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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23 Feb '02 07:20:49 AM

A little over a year later, I think I'm ready to go song by song through the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs again.

The things I wrote last year were written while I still had a somewhat adversarial relationship with parts of the album, or for some of the songs, just an indifferent one. I think it's only in keeping with the josh blog modus operandi to do the whole thing over again, then, now that I hear the album differently. A lot differently.

This time I won't be doing solely Love Song entries until I finish, so things may take a bit longer. I will be setting myself a Merrittesque formalist restriction, though, since I'm doing the songs in alphabetical order. That means I'll start with "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan" when I get a chance.

I don't really have a plan, again, but one thing I want to aim for is making the value of each song more perspicuous. I had been thinking off and on about doing this again for a while now (be astounded by my proliferation of time words!), but today I idly read a review that invoked the commonly-used idea that the album only really has maybe one album's worth (the figure varies but one album is common I think) of good songs. While I don't dispute that people might think that - that they might only like about that many of the songs, or think that that many qualify as 'good' - I think it's lazy reviewing to come across that way. Perhaps one key reason this happens is that the album is large and varied, in style and yes even quality. But reviewers lean slavishly on the idea of albums like this (and by "like" I mean "with lots of songs and apparently having varying levels of quality", i.e. the similarity need only be superficial) being "messes" or "shambolic" or whatever, and I suspect that this tends to make it easy for their personal inclinations come off as objective judgments about where the diamonds in the rough are. I don't want to make every song out to be perfect or anything like that, and I don't just love every song despite what I think of its quality. I just want to look more closely.

A side motivation here is that my old trudge through the album is one of the things I most wish I had transferred into my semi-new database widget. It only seems appropriate to have 69 (or so - I rushed a couple at the end when I did some real-time listener response kind of thing) entries floating around in the widget. But I don't want to just figure out how to hack those in there without doing it up proper-like. So instead I'll just do it again, and maybe make links to the old ones in each new entry. For now. That will please me sufficiently.

21 Feb '02 06:50:21 AM

NB: I saw Singin' in the Rain tonight for my film class and it was really good.

(Most prejudices are maintained through an inertia of ignorance.)

20 Feb '02 07:46:52 AM

What I listened to today:

Emergency & I on my way to campus. I seem to be attuned so much to every little bit of "The City" that every note in the opening alternating guitar line sends another cascade of chills down my spine (we say "down my spine" but really they're all over, it just sounds perverted to say "across the surface of my body"), so that inevitably after so many notes I lose the clarity of attention that helps the chills come more easily, because things sort of overload with all the ones that have already come.

"Ex Girl to Next Girl" a few times before I went to teach. I've been drawn a lot to this song lately. I haven't much felt like listening to any other Gangstarr, just this song. Today, twice, the part stuck out where he ends a series of phrases with "wherever my Beemer goes / you know that I'm drivin." He does a metrically similar thing later - the line doesn't really rhyme with its neighbors, and doesn't seem integrated into the rest of the flow. It gives pause, is the least I could say, I guess.

Whenever I'm walking to "Rosa Parks" I start stepping in time to the woodblock, without fail.

Damon's tape, which I haven't mailed yet, turned out alright, except that I'm not totally happy with the track gaps on the song side. (I've already said how I screwed up the gaps on the Change side, though on hearing it, it's only noticeable on some songs, and surely it sounds a lot worse to me because I know the songs so well, but I still expect Damon would notice it anyway at least on the gap between "Sentimental Man" and "Face of the Earth".) The gap between Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang is too long, and maybe another second between Mystikal and the Betas would have been better. Also "Laser Beam" should have had like a 5 second gap, or more.

I suspect that my roommate's stereo, which I recorded the song side on, did something funny to the sound quality, because that side sounds a lot worse than the side with the Dismemberment Plan on it, which I recorded at work. The songs all sound OK, but the low and high ends are greatly diminished, and everything is just a lot less clear. For a number of the songs, this was very surprising. Mogwai and Labradford suffered the most - the detailed sonics are crucial to those songs coming off, at least in those performances of them. Others like "Tomorrow" worked better than I would have expected. The great sound makes "Tomorrow" amazing on headphones, but with a lot of that garbled or stripped away, it was still something. Oh, and Jay-Z's voice was a lot higher-sounding.

20 Feb '02 07:30:54 AM

"Everything is slow and hazy and drained and it all happens around the word seem." - The Body Artist, Don DeLillo

18 Feb '02 08:02:01 AM

This afternoon I put on a few CDs and did some reading. The things I put on were: Bedhead's s/t, Songs for a Blue Guitar by the Red House Painters, Prince's Dirty Mind, the Dirty Three's Whatever You Love, You Are, and Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage. The Prince didn't really fit in, not even in that oh-what-a-strange-and-pleasant-juxtaposition way, so I will pass over it in silence.

But the rest struck me. For the past week or two I've been having a lot more memories that take me back to specific times or places in that distinctive way I have, that I can never write enough about. Mostly taking me back to places or times where I was doing nothing in particular but living, studying, working, in the past five years: especially the past couple, both at 1234 Michigan, and my place on Stanton, and more transient locations.

Most of these memories are nostalgic, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. Like for example:

I've gotten lots of flashes of my life last year. Of lying on my bed in the Stanton apartment, of looking at my face in the mirror in that little bathroom, of looking down at the cars and people going by late in the afternoon. Of walking around Campustown, popping in to buy a CD - I thought just now I could open my old copy of Gravity's Rainbow and find a receipt from the store so I could spell the name right, because those handwritten receipts litter my belongings, stuffed in books here and there, bags, CD cases, but there actually wasn't one in there despite the ten scraps of paper or legitimate bookmarks in the thing, and that makes me sad because I had hoped the receipt could be a tangible sign of how much that store meant to me.

And the flashes come like the ones I value most, as strange sensations of being in a place or time again, feeling the same way again. That's part of why they make me nostalgic, I think - because they bring with them some feelings that I'm not having now. Just the other day, getting off the bus and crossing Snelling to go down Ashland, to go home, I noticed that it was all starting to seem pretty familiar. I didn't feel like such a stranger. I don't feel like that as much now, but the way things seem familiar still feels a lot more limited, constricted, to me than the way I felt in Ames. Even the year plus that I spent more alone than ever (broken up with her, lots of friends graduated and gone) in a new apartment, things seemed familiar. That comes from living in a small town for five years, I suppose (and seven more or less if you count the time I went to Iowa State before living there). Even around people you don't know, the feeling that you belong, or that you know what's going on, what everything is like, no matter how misguided that is. It's powerful, and comfortable, in ways you don't realize when you're in it.

And now I'm happier in so many ways, and less lonely, so these memories seem almost like they're plaguing me, except that they feel so good to have, which is why I'm uncomfortable. No, I don't want to go back to last year. But feeling that secure here and now would be very nice.

So this is kind of why the music struck me. For one thing, it covers a strange span of my life. The Olivia Tremor Control record was one of my favorites of 1999 (check out an early attempt at writing year-end critspeak blurbs). The RHP record came out in 1996, but I was listening to it in 1999. The Dirty Three record is from 2000, but I never really took to it when it came out, so it's just a placeholder here for the other two Dirty Three records I was listening to a couple few years ago - they sound enough the same, as far as fragmented memories go. The Bedhead is also from 1996, but I only really started liking Bedhead in the past couple of years, so listening to it in a context with all these other memories being triggered feels appropriate. Enough to make things sound broadly the right way to take me back to the place on Stanton. Or lying on my couch in my room at 1234, during that long senior year - reading and falling asleep constantly, endlessly.

And it wasn't really anything special about the music - is it ever? - but instead just the familiarity, and the sense of being back at an earlier time when I listened to it a lot (because the thing I've listened to most is the Bedhead, them kind of coming later in my life - otherwise I haven't listened much to these at all for more than a year, making the gap seem more definite). I didn't think I had listened to the mopey cover of "Silly Love Songs" much, or Black Foliage, but I felt like I anticipated every turn they took, every note or bit of guitar noise or tape squiggle. Of course, I'd listened to them repeatedly. The time spent listening to other things just made me forget, distanced me.

That was all fascinating by itself, but I don't really have a good handle on it. It did make me think about something else, though - how other people use music in their memory-lives, or the role music plays, to make it sound less instrumental. Obviously, it plays an enormous role in my own memories, and my memory-life (which is something I am making up now, but it's something like "the way our memories of our past shore up kind of actively the way we live in the present"). But I always feel like an archeologist when I'm talking about it, because it's about dead things, or something like them. If I've listened to a piece of music a lot, if there's no gap, then this memory effect doesn't really work the same way, and I don't feel like listening to the thing is a very memory-related thing, even if by rights it should be (but there are exceptions).

Hearing OTC again today made me think of Maura, because she likes them so much. I find her tastes the most unfathomable of anyone I know, and I wonder if a big part of it isn't to do with the strong role that memories of her past life, that center around records, play in her current memory-life. I say that because the things she likes (when they're not some indie garbage I can't even recognize ha) seem so tied to specific times, when she talks about them. And because what I can make out of her reasons for liking other records often have to do with them being really linked in some ways, usually sonically, with those more key records. (Not that she has bad reasons for liking the records, or that she doesn't like lots of other things that don't fit into my sort of geneological/archeological theory.) Maybe what I mean to say is that it seems like she's actively maintaining the connections to her musical past (and thus emotional/affective past, as well as any memories of anything that comes with it), and using those connections to structure her musical life now (and thus etc etc). Which is hard for me to understand because it always feels like I have little control over how things change - records (and feelings and people and places and memories) just drop away, and some things don't, and eventually maybe I remember some of the things that dropped away, if I'm lucky.

I'm sorry this is all so convoluted, but I can't and don't want to sort it out now.

17 Feb '02 12:48:19 AM

This evening I finished Dave's long-awaited (well not that long actually, so good for me eh) tape. He asked for jazz, and that's what he's getting.

Side A: John Coltrane - Mr. P.C. - Giant Steps; Thelonious Monk - Locomotive - Straight, No Chaser; Sonny Rollins - St. Thomas - Saxophone Colossus; Cannonball Adderley - Autumn Leaves - Somethin' Else; Bill Evans - N.Y.C.'s No Lark - Conversations With Myself; Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach - Money Jungle - Money Jungle; Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto - Vivo Sonhando - Getz/Gilberto.

Side B: Dave Douglas - A Thousand Evenings - A Thousand Evenings; Erik Truffaz Quartet - Less - The Mask; Dave Holland Quintet - What Goes Around - Not for Nothin'; Matthew Shipp Duo with William Parker - When Johnny Comes Marching Home - DNA; Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette - Groovin' High - Whisper Not; Vandermark 5 - Vent - Simpatico; Masada - Shilim - Live in Jerusalem.

Obviously, the sides are split along times: A is mostly post-bop from the late fifties to late sixties, and B is more stylistically varied but all from contemporary artists with critical cred and avant-garde ties (the two are sort of linked, of course). There's some typical song-to-song thinking again, and the side ends and beginnings line up a bit more nicely than my last couple tapes, where I wasn't thinking about that at all.

A couple of notes, since the purpose of this tape is to increase Dave's interest in jazz (and he even asked, so I'm not just being a jerk, ha). Tommy Flanagan, who died recently, is the pianist on the Coltrane track and the Rollins track. Miles Davis is the trumpeter on the Cannonball track. Max Roach drums on the Rollins as well as the trio with Duke and Mingus. The Evans track I've written on before.

Dave Douglas is the trumpet player in Masada, and Greg Cohen plays bass for both (and Douglas's group here is his "Charms of the Night Sky" group, after an album they did together - he has lots of others). I don't know who else Erik Truffaz has played with, but the time-bending properties of his group's song should sound reminiscent of the one from Holland's group, apparently especially thanks to drummer Billy Kilson. Shipp and Parker play together frequently in many settings, also including ones with David S. Ware, Susie Ibarra, and others. Jarrett, DeJohnette, and Holland all played with Miles Davis' groups at some point, mostly in the proto-fusion period. Masada is John Zorn's Jewish roots music meets free jazz group.

The Holland and Jarrett records are both on ECM, which may help explain the shared ideals of precision and low recording levels. Rollins, Cannonball, and Ellington are all on Blue Note, as is Truffaz, though the Blue Note of today is a pretty different thing. Evans and Getz/Gilberto are both on Verve, and the Shipp/Parker is on Thirsty Ear. (I know Dave just loves to know what labels things are on - I think it's an indie thing.)

16 Feb '02 06:51:50 AM

A particularly pleasant mix this evening and tonight:

Dave Douglas' "Charms of the Night Sky" group, A Thousand Evenings. The New Year, Newness Ends. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Ease On Down the Road. Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive. Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

16 Feb '02 12:39:46 AM

I finally finished a tape for my friend Damon, who is serving in the Peace Corps in Guinea.

Side A is just all of the Dismemberment Plan's last album, Change. Originally I was planning on filling the tape with my favorite songs from 2001, but laziness overwhelmed me and I figured that I'd like him to hear Change anyway since it was my favorite album of 2001. There is one thing, though: since the album is slightly longer than 45 minutes, I cut "Pay the Piano" from the middle. I know I have more than 45 minutes, but I'm not sure how much more, and I didn't want "Ellen and Ben" to be cut off at the end.

Also to accomplish this cut I just programmed my boom box and then left it recording. Unfortunately I was not aware that my boom box is retarded and re-scans between each track on a program, so the natural flow from track-to-track, on the tracks where I didn't introduce a gap by cutting a song, was sort of fucked. Oh well.

Side B is just songs. Labradford - "Up to Pizmo". Mogwai - "Dial: Revenge". Superpitcher - "Tomorrow". Basement Jaxx - "Romeo". Jay-Z - "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)". Wu-Tang Clan - "Uzi (Pinky Ring)". Mystikal - "Bouncin' Back' (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)". Beta Band - "Eclipse". Low - "Laser Beam".

I went with my usual method of trying (in some abstract way) to get good flow from song to song, but also it's obviously got sort of a triangular structure (er maybe square-wave triangular heh).

15 Feb '02 09:14:58 PM

I must have some variant on, as my roommate puts it, "narcosleepy", because all I could do yesterday when I got home was lay on the couch and drift in and out. After dinner I screwed around and then went to sleep again, and slept for more or less twelve hours.

So my music for the night, and afternoon, is fitting - Bedhead's 4 Song EP. Given how, on other releases, Matt Kadane seems to have more control over how his lyrics scan (though there's always a bit of awkwardness around), the odd little extensions of phrasing here (holding a note to make the phrase match the music even though the words have sounded semi-conversational up to that point), or the vocal wavering, sound more intentional. I'm not sure how much to take them as that, though. (I'm remembering something Andrew Kenny of the American Analog Set wrote to me - "that's just how we sound when we play our instruments".) Also I have in mind what I wrote last June - along the same lines, the music just sounds so intimate that I want to take these vocal things as contributing to the sense that these songs are very personal communications, or at least meant to seem like them (obviously the fact that there's a band ruins that a bit, plus the widely distributed recordings, etc). The sense of looking on on Kadane singing something to someone else.

This EP was recorded live in one take at a church. The guitars sound more up-front than the drums, which have more room ambience, presumably because there was only one mike so the drums are farther away from it. I don't get as much of a "guitars sounding like viola" feel here as from, say, the preceding album, WhatFunLifeWas. At times, even though it's in 4 it feels like it's in waltz time. And sometimes I get the sense that I'm hearing more well-defined melodies (more vertical melodies, maybe) that have been stretched out and smeared together - part of the way in is getting to know the individual guitar parts apart, which is posible since they're all clean and clear. But the way they play, and the close proximity of all the parts to each other, lends to hearing them as more unified.