Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bethany Petr out of Odd Girl Out?

It sure seems that way.

What happened, I wonder? Anybody know?

BOOK REVIEW: THE GONE-AWAY WORLD

From today's Detroit Metro Times:

The Gone-Away World
By Nick Harkaway
Knopf
500 pp., $25.95

Readers of a certain age and above are familiar with the chilling, kill-'em-all concept of mutually assured destruction: the idea that if one nation armed with nuclear warheads attacked another, the resulting domino-effect would effectively render our world uninhabitable, assuming anyone or anything survived the fiery, man-made cataclysm. A horrific possibility to contemplate, yes? But what if worse weapons existed? Bombs, say, that effectively erased matter but left a void in its stead that cracked open a gateway for an other-dimensional substance that rendered our mental and nocturnal terrors real.

Wonder no longer, because The Gone-Away World does that for you. This debut doorstopper — 500 pages deep — from UK author Nick Harkaway follows a team of ex-Special Operations soldiers-turned-drivers-for-hire as they navigate this ruined world of half-formed monsters, mythical creatures, soldiers beamed in from bygone battlefields, and a long length of pipe emitting a spray that creates a zone of sustained reality. This isn't the grim post-apocalyptic Hades of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, though; Harkaway's tale is blackly comedic and lighthearted enough that the full weight of the titular catastrophe doesn't quite register. Twenty expository, overdescriptive pages pass, then the writer yanks us back in time to the unnamed narrator's youth to reveal how everything came apart. That's a long, winding highway that encompasses every story genre from buddy-movie tropes to undergrad activist hoo-hah to espionage thriller to Manhattan Project moment to martial arts flick winks, but — until World turns into a variation on Fight Club — the unlikely journey is more fun than the fucked-beyond-fucked destination and a denouement that feels cruelly perfunctory. Which is fine, actually. Harkaway's quicksilver tongue-through-cheek prose — post-David Foster Wallace, post-Dave Eggers, tastily postmodern — is the primary reason why. Passages like this one are monuments in and of themselves: "I wear skintight black PVC and white foundation and I glower and mourn the death of Byron in the back of the bar. From there I discover punk, and briefly have no hair at all, then am mistaken for a fascist by a group of businessmen who proceed to celebrate my bravery and drink my health, and driven by this horror I grow it out again."

Monday, December 29, 2008

The great thing about being deeply sick, to the point where you're hacking up lung butter constantly and actually lose your voice? You sleep like a corpse - which is exactly the kind of shut-eye I've needed for months now. So in that sense - well, that and the fact that my Mom came up to visit and we all had a great time with her - this past weekend was awesome.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Yet another rickroll of the forthcoming evitcelloC laminA record. only with a twist. Very funny, guys; very very funny. Don't throw your backs out laughing at all the suckers.

UPDATE 12/31/08: The Web Sheriff has struck yet again!

My 2008 Submitted Pazz & Jop Comments, Part II


Is it possible to invest in Mediafire, Zshare, Rapidshare, and Megaupload? Because if so we all need to dump our dwindling cash reserves into them, like, last month.


How much more economic turmoil must we all suffer before rappers get mad real and start bragging about their cubic-zirconia Jesus pieces and their tricked-out bronze Vespas?

My 2008 Submitted Pazz & Jop Comments

Who knows? Some of them may actually get published.

Mark my words: by 2011, cassette and vinyl will be the only safe formats left for purchasing non-major label music. Compact discs will be worthless, mp3s will be booby-trapped with killfiles, and you will happily plunk down $5 for the latest Hototogisu double-vinyl live masterpiece without batting an eyelash.

Coming soon to a theatre programme-thin alt-weekly near you: 10-word live show previews, 20-word album reviews, 200-word in-depth profiles of visiting acts, plus 50 ads directing you to the paper's web site, where the real action is.


So Tha Carter III's warm glow has dimmed a bit since the first dozen times I heard it, and the laziness I wanted to pretend I didn't sense therein jumps out and smacks me around everytime I throw the disc into the player. (God, doesn't that last phrase feel totally old dude-esque? It just comes out wrong, even typed.) But admit it: deep down inside, we - read: critics - caught the laziness at jump, but gave Weezy a pass because the zillion prior free-for-download mixtapes were so superior, right? This was payback, in the positive sense of that term, and a desperately-needed re-affirmation of the album-release-as-event concept. We needed this album to matter so that we'd matter; Wayne knew this, too.

The various publication/outlet/website '08 best-of lists I've come across in my surfing are neglecting Matmos something terrible. Which is a shame, because Supreme Balloon is unquestionably the duo's finest album to date: a United Colors of Benetton ad saturated with squeaky-synth clown balloons instead of bare limbs. The various sonic gimmicks MC Schmidt and Drew Daniels have traditionally relied upon have always made for good to really good albums, but it took the absence of conceptual sampling to make for something extraordinarily bouyant, helium airy, and outright orgasmic.


Kanye West probably didn't go into making 808s and Heartbreak intending to comment indirectly on the deepening recession - dude just wanted to lash out at his ex without rapping. But Yeezy's fourth album inadvertantly underlines the virtues of all-American self-reliance by shrugging off the usual cascade of too-familiar and somewhat-obscure samples to unleash a self-centered artistic statement so streamlined and cold that it's simultaneously impossible to turn away from and the most involving entry of his growing catalogue.


Every year, the Pazz & Jop Ballot entreaty asks voters to submit - in addition to albums and singles votes - contact information and publications we write for. Personally, I'm finding that the list of web sites, magazines, and newspapers keeps shrinking. It's not so much that outlets are folding so much as they're scaling back for economic reasons: this one's limiting itself to local music coverage only, that one's shelving reviews for months due to lower-than-ever page counts, and so on. It won't be long until everyone's just out on their own, blogging hard into our own echo chambers for comments and (hopefully) Adsense hits.


R.I.P. paperthinwalls. Not so much because I'm forced to bid adieu to yet another repository of sparkling crit wit and talent or because another stream of steady work's gone dry, but because now my excuse to pummel Whiney with babbling emails all day when I'm supposed to be working is no more.

Mythical, media-perpetuated holiday bullshit that's yet to happen to me

I've never, ever been kissed beneath the mistletoe. Come to think about it, I'm not sure whether or not I've ever actually seen a mistletoe sprig in person. Anyway, this was a fantasy of mine as a young'un, and I'd always imagine it going down the way it does on cheesy TV shows, you know, where two characters "unwittingly" find themselves under a hanging wrap of the plant and one says to the other "Hey, do you realize where we're standing? Do you know what this means?" And then they exchange a sexy smile and enjoy a gentle game of tonsil hockey. Well, that hasn't happened yet, but I'm actually cool with that - in the same way that I'm cool with not having ever run away from home, with not having ever teamed up with friends to solve mysteries on weekends, with not ever having chickenpox, etc.


I've never gotten smashed and made a fool of myself at a holiday party. Mildly drunk, maybe, but never annihilated. The last holiday party I went to was like two years ago, one of those Baltimore City Paper things that's held in a huge loud club with no real seating and is total Hell-in-a-Cell unless you like huge loud clubs with no real seating and are okay with being able to get blasted on free drinks and not being able to actually talk to or find anyone you know. Oh wait, forgot - I've gone to one since then, for a job Alecia had in late 2006/early 2007, but that was at somebody's house, and it wasn't a dancing-naked-on-a-table-with-a-lampshade-on-your-head kind of deal. It was actually really, really nice! Too bad the lady who ran the office turned out to be full of crap. And now that I think about it, we went to another super-duper holiday party for a different job of Alecia's a few years before that. Oh, my memory.


I've yet to awaken on Christmas morning to find a brand spanking new luxury vehicle awaiting me outside of my home, wrapped in an oversized red bow. Fuck you, Santa.

Words, Don't Fail Me Now



Happily, a picture is worth a thousand words. Happy Holidays from our family to yours! The photo sums up the craziness of home life these days - but hopefully it isn't, like, Jeff Montgomery crazy, you know?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

DO NOT USE
STALL IS BROKE

A head's up to whoever left this note in one of the men's rooms on the first floor of the building where I work: a toilet can be broken, but never broke. A toilet's always got a few extra ducats tucked away in the event of a tight paper clog, defecation gone awry, or any other restroom mishap. Savvy?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

THE VOGUING TO DANZIG 2008 HOLIDAY POP QUIZ


You will have two minutes to complete this quiz. Feel free to use as many blue books as you need, but be sure to write your name and "THE VOGUING TO DANZIG 2008 HOLIDAY POP QUIZ" on each one. No talking, no sharing of information, no gum-snapping, no finger-tapping, no lip-syncing to whatever ungodly bullshit you've got humming on your iPod. Each question will be worth 50 points. You will be graded on thoughtfulness, hyperbole, wit, profanity, digression, and, of course, contextual acuity. Bonus points will be awarded if (1) you're able to reference Plato or one of his contemporaries in a way that isn't awkward or overreaching or (2) you can pose a better question than those below, which shouldn't be especially difficult for any of you. Comments are strongly encouraged; they're actually pretty much the entire point of this exercise. If there aren't any questions, let's get cerebral:


a. Shouldn't Clipse have referenced CSI: Miami at least a few times by now? I mean, they've gotten a ton of mileage out of Miami Vice quips over the past decade, but given the propensity of rappers to refer to cocaine by using the names of white female celebs or well-known personages - that white girl - it's bewildering to me that Malice or Pusha T haven't woven Emily Proctor or Eva LaRue into their rhymes. And sweet Jesus, David Caruso's character's name? It's Horatio fucking Caine. That's a gimmie if there ever was one.
Additionally, please provide a reasonable explanation as to why Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas have not yet appeared on CSI: Miami. Or, failing that, postulate why, in the event that both men were approached, they may have rejected the invitation. Could it be a luck thing? A bit of a falling out? Insulting pay? All three? Remember: Thomas guested on a few episodes of Nash Bridges, and the years since haven't been kind to either actor. I mean, they probably haven't. It's not like they're all over the tabloids, right? So they may as well not exist.


b. Does anybody - anybody - really believe that multi-medalling swimmer Michael Phelps used Rosetta Stone to prepare for the Beijing Olympics? I'm not buying it. That dude's all about the swimming and the eating and then some more swimming. He doesn't give any more of a flying karate chop about learning the Chinese language than I do about learning Latin. Like the U.S. Olympic team didn't hire guides. Like there weren't signs directing visitors to the waffle buffet. Like anybody had to ask permission to raid the condom pail in Mandarin. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.


Pencils down.

Monday, December 15, 2008

MY 2008 BALTIMORE CITY PAPER TOP TENS

NATIONAL MUSIC

Matmos, Supreme Balloon (Matador)
The Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)
Prurient, And Still, Wanting (No Fun)
Jason Crumer, Ottoman Black (Hospital Productions)
Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)
Harry Pussy, You'll Never Play This Town Again (Load)
Nisennenmondai, Neji/Tori (Smalltown Supersound)
Burning Star Core, Challenger (Hospital Productions)
Thurston Moore, Sensitive/Lethal (No Fun)
Little Joy, Little Joy (Rough Trade)


LOCAL MUSIC

Ponytail, Ice Cream Spiritual (We Are Free)
Human Bell, Human Bell (Thrill Jockey)
Wye Oak, If Children (Merge)
Cash Slave Clique, White Props (Panic Research Audio)
Beach House Devotion (Carpark)
Jason Willett, The Sounds of Megaphone Limited (MT6)
Wilderness, k(n)o(w)here (Jagjaguwar)
Teeth Mountain, Teeth Mountain (self-released)
Whistletips, Mother Fuckers (MT6)
Rosemary Krust Slow Amber (MT6/Spleen Coffin)

BOOKS

1. Jhumpa Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf)
2. Marcus Reeves Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence In The Aftershock of Black Power (Faber and Faber)
3. Tara Yellen After Hours at the Almost Home (Unbridled)
4. Carl Wilson Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (Continuum)
5. John Joseph The Evolution of a Cro-MagNon (PUNKHouse)
6. Elizabeth Farrelly Blubberland: The Dangers of Happiness (MIT Press)
7. James Howard Kunstler World Made By Hand (Atlantic Monthly Press)
8. David Browne Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth (Da Capo Press)
9. Grant Bailie Mortarville (Ig)
10. Sebastian Horsley, Dandy in the Underworld (Harper Perrenial)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Voguing to Danzig's HOT 75 (or so) Releases of 2008



Yes, I know: the formatting's a travesty. This will be rectified over the next several days. Links and rationales provided. Until then, have fun picking my choices apart! Also: sorry, Stephen Malkmus. I'm sorry I had to exclude you. But you just didn't bring your A-game this year.
UPDATE, 12/15/08: From this year forward, I'll be ordering this list alphabetically. Trying to rate dozens upon dozens of records alphabetically in terms of which ones are better than others has simply proven too much for my sanity - I mean, just narrowing the list down to 10 great discs is tough enough, and when the final reckoning has come, I'll have submitted 3-4 lists to various publications that are marginally different from one another depending on each outlet's criteria - i.e. MAGNET doesn't want any reissues, while for BALTIMORE CITY PAPER I submit a National list and Local list, etc. Plus the lists are due at different points near the year's end, so if I come across awesome prior to submitting the last list, it might make it onto the next list I send to an editor. Suffice to say that Matmos' Supreme Balloon was my album of the year, and Atlas Sound, Prurient, and the Silver Jews were also fairly tops, but I'll post the separate lists as they pop up online or wherever.
UPDATE 12/24/08: OK, I'm finally done adding stuff. Well, I might add some links to free downloadable mixtapes....



Animal Collective Water Curses (Domino)
Animal Twat Animal Twat (MT6)
Antietam Opus Mixtum (Carrot Top)
The Atlas Sound How I Escaped The Prison of Fractals (self-released)
The Atlas Sound Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (Kranky)
Bad Liquor Pond Radiant Transmission (MT6)
Beach House Devotion (Carpark)
Black Pus Black Pus 4: All Aboard the Magic Pus! (Diareahrama)
Blackout Beach Skin of Evil (Soft Abuse)
Blitzen Trapper Furr (Sub Pop)
Boredoms Super Roots 9 (Thrill Jockey)
Chris Brokaw Canaris (Capitan)
Burning Star Core Challenger (Hospital Productions)
Cash Slave Clique White Props (Panic Research Audio)
Clipse Road to Till The Casket Drops (Re-Up)
Controlled Dissonance Cleaning Out The Cupboards (self-released)
Jason Crumer Ottoman Black (Hospital Productions)
Cryptacize Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty)
Kimya Dawson Alphabutt (K)
Arrington de Dionyso I See Beyond the Black Sun (K)
The Dead C Secret Earth (Badabing!)
Deerhoof Offend Maggie (5RC/KRS)
Deerhunter Microcastle (Kranky)

Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing (All Tomorrow's Parties)
Gang Gang Dance Saint Dymphna (The Social Registry)
Girl Talk Feed the Animals (Illegal Art)
Carlos Giffoni Zamuro (Important)
Carlos Giffoni Adult Life (No Fun)
Carlos Giffoni/Aaron Dilloway Life at the No Fun Fest 2007 (No Fun)
Growing All The Way (The Social Registry)
Harry Pussy You'll Never Play This Town Again (Load)
Hototogisu Under the Rose (Heavy Blossom)
Human Bell Human Bell (Thrill Jockey)
Hush Arbors Hush Arbors (Ecstatic Peace!)
Indian Jewelry Free Gold! (We Are Free)
Istituzioni Ambienti Naturalismo / Lolita Vibrator Torture L'AIDS Alza la Voce e Noi Alziamo il Volume (Monstres Par Excès)
Khate 13 (self-released)
Kings of Leon Only By The Night (RCA)
Dominque Leone Dominque Leone (Stromland)
Lil Wayne The Carter III (Cash Money/Young Money)
Little Joy Little Joy (Rough Trade)
Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster... (Arts & Crafts)
Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Arts & Crafts)
Matmos Supreme Balloon (Matador)
Max Tundra Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino)
Evan Miller Three Improvisations (Digitalis Limited)
Thurston Moore Sensitive/Lethal (No Fun)
Nine Inch Nails The Slip (Nuill)
Nisennenmondai Neji/Tori (Smalltown Supersound)
No Age Nouns (Sub Pop)
The North Sea Gated Community (Root Strata)
Thao Nguyen with the Get Down Stay Down We Brave Bee Stings and All (Kill Rock Stars)
Of Montreal Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
Ovo Croce Via (Load)
Ponytail Ice Cream Spiritual (We Are Free)
The Present World I See (LOAF)
Prurient And Still, Wanting (No Fun)
Prurient Arrowhead (Editions Mego)
Prurient The Black Post Society (Coldspring)
Prurient Cocaine Death (Hospital)
Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month (Soft Abuse)
The Re-Up Gang We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3: The Spirit of Competition (Re-Up)
Religious Knives The Door (Ecstatic Peace!)
Rich Boy Bigger Than The Mayor (self-released)
Rosemary Krust Slow Light (MT6/Spleen Coffin)
Sandman #1SUPPLIYA (self-released)
Sandman Gianormous (self-released)
Satellite Clouds Ascension of the Golden Torus (Mosfet Fono)
Singer Unhistories (Drag City)
The Silver Jews Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)
Sunroof/Kemialliset Ystävät Split Series #19 (FatCat)
Kanye West 808s and Heartbreak (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)
Wavves Wavves (Fuck It Tapes)
Whistletips Mother Fuckers (MT6)
Wildbirds and Peacedrums Heartcore (Leaf)
Wilderness k(n)o(w)here (Jagjaguwar)
Jason Willett The Sounds of Megaphone Limited (MT6)
Wye Oak If Children (Merge)
Yellow Swans Deterioration Yellow Swans (Modern Radio Record Label)
Yellow Tears The Pissmop LP (Hospital)
Young Dro I Am Legend (self-released)
Young Jeezy The Recession (Def Jam)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

I TURN MY COMMENTS ON!

My post-Thanksgiving Day gift to you: comments are go again!

Rock on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Intervention" on A&E



Watching Intervention isn't something I make a habit out of. It's not as though there's anything uplifting or positive about the program, most of the time. Typically, the narrative arc goes something like this: 1) we meet an addict, watch them get high, see testimonials from friends and family, 2) learn about promise, talents, and self squandered by extreme drug abuse, 3) get a sense of how the addict's destructive spiral affects loved ones, 4) an intervention is staged, usually with ultimatums given, ala "if you don't go to this rebab clinic that we're offering to pay for, you're totally dead to us, that's it," 5) the addict goes to rehab, and 6) addict recovers and lives happily-ever-after, relapses, or some variation of those two outcomes.

The handful of episodes I've caught have centered, mostly, on alcoholics - not surprising, because alcohol is legal and easy to get. Of course, there are also meth heads, speed freaks, coke fiends, and so on.

But earlier this week, Intervention profiled a young woman addicted - really addicted - to fucking inhalants - the chemical, compressed air stuff that you're supposed to use to dust electronics. Her name? Allison. She'd buy 8 to 10 cans of this stuff and just suck one can after another down in her apartment, eyes all googly, frame slight and fragile from lack of sustenance, body crumpled on a couch. Her on-camera interviews and testimonials were difficult to watch, because she was so gone that focusing in was impossible. She was petulant, sarcastic, stubborn, and bent on self-annihilation as a means of getting back at a mother who she felt had been a terrible parent and a father who'd split the scene years before. (Allison and her sister had been sexually abused as children, but the abuser got off scot-free due to a lack of evidence.) She carried on an affair with a married father of two who footed her various bills; she didn't work.

(In the end she was fine, but that isn't the point.)

I was transfixed. I was sickened. I had to watch the whole thing. I said to Alecia, who was watching with me: "How does she have any brain cells left? She should be a vegetable. Holy shit."

I've known people who've abused this drug - and other drugs, besides - and have seen what a small dose can cause. The idea of living on inhalants, though, that's just in a league of self-loathing that's beyond my comprehension.

I couldn't believe that nobody - but nobody - at the Wal-Mart or whatever other massive superstore she shopped at could be bothered to report her.

There's no reason that anybody needs to purchase 10 cans of compressed air every single day.

The why of this isn't in question. When I was younger, I couldn't quite grasp why so many adults had heart attacks and addictions, why they fell apart. Life, I was sure, couldn't be that overwhelming and crushing and terrible. No way. Then I grew up, and I got it. The sheer volume of worries, of details, of hurts, of burdens, and minor emergencies that adult life hurls our way is nothing short of formidable; it's no surprise that so many of us want to obliterate ourselves, to ward off the constant sense of nausea that's perpetually on the brink of consuming us whole.
In some college philosophy class - Eugenia Porto was the professor, I remember that clearly - while trying to make some sort of point about how the masses crave opiates, I said something about a worker being beaten about mentally all day, only to go home and surrender to his television set every night, as opposed to doing something constructive or progressive. At the time, I didn't watch television; I was too busy writing poetry, fiction, and journalism, and reading for courses and hanging out with my friends and trying to get laid, drunk, or both.
I felt that I was a cultural contributor, and that I would always be one; I didn't foresee a future in which I'd come to rely on the idiot box as a drug of choice and a way to connect with my family following a long day of disconnection. Or - that being the case - that my days would be too packed for me to translate my television viewing into serious or frivilous criticism, that I would often hatch ideas for blog posts en route to work only to get caught up in whatever situations or deadlines said day might bring, quickly losing track of every facet of whatever concept I'd so carefully honed to precision, that after years of drought I'd keep coming up with great fiction ideas only to have no time whatsoever to implement them, that my friendships would dwindle down to a mere handful.


Ah, yes. Friends.

There were a great many things that disturbed me about this episode of Intervention, but the one that really got me, that almost made me tear up, was this: Allison didn't have one single fucking friend show up at her intervention. Not one. If she'd had any, they'd written her off after she got hooked on inhalants in college - prior to having to ditch her pre-med track and settling for a Music degree. It just left me with an empty feeling inside. Allison struck me as an especially selfish young woman, but seriously, for real, not one compadre could hang in there with her, steer her onto a healthier path, kidnap her for a clean-living weekend in Borneo? Really? Jesus.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guess Who Uttered His First Full Sentence Last Night?



It was:


"I love Pizza Hut!"


And don't we all, don't we all...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

THE END GAME: GOBAMA!

11/3/08, 5:00 p.m.: I'm leaving work, driving home. Four people (one of them was a child or just an extremely short person) are holding "HONK FOR OBAMA" signs on a median strip, bundled up against the cold. Lots of resultant honking, but my horn's broken - something I wasn't aware of - so I roll down my window and do a sort of Arsenio-style fist pumping thing, shouting "OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!" One dude on the strip gets a huge smile on his face, looks right at me, and starts chanting with me! Awesome!

11/4/08 6:30 a.m.: Getting ready to leave to vote, I notice that Alecia has written "OBAMA 2008" in huge red Sharpie across our calendar.

11/4/08 7:33 a.m.: So voting was a straight cinch. Got to my polling place at 7:50 and there were maybe 30 people already in line, mostly senior citizens. No-one talking politics, nobody forcing literature. Area's semi rural so maybe no surprise on the numbers. (We vote at the Monroe Township building in Selinsgrove, PA.) I was the only non-white face or so I thought - until a few minutes after the doors opened when I saw another black person leaving. Hilarity: overheard lots of bitching about how long the wait was, how ridiculous it was. While to yours truly - who waited 3-4 hours four years ago to vote for Kerry - this wait seemed eminently reasonable. No hassle when the older ladies who run the voter rolls checked me off, spent only a minute in the voting booth, then had to feed the ballot into some machine and I was outta there. Forty people in line when I returned to my car - including lots of indians and hispanics. Struck up a conversation with a teacher who swore, adamantly that if McCain won she would never vote again for anybody ever. "I mean, you have to be brainless to vote for that guy," she said. "And don't get me started on Palin." It feels good to be done; now to keep my fingers crossed for Obama.

11/4/08 8:30 a.m.: Someone has taken maybe 30 Obama/Biden signs and fashioned them into an outward-expanding "V" on a berm adjacent to an exit ramp near the entrance to Harrisburg.


Also, my waiting-in-line-to-vote Ipod soundtrack:


Animal Collective "Brother Sport (live on NPR)" - twice
Deerhunter "Cryptograms"
Aquarelle "In Florence" (the first few minutes, then got drawn into conversations)

Monday, November 03, 2008

FROM PTW, 7/2/08: Bottle Up and Go, “Wayward Son”

BOTTLE UP AND GO - “Wayward Son”
from These Bones EP (Killnormal)
Blooze-Rawk // Out Now


The blood-blister yawl of Bottle Up & Go singer Keenan Mitchell is vintage Soundgarden-era Chris Cornell, but the boiling rawk brimstone beneath is electric blooze whiplash napalm: electrified-fence riffage lashed to (and by) crashing drum kit indigestion and face-melting sax squalls. On “Wayward Son,” Mitchell belts out the kind of Dear Mom missive no momma ever wants to receive—“I got so thirsty, I fell down the weeeeeeeeell/Fell asleep in my bed, I woke up in Hell”—he’s in too deep, a gun in his hand and a dead girl in his bed, and “Wayward Son” is a jolting study in turmoil, a skidding declaration that shit’s fucked up beyond belief that doesn’t project a path to positive resolution.

Bottle Up & Go frontman Keenan Mitchell on ‘Wayward Son’:

Would you characterize yourself as a wayward son?

I have had a few moments in my life when I felt like the wayward son, not to mention the countless nights waking up on the living room floor with the room spinning, thinking about how my mother would cry if she saw me... The worst was probably getting rousted out of my jail-cell bunk at five in the morning in the Florida panhandle to find out that my mother had just paid my bail from our home in Oregon, and I hadn’t even asked her to do it. I guess she found out from my uncle, whom I had called with my one phone call to ask for an immediate loan. The worst part was calling her from the jail phone and hearing the automated voice say “Hello, this is a call from the Escambia County jail. Would you like to accept a call from—my voice, forlorn—“Keenan Mitchell” That’s what I wrote the song “Low” about, incidentally.

You really attack the vocal here. Have you ever blown your voice, or feared that you would?

I have to spend a few days after every little tour we do whispering like the Godfather because my voice gets so wrecked. My range has gone down by at least a quarter octave during the time I have been singing for Bottle Up & Go, from all the smoking and screaming. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t sing some of the songs we used to play when we started out. I think I have a plateau now, though. My voice isn’t going to get much rougher than it is now. I hope.

If you found out in advance that you were headed straight to Hell and were allowed to bring a case of any beverage with you, what would it be?


Initially, I thought I would just pick up a case of the cheapest malt liquor at the corner store before I headed off to Hell. Lucas [Carrico, saxophonist] persuaded me that a flat of Graves grain alcohol would be the way to go. As long as you are going to suffer for all eternity. You might as well bring something that will last a few weeks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

250 WORDS OR LESS REVIEW: Gang Gang Dance "Saint Dymphna" [The Social Registry, 2008]



The music of Brooklyn, NYC's Gang Gang Dance carries with it a strong whiff of Eastern/Mediterrainian mysticism. Blared in an open-air market in India, you'd expect it to charm snakes from their baskets or prompt bellydancers to gyrate their hips. Harnessing drum pads, keyboards, guitars, samplers, and the alluringly expressive vocal stylings of frontwoman Liz 'LZA' Bougatsos, the quartet specializes in electro-fractal, world-beat pop Until recently, the fruits of their labor were as profoundly improvisory as ocean waves. Saint Dymphna represents a seismic shift in GGD standard operating procedure, drenching the groups' propulsive exoticism in pop syrup while incorporating an even wider array of influences. (Afrobeat, anyone? It's in there.) The rough edges are polished lapidary smooth. Kaledescopic aural labyrinth 'Bebey' marries synths reminiscent of early Talking Heads to the delirious, jerky reverb employed by underground outfits like Black Dice and Growing; 'Vacuum' smears those Heads tones into a Surroundsound, headphone mindfuck. 'House Jam'? It really is a house jam; the track could slip into a club DJ's set unnoticed. And when London grime artist Tinchy Stryder leaps into the ivory-torrent spray, bongo-pummel, and jagged-synth shrapnel fray of 'Princes' - 'Oh shit, Gang Gang!' he enthuses - it somehow doesn't feel like a departure, but, rather, a natural progression.

Friday, October 10, 2008

FROM PTW, 7/9/07: Christy & Emily, “Noah”

CHRISTY AND EMILY - “Noah”
from Gueen's Head (The Social Registry)
Avant-Folk // Out Now


Brooklyn duo Christy Edwards and Emily Manzo, a.k.a. Christy & Emily are a gauzy oasis in a somewhat disappointing year for avant-folk treats. Sure, Panda Bear’s soft-focus, loop-chutes charmed and Fursaxa’s wafer-thin folk operatics invited, but neither totally involved (“ephemeral” doesn’t necessarily equal “eclipsing”; if it did, we’d happily wear out a fresh set of headphones every month). If Gueen’s Head, C&E’s debut for hip psych-noise standard-bearers the Social Registry, is an arresting delight, then “Noah” represents its rippling, hazy pinnacle. Here, rock guitarist Edwards and classical pianist Manzo are positively drowning for each other’s thirsts. Delirious vocal glides emerge from opposing corners and meet in a languorous crisscross before vanishing back into the shimmy rue from whence they came. Both women are reading from the same lyric sheet, but their anesthetized deliveries smudge meaning into a gliding, lysergic paste that melts atop a bottomless, sluggish mass of simmering fret percolations, narcoleptic vibraphones and wobbly Wurlitzers. It’s a dizzily de-centered swim that shouldn’t have to end, but as with all things, it ultimately must.

Christy Edwards on “Noah”:

“Noah” sounds like a slow, delirious drowning—in a good way. Is this the feel you were going for?

We’d always imagined this being sung by a drunken choir of our friends and pirates. And yeah, the crew is drunk, so we’re all going down.

Who is Noah? Are you two harmonizing about the biblical Noah?

I’m glad that you are making biblical connections to the song, and there is a general nautical theme to the record as a whole. I almost don’t want to demystify it for you, but I wrote that song for my mother, prior to and in anticipation of a visit we made together to her family in Asia. Noah is a real person, and we named the song after him, because the initial recording we did was used in an art installation he did. All the heavy connotations the name brought along were a bonus.

Are you planning to see Steve Carrell’s new-Noah comedy Evan Almighty?

There’s a big billboard up for that movie that we see on the way to our practice space. I liked The 40 Year-Old Virgin, so yeah, I think maybe we will -RAYMOND CUMMINGS Monday, July 9th, 2007

Cheer Up, Thom Yorke!

This 2006 humor piece, directed at Thom Yorke, originally ran in Clevescene, but for various reasons the link no longer works. I found it here.

Invert That Frown

Dear Thom,

You're probably staggering under weighty preoccupations — Iraq-botch fallout, Israel-Hezbollah imbroglio, Big Brother — but lay off the cryptic sourball imagery and cheer up already. Even in chaos, diversions and pleasures abound. We hoped you'd relax a bit after Hail to the Thief, but The Eraser's grim-faced tightropes confirmed our worst fears. Here are some suggestions on how to lighten up.


1. Join a paintball league. Then wear the spattered suit everywhere for a few weeks. No one — least of all you — will take you so damned seriously.


2. Post a photo of Zach de la Rocha on your wall. If you ever fret that Radiohead isn't releasing new material often enough to further "the cause," remember that the self-styled revolutionary has released only one measly song in six years.

3. Trash all those goth and IDM CDs and pick up Art Brut's debut, which is so bonkers it should be on Prozac. Bonus for your audience: Bring Art Brut on tour.

4. Visit conflict-ridden countries and streak. This will (a) earn Radiohead a certain roguish notoriety, (b) help you tap more adrenaline and dispel more stress than riding roller coasters, while (c) perhaps bewildering the warring parties into a ceasefire as they stare at the insane British rock star leaping, stark naked, from bomb crater to bomb crater.

5. It's hard to believe that the playful curiosity of your two children hasn't rubbed off on you. Joining their games and fantasies would do wonders for your mood; it sure beats skulking about the manor, mumbling "I will eat you alive" and generally scaring the bejesus out of everybody. — Ray Cummings

THE FRIDAY INTERVIEW: Mark Morgan, Richard Hoffman, and Jon Lockie of SIGHTINGS



Voguing to Danzig: How and when did you guys start playing together as Sightings?

Mark Morgan: Around March or April '97, I put up fliers at record stores around New York stating that I was looking to start a band. After getting a few rather disheartening phone calls ("the only band that has really influenced me is Babe the Blue Ox"), Jon gave me a ring and after talking a for a few minutes, we decided to meet up. Over the next year and half, we screwed around with a few different bass players who either couldn't commit or didn't share our "vision". Doubt began to set in after awhile as to whether we would ever get this thing going and then finally we met Richard in the Fall of '98 (also through a flyer). We had our first jam in November of that year but didn't start regularly practicing till January '99.

VTD: Babe the Blue Ox? Ouch.

Richard Hoffman: Did you ever see BTBO? That woman plays a mean bass.

VTD: How does the Sightings songwriting process work? Are songs conceived from jam sessions or do you each bring in separate ideas?

RH: We generate some ideas on our own but everything comes together in jamming. I might play a bass line on my own and try to work it into a Sightings jam, but we never do the "I got this song for you guys to learn" thing.

VTD: Mark, what can you tell me about Maude? Is that a going thing? I read a thing or two about it on the TLASILA blog but have come up short looking for more info. (Note: Mark is also a member of To Live & Shave in L.A.)

MM: Maude is very much a non-going thing. It would be the type of deal where I would want to practice and try to write songs with Tom but us living so far apart puts the kibosh on any notions of having band at the moment. Also, dealing with NYC rent and bills kind of hinders my movements.

VTD: What other bands are you guys in? Do you think of Sightings as your main project?

MM: I'm also in a band called Key To Shame which is with my friend Pat Murano of No Neck/Malkuth. Just two guys fumbling around with pedals, occasionally playing their guitars. We've done some recording, played two shows and hope to continue doing it. I sometimes play with An Alien Heat which is basically Northampton Wools with myself thrown in the mix adding another layer of racket. Just three guys fumbling with pedals, occasionally playing their guitars. While I generally prefer playing with groups that have some kind of strong plan/structure ideas, there is something to be said for getting up there to disperse tuneless guitar hell for half an hour.

RH: Sightings has been our main project regardless of how we think about it. I have played with Brian Sullivan of Mouthus since the late '90's when we both lived in Providence. We have kept our project--Chaw Mank--going on some level all along and lately seem to be picking up some more steam. I am also playing recently with my wife and Carbon from Metalux in a project that may be called Body Types, although I am expecting to hear any day that there are five bands called that.

VTD: I stole this question from an old Doonesbury cartoon: how are you able to keep body and soul together?

RH: I have no soul.

VTD: Do you guys have day jobs?

RH: Ha-ha…do you?

VTD: Good point, and fair enough. What do you do for day jobs? Personally, I'm a technical writer for a huge corporation. If wishes were horses, I'd just blog about music and books and politics and culture all day for more money than I make day-jobbing and freelance writing.

MM: I work at the office of a construction company that guts and remodels high-end apartments. The typical customer is usually a hedge fund manager who has more in the bank than half of the countries in Africa. My day usually consists of staring at Excel spread sheets (more exciting than you could possibly imagine) and scheduling plumbers, electricians, painters, etc. In summary, work sucks and are there any potential patrons out there who could release us from the bonds of our labors?

RH: I do a few things. Art handling, work at a junk shop.

VTD: I'm curious about your influences, musical and otherwise. No-wave is what comes across most strongly, to me, in your stuff, but also the Dead C. - in the sense that sometimes, and I'm thinking of Absolutes and End Times specifically, it can be hard to tell what instrument is causing what sound. It's like a big fused-together jumble of parts with no purpose but to annihilate everything on a sonic level - and I mean that in a very, very good way.

RH: Can't say I have ever consciously listened to much No-Wave, maybe The Ex qualifies? Influential for me is more early Industrial (Einsturzende, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire), Kraut (Faust!), some '90's stuff like Jesus Lizard and US Maple, and of course SST stuff like Black Flag and Minutemen. I think when the band started, Kollaps was probably my main reference point for the sound of the records. Joy Division was my favorite band in high school.

MM: All the no wave comparisons are probably my fault since I'm the unschooled, shrieking one of the band. Granted, Richard and Jon can also dump some of their own shriek but they can also play way more styles of music than I can. I think the guitar mangling of groups like Red Transistor or Mars are influential on me personally but that's only one chunk of my stylings (so says me) and taken as a whole, it becomes an even smaller part of the group aesthetic. I think the comparisons to the Dead C are only valid in terms recording technique. Record a band playing loud and vaguely off kilter on a shitty four track and you're going to get a semi undifferentiated whhooosssshhhh sound a fair amount of the time. Of course, we can hear the individual parts on the records you mentioned since uhh, we ourselves played on them but I can't necessarily fault someone for saying something like, "You can't tell what's going on."

VTD: Here's a two parter. What's the most surprising reaction to your music that you've ever received, and what’s the least surprising?

RH: Actually the constant reference to No-Wave is way up there for most surprising, but again, I never spent much time with that stuff.

MM: We've heard emo once or twice. Sure, it's emotional - isn't most of the best music emotional? - but emo as a music genre tag is utterly baffling but hey, is this really worth pondering?

VTD: You've been described as "the most dangerous band in America"; having trouble sourcing who said that. Is that a mantle you accept, reject, or dispute? If you dispute it, who would you say deserves that title?

Jon Lockie: The "most dangerous" tag came from an article written in a Cleveland paper and I believe the source is footnoted on the Wikipedia page.

RH: That's just utter fucking bullshit and I am not sure who wrote that or that Wikipedia entry. Harsh or weird music isn't dangerous since those who aren't interested simply tune it out. Bands pushing religion deserve to be called dangerous. We're not brainwashing anyone.

MM: Ditto.

VTD: Thanks to the miracle of discogs, I learned recently that Sightings issued a pair of early releases titled CD 1 and CD 2. Are there any plans to re-issue those?

JL: The two CDRs are 4-track recordings made around the time of the Arrived in Gold and End Times albums. "Failure of Words" from End Times first appeared on CD 2 here. Two other tracks are 4-track versions of songs on Arrived in Gold ("Odds On" and "Arrived in Gold, Arrived in Smoke"). The other 6 tunes don't appear anywhere else. They're just CDRs containing material that, at the time, had never made it on a record. I can always make more copies here but I usually only make them for tours.

MM: They are still available sporadically through Fusetron and at our merch table when we are on tour.

VTD: Mark, do you own a grandfather clock? See, "Brought a Grandfather Clock" has become one of my favorite Sightings songs, so much so that it's the first track on my current morning exercise iPod playlist. And it struck me, that titular phrase, as a killer line of throwaway dialogue for a low-budget slasher flick, for a scene before the bloodshed begins. Like, people are showing up at a house party and the guy manning the door is asking arriving guests what they have to share. One girl's got Mike's Hard Lemonade of Boone's Farm or whatever, one dude brought scotch, one dude brought weed, and then there's some dude who says, totally deadpan, "brought a grandfather clock."

MM: I can't remember what this song is about. Actually, it was probably about nothing.

VTD: What's the best album you've heard in the last, say, 72 hours that you really think I should buy?

RM: Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire.

JL: Cluster, "Sowiesoso" - just reissued on vinyl

MM: Mask of the Imperial Family "s/t" no longer available but can be downloaded from Mutant Sounds.

VTD: What's up next for Sightings? New album? A tour? Amused inner-band discussion of how inane my interview questions were?

RH: We're trying to figure out how to go back to the studio. Records cost money to make. Or we're trying to decide if another 4-track record a la End Times--which costs almost nothing to make--is something we're interested in. We're definitely due for a record, and we think our best is yet to come.

MM: At least you didn't ask what our favorite colors are.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

150 WORDS OR LESS REVIEW: The Vivian Girls "The Vivian Girls" [In the Red, 2008]



22-year old Ray couldn't have gotten enough of NYC's Vivian Girls; he'd have been smitten panting dumb by the groundhog tunnel-level production non-values, the smash/bash/dash song lengths, the hit-and-run songwriting, the love-sick twee vibe, the players' gleefully fake nicknames (cf. "Kickball Katty"). But 31-year old Ray - who's less wowed by an aesthetic that's been overdone, and would maintain that said nicknames should imply a greater sense of threat, i.e., like a Red Aunts degree of torrential malice - would just as soon send his Vivian Girls promo to 22-year old Ray via space-time continuum FedEx overnite than play the thing again anytime soon. He'll admit a soft spot for "No," because it's just 83 wild-out seconds of the Girls going "No no no, no no no!" No!

FROM PTW, 8/15/08: Restiform Bodies, “Bobby Trendy Addendum”

It’s been a little over a month since PaperThinWalls ceased to exist. The site is still up, but given that there’s no telling how long it’ll be there – and in the interests of personal posterity – I’ve taken the liberty of copying every article I wrote; I’ll be posting ‘em all here, bit by bit.

RESTIFORM BODIES - “Bobby Trendy Addendum”
from TV Loves You Back (Anticon)
Hip-Hop // Out Now


Remember flamboyant, antagonistic fashion designer/interior decorator Bobby Trendy from The Anna Nicole Smith Show? Restiform Bodies—the Anticon second-stringer supergroup of Passage, Now, Bomaar Monk and Telephone Jim Jesus—are reuniting and are resurrecting him, too, on “Bobby Trendy Addendum.” But they could just as easily be raking any number of other bitchy celebs or quasi-celebs over the coals here. In other words, if Bobby Trendy didn’t exist, they might’ve just as easily invented him. The ear-teasing Noah’s Arcade-on-fire electro-noise crunch of “Bobby Trendy Addendum” is pure pop-cult concept, overwhelming Information Age bombast as constructed reality. The song sounds like living today feels: too much, too fast, too loud, too bright, nothing making any definite sense—but like watching Anna Nicole, it’s guilty-pleasure, button-slamming fun, you know? It’s excitement in excess. Bars are jammed together, independent of one another, so that Passage’s narrative comes off like a provocative string of ideas and exclamation points more than anything else. “Apple of my mother’s eye, even if they convict,” he spits—bitterly and blithely and carelessly, all at once—before all logic gets gone and you just grab onto whatever scraps of language you can in the advert-jingle flood of splintered images: “Most oblivious, neurotic,” “smash my maths,” “juicy, delicious,” “appetites lashed to the hood of the Bentley,” “charm a snake, weave a basket,” some buckshot-blasted bullshit about Joan and Melissa Rivers. Overthink at your peril. Just hold tight to your swivel chairs, enjoy the ride, and regard the experience as the musical equivalent of the Internet/nightly news/ celebrity-factoid shuffle we're all pretty much caught up in.

Restiform Bodies’ David “Passage” Bryant on “Bobby Trendy Addendum”

Is the title character a strawman for American pop-culture avarice?

I didn’t intend to paint him personally as an icon of greed, avarice or anything exactly—certainly not anything negative, if that’s what you mean by “strawman.” I wanted to beam a signal off peripheral, absurd characters on the D-list, hoping it might bounce off them and hit us in the retinas. I was saying I feel like Joan Rivers on the red carpet, digesting entertainment and shitting out celebrity caricatures. You’re supposed to want to be them, but you hate them or you don’t give a fuck, but you want to be something you’re not, or can’t have. Bobby Trendy and Joan and Melissa Rivers seemed like perfect personalities to channel that through. I think it plays as funny satire.

Can you envision a future in which expensive automobiles are no longer presented as chart-rap status symbols. Like due to sky-high gas prices, everyone's rhyming about tricked-out Vespas?

Sure, absolutely. Jay-Z has the Euro taking over for the dollar, why not the Vespas? The Cool Kids give bike culture a nod with “Black Mags,” which is almost as huge as “Throw Some D’s,” at this point and cooler all around in my book. That’s where I have to hope it’s all going. Nas is calling out Fox News on Stephen Colbert. I think everybody can look forward to big change for our culture. I am not into causes and such—no pictures of Mao for this dude—but a Hummer in a video is the same as Pyrex measuring cups in your inlay. It’s insult-to-injury. Our record seems a lot like an indictment in some spots—which could be construed as insult-to-injury, too—but I hope it’s not received as rubbing the problem in. All the information on TV Loves You Back is stuff I’m trying to make peace with as a person, and that I think we all have to make peace with as a society. And you know artists have to be feeling a little ridiculous with all the car shit by now. Big old Caddy and shelling out all that dough to fill it? That's starting to hurt; no matter who you are, it’s just dumb. Bikes, Vespas, all that is smaller, more agile and creative, that’s the shit I want to see.

Do you watch much television?

Yes, I watch a lot of TV. I try not to, but when I want to shut my mind off or get inspired by the media, TV is my go-to device. I watch Comedy Central a lot and E! I love The Office and 30 Rock, but don't get to see them much. My guiltiest pleasure might be Intervention, though. I was all about Shooting Sizemore, but I guess that got too fucked up to be on TV or something because it disappeared. Good TV exists, but bad TV is usually better. - RAYMOND CUMMINGS Friday, August 15th, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

MP3: Joan Didion on the 2008 Election

Worth a listen, and dryly eloquent as always. I hope she'll write more about our soon-to-be-former president and this election, and soon.

Friday, October 03, 2008

LORD, I SURE HOPE SO - FOR ALL OUR SAKES


"How now, America?" - A Voguing to Danzig Real Talk Exclusive



As a voting public, the United States of America occasionally gets it right. We rightly crowned David Cook and Jordan Sparks as American Idols. Of course, we also elected George W. Bush to the presidency twice, though that could be disputed endlessly. Point is, we can be counted on to get the ballot-casting shit right - sometimes.


So, America, real talk, and please heed me here: fuck folksiness in politics when it masks a lack of basic competence. Fuck down-home, aw-shucks bullshit in politics when it's a smokescreen for idiocy. Fuck that. This is 2008. We're coming off of nightmarish eight years led by an imbecile president. Tick off the abominations with me: Hurricane Katrina, Iraq War, Plamegate, extraordinary renditions, violation of civil liberties, weak-sauce responses to the South Asian tsunami and any number of other international calamities, blown-off subpoenas, slashing of environmental regulations, Don Rumsfeld in general, Alberto Gonzales and U.S. attornies fired for political reasons, Swift-Boat tactics, blithely stolen elections, deficits ratcheted to alarm-bell levels, our present economic catastrope, and lots of other shit I'm forgetting right now because I'm tired and hungry and it's Friday afternoon.


Fuck folksiness. I'm sure that Sarah Palin is a good person, but she doesn't belong anywhere near the Ultimate Seat of Power; as far as I'm concerned, she's already too goddamn close. If you've been awake the last month or so and watched the vice presidential debate last night, you understand what I'm saying. John McCain's a dangerous enough potential chief executive, but were he elected in November, and were he to drop dead, we'd be in even more dire straits in Palin's hands. It shakes me to my core to realized that the possibilty - even the very hint of a possibility - exists that America might vote these lunatics in. Confidence is a trap. History backs that up. John Kerry had it locked up, we thought, in 2004; he won his debates. But the electorate bought it hook, line, and sinker.


Will the majority of registered, voting age Americans allow themselves to be conned again? Will underlying racism, "just-folks" pandering, and outright lies win the day and plunge us over the abyss? Let's head that likelihood off at the pass. Let's vote on Election Day. Let's make sure that every Democrat we know does the same. Let's donate. Let's light up the internet. Let's fight for truth, for justice, for a president who's on our side. I'm not going to turn this rant into a Barack Obama advert; that'll come in a week or two. But if you're buying the McCain/Palin maverick doctrine, and if you're buying their change rhetoric, there's no nice way to say that you're a sucker. Don't be a sucker.

LIGHT UP YR CIGAR, HOLLIS HAWKINS IS IN THE HOUSE


HOLLIS HAWKINS - 7lbs, 14oz - arrived at 12:12pm on Oct 1, mother and baby are in good health

A bit late posting this! Congratulations to Thom and Linda for bringing American another foot soldier in the war on Communism! God knows, we need the manpower.

THE FRIDAY INTERVIEW: BEN GOLDBERG

"The Friday Interview" is a new feature in which I interview someone I know - well or even just slightly well or maybe even not really well - about stuff via email, then post the interview here. The aim is to be informative, entertaining, and to further my goal of taking over the world or becoming rich and famous - whichever comes first. Enjoy!

Voguing to Danzig: We first met - in the non-physical sense of that phrase - back in 1997, when I sent Matador a zine slating that GBV/Cobra Verde album, and you sent me a promo for Helium's The Magic City. Then you left Matador to do promo for The Leaf Label, right?

Ben Goldberg: Yup. I worked at Matador from 1998-2004, then left to run the U.S. operations for The Leaf Label. Your zine was really funny, and our rules for sending promos to people were mostly based around if what we read made us laugh. So you easily got added to the list.

Tell me about how Ba Da Bing! came about. And I must admit - every time I see or think about that name I get a glowering mental image of Tony Soprano. You handle Leaf simultaneously, don't you?

Just for the record, I started the label in 1994, before The Sopranos (existed). I was a senior in college, and I formed a band with the main goal of being able to put out a 7" of my own music. After that, and doing a friend's band, I put together a compilation. I pretty much had the goal from the start to do a regular label. I had interned at Matador and was just excited to be around records and figuring out how they got made and marketed. And yeah, I oversee Leaf US operations, do Ba Da Bing, and manage a few bands - Beirut, Damon & Naomi, and Shearwater.

How'd you wind up signing the Dead C.?

Jon Dale did this great article on them in Signal To Noise a few years ago. In it, they said they didn't have anybody to release their new record. Through a friend, I sent them an email, and they replied saying they were planning on releasing the album themselves, but were giving thought to a retrospective release. I ended up doing that with them, and it went so well, they offered me their next release. Getting to work with a band like that, and getting to visit New Zealand and actually stay with them and meet their families....it's been a pretty mind-blowing year.

About how many releases does Ba Da Bing! put out annually?

Usually six to eight. I've done more and it's gotten hella busy. I've done less and have been twiddling my thumbs. Luckily, it seems to work out with the bands I work with that their timing on finishing up albums works into this frame nicely.

What kind of commitment is it - in terms of time, resources, money, etc. - to run your own record label? Does it ever seem untenable, especially given the scary state of the economy and illegal downloading?

It's so relatively cheap to put out records. Do it smart, and you really have a low rate of success you need to achieve. Like, to manufacture 1,000 CDs costs about $2,000 all in. So, I get back around $6 from my distributor for every album I sell, so I only need to sell 333.33 copies to break even. Not every record does that, mind you, but it's a lot easier to achieve when people are also using eMusic and iTunes and all that. I try to avoid extra costs - like I rarely advertise, I almost never hire out jobs that I can do myself, and I offer the bands a 50/50 profit split, so it's in their best interests for me to spend as little as possible up front. The economy is in a scary state right now, but luckily, music is cheap. People are going to keep going to the movies, and they're going to keep going to shows - albeit, maybe fewer - but when you're talking about buying a $10 CD or download, it's just not all that much compared to other forms of entertainment. And illegal downloading is inevitable and unavoidable. But it also helps, in that it spreads the word about your bands and lets people hear them. And, weirdly, whenever I've made a mp3 available for free to blogs and websites, it's always those tracks that end up being the most purchased on iTunes and eMusic. That's strange economic logic, but it tells me that the more people know about something, the more it will sell, even if a lot of those people are getting it for free. There's got to be somebody with an economic scale they can create of this somehow. I have no idea what it would look like. The only bummer of late has been how difficult it is to get coverage for bands. Beirut, Dead C, that's no problem, but for releases I've put out by bands which aren't either huge or hugely influential, and I find it harder than ever to get anybody to pay attention to them. I think there's a full-capacity point right now with bands people like to cover. Blogs/websites needed to get their own bands to write about, so while they would still cover Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth, they also adopted groups like Sufjan Stevens and Cold War Kids as being the bands unique to their presentation. Now, the canon of Bands You Must Cover has grown so large, new bands aren't getting written about as much as they used to be, just a couple years ago, because all the space is being taken up by the reigning kings and queens. I find it a bummer just as a music fan, since I'm hearing more new bands these days from friends and accidental MySpace discoveries than from websites I really enjoy reading. It could always be that I just have Old Man Taste at this point - that's actually extremely possible.

Artists on your label aside, what're some of your favorite bands, records, and genres? Are you a noise fan? I'm thinking of the CD sticker for Erudite, Vain, and Stupid, where you sort of make an entreaty to Dead C. newbies by throwing a couple noise heavies out there...

I've tried to put out anything that strikes my fancy, irregardless of music genre, but I still have yet to find (1) a metal band I like as much as Slayer, (2) an avant-pop band I like as much as Talk Talk (luckily, I get to work with Shearwater by managing them), (3) a Krautrock band I like as much as Can, or (4) a folk singer I like as much as Jackson C Frank. Luckily, I found a noise band I like as much as The Dead C (and, honestly, working with them has been a complete highlight of doing the label, on par with getting to work with Damon & Naomi. The 22 year old me would find the 35 year old me incredibly cool, and that's always been my main goal, to impress the younger me.

You used to be in a band yourself, right? Cash Money, maybe? I'm blanking on the name at the moment...

You're thinking of the estimable Scott Giampino who used to work at Touch & Go. Cash $$$ was a real band, mine was a band that put out a seven inch and played about four shows - Salteen. We did a killer Bedhead cover, though. That seven-inch was the first Ba Da Bing release, actually.

If you had it all to do over again, would you do it the same way?

Wow, never been asked this...Um...you know...yeah. I don't regret one record I've released. I like them all, and even if sometimes things have gotten dramatic with the bands involved, I always grew from the experience. And I hate those people who give advice to someone wanting to go into their business by saying, "Don't!" Nah, do. Form a label, put out records, do it ethically, smartly and work hard, and you'll be successful.

YOU'RE MY HERO, JOE BIDEN

The entire transcript from the VP debate can be found here, but my favorite exchange is below. The difference between these two closing statements is striking, and telling.

IFILL: Gov. Palin, you get the chance to make the first closing statement.

PALIN: Well, again, Gwen, I do want to thank you and the commission. This is such an honor for me.


And I appreciate, too, Sen. Biden, getting to meet you, finally, also, and getting to debate with you. And I would like more opportunity for this.

I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard. I’d rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did.

And it’s so important that the American people know of the choices that they have on November 4th.

I want to assure you that John McCain and I, we’re going to fight for America. We’re going to fight for the middle-class, average, everyday American family like mine.
I’ve been there. I know what the hurts are. I know what the challenges are. And, thank God, I know what the joys are, too, of living in America. We are so blessed. And I’ve always been proud to be an American. And so has John McCain.

We have to fight for our freedoms, also, economic and our national security freedoms.

It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.
We will fight for it, and there is only one man in this race who has really ever fought for you, and that’s Sen. John McCain.

IFILL: Thank you, Governor. Sen. Biden.

BIDEN: Gwen, thank you for doing this, and the commission, and Governor, it really was a pleasure getting to meet you.

Look, folks, this is the most important election you’ve ever voted in your entire life. No one can deny that the last eight years, we’ve been dug into a very deep hole here at home with regard to our economy, and abroad in terms of our credibility. And there’s a need for fundamental change in our economic philosophy, as well as our foreign policy.

And Barack Obama and I don’t measure progress toward that change based on whether or not we cut more regulations and how well CEOs are doing, or giving another $4 billion in tax breaks to the Exxon Mobils of the world.

We measure progress in America based on whether or not someone can pay their mortgage, whether or not they can send their kid to college, whether or not they’re able to, when they send their child, like we have abroad — or I’m about to, abroad — and John has as well, I might add — to fight, that they are the best equipped and they have everything they need. And when they come home, they’re guaranteed that they have the best health care and the best education possible.

You know, in the neighborhood I grew up in, it was all about dignity and respect. A neighborhood like most of you grew up in. And in that neighborhood, it was filled with women and men, mothers and fathers who taught their children if they believed in themselves, if they were honest, if they worked hard, if they loved their country, they could accomplish anything. We believed it, and we did.

That’s why Barack Obama and I are running, to re-establish that certitude in our neighborhoods.

Ladies and gentlemen, my dad used to have an expression. He’d say, “champ, when you get knocked down, get up.”

Well, it’s time for America to get up together. America’s ready, you’re ready, I’m ready, and Barack Obama is ready to be the next president of the United States of America.

May God bless all of you, and most of all, for both of us, selfishly, may God protect our troops.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Plain White T's review

From Clevescene:

The Plain White T's
Big Bad World
(Fearless/Hollywood)


Since the runaway success of 2006's coffeeshop-acoustic single "Hey There Delilah," making the case that Plain White T's frontman Tom Higgenson is anything other than a sensitive, nice-dude wuss can be a tough sell. After all, pop-punk lite tunes about mooning over chick crushes are his specialty; check the rest of 2006's Every Second Counts for the softee-imitation Green Day/Weezer/Jimmy Eat Word evidence. "Delilah" was a lucky aberration for the Plain White T's, a fluke that finally made the public-at-large pay attention - a lot like Sugar Ray's 1997 smash "Fly" in context of that band's early gross-out metal.

So Big Bad World, naturally, panders predictably, while positing Higgenson as a fame-drunk cad who's fending off that dastardly playa impulse when he isn't dispensing romantic or motivational boilerplate. "Someday we'll all reach higher/Someday we won't be so tired/Someday we won't say never," he generalizes emptily on "Someday," which purports, in its polyharmonic soar and dewy, mid-tempo sweep, to be an "Imagine"/"I'd Like to Teach the World" admixture for 2008. Worse still, the band transmorphs into a latter-day Monkees for "That Girl," pissing ecstatic onamonapia all over sunny-side chordage in service of a kicky li'l number about love - and orgasms - at first sight. While the cloyingly chipper title track encourages us to keep plugging away at overcoming our chronic mistakes, Maroon 5 rip-off "Natural Disaster" waxes mindless-tryst celebratory. Then Higgenson is genuflecting waist-deep in orchestra-pit musical-theatre cheese, begging God to forgive him for a "Serious Mistake," a weak, insincere stab at a template Say Anything would've nailed with verve, sass and wit to spare. Suddenly, "Delilah" no longer seems so intolerably banal. - Ray Cummings

Things I Learned Watching "Grandma's Boy"




You know, the creators of this thing could've easily ditched the main plot points - the deadline for the big video game release, Linda Cardinelli-as-lust-object, Grandma and her effed-up housemates - and Grandma's Boy could've actually been funnier. Seriously, two aimless hours or so of game tester geek-boys challenging each other to joystick duels, getting high, and being totally baffled by Kevin Nealon's vapid CEO pep talks would've ruled in a kidulted-The Office sort of way.


Memo to Nealon: Steve Martin kinda sonned you twelve ways from Sunday two years later with his uber-smug CEO routine in Baby Mama, didn't he? But you probably don't care. A paycheck's a paycheck, right? Right, Doris Roberts?


Compare the Allen Covert of, say, The Wedding Singer with the Allen Covert of Grandma's Boy and it's clear that this guy has wasted his career being a minnow in a bigger star's Perrier-filled pond - he is to Adam Sandler what Jason Mewes is to Kevin Smith. To visit Covert's wikipedia page is to behold lowbrow comedic promise sadly unfulfilled; we won't even get into all the residual Saturday Night Live schlock he's helped enable. I don't care if dude did co-write The Benchwarmers; The Benchwarmers is even less watchable than Grandma's Boy! What the fuck, Allen Covert? Two words, bro: Steve Buscemi.


Dear Peter Dante, so adept at portraying total dim-bulb losers: the above goes double for you, bub. I mean, you're 40 now. 40!


Getting back to Nealon for a minute, you know, I've never watched an episode of Weeds and probably never will so I'm not sure if he's being used well there, but I wish Kevin could find a starring role in a big-time comedy to match his so subtle-there's-almost-no-pulse funnyman's gifts. His SNL career and stand-up work make clear that his is a dry comedic aesthetic suited to specialized projects. Directors like Todd Solondz should be all up in Nealon's grill like last year, and I can't figure out why they aren't.


That whole bit where Joel Moore's evil video-game designer thinks he's Neo from The Matrix? Funny for exactly five minutes, insufferable thereafter.


Grandma needed a third wacky elderly lady roommate, thus setting up some super-after-the-fact Golden Girls gags. Hmmm. Maybe not.


Dunno if it's my general disgust at the last couple seasons of ER talking or what, but Linda Cardinelli really needs to be restricted to second- or third- tier roles in funny movies or TV shows. Note: the Scooby-Doo movies were about as funny as a hernia.


The best scene in Grandma's Boy had to be the one where Nick Swardson is challenged to some sort of Dance Dance Revolution death match and feigns ignorance about how to play the game until his turn comes around, and he just totally kills it. This guy's gonna be on SNL someday. Just wait. I'm not entirely sure that's the best aspiration for an up-and-comer; I'm not entirely sure I just conferred Swardson a compliment.


Side note, totally unrelated: SNL is kind of awesome so far this year. The new and new-ish cast members are totally on fire, the writing staff's getting it up at least half the time, Darrell Hammond's earning his keep, etc. Which more than makes up for the fact that Michael Phelps is a horrible actor (James Franco's not much better, to be fair) and Lil Wayne's nutjob-MC M.O. translates abysmally on live national television. Also: Kings of Leon have convinced me that their last kind of bloodless album was a fluke and I should get onboard their train. More on nu-SNL in a future post, maybe.


Do not under any circumstances rent or buy this D-movie. Just watch bits and pieces of it on cable when you aren't actively watching something else - a baseball game, a Law & Order re-run, or maybe DVR'd TNA Impact - like I did.