The dimensional hierarchy of artistic mediums usually goes like this: Written Word < Music < Video < Music Video < Opera < Virtual Reality. Too often this is mistaken for a hierachy of quality, where movies are always better than books, music videos are always better than novelizations of music videos, and adding a new dimension to anything always makes it better. If you liked Lost the TV Show, you’re sure to like Lost the Musical. This sort of logic would lead you to believe that the greatest movie of all time was either MTV’s version of Romeo and Juliet or a Second Life virtual-dance party. In a way this entertainment hierarchy is a parallel of the Geek Hierarchy
. Together they would meet at the apex of geek entertainment in an interactive, erotic, furrie space opera.
Certain things might be best left in their original medium, like a Parenthetical Girls song which sounds like it’s already blocked out for a live action musical interpretation, but in reality it’s already at the perfection of its form in its original state. You could architect a plot around the lyrics to “Four Words,” with actors, mimes, puppets, and a kick-line animating the movements before a live orchestra. It would be a lot of work and hell to choreograph. By the time you get the ballet dancers to make sure they’re not upstaged by the rodeo clowns, the dancing elephants have gotten antsy and wandered offstage. It could be brilliant if the fireworks are timed properly, but as a fallback, the audio in and of itself has all of the necessary animation self-contained. —Llewellyn Hinkes
Great Moments in Depressing Music
In 1968, Rezsö Seress jumps to his death after penning the ultimate downer of a song, Gloomy Sunday
. Urban legend spreads that the song causes people to commit suicide every time they hear it, causing 37 separate suicides throughout Hungary, but it’s never been substantiated. Chances are Seress may have killed himself because he was never able to write a followup song as immensely depressing as that one.
Southern California is a dark and foreboding place. People commonly associate it with the Beach Boys and Gidget, but that was from a long time past when you could still swim in the ocean without having to bathe in disinfectant afterwards. Now it’s better known as the home of the Germs, Social Distortion, Black Flag, Bad Religion, and Fear. People tend to think that depression and cold temperatures seem to go hand-in-hand, but what if you lived in a shallow wasteland that was 72 degrees all year round. It would feel like perpetually falling into a never-ending K-hole of darkness and despair, albeit a bright and sunny one. Which is what this Crystal Antlers song brings to mind. They’re coming from Long Beach, Calif., yet their songs are a constant traumatic descent into either madness or joy. But it’s a good thing. Darkness and depression, these are the precious jewels in life. They need to be coveted and treated wellpolished and sculpted, then sold at auction to the highest bidder so you can move to someplace by the sea where it’s warm all year round. —Llewellyn Hinkes
Let’s just get this part over with quickly: Bad Brains, Fugazi, Dischord, harDCore. There, much better. It’s best to purge those words as soon as possible rather than continually dwelling on their importance in perpetual, middling adolescence. I wish I could say the same for a large portion of the music world surrounding Washington, D.C., over the last 20 years or so, which has been stuck in its own constant navel-gazing. All the while, good hardworking young Turks like Faraquet have been slaving away by the sweat of their brow, putting out highly intricate progressive rock with little attentionlike unseen Minutemen. While others were concentrating on self-indulgent, ‘90s emotional maudlinism in the hopes that somebody might care, Faraquet focused on being objectively good whether or not you knew what they were singing about. They played extremely technical guitar melodies at a time when any remnant of stadium-era rock was deeply shunned in favor of high-concept art posturing. They eventually disbanded, then reincarnated as Medications, and are now releasing an anthology of their greater hits. While the other locals tried in vain to honor the valiant history that came before them, Faraquet made something of their own and in the end were more deserving of the grand-prize for community-based musical action. That and three dollars will get you a cupcake at the vegan co-op. —Llewellyn Hinkes
The legend is true: The infamous, ill-fated, Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy
has been leaked after 14 years of recording and scads of record-company dollars down the four-track. I had hoped it would be the greatest peak in maddening celebrity indulgence, like a thousand Golden Throats
records combined into one dense, intimate portrayal of a millionaire superstar’s descent into syphilitic isolation. Maybe it could have been a rock opera about the plight of Jar Jar Binks, wherein Axl Rose raps One Night in Bangkok. Or it could have been an extended song-poem about a lonely child named Xal Esor who got caught up in the spotlight yet still pines for his trusty bandanna, Budrose. Or it merely could have been a muttered list of who is out to get himplayed over old GnR tracks on a Casio SK-1. It could have been any of these and more, but instead it’s Use Your Illusion III
. I’d almost venture to say it’s decent; a few million dollars in studio time can add some serious polish. I could see listening to it in a stretch limo while driving around downtown Los Angeles after a successful reality-show taping. —Llewellyn Hinkes
In Africa, they’re just getting around to publishing essential psychedelic compilations that should have been out eons ago. Few know a name outside of Fela Kuti or King Sunny Ade. If there were any justice in the world 50 Cent would take the offer from Taco Bell
to change his name to 79/89/99 Cent and use it to fund a swarm of ethnomusicologists to the lower Niger Delta region to record any and all sounds they can. I mean, what else is he doing with his time? —Llewellyn Hinkes
Kids seem to love these mash-ups. It appeals to their dual desires of flaunting copyright laws and hearing lots of songs all at once. It’s a short-attention-span, intellectual-property-law jamboree. And this latest Girl Talk album is a sampling bonanza sure to boggle the minds behind any copyright claims. They somehow mash Public Enemy and Heart like they were always meant to be together, except it only lasts for a few seconds until the next random combination appears. —Llewellyn Hinkes
From what I can tell, Iceland is on a breakneck pace to make it seem like a place called Iceland is a sun-drenched adventure land. They don’t use gasoline, produced Björk and Sigur Rós, and race around naked to their hearts content. It’s all part of a giant advertising campaign by the Rejkjavik tourist bureau. Consider that the vikings originally switched the names of Iceland and Greenland to keep the place to themselvesor so they say. I wonder if tourists show up expecting boreal forests and emotional orchestras, and it turns out to be ice flows and cold. They just lure tourists there to capture and turn them into fuel, sinceif you read beforethey don’t have gasoline there. How else will they power their recording studios? —Llewellyn Hinkes
I really wanted to love bluegrass; I really did. It helped me think I didn’t actually avoid country music, just commercial country music. Or electric country music (or some other arbitrary distinction). That was before the Washington, D.C., N.P.R. affiliate would play 12 straight hours of bluegrass on the weekends and my constitution for folksyism was crushed under the weight of that much nasal twang. Ever since, every time I heard a banjo I might think it made a nifty accompaniment, but knew I could never go back. Now, when I happen to find this bluegrass tribute to Modest Mouse, I feel a bit torn. Part of me enjoys the folksy demeanor and even think it might be swell, and the other half shivers every time they replace curse words with lilted, non-offensive quaintness. —Llewellyn Hinkes
We all know the Billboard
Top 100 is a sham; it’s a meaningless list of vacuous posers and pitch-shifted payola. The bands, singers, and studios that make it to the top of their Singles Charts, Hot Canadian Digital Singles Charts, or even the Bubbling Ringtones Chart, only got that way because they bought enough copies of their own album/ringtone to make it on the list. It’s the same way Lee Iacocca’s biography became a bestseller in the ’80’s (both the recording and publishing industries are just vanity ventures at this point anyhow). If it wasn’t arbitrary, why do you think Billboard
calls its ranking software Arbitron
? Either it’s a TI-86 calculator hooked up to a random-number generator
in the basement corner of the Time Warner Center, or they shoved a statistical regression algorithm up a monkey’s ass and made it dance.
Point being: There is a need for a truer Top 40 list. Something that might list a Fleet Foxes, Dodos
, Ratatat, or new Spiritualized album, even if those aren’t the most popular or most purchased albums at the time. The people will learn to like them by decree of law, but not be able to mention it out loud as it would make me feel less special to know that I wasn’t the only person who liked them first. In the meantime, here’s a partial list.
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Obscured and shamed for a terrible album cover, Tapes ’n Tapes’ second album got the bum’s rush of criticism for other reasons I can’t completely understand. Calling it utterly and completely without talent
seemed a bit harsh and almost smacks of conspicuous cynicism (inverse payola?). The album is good. Sounds kind of like their previous album, The Loon
, which was great. Walk It Off
isn’t as complete as The Loon
, but it certainly doesn’t exhibit the band’s lack of originality
. And calling it festering music bile that eats away at the core of humanity would just be cruel. (Thankfully, nobody’s called it that.) What are the odds that Tapes ’n Tapes paid people to tarnish their image to return them to the stature of the underdogs they once were so their next album will be a phoenix rising out of the dust rather than a bunch of elitist jerks slipping off their pedestal? The odds are large, and I call it pure marketing genius.
» Listen to Tapes ’n Tapes at DoucheBagFace
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I’m just now getting around to Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
, which is a great, fascinating book; not so much for the music, but for the level of egotistical insanity that seems to follow every composer mentioned. I guess when you’re creating giant scores for an orchestra filled with every Viennese prince, duke, and viscount in attendance, it can create a level of hubris that will eventually have you making declarations like diatonic scales are for deviants and pederasts or the C minor chord represents the onslaught of humanity by industrialization. I wish I could say Daniel Bejar of Destroyer made these kinds of pronouncements, as he could easily get away with it. Streethawk, Rubies
, and This Night
are near-perfect enough that he could easily say minor keys are for monkey grinders and drunk Frenchmen and we would have to take it as fact.
» Listen to Destroyer at The Catbirdseat
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Ignatz is one of those trump cards used in obscurity one-upsmanship. Say you’re talking to somebody about what you’ve been listening to lately, and they idly mention some German noise band that doesn’t make contact with the outside world. You can’t just sit there in shame at your ignorance of the world. You get right back up there and say, Well I was just listening to Van Morrison’s dedication to ringworm that he made to get out of his record contract. Problem is, you don’t actually like that song. You just thought it would piss them off. Instead, how about you mention this reclusive Belgian folk artist who makes a decaying, entrancing, and reverberating European bluegrass from a shed. Sounds outre, but still very listenable, in case they actually call you on your bluff. And if not, you can just make up something about a blind Japanese disco-polka prodigy who plays the mouth harp.
» Listen to All Your Love by Ignatz
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One side of the prospect of seeing a show in somebody’s basement in high schoolas opposed to a dank, smoke-filled clubwas that it was somebody’s family doing the entertaining. You got to see their house, maybe their mom would be upstairs making finger sandwiches; it made the loudest, most chaotic metal screaming seem quaint. Oh, that’s just what the kids like to do, mom would say as she brought out another plate of snickerdoodles. The kids would seem frustrated that the feigned angst at their parents who let them have the show in their basement was ultimately feckless. Not to say that Eat Skull are overprivileged punks looking for a reason to hate their parents, but there’s something friendly and inviting in their brittle, distorted ways that reminded me of itlike a No Age or a scuzzier Beat Happening.
» Listen to Eat Skull at Raven Sings the Blues
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I like to think of myself as principled, but when reading about a small boycott of a Chicago black metal outfit because of their possible white-power allegiances, I couldn’t imagine being able to do it. Not that I condone whatever it was that they said, but it’s tricky to know the politics of some group whose lyrics sound like blarghghrhgrhgfhrghr (hopefully it’s transcribed). And if you do start filtering out music by racism, sexism, and murderous intent, you start cutting out large swaths of music history. This grand history of sound in the 20th century has been mainly racists making sexist songs about fornicating and murder. It would be nice to start fresh and say: OK, no more fornicating and murder from here on out, but good luck with that. There’s plenty of nice people making nice music, but without the violent taunts of Brazilian gang funk, it’s just not the same.
» Listen to forbidden gang funk from Rio de Janeiro