missing in action

28 03 2008

I kind of dropped the ball last week, and I’m sorry. There are many perfectly good reasons for it, though, and I thought I might detail them for you so you can feel like you’re more involved in my life.

news.
My life mentor, Salim Muwakkil, came to speak at Whitman this week, which was a big deal for me. Sometimes I wonder if I have opinions of my own or if I just steal all of my ideas from Salim’s columns. Here are a few of my favorites:

+ Nas: Whose Word Is This?: I think the best articles Salim writes are about hip-hop. Here, he writes about Nas’s crusade to reclaim the n-word, which Salim backs up:

Those who use the word with malicious intent may still be able to inflict pain, but they are brandishing a weakening weapon. The word is being so relentlessly denuded it may one day be effectively defused. Nas’ album continues that process.

+ Throwing Away the Key: Perhaps Salim’s biggest crusade is the institutionalized racism inherent within the American criminal justice system. The insane disproportion of African-American men in American prisons (when compared with the racial demographics of the population as a whole) is, as Salim pointed out many times, something the United States will one day look back on with shame. Although many political writers touch on this subject, none do it with Salim’s passion.

+ Paying Back The Slavery Debt: This is the most compelling argument I’ve ever read in favor of slavery reparations, which was a hot topic almost a decade ago. Unfortunately, the conversation has practically become extinct, despite the coherent reasoning backing the idea (Salim wrote about it again in 2006 as a means to fund the horrific disrepair left by Hurricane Katrina, but to little dispute or rise.)

+ Katrina’s Racial Wake: Written in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Salim tells us what we all know now about race in America. If only it hadn’t taken a devastating storm to teach us that. Almost three years later, we still haven’t rebuilt what was once one of America’s greatest cities; FEMA continues to screw up, lacking any real or drastic solutions; and so many people who lived in The Big Easy have not moved back home.

Salim’s talk last week was about Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, which Salim pointed out was probably the most groundbreaking speech on race made in the last century (John Stewart said as much when he told his audience in a state of make-believe shock that a politician had spoken to the American people about race as if they were adults). For those of us who had felt Obama had grown perhaps a bit spineless in the bright lights of the presidential election, the speech was a breath of fresh air which addressed the racial purple elephant legitimately for the first time. Finally, we can take a step back and recognize that a black candidate for president does not mean we leave in a post-racial society.

music.
You Ain’t No Picasso posted a link to the entire downloadable Ghostface Killah remix album. And it’s sick.

MP3: Ghostface Killah: Charlie Brown (DJ Medhi Remix)


quotes.
I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the president of the Whitman branch of Action for Animals. I know. I’m a pretty big deal. And this week, adding to the excitement of Mr. Muwakkil’s visit, was Veggie Week. So here is a veg-friendly Albert Einstein quote (he was vegetarian btw) and a recipe you might want to try out.

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

RECIPE:
If you haven’t visited the Post-Punk Kitchen online yet, you have to. It’s really, really good. The writer, Isa Chandra Moskowitz should probably be enshrined for proving that vegan food is often better than non-vegan food. If you don’t believe me, check out this cupcake recipe. I’m not kidding when I say that you will have a food-related orgasm (FRO).

RECIPE: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting


more quotes.
ALSO this week, my boyfriend Alex Kerr turned 21 this week. So in honor of the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know (Alex), an excerpt from Wednesday’s interview with Keith Richards posted on golden fiddle. It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever read.

Q: You should sell your body on eBay.
Yeah, I think so. Apparently, I do have an incredible immune system. I had hepatitis C and cured it by myself.

Q: How?
Just by being me.

Q: Do you regret not moisturizing your face?
No. I leave that up to other people.

Q: Ever think about getting Botox?
No one’s ever talked me into doing that. You’re lucky if you walk out of there alive. God bless you.

Q: Are you still cutting your own hair? You’ve done that all your life, right?
Yes. I did this bit here yesterday. [holds up a few strands on the side of his head] Also, I’m letting the dye grow out, since I’m not on the road. If the wife likes it, I’ll keep it.

miscellaneous.

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hardware

19 03 2008

New music Wednesday comes with a decided pout, whereas every music blog out there has been posting live photos from SXSW — which, by the way, looks like it kicks fucking ass this year.But I’ve got two nice tracks for you and a video I’m obsessed with. So enjoy!

She & Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here”

The exciting collaboration between world’s-best-guitar-picker M. Ward and world’s-sexiest-female Zooey Deschanel was released yesterday, and I think it’s incredibly interesting. The songs are all Deschanel’s own, and the record was recorded in Portland just this last year (I can’t believe Zooey could have been just chillin’ at the Doug Fir and I was completely unaware… but I would have pulled a Jack-McFarland-meets-Broadway-diva and that would have been embarrassing). The music itself is surprisingly upbeat but definitely quirky, and hearkens to mid-’50s big-hair doo-wop music (I hear an early Linda Rondstadt in Deschanel’s voice, which surprises me because she was almost husky [but hot] when she sang her big solo in the ever-brilliant “Elf”).

MP3: She & Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here”   

Rilo Kiley – “Let My Love Open The Door”

 This is a live cut via You Ain’t No Picasso from SXSW, but don’t you feel like Rilo Kiley was always intended to perform this song? Kind of like when Sheryl Crow covered “The First Cut Is The Deepest,” and you didn’t want to admit it, but her version was better than Cat Stevens’? Okay. Not exactly. But anyway, this cover is not extraordinary, nor does it take any major risks, but it’s a perfect choice for the band. You listen to it and you think, “Huh. That makes sense.”

MP3: Rilo Kiley – “Let My Love Open The Door” live  

 Video: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – “Bag of Hammers”

Thao, aka Thao Nguyen, has released two provocative-but-decidedly poppy albums in the last two years: The brilliant but virtually critically ignored “Like The Linen” and this year’s incredible and explosive “We Brave Bee Stings and All.” Hailed by Laura Viers and others, Thao is growing into a regular indie darling, and for good reason: Her vocals are always careful and her lyrics have that rare quality of being able to stand on their own two feet. She’s my latest obsession. Last week, her perfect stop-motion animation video for “Bag of Hammers” (the first single off “We Brave”) dropped, and it has like 250 hits from me alone. 





dmx, xxl

19 03 2008

[EDIT: There are links throughout this, but I had a lot of difficulty formatting this piece for some reason, so the links are just showing up black. But there are three or so opportunities to read the whole interview in XXL.] Today’s quote comes from a really lovely little interview in XXL magazine published last Friday with DMX. The infamous, brilliant, hardcore street rapper is famous for being having the perfect mix of image, edge and indisputable talent (I think allmusic.com puts it well in saying he’s “sort of like a hip-hop Johnny Cash”); now he’s slated to release two albums in the next year, including a gospel record called You’ll Fly With Me Later. The interesting part of the interview, though, comes when XXL is asked to weigh in on the upcoming presidential election: 

 

Are you following the presidential race?
Not at all.

 

You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!

Barack Obama, yeah.
Barack?!

Barack.
What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

 

Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?

 

Yeah.
What the fuck?! That ain’t no fuckin’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.

 

You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.

 

I mean, it’s pretty big if a Black…
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.

When I first saw this excerpt on 23-6 and kottke, I thought it was a joke. I mean, I guess I though DMX was being funny. Because seriously: He’s Barack O-mother-fucking-bama. The “I Have A Crush On Obama” video by the she-got-her-15-minutes-ObamaGirl has over 7 million views on YouTube; DMX’s “X Gon Give It To Ya” video doesn’t even boast half that.But it appears DMX actually doesn’t open the newspaper anymore. Some may call him disillusioned. If you read on: 

So you’re not following the race. You can’t vote right?
Nope.

 

Is that why you’re not following it?
No, because it’s just—it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. It doesn’t really make a difference. These are the last years.

 

But it would be pretty big if we had a first Black president. That would be huge.
I mean, I guess…. What, they gon’ give a dog a bone? There you go. Ooh, we have a Black president now. They should’ve done that shit a long time ago, we wouldn’t be in the fuckin’ position we in now. With world war coming up right now. They done fucked this shit up then give it to the Black people, “Here you take it. Take my mess.”

 

The rest of the interview is actually pretty interesting. Although DMX may appear a cynic and perhaps even ignorant, his assertion that the president is essentially a “puppet” rings true for many who have given up on the bipartisan American system altogether.Ah, but we keep on trying, don’t we? 





andrew on music

18 03 2008

My close friend and audiophile Andrew Hall compiled a beautiful annotated list of spring break music, and graciously gave upside down again permission to print it. So for your amusement and enjoyment:

samamidon – sugar baby

[Here’s a video, I think]I’d listened to this once or twice before I think it and the rest of its accompanying record, all is well, finally hit me. I was flying back here and had to turn my iPod off after playing the first track, what with impending descent and all, and Sam Amidon’s vocals, which convey some sense of longing that I just can’t shake, especially on this song, threw me the hell off. The arrangement – the sparse strings, the electric/acoustic split by channel that somehow doesn’t come across as a dumb gimmick, and just about everything else – is stunning. 

There’s something about Iceland that just gives everything that comes from it – even traditional Appalachian folk songs reinterpreted by a 26-year-old from Vermont – this sound. Maybe I’m giving the country too much credit, given that I’ve heard it’s more than a little overpriced and Sigur Rós are supposedly dicks (see that disastrous NPR interview for evidence), though they do have striking volcanoes and attractive women, and I’m okay with that. And it could be just the fact that this record was produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson, who also did a Bonnie ‘prince’ Billy record called the letting go, also in Iceland, that this reminds me of. The fact that Amidon sounds a little like Will Oldham probably has something to do with it, too.

the magnetic fields – california girls

The trick to distortion is that that the distortion is a gimmick. The songs have pretty straightforward acoustic arrangements buried beneath sheets of noise because Stephin Merritt has some idea about psychocandy by the Jesus and Mary Chain being the last significant event in pop music. I’d ask him to explain himself, but I’ve already read a whole lot about how Stephin Merritt is a terrifying interview and I do enough heavy sighing by myself, making his presence on the other side of a phone line unnecessary. 
The other trick to distortion is the fact that none of these songs make even the slightest first good impression. I fell hard for 69 love songs almost immediately, as I did holiday and the charm of the highway strip. Parts of get lost don’t click for me, but I think enough of both “When You’re Old and Lonely” and “All the Umbrellas In London” that I’ll probably buy it if and when it gets a vinyl repress. Butdistortion forces one to meet it on its terms, which is tough, since it’s neither noise nor pop but it isn’t the best noise-pop record, either. Hearing these songs performed live confirmed it, since “California Girls” performed with acoustic instruments and the unnecessary laughter of a bunch of Seattlites, mostly couples, was completely and totally irresistible. I even kind of like the studio version now, though this was best presented with Shirley Simms reproducing the song’s fade-out by whispering the chorus’s final repetition to a silent, adoring audience before it bursts into applause, prompting hyperacusis sufferer Merritt to frown and cover his ear. 
 

studio – no comply

There was nothing Swedish on this list, it wasn’t long enough because I write too much, and this list needed some very serious Swedish music with very serious Swedish guitar solos and very serious Swedish vocals. If it wasn’t so good it’d be filler.
 

the mountain goats – autoclave

In the heretic pride press kit drawn by Jeffrey Lewis and written by John Darnielle, he describes this song as being the product of his thinking about “people whose hearts involuntarily pulverize any good feelings that come within a city block of them.” He also makes mention of the fact that the song came to shape while he was in Alaska, and this does feel like a strikingly Alaskan song to me, even though all I remember about Alaska was the fact that everyone seemed to die really young for some reason. 
When I was five, I remember being in a car with a friend of mine I haven’t seen in something like seven years and probably won’t ever see again. We drove by the Dimond Center, and he told me it was the dying center, since a man died there. He actually died from inhaling toxic fumes from the machinery that kept the ice rink in the basement cold, but I came to mythologize him for years as the guy who got hit by the zamboni. Note that to my knowledge, no one was ever hit or killed by a zamboni on the ice rink at the Dimond Center, and if I have cost them any business by perpetuating this lie, I am sorry.
 

neon neon – steel your girl

Gruff Rhys has always been obsessed with puns. Apparently his first solo record, the all-Welsh yr atal genhedlaeth, is titled after a terrible pun, as are all of the songs. That’s the best justification for the title I can give, but it really doesn’t need one, since the Neon Neon record has the best pop songs Gruff Rhys has been involved with since two or three Super Furry Animals albums ago. It reminds me of something that band would’ve done on guerrilla, which is easily my favorite Furries record and probably one of my favorite records of all time. It’s heavier on synths than anything else, but it maintains the same sense of sparkling production and Rhys can make something sound massive without the heavy-handedness that’s made me dislike the Flaming Lips so much in the last few years. But I guess my summary could be reduced to something like “It’s really good” and I don’t say that very often, since I’m kind of tired.

sm & jicks – gardenia

This is the only song on real emotional trash that doesn’t break the three-minute mark. I told people that the record was really jammy, because it is, given that over 60% of the album’s songs break the six-minute mark, and that it wasn’t as fun as face the truth, because it isn’t. 
This one’s great, though. It’s weird to hear female harmonies backing Malkmus given that there were never any women in Pavement and I still think of Pavement or the Christmas party at which I met SM’s parents more than I do his solo records, but they’re there, as is Janet Weiss, who, given that she is Janet Weiss, is all sorts of excellent. There’s also some line in the chorus about a freeway and rejection, but I gave up on trying to figure that out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets heavier rotation in the middle of the summer, though I have no idea where I’ll be or if there’ll be a pair of shitty speakers to blast this through there. 
 

los campesinos! – knee deep at ATP

The easiest way to win over lovelorn music nerds is to write songs about being lovelorn music nerds. This is one of them, given that the song’s entirely about a music festival that happens a couple times each year in the UK, meeting a girl there, and the inevitable complications. Gareth Campesinos! says it’s about how he makes himself expendable by valuing people based on the bands they like. I’m not quite willing to admit it yet, but I’m also more likely than not completely and totally guilty of this.
It also has music nerd appeal because it makes mention of things like correctly-used apostrophes, ellipses, and K records T-shirts. It’s also over in under three minutes, which is a plus, given both that the whole record’s mixed way too loud and that it covers a whole lot of territory given how short it is. It’s quite the buildup going on in that last 40 seconds or so. 

beach house – home again

Probably chosen just because of where I happen to be. I don’t know if this is home anymore, or if I’m comfortable calling anything home right now, but that’s not important. What’s important is that Beach House should’ve released this in November when it wasn’t sunny outside every other day, since the only beachlike imagery I could even begin to associate with this record is a vision of a single house on some coast, either near a dying city or a dead town, early in the morning, surrounded by fog in the dead of winter. Twice a day someone emerges, realizes they’re still alone, and goes back to sleep. On the weekends they visit a grave, but nothing encouraging comes of that, either. 
I don’t know why it is that I actually like devotion given that beach house did nothing for me. I’ll admit that I was, more than anything else, taken by the cover, a photo of band members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally eyeing a cake with the album’s title written in icing across the front. Then there was the realization that everyone who compared this band to Low, easily among my favorite bands, Galaxie 500, who I love, Mazzy Star, who are responsible for the single sexiest pop song I have ever heard, and Slowdive, who I don’t think of much right now, were completely and totally wrong. This is a particularly warped take on girl group music that sounds nothing like proto-shoegaze or slowcore or whatever and everyone who says otherwise is lying. Once I realized that, it started to click, and then I fell hard.

semi-irrelevant additional material: 

A few nights ago Peter, Nadim and I were driving around Seattle. We were blasting singles from dear catastrophe waitress by Belle and Sebastian. Peter heard “Your Cover’s Blown” for the first time and we all agreed that it was still pretty great, and we listened to “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” and “If She Wants Me” before we got back to his house. I said I wanted to listen to the life pursuit as we drove to the airport the next morning, hoping for a sunny day, but it was pouring, so devotion won, Seattle weather once again victorious.

why? – good friday

If elephant eyelash was Yoni Wolf falling in love and the inevitable breaking up, as well as  contemplating suicide, alopecia is the sound of him documenting the fallout (and, yes, contemplating suicide). This one reads like a straight-up confession with such specificity that in a world where Yoni Wolf wasn’t so much a songwriter as he was a compulsive Livejournal updater, the material would transition almost effortlessly. I, for one, am pleased that it took shape like this. And yes, for the record, the bear from Showbiz Pizza does look pretty scary





best cover songs…

6 02 2008

Following a conversation on the best cover songs of all time, I thought I’d make a list of the Top 10 Best Cover Songs of All Time.

Check it out…