Tuesday, November 25, 2008
What they do is not so much performance as a sort of twisted midwifery to a very obscured and confused baby. Man playing very low-volume drum pads and a woodblock. Woman talking (not even backwards), or singing without enthusiasm. A table covered in wires acting as a barrier between uninterested band and uninterested crowd. There is no aspect of this that comes across better live than on record. In fact, the most impressive member of High Places, Sampler, would probably prefer not to tour at all.
The best thing High Places have ever done was appear on Bradford Cox's video guide to the Pitchfork festival. And I don't even like Bradford Cox. May this band go away soon, and may their mp3s languish unheard in the mysterious ether of a thousand hard drives till the Great Computer Virus of the Future removes them from recorded history.
No catchy bits. Even their "one good song" was drowned in its own self-conscious muck. This is a totem pole made of its own hype, and it should never be given the twelve euro tribute I foolishly gave it.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It was camper than anything I was used to. There was something about the sincerity in the stripped pop layers that took me by surprise. It was too keyboard-heavy and close-focused to fit in with vaguely baroque pop bands I was into at the time (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens), and not nearly life-affirming enough to line up alongside the sunny indie (Architecture in Helsinki, Polyphonic Spree). Songs like Love Connection (which ended up covered on Etiquette by CFTPA) seemed to have a sort of body poetry that was different to anything I'd heard before. I'll block-quote some, seeing as I set the precedent with the Why? post:
Chapped lips, tongue kiss, insert expletiveZac Pennington is the kind of self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, hyper-camp pop experimentalist I can get on board with. Strangely enough though, four years and two more albums after I first heard (((GRRRLS))), I had never actually seen what he looked like. So when he appeared, thin as a rake and bejumpered in threadbare blue, I was... no, I wasn't taken aback at all. He looked exactly like I expected. First time that's ever happened.
Fluids of a summer night
With slight duress, forced imperative
Find me quoting Donovan
The delicate mix of sweat and menstrual blood
Seeping into trampled grass
The set the ( ) girls played was short, with no encore, but it was heavy on old material and there wasn't a lowlight in the bunch. The revolving cast of Guy In Tight T-Shirt, Red Jumper Man and Kind Of Cute Girl took up duties on various synths, glockenspiel, drums, gamelan singing bowls, autoharp or whatever else, while Zac sojourned into the crowd, illustrating his every perfectly-enuniciated word with a graceful extension of his thin arm.
Among the finer expressions of love and lust was his index finger to index finger measurement of you- can-guess-what during the line "I felt his size, close to a dozen times" from Unmentionables off this year's Entanglements.
The undoubted highlight, however, was the medley of Love Connection Pt. 1 and Love Connection Pt. 2*. This was called in by Guy In Tight T-Shirt and met with an "are you sure?" from Zac, but they carried through with it and it made my night. Further sweetness was added by the fact that they apparently rarely play either of the songs, nevermind back-to-back with no gap.
The homely, fire-placed atmosphere of the upstairs venue in Whelans added a lot to the experience, as did the impressive Former Soviet Republic in support, and all in all, the gig was as good as I could have hoped.
I've been incredibly lucky with gigs lately, but before you say "But Karl, EVERYTHING gets a positive review", whet yisser appetites for the next post. Where did I go to escape the weekend Whelans crowd? Stay tuned to find out.
*Love Connection Pt. 1 and 2 are on different albums, so it's not just like playing King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1, 2 and 3 together. I hadn't even considered how they'd fit together until last night. Perfectly, as it turned out.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Last time I saw Built To Spill was in McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, supported by Cat Power and Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü. The place, located in "romantic downtown Brooklyn" according to its website (it was a bit grimy), was roughly the equivalent of Marlay Park as a venue. And it was full, full of the kind of fist-pumping, soul-pouring fans that you get at Radiohead or Coldplay gigs there. The band played exactly that kind of set too, with such vastness and profundity that it seemed impossible that they'd ever have to play any lesser stage.
Two years later, Doug Martsch is literally within groping distance if I leaned, on the stage of Whelans. Whelans, the safety net for Saturday nights, the gig venue, the post-gig venue... It was almost like a culture shock, because of the magnitude of the associations I'd made for BtS in my head. Sort of profane.
Until the floating strains of Randy Described Eternity. The defiant resolution of I Would Hurt A Fly. It just snowballed, too. The band fed off the crowd, which led to the crowd feeding off the band, and the whole thing spiralled into one very loud, guitar-driven catharsis.
I suppose it might have been better if I'd been anticipating the next song like other people had, but for me it just seemed like a perfectly-measured set. I had some fun imagining that I was seeing this band for the first time, as a support act or at a festival or something. This "middle-aged farmer from Idaho" (thx Darragh, constant poet of the everyday), his middle-aged cronies playing essentially wanky guitar, with a cello in the background. The most unlikely thing ever, but it was great. Awe-inspiring at times.
Then the "encore", straight from the end of Perfect From Now On into Goin' Against Your Mind. That song is a gutfuck monster epic, and it had to be. Curfew at Whelans bumbling in to wreck things once more. It ended, and people shouted. "Carry The Zero", "Center of the Universe", "Big Dipper", etc. Not to be. Time's up, one more song.
Video taken by Loreana Rushe about two places behind where I was standing at this, one of the best gigs of the year.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thanks to the manoeuvres of LitSoc (who like Joni for his poetic lyrics), DURNS (whose RN stands for Rock Nostalgia, leading me to believe that they were drawn in by the MOR rock of Gemini Song), Analogue (because Bren was in a position to make the calls, and because Why? are our official collective ninth favourite band*) and Bodytonic (who I assume opened their new venue at a strange hour so that people would know it was there), this genuinely exciting prospect came to pass. There were probably somewhere a little above fifty people there, all seated, and they saw something pretty unique.
Are lyrics poetry? That can't be answered with a yes or a no because the definition of poetry isn't static, and the nature of lyrics is also pretty varying. If I was to be anal about the whole thing, I could mention that almost everything that pop-culture considers poetry is actually lyric poetry, from Shakespeare to Ginsberg. But I won't. I'll do it by experiment.
To inhaling crushed bones
through a dried up
white out pen
and riding the backwards racer
in hot June rain
in a matching blue and gold
plastic bag / poncho / raincoat.
It's a wooden coaster
with a medium hill height mean,
high hill to flat ground ratio
you know I'd sell my shingles
for a thimble dip of snow.
Back then I'd've sold my single
for a fingertip of glow.
I personally think what Joni Wolf does is more lyrics-set-to-music than a contiguous rock and roll song type of thing. All of the lyrics (excepting maybe the few songs that are actually sung straight through) heave with internal rhyme, with perfect measurement and judgement so that there can always be a lot of syllables if there needs to be, without there ever being too many. These songs (they are definitely songs, even if you concede that they could constitute poetry) would stand alone. Take away the careful guitar and keyboards of Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash, or the bedroom fuzziness of Oaklandazulasylum and you would still have the skeleton of something genuinely excellent.
It might even be better.
Some of the time it was. The Fall of Mr. Fifths (off Alopecia) in particular came off amazingly, stripped of its organ and the cushion of reverb. The sight of Joni, microphone left on its stand, rhyming to the backing a single drum, conjures images of San Francisco beat gatherings to me. It's almost mesmeric.
I asked him awkwardly about this while I tried to jam the synth that I had to inexplicably provide back into its case after the gig had finished. He must do it often, I said. In exotic places like Oakland, coffee shop Anticon gigs must be the order of the day. He looked vaguely pitying and explained that he wasn't part of "that scene".
Another convenient imagined reality smashed. But really, that just made the Twisted Pepper set even more unique.
Some day, Those Geese, I will write an unreadable, 5,000 word post on Why? as poetry using academic standards. There's so much. The recurring obsession (or identification?) with Christ and Christianity in general. Bones, whether raped, snorted or inhabited. The bizarre images in general. It will be done. No it won't. Oh well.
*This statement is not true.
**This picture was nicked off the Analogue blog, and was taken, as far as I can tell from the Properties, by the magnificent ivebeentired, whoever that is. Nice picture, yo.
Why? at Andrew's Lane Theatre. Where have I heard that one before? Oh yeah, here. But lack of imagination notwithstanding, it was great to get a second visit off Joni and crew on what is essentially the same tour. Bands (Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Animal Collective) seem to have started skipping us over again this winter. Even if we've started to bleep on the radar of bands like this, the second sweep through Europe generally heads straight to the UK without so much as a cursory glance at "the best crowd in the world".
On the evidence of this redux, however, it appears that good behaviour (i.e. loud cheering) has indeed yielded us the proverbial "nice things". Hurray.
The set was essentially the same as last time, possibly in a different order. It's amazing how good it was, given that fact. These songs in their live format don't seem like they could ever be old. The arrangements are tense, much closer than the occasionally too-clean productions on the album, and needle-point tight. The clacking snare-rim beat of Crushed Bones (opening track on Elephant Eyelash), strewn with daydreamy arpeggios, provides the perfect tensile canvas for Joni to sing over. Or rap over? Speak over? Sing-rap-recite.
It's hard to tell exactly what Joni is. There is definitely a literary character to what he does, almost like a novel full of fictionalised diary entries but with no clear conclusion. Musically, indie rock cannot fully claim him, because of the clear hip-hop influences, for example on the drums. But hip-hop doesn't want him, as I found out on a rap forum I was lurking on while trying to find Pharaohe Monch's album*. "Pussy-ass Jew boy bullshit", or something to that effect.
It obviously doesn't matter where he's categorised. That's a job for people like me on the midnight oil, and has no actual importance. The gig was (almost) as packed as last time, and the people there were (almost) as zealous as last time. And what was last time? I believe I concluded by literarily calling it "deadly" at the time. This was deadly too. Real atmosphere, real chemistry. But above all, great songs.
I'll be right back with more Why?
*the secondhand CD rack at ground level right in front of the counter in the new Freebird facing onto the Central Bank is THE source for every decent rap album since 1980.
**the picture is of Josiah Wolf, whose skill at playing glockenspiel and drums at the same time is beyond impressive***
***those two asterisks don't refer back to anything specific in the text.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Tupac Shakur understands how to use a gun. He earns quite a lot of money. He also enjoys women, but only on a casual basis. He is at pains to stress to us that his flow in particular is somehow better than everyone else's. Especially his enemies. If it seems logical to you that the listener would be able to pick that out without help, then it's also logical to assume that you probably don't listen to a lot of gangster rap.
Me Against The World is guaranteed to sell millions. It would sell millions even if it was terrible. This is in part because it's probably the most archetypal record of its type so far created. But it's mostly down to the 2Pac myth. Like the gangster version of a bullfighter, 2Pac has become a legend in his own time for living in constant danger, but always coming out on top. If the album proves anything, it's his ability to create in the face of difficulty. Because if prison and a failed assassination attempt isn't difficult, it's hard to know what is.
When other rappers come in with guest verses, the difference between 2Pac and other gangstas becomes a little clearer. Even if he rapped about those things that would annoy anyone who doesn't make their living "hustling", his actual flow is eminently better than most. There are two variables in the term gangster rapper. 2Pac is a rapper who raps about his world. He's not a gangster who advertises that fact through rap. That's key.
So many of the songs are full of regrets, like “Dear Mama” about his mother, or “Me Against The World” which is basically the antithesis of ”It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube. The production isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Soul keyboard loops and quasi-G funk beats, as standard. It’s a mood thing though. Easily forgivable.
"Young Niggaz" is a highlight, dealing with kids "murdered for hanging at the wrong place at the wrong time". It's strange to hear a man so far down the road into "Thug Life" to be telling the next generation "you could be an accountant, not a drug dealer". It's not affected though. It's part of the whole tapestry of the LP, 2Pac's battle between celebrating being where he wanted to be, and finding out that it's not the way it should be.
Song titles like "If I Die Tonight" and "Me Against The World" reveal a tattooed man with a gun down his trousers, but one who is acutely aware of how transient the world he has created is. As this CD reaches shops, Tupac Shakur is in Clinton Correctional Facility for sexual abuse. He's not a savoury character. As the Intro reminds us, he was shot five times last November. That's something it's impossible not to think of as the disc spins. There are people who are directly harmed by his actions, and there are people who would like to directly harm him too. Tupac lives in a sort of limbo, and he raps from there. This means that there is something very open-ended about Me Against The World. This is not the end of the Tupac Shakur story.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
The USB cable for my phone doesn't seem to be doing anything, so the era of the no-fi snap is dead and I'm back to stealing Flickr pictures from anyone whose Flickr I can find and Google Image searching "salmon of knowledge". Alas.
Why? was excellent if exactly the same as last time in Crawdaddy, and very much different but very interesting in the stripped down gig at Twisted Pepper. A review of both will be forthcoming.
It's that time of year to start thinking about a top 25. If anyone has any recommendations of things that they think are better than Vampire Weekend, Deerhoof, Of Montreal or Why?, tell me now while there's still breathing room.
New Analogue goes to print tomorrow with a 2,500 word Vampire Weekend interview (uaimse) and a similarly-sized Built To Spill piece from Darragh leading the troops to battle. This one appears to have been copy-edited hard, too, so prepare for new levels of free, mistake-free indie music journalism.