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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31 Mar '02 08:46:06 PM

"I pull my collar down low, to show my sucking chest wound..."

The Dismemberment Plan's "Rusty" starts with two minutes and forty-five seconds of instrumental, so it's a disappointment when the song ends at just over four minutes. It's got a tempo that hovers just between andante and something a bit more driven, almost marchlike, and when it ends with a scream and some damped feedback, it sounds like it's ready to keep going after a moment, with a giant crash. But it doesn't.

30 Mar '02 07:24:31 AM

What did you listen to today, Josh?

Jay-Z, The Blueprint. Everything just sounds so overdriven on "You Don't Know", especially the dut-da-dut-dut drum machine part, because the rhythm feels so rigid and snap-ready next to the surrounding tempo.

James Brown, Foundations of Funk. There are lots of things I listen to that I just enjoy, and then there are things like this, that I'm astonished by. (Actually I'm astonished by most of the music in this entry but that's beside the point.) In a range of ways, too. "I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" make me overwhelmingly joyful, and in a way that feels different from all the other music that engenders similar responses. Classical music is too refined, jazz too restrained, rock music too intent on being abrasive or powerful, rap too cool. (NB: I reserve the right to retract all these statements by the end of this sentence.) And things like the rhythm section (i.e. EVERYTHING) on so many of the later songs, like "Give It Up or Turnit A Loose", are just technically astonishing (well not JUST...) - and so exciting because they're so strangely awe-inspiring.Sigh.

The Dismemberment Plan, ! I've barely listened to this, especially relative to their other three albums (this is their first). But I had the urge after hearing "OK, Joke's Over" and uh the other one at the show on Tuesday night. (I haven't put the name to it yet.) It's a better album than I gave it credit for initially, though it's hard for me to tell how much I would be able to like it if I didn't already love their other albums. (That's partly due to the album, and partly due to my lessened affinity for a certain range of "basic" post-punk guitar music, at least when it's outside my zone of familiarity.) The songs are generally good, some better, and even in the songs I don't think as much of there are at least parts I like better. I noticed today that I seemed to unconsciously approve of the parts which are most similar to the band's later stuff, i.e. bass and drums doing something 'interesting', guitars playing something supporting but not primary - and when they move to bigger punk rawk chords and stuff, which is generally during choruses, is when I'm less satisfied. I think I do something similar, but to a lesser extent, on Is Terrified. So what I suspect or at least am telling myself at the moment is that over time they a) became more interesting about their big-chord parts, and more key, b) found better ways to integrate those parts into their songs so that they make more sense musically and emotionally, if not c) avoid those parts altogether as Travis has indicated in interviews re avoidig post-Nirvana song structures. Oh, and also: the sound here is thin and I generally take that to be to an album's supreme detriment, but it's growing on me now. It has the interesting effect of making the drums really crunchy, which is of added appeal because the drummer - Steve Cummings, who was replaced on the next album - has kind of a drum-n-bass snare pop going. And the bass takes on an interesting quality, pretty low but damped somehow so that it feels more subterranean, despite not sounding that way when considered 'objectively'. A-a-and the guitars... they're more metallic and clangorous, Shellacy cheese shreddery.

Miles Davis, Filles de Kilimanjaro. At times this seems far more abstract to me than lots of other 'abstract' (no forget the scare quotes) jazz, running the gamut from bop to free jazz. The thing that's most obviously 'abstract' or difficult about free jazz is that all the recognizable stuff disappears - the usual tonal and rhythmic structures, especially. But on this album especially - more than the other second quintet albums, I think - things are more abstract because of the way they shift and flicker. It's harder here to figure out what the underlying structures are like, harder to follow what's going on, because what they are is never fixed, yet they are still an important point to the music, so you have to follow them somehow. Compare to out enough free jazz where it may not really be helpful to follow those kinds of structures because they're no longer the point, they're not playing that game - so in a sense you don't have to try as hard. (There are other things to try hard at.)

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. His voice glides so effortlessly i.e. apparently effortlessly to the listener that the slow-to-mid tempi are frustrating me a bit, because what he seems to be hinting at is that he could sing as slowly and gently as he wanted, and that's what I want to hear, that voice, hanging in mid-air, unrushed by the band even at their relaxed tempi here.

29 Mar '02 07:02:10 AM

I've been very tired and busy lately, and it's given me trouble writing anything down. I'm sorry.

I saw the Dismemberment Plan, for the fourth time now, Tuesday night. Maybe I'll write about it eventually.

27 Mar '02 08:22:43 AM

I don't have the energy to expand on it at the moment, but a thought: Tom Waits has admitted to being too much of a wuss to be really really avant-garde, ca. his Rain Dogs period albums. But they're clearly marked by a sense of weirdness that sets them outside the realm of 'normal' accessibility in some way. People have made a similar observation about Radiohead being avant-but-not-too-avant-garde. This bears further scrutiny (on both sides).

25 Mar '02 07:16:29 AM
24 Mar '02 08:31:54 AM

One more thing: tonight I heard a big part in the Mozart quartet that sounded like a rhythm guitar part.

24 Mar '02 08:30:36 AM

I wanted to wait to write this down until after I had written something about Arnold Davidson's book, The Emergence of Sexuality, but I'm doing it now so I don't forget.

Listening to that Mozart string quartet tonight, I was extremely struck at times how by how dramatic the music seemed. Not just because it was dealing in intense or extreme emotions, somehow - but dramatic by design. Given how often the idea of tension comes up in discussions of the classical style (it's all about tension, by some accounts), the presence of drama shouldn't be surprising. After all, drama is based on tension, conflict, and the intense emotions which come with those.

The reason this is important to me at the moment is that I've been thinking a lot lately about how the success of lots of rap (and not just hyper-real gangsta rap) seems to depend heavily on a very particular kind of theatricality. I don't understand drama or theater that well at all, so I don't even know why I think "theatricality" with respect to hip-hop, and "drama" with respect to Mozart. It may be that I sense more readily that some kind of persona or front is being adopted in rap, which is in keeping with the pretense or artificiality denoted by "theatrical". Of course, what I want to insist is that the stance, the attitude, involved in the string quartet is just as artificial.

It would be nice if I had a better understanding of this stuff, because I think it would make for a useful way of thinking about the emotional dynamics of lots of music.

24 Mar '02 08:15:03 AM

Today I made a tape for Ethan.

Side A: Arab Strap - "The First Big Weekend", Prince - "Sister", The Dismemberment Plan - "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich", Laika - "Coming Down Glass", Superpitcher - "Tomorrow", Tom Waits - "Straight to the Top (Rhumba)", Bo Diddley - "Diddley Daddy", Bob Dylan - "Tombstone Blues", Charles Mingus - "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me", Mogwai - "Helps Both Ways", Diamanda Galas, "My World Is Empty Without You".

Side B: Thelonious Monk - "Epistrophy", Fela Kuti - "Buy Africa", Pixies - "Tony's Theme", Mouse on Mars - "Yippie" and "Mykologics", Goldfrapp - "Human", Wire - "12XU", Beta Band - "Number 15", Brad Mehldau Trio - "River Man".

PS If you are Ethan do not read this.

24 Mar '02 08:03:57 AM

Bartok's String Quartet No. 5 has funny non-endings to the movements. But I think that's vastly superior to the kind of ending that says AND NOW... HERE... IS THE... ENDING... COMING UP REAL SOON HERE OK ENDING RIIIIIIIGHT... NOW NOW NOW! Note that the presence of this kind of ending is not simply determined by a function that decreases with the advance of time.

At the national American Society for Aesthetics meeting this fall I attended a session about Adorno and music. A composer who spoke held up I think Bartok's third quartet as an example of the kind of vital composition which engages with the vernacular (is how I think he put it) which he advocated. (It was supposed to be sort of ironic I guess that we are to turn to Bartok - ignored in the wake of serialism and other twentieth century developments.)

Listening to Bartok now, I have to admit that he got part of the engagement with the vernacular thing right. (I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to expect him to, though.) Something tells me that it would take a hell of a lot of catching up to engage the current vernacular (as if it were a unified thing!).