The Matrix

There's something I need to tell you about me... I'm a dabbler. Unlike a lot of audiobloggers, I do not obsessively follow new music. I haven't for about a decade now.

It's partly by choice. There are other things I like to do nowadays. Like eat, for example.

But it's also partly by necessity. I have to be much more careful about how I spend my money than I was when I was an undergrad, suckling at the student loan teat of the now-withered welfare state. (Remember the welfare state? The social safety net erected so that baby boomers would never know a day of want? The social safety net the baby boomers are now dismantling … because life was so easy for them that they can't imagine why anyone would ever need help? Yes, that's the one!)

Even when I have money, though, I am a cautious consumer. I don't want to clutter-up my life with run-of-the-mill shite.

So, I've had to find less-expensive and less-disappointment-leaden ways of indulging my interest in new music. Today, I am letting you in on one of those strategies -- THE MATRIX…

Every December, I pull together the best-albums-of-the-year lists of various publications and make my list of music to buy based on what the critics had to say; more specifically, based on how many critics liked what albums … plus what they had to say about them.

This means that I am always a year behind, true. But it also means that I don't end up buying a lot of treadwater music. Sure, there have been disappointments... I vaguely recall one highly-acclaimed CD with clever packaging --cardboard-and-paper-with-match-attached-- but forgettable music. (At least, I think there was a match attached. Certainly every time I think about the CD, I think of matches.)

Actually, come to think of it, the number of disappointments haven't really gone down since I instituted THE MATRIX. Still, it is a thing of beauty that I take intense pleasure in putting together. Perhaps that, whatever it means, is the most important thing I will tell you about me today…

Anyway, below, is the matrix for 2004 where X=Exclaim!, P=Pitchfork, A=All Music Guide, E=eye and S=Spin. Only those albums that were voted for by three or more of the publications are included. I have also omitted the complex vote-weighting system … because I'm too tired to explain it. Oh, and there's a link to a song from 2004 at the bottom of it, too.

Artist - Album X P A E S Votes
Franz Ferdinand - s/t x x x x x 5
Comets on Fire - Blue Cathedral x x x x x 5
Madvillain - Madvillainy x x x x x 5
Kanye West - The College Dropout x x x x x 5
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free x x x x x 5
The Arcade Fire - Funeral x x x x - 4
Brian Wilson - Smile - x x x x 4
The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat x x x x - 4
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth... x - x x x 4
Björk - Medulla - x x x x 4
Junior Boys - Last Exit x x x x - 4
Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose x x x - x 4
The Futureheads - s/t x x x x - 4
Interpol - Antics x x - - x 3
A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder x x x - - 3
Morrissey - You Are the Quarry - x x - x 3
The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows x x x - - 3
Green Day - American Idiot x - x - x 3
Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender x - x - x 3

Junior Boys - Birthday

P.S. Sorry about all the hyphens in today's post. I have a cold

January 30, 2005

A Short History of the Long Song

Yesterday, utterly without provocation, I found myself craving the Emerson, Lake and Palmer song "Knife-Edge." For a prog rock song, "Knife-Edge" actually has a bit of an … uh … edge to it. It and King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" are two of only a handful of prog rock songs from the 1970s that don't come attached to limp wrists.

Of course, prog rock never really went away. It just evolved. Whereas 1970s prog rock groups were inluenced by classical music and jazz, a brave few 1980s heavy metal and hardcore punk groups betrayed the influence of prog rock. The Quebecois metal band Voivod even paid direct homage to the genre by doing Pink Floyd and King Crimson covers and raving about Emerson, Lake and Palmer in their interviews.

During the 1990's, prog rock evolved even further when Chapel Hill alternative band Polvo took the structural complexity of prog and bent it out of shape with thrift shop instruments. (Fernandes, Kent and Sears brand guitars have a unique sound, don't you know.)

Which brings us to today's song, "Milk Man," off the 2004 Deerhoof album of the same name... The song starts innocently enough with a perky, poppy riff played on what sounds like a Fernandes. Or perhaps a Kent. Then, without warning…

Deerhoof - Milk Man

To these ears, the segue between the intro and the first verse sounds like nothing so much as an outtake from an Asia album. Sure, the similarities to prog rock end there, but it's still such a cool song that I had to post it. Perky, but woozy, with pixie vocals in (willfully?) broken English… What's not to like?

*****

By the way, if anyone out there can tell me how to convert cassette tapes into mp3s, it'd be much appreciated. I would love to post a song or two by Voivod.

January 28, 2005

How to Annoy People and Lose Friends

I've been un- or under-employed for most of the past two years since moving here. I had no idea there would be so many well-educated and highly-skilled people to compete with on an island in the middle of nowhere… I guess that's why this town's population hasn't grown in the past ten years: there's just too much dynamism here already.

Anyway, times are so lean that I took a temp assignment last week, lifting boxes full of paper in a dusty parking garage for a couple days. I was paid $11 per hour for the privilege. What the client paid the temp agency per hour, I can only guess.

With this experience fresh in mind, I started reading a book called The Best of Temp Slave yesterday. The book is a compendium of writing by current and former temps, previously published in a fanzine called Temp Slave. The stories of workplace sabotage perpetrated and recounted by some of the contributors reminded me of the story of the "Phantom Shitter," a person who claims they have been shitting around their workplace for quite awhile now, in a silent, but stinky protest. The Phantom Shitter's two … uh … manifestoes can be found here and here and are defecately worth a read.

*****

There are different ways of reacting to being in a shitty situation. Getting angry and being defiant is one of them. Today's song sounds like it's coming from there.

Deep Wound - I Saw It

Deep Wound was an Amherst, Massachusetts-based hardcore (punk) group from the mid-eighties. They put out one good seven-inch e.p., from which today's song was taken, then broke up. Two members, drummer-turned-guitarist J. Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow, went on to form Dinosaur Jr., the band that introduced guitar solos to the world of college rock. (Amen to that.)

Judging by side-splittingly funny chapter on Dinosaur Jr. in Michael Azerrad's phenomenally phenomenal book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, J. and Lou didn't get along very well… After three albums in Dinosaur Jr., Lou and his oral fixation were sent packing. Barlow went on to form Sebadoh, Sentridoh and some other lo-fi groups that I never really paid a lot of attention to.

January 26, 2005

The Search for a Second Syllable

Today's post is the first installment in a series dedicated to the history of German rock.

No one could have predicted that, in 1974, the Düsseldorf-based band Kraftwerk would score a hit in the English-speaking world with "Autobahn," a German-language cover of the Beach Boys song "Fun, Fun, Fun."

Kraftwerk - Autobahn

Kraftwerk pushed the envelope of Krautrock beyond the one-syllable band names and one-chord songs of precursors like Can, Faust and Neu!, and into the intoxicating realms of two-syllable band names and two-chord songs.

Ironically, the members of Kraftwerk were killed in a freak accident on their beloved autobahn the very next year. (Five freaks in a Volkswagen crashed into two freaks in a Peugeot.) The band was never spoken of again.

January 25, 2005

Songs About Cake

Not much to say about Wednesday's song. It's one of my favourite tracks from American Music Club's Mercury, which was one of my favourite albums in 1993. Less over-wrought, but no less bleak than some of the other songs of the album, "Will You Find Me" is a good showcase for the group's atmospheric pedal steel guitar playing.

American Music Club is back together, by the way, and has an attractive, user-friendly website with streaming audio of their new album and downloads of some older stuff -- including a neat 1993 video documentary of the band.

*****

Now, here is the first in a series of songs about cake.

(The) Alice Cooper (Group) - Levity Ball

"Levity Ball," is taken from (The) Alice Cooper (Group) album, Pretties for You, released in 1969. Incidentally, this was the first album I ever bought. I was six years old at the time.

Unlike the rest of the album, "Levity Ball" was recorded live at a club. You can hear the audience talking during the quietest bits. I only wish I could make out what they were saying…

The song's "unique" soft-loud dynamics are interesting, rolling in and out on waves of psychedelic energy, man. Listening to this song, I would almost say that I can see swirling grey, pink and brown spots being projected onto a wall. In fact, that's just what I've said.

Also, note the single, solitary post freak-out guitar chord dubbed-on later in the studio. And wonder how such a small detail could possibly matter to anyone…

Don't get me wrong, "Levity Ball" is not a particularly good song. In fact, it is so hard to listen to that I can't help but wonder if it was intended to be. I would say the same of the whole album. Whether or not this was by design is open to debate; and, as it turns out, quite a number of people --all of whom are male-- seem inclined to debate it. 1

Of course, all of this is secondary to the real issue: i.e., the similarity between the artwork on the cover of Pretties for You and the artwork on labels of Moretti Beer.

1See the Pretties for You page on the Frank Zappa-oriented website FZ Lyrics and Else, for example, or the early June 2003 postings on the discussion list of The Captain Beefheart Radar Station.

January 22, 2005

The Poor Rich

Just heard a report about a devastating mudslide in North Vancouver.

It's been raining a lot here lately. Port Renfrew got 375 mm in two days or some such shit, and I've heard tales of 10 inches or 20 inches of water on a rooftop with a clogged drain downtown. (Note smooth, seamless shift between metric and imperial, there.)

The Premier has visited the area of the mudslide and promised disaster relief from the province. Two homes were washed away in the rain. One woman died and her husband was seriously injured. Okay, that sucks, but is it a "disaster?" A disaster is what happened to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand, where hundreds of thousands of people were carried away in the tide and hundreds of thousands more left homeless. What happened in North Van was unfortunate, for sure, but ... "a disaster?"

These people, who, unlike the Sri Lankans and Indonesians, are wealthy enough to have made other choices, bought houses on the side of a mountain ... in an area known for its heavy rains. Surely they must have known that the trees that actually hold the soil together on the side of a mountain in rainy weather are cut down when $500,000 houses with "killer views" are built there?

On that note, here's a song for a rainy day.

American Music Club - Will You Find Me?

January 19, 2005 | Comments (1)

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