Hear me wax poetic (or pathetic) about music, etc.

Saturday, January 6, 2007


So I have two things to post about today. First, I've been promising to post the tracklist from the first IMP mix I received.

My first mix came to me from Lauren in NYC. Thanks, Lauren. I have mixed feelings about this mix for a number of reasons. One, I felt that my mixer could have been a bit more creative in packaging the CD. I know that cover art, etc. is not an IMP requirement, but I just think it adds so much to the end product. I recently encouraged a new acquaintance to join, and she is a damn fine artist, who I am sure will be putting quite a bit of effort into both the musical and design aspects of her mixes. Whoever receives a mix from Claire can count themselves lucky.

My mix, on the other hand, came to me in the original CD-R case, with all packaging intact. It is one of those nifty vinyl CD-R's, though. She did include a hand written track list, as well as a personal note explaining her method for selecting the songs on the mix, offering some insight into the way she incorporates music into her life, and the way her musical choices are informed
by her invironment. That was interesting, at least. Essentially, her deal is musical cyclicality; that is, she listens to different types of music depending on the season. This, a fall\winter mix, did effectively bring to mind breezy autumns with the leaves changing colors, giving way to blustery winters.

The songs fit her description, if it is a little bit hit-me-in-the-head to include two songs by The Decemberists. Oh, well. I appreciate getting a mix, as I've heard stories of some members going months without actually receiving a mix at all. Well, before I say any more, here is the track list:

I Want to Hold Your Hand/Al Green

Three More Days/Ray LaMontagne

Extraordinary Machine/Fiona Apple

The Crane Wife 3/The Decemberists

Star Bodies/The New Pornographers

The Commander Thinks Aloud/The Long Winters

She Really Wants You/Aimee Mann

Streets of Fire/The New Pornographers

Yankee Bayonet/The Decemberists

Where Did I Go Wrong/Martin Sexton

Work it Out/Jurassic 5

To me, the most exciting possibility of the IMP is being introduced to new music on a fairly regular basis. Unfortunately for me, I'v heard most of these songs/artists many times before. That problem is compounded by the fact that, at least after the first 4-5 listens, I don't really like the stuff with which I was previously unfamiliar. Oh well. Here are my thoughts.

Al Green: How can you NOT dig that voice? Unfortunately, the arrangement sounds like it was done for the mediocre High School marching band brass section that apparently accompanies Mr. Green. Definitely not awe inspiring

The Band: I love Music From Big Pink. Toe tapping, head nodding r&b. Consummate song writing and musicianship. I absolutely love the quasi ragtime piano fills that run throughout the song, most notably before the last two verses. So much soul from a bunch of white Canadian guys! This song easily provides the culminating moment of this mixtape. I have since dragged out my copy of Big Pink, and listened to it several dozen times over the past month. Thanks, Lauren, for reminding me of the brilliance that happens when a bunch of great musicians get together and make completely unpretentious, hipster aspiration-less, completely straitforward songs of superb crafsmanship. Readers, if you haven't heard this record - shame on you. This song is the only one I felt worthy of an MP3 post. Do listen.

Ray LaMontagne: Competent, if unispired, soul-ish music from a man who draws inspiration from Stephen Stills, and has been compared to Van Morrison and Nick Drake, both of whom are favorites of mine. He lacks the vocal charm and warmth of Morrison, to say the least, and his arrangement here is a rather wrote affair, not at all like the subtle and soothingly melancholy tones Nick Drake crafted. I'd listen to it again, but it won't become a mainstay.

Fiona Apple: This one actually took me by surprise. It may sound small minded, but I basically wrote her off when she pulled that "When the pawn. . ." bullshit album title out of her ass. I didn't expect this. For some reason, I had her pegged as an Alanis Morissette twin. More like an Erin Mckeown or a 1920's chanteuse. Not bad, really.

Decemberists: The Jury is still out on these guys. I can't decide whether I enjoy their penchant for antiquated subject matter and diction, or if I find it annoyingly pretentious. I like some of their arrangements, though I do wonder what's up with all the military motifs. I did come to a conclusion about what it is I do like about them. I like the unabashed romanticism.

The New Pornographers: They are always a favorite. Currently, the NP and The Shins are the two bands crafting what are, to me, perfect pop songs. I'm a sucker for a good pop song. I love the harmonies that work out between the idiosyncratic voices of A.C. Newman and Neko Case. These two songs disappoint on only one level: I am used to better use of time signatures and interesting rhythms from Newman and friends. These are more standard than most of their songs that I really like. I do, however, love the opening line from "Streets." I have no idea what it means, I just love the feel of the words - like the poetry of Galway Kinnell. I also love the subtle sensuality of the first part of the chorus - "lick my lips, twist my hips." I don't know why, but that line, from A.C. Newman, comes across as one of the sexiest male-sung vocals for me.

The Long Winters: I keep trying to figure out who this song is a poor rip off of. If you know who I'm thinking of, please let me know. Mostly a forgettable mid-tempo piano riff.

Aimee Mann: I just can't do it. Although I do picture Chrissie Hynde when I hear Mann, so that's good. I could see this song done by Court and Spark era Joni Mitchell to great effect.

Martin Sexton: It sounds like he's off key the whole time. The live vocals are too heavy on the echo. I just felt like he was trying too hard to have soul that he didn't really have.

Electric 6: All I hear is Dave Matthews sitting in with Sublime. I don't like D.M. If I wanted to hear Sublime, I'd pop that in.

So, that's my take on the IMP experience, thus far. Let me know if you think I'm way off base on any of these, and I'll consider giving them another listen. Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

O.K. Part Two

For those of you who don't know me, I work for a major energy company. I basically control power plant operations for 10 power plants across the country, and electrical load into 5 cities in the South East by playing a video game for 12 hours. The best analogy I've come up with is that I am an air traffic controller for electricity. I don't actually run the plants, but I direct their operations, and get them out of trouble when they're having issues. It's a strange world. I work twelve hour shifts, 5:30 - 5:30, switching from night to day shifts every other week. It's given me a much greater appreciation for the power that makes our modern lives possible. Most people don't give it a second thought, and I can't say that I blame them. Next time you wake up to pee at two in the morning, and the light switch does what it's suppossed to, take a moment to think of me.

In order to be allowed to control over 10,000 mw of electricity at any given time, certain governmental and regulatory entities require me to acquire certifications, in an attempt to guarantee that I won't drag down the entire North American Bulk Electric System. One of these entities is the PJM Regional Transmission Organization. This is the entity responsible for ensuring smooth power operation for much of the North Eastern U.S. Back in October, I attended a seminar in Pittsburgh, P.A.
Lovely city. When I returned home, I sat for an intensive certification examination. This certification is required for me to do my job.

Now, I don't exactly have a background in this stuff. Before I started this job 18 months ago, I had worked at the Alabama Theater Bookstop in Houston for about six years. Before that, I worked as an assistant at a custom picture framing gallery. Needless to say, I was a little bit nervous about this exam. After three months, and countless inquiries to the PJM training administrator, I finally received my results on January fifth.


In honor of this occasion, I offer you a selection of songs celebrating that most unrecognized of modern forces - electricity. Without it, well, think about it.

Electricity/Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

From Houston, TX to Leeds, UK

Recently, I signed up to become a member of the International Mixtape Project, or IMP. It is basically a music exchange program that spans about 30 countries. Each month, you are assigned a member to whom you have until the end of that month to send a mixtape (or CD) of your own design. In turn, you will receive a new mix from a different member each month. I have not yet received my first mix, so I can't speak to the quality yet, BUT I am hopeful. They have a MySpace page; you should check it out.

My first IMP mix was going to be based around a concept I read about on Pitchfork a few months ago. It was an article on Meta-Music, which is basically any piece of music that recognizes itself as such and makes reference to its own nature. Rock, of course, is rife with examples of the meta. I intended to open the mix with Joe Strummer screaming "This is a public service announcement! With Guitar!" A fitting opener, I thought. Sort of establishing a conceit running throught the, now Meta, mix.

Alas, I ran out of time to collect and compile enough meta songs to fill out the mix. This is not, mind you, due to a dearth of meta. I was able to find a ton of majorly meta songs, even a few appropriate instrumentals, such as Public Image, Ltd.'s Lou Reed (parts 1 & 2). The problem was availability. I didn't have most of them on any albums, and was hard-pressed to find enough in mp3 form in time to send out the mix. Perhaps I will save the concept for a later date. FYI, local musician friends, I have plans to use some of your stuff on said Meta-mix. Linus Pauling Quartet will be gracing the ears of some lucky international music listener, providing the soothing sounds of Linus Theme.

Due to an inability to get my shit done, I defaulted to a very lazy method of mix-tape creation. The alphabetical survey:

IMP 001/December 2006
Disc One
Eye Shaking King/Amon Duul II
Tokyo/The Books
Guitar Trio/Rhys Chatham
Freak Scene/Dinosaur Jr.
Creature with the Atom Brain/Roky Erickson
Dark End of the Street/Flying Burrito Brothers
Cet air-la/France Gall
Mississippi/Half Japanese
Abominable Snow/Islands
Fly on the Wall/Jesus Lizard
Kashmere/Kashmere Stage Band
Multiply/Jamie Lidell
Aurora Borealis/Meat Puppets

Disc Two
Holland, 1945/Neutral Milk Hotel
Opaque/Powers of Light and Darkness
The Rhino/Quasi
Cigarettes and Coffee/Otis Redding
Cold Blooded Old Times/Smog
Catholic Education/Teenage Fanclub
New Madrid/Uncle Tupelo
Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam/Vaselines
Options R/Wire
Los Angeles/X
Sugarcube/Yo La Tengo
Rafiki/Zap Mama

I'll let you know what response I get, and whether or not the mix I receive is as bone-crushingly awesome as this one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Welcome to the future. Or Japan, anyway.

I recently came across a blog about life in Japan. This blog is dedicated to clearing up many of the mysteries and misunderstandings about the often confusing habits of socially conscious Japanese women. Apparently, Japanese women do not enjoy the thought of other women hearing them urinate. So much so that some enterprising inventor found a lucrative market for THIS. It is far cheaper for building owners to install these little beauties in every stall in the ladies room than it is to pay for the water expended when a pee-shy Japanese woman flushes repeatedly to conceal the sound of her micturition, as if nobody knew what she was doing. My one question is, does it have a volume setting? This little guy might mask the sound of a dainty little Japanese lady letting loose the juice, but how about dropping the kids off at the pool?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Flux Capacitor, anyone?

Today I found myself voicing an odd desire: to NOT have heard the classic Minutemen album, Double Nickles on the Dime. For those of you who don't know who the Minutemen are, and I doubt many reading this blog fall into that category, I would refer you here. This concept still sounds strange, even to me, and I've had all day to think about what I meant.

My first introduction to the Minutemen came, unsurprisingly, from my older brother Zack, the origin of much of my musical taste. He has that most wonderful of gift giving qualities, i.e. the knowledge that the best gift you can give someone is often something you would like to receive, yourself. Well, aside from the Christmas he gave me GI Joe soap, keeping the Snake Eyes it came with for himself. But I digress. For my 18th birthday, way back in the year 2000 (won't it be great when we're all fully grown), he gifted me with the fairly decent K-Tel anthology, Gimme Indie Rock, Vol. 1. In addition to introducing me to the Feelies, one of my favorite bands, and one I feel receives shockingly littel credit or enthusiasm, it contained the track which introduced me to the Minutemen.

A Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing was everything I didn't know I wanted to listen to. It was loud, it was sloppy, it was socially conscious, it was self deprecating. Most of all, it fucking rocked. It was clear that these guys knew what they were doing. It was clear that they were trying to do something. It was clear, hell explicitly stated in the lyrics, that they knew they weren't cool. And yet they were so fucking cool. It was a sonic distillation of everything I enjoy about the world I personally inhabit, and the friends who inhabit it with me. It also contained (or tried to contain) Mike Watt, who should be an inspiration to everyone who ever wanted to play bass guitar. Apparently, Watt knew so little about bass when he and D. Boon began their journey, that he simply took two strings off a 6 string electric, and tuned all of the strings real loose. And that guy can play like you wouldn't believe.

This general time period, starting around the summer previous, was when I learned that music mattered. That it was a force deserving of more than casual interest. That I would be compelled to devote substantial amounts of time and money to musical adventure. Needless to say, I bought the record graced by Political Song soon after.

Double Nickles was an even further revelation. I loved, and still love, nearly everything about it. From the opening ignition and driving bass of D's Car Jam, through the Meat Puppets-esque Jackass opening Corona, there is not a wasted minute. At around 75 minutes and 43 tracks, it's a blink and you'll miss it mash up of styles. Punk, funk, polka, countryish thrash, CCR covers, free jazz freakouts. Everything but the kitchen sink. And it ALL WORKS! How do you do that? Create an extremely long album with extremely short songs, covering a staggering array of styles, and still have it all come out as a whole which, if this is possible, is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the kind of record where you could take any one song, create an entire album based around its musical theme, and have greatness. Imagine, then, the multiplicity of musical worlds held in potential energy limbo within the grooves of that piece of vinyl. I could create an entire physics/musical studies dissertation synergising that record with this theory.

So, now I will force myself to rejoin the original thread of this post.

I've heard it. I've discovered its greatness. I can never again experience that original rush of adventure, of enlightenment, of joy at hearing something I didn't know existed, hadn't conceived of as possible. At least I can no longer get that same feeling from the Minutemen. Thank God or the devil that there are still people out there trying to do something. I'm still blown away every time I listen to that record. Today, when I listened to it for the first time in months, I was in a bad mood. I had worked night shift the night before, my wife and I had had a completely banal argument, and I was about to go into work for yet another graveyard. Then I turned on Double Nickles. Apparently, I soon developed a shit eating grin, because my wife asked if music was all I needed to be in a good mood. A lot of the time, it is.

The best of these sonically altered moods occur when I'm listening to greatness for the FIRST time. Alas, for the Minutemen, this can never be again. Another problem presented by my love affair with DNOTD is the fact that it is not their first, and widely regarded as their greatest record. The way I see it, the fact that I heard their opus first renders me nearly incapable of truly appreciating any of their other material. I will always be comparing anything by the Minutemen to Double Nickels. Much like I don't really care for Television's second, Adventure, because there is no way it could compare to Marquee Moon. It's not fair to the Minutemen, and it's not fair to me.

I almost wish that I could go back in time and listen to their records in a different order. That way, I would be able to listen to and enjoy their material from a fresh perspective. I wouldn't have the monolithic greatness of Double Nickles overshadowing the early works of The Punch Line or What Makes a Man Start Fires. My excitement and wonder could build with each progressing listen. I could follow the threads of musical thought as D. Boon and Mike Watt find their voices and their sound(s). I could, breathlessly, open the shrinkwrapped jewellcase of Double Nickles, expecting greatness from what I 've grown to see as a great band, and be totally unprepared anyway. I would have the entire catalog of the Minutemen laid out before me, able to appreciate each track within its proper context. Their crowning achievement would be seen as just that, as the icing on the cake, instead of the platonic ideal against which all others fall flat. In other words, I would be able to truly love the Minutemen, instead of fanatically loving Double Nickles on the Dime.

Ahh, such sweet sorrow.