Monday, July 26, 2004

Credibility - name drops

Flipping through the pages of the trendy magazines at the trendy magazine store today (Flaunt, Nylon, Sleaze, Res, etc.) it became painfully obvious that obscurity is becoming cool these days. It's cool to know the musicians who were lost in the wake of those they influenced. I have compiled a list of bands you need to know in order to survive in these hostile waters of credibility (this is by no means a complete list, and is only based on those musicians who are referenced in the popular media).

Band names to drop if you want to sound like you've "been there from the start." --

Throbbing Gristle
- Reference 20 Jazz Funk Greats and you'll have all the kids nodding in agreement.
Gang of Four
- Worthy but over-done.
Fad Gadget
- How did that happen? They are utter shit. So he killed himself. So what?
- I wish they'd never released their new album.
Liquid Liquid
- Starting to produce music again. Surprise!
- See above.
Joy Division
- Still amazing. I wear my pin with pride.
Glenn Branca
- Mining the depths here. He did work with Thurston Moore though -- that's a good one to throw around on the indie message boards.
Afrika Bambaataa
- "No, THIS is the real electro. I mean hip-hop. I mean... I dunno I've never really heard anything he's done, but it's supposed to be really influential on many levels. Like Kraftwerk, but he's a black guy."

Less obscure but still noteworthy when looking for a knowing smile. --

Arthur Baker
- He is still good.
The Stone Roses
- Everything but their first album is crap. The demos their lawsuit-hungry record label released to satiate the angry fans were embarrassing.
New Order
- But everyone knows New Order, right?
My Bloody Valentine
- Oh I was there baby, I ... was ... there. I wonder if Kevin Shields still farms chinchillas? Probably not.
- Underappreciated. Put this on your list to make the girls know you have that softer, darker, side.
Disco Inferno
- I pity the kids who bought this thinking it was a modern disco band.
- "No man, that was before it was called emo."

Current names to drop if you want to you look like you're on the cutting edge. --

Scissor Sisters
- They were fun for a month. The next Fischerspooner? Because we really need another one.
The Faint
- If you like the Faint, check out everything else on Saddle Creek. Sure bet, all of it. (edit: That was sarcasm)
- An example of incest. If I were the Vice Magazine hip-hop editor, maybe I could also get signed to the Vice Records label.
The Killers
- "I thought Canadians were supposed to be friendly." Direct quote from their lead singer to the dead/vacant/empty crowd when they opened for The Evening who were opening for Stellastarr*. All that cocky attitude, and nobody around to see it -- how sad!
- For some reason everyone references MBV when talking about M83. I think it's because they rhyme. Good for when you want to fall asleep. Fast.
Two Lone Swordsmen
- Off the bandwagon and into the caboose. Fuck you Andy Weatherall.
Patrick Wolf
- I thought early 90s breakbeat should have stayed buried. At least The Smart E's and Psychotropic didn't take themselves this seriously. Anyone remember Trip to Trumpton? How long before we get the chipmunk vocals back?
TV On The Radio
- Translates to: I am intellectual, down with Brooklyn, and I can watch a bunch of guys get sweaty on stage while I stand around and look cool. I love them.
- Chik-Chik-Chik or chk-chk-chk or whatever (but everyone knows that already, so don't say it like it's a secret). Too bad about the dodgy album; just see them live.

More to come.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sea Shells (The Twins)

Some of the happiest memories of my childhood in South Africa involve the ocean. It’s a very different kind of ocean to that found here in the Pacific Northwest, or over on the northeastern seaboard of the United States, and I miss it often.

One of my favorite things to do at the ocean was, and is, to study tide pools. When I was six years old, in Cape Town, I would collect shells and put every one to my ear, wondering how the ocean got inside. It was a cruel trick my parents played on me, putting into my head the idea that the ocean was inside those shells. When I was 7, after we moved to Toronto, I would sit in our living room and listen to the shells. I would also spend ages staring at the dried baby lobster, trapped deep inside a piece of coral my parents had brought with us.

Now I can’t remember what it felt like to walk on those beaches anymore, and I know well enough that the ocean can’t be found in a seashell – it’s an empty promise. The seashell holds only the notion of something so deep and rich as the ocean; the king’s new clothes -- it only manages to feign beauty and trick the naive.

It’s funny how some people can try so hard to be something they are not. If you close your eyes and listen, you can hear the sound of the waves, you can feel the water in the wind, and you can almost taste the salt. Open your eyes again, and you see only the dried coral and the dead lobster – and you know, if you were to scrape that lobster out of the coral, it would be nothing but orange dust.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

(Not) Pop Music

Pop music is a lot like beer. Actually it’s not; I just happen to be drinking a beer while I write this and listen to The Stone Roses.

Watching Ian Brown (The Roses’ lead singer) storm off the stage after attempting to start four different songs at what was to become The Warehouse in Toronto, epitomizes what his band was all about. A stunning start, and complete failure to recapture what they initially achieved. Unlike My Bloody Valentine after Loveless or Slowdive after Pygmalion, The Stone Roses didn’t know when to stop. They died in a flurry of tabloid headlines and embarrassing live performances, eclipsed only by increasingly ridiculous promises of greatness by Ian Brown.

This is alternative music. Punk, new wave, madchester, rave culture, house, grunge, drum and bass, electro, indie rock. With each wave of The Next Big Thing comes a deluge of crap dragged along by the undertow. Then, when it all comes crashing down on itself, even those who started the movement - who ran on the edge - are lost in the resulting mess. There are exceptions, of course -- like there are people who survive airplane crashes. I think David Bowie could survive being run over by a bus.

A few years ago I found a 10” single by a guy who called himself Sonovac. It was a remix (re-interpretation, really) of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, and it was brilliant. They thrashed through murky, electronic noise into a chorus which retained the one thing necessary from the original to remind you what you’re listening to – the dark melody. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and it works. So it was with some interest that I listened to what Output Recording’s Dead Combo were doing. The label hype said something about punk, and electronic, and raw, and edge. And what – a cover of David Bowie? Sonovac had some balls covering Springsteen (and yes, a sense of humor or at least an ironic nod) but David fucking Bowie? I assumed Dead Combo, were going to be something of a revelation – and yes, they were the reason I sat down to write this in the first place.

Output Recordings has been responsible for some interesting music – proponents of the rock and roll electro explosion. They’ve had some misses, but up until the release of Circlesquare’s (great) full-length, they were one of those consistently worthwhile labels. Looking through the catalogue, it seems that after Circlequare, there was a turning point. If one examined what was going on in the rest of the increasingly crowded corner of the music scene, which Output inhabits, you’d find that downward trend to be almost universal. Andy Weatherall had caught on, and in his typical one-step-behind form (true to everything he has done since remixing The Happy Mondays) he hopped the bandwagon with Two Lone Swordsmen and capitalized on major label funding to seemingly step out of nowhere and produce, “a rock record using digital production techniques.” Well, too bad for James Murphy, eh? Too bad for Chicken Lips and The Things, and the rest of the innovators -- lost in the crash of the wave. It’s horribly ironic that Bizarre Inc. (Chicken Lips incarnation in the early 90s) were also ripped off by Weatherall. Too bad for everyone, since Two Lone Swordsmen gave us something with the longevity of a Fatboy Slim album.

Dead Combo’s horrible remix of Let’s Dance is a testament to what happened. It feels and sounds like a desperation move. Similar to all of those Rapture remixes Output has been pushing; even Black Strobe can’t do anything to save the label. Not even the universally acclaimed Headman can pull it together. All of these new singles sound like they were mandated to shift units in a rush to cash in on what is a an UN-genre that will never explode in the way big beat or breakbeat did.

Perhaps some of these musicians will do what The Stone Roses did, and drive the wreck into the ground. In the meantime we can only hope the rest have already been working on something new.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Strange Parallels

In my refrigerator is a box of food from my old apartment, which includes some very green furry cheese, and a couple other things in sealed boxes. Beyond that, there are six or seven containers of drinks in various stages of development – I am waiting for the plastic orange juice container to blow up to the point where it explodes. My ex-wife and I once had that happen in the map holder behind the passenger seat of her car, but it was one of those extreme algae drinks and it took forever to get the shit out of there.

It should be no surprise that I’ve started eating out a lot. Or maybe if I started cooking again, I’d be more compelled to keep things organized in the fridge. Then again, the small thrill I get every day when I go to the restaurant I always eat at, near my old apartment, is enough to help me make it through work. It’s one of those places with a steady stream of customers who all seem to know each other. Whether from going there so often or from the small size of our supposedly big city, I don’t know. In any case, today I saw this girl there who I knew.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s to blame in a breakup. You can look back on it and analyze it in so many different ways, but emotions are subjective. You can blame yourself and remember the horrible things you said, or you can remember all the horrible things they said to you, and blame them. It rolls both ways, and it rolls every day. It’s like an echo, or ripples in water, or some other lame cliché. Eventually when you’re on level ground, that ball will stop rolling and it’ll sit there, and you can pick it up and put it in your pocket. You can take it out and look at it, but when it’s in your pocket, you don’t need to worry about it anymore.

Sitting in my chair, reading the paper, and eating my soup, I never bothered looking up after my first chance to stare at her and bring the knives out. My relationship with the girl at my restaurant was like all the shit in my refrigerator; I really just needed to stop being so lazy and cook more.