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January 31, 2000

Long ago Chris and Haar (or was it Joel?) and I sat around and tried to determine what 'weird' music was. We were left thinking almost no music (including Frank Zappa!) was weird.

Here's another possible litmus test: can you imagine the musicians driving a car? If no, then it's weird.

Try it on Bjork.

January 30, 2000

Some loose thoughts on impressions and writing about music. If you understand what I'm getting at, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you don't, I'd love to hear your questions, and attempt to explain it further.

Sorry, Neil, I don't think I liked Fu-Schnickens.

January 29, 2000

The blues are about the voice at least as much as the guitar. How much of the vocal style is related to black English? Perhaps a lot, according to most critics of latter-day white bluesmen like Chris Duarte or Jonny Lang: they praise the guitar-playing, but deride the singing as forced and shallow. Should be no surprise if a large part of the style are the sort of inflections, etc. more common to black English than standard English.

January 28, 2000

New Dirty Three album out on March 7. The new Godspeed! has been delayed indefinitely because the recording engineer was sick.

Selected comments from the notes to Mudhoney's new best-of, b-sides, and rarities compilation, March to Fuzz:

January 27, 2000

Quote from rec.music.classical, offered sans comment:

Even C.C. DeVille, the lead guitarist for the infamous 80s hair band Poison, studied violin at Julliard!

January 26, 2000

Something nice, I think, about listening to lots of music that never makes it on the radio is that I don't pick up an album already knowing 2, 3, or maybe 4 of the songs very well. That always used to put me off a little because I was never sure how much of my liking songs was due to familiarity, and how much was due to the songs. Even after a long time, with some CDs, I still feel like I know the "radio songs" far better, even if I don't like them better. Though some albums, like Nirvana's, stopped being like that for me a long time ago.

I began thinking about this when listening to the Beatles' Revolver today - even here, from my limited exposure to oldies radio as a kid and riding around in my old roommate Chris's car, I find "Eleanor Rigby," "Yellow Submarine," "Good Day Sunshine," and "Got to Get You Into My Life" a lot more familiar than the other tunes. I like them better, too - so why is that? On the surface it seems as if it's because they're just the better singles.

January 25, 2000

Techno for jazz fans?

Conjecture: the only way Yo La Tengo's "Blue Line Swinger" could be a perfect beginning-of-album song, rather than a perfect end-of-album song, is if it never ended.

January 24, 2000

Why is it that I think of especially regional qualities (in Monroe Beardsley's sense) as the best identifying features of what makes "American music" American? I'm tempted to call lots of folk and country (old, that is) "American," but not other perhaps quintessentially American forms like jazz or rap.

Yet "English" (as in UK) music seems less regional, to me.

January 23, 2000

The "Monk on Monk" concert was good, and gave me another interesting perspective on Monk's music. I plan to come up with some lengthier comments at a later date.

Now listening to Monk Live at the It Club (from 1964, the year of his Time cover story and "breakthrough"), post-concert.

January 22, 2000

Going to Iowa City today to see the T.S. Monk (Thelonious's kid, also named Thelonious, thus the initials) concert.

January 21, 2000

Thought on references and allusions: I think the element of time lends a certain power to references and allusions in arts like music, acting, and comedy. Even when they're not expressly humorous, there's a "suprise/of course" to them (I got that phrase from my old creative writing prof Joe Geha...) - much like jokes, or tight short stories.

Their placement in time also makes these references fleeting: I'm not sure whether to say that this allows for the acumulation of lots of details, or that it's the acumulation of lots of details that makes the references fleeting, but both seem like useful ways to think about it.

This popped into my head while listening to Mos Def & Talib Kweli's Black Star, which is, like, dope and stuff. I can't even remember all of the things I've caught, since I'm not in dumbass music reviewer / philosopher mode, and taking notes while I listen. Example: in "Thieves in the Night," Kweli mentions The Bluest Eye, a Toni Morrison novel. I've never read it but as far as I know it concerns a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes (like the white girls), because it's blue eyes that make girls beautiful. The mention was fleeting, but the connection it made for me in the context of the song (which didn't seem to be (but see below) as explicitly about the book, but rather about the contradictory plight of black people fighting for... autonomy, establishment, respect, determination... take your pick) was astounding. I think this is a special power of words that rap music foregrounds much better than other kinds of music, simply because of its focus on words and rhythms. Because the reference was so fleeting, when I made the connection, it was all the more intense.

And the best part: later, reading through the liner notes, I find Kweli talking about how important a certain paragraph from The Bluest Eye is to him, and how it formed the basis for the song. It's nice to have independent confirmation. : )

January 20, 2000

A few new things today, tying up some ends and following some new ones:

"I love rockin' tracks like John Coltrane love Naima."
- Talib Kweli on "Astronomy (8th Light)"

File under futurism?

January 19, 2000

The slowness in "Greensleeves" is exascerbated by the bass line: for large parts of the song, it's played more like 4+2 than 3+3. Notable exceptions are those parts, in unison with the piano, in straight 3, which I think really come together, from the expansive, polyrhythmic sea surrounding them.

It's been remarked that Miles' second quintet work was just as (but differently) out there as the contemporary free jazz of people like Coltrane and Coleman, and if you never believed that before, hearing Miles in the Sky is a good argument. I'd even venture to say that Tony Williams' constant-soloing reaches an energetic peak there, one that surpasses most of the work by Elvin Jones for Coltrane's Impulse!-era quartet.

The effects are definitely different, though.

Also: Wayne Shorter's playing, in particular, sounds especially "free". More reminiscent of Trane himself than I've yet heard.

January 17, 2000

Whenever I listen to Coltrane's "Greensleeves" I still want to hum "My Favorite Things." Heh.

Speaking of which, "Greensleeves" seems really slow for Coltrane of this period, which begs: why? and is does it drag, or no?

Godspeed You Black Emperor! is recording a new album, which is expected to be released later in the spring.

January 16, 2000

The Singles definitely presents a goofier picture of Sun Ra, which seems hard to do: doo-wop mentor, backing band for a Screamin' Jay Hawkins ripoff (or prototype, if you believe him), space-age big band...

Thought about Jarrett's Koln Concert: part of the power of the music is derived from its freedom. Because Jarrett didn't confine himself to conventions, but rather flitted between them at will (jazz, blues, "music," hints of classical), the music seems more directly related to his emotions. It's like it's saying things to you, more straightforwardly than a musician confined to stricter conventions.

Maybe this is true of something "out" like Coltrane's Meditations, but it's harder to feel it. Or maybe not feel it, but to tell what it is you're feeling: Meditations is very intense, but just what it is, is more elusive.

A difference here? Jarrett jumps between, melds, borrows from, various conventional genres. Coltrane just leaves them behind, largely.

The endless spiral ends here, but what a great place to end.

Freudian slip? I almost always mistype "big band" as "big bang." The implications are staggering.

"When he developed
what was called 'bop,'
he ceased to
be a real jazz musician."
- Hugues Panassie on Charlie Parker, wronger than hell

January 15, 2000

How much I like the songs from this new Super Furry Animals seems directly proportional to how dense the sound is in each song. Hmmm.

January 14, 2000

Will the endless spiral of CD buying ever stop?

January 13, 2000

Bitchen: some French rap on Guru's Jazzmatazz Volume 1. And I can translate "porn star".

In the coming days I'll attempt to provide some brief thoughts on all this new music.

First, Mingus's Mingus Ah Um.

"Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (a tribute to Lester Young, dead six weeks before this recording in 1959 - title refers to Young's favorite headgear) is surprising. The only version I've heard before is the GRP All-Star Big Band's version from All Blues, which is, predictably, loud, bluesy, and trumpet-heavy. That version has a tinge of melancholy to it, but I hear a lot more sorrow in Mingus's version: in the GRP's hands it turns into just another big band chart. The saxophone work is especially beautiful: breathy, delicate.

Mingus's "characteristic hard-driving 6/8 time," as the liner notes call it, really is characteristic, hard-driving, and, uh, 6/8. It seems to really lend itself well to swinging, but it's a swing with a kind of urgency not always present in 4/4 - even on, say, the hardest bop like "Giant Steps." Even more confusingly, though, it's more laidback. Hmmm.

Blues & Roots was recorded less than a year before Mingus Ah Um, but released over two years later. Even more interesting because "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and another number (sorry, don't have my CD case handy) are heavily reminiscent of cuts from Blues & Roots - similar structure, but different melodies, solos, and embellishments.

The more Mingus I hear, the more I am convinced that he is essential for anyone who thinks Wynton Marsalis is where it's at.

Fugazi's Instrument Soundtrack:

Last night I crashed on the couch for an overlong nap, and some CD listening. Near the beginning of this album I was struck by, especially (apparently) because of the demo format of many of the songs here, it sounded more like a post-rock album than whatever it is you'd venture to call Fugazi these days. For some bands, you might characterize something as "showing their punk roots". Instrument seems to show Fugazi's post-rock "roots," i.e. the directions they're going and some directions that have underlied where they've been going, even if overlaid with remnants of their hardcore punk work.

Waking up from my nap, I thought I was listening to the new Bedhead, because it was definitely a post-rock sound. I said to myself, "Why the hell is this so loud and upbeat? I thought Bedhead were a drone/ slowcore band!" Then I looked at which disc was playing.

This album definitely deserves more attention. I'm not sure yet, not having had much time, whether or not it's as good an album as I'm used to from Fugazi. But it fills in all sorts of gaps, and places their recorded history - especially the last three "normal" albums - in a fascinating new perspective.

January 12, 2000

Coltrane: "I get involved in this thing and I don't know how to stop."
Miles: "Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth!"

More things new:

Scary statement:

Stokowski didn't even enforce uniform bowing among his string players.

Not scary because he didn't, but because this is a standard practice.

the only sober
person I know
- Wilco, "Passenger Side," A.M.

Howard Peirce, a frequent poster to rec.music.bluenote, said this great thing recently in a discussion about bass solos:

Well, yeah, in a lot of non-jazz music, the bass is often the "easiest" part to play, played by the least experienced musician. It's just not that way in jazz. A merely competent jazz bassist has to be a virtuouso bassist by almost any other standard. Even the orchestral literature rarely calls for the same facility as a typical uptempo walking bass line.

The second verse to "You Are My Sunshine," not usually sung, for obvious reasons:

You told me once dear
You really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you left me
You love another
You have shattered all my dreams

January 11, 2000

Over the summer, I really started to like Wilco's latest, Summer Teeth. Then I didn't play it for a long time, but revisited it this winter, which was a shocker because I'd forgotten how good it was. I don't know if I think Being There, which I got yesterday, is as good, but when it's playing I don't know if I care to decide.

See Glenn McDonald's perceptive review of it. I think he's wrong about the second disc, though I must admit I've listened more to the first so far. It's only been one day, though!

January 10, 2000

Binge! Yeah! Details and more factually correct descriptions to come once I get a change to listen.

January 9, 2000

Someone (Matt Parisi, I think?) said recently on alt.music.alternative that they were glad to see the Foo Fighters so obviously "being influenced by" (my words) rock from the 80s, at a time when many bands wouldn't touch "influences" with a 10 foot pole. (Also my words.) Here's a thought: bands that are doing something "new" are probably wont to avoid being labeled like that, because people tend to read such labeling as a value judgment: "it's nothing that new or special, just like X but newer." The Foo Fighters, on the other hand, aren't doing anything new, so it's safter to "be influenced by."

Also, the latter kind of influencing legitimizes by referring to already established music.

January 8, 2000

Rediscovering Weezer's Pinkerton today and thinking about a review.

January 7, 2000

Earlier today, I was reminded again how rhythmically stupid and/or boring lots of classical music is. The Beach Boys' Pet Sound is more so. Compare to Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage or the Apples in Stereo's Her Wallpaper Reverie, which are melodically and harmonically quite indebted to the Beach Boys. Their rhythms are much less rinky-dink - there's more ebb and flow, more give and take.

Cataloguing a few favorite bass lines:

Interestingly, I had trouble remembering songs with non-rock or jazz bass, like *-hop or techno. I know I really like some of those, though.

January 6, 2000

Quoting: Sonny Rollins quotes "Camptown Ladies," Jimi Hendrix quotes "Strangers in the Night," Q-Tip (on a Beastie Boys cut) quotes himself (from a Tribe Called Quest cut), Martina quotes Tricky's lyrics from Massive Attack songs... why does live quoting seem more powerful than sampling to me?

January 5, 2000

Too broad and probably incorrect in multiple ways, but here are some notes on what "post-rock" is, most useful if you've never heard of it before at all (like the poster I was responding to).

A post in r.m.c. reminded me of a thought I had the other day: why aren't there more creative producers in the classical music world? You'd think that with all the avant-garde composers and performers, there'd also be producers interested in doing new things. In particular, I'm often disappointed by the sound on classical recordings - it seems that many, in attempting to stay distant enough to record an ensemble as an ensemble, lose a lot of presence. I'd like to hear a string quartet - or even better, a symphony! - in which all the instruments are miked, maybe even directly into the board, a la some of Frank Zappa's stuff on the Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar boxed set.

However, it seems that the narrowing standards applied to interpretations strike in production, as well - perhaps moreso than in other areas.

Does anyone have recommendations for recordings of classical music, with inventive production values?

An early surprise! My note on Green Day, appearing in Freaky Trigger.

Today's project: take notes on the large-grained structure on Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s F#A#(infinity).

January 4, 2000

"I need a fistful of medication
just to keep it in my pants."
- Dave Wyndorf in some Monster Magnet song

Disturbing but delightfully put.

"Once in a while," Cannonball says, "Miles might say, 'Why you play so long, man?' and John would say, 'It took that long to get it all in."

Spending some more time with The Low End Theory tonight, I realized that I pretty much can't pay attention to rap and read simultaneously. I wonder if that might change with exposure? I can read to most other music.

there's nothin' wrong with her a hunnerd dollars won't fix

January 3, 2000

Today I thought about my Frente album, Marvin the Album!. I never listen to it any more but wouldn't sell it for the world, if only so that I can listen to their cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle" or (try to) relive the moment when I heard "Labor of Love" on the radio, in my car, driving home from Ames, unable to believe what I was hearing.

An interview with the Dismemberment Plan, from Pitchfork. Still hoping to hear Emergency and I in its entirety some day!

Listening to E luxo so as ambient music.

January 2, 2000

Go and read Norman Mailer's essay, "The White Negro," now. (Unfortunately, I can't find an online copy.) In some ways, it's definitely touched by its time, with its emphasis on the origins of Hip, sexual freedom, the suffocating, totalitarian conformity of the fifties... but despite that, or maybe because of it, the essay (at times a breathtaking piece of writing) augurs so much of contemporary life that it's scary. Maybe Mailer would disapprove, but I see the struggle of his hipster lived out, in small, in my and my friends' own struggles to become who they can, to expand their possibilities. For some of us, like me, and perhaps you, dear reader, a lot of that expansion happens through music. In his essay, Mailer got at what it is about the musical experience that enriches my life - in the best-put way I've yet read.

January 1, 2000

Alternate methods of composition in jazz in the sixties: Miles, Mingus, Coltrane. How did their unusual methods contribute to the qualities of their music?

Add Satie and Eno to that list.

Relate, conceptually, impressionism, imagism, and Miles Davis. Extra credit for discussing Coltrane.

At first today, something straightforward: a listening list for the past day.

December 1999