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.
I gave this sort of round-robin record tournament a try last night with just the 2001 releases that stood out most for me. I thought the smaller tournament size might make things easier on me. It turned out not to. After the first four, which I already had a conviction would be the first four, in that order, I could only make a handful of the required 36 or so comparisons (36 instead of 72, because of symmetry). So I decided to award ties, heh heh, just to make the point that there was some ranking.
1. Dismemberment Plan - Change - de Soto
2. Beta Band - Hot Shots II - Astralwerks
3. Jay-Z - The Blueprint - Roc-a-Fella
4. Mogwai - Rock Action - Matador
5. Avalanches - Since I Left You - Sire
5. Basement Jaxx - Rooty - Astralwerks
5. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Ease Down the Road - Palace
5. Fugazi - The Argument - Dischord
5. Labradford - fixed:content - Kranky
5. Radiohead - Amnesiac - Capitol
5. Stereolab - Sound-Dust - Elektra
5. V/A - Kompakt Total 3 - Kompakt
6. American Analog Set - Know By Heart - Tigerstyle
I left more than 10 in because it seemed right. It also shows how I at least thought some of these things beat the AAS record.
All of this is hopelessly provisional anyway. If I listen to one of these records a lot in the next six months (especially one that's lower down on the list), then I would probably end up ranking it a lot higher. I don't think that necessarily says anything about the records which are ranked lower, or higher, except maybe that how much I listen to them has a lot to do with it.
Also, it's an interesting December. Depending on whatever, maybe I would rank Mobb Deep, Mystikal, and the Wu-Tang Clan. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Some things that I bought this year like the new Dave Holland record seemed really good to me, but I haven't gotten caught up in them enough to put them here. That one especially is a grower, heh heh.
This is the first year Low have released a record that I didn't particularly feel like listing. "Laser Beam" is one of my favorite songs ever, but I just didn't connect with Things We Lost in the Fire. Maybe I will someday.
And then there are the reissues and things released before 2001...
I caught a lot of two shows on KFAI last night, the Groove Garden and 2 the Break-a-Dawn. The first played "Connect the Dots" and the new Outkast track (which is great if maybe a little tiny bit lazy-sounding). The second got into a long beat-matched set with a lot of old-school stuff, but started off with "Pinky Ring" from the forthcoming Wu-Tang album. It's got a horn section!
... Zelda looks lonely, I want a zeeeebbbrrraaaaaa
Tim mentioned listening to a lot of Mobb Deep lately, and I can't tell from what he wrote whether he's picked up Infamy yet. But what he writes seems to me to apply quite well to that album as well.
I haven't followed the lyrics well enough yet to tell if there's a response to Jay-Z's "Takeover" (though really Prodigy is barely mentioned since so much of the track is given over to tearing Nas a new one) on the album, though I think I read somewhere that there is. There's a spot in one track where the rapper's phrasing sounds uncannilly like Jay's in part of "Takeover," so I wonder if that's the right track. The lyrics don't jump out, though. There's something about such a subtle comeback, if it is one, which seems eminently appropriate to Mobb Deep's sound. It also makes Jay seem a lot more paranoid - something that can perhaps be forgotten when you start to hear The Blueprint as boasting and overconfident bluster justified by Jay's skills and the incredible tightness of all the tracks.
Tim is also on the money about the beats. In a way they seem like Timbaland's more gentle beats, the way they're often all clicky and sort of symmetrical. (?????) But they don't really sound like Timbaland at all. And the song structures seem a lot less pop-oriented (though I'm not happy with saying such a thing without going into what I mean, in more detail, since this sounds very much like something you can easily hear on the radio).
There are plenty of interesting things to think about in this Frank Kogan piece for the Voice on the Coup and their newest album, Party Music. I've only just heard the album a bit, so I can't say much about what Frank says, but the first read through I was struck by how angry the piece seemed. More than anything else, that made me sit up and want to pay closer attention to the record, which has received pretty damning because stereotypical praise in the other things I've read. So, over my winter vacation, I hope to think some more about this.
The music sounds strange to me, maybe because of a part of music history I'm missing out on. I can hear the ties to 80s p-funk, but it seems much less nasty (or fun!) and much more motorik, if that makes any sense. Some of it is very very good because of this, and on other tracks the music fails to overcome dangerous repetitiveness. (It has a harder job at this than it really has to, because Riley's flow is so tied to repetitive phrase structure mostly aligned along the structure of the samples or beat loops, and to end-of-phrase rhyming.)
Despite my saying it sounds a lot less fun than its ancestral p-funk, there is still something very exuberant about a good deal of the record.
Simon Reynolds' annual favorites roundup is now up on his site. I only really have one thing to say at the moment. It's interesting how much of his list I'm familiar with, and even in agreement with, this year - and conversely, how little of it I've never heard of. I think that says quite a bit both about what I've been listening to this year, and what he's been listening to.
Note casual references to wunderkid Tim Finney and the ILM massive!
The director's cut of his post-punk piece, which I've been looking forward to since I never picked it up in print, is now also up.
Jimmy wrote to me remarking on Electr-O-Pura and "trigger points" (little arrangements in history which create synchroneity, he said, citing novelist Richard Powers), and pointed out part of an essay on Dancing About Architecture by Peter Gorman that he appreciates in connection with why the album "seems so poignant as a 'trigger point'":
"There is a song on Yo La Tengo's 1995 album Electr-O-Pura called "Pablo and Andrea," a plaintive song of gentle longing. Georgia Hubley's vocals evoke a feeling that evening has come and gone, but it is too early to sleep. She sings, "Show me where you keep your secrets upstairs," and about a lonely stare and stolen roses. It is very late; a slide guitar solo slips in, little more than a note sliding up, hanging there, and sliding down, four times through, a lovely thing. The tension builds but only modestly, then a guitar erupts out of the speakers, it breaks out and celebrates, melodic ecstasy over a noisy rumble down below. It is the sound of being set free and running down the street, or driving down the road on a flight to freedom, however temporary. I know of few guitar solos that better sum up a song, or that for a single shining minute capture the sound of euphoria.
Robert Frank's children were named Pablo and Andrea; they were the subject and title of many of his photographs. I don't know if Yo La Tengo named their song after Frank's photographs, or if they meant the song to have any connection to him or his children, or if they were simply being ironic. But I do know that Frank is deserving of a song as beautifully written and performed as Yo La Tengo's, and so I'll leave it at that."
(After some searching I found my copy this morning and listened to it on the way in. It made me want to go back home, to bed. Not to sleep, but just to be in bed.)
For a number of months the phrase "make a glorious noise unto the Lord" has been periodically popping into my head, when I'm especially surprised or elated at a piece of music, sometimes just a moment, that strikes me as noisy in the right way.
I'm not sure how the phrase started coming to mind. I must have picked it up somewhere floating freely in the culture, because I'm not sure that I've ever read the book of Psalms, where the correct quote, make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and a number of similar phrases, comes from.
I thought of it again tonight, repeatedly, while hearing Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian play "Mars" on their album Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane. I'm not sure if I've ever written about the original Interstellar Space before, aside from a comment or two. It's a difficult album to say something about, for me. Not that I've listened to it a lot, but I've listened to it pretty regularly since getting it. It's always a disorienting experience, especially if I sit through the entire thing (it's harder to do on headphones). I find it easier to be led astray by it, moment-to-moment (or maybe I should say, I find it easier to get stuck on a specific moment), than most other "out" music that I listen to, and I find that strange because the music seems so much more precise and ordered than all that other music. It should be easier to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. I don't think I'm being wowed by Coltrane's phenomenal technique, as if it were just the fact that he's playing very very fast or doing something people didn't do before, or something that's just too hard for most people to do, that I found so amazing. But I am amazed again and again by little moments that seem to have something important to do with the technical qualities of the playing. I think that the difference is that I have a reaction, and also notice that the reaction is due to something so aggresively unbeautiful, so apparently intentionally unlikeable. But it's beautiful!
Cline and Bendian are doing their own thing, but also doing Coltrane's (and Ali's) thing, in a way. Plenty of people have commented on the advisability of their doing this, and their success or lack of success at it. So far, it sounds to me as if they got it right. It is different, but that's to be expected. I can't say how they got it right at the moment, but my reaction to it, and to the original, makes me think that it worked. And also the phrase, coming to mind again. "Glorious noise."
I've been thinking about the phrase in response to a wide range of music, but all of it seems to have a similar quality to me. Even in cases where it might be considered "beautiful" sound, or at least the kind of sound that people don't normally think of as noisy now, as long as they are comfortable with pop or rock at all, the music strikes me as quintessentially noisy. In all the cases there's something to it that makes me say, when I hear it, "oh god, will you listen to that!" Grating, repetitious, squealing, vulgar, dirty, piercing, angular, fat, gaudy, garish, silly, primitive, exuberant, sublime. At one and the same time, the sounds seem glorious to me (which is why I changed the quote in my head, I suppose), but I have no problem with "joyful" in its place. There's something so pleasurable about these noises that they demand glory. They are the sort of thing that people should praise, that should make them jump up and down and shout, that should send chills down the spine and across the skin. The noises often seem as if they are the spontaneous expression of that kind of state. At first, when I realized that I had thought (more or less) of a phrase from the Bible, and that it was followed by "unto the Lord", I reckoned that this was the sort of thing that should be offered up to the Lord, if anything should be: these special moments of beauty, unbelievable in the way they seem so inimical to "beauty", that come out of the joyful interaction of people with one another and the world.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm talking about. I'm not religious at all. I don't mean this all to be some kind of indication that I understand the religious impulse, or that I believe in some kind of secularized or naturalized sublime state which takes the place of religon, replacing it with supposedly sacred joyful noise. I just want to make sense out of the phrase that keeps popping into my head, if sense can be made of it. Perhaps keeping something like this in mind from time to time can illuminate the way we hear music, too.
I'm glad Ethan is still writing hip-hop reviews for Pitchfork, but his new Roots Manuva review seems to miss the mark. As Tom noted, it doesn't seem like the review (and thus Ethan) got a very good handle on the music - why is it supposed to be so bad, if it's that bad? Ethan gives some hints - the stabs he takes at Mauva's flow, lyrics, and production - but they come off sounding like generic reasons why any music of this sort would be bad, rather than reasons why this particular record is bad. Now, it may be that these are actually reasons why his particular record is bad, because records like it are just bad for the same reasons, but I doubt that that's true, and a record review of the sort Pitchfork runs isn't really the place to make that kind of judgment. (Though some would argue that, in keeping with Pitchfork's ever-growing pulsating tradition of offhandedly dismissing music that it doesn't understand, it's exactly the place to make that kind of judgment.)
Part of my reason for expecting less "generic" reasons is that the review would then be clearer about whether or not the things Ethan thought were wrong with the album are things that Ethan personally just doesn't like, or things that a number of people would be hard-pressed to like. (If it's the latter, then a number of interesting questions come up: would that be a specific group of people? would their reasons for not liking the record have much to do with what group of people they were? if so, would they actually be good reasons for not liking the record, or would more "enlightened" listeners be able to see past those group affiliations, or at least the preferences that mark them as members of the group?) Ethan, for example, is very much devoted to hip-hop, so it may be that he has a very different notion of what "good rap" is compared to your average Pitchfork reader, who maybe doesn't listen to much hip-hop.
I think that Tim was getting at some good points here when he talks about Run Come Save Me. I also think that the qualities he's getting at aren't especially limited in appeal to people who are British (well offhand I can't remember if Australia counts as "British" right now, but he's more British than me, ha), or people who like as much pop or rap or dance music or electronic music as Tim does. So it's not as if his appreciation of the music is just orthogonal to what Ethan is expecting, somehow.
I also happen to know that Ethan wrote the review at the last minute. I wonder if that didn't have something to do with his assessment. Often it's easier to tear into a record than be fairer to it. In talking to Ethan it seems that he likes the album a bit more than he admits in the review or on ILM, so I think that he could have more (good) to say about it.