An unclear, random collection of thoughts about music

from R Stevens great webcomic Diesel Sweeties

Getting back to the blog today feels nice. Posting in real time will feel weird and all, but whatever. I’m going to do my best to edit this piece before I post it so it will be awesome for you. This is all an indication that I am getting better. Sadly, I am passing up on being an extra on In Plain Sight tomorrow because I still don’t think my respiratory system can take a spring day outside in dusty Albuquerque. However, the fact that I am sitting here, enjoying Thursday’s new album No Devolución for the first time tells me I am getting better.

As I woke up this morning and emerged into the hallway, looking at the mess on my desk I noticed the pile of tapes I have waiting to be digitized or cut up so they can be put on my iPod. There is guilt there because my friend Joao, who runs the awesome Fabrica Records, sent me some tapes for review and I lost one of the digitized versions somewhere and haven’t gotten that review up and running yet. That’s not cool because he sent me stuff out of kindness and used money to do it. Through this guilt I realized how odd my music consumption has become simply by the fact that I have like ten cassette tapes on my desk. See, I don’t own a stereo system anymore, though I do own a dual cassette deck still. But I have nothing to plug it into except my computer. I listen to music exclusively through my computer or on the stereo in my car. My computer sits on my desk in what most people would use for a dining area. It’s great, I can listen to music while I make food or work on art or read in my living room. But it’s all gotta come through my ipod.

The strange thing is though, now that I am unemployed, when I do buy the occasional physical album, it’s always on what was once a dead format, either cassette or vinyl. This occurred to me last night as I placed an order with No Idea Records who have the pre-Minutemen compilation/covers album 1979 by the Reactionaries. I don’t know if that comes with a download card. It didn’t specify in the listing on the website. Now I wonder when I will find the time to format it the way I need it so I can enjoy it countless number of times.

In Noel Murray’s recent post in his reoccurring series  Home Taping is Killing Music he talks about the consumers fight with multi-devices to consume the entertainment the way companies want them to. I don’t run into this problem too much. Sure I miss some TV shows that I’d like to watch in real time, but I know eventually I’ll get my fix. Plus, Netflix and Hulu have enough content to distract me. Who needs choice? When it comes to music though, most music I buy is independent and those labels have the good sense to include the download code. However, there is this trend to back track, to force a more personal interaction with music. Partly because it’s more cost effective, but partly it’s away for the artist to reclaim space. The reemergence of the cassette tape in DIY culture is not totally surprising. People in my age range, early to mid-thirties who are still making music have a certain nostalgia for tapes. I know I do. The tactile feeling I got when I received Chris Clavin’s latest split tape got me really excited. It’s bright orange and you can feel the ink of the silk screened cover. The thing hisses and hums when I played it. It’s not just sounds coming from a speaker, it’s a whole new world. And considering that his songs are all about his time in dusty, run down and forgotten Cairo, Illinois, there is no other format these songs could work on but the cassette tape.

And yet, how many miles will I get from that tape? I love Chris Clavin’s story telling. I think he’s one of America’s greatest, living story tellers.But format, for me is an issue; as is time management and a plethora or other things. But shouldn’t there be a separation between art and entertainment? After all, most of Noel Murray’s article is about television, and sure it’s about how we want to have access to it and how the creators want to sell it to us. But, who cares really? I’m not saying TV can’t be great art or story telling, but it’s so driven by revenue streams that eventually, even the best shows begin to fail and stop telling good stories. Music has that tendency in today’s market and I think the major labels are once again getting a grasp on that revenue stream again. The single song model seems to work and ensure that people will buy, cuz after all what’s a $1.29 to the average westerner? But for the rest of us who want something more then just distraction, who want to be engaged, what are we to do? Yes, I like the tactile feel of records and tapes, but they take up space and are wholly unnecessary. Those that I buy are carefully selected works, both out of necessity of finances and because the particular work either warrants the oil and plastic presentation or is only available that way. Some of this is obscure by choice and some by content. And honestly, most of the stuff released on these formats is to fulfill the first world distraction of collection, a habit that many middle class boys have growing up and seem to be unable to give up in adulthood. But I don’t take any pride in the stuff I have. Records and CD’s by the thousands take up space in my one bedroom apartment, are a mess to manage and a pain in the ass to move. The digital storage of it all though doesn’t really help either. I have a collection of MP3’s, a half a terabyte deep. How much of all of this do I really need? How much can I actually enjoy?

We have quickly become a document obsessed culture, collecting so many moments, worthless thoughts, boring ideas and mundane experiences. The access to technology is no longer a rite of the wealthy or a fight for those that are most willing to be heard. I think of DIY punk in the 70’s, all those labels like SST and Dischord that just usurped the system in order to be heard. They built and grew and worked for their own networks. Now, any one can have a music label on BandCamp with the albums they make on Garageband. But who is listening? Who cares?

And as for the things that permeate through culture, be it art or entertainment, who really controls it anymore? The ease of which I can download any film or album or book or view any piece of art on my computer is, honestly overwhelming. What code can be put in the way of want? None really. This entitlement age, this over-consumption age, this availability age it’s all reeking havoc. While the anarchy has potential for everyone to have a voice, with everyone shouting, no one’s actually listening.

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Japan Has a Skyline

Envy
Recitation
Temporary Residence

There are just certain bands that slowly evolve over time, creating this seamless musical narrative that is almost impossible to extrapolate the subtle changes that occurs between albums and songs. Lungfish of course is the most obvious of these bands. They are often accused of writing the same song over and over again, but the changes over time are enormous between Necklace of Heads and Ferrel Hymns. The Post Rock genre is filled with bands of this nature. It seems on the surface that Explosions in the Sky sounded the same when they started as they do now. But clearly, careful examination of the sounds presented shows evolution. Much the way changes in animals and the surface of planets happens slowly, almost without notice. Japanese rock band Envy has such a sonic template that matures with that kind of care and preservation.

Recitation finds Envy four years later since their insane Insomniac Doze which was an album filled with epic movements. In that time they have released two mind bending splits with emo darlings Thursday and the sonic death drone of Jesu in that time.  The music from both those splits was pretty outstanding and played chronologically, made for a pretty solid set of music. Recitation however, finds the band once again in the throes of change.

Any fan of Envy will find themselves in pretty familiar territory. There are crushing explosions of hardcore/metal inspired breakdowns to be sure, and the cool, crisp clean guitar playing that defines the band. You will get the beautiful and the aggressive sides of Envy. But this is an Envy that feels pretty constrained. Each of their divergent movements are not built slowly, but instead the changes come rapidly and more drastically. “Last Hours of Eternity” which follows soft album opener ” Guidance” displays that typical Envy build that ends with a brilliant drum decadence, it’s haunting, the way we love Envy. But some songs just feel constricted, like “Piece of the Moon I Weave” or “Light and Solitude” where the changes come without warning and seem to end with the same type of violence. It’s very difficult to find out where Envy is going or where they want to be with Recitation.

The part of Envy that I love most, and this is very ignorant of me, is the vocals. Sung purely in Japanese, it becomes this new and unfamiliar layer. For the untrained, unlearned ear, the vocals become a true instrumental. It’s a bit shitty to put it this way, seeing as they make perfect sense to anyone who knows the language, but without that confusion, it is a unique layer of music added to fabric already weaved by the instruments.

You aren’t going to hear any band that sounds like Envy. They have their contemporaries sure, but none of them sound nearly as distinct and intense as Envy. None of them have the vocals Envy has employed over a nearly 20 year career. None of them are going to have the international recognition and devoted fan base. Recitation may not be Envy’s greatest work to date, nor its most exploratory or experimental. But it’s in a language that can be understood and enjoyed by any fan. Considering too that it’s more compact than any other release prior, it’s possible it will bring in more fans. If you are a long time supporter, definitely through your favorite track from this record on mix cd’s for your friends. It’s totally gonna change their day.

The Great Fall Haul of 2010

Over my vacation holiday time I sent my self to the Pacific Northwestern city of Seattle in the state of Washington. Aside being home to my favorite couch, my best friend and shitty weather, it is also home to my favorite used CD store in the whole entire world, Everyday Music. In DC, I don’t think kids buy CD’s anymore, mostly because they can barely afford the posh condos and cocaine that seems to rule their lives (and people wonder why I sit on my fat ass all weekend and listen to music in front of my computer). So my hauls from the local shops are never that weighty. Everyday music is also now home to the $.95 scuffed CD. This is a deadly and wonderful thing for people such as myself. Also during this trip I decided to lighten the load of my buddies sell pile and made off with a few other CD’s. All in all I carried home 18 CD’s for around $45. That’s pretty awesome. Below you will find a listing of my booty as well as some anecdotes and whatever ever else. Enjoy the read.

(in no particular order)

Pearl Jam – Vs. – Sony (1993)
This is the first time I have ever owned this album believe it or not. I owned Ten when it first came out but by the time Vs.hit the streets I wasn’t a fan. I’m kinda shocked to see that this came out in 1993. The hit tracks are awesome and “Eldery Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” is a fucking great, timeless song capturing Eddie Vedder at his best. The other half of the album is forgettable. This was from my bro’s stack.

Bjork – Vespertine – Elektra (2001)
I honestly thought this was that accapella album she did and only paid $.95 for this. There is a good chance that I never listen to this album ever. I am not that big a Bjork fan and bought it for the hmmm factor of said album which this isn’t.

Butthole Surfers – Cream Corn/Rembrant Pussyhorse – Touch and Go (1986)
Capitol Records Butthole Surfers were not that great, I admit. But when I saw them in the mid-nineties (with Stone Temple Pilots opening and a one hit wonder version of the annoying Flaming Lips) it was one of the greatest shows ever. My friend Jill used to play the Buttholes all the time in high school and I never had much of a need to own it when I was young since she had it. But now I have my own copy, from the Touch and Go days. Cuz I won’t buy this new since they fucked one of the greatest record labels in the ass.

Sade – Lover’s Rock – Epic (2000)
Little known fact, I am a Sade fan. Her most recent album, not that great, though the single “Soldier of Love” is pretty dope. She has such a great, soothing voice though. Shit just calms me the fuck down. I’ve been meaning to get this album for a while. But I’ve slacked. I once bought this CD for a woman I had relations with. It totally got me laid.

V/A – Soundtrack to the Motion Picture Pulp Fiction – MCA (1994)
I swore I used to own this, and there is a good chance I do actually own a copy of this that is tucked away in storage at the moment. This was also $.95 though, so I couldn’t pass it up. It’s also pretty much the best thing Tarantino has ever done, except for the movie of the same name.

These Arms are Snakes – Oxeneers – Jade Tree (2004)
I had never heard this band previous to buying it. It was part of my great $.95 haul and I figured that was worth a gamble. I’m listening to it now and it’s pretty good. Plus it has a really nice soft focus cover of a naked lady on it. I’m not regretting this one.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine TVT (1989), Broken Interscope (1992), Fixed Nothing (1992), The Downward Spiral Interscope (1994)
These are the other CD’s I snagged from my bro. I have been looking for a copy of Pretty Hate Machine for a while now. It’s out of print now and some how has alluded my searches. They are a dime a dozen in Seattle. I bagged the other three CD’s for the hell of it. They are also a dime a dozen in Seattle. I never acquired previously The Downward Spiral. I remember not liking it that much. Looking at the lyric sheet, I can sort of remember why, but I figured what the hell.

Thursday – A City by the Light Divided – Island (2006)
I own all their other CD’s and when this came out I wasn’t that into. I think I mostly picked it up to be a completest. I have only listened to one song on it so far and it didn’t really grab me. Common Existence was a real improvement. But, now I can say I own this one too.

Digable Planets – Blowout Comb – Pendulum Records (1994)
I own their other album and this one is supposed to be better. I haven’t listened to it yet and have not heard the other record in a long time. Regardless, I have been looking for this for a while too. I think it’s out of print.

Rakewon – Only Built for Cuban Linx – Loud (1998)
One of my goals is to own every Wu Tang and main member, proper album no matter how good or bad it is. I don’t really have many of them. Method Man’s Tical, RZA’s Bobby Digital, GZA’s Liquid Swords and ODB’s Nigga Please as well as the sequel to this album. Pretty much I am gonna have to go to Seattle a lot more to finish this quest. This is a classic in the Wu cannon. We rocked it on the way to the race track. That’s how we roll mother fuckers!

Converge – Jane Doe – Equal Vision (2001)
Sometimes I believe the only reason Converge got big is because of the cover of this album. Not that I think that it’s a bad thing, it’s a beautiful cover. Jacob Bannon is a great visual artists, with a great imprint. I am hoping this album lives up to the live show. I own two other Converge albums. They’re okay, but not nearly as good as this band is live.

Young Widows –Settle Down City Jade Tree (2006)
I really want to see this band live. Their album on Temporary Residence is a fucking sleeper classic. I’m not really sure why these Louisville bands are relegated to the ghetto. When they are all said and done all the hipster kids are gonna be falling all over this shit. It’s truly unfair. This record felt a little uneven when I first heard it, but I am willing to give it a second chance. Let’s see what that Jade Tree money did for them (probably nothing since there probably was none).

Metallica – Kill ‘Em All – Megaforce (1983)
It’s been a really long time since I heard this record. I recently picked up Some Kind of Monster on DVD  and was listening to the part where all the dudes trying out were playing with the band and it just never sounded that good. Cliff Burton made this band and it’s sad to say that. Kill ‘Em All is a classic metal album. I can’t really forgive myself for not owning a copy of this on CD. The fact that it is over 25 years old is astounding. It’s not timeless by any means, but this album sure as hell has set the standard for so many heavy bands that followed in its wake. Also the fashion statement that they made on the inside cover should not be tread upon lightly. Lets hope it never makes a come back.

Coliseum – No Salvation Relapse (2007)
I saw this band at the Funhouse and they fucking RULED. The guitarist and singer is the brother of the guitarist and singer in Young Widows. Coliseum are more straight forward and heavier. I think their bass player should learn how to breathe fire too. It seems appropriate. Anyway, this band rips shit up. I own their latest record and it rules. I haven’t gotten to this one yet. But I am looking forward to it immensely.

Peaches – The Teaches of Peaches – Kitty- Yo (2000)
This is another album that eluded me for a very long time and now I find it for $2.50 in Seattle. What the fuck is up with that? Whatever, I am so glad I finally own this CD. I can’t believe  it’s a decade old. It’s still great and raw and both “Fuck the Pain Away” and “Set It Off” should light up dance clubs from coast to coast and around the globe. You can’t fuck with Peaches man, you just can’t. We rocked this a lot while I was in town and I’ve been kicking it pretty consistently since then as well.