Tuesday, September 28, 2010



As we were putting the final touches on Assembling the Lord, I began to wonder about the bounds of my ambitions. Excavating old prose and hammering out new verses felt, well, inspiring: after years away, I was a poet again. And as 2008 wound down, I resolved that 2009 would be devoted to another book of poetry. It’s title would be Stay Local, and therein I’d explore themes related - loosely and directly - to sustainability and entropy in my off-kilter lyrical voice, that boom-lowering sense in recent years of all things social and economic and personal drawing back for the sake of survival. Farmer’s markets over grocery chains, local bands over national pop heroes, etc. This felt like a capital idea, and one of the first poems I wrote for this collection is actually titled “Stay Local.” Then the downturn hit, and life soured, and the focus shifted further afield to fear, to dread, to discontent - and Stay Local became Crucial Sprawl, at first after the closing line of “The New Austerity” and later after a poem titled “Crucial Sprawl.” So consider this book a catalogue of apprehensions - everything falling apart without the benefits (usually) of rhyme - but be prepared for moments of tenderness and humor and wit, paeans to loved ones, cynical chortles, splashes of gruesome color. It’s the diary of an interesting year, one in which it seemed that I was perpetually on the verge of losing everything.

Go here to read some excerpts and/or buy a copy, if you're into that kinda thing.

NUTSHELLED: "Halcyon Digest"

Having graduated, by degrees, from conjuring seismic moods to writing proper songs, Halcyon Digest finds Deerhunter strip-mining new aural territory and tap-dancing along the fault line separating structure from abstraction. Opener “Earthquake” lowers a looping trio of sounds - a snare trill, a struck match, a tape-nose swipe - into a deep sonic chasm where legions of web-like guitars, seltzer-water sound effects, and dissolving vocals dominate. The persnickety synthesizer scaffolding erected early on in “He Would Have Laughed” loosens into a kaleidoscopic infinity, while there‘s just enough of a suggestion of melody in “Sailing” for the wispy, feather-light ode to not-so-lonely loneliness to register in memory. “Coronado” injects jaunty jangle-pop with saxophone honks - a surprisingly satisfying first for this Atlanta foursome. In this context, Digest’s more conventional fare - Beatles-esque mash-note-to-younger-self “Don’t Cry,” spectral, perpetually reverberating “Basement Scene” - feels, curiously, out of place. B

Recent Kanye, ranked.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ha! I just realized what the splashing piano hooks in Kanye & Co's "Good Friday" are reminding me of: Biz Markie's immortal "Just a Friend."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Get your hot Crucial Sprawl samples, here.

Dropping the first week of October.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"I'm doing this job/project/reality show competition for my kids" = "I'm actually a total narcissist"
"We/they really like you as a person, but..." = "...you'd better be prepared to hustle your ass on the street for some time long, because we/they will not employ you"
Everything happens for a reason.


Monday, September 20, 2010

God, why do you hate me? Why do you hate my family?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To clarify: possibly.
So unless I was hallucinating I think I just had my first encounter with a Texas scorpion. Neeko and I were nearing the mid-point of our walk this morning, this sort of circular court that borders a distressed, semi-chic concrete wall, and beyond that there's a rolling hill, then a lake, and I happened to look down and see this crustacaen scuttling along like la-de-dah, and I stopped and looked at him, and he paused as though he was regarding me with some concern, and I tried to figure out what he was, and at first I thought maybe some kid had thrown his pet lobster outside, or maybe it was a crawfish, but very suddenly I realized what I was looking at and we got the fuck outta there.

Monday, September 13, 2010


There’s a day-glo, cartoonish ennui to Sebastian Blanck’s photo-realistic art; the native Baltimorean’s images feel pastorally representational, removed from precepts of everyday  actuality, like random stills plucked from Richard Linklaker’s film Waking Life. In sharp contrast to the abrasive, confrontational hardcore Blanck made as an early member of Black Dice, solo debut Alibi Coast (Rare Book Room), packs a punch similar to his gallery-ready canvases: gauzy, soft-focus melodies, strings-section mists, laconic chord progressions, and verses where syllables are routinely stretched like bungee chords. The album - which owes stylistic debts to maudlin, 60s/70s navel-gazing troubadors like Gilbert O’Sullivan, Simon & Garfunkel, and Harry Chapin - starts off with lead single “I Blame Baltimore.” Over incisive acoustic strum and evocative auroral pianos, Blanck’s rich, quavering baritone sets a scene of estrangement that begs the question: what’s Baltimore got to do with it? So in a late July email interview, we asked him.

Voguing to Danzig: “I Blame Baltimore” seems to be one of those songs that references a place in the title but not in the lyrics in a direct way, so the connection has to be personal. What’s the song about? Why blame Baltimore?

Sebastian Blanck: I grew up in Baltimore, and I wanted to pay tribute to my hometown. I  think it’s amazing how much setting can inform a story. I like the baggage that naming a city can give to a song. Baltimore has so much character; it certainly had a huge effect on how I see the world. I guess that’s what I really blame Baltimore for.

VtD: Can you tell me about the “I Blame Baltimore” video? It kind of reminds me, in a way, of Smashing Pumpkins’ clip for “Rocket.“ The idea of climbing into a rocket ship and leaving Earth and everything you know and everyone you love behind is a heavy one, sort of the ultimate in loneliness - it really underlines that message that “Baltimore” seems to project: that separation really hurts. Who came up with the concept, and where was it shot?

SB: I’m a huge science fiction fan; so is Ben Syverson, who directed the video. Ben came up with the original concept, and we sorted out the story together. We liked the idea of making a video for a road song and really exaggerating the distance that was traveled. Ben did all the CG effects himself. I was thrilled about the idea of going to space - even if it is just for a couple of minutes. The final shot of my wife Isca walking as I parachute down was shot at our house in upstate New York. I imagine that floating through space and seeing Earth from above must be the most incredible thing that anyone has ever seen. It  probably is lonely, but I imagine it is a magnificent, peaceful, and magical type of loneliness.

VtD: From what I understand, you’re an accomplished visual artist; Alibi Coast is your debut album. How did this album come together, and what were you inspired by? What’s the significance of the title?

SB: I have been showing and selling paintings since 2001. After a few years I hit a crisis point in my work. I felt completely blocked and  unsure of what to work on. I started writing songs in my studio instead of trying to think of what to paint. I was introduced to Jorge Elbrecht, of the band Violens (link: http://www.myspace.com/violens), and we started recording some of my  songs at his place.

Then, in 2007, my brother Toby died in a drowning accident. Alibi Coast was written in reaction to his death and my son Hudson's birth that same year. It was a very confusing time. I would  be giggling with my wife and new born baby one minute, and we would  all be crying the next. I felt compelled to try and understand what happened to him by writing about it.

The circumstances of Toby's death were kept from my family and me, so it was a way to piece together some narrative of what happened. The album doesn't have a  clear story line, but through writing the songs, I was able to picture him in the last few months of his life. It’s nothing more than a declaration of love for him. Alibi Coast basically means that distance is the best cover.

VtD: The songs on this album are really gentle and tender; in a way, they feel like diary entries or fragile menagerie pieces - things to treasure and keep safe. How has it felt for you to perform these songs before audiences?

SB: Since many of these songs are about the death of my brother it can be very difficult to sing them at times. However, there is something wonderful about performing music and playing with a band that can transform words of sadness into something positive - especially when other people identify with it. It lets you know that you’re not alone.

VtD: You were in an early lineup of Black Dice; do you keep in touch with those guys? Have you heard their last couple of albums?

SB: I do keep in touch with all the members of Black Dice, past and present; I just saw the Dice play a show in Brooklyn about a week ago. It was amazing and very different from their last album (2009‘s Repo). I think the music is taking a surprising direction; there seemed to be a lot more emphasis on singing which I thought was great. Hisham Bharoocha, who is now writes and performs as Soft Circle (link: http://www.myspace.com/softcircle), actually plays drums on my track "Answers"; I was trying to finish off the drum part and thought it would be fun to hang out. It was the first recording we worked on together in 10 or 11 years.

VtD: Are the Rare Book Room Records offices actually full of rare books?

SB: Rare Book Room's offices are filled with records and CDs. The RBR studio does have tons of old books and magazines in it; I think [producer/label head] Nicolas [Vernhes] was a philosophy major in college. I always end up looking at old issues of MOJO magazine when I’m there.

Alibi Coast is out now on Rare Book Room Records.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Voguing to Danzig: How and when did Rangda come to be?

Ben Chasny: We all have played shows with each other so it just seemed natural. We all liked each other's music.

VtD: The back cover of the CD case for False Flag has a very vintage look; it reminds me of classic concert LP covers. Is packaging, the way a recording looks, significant to you in terms of presenting yourselves to the world?

BC: We used that picture because it was the only one we had of us together, really. The whole thing came together pretty fast.

VtD: Tell me about how you decided on the cover art for the album, by Steve Quenell. It’s got a sort of brutal, visceral vibe to it that matches the music’s intensity and volatility - sort of a bouquet of Venus fly traps crossed with the “I’ll never be hungry again” scene from Gone With The Wind.
BC: That is actually a picture of a bug that is buried upside down in the ground with the legs sticking out of the ground. Steve has doen many covers for Six Organs so we thought he'd be the man for the job. As to why eh decided to use a bug buried in the ground, who knows. Maybe it was a play on the black flag roach killing spray? I never asked him!

VtD: As a name, “Rangda” carries a lot of mythical weight and power. What led you to chose it as the name of your band?

BC: Every other band name we came up with was used, like Led Zep, Avengers, etc.

VtD: Improvisation played a large part in the creation of False Flag. In a live setting, are you playing the songs you’ve written, or do you make time for off-the-cuff jams?
BC: We don't have any songs that are pure free improv. Everything is written to a certain degree, though some songs are much more structured. Some are more open to improv, but mostly they all have they're structure.

VtD: What is a “false flag”?

BC: It's a covert operations deal.

VtD: Each of you have very strong, very distinct musical personalities. To me, Rangda’s material is at its strongest when there’s a bit of a clash, a bit of chaffing; I’m thinking, specifically, of “Fist Family.” What were the rehearsals and conceptual sessions for False Flag like?

BC: Everyone sort of had their own songs and ideas and we all just worked on it all together. Fist Family was conceived of by Chris and we just went right into it. I think that one was a pretty smooth writing process. I don't know; the band has really gotten together pretty well, and we all like each other's ideas.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Happy fourth birthday, Nodin Ray Cummings! Our house looks "like Spongebob Squarepants puked all over it," in Alecia's words, but it's totally worth it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Finally! Some promising interviews. Some potential. A chance that maybe we won't go broke deep in the heart of Texas.

NUTSHELLED: "Things We Didn't See Coming"

Sort of a Y2K-era Invisible Man, at least in the sense that the protagonist is continually reinvented (and repeatedly baptized by metaphorical napalm) while remaining essentially - at his well-meaning core - the same person. The author's gambit is revisionist future-fic - turns out the Y2K bug was real, after all - and he sends his narrator out into the unforgiving, ravaged United States, checking on his progress every few years. (Readers of James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand who wished Kunstler had shed some light on the fate of Robert Earl's absent, gone-to-make-his-way-in-a-fallen-world son may find some satisfaction here.) Every glimpse manages to be more harrowing than the last was. First he's a nine-year old, fleeing the city for the country on New Year's Eve, 1999. Then he's a teenaged thief, then a government employee tasked with clearing civilians from flood-zones, later a serially bamboozled cuckold, later a licensed embezzler.  (To say more would spoil things.) Amsterdam has a deft lightness of touch that prevents Things from straying into The Road/Mad Max morbidity, even though in some ways this book is a more horrific because the narrator allows himself a belief in the greater good and in the potential goodness of others. For all the ecological wreckage, relentless disease, and infrastructural rot on damning offer here, the lack of humanity is what lingers in memory; our hero almost would have been better off as the last man standing. Haunting. A+