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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28 Jul '02 10:38:18 PM

It's normal for me to avoid listening to a record if I feel I'm not ready to hear it and enjoy it. If I try it once, or even more than once, and have a strong aversion to it, or feel nothing, I just put it away and try again later. If it's a long time before I try again, I don't mind. I'd rather do that than sell the record right away, because the benefit to me of happening upon the right frame of mind in which to hear a record I could never get before outweighs the benefit of finding another record that I might like immediately (I've always got lots of those at hand).

A record I've been doing this for a very long time with is the next-to-last Sonic Youth record, NYC Ghosts & Flowers. I've probably heard it less than five times since I bought it around the release date, May 16, 2000, because I was wary of my negative opinion of it settling in and calcifying.

Brent DiCrescenzo was apparently not worried. I don't know what his "real" reactions are like apart from the reviews he writes, or how they change over time, because this is all I have to go on. I think it's likely that he hardens them and expresses them more extremely (these verbs should all be in the past tense now I think) as part of his Pitchfork schtick. But, since all I have is the review: it's one of the most smallminded reviews I've ever read. Those you might think to qualify as more smallminded don't make it because they're not written with as much awareness of what a more charitable response to the record might be like. Brent's is, but he chose to bear down and force his opinion. (Ryan Schreiber does something similar in his Andrew WK review, but that one's much more valuable to me, because you can see the cracks in his shield, the places where the "fun" is able to seep through and affect him and he does not like it. Now if only he had gone on from there.)

I'm reminded of a quote I'm fond of, from Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz:

John Coltrane expresses exasperation at the initial response of critics to his groups' creations. "I couldn't believe it... It just seemed so preposterous... absolutely ridiculous, because they made it appear that we didn't even know the first thing about music - the first thing."

I think something like this idea appears in producer Orrin Keepnews' essay excoriating jazz criticism, "A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed..." - that often musicians do know what they're doing better than listeners do, particularly critics, many of whom are not that much different from a number of listeners.

In Brent's case I think he's aware of the contrary tendencies at work every time Sonic Youth makes a record. Or rather, he's aware of how important the mutability of the mixture between the two (the noisy and the pretty? the avant-garde and the traditional? the experimental and the tested? the unpopular and the popular? the uncomfortable and the comfortable?) is to their career as a band. For a band like them, I can't make myself presume that a certain combination of those things (and it's not even that simple, really, just "how much of column A and how much of column B" there is in a particular record - it's a convenience for discussion) is the "right" way to make a record, and that the other ways are self-indulgent crap, or irrelevant, the way Brent seems to in his review. A band's truly being experimental isn't just a matter of calling all the assumptions and traditions and conventions they can into question, in order to see if they can still happen upon a record that satisfies people in something like the normal sense. It all matters, at least much more than Brent makes it out to matter, because with those things called into question we have a special opportunity to see what happens to us when we hear music made differently. That opportunity doesn't stop being special when we cross the line from "records that sound like detuned noise-punk" into "records that sound scary to me because they don't have any of the things I expect out of a record".

And this record does scare me, at times. Some of it is the kind of fear like that I get brief flashes of from tracks on Dirty, where they barely seem to have the guitars under their control - the fear of losing my balance at the edge of a cliff, the ground rushing up toward me. But more of it is scary-creepy: the sheer foreignness of some of the sounds, the way the strings sound deadened but still very clear as they chime, the intense quietude. They make the record powerful, more powerful to me on the whole than any other Sonic Youth record I've heard. I'm more surprised, by the entrances of O'Rourke's production touches, by the texture of the attack on a guitar string ("attack" the technical term, because it can be so quiet, so subtle, and still make me jump a tiny bit, inside), by the way some of the noisiest parts really start to feel massive to me, more like maelstroms than I've usually learned to expect from Sonic Youth records, which I probably came to hoping for something much more, unattainable even, as far as noise goes. The vocals are powerful, too. Yes, a lot of the lyrics sound dubious, but they also don't sound that much different from lots of other Sonic Youth lyrics. And there's always one of those most important tools in their toolbox, popping up all over the place: the love of forcing discomfort. With that tool in there, there's no way I'm going to stop listening because I think the lyrics sound dumb. The sound of the vocals carries them here, if "carries them" means "makes me listen raptly with shivers down my spine". They're recorded more intimately than ever before, and the knockoff beat poetry (which has beautiful parts in it) is delivered in a mythically solemn tone of voice, almost ecstatic for all its measuredness. And Kim Gordon. Jesus.

I don't like to Coltrane's Meditations that often. It, too, is powerful, and there are parts where I say to myself, "how can I stand this?" So too, perhaps, here.

28 Jul '02 08:31:06 AM

"the time has come for bloggers to formally enter the music journalism arena"

Given that a number of bloggers (check out the sidebar, and Tom doesn't even keep up with all of the blogs that are out there) have been writing exclusively or almost so about music for quite some time, I don't like the sound of this. Of course, these music bloggers aren't "formally" part of the "music journalism arena" in the sense that reviewers and other writers for print and other media are. What is that sense? Eric Olsen notes that, of course, what record labels would get out of the arrangement he proposes (which would involve bloggers getting free CDs - or mostly free, initially - with the understanding that they're expected to write regularly about them) is more publicity. He doesn't say much else about entering this "arena", though.

He doesn't talk more about the economics involved, that is, about how the overwhelming majority of the "real" journalists (that's not a word he used, but it's one I sense) are paid for their work, as well as receiving free music (and the extra income that comes from unloading it, however slight that is). I'm not sure whether the fact that bloggers doing this would be doing unpaid work is an improvement or not. Doing work for free so that large record companies can profit seems like a big SUCK. Of course, by not being paid, the bloggers will in some sense be continuing on sort of as they have been, writing about music that they like (or don't like, or don't have a preference on one way or the other) in their spare time because of the enjoyment it brings them (or other intangible benefits, like the practice in writing and listening it provides them, or the chance to express themselves, or the chance to advertise their tastes and personalities, or...). At least, this is the line one could take if one didn't want to have to pay more people to act as basically an extension of one's marketing department into ever finer regions of the marketplace.

Perhaps pay is supposed to bias people too much (more than they are already biased by receiving free records - I have a few times, and even when I hated the record it was hard not to try being nice about it, or withholding what I thought), and the lack of pay is a way around this problem (but see previous parenthetical remark, ha, I am full of them tonight).

I think calling this "journalism" instead of "being used as a tool by the man" entrenches the bias the most, though. Suddenly all the baggage from journalistic music writing is dragged into things: the "objectivity"; the perpetual focus on the new and the popular to the deteriment of the old, the everyday, the unpopular, the personal; the traditional forms of the review the interview, the thinkpiece, the fluff piece; the habitual and lazy techniques of writing, the onesheet rip, the band bio, the cliche, the lack of ideas, the railroad spike through my fucking head. Do these necessarily have to follow? No, but a lot of people seem to fall for them when they think they're doing "journalism" rather than just writing, period.

Maybe the possibility for greater respect for non-traditional fora and forms of writing is cause for optimism. But I'm not hopeful, at the moment. "The cultural shoreline": who are the labels and journalists supposed to be, Columbus (oh dear lord please no) or the natives?

28 Jul '02 07:57:15 AM

Don't be afraid to write lots of short things.

Don't be afraid to write about one idea, or one impression, or one experience. The one that's yours, or the one you have something to say about. Don't just fill up the rest of the space with the stuff you think people will expect to see for your writing to be legitimate, unless it's actually required to understand what you want to say.

Don't write in the standard forms just because that's what everyone else does. This isn't a newspaper.

28 Jul '02 07:19:22 AM

I've enjoyed reading Nath's weblog recently, been impressed by it even.

26 Jul '02 08:08:08 PM

If forgetting about Yo La Tengo lyrics is a special part of listening to them then I hope I keep writing down when I figure them out, so that in 10 years I can stumble across repeated references to it and write something about forgetfulness.

24 Jul '02 11:03:57 PM

Referral from Google to this site: a search on "definition of semi-informed in research". Oh ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha.

23 Jul '02 08:42:03 PM

Maybe I've understood the whole line before. Maybe not - Yo La Tengo make it easy for me to forget.

But in "Moby Octopad" they sing, "Phone turned down, we've nothing much to say," and I just now realized that the first part is "phone turned down." Which changes the whole thing.

I don't know what I thought of it before, the part I could understand, the "we've nothing much to say" part. I know I liked it somehow. But now, I can think of myself, eyes on the ceiling, phone ringing, letting the messages pick up, or doorbell ringing, letting them go away. No matter - I have nothing much to say, anyway.

Looking at the lyrics I see they're more specifically about lovers, and a kind of cocooning they do, but as at the moment I can only remember that sadly and fondly, and not in the present tense of the lyrics, I'm electing to not bother understanding any more of the lyrics today.

19 Jul '02 09:41:41 AM

Ten favorites of the moment.

"Boogie Stop Shuffle" - Charles Mingus. "At one intermission, after they had played a fast number on which their present drummer couldn't keep up, Lou Donaldson told Mingus, "I've got my hometown buddy here. I bet he'll make those fast tempos." He introduced Mingus to Dannie, and Mingus, noting his careful grooming and nice clothes, was skeptical. Dannie sat in for several numbers. On the first number, an uptempoed "Cherokee," he had very little trouble. Mingus says he could tell Dannie was a good musician and just needed more work. Dannie joined the workshop later that winter when the regular drummer left. Mingus believes the drummer is the most important member of the group and says he'd rather have no drummer at all if Dannie weren't available."

"Can't Take It (Herbert's Some Dumb Dub)" - Recloose. Starting at about 2:30 is my favorite section of music right now. I still can't tell if the part that enters at 3:08 is exactly in time with everything else or not, but either way it captivates me. It's far from moving from the regime of beats to the realm of tones, but it feels as if it's on the boundary, fast enough to not be "just" a beat, slow enough to be counted in with the rhythm programming rather than the synths and whatnot, though everything here is moving. Please oh please don't make me listen to any more rock band rhythm sections at the moment.

"Disconnection Notice" - Sonic Youth. I rarely know what they're singing about, ever, but disconnecting is bad, I know that much. You can tell because Thurston sounds kind of sad. But not too sad. Flat, glazed-eyed. I don't know what kind of disconnection it is but I can think about me being disconnected and how I feel. It feels blank, like his voice. Things pass by slowly, while my attention is directed nowhere in particular, except maybe at the empty sensation manifesting somewhere inside my chest. Things pass slowly for the band, too, just hovering between sounding relaxed and sounding like the world is passing them by. Like much of the noise on this record (the rest of it being the subtle sort of string-glitches that on a faster, noisier, more full-bodied record would just seem like the dissipations of the bigger noise, but which here are studied and sometimes frustrating next to the foreground of cleanly strummed notes and chords), the guitar solos (guitar solos!) feel as if they move along side the rest of the song, or perhaps intrude into it, at their noisier moments.

"Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)" - Jay-Z. At least three things that make me want this song ("remix" doesn't really do it justice I think, because the verses and production are different but they both feel like standalone tracks to me) over the original: 1) the beat, eighth notes for a whole measure, on the chorus; 2) the first verse: "Whoo! Who you lovin, who you wanna be huggin, heh who you wit, who you wanna be fuckin got this smarty art chick to whom I pose this question I read a couple books to add to her soul's progression to put this in laymen's term, I gave her some knowledge she gave me, brains in return, she had to drop out of college knowin she does this homework, I give her in house tutoring in and out I'm movin through her student body union and she, call me professor, say daddy come and test her so she could fail on purpose and repeat the semester I'm like, at this rate ma you never graduate she said, I aint no fool I make it up in summer school"; 3) the bouncier, cheerier sample, absence of the leering Q-Tip / Slick Rick / Biz Markie chorus and world-traveler-spy-gangsta-movie strings (and sitar?!), and lyrics that are probably just as misogynistic but feel less immediately so because they don't run through an easy laundry list of kinds of girls identified with their stereotypes ("Got this Chinese chick / had to leave her quick / cause she kept bootleggin my shit"): they all make me feel more celebratory about girls, girls, girls.

"Hoping (Herbert's High Dub)" - Louie Austen. Louie Austen does the vocal here. Apparently he is some kind of lounge singer - I'm unable to determine if he's supposed to be sincere or ironic or whatever (the distinction being a question just because the standard line on schmaltz is that no one could seriously mean to do it unless they were a cretinous loser with no taste). If this is even a problem, I think it disappears in Herbert's remix. I suppose I'm aware that there's a tradition of over-the-top divas (male and female) in house, but I'm not acquainted with it, really, and I don't care what it's supposed to tell me about how to take the singing here because I love it. What does he want? He wants to see you dance. And smile. It obviously makes him feel good. It makes me feel good too. There's another, separate thing as well. His lounge singer voice. And a memory I have: of singing in my own lounge singer voice, to whatever song was playing at the time, to Anna. She hated it when I did that. So of course I did it all the time to antagonize her, because just the right amount of antagonization endeared me to her (I hope), and her reaction endeared her to me. The half-recalled comment below is from an essay about whether music can be meaningful, in the way words and things are. Authors writing on that usually take great pains to distance themselves from the idea that our personal associations - like the extra bit of warmth I get from listening to Louie Austen and remembering my own lounge singer voice - are really an important or even legitimate part of our experience of listening to music. Even just the fact that I have this association, though, reminds me: the potential to form these associations, isn't it by itself one of the things about music (or about the rest of the world) that makes it meaningful to us? Are those associations intersubjectively knowable? Well, I just told you about it, didn't I?

"Ironclad" - Sleater-Kinney. Spending more time - a lot more time - with The Hot Rock since buying All Hands on the Bad One (which is the first S-K record I actually liked though not the first I bought, happily adding one more success to my method of record-sidling) has made me appreciate better the fusion of the Dig Me Out sound and the Hot Rock sound that they achieved here. Thinking back I don't get the impression that any Dig Me Out songs were as nimble as this, or that the guitars resonated so much or were separated as distinctly into their own voices. None of the Hot Rock songs were as hot, brutal, searing, tearing as those on Dig Me Out, but "Ironclad" is a happy (wait, resolute) compromise. And until I thought about it I didn't realize how happy it will make me to buy One Beat on August 20th.

"Karen Revisited" - Sonic Youth. It never quite explodes the way I want. That urge is always there. It's one of their most important tools. If I didn't have that urge, their careful restraint (listen to the way the noisy and clean parts intermingle at times) wouldn't seem as stately as it does here. This is a long song - it changes at about three and a half minutes into something noisy and then less noisy, and more sleepy. I don't always listen to it - why should I? When I do it's often while doing something else. Those times, the applause at the end pleases me with the way it seems to have come out of nowhere. Other times I am lying in bed, woken up, mind wandering - and the end section seems to make it especially peripatetic. Comment from an essay I half-recall: "Praising a piece of music for the personal associations it evokes is like praising a book for boring you." Have I mentioned that I like boring books, too?

"Presence" / "The Illking" - Mouse on Mars. The former builds up mass and with it inertia, until the buzzing sounds driving it surely forward seem to be dragging the whole mass of horns, strings, and less identifiable noises with it. The latter's sighing, freely-metered strings give it more motion at the beginning, which is then made more urgent by insistent eighth notes from something I can't place as eastern or western. (The entire track sounds persistently "Chinese" to me, but for all I know it may just have been played by a bunch of German orchestra members.)

"Remember Me?" - Eminem featuring RBX and Sticky Fingaz. Pretty much everything about this is totally awesome, but check Sticky Fingaz: "Niggaz that take no for an answer, get told no Yeah I been told no but it was more like, "No, no, no!!!" Life a bitch that'll fuck you if you let her Better come better than better to be a competitor this vet is ahead of, The shit is all redder, you deader and deader A medic instead-a the cheddars and credda Settle vendetta one metal beretta from ghetto to ghetto Evidence? NOPE! Never leave a shred-of". Slam! Slam!

18 Jul '02 06:24:16 PM

Did I just hear a commercial for the US Secret Service on the top 40 station?!?