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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10 Dec '01 05:27:59 AM

So far I've been suspicious of the new Spiritualized album, Let It Come Down. I've been dealing with that suspicion by listening to it under specific conditions. I'm not even forcing myself to only listen under these conditions - it just seems to have happened that I only feel like listening then: when I'm taking a nap, when I wake up on a weekend and decide to get back in bed, and when I'm drunk. On Saturday, I happened to encounter the album in all three of these states. I have to say, I like it. But I'm not sure what that means. At quite a few points on the album, I can find things to dislike. I like it despite those things. In that respect I don't think the album is much different from many others - though it may be different in that the things that I dislike about it carry more weight, or should, because of the things themselves. But what's more, as I mentioned previously, I only seem ready to hear the album at specific times. This too is not that different from other music I listen to, in that I only want to hear it occasionally. But this too seems as if I want to hear it only occasionally for different, more heavily weighted reasons.

I'm being vague about this just in case you're like Tom and this kind of thing entices you into having another listen.

10 Dec '01 05:02:06 AM

"the sense of keeping up..." It's weird, how this song shifts back and forth for me. The first time, it was like that ton of bricks. And plenty of other times, like one night walking home through snow. But sometimes everything fits more into place - it's less surprising, there's more of a sense that everything is fitting together "normally". I've had this happen to me with other drum-and-bass. I wonder if it's not just due to some tendency I have to hear music as "normal", to make it fit together in ways that are more natural. For instance, I have to pay more careful attention to Giant Steps to make sure that I remember what's so remarkable about it, instead of just hearing it as good music. I think there's something to the idea of the critic (and by extension listener) keeping the work alive.

When I'm not moving the drum beats and bass line sound more frantic, but Travis's vocals sound more paced. When I'm moving (including moving on a bus, even though I'm technically sitting still), it sounds like his vocals are trying to catch up, and the other parts have it easier.

10 Dec '01 04:21:30 AM

Right near the end of high school I was hit in the eye by a tiny rock while I was driving. The doctor said it might leave a scar; I can't tell when using my eyes normally, but a handful of times since then I've gotten something in my eye and then apparently irritated the scar. Like today. Just like usual this means I can't get much of anything done - both eyes are affected, not just the left one, because it feels better to close both than try to close just the left (that puts a different strain on the muscles). It's also painful, which distracts me. So all day I've been trying to sleep or lay quietly on my bed. I also have been wearing my sunglasses in the house and listning to lots of music.

First off after I woke up were Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. I'm working on a paper about them (actually about a paper by Patricia Herzog about them), and I haven't quiet warmed up to them. We've had some discussion in class which has made the connections between the variations and Diabelli's original waltz clearer, but I just don't like most of them. I like a lot of the slow ones and some of the faster ones that move farther away from the waltz, but a lot of the rest of them are still tied in some way to the basic rhythm of the waltz, which just annoys me. It's in a fast three (I think it counts as being in "one"), and just about every note in the thing except for a grace note or two is a quarter note. I'm still trying, though. I'd like to be able to like the variations for what I have to write about them, because, as with most things, I think I have more to say when I like something.

Next, a Dismemberment Plan mega-mix - all of the stuff I have on CD from them: !, ... Is Terrified, Emergency & I, the split EP with Juno, and Change. I don't listen to their first album ! much, so it's interesting to hear it mixed in with everything else. Like on Is Terrified, but to an even greater extent, you can hear where their early songwriting abilities give way - it's when the thrashing around starts. But on Is Terrified things pick up, a lot, and even though there's thrashing around, the song structures are a lot sturdier, and they make more sense (rather than just transitions to and from thrashy sections). This is probably true of some earlier songs, but when songs from Emergency & I came on it seemed very clear that that's the album where they really figured out what to do with the parts they had. In more highbrow music they talk about "problems" of composition, but those exist in all kinds of music. The Dismemberment Plan's musical materials present lots of these compositional problems: how to import non-rock music into rock music, how to be noisy while holding on to structure, how to get the music to complement their often amelodic or weirdly melodic melodies (including getting it seem more lyrical, and stringing these more clipped parts into 'proper' whole songs)... hmm, I'm not sure how much sense these make, but if you listen I think you'll see what I mean.

Later in the afternoon: more shuffling, with Smog's Red Apple Falls, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, the Velvet Underground's banana album, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Mouse on Mars' Iaora Tahiti. It all fit together nicely.

9 Dec '01 09:29:32 PM


8 Dec '01 06:16:07 AM

One of the amazing things about Journey to the End of the Night is how natural it seems for the Mekons to use this quasi-mythical mode that runs through the album. It's natural. I don't find it odd to have a song where Heracles is the main theme; with another band I might find it to be a forced attempt at being epically meaningful.

One reason it could be different is that the material seems to have been made their own.

8 Dec '01 06:06:51 AM

The albums before 69 Love Songs sound more monochrome now. And I've even heard them plenty since hearing 69LS. It's just today.

8 Dec '01 05:02:11 AM

On the way home today I put on the first Silver Mt. Zion album, which I'd had sitting around in my office for a few weeks, but which I hadn't heard for months. It has a strange intensity for an album that's so atmospheric and "ambient". I didn't think it would fit well with riding on the bus, but that didn't seem to matter - in fact, it even complemented the almost-end of Crying of Lot 49, which I was rereading, very well. Oedipa's despair at putting together the pieces of the Tristero puzzle was mounting, and I started feeling it.

I started it again because my trip took long enough due to waiting at stops; when it got to the track with the childlike vocal smears, maybe "Angels Stand Guard Round His Bed" or something like that, I had just walked down the block on Ashland far away from Snelling and all the traffic that everything seemed totally quiet around me - just the sound of my boots on the sidewalk and the cries in my headphones. It reminded me of snow.

6 Dec '01 07:17:07 AM

Sometimes I don't realize that I'm having a memory until I snap out of it somehow. There's some kind of house noise in our house right now, water or something, maybe the laundry. For the past few minutes I had been sitting here, half-noticing it while I type, until I realized that I thought it was the big noisy fan on the woodburning stove that was down the hall from my room in the basement in the house where I grew up.

Sometimes I have similar mis-memories, like thinking that I will walk down the hall to a room which is in a place I used to live or work, or like being aware of the place I'm in yet seeing it as some other one (especially the case with bedrooms).

There's a relation to music.

6 Dec '01 07:04:12 AM

The narrow line of separation between work and play: often when I hear the Dismemberment Plan or Fugazi I think about the band members actually working together, or actually playing together: that is, about the working or playing as activities involving a group of people doing things together. This isn't really something special to their music, it happens all the time. In fact something like this idea might be involved in a lot of conceptions of what good 'rock' is. Or jazz especially.

But sometimes I get the impression that these bands are working, and really enjoying it. Sometimes it is the kind of work that puts a serious look on people's faces. Sometimes it has serious overtones, but despite the seriousness everyone seems to take pleasure in the work, perhaps because of its seriousness. I think these things more often about Fugazi, not as often about the Plan. Sometimes the music seems more clearly to be a kind of play: it's a lot like work, but even if they're careful and determined, they're not so serious. (Does being at play always mean being playful? Probably not, but I think it may often, in the situations I'm talking about.) Seeing the Plan live makes it clearer when they really have fun, when they're not just playing but at play. But a lot of Fugazi's Argument sounds as if they are at play, to me, far more than any previous album. I've never seen them live but I imagine that they "indulge" a bit more in this when in concert.

These senses that music exhibits people at work or play (working together or playing together) can be very strong sometimes, so that it seems as if we should use them as criteria for success or quality. This can rub the wrong way people who like a kind of music that doesn't depend so much on musical elements of which we are able to say that they let us see people at work or play. This, despite the fact that often this kind of music can have similar qualities to it, in the sounds, in the structure. Autechre do this especially, once they start a track (circa tri repetae especially) going. I think this sort of privileging 'work' music can rub these other fans the wrong way because it seems kind of unfair, especially because the other music can come so close (arbitrarily close, let's say) to sounding the 'right' way anyway. These other kinds of music should be respected without being expected to meet the standards like 'work' and 'play' that seem to compelling and helpful to apply to other music. But that doesn't mean we should avoid talking about music in these terms - just that we should be careful what we do with the words.