Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Best of 2K11: Sean McCann and Fabio Orsi

You know I hear a lot of talk
So I’m headed to the stereo store
To get a white noise maker and turn it up to 10
– Frank Black – White Noise Maker

Fabio Orsi and Sean McCann are merchants of drone, a love-it-or-hate-it offshoot of ambient that traces its footsteps back to field recording experimentalists/ambient artists like Alan Lomax and Brian Eno, tracing through the post-rock drone of Labradford and Flying Saucer Attack, and making a stop or two for some textural scrapings from various krautrockers and minimalists.

While the lack of propulsion may give the appearance of ambience, the music itself raises hackles rather than soothes dinner guests in well-appointed lofts or impatient art dealers in well-appointed elevators. If ambient is “wallpaper,” the sounds of Orsi and McCann are “insulation”: warm, gauzy and thick. It sounds like the perfect place to curl up if you don’t mind suffering from a million tiny abrasions.

Fabio Orsi – Papa, Show Me Your Blues LPs

The form of “ambient” McCann and Orsi craft bears more resemblance to Richard D. James’ unsettling antidote for a speed freak-infested techno scene (1993’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92) or The Orb’s cranky fuck-off to the ambient house scene it created (1995’s Orbus Terrarum) than anything as non-committal as mere aural landscaping.

Orsi’s abrasions are delivered with muted drumwork and some unexpected, but welcome, guitar textures. The white noise heat is still omnipresent, but rather than providing a comfortable place to nod off, it only adds another layer of tension, giving the impression that the whole musical works (so to speak) is coming to a head, and not in a particularly pleasant way. The drums themselves are distorted to the point of abstraction and the tonal edges of the guitar work do a pretty thorough job of scraping away at your inner ear. Orsi’s “ambience” is as far away from nondescript (and hence, non-threatening) as possible while still utilizing the same tools.

Fabio Orsi – Ghost Track

McCann forgoes any noticeable guitar work for engulfing washes of noise, some malevolent, some merely discomfiting. “Auditorium” delivers the faint ghostly sound of a female voice, heard through several walls, like a distant opera from a half-remembered dream. The track can best be described as “Lynchian” as the whole thing starts to fade to black (aurally speaking), slowly devoured by the near-industrial sound of the encroaching blackness as only Lynch (and now, McCann) can do. It’s a blackness that settles like a blanket of thick, choking ash.

Sean McCann – Auditorium

McCann may or may not claim Lynch as an influence, but the oppressive, steadily building thrum of all-encompassing forboding tones will cause fans of David’s to flash back to the Black Lodge or the filthy bedroom in the shit part of town with the haunted radiator or any time when bad things start going worse. It also bears some resemblance to the unholy noise that accompanies a switch of realities (again, from simply bad to horribly nightmarish) in the Silent Hill games. Part mechanical, part ambient gone wrong, McCann delivers tonal aberrations unlikely to stay quietly seated in the corner while party guests chat over the muted tones.

Sean McCann – Saints of the Capital

/s/CLT

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Fukkk Offf – Brain Rock

To be completely honest, about 90% of the reason for posting this is display the completely awesome cover art. It’s quite the shit, innit? If only Fukkk Offf were huge (like “young adult supernatural fiction”-huge), there’d be all sorts of complaining from various retail outlets about, well, just about everything involved. Fukkk Offf obviously wouldn’t fly on the shelves of your local big box, and any ideas they had about pushing t-shirts and posters there would swiftly be cut off. But it’s the perfect thing for taping up on the bedroom walls to shock the parental unit and get them thinking about cutting back your TV time or setting you up for a visit to the weekly youth group.

As for the track itself, it’s a completely useful dance track that hits all its marks, providing the sorts of builds and drops that make dance music the perfect thing for dancing. It moves along with an amiable strut, winking slyly while pushing buttons and occasionally throwing you a good-natured finger. The vocal samples claim Fukkk Offf are here to “rock your brain,” but he’s obviously way more interested in your ass. And who can blame him? It’s a magnificent ass. Go work it.

Despite all the faint praise (and its attendant damnation), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aiming no higher than the waistline now and then. Not everything needs to be “transcendent.” Sometimes listening to confident craftsman plying his wares is a reward in itself.

Here’s a short interview with Fukkk Offf done by a co-worker (very loose definition deployed) of mine, Bas Grasmayer:

Fukkk Offf in Istanbul from Bas on Vimeo.

/s/CLT

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Points of Interest

A quick collation of some stuff for your eyes and ears from around the net, mostly grabbed from my Facebook feed.

Hometown favorite Whitey has pulled together a massive (107 videos/10+ hours) playlist of classic house tracks. In lieu of a new album, this will have to do:

(Unfortunately, the playlist doesn’t seem to embed, but click through for the whole thing…)

Another hometown favorite (and potentially damaging search term), Young Boys, have just released another EP full of noisy pop(?)[ to my ears anyway…] that channels everything you love about the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Crocodiles, the Chameleons and the Charlatans UK into about 12 minutes of serrated bliss. Listen here and then click thru to download the whole thing for $nullset.

The relentlessly inventive Soulwax crew has uploaded another three videos on their Vimeo channel. The pick of the bunch is Vol.2 of Under the Covers, featuring some inventive crate digging and, lest your eyes feel left out, some very entertaining album cover animation. There’s some sort of non-American (presumably Belgian) football chant worked into the mix at the 39:40 mark, of interest mainly to Mohammed Chang, but also presented as evidence of my “relentlessly inventive” designation in the opening sentence.

Under The Covers Vol. 2 from Radio Soulwax on Vimeo.

By all means, stick around after that and check out Axe Attack (a mastermix of 500 guitar riffs in slightly under an hour) and D&SCO (another masterful mix of, yes, exactly, DISCO classics [and classix] as well as some obscurities and, of course, animated cover art).

/s/CLT

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On Association

Cap had the following to say in the comments under one of his recent posts:

I know I love the music of the 80s and I definitely prefer it to the sounds of the 70s. This is due to my love of synthetic instruments rather than some sort of rock backlash. This is also due to (of all things) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which was wall-to-wall 80s tunes and when you put 100+ hours into something with that soundtrack, you’re either going to perform a self-lobotomy the next time “Obsession” hits your ears or you’re going to flashback to a neon-lit faux-Miami and smile. Everyone else’s mileage will greatly vary.

I experience the same when I hear certain songs and flashback to soccer highlight reels I’ve watched on YouTube when those clips provided me with an introduction to those songs, even though their origins have nothing to do with soccer. These YouTube videos also put me in touch with (mostly pop) artists I would have been unlikely to seek out on my own.

I really like the way Olympic Lyonnais and French national team keeper Hugo Lloris plays. Lloris seems to move and carry himself slightly differently, more delicately, than most professional athletes. There is a noticeable fluidity and grace to his saves, all the more impressive as goal keeping is an exercise in reaction conducted via short explosive movements as opposed to anything choreographed. On a very basic level, the goal is too large for one player to defend, even with the use of their hands, so the keeper’s job is first to delay a potential shot until reinforcements arrive and only to dictate play when no other options are available.

This highlight reel, set to the Killer’s On Top is cut with a number of shots of Lloris off the field and pays some attention to atmosphere as well. The shots of the rainy night sky in Lyon fit in well. It’s difficult to make a highlight reel for a goal keeper. The usual approach of sporting highlight reels emphasizing aggression and dominance doesn’t really apply to a profession that requires it’s practitioners to spend a majority of their time waiting, surveying the field and then reacting to their opponents while most of the time not coming into physical contact with them.

Contrast the above to another highlight reel cut for Lloris which features the Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die. The delivery of the titular line seems out of place. Keeper’s are more akin to doctors who are concerned with the preservation of life and have pledged to first do no harm, than they are to soldiers or anyone else that would be killing invading forces (this song would probably be more apt for defensive midfielders or center backs). The song doesn’t entirely fail as a musical selection, however. The minor key of the song intro does tie in well with the ominous nature of the keeper serving as the very last line of defense, and if you were going to cast a keeper as the star of a popcorn action flick, they’d undoubtedly be introduced in the trailer as “one man…” I’d flash the following quote on the sceen just as the title credits had finished, to set the story:

They also call him doorman, keeper, goalie, bouncer or netminder, but he could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent or punching bag. They say where he walks, the grass never grows. Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Switching from players to teams, two notable seasons in Tottenham Hotspur history have been fused with particular songs in my mind.  The 2008-2009 season began as the worst in over eighty years. The team was being managed by a Spaniard named Juande Ramos who despite taking a job in North London, did not quite speak conversational English. Sitting at the bottom of the league table after their first eight matches with the probability of being involved in a season long battle to avoid relegation seeming more and more realistic, the club jettisoned Ramos for East End wide boy ‘Arry Redknapp. The club would win their match against Bolton at home, go on to tie their local rivals Arsenal away in notable last minute fashion, and beat a then undefeated Liverpool in their first three matches under Redknapp. The following paints the Cockney manager as gunslinger, not inappropriate given his working class roots, in the 2008-2009 highlight reel Rattlin’ Spurs. Bonus points for the wide aspect ratio.

Skip forward a season and Redknapp does better than expected. Aided by Liverpool’s collapse, Redknapp steered the club to fourth place and their first ever appearance in the European Champions League, after years of fifth place finishes that merely flirted with doing so. The highlight reel is set to Florence & the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, fitting as a release of the frustration of seasons past and of the club’s new found hope for the future.

I can’t help but think back to Lloris’ form and Tottenham’s seasons past when I hear these songs, even if the artists intended nothing of the sort.

/s/Mohammed Chang

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The Death Set – Can You Seen Straight (Nadastrom Moombahton Edit)

While the appeal of a majority of “Moombahton” tracks continues to elude me, this one hits me straight between the ears. Nadastrom’s rerub of The Death Set’s energetic not-quite-punk, definitely-not-quite-pop sonic blasting takes the listener into the deepest, darkest parts of the bassbin, all without abandoning the luminosity of the original.

The beat has a beguiling pulse-and-fade that beats you into shape without beating you senseless, conjuring up darkened dancefloors and drug-filled restrooms. It’s the million possibilities of a night that’s still young and the million possibilities that come from realizing that even though you (like me) aren’t exactly you, you ain’t dead yet. Ride the euphoria until you can wring the honest sweat out of your impossibly stylish shirt. Split an amyl popper with someone you love, even if it’s only the E talking. If you’re going to do something as abstract as “living for the moment,” you might as well have a soundtrack.

/s/CLT

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Music for the Masses: Pop and Cultural Elitism

If you need a definition of where the lowest common denominator in lies in pop music, you probably don’t need to look any further than this:

New research has revealed that Adele’s singles were the most popular karaoke tracks in 2011.

The singer’s chart topper ‘Someone Like You’ was the most sung song of the year with one in four singers choosing the track, according to the Lucky Voice website.

Her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’, from her debut ’19’, was also the second most popular choice after it accounted for 10 per cent of three million tracks chosen by 100,000 users.

The math work out to one out of three bar patrons being assaulted by a (probably) drunken rendition of Adele’s hits. Adele is probably the closest thing to “ubiquitous” in today’s fractured music market, having sold over 5 million copies of her latest album in the US alone. But what is it about pop music that makes it universal enough that one out of three karaoke participants feel confident enough to take it on?

There is a notion out there that pop music somehow “transcends” genres or human differences, as though the conceived-in-a-marketing lab product was a superior experience to deeply personal songs crafted by individuals without publicists, co-writers and multiple producers. However, this notion is only proven if said “pop music” becomes incredibly popular.

By definition, pop music is popular music. However, being popular also brands the artist, music and listener with a certain stigma. Simply put: if it’s this popular, it can’t be very good. And there is something to that: charting music is rarely ground-breaking or truly interesting. It is, however, solidly crafted and immediately pleasing. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Is it “good” music? Is that even a fair question? Music criticism semi-legend Everett True spends some time discussing this over at his hobby blog Collapse Board (he said mock disparagingly), coming down firmly on the side of “good.” (Although mainly because there is no “bad” — which is the same rhetorical device that allows fervent atheists to dismiss Satan. After all, if there is no God, a Satan is rather pointless.) But I do agree with one point: good/bad is closely tied to context:

Imagine you’re listening to some music without knowing the context it first appeared in – where it came from, what the band/artist look like, which country, what age, when, etc etc. Your judgment is still tempered by whether that music reminds you of other music you’ve heard, favourably or unfavourably. CONTEXT. Good and bad don’t actually come into it. Plus, your judgement is also tempered by what the weather is like outside, whether you’ve just drunk some coffee, had a row, played sports, if you’re in the bath, got headphones on, etc etc. CONTEXT. All these affect your judgement. Not whether you hold to some weird ideal (that doesn’t actually exist) of whether a piece of music is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

[Extraneous note: much like other opinionated posts on Collapse Board (and that’s most of them), it has begun to take on a life of its own, resulting in followups and followups to followups and I would imagine is well on its way towards a series of inwardly-gazing posts from an ad hoc collection of contributors, which also includes particularly wordy commenters. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when it becomes a habit, it’s not unlike riding your hobby horse until it expires and then trying to beat it back to life. All that being said, I subscribe to the blog and read damn near every post, so it’s never boring and rarely predictable. Except for the part I just detailed, but that part is still Never Boring.]

Because of my own musical development, I know that I am predisposed against pop, if that makes any sense. Not against pop music in the traditional lightweight-affable-and-stuck-in-your-head sort of way, but rather against cultural works that are universally appreciated. It sounds godawful phrased like that but there it is. Much as I can appreciate the legitimate talent that is Adele and her cowriters, producers, etc. (and that “appreciation” is highly suspect, if I’m being honest [and I’ll try to be]), I still find myself unable to punch it up on the monitor (this joke works on multiple levels [as does the “levels” part]) and give it a listen. This has been my attitude towards most incredibly popular bits of culture since some indeterminate time in my past. The thought process has become “Well, everyone else saw Titanic so now I don’t have to.” (Whatever that means.)

It’s a form of elitism, basically. I know that I won’t enjoy listening to Adele because I know that I don’t enjoy things that are highly popular. This is a dangerous line of thinking, especially when one grants himself tastemaker status by writing about the kind of music he likes. The “elitism” part is the part that worries me most. Because of that worry, the mind searches for somewhere to lay the blame. And it easily finds a target.

At some point, you take stock of the world around you, realizing that the last 50+ years of pop culture has culminated in Jersey Shore. The easy route is to blame “society.” After all, without them, kids would probably be raising themselves and the airwaves (both radio and television) would be filled with “worthy” artistic endeavors, which, in all honesty, would probably be a lot less interesting than it sounds.

You can blame MTV. Personally, I’d head there first. After all, it’s made a cottage industry out of finding the kind of people most likely to prey on starfuckers, turning them into stars and unleashing them into the camera-covered wild to, well, prey on starfuckers.

But do you blame MTV for finding a societal sweet spot to manipulate? That’s trial and error. Going back to the well is heinous but turning the navel-gazing lives of self-centered backstabbers into a money printing machine is simply harmonic convergence, televisionally-speaking.  And can someone actually blame society for a writer’s strike, one that led to everyone trying out reality shows and realizing that they were the sort of high-margin item the networks had always hoped for but could never obtain? You, as a creator, find out what society likes and give it to them. Over and over and over.

But society, as a whole or as individuals, can’t really be blamed. They (and we) like what we like. It’s a tautology that morphs into a cliche, but even worse, when coupled with a somewhat falsely attributed “herdlike” mentality, it becomes a lazy insult, one designed to give the insulting party a step or two above (and ahead) of humanity in general. Is a shared cultural experience less valid simply because it’s SRO?

I am especially wary of this trap. It doesn’t look like a trap. After all, many writers over the years, great writers, have taken their shots at the masses. P.T. Barnum and H.L. Mencken both stated words to the effect that you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. There’s an ugly truth underlying that statement but if you continue to feed that vision and sell the idiots what you think they want, don’t be surprised if that’s all they buy.

If this view of the public is entertained long enough, it turns into a cynical platform, from which “wisdom” is dispensed and regrettable statements are made and terrible conclusions are drawn:

The pollution created by these ships is gargantuan, despite the shipping industry’s ludicrous attempts to acquire the PC-friendly veneer of “green transport.” Shipping contributes to the wreckage of ecosystems by belching rapacious jellyfish and other foreign beasts out of their ballast tanks; shipping contributes over 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2 exhaust every year (a rapidly growing figure); particulate matter from shipping exhaust rains onto the earth by the thousands of tons every day, infusing even the Arctic snow with soot and hastening the Arctic melt…

Container ship captains race across the oceans at maximum speeds in order to earn their bonuses; their ships are packed to the gunwales and beyond in order to make each trip pay as much as possible…[T]he containers must be arranged with the utmost care; the maximum number, but not so many that they go popping off in a storm. It’s said that over 10,000 containers are lost at sea every year…

Just one standard forty-foot container can carry as much as 59,040 pounds of Snuggies, shiny leggings, Maroon 5 t-shirts, blenders, Christmas gewgaws etc., and over 100 million container loads cross the oceans every year…

So how absurd is this, that we should foul the oceans and the air with these huge container ships, that the polar bears should die and the cities drown, so that some feckless citizen can go to Wal-Mart, buy a plastic bird feeder Made in China and thereby feel helpful to nature at the low cost of $3.49?

This is what happens when you treat the general population as “feckless:” you blame their desires and affections for the ills of the world. This is why when people start suggesting ways to make the world “a better place,” they begin trying to eradicate things like big box stores, commercial farming and overpopulation, all “problems” created by the masses’ indiscriminate desires and actions.

Pop music is yet another “symptom” of the “disease” that is being a part of the masses. Maroon 5 = Christmas gewgaws = feckless citizenry = Wal-Mart = destroying life on this planet as we know it. It’s complete bullshit and it does nothing more than enforce a caste system in casteless societies. Those who appoint themselves as “above” their fellow man rarely need anything more than a shelf full of Can albums to justify their thought processes.

Contrast this attitude with D.F. Wallace’s take on cynicism and ironic distance:

Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is…

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

So, as a writer who writes about music, where does this put me? I’ve already stated my aversion to incredibly popular culture. It would be easier to simply not give this any more thought. Plenty of writing exists taking pop culture to task for turning the masses into compliant sheep who are more than willing to like what they assume they like, simply because so many other people like it. And maybe it’s true. Maybe people like songs they know the words to, thanks to repetitive airplay. Maybe they like singing along with other people who know the words, also thanks the limited scope of Top 40 radio.

I know from firsthand experience DJing at a Top 40-oriented club that people still want to hear the same songs they heard on the radio that day. And they want to hear them more than once. It certainly felt like a negative at the time. Fifteen years down the road it just seems like logic. When someone builds a successful business based on watching teenage girls feed a jukebox, it’s rather hard to apply hindsight effectively enough to make them completely wrong. It works and it has worked for years.

Having a teenage child provides a not-always-welcome shot of reality . When names of current artists are brought up and I express my lack of knowledge, I’m greeted with incredulous looks, much as if I were a foreign exchange student who had arrived via time machine. I’m instantly a man out of place and time and it’s quite obvious that I’m the one with the problem.

Even worse is attempting to enjoy being on the cutting edge. Hearing “Pumped Up Kicks” blaring in my kid’s room, I first assumed it was one of the CDs I had made her. But, no, it was the radio belatedly giving credence to a song I had recommended well over a year earlier. At first, there was a brief feeling of vindication. But this was swiftly buried by the realization that I had recommended hundreds of songs over the past few years, none of which had cracked the Top 40. (There’s a vindication to this as well, but it’s a hollow vindication based on the assumption that a lack of popularity instantly legitimizes any and all songs that fail to chart.)

As it stands, long-winded soul-searching aside, I will be no more likely to check out Adele’s latest offering. (And even more unlikely to grab the mike and belt it out, as participating in karaoke generally requires me to have a BAC north of .10, at which point I should probably be hospitalized rather than humoured.) But my mental beef is with the artists, not the audience. I can’t honestly attack people for liking what they like. They all have their own motivations, even if the motivation seems to be nothing more than a desire to move along the well-trafficked path of least resistance, especially since I too tend to gravitate towards the sorts of things I like, even if they’re a bit further off the path.

/s/CLT

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I Fucking Called It

There’s “eerily prescient” and then there’s this [from my James Blake Says Stupid Things post from a few weeks back, dealing with dubstep producer Blake’s oral idiocy and my theory that James Blake is actually Justin Bieber at age 22]:

You know, that point where the Beeb forsakes his original fans by deciding he wants to be “taken seriously as an artist,” a move that in theory is a Good Idea, but in practice just means that Bieber now believes he is talented DJ who must Educate the Dancefloor by briefly dabbling in the current Underground Genre Du Jour.

And now, No Fucking Shit:

Teen sensation Justin Bieber it seems is working on a new album, which is believed to be heavy on dubstep. The ‘Baby’ and  ’Never Say Never’ singer has been working on a new album, tentatively titled Believe, which is slated to release sometime in early 2012.

In an interview with USA Today, the 17-year-old Canadian pop star said, “I’m about halfway through. What’s big right now are beats that are in the clubs, like dubstep. So I want to mess with that stuff, but also stay me.”

Yo, apocalypse. Come at me, bro.

/s/CLT

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