love Songs.

I had a theory to explain it but it was getting hard to keep the corners of the sheet to stay on the matress when I was stretching it across to the opposite sides. If you follow me. So I'll just keep it succinct and get on to the next song. I'll try again the next time around.

Things we have here that are absolutely cuckoo: our singer (so he sez), our addressee (surely, once she falls for our singer and he snaps), our music (jaunty ukelele songs are by definition a bit off), our production (ukelele backing naturalish soundspace singer-narrator connotes psychological realism at some level, but then you've got the multitracked Stephins - little voices all over the place!), our album (indie-pop gospel technopop gay eighties rock musical vaudeville pastiche country lovesong tiny epic personal producer-driven traditionalist deconstructive meaningful trifles I have to stop now)... Q.E.D.

Yes, I know he said the running order was randomly chosen.

31 Mar '02 10:46:06 PM

"I pull my collar down low, to show my sucking chest wound..."

The Dismemberment Plan's "Rusty" starts with two minutes and forty-five seconds of instrumental, so it's a disappointment when the song ends at just over four minutes. It's got a tempo that hovers just between andante and something a bit more driven, almost marchlike, and when it ends with a scream and some damped feedback, it sounds like it's ready to keep going after a moment, with a giant crash. But it doesn't.

30 Mar '02 08:24:31 AM

What did you listen to today, Josh?

Jay-Z, The Blueprint. Everything just sounds so overdriven on "You Don't Know", especially the dut-da-dut-dut drum machine part, because the rhythm feels so rigid and snap-ready next to the surrounding tempo.

James Brown, Foundations of Funk. There are lots of things I listen to that I just enjoy, and then there are things like this, that I'm astonished by. (Actually I'm astonished by most of the music in this entry but that's beside the point.) In a range of ways, too. "I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" make me overwhelmingly joyful, and in a way that feels different from all the other music that engenders similar responses. Classical music is too refined, jazz too restrained, rock music too intent on being abrasive or powerful, rap too cool. (NB: I reserve the right to retract all these statements by the end of this sentence.) And things like the rhythm section (i.e. EVERYTHING) on so many of the later songs, like "Give It Up or Turnit A Loose", are just technically astonishing (well not JUST...) - and so exciting because they're so strangely awe-inspiring.Sigh.

The Dismemberment Plan, ! I've barely listened to this, especially relative to their other three albums (this is their first). But I had the urge after hearing "OK, Joke's Over" and uh the other one at the show on Tuesday night. (I haven't put the name to it yet.) It's a better album than I gave it credit for initially, though it's hard for me to tell how much I would be able to like it if I didn't already love their other albums. (That's partly due to the album, and partly due to my lessened affinity for a certain range of "basic" post-punk guitar music, at least when it's outside my zone of familiarity.) The songs are generally good, some better, and even in the songs I don't think as much of there are at least parts I like better. I noticed today that I seemed to unconsciously approve of the parts which are most similar to the band's later stuff, i.e. bass and drums doing something 'interesting', guitars playing something supporting but not primary - and when they move to bigger punk rawk chords and stuff, which is generally during choruses, is when I'm less satisfied. I think I do something similar, but to a lesser extent, on Is Terrified. So what I suspect or at least am telling myself at the moment is that over time they a) became more interesting about their big-chord parts, and more key, b) found better ways to integrate those parts into their songs so that they make more sense musically and emotionally, if not c) avoid those parts altogether as Travis has indicated in interviews re avoidig post-Nirvana song structures. Oh, and also: the sound here is thin and I generally take that to be to an album's supreme detriment, but it's growing on me now. It has the interesting effect of making the drums really crunchy, which is of added appeal because the drummer - Steve Cummings, who was replaced on the next album - has kind of a drum-n-bass snare pop going. And the bass takes on an interesting quality, pretty low but damped somehow so that it feels more subterranean, despite not sounding that way when considered 'objectively'. A-a-and the guitars... they're more metallic and clangorous, Shellacy cheese shreddery.

Miles Davis, Filles de Kilimanjaro. At times this seems far more abstract to me than lots of other 'abstract' (no forget the scare quotes) jazz, running the gamut from bop to free jazz. The thing that's most obviously 'abstract' or difficult about free jazz is that all the recognizable stuff disappears - the usual tonal and rhythmic structures, especially. But on this album especially - more than the other second quintet albums, I think - things are more abstract because of the way they shift and flicker. It's harder here to figure out what the underlying structures are like, harder to follow what's going on, because what they are is never fixed, yet they are still an important point to the music, so you have to follow them somehow. Compare to out enough free jazz where it may not really be helpful to follow those kinds of structures because they're no longer the point, they're not playing that game - so in a sense you don't have to try as hard. (There are other things to try hard at.)

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. His voice glides so effortlessly i.e. apparently effortlessly to the listener that the slow-to-mid tempi are frustrating me a bit, because what he seems to be hinting at is that he could sing as slowly and gently as he wanted, and that's what I want to hear, that voice, hanging in mid-air, unrushed by the band even at their relaxed tempi here.