Category Archives: Music

Notes on Kanye West and…Fleetwood Mac

What Kanye West’s new set of songs remind me most of–and this might be highly idiosyncratic on my part–is Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 classic album, Tusk. Easily their best in my opinion. It blends together the manicness of Lindsey Buckingham’s jangling pace and spooling intricacies with the serene, ethereal harmonies of Christie and Stevie.

For Kanye, he has metamorphosized into a kind of musical gemini–part Lindsey (studio genius) and part Stevie (a dramatis persona, a “player” who lets the character take over. It takes over most when he attempts to show the greatest sincerity.) He uses a variety of studio tricks and female vocalists to fill in for Christie.

For Lindsey, coke and obsessive studio time and perfectionism led to the harmonic verneer on Tusk; for Kanye, he says straight up on “Hell of a Life” that drugs are not for him–sex and spirituality (in so many words) are his obsessions.

The looping slick harpsichords is just slightly less out of control, on both albums, than the paranoid lyrical content of “What Makes You Think You’re the One” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Monster” by Kanye.

The other important thing to remember is that Kanye is essentially a pop performer. The flow of words is there to augment the “sounds of the sounds.” And, of course, Fleetwood Mac was the crucial late 70s pop band.

It is uncanny how much Kanye has naturalized and assimilated the echoing drippiness and backbeat of Daft Punk–which, particularly with Discovery, certainly took its cues from the weird pop of the early 80s, of which Tusk was a definite precursor.

Is Kanye “real” in his emotions? Who knows. He gave Taylor Swift her creation myth (more on that later–but Taylor is as much, if not more so, of a postmodern construct as Lady Gaga), and the vitriol directed his way was entirely self-inflicted. And yet for a personality like his–or persona, rather–it only augmented the urgency in his artistic production, made it tighter and fiercer. I like 808 and Heartbreak, but that really seemed to be almost a proof of concept for about two-thirds of the sound of the new album.

There are no links.

20 Favorite Albums of the Decade

Your mileage may vary highly, and the rankings especially at the top are more or less arbitrary. If you want that “descending/ascending” order variation, you might want to start at the bottom.

1 Discovery, Daft Punk (2001)

A perfect amalgamation of 1983 and the 23rd century–which, come to think of it, is the blueprint for much contemporary music (see Justice, below) and our culture in general. France, they say, is dying (it isn’t, but people talk)…but what Daft Punk have figured out is that we are all in the same boat. We are all in Gallic decline. We’re trying to figure out how to mediate our bodies with technology, trying to make it as un-deadening as possible. Science fiction has punctured the present, and the future is bleeding out of us. It’s the quicksilver blood pooling on the floor of our living rooms, inside houses that we don’t leave. It’s the blood in the ears that our iPods are attached to. Daft Punk discovered this in 2001. This is our world. The past and the future can’t be easily negotiated by the present anymore. So what’s left to do? Hope, and dance, and make our own past and future, and make our present from that.

2 Fishscale, Ghostface Killah (2006)

Opalescent hip-hop and storytelling of the highest order, Fishscale ranks with GZA’s Liquid Swords as the greatest of Wu Tang solo projects. Noir of utter specificity, and yet allowing the goofiness of underwater dreams and the terror of childhood beatings and bedwettings too. One of the heirs of Edgar Allen Poe’s crime fiction, with killer beats.

3 Missundaztood, Pink (2001)

So one of my favorite songs of the year is “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus, and it hit me that so much of pop’s greatness of late can be ascribed to this one album. Think about the landscape in 2001–the last dregs of boy bands and commercial radio domination. And, ironically, during the crumbling of that domination, pop found its voice again. This album blended rock, hip hop, singer-songwriter confessionalism, dance…no palette was out of bounds. She used everything, and made everything her own. Without this album, there would be none of Christina’s experimentations, and none of Justin’s future funk, and no Lily Allen making it big on American shores, and certainly not MILEY FREAKING CYRUS putting out brilliant songs and not mailing it in before she ever got started. But that’s why Pink is the greatest pop star of her generation. Thanks, Pink!

4 Sol-Fa, Asian Kung Fu Generation (2004)

I have to thank Mr. Barzak for bringing this back for me upon his return from Japan. Otherwise it’s doubtful I would have been privy to one of the greatest power-pop albums ever made. Every chord is strong, utterly unexpected, and yet perfect. If you can get a hold of this, do it!

5. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Of Montreal (2007)

Yes. Yes, the hissing venus fly trap of this album could very well be the destroyer! The alchemical transformation midway through this album is nothing short of miraculous. Glam as elegy. But an elegy for what? The Norway of Exile of our dear narrator of this album (a chimerical twin of Anniemal, come to think of it), and while he emerges from the chyrsalis, well, not quite a butterfly–it’s still something truly beautiful and strange. And danceable.

6 Fiestas + Fiascos, Lifter Puller (2000)

I still feel that, in 2000, Lifter Puller were quite possibly the greatest band in the country. I’m still trying to find the Minneapolis in this album. And those guitars–no mercy with them. But Craig Finn’s lyrics, in those fragmented narratives of Nightclub Dwight etc. etc., show us to a world in which there is mercy and redemption possible in the club-caves and the desolations that reside at 15th and Franklin.

7 Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs, Atmosphere (2001)

Slug goes slacker Frank O’Hara on us, and while Ant has probably done better albums than this one, Slug is at his absolute finest here–self-deprecating without being coy, love-sick and trying not to show it, and wielding subject matters so diverse that he is making the infernal map of life for all of us, and daring us to follow it.

8 Feed the Animals, Girl Talk (2008)

What’s your idea of fun? Fun, natural fun! (And “Genius of Love”, it feels like, is the only song NOT sampled on this album.) [late edit: haha, of course–of course!–I find out later that “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club is, in fact, sampled on this album. As well as not an insignificant sample of the albums on this list. So there, Alan.)

9 Miss E…So Addictive, Missy Elliot (2001)

Stupid guest spot by Ludacris on what, otherwise, is a stone cold classic (“One Minute Man”) probably drops this a bit. But, fuck, what an album. Hip-hop and electronica bleed into each other and slither around. Okay, that’s a gross metaphor. But my ears are still trying to catch up to what’s going on here. And no better guide to the carnival than Missy.

10 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco (2001-2002)

I am trying to give this album the retroactive benefit of the doubt, because their last 3 albums since this in my opinion have been, er, dung-y. And Summerteeth, in the final reckoning, is better. But with that said, everything else you’ve heard about this album is true.

Secret Floating Signifier Album
Phrenology, The Roots (2002)

Named after a discredited pseudoscience, beginning with radio, then pure punk, and then neo-soul, and then (90 other things), and then Amiri Baraka, and then even more. You know how some albums have a song that is the title of the previous album? (Zep’s Houses of the Holy) In spirit, this is the reverse. Their previous album was Things Fall Apart, and things do that here, in this album. But how gloriously.

11 Kala, MIA (2007)

“Bird Flu” sounds like it, and then she shoots us in the heart with “Paper Planes.” There’s no pity, but neither is there a absence of joy.

12 Original Pirate Material, The Streets (2002)

“Just some guy” is always more than just some guy.

13 Anniemal, Annie (2004)

See, I keep railing against twee, and yet you might wonder why albums such as this example of wispy Norweigan electropop appears on this list. Well, yes, perhaps an anxiety of influence. But pop (pop-pop or indie-pop) doesn’t have to be precious. More than that–the surfaces here are deceiving. There is real anguish here. Not to mention I would heartily recommend “Chewing Gum,” conversely, as the bubblegum/jawbreaker pop song of the decade.

14 One Beat, Sleater-Kinney (2002)

This album still has one of the best, most visceral post-9/11 songs ever recorded–and yet there are horns as well; playfulness. And a coyote. It’s all universal and it all hits hard.

15 The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian (2006)

For a decade I was an unrepentant haterader with B&S; couldn’t stand the twee. Whether it’s more me or them, who knows, but this album has soul…and a bite. The loveliness is still there, though. P.S. I still can’t really stand Stephen Merritt

16 Cross, Justice (2007)

Fables of the (electronica) reconstruction.

17 Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004)

Feeling stuff is cool.

18 Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne (2008)

Utterly profane, full of weirdness and crazy shit around every brilliant corner. Aside from his eclecticism, his genius is in his improvisational composition techniques–and in this, he is truly the carrier of the torch of the native art form of his home town, New Orleans. The descendant of giants.

19 SpeakerBoxx/The Love Below, Outkast (2003)

“White Album-ness” as a condition is thrown around a lot with albums, but this is the real deal: a gemini tag team of epic proportions. And yet, though the two sides of Outkast are seperate (mostly), they continually reflect upon each other. Greater than the sum of its divisions.

20 The Magic Numbers, The Magic Numbers (2005)

Gallant, heartbreaking, sly, just hard-edged enough when it wants to be, this album hits all the melancholic (yet bright) notes without ever wallowing.

Planet of the Garage

I should be able to get in the spirit of Van Vogt blogging once I get the novel handed in, but I wanted to blog a bit about THRU YOU by Kutiman. I’m sure a lot of you have come across this already.

Aside from the amazing music mashed up from various YouTube sources, which (in general) has a Can meets Cody Chesnutt feel (with a healthy dash of the 70s singer-songwriter genre thrown in), the visual cues of the various people in their “garages” are wonderful to behold. It makes the whole idea of public vs. private music elastic and blurry.

(The coda of “I’m New,” for example, absolutely slays.)

But the ability to move backwards into the process–to investigate the credits and the original YouTube sources–is an act of astounding generosity, allowing the original contributors a moment of radiance, no matter how brief it might be. The songs both become more than the sum of their parts and a codex of compelling, “ordinary” musicians. One can backtrack for quite a lot of time.

Finally, it completely deconstructs the entire idea of the “one person band”, as evidenced by early solo McCartney and early Prince. The project could have the feel of robotic puppetry (manipulating loops of sounds) if the music itself wasn’t so multi-layered, warm, and from everywhere at once.

Chinese Democracy

Can’t wait for the new Tommy Stinson album. Wait, this is the sequel to “All Shook Down”, right?

Uh…

(But seriously, I’ll probably like it. And by “it”, I mean, a half to 2/3rds of the songs on the album, which is about as much as you can hope for these days. “Tusk” — the epitome of overblown-ness — is one of my favorite albums. “Better” is a pretty sweet piece of slightly gritty power pop.)

…..

It makes sense, to me, that Girl Talk is from Pittsburgh–he’s making a little nest of shiny musical things from the rubble of industrialism aka the pop industry. I can’t get enough of Feed the Animals, working as an album I can’t quite explain.

So I’ve been busy, laying low (like, in a tunnel or something), but I guess other shit has been happening?

Digging, digging, digging…

No, actually, you’re the fiasco.

I sometimes wonder, in the back of my subconscious, why it’s hard to take Pitchfork at all seriously, i.e., as a serious source of music criticism in the early 21st century.

Then I remember that they published this review. And then it all makes sense.

Man Bites Dog, Kind of, but…

From here: “Among at least a subset of (the younger) musicians and fans, this class separation has made indie more openly snobbish and narrow-minded. In the darkest interpretation, one could look at the split between a harmony-and-lyrics-oriented indie field and a rhythm-and-dance-specialized rap/R&B scene as mirroring the developing global split between an internationalist, educated comprador class (in which musically, one week Berlin is hot, the next Sweden, the next Canada, the next Brazil) and a far less mobile, menial-labor market. The elite status and media sway that indie rock enjoys, disproportionate to its popularity, is one reason the cultural politics of indie musicians and fans require discussion in the first place…”

Listening to: Hall and Oates (Private Eyes) and the new Wu Tang now…they’re both…not what I expected, but in a good way.

riddle me this

So Joanna Newsom’s Ys has been getting quite a lot of praise lately for its lush, orchestral iconoclasm and symbology. The praise for this album has been pretty breathless. But I wonder whether this is the real deal or another manifestation of “The Sideways Effect”. I’m just suspicious, in that way, of effusively praised works that seem to act as a divisive marker of “being cultured,” aside from the quality of the work itself.

So, my question is: since the album seems to be working expressly in fantasy tropes, how does Ys actually work as fantasy? Is this a case where Joanna Newsom has taken the fabulist bull by the horns and made an album that delves into its subject matter in an utterly unique way? Or is this a case where know-nothing critics see the fantasy as a kind of pre-Raphaelite pixie dust?

For what it’s worth, I loved some of the stuff I’d heard on the radio from her previous album, Milk Eyed Mender, and thought that the song (yes, the Current actually played this on the radio, god bless ’em) from Ys sounded like a sonic encapsulation of the worst fantasy-convention dealer’s room you could think of. BUT, obviously, the album as a cohesive whole might very well be a different, altogether better, story.

Turn the Taps Off

Okay, some linkage; this IM interview with a music publicist has some interesting food-for-thought in terms of publishing–perhaps? Or is it apples and oranges? Excerpts below:

“VivSavage1984: ok, so what about pitchfork? do they really have the power to make/break a band?
MusicPublicityBigWig: depends
MusicPublicityBigWig: their power is sort of the opposite of the major labels, stay with me here
MusicPublicityBigWig: they can propel a band from selling like 3000 to 30,000 or whatever, they can start that whole process
MusicPublicityBigWig: and yes they can impede a travis morrison or whoever they give a zero, but he doesn’t sell any goddamn records anyway
MusicPublicityBigWig: but if you’re on a level of some of my bigger clients and they slam you, it has no effect.
MusicPublicityBigWig: no effect on anyone who already sells half a million or more…
MusicPublicityBigWig: see the major labels specialize in taking people who can sell 200,000+ on their own to selling 500,000 or 1 million
MusicPublicityBigWig: but they don’t have any apparatus for taking an artist from 0 to 30,000
MusicPublicityBigWig: they have no effect
MusicPublicityBigWig: at that level
MusicPublicityBigWig: these days though the indie labels are behaving just like mini-majors though
MusicPublicityBigWig: but thats another topic entirely”

***

VivSavage1984: ok, well what about these so-called “music blogs”? do you or your clients even care about them?
MusicPublicityBigWig: well theyre the flavor of the moment
MusicPublicityBigWig: but they’ll get strip-mined and co-opted just like everything else that was the way to instant sales for 15 minutes
MusicPublicityBigWig: college radio, late night TV, street team marketing
MusicPublicityBigWig: film syncs and soundtracks, TV ads
MusicPublicityBigWig: theres always something

***

VivSavage1984: ha! ok, so let’s turn to the sexy, sexy world of digital music: how bad do these mp3/album leaks hurt? how crazy is the lockdown going to get? i got an indie album with like three stickers and a watermark this week, and i thought, “really?”
MusicPublicityBigWig: its retarded
MusicPublicityBigWig: i heard this quote the other day
MusicPublicityBigWig: some label kid at a meeting said the mistake the music biz is making
MusicPublicityBigWig: is like the bottled water companies trying to turn everyone’s taps off

***

MusicPublicityBigWig: whenever a civilian, like a relative or non-business friend asks me
MusicPublicityBigWig: “oh the music business is in trouble, are you OK?”
MusicPublicityBigWig: i say
MusicPublicityBigWig: “the CD-selling business is in trouble. im not in that business”

futuresex/lovesounds

How Justin Timberlake’s latest album is slash.

On a related, somewhat inverted note, Busta Rhymes started to get less interesting when he stopped doing cosplay.

Holy fuck (Bowie edition)

I just had my head blown. I had no idea that “Fascination,” one of my top-5 favorite Bowie songs, was co-written by Luther Vandross. It makes total sense, esp. considering its placement on Young Americans.

analogy

Editors is to Joy Division what The Alarm is to the Clash.

They should stop.

Remain Attentive!

So I’ve been using Pandora at work f0r music a lot. Very fun. I like mixing and matching in a single station. I had an MIA/Scary Monsters-era Bowie/Daft Punk/Annie station going that I quite liked–but eeevil lurked within.

I got up to go to the mailroom, and when I got back I saw that the most recent previously played song was by R. Kelly. “Bump and Grind”. WTF? And of course I didn’t get a chance to press the button “for the love of god please please please as long as I have ears never play this song again.”

I’m looking forward to the Color Me Badd song that will be cued up by the evil robot Pandora mind in, oh, about an hour or so?

Stargate Alanis

Wait, I’m not in Glasgow. Damn it. DAMN IT!

OK, I guess I have to non-con blog. And resort to bad title puns.

I was listening–speaking of which!–quite inadvertently to the “new” Alanis Morrissette acoustic album of Jagged Little Pill, and if there isn’t a more useless album on the planet, I don’t know what it is. And I was thinking, how must have this sounded to her? Did she think that anyone would really be interested in such a thing?

But–mediocre music must sound GREAT in the studio, right? In perfect sound conditions? Sublime technological conditions don’t create sublime music. The trouble is when you get out of the studio, into stereos and ipods and into other people’s ears.

This is a cautionary note for myself. Because sometimes the interior of my own head feels like a tricked out (more or less) home studio. “Sublime technological conditions” can be mimicked in how a poem or story sounds in my head. If it sounds great in my head…what are the necessary ways to understand how it “really” sounds. That, I think, going back to the workshop discussion, is one of the awesome uses of a workshop. To enter this intermediary zone where the story/poem is STILL in your own head, but also in other people’s. But it’s not completely out there in the public world either.

Why do bands like Aerosmith and Rolling Stones (back in the day) record their music in crazy ass houses and abandoned mansions? It seems like a very 70s thing to do in many ways. And isn’t there a little 70s in all of us? Part of me, just psychologically, abhors the idea of writing retreats, or at least the way they’re narcissistically presented in Tiger Beat Poets and Writers. That is to say, non-working workshops, where writing seems more to be about lifestyle than life. (Just check out their writing conference feature to see what I mean.)

At the same time, there IS the allure of fucked-up abandoned mansions. Where the work gets down to the bone.

Nothing Profound; Just Snark

I despise Coldplay, so luckily there’s an anti-coldplay article in the New York Times that helps to assauge my despisingness in what shapes up to be the Week of Wallow, er, Josh-Groban-with-Guitars, er, Coldplay.