Rings - "Is He Handsome". When it's three in the morning and the street-light outside is filling your room; when there are rattles in the walls and the same three lines of conversation are circling round&round in your brain. When everything feels a little off, and also much too on. The noise inside your head is sharp, flat, as off-key as your flickery dreams. Isn't it time to go to work? Isn't it time to fall in love? Is this guy something lost, or something you need to realise you found?
The band-name "Rings" evokes the things you wear on your fingers, or the circles that diffuse from where a stone meets the water. But it can also be the present tense of the verb "to ring". This song rings. Insistently. [buy from Paw Tracks]
Tangerine Submarine - "The Life of a Porcelain Doll". Every morning you wash your face - you get up and wash your face and look at your own eyes in the mirror. Sometimes the mirror's steamed over and sometimes the day is sharp outside the window. Always your eyes, there, deep in their sockets, and never a day younger. You remember when you used to look at your own face and see a child, a teenager, a boyfriend, a married man. The same face, every day, even as you go to pieces. And it'll be the same face when you surface, shaken, and set those sharded memories aside. [MySpace]
Local yeasayers: Yeasayer is coming back to Montreal. One of StG's favouritest new bands appears at La Sala Rossa on February 10th, along with MGMT and Valleys. Tickets are $10 in advance or else, yes, in conjunction with Blue Skies Turn Black we've got two pairs to give away. For the chance to win entry, email me with the subject-line YEASAYER CONTEST, and tell me three things you say YEA to. Deadline is 11:59 pm on Wednesday, February 6.
As easy as it might be to dismiss this sultry blues as a mere genre exercise, I urge you to listen until at least 1:08, when Otis Rush shows us that a guitar can be like a wrecking ball and a song a flimsy structure to be torn down. What comes after - thirty Italian dandies dancing the mashed potato in a living room scene directed by Michelangelo Antonioni - is all well and fine, but nothing compares to the moment when Rush's band is sent into a trembling retreat, is utterly cowed, by the power of the man's piercing, distorted guitar, unleashed just seconds after he pines, "I love you baby," and then oh so unconvincingly, "and I know you love me, too."
An ideal soundtrack to a bottle fight I once observed outside a Milanese train station.
So, this is the last thing I'm going to say about the Wonderful Video Contest before it's over. We've been getting some amazing submissions, and everything is going great etc. BUT...this is it. You have one week from today to submit, and if you haven't started yet, you can still start now and get it done in time. In hopes of encouraging you, lighting a fire under you, I'm submitting to you (not to the contest, obv) a video I just finished tonight. It's made with puppets and it might be the best thing I've ever done.
made by Dan Beirne and Etan Muskat
sets by Brent Skagford
puppets by Jenna Wright
additional assistance from Marc Rowland, Danny Zabbal, and Pat & Nora Beirne
Baby Dee - "Safe Inside the Day". Dee sent Antony (of the Johnsons) songs, thinking Antony might want to cover one. Antony said no but uh someone should put these out. And someone did. And then Bonnie Prince Billy heard them and he and Matt Sweeney played with Baby Dee in Cleveland and Bonnie Prince Billy said uh can we record you? And they did, for Drag City, on an album that was released on January 22nd.
And this is the title & opening track, a song that is hurled with so much spirit that it could pin clouds to sky and forests to mountains, that it could pin tomorrows to todays and wills to oughts. It's a manifesto and a prayer and an inflammatory writ; it's piano-keys laid like foundation stones; it's the greatest utterance of the word "safe" that I've heard in my life. Dee's day will dim yours, cast yours into half-light and make you aspire to change, growth, courage; to aspire to better things, to return again & again with redoubled spirits... until finally you lead a day such as hers, finding a tiny paradise of no goodbyes. To find a peace so gloriously hard-fought as this.
Please Quiet Ourselves - "Color Chart". This is no more a song about colours than Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" is a song about moons, or pinks.
Started to get a little black.We stare through our prisms at our beds and our loves and our cities and our losses. We neglect the silvers. (And we forget plum, as well we should.) We wait for rainbows to confirm that a place is beautiful.
Started to get red.
Came again - there was blue, there was green, there was brown.
There was silver.
Gold, silver, bronze.
Don't forget plum.
Wait a second now: there's another colour.
What about orange / makes it so DAMN special?
What about orange
makes it orange
We play drums with our hands and only when it's too late pick up the sticks.
Please Quiet Ourselves are teenagers, and they're already better painters than me.
I turned my family's home into a laboratory. I say my family's because they really own it, not me. I paid for it, I worked for it, but I don't really own it. That is, I didn't really own it until now. I cleared out all the furniture, I took down all the pictures, removed all the fixtures. The only thing that stayed was the plumbing and the foundation. I covered all the walls in white tile, even the ceiling, and every few feet there's a drain. I can make tests in completely sterile settings. I test viscosity and fecundity, velocity and perk. I'm a man of very few rules, but the rules that exist are hard and fast. And I had become lazy in enforcing them, a traitor to myself. So now the kids can make their lunches on the tile counter, the food stored on the colder parts of the floor, and we can all get along a bit better. I can never go back to how it was. [Buy]
(photo by meredith)
Oh, the deadline for the Wonderful Video Contest is in 11 days! So finish editing, wrap shooting, or get goshdarned started! because this is it! the one!
Drew Danburry - "I'm Pretty Sure This Is Someone Else's Song, But I Couldn't Figure Out Whose So I'm Keeping It!"
Evidently Drew Danburry doesn't know where this song is from. I don't recognize it but it does remind me of a few familiar ditties. The song of chestnuts falling, for instance, or the melody whistled as guy-in-apron pulls the chestnuts from the oven. The song you sang when winter became spring and then receded back into winter, but still it's a nice day. When your bicycle's suddenly working ok again, or when you bump into your friend on the street and you only talk for a sec but it's clear in the clear of their eyes that they were really happy to see you. And you were happy to see them, too. Because there's a bright shiny sunny day / beyond the storm.
And I wish you were able to keep all things when you can't figure out whose they are. Like: "Whose is this ice-cream you are holding? Who knows! It is mine now." Or: "Whose is the moon? I'm keeping it!" Or, and finally: "To whom does this pretty girl belong, sittin' next to me here; well I guess maybe [whispering] i'll call her mine." [MySpace/buy]
Xiu Xiu - "Under Pressure (ft. Michael Gira)". Xiu Xiu throw themselves at the Queen/Bowie classic, like strawberries catapulted at Quebec City's walls. (Swans'/Angels of Light's Michael Gira's there too. So are saxophones.) It's a splendid, beautiful, bloody fucking mess -- like if we stretch the earlier metaphor I guess I'd say the strawberries knock Quebec down, -- and if you get distracted by my run-on sentence and Xiu Xiu's masterpiece you might start thinking about Quebec as Jericho and "Under Pressure" as Joshua's shofar-call, or Quebec as yr defences and "Under Pressure" as yr sweet baboo, or Quebec as yr (my) Xiu Xiu skepticism and "Under Pressure" as the thing that man, blows it altogether away. [pre-order (out next week)]
Gramofriend Casey Dienel has a new record coming out in
April March and it's under the band-name White Hinterland. You can listen to a song here. The album is wonderful and I hope to write more about it soon but in the meantime you can read the big ole' press blurb I wrote for her. Casey's voice is more hidden here, crouching amid swish and drone and the wildflower jazz of her friends.
And finally, to my surprise and delight, some of you out there have nominated Said the Gramophone as Best Weblog About Music in the 2008 Bloggies. They are like the Golden Globes for blogs, only I don't think we even get an honorary press conference. StG was nominated for "Best Writing" in 2006, but here we are this year in a more straightforward category. Please consider voting for us, or for one of the other nominees - it's not the usual mp3blog dramatis personae and we're definitely not the only ones I'd be happy to see win.
As always, thank you so much for reading.
[photographer unknown; photo taken from heaven & here]
Kate Maki - "White Noise" (mp3 removed at label request. stream here.)
Today I drank one glass (two fingers) of scotch, one bottle (75 cl) and one can (33 cl) of sparkling water – all while listening to this song. Don’t be afraid to ask, go ahead: You want to know the source of this gluttonous thirst. It’s the verses, I tell you, the earthy, human sounds of strings and cords and chords and keys (and keys), the searching, unresolved, huddled harmony. It imparts to the listener a thirst unquenchable even by a fistful of scotch and 108 cl of fine French eau gazeuse. Luckily there’s the chorus, which, introduced by a single, perfectly cadenced note on the piano, and followed by a chest-wrenching vocal harmony, acts like a keg of Gatorade poured directly down the thirsty’s throat. I would wait through an infinite verse if it meant I might be able to glimpse this chorus as I approached the limit. [Buy]
A letter of explanation to an ex-lover whose stalking behaviour has driven the singer of this song to flee from his home in the southern US of A to a hideout in Germany, replete with all the weariness and frustration such an aural epistle entails ... and more ( i.e. a jug bass)! [Buy]
Like a hundred people trying to build a house of cards, like some wild vaudeville madhouse slapstick, this smashing smashing is an enormous drunken wander. Teetering and swaying and then falling forward and running, then stop! -ping and running again. It's mob logic, it's mania by committee, it's dark and red and silver and so so beautiful. It's impossible to dance to, you look like someone trying to sing along to made-up words, but it's amazing to watch it dance. [Buy from Sublime Frequencies]
Get out of here. Get out of here, they're coming. [Buy]
idea for combination from going through old favourites at popsheep
Kid in Oklahoma City's sitting beside a cardboard stand that says SONGS in felt marker letters. Got a cassette boombox on his lap. Guy walks over in a white linen suit. Seems on his way somewhere.
"What's this?" he says.
"One dollar," says the kid, "and record a song."
The guy smiles at this, thinks for a sec and pats a beat on his trousers. "Okay," he says finally. He pulls a raggedy bill out of his wallet and hands it over. The kid takes it solemnly and slips it in his polo shirt's chest pocket. The guy in the suit squats on the lawn.
Next the kid heaves over the boombox until it's just in front of the guy who's gonna sing. "Go?" says the guy. "I'll count you in," says the kid. He presses play and record at the same time, pushing hard. Three, two, one, he mouths.
The guy sings a song. The cars keep rushing by, all glossy in the sun. The grass smells like the end of spring. The song's a lazy song, a sweet one. The guy sings it looking away, out and over the houses.
Fifteen years later the kid finds his old & beat-up tape player at the back of his parent's garage. He sits on the concrete beside their Honda. It's chilly. He hits play. He hears hiss and wind and cars and sunshine and the song, this song, the song the guy sang for a dollar, before he waved and said thanks and strolled away. And the kid, he's not a kid any more. He listens to the song and rewinds it and listens again. And he rewinds it and listens to it again. And later that week he buys a guitar and he learns the song and he forms a band and he makes a record and he knows for the first time that he's really found the thing that makes him happy, and that that means everything will work out. Every thing. [MySpace]
What we want is for our hearts to be like magnets, like the kid with the golden arm throwing a new white baseball. What we want is for our love to be like the tide, and to hear kisses in the surf. [buy]
As I was thrown spinning from the wreckage, I thought to myself, "I'll never get to see Obama win."
This is no time to give up. Staying up all night is good for your health. The same way crying your eyes out or getting punched in the face is good for your health.
I got married when I was 17. And goddammit, look at me now. I earned this face.
This? This is nothing. Honestly, it's nothing. You'll think it's nothing when it's over.
He said he loved me "with all the madness in his soul". And I believed him. I had no reason not to.
Largely, I don't see the point of dancing naked after a shower, but I just couldn't help myself. I felt like a blade of grass, or a flag or something.
They knew it was a lost cause. Anybody could have seen that. But they just kept fighting. Oh my god, you should have seen that.
"I'll have a side of fries as well."
"Okay, side of fries, with what sauce?"
Direct eye contact, "American."
Today's post is about ghosts. Here are four swift introductions, and then a story. See also this.
Queen Victoria - "Up On The Rooftop".
Queen Victoria is also called Nick Malkin and The Endless Night comes in a black package without any information, just a sepia photograph that makes me think of Jandek, but the music is warmer than that (for all its desolation), and Malkin's moan does not sound as sad as it makes itself out to be, like someone who's waiting for the day when he can garage-sale all his Leonard Cohen records while his wife plays inside with their little girl. [MySpace]
Phosphorescent - "Cocaine Lights".
A eulogy, a hymn, a folk-song. In the raga of piano, guitar and tambourine you hear voices open, just singing, no words, and you hear these groans wobble & sour, all the death shaking out from their loose, live lungs. [buy]
The Harpeth Trace - "Who Knows Where You Are".
I do not know if there is mist in Los Angeles, but if there is not I suspect the Harpeth Trace spend their evenings on the beach, watching the stars begin to pinprick, wishing that maybe the Clientele's London fog will make its way through the seven seas to wrap them up where they stand. [buy/West Coast tour]
Burial - "Raver".
If you fall down at the nightclub, 3:00 in the morning, streetlights and taillights and twilights smeared in your eyes, and you hit your head, and your dreams exte-e-end, Burial would be playing behind your sleep. [buy]
On Valentine's Day, when Lila was twenty six, she stopped hearing ghosts. It didn't happen until their dessert was coming out, something with coconut and silken tofu, but all of a sudden the restaurant around her went very quiet and she could hear the Thai music a little better and hear Jake a little better and hear the couples beside them a little better. And she didn't think anything of it, really, because the dessert was fucking good and she was trying to decide if she'd go back with Jake after dinner and it wasn't until much later, when she was walking home alone along the ice, that she realised wait wait wait wait wait wait where did they go?
When she was a little girl, Lila thought that everyone heard ghosts. Their whispers were part of regular life, like pins-and-needled feet, or the wind, and she did not pay much attention to their murmurs. But the third time she mentioned them to her parents, they began to ask her questions. And her answers led to concerns, and the concerns to late-night conversations, and to psychiatrists, and doctors, and ultimately to a wary wonderment in their eyes, not quite sure what to say to the daughter who heard spirits.
The ghosts didn't speak in words; they moaned and murmured. Their sounds made Lila think of rivers, rushes, bass saxophones, her dog's happy panting. It was a very soft cacophony, sometimes quiet and sometimes loud, but always there. At her grandmother's wake the voices were so low they almost disappeared; at the bus-stop outside St-Laurent metro, they were inexplicably deafening. When Lila kissed Gregory Pavlovich in sixth grade, the ghosts shook bells, such gentle bells, more daffodil than carillon. At dance-clubs they groaned under the soundsystem's beats, like the swerve of blood through her veins.
But now, on February 14th, they had vanished. The night whistled down Parc Avenue and there was nothing hidden under the wind. Lila slipped into a phone-booth and closed her eyes. She could hear cars skating by, a siren's distant cry, and silence. Back at her apartment every room was barren. The curtains hung unmoving at the window and she lay in her empty bed waiting, just waiting.
The next morning, the ghosts had still not returned. Nor did they return on the 16th, 21st or 28th of February. Lila trudged to work with head bowed, concentrating, straining for whispers. She sat for two hours outside St-Laurent metro, stamping her boots to keep warm. She slipped into the throng at Zoobizarre, one night, and pressed her ear to the speaker as if she might jar something free. And later she stood shivering atop Mont Royal, ankle-deep in snow, imagining a voice that would rise up & out of the skyline. No voice came.
Again she went to doctors, twenty years after those initial appointments, but this time with a different question: where did the voices go? She spoke with friends, former lovers, telephoned her parents in Florida. On a Sunday morning she found herself at church, bored out of her mind, and light streamed in through the stained glass.
"I used to hear all these voices," she said to Jake. "I don't know what they were. Who they were. But they were there, they were there. You know? Everywhere. And now it's all gone. Like someone turned off the sound of your heartbeat, or if you lived by the ocean and someone turned off the tide."
"Maybe the dead died," he said.
"Maybe they weren't the dead," she said.
Grocery shopping felt hollowed out, like all the smells were gone. Drinking felt hollowed out, like there was no one to catch her if she got too drunk. Sleeping felt hollowed out, all the dreams like paper. She seduced Jake, brought him cherries and honeycomb toffee and kisses, and she brought him back to her place, and she wrapped him in her legs, and in the midst of her flush she clenched her fists because she knew, she knew, she could hear and she knew - nothing had changed.
And what can I say, really, except that the ghosts never came back. That Lila spent the rest of her days listening for the departed voices, hunting for wisps of them in other things, carrying in her heart a nostalgia that was lonely and unsure, wondering as she aged if she had imagined it all, whether she had ever heard these things, and who believes in ghosts anyhow, and probably it was some ear problem, and who cares, and the murmurs of spirits have nothing to do with our greatest joys, and what's the point of searching for things that don't dwell here with us, and why not just love & live here, with bodies and birds, and forget the forgotten things, just live under sky and over earth, in winter and summer, and be happy and sad and mortal, yes and mortal, (and when we die we will be home again).
If you live in Montreal, I still say you should come to this concert tonight because the bands are amazing and the price is right and many of my friends will be there so probably yours will be too. Spake the Grandmaphone: oh yes oh yes, uh huh, yup, yes, damn straight.
If you're not partying like this then you're not partying in Ghana, though you may be partying in Ghana's opposite, Japan. To test, check to see whether you're partying like the following.
If neither, spraypaint "Killjoy was here" on the wall closest to you and come to terms with the statement's very veracity, for you are a killjoy and you are here, where, evidently, the properest parties are not.
Ladyhawk - "Night You're Beautiful" (mp3 removed at label request)
Like truth in television, like overreacting, like karaoke, this song carries with it a kind of soft drama, a warm familiar holler that's at once both comforting and Sunday-sad. It's, like much of Ladyhawk's great songs, made for summer woods with towering towering trees that seep crushes and furtive campfire smiles out their sides. This is a song someone will have their heart broken to, no question. I'm just glad it's not going to be me. [Buy old stuff]
The Felt Tips - "Boyfriend Devoted". You try to set aside all the complications, all the things that come between you, all the reasons why not. There's no point hashing through things, discussing the issues. Oral arguments aren't going to be persuasive. Here's the situation, sing the Felt Tips: my boyfriend is hooked on Christianity and will no longer come to bed with me. But the words of this song are not the words of a love-song. The lyrics are not an attempt to win him back, or an argument for turning away from Christ. There's not one phrase devoted to the boyfriend's redeeming qualities. No, the lyrics explain the situation, that is all. And the rest - the affection, the devotion, the laughter, the love, - this doesn't need to be stated. Not a word needs to be spared. Because that love, it's there in the gorgeous Orange Juice jangle of guitar, in the jubilance of the melody, in the gold & starlight of all that song. It's there as clear as that look across the room, eyes to eyes, i to thou, your heart going ping.
The Felt Tips are from Glasgow and they remind me of Orange Juice, The Smiths, and puddles on a sunny day. They'll remind you of the kind of rainy days you've missed ever since (s)he's gone.
Raise High The Roof Beam - "Break My Heart In Two". When the uke's joined by a forest, a choir and a cockleshell beach, "Break My Heart In Two" sounds almost like a 69 Love Songs out-take. It's also got laser guns, weird pseudo hip-hop backtalk, and an address to Abraham Lincoln. In other words, it's a gentle bit of mess. But I get it, I think I do - because when your heart's been broken in two, when it's rended and wrenched, yr life tends to get gently messy. You sit in yr forest, yr cockleshell beach, in a pile of pinecones and laser guns and postcards and old photographs, trying to teach yourself the fucking ukelele.
Montrealers! This Thursday at Sala Rossa there's an amazing show for the amazing price of pay-what-you-can. Shapes & Sizes, Sister Suvi (aka Tuneyards), Telefauna and The Luyas -- aka, seriously for real, four of our favourite bands in the whole city, yes including the famous bands. (And all were profiled during our run at Ajisignal.) I basically think you'd be an idiot if you didn't go.
Remember to enter our Wonderful Video Contest! Under a month to go and there's tons of rooms for more submissions. To answer a couple recent questions: yes, you can (and should) enter even if you live outside North America! and yes, you can (and should) enter even if you are a kid!
If you think of an encyclopedia less like a contribution to science, less of a mountain of facts, and more like a friend to help you get through something, then you're beginning to understand The Encyclopedia
Dan. It will contain answers, though maybe not the answers, to questions that I wish I could have read about before I finding out for myself. ... You can add your own in the comments.
file under: travel: london
it is very expensive to take the bus and train in london, england, but you can get an "oyster card" in a few minutes, basically for free, which makes the Underground and everything much, much cheaper, and that's the way you should do it when you visit.
file under: things worth spending a little more money on
headphones, sushi, birthday presents, dark chocolate, winter coats, the train, baklava, taxis home
file under: sundays
lots of people feel blue on sundays. it is common. don't worry about it. maybe you will feel better if you call a friend on the telephone or go out for ice-cream cones before it gets too late.
file under: cabin fever
if you are isolated from people for a few days or maybe even a week, you might begin to go a little crazy, and feel hollow and depressed and tired and desperately unhappy, and it's not because you are depressed or tired or desperately unhappy - it just means you should have some conversations with people, and then you will feel better so fast.
file under: distances
chicago's quite a long way from new york city, if you were planning to go.
file under: quitting: jobs
it's always easier than you think.
file under: goodbyes
file under: growing up: long-distance relationships
you cannot under any circumstances believe your eyes or your ears. not because people are liars but because when two hearts aren't under the same sheets it is very hard for them to know each other and beat in time, no matter how much you think you can hear the thump-&-thump down the telephone wires.
file under: travel: montreal
get a bike.
Elsewhere: Torture Garden's favourite songs of 2007 are recommended.
I'm working on a small mass of knowledge not found in regular books. If you think of an encyclopedia less like a contirbution to science, less of a mountain of facts, and more like a friend to help you get through something, then you're beginning to understand The Encyclopedia Dan. It will contain answers, though maybe not the answers, to questions that I wish I could have read about before I finding out for myself.
file under: life changes: small: face
the first day that you wear your glasses you might feel like you're shorter than you are. you might feel uglier than you are, you might get a headache.
file under: purchases: small
when you buy a dish rack from the dollar store, don't forget to also buy the tray that goes underneath it. that's also a dollar.
file under: growing up: firsts
if you need to know what french kissing is like, and how to do it, I would recommend thinking of the kiss as a sleep and your tongue as the dream. It's not right away, and it doesn't last the whole time.
file under: etiquette: tipping
you should tip movers. And not just with lemonade. 15-30$ should be fine.
file under: general questions
you're right where you should be. you're on the right track.
You can add your own in the comments. Though you're wrong if you think I know enough to make The Wikipedia Dan.
This is the third in a series of three posts celebrating and responding to Carl Wilson’s book, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste.
Carl’s installment in the 33 1/3 series of books on albums is, as Dan and Sean have both pointed out, a book about Celine Dion that is not about Celine Dion. Rather, it is a discursive work on, among other things, taste, identity, and the practice of music criticism. It’s also about the writer himself; in the middle of the book, as the personal begins to pervade its pages and its themes are reframed in this context, we discover that what at first appeared a worthy academic exercise is actually a stealthily affecting work. As Sean put it yesterday, it is “a treatise on aesthetics cut through (like a hot knife) with the deeply personal.”
In another way, however, Carl’s book actually really is about Celine Dion. Let’s Talk About Love is in fact a fine and compelling, if highly unusual, work of appreciation. Yes, it could have been about someone else, some other saccharine or schmaltzy artist, but it’s not. By the end of his year-long experiment, Carl can write earnestly, though somewhat tepidly, about a few merits of Dion’s music, and carefully – without patronizing and with sympathy – about her usefulness in the world, about what other people might like about her. And in so doing, I think he provides by example an answer to one of the central questions of his book: If there is no objectively good or bad taste, no hierarchy of low and high brows, what is the point of music criticism?
My eighth year was an important one in my aesthetic development. In 1988 I was impacted in particular by two events: 1) Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic Gold Medal in the 100 metre dash; 2) I bought my first two cassettes: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume Two and Joe Cocker’s Greatest Hits. Johnson’s disgrace brought me infinite sadness, my new tunes uncountably infinite joy. Thus was my intended career path diverted from track and field to the arts.
My parents were fans of Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker (one of whose songs is also “their song”), and I took pleasure in liking the same things as them, especially when “our taste” diverged, as it always did, from the standard taste of my peers. My aesthetic was determined at that age by wanting to be one of the cool kids, and my role models just happened to be Alex and Frum Himelfarb, Ph.Ds. This is not to say that I didn’t derive real pleasure from listening to the music – my first musical loves were among my most intense – just that it was not in a vacuum that I arrived at those particular artists. (For more on my musical education as provided by Dad, read this.)
By high school I’d added indie rock, proto-punk, post-punk, new wave, prog, jazz (and several of its sub-genres) to my early musical diet of classic rock and folk. I was constantly in search of the new - new sounds, new names. I hosted a show at Ottawa U’s radio station that might best have been called Something to Alienate Everyone. When I moved to Montreal for university, I became an obscene consumer of records, buying up everything I could get my grubby little paws on. I discovered soul and old blues and John Fahey – whatever he is – classical musics and country and everything else. I was so open-minded that my brains fell out; a list of the many and diverse purchases made during my Great Consumption would act as a reductio ad absurdum, negating the validity of my critical work, if such a thing were possible. My motivations for behaving this way were myriad: Yes, the accumulation of cultural capital was part of it; but – and I imagine this is true of almost all music collectors - I was also genuinely curious, genuinely loving of these new and different musics, an addict looking for my next fix.
There is no doubt that I taught myself to like much of this stuff. I was not born into my taste; rather, my preferences are the product of a subtle, ineffable interaction between nature, socialization and cultivation. What difference does it make how I arrived at them; I am glad for the discovery of every piece of music I now enjoy, for without any one my life would be less rich.
Now I’m an old hermit, it’s true. Whereas until recently my taste biography was one of constant addition, for the first time my musical preferences have narrowed and hardened. You might say that I now know what I like, or you might say that I’ve become lazy, less willing to learn to like. Either way, I can’t properly serve the traditional role of music critic. I’m not interested enough to sift through every new release, I don’t have the energy to write negatively about music that never had a chance with me or the conviction to convince someone that something they like isn’t good.
Several years ago, I wrote an article about the 33 1/3 series in which I talked about the “tremendous potential of music writing to go beyond the role of guide, of simple yay- or naysayer, to serve as a broadener of taste, an enricher of appreciation, and a window into the author’s own experience of music.” I argued that the most profound thing a critic can do is “point to something in a musical work - a harmony, a melody, a lyrical theme, a fact about its creation or creator, or even the critic’s own subjective experience of it - that makes the listener experience its beauty anew or with new depth.” None of this depends upon objective detachment or an acknowledgement of high and low, just a belief in the possibility of the intersubjective appreciation of art. I hope that is what we do here at Said the Gramophone. Certainly Carl’s book does it in spades; by calling out our flimsy aesthetic prejudices, he encourages a more generous approach to art as well as to people with taste different from our own.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, we at StG are writing in response to a book called Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. It was written by our friend Carl Wilson, as part of the 33 1/3 series. Dan wrote some words yesterday, and Jordan's comments will follow tomorrow.
The book launch for Let's Talk About Love takes place in Toronto on Wednedsay: a free show featuring Final Fantasy, Laura Barrett, The Blankket & others.
Carl's book is ostensibly about Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love album. But that's sort of like saying that a knock-knock joke is about the knock at the door. It's a book about taste - where it comes from, what it says about us, and how it keeps us isolated from each other. It touches on kitsch, chanson, Hurricane Katrina, the avant-garde, Elliott Smith, Quebec sovereignty, Las Vegas, mass art, and in the book's most heartbreaking moment, Buddy Holly. It is concerned with aesthetics, identity, and the role music (and music criticism) plays in our lives. It is only about 150 pages long but it is packed so full of insight, of ideas & wit & play & rigourous thinking, that it'll sustain weeks, months of thinking. It's also really fucking funny. But most of all, and the thing that made me certain that we ought to write about it here -- it is a book that is tender, beautiful and unexpectedly poetic; a book concerned above all with the human condition, and all us wanderering wanderers. A treatise on aesthetics cut through (like a hot knife) with the deeply personal. Let's Talk About Love was perhaps the best book I read in 2007.
In 2000 I was 18 and my friends would joke that I didn't own any music that wasn't sad. I'd laugh and put on Bright Eyes' "Padraic My Prince" ("I had a brother once / he drowned in a bathtub / before he ever learned how to ta-a-a-alk"), enjoying the archetype. My pet artists were (and largely still are) Nick Drake, Radiohead, Belle & Sebastian, and maybe Neutral Milk Hotel. I liked more than anything the bittersweet first disc of The Beatles' Anthology II.
I could document this in more detail, transcribe some of the mixes I made (almost all of sad songs). But what I'd rather reflect on today is what this impulse meant. What did it say about that boy (and what does it maybe say about me today)?
That I was a melancholy kid? I guess. I had spent most of high-school in an unreciprocated crush, carrying it with me wherever I went, wallowing in the "hopeless" part of romance. But my peers were just as love-sick, just as pubescent (& for the most part, just as single). And they weren't (often) in their bedrooms listening to "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" on repeat. My home life was great, my school-life fine. I wasn't bullied or abused, had lots of friends and extra-curricular activities. I can't have been any more sad than others around me. So why did I want to be the one who listens to sad songs. Why was I attacted to that aesthetic?
Some answers can be found in the way I viewed the alternatives. I remember ranting about "angry music" - to me it was "mean", "stupid" or just "immature". These aesthetic judgements are way more loaded and arbitrary than I realised at the time. (I'm not just talking about the now-stale argument over instrumental virtuosity.) Were Limp Bizkit or Blink-182 really "mean", other than to the assholes who abused them? Was Rage Against the Machine's shouting really less "mature" than Stuart Murdoch's wallflower ballads? And are Kurt Cobain's insights any dumber than Thom Yorke's?
Thinking about it today, I read my impulses differently. I valued introverted music over extroverted music - self-reflection over activism. Never songs that compelled one to action (let alone to dance): instead, passivity, meditation, sorrowful stasis. There's something almost antisocial in a lot of sad songs. My desire to be grown up didn't manifest in a curiosity about sex & drugs, let alone the messy, frustrating stuff of actual adult life. Instead I wanted to be "literary", "serious" - to dwell in a chaste, almost bloodless world, rich in metaphor, some place gentle as a lukewarm bowl of porridge. The music I listened to was never "frivolous". It might be whimsical, or absurd, but never frivolous. The figure I wanted to embody - the adult I wanted to become, - didn't have that much room for "fun". Artists are tortured, wretched figures -- right?
And at that age I didn't even consider music whose essence is in the expression of joy. Pop music - so "unsubtle"! Happiness, so "fake"! Carl talks about this in much greater detail, but it was certainly true for me then (and to a much lesser extent is still true for me now). I thought bliss was a thinner feeling than misery; that happiness was more banal than melancholy.
I'm different today. My favourite albums, my favourite songs, are a far more disparate crew. But themes, traces, clues remain - and they're often writ large. There's nothing wrong with this, with having a taste. Okay, so it's arbitrary to value melancholy over glee - but I can still make that choice, still be made through nature or nurture to prefer one to the other.
What's important is to be press at the edges of one's taste, to push further out - to be conscious of the blind-spots and to try to discover new pleasures. To steal Dan's metaphor - to kick at the cracks in your wall. There is nothing noble in melancholy, but more importantly still there's something lost when you cover up parts of your heart. When you listen to only the bluest beat. Late in Let's Talk About Love, Carl quotes a beautiful line by Saul Bellow:
Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.They're such wise words - but not just for what they make explicit. There's a secret in the flick and flow of the language. "The adjoining," Bellow writes, and what he means is the whole wide world. "The adjoining," he writes, and it's the sound of kissing the unknown.
to listen while you read. (it's The Sapphires - "Who Do You Love?")
Our colleague and friend Carl Wilson has written a book for the 33 1/3 series. It's called "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste" and it's about Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love. Well, about. It's about a lot of things, really. And in support of the book, Sean, Jordan and I, over the next three days, will be discussing what the book is "about" and what its themes mean to us and our own taste, as a way of letting you know how much we think this book is valuable, important, and just great fun. The book launch is on Wednesday, and so I'm starting today, because we feel this book is so good it deserves a hearty welcome.
So "Let's Talk About Love" (and when I say that from now on I mean the book, not the album) is about taste, at its core. The subtitle, "A Journey to the End of Taste" is a clue that this is not a regular installment in the 33 1/3 series (in which it is assumed going in that the author loves the album they're writing about). In this case, the author starts out pretty much hating the album, hating the artist, as much as any art can be hated. But the task at hand is to find out why. What reasons are there to hate Celine Dion? Perhaps there are many. Perhaps there are none. If there are none, then where does this hatred come from in the first place? These are fundamental philosophical questions of aesthetics, so to me they're not only important that they're answered (I feel the "task" of life, if you need one, is understanding as much as you can), they're exciting. Because they're mysteries I've thought about but never had an answer to, and I love it when someone comes up with some. And Carl not only comes up with answers, he writes passionately about them (and about the further questions that are raised, always new mysteries), and about how they've helped him to understand his own life, which only left me with the job of trying to understand mine.
In his book, Carl Wilson does what I wish I could do every day: he confronts his own perspective. He challenges his ideals, just to make sure they're fast, because without strong re-inforced opinions, you won't survive in a storm. It's like passing by the little crack in your living room wall on the way to the bathroom, but instead of just walking by and putting it out of your mind, kicking it as hard as you can. If nothing happens and the crack settles a little into place, you're fine, you've got strong walls, but if a chunk of the ceiling comes down, you had a problem there the whole time. In a very personal way, he confronts himself, and today I want to do the same, with something of a "taste biography".
The symptoms of my taste began in aesthetic experience as a kind of hidden treat, in naughty or forbidden material. Rap tapes with the logo were what I would listen to on low low volume in my bedroom, lying with my head next to the speaker. Most often it was House of Pain's Fine Malt Lyrics, until I received Pearl Jam's Ten on my tenth birthday (yes!) and that took over. But at this point (1994 or so) my taste took a strong deviation towards movies, so I can't ignore them (even if I stuck to my taste in music, it just veers into movie soundtracks anyway). Quentin Tarantino was the king of forbidden goods in my house. I kept VHS copies of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs in my desk drawer in my bedroom, far away from the family TV. And then by high school that impulse (to be shocked, stirred) transformed into desiring simply "talked about" work, since the thread got stale of just violence and sex, those weren't what I was after (well, I suppose exploitation wasn't what I was after, because I was certainly still interested in understanding sex and violence). For instance, I tried like some misguided collector to see all of the movies on the AFI "Top 100 movies of all time" list (still missing twenty or so).
This impulse, though it's become nameless, instinctual, unspoken, is still there. Be it music or movies or anything else, the most glowing endorsement someone can give for me to seek out a piece of art is to say, tensing, "it just made me so...." and then shuddering, or clenching their fists, or dropping their jaw. I am first and foremost drawn to things that have made people react. I believe I'm searching for something powerful, something with an idea in it, something that makes me react, and maybe even act. I think in an unconscious way, I long for a certain kind of hyper-effective propaganda. Something that will turn me into a soldier for a cause worthy of my devotion. I don't know what it would it would look or sound like (perhaps like Ravel's Bolero, or perhaps like Group Inerane if I could understand the lyrics*) but in a way the ultimate piece of art would be one where I didn't need to see or hear another piece after that. Like when someone says after an experience "Well, I can die happy," I suppose I must be looking for that to really come true. So maybe I should save this answer-song until I'm ready to face it, though if an artist came along that could alter my life completely, I'm sure I wouldn't be given prep time. I wonder if this artist has begun their career, maybe they're already dead, maybe they haven't been born, maybe they're reading this now.
*though I think the most stirring song I've heard up to this point in my life is probably "Total Eclipse of the Heart", the good version. so maybe I'm destined to be a soldier of heartbreak.
The title of this post is the name of Bastardgeist's album. Yes, the name of it. In an email I got from him, he describes the album as "leftover insecurities from my childhood, sexuality, and my own inevitable death". I respect his candidness, and as this digital breeze wafts out of my laptop speakers, I like to wonder what part of his insecurities this represents. With the ripped and distant loops of singing children (are they singing?), I imagine some futuristic archaeologist finding only that 1-second clip and them playing it over and over, trying to rebuild the past. But I suppose that's what I'm doing, playing this song over and over, trying to fabricate a story to this gentle 3-minute sample, of a moment, of a day, or a month, however long this feeling lasted. If you're interested, the story involves finding a lost cell phone, a pair of shoes covered in duct tape, and one of those birthday cards that plays a song when you open it. [MySpace]
Hello, Blue Roses - "Hymn" (removed at label request)
The Hello, Blue Roses album may be largely uneventful, but the strange duo of Dan Bejar and Sydney Vermont sit up for this last song. Like when you went to church and you joined in on a rousing last song partly because they saved the best for last, but also because you knew mass was over. And here, as the guitar dabbles toes in the cool clear stream, and their voices weave ribbons 'round the maypole, I think of what must be one of Dan Bejar's secret fantasies; sitting dressed to the nines in Louis XIV garb, sipping brandy, being forced to make conversation, bored as hell. [Site]
As a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, Anatoli Bugorski used to work with the largest Soviet particle accelerator, the synchrotron U-70. On July 13, 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment when an accident occurred due to failed safety mechanisms. Bugorski was leaning over the piece of equipment when he stuck his head in the part through which the proton beam was running. Reportedly, he saw a flash "brighter than a thousand suns", but did not feel any pain. The beam measured about 2000 gray when it entered Bugorski's skull, and about 3000 gray when it exited after colliding with the inside of his head. [citation]
Anatoli Bugorski leaned over and found himself suddenly bombarded by a PURE PROTON BEAM, an accelerated molecular PUNCH-to-the-FACE, and everything went so HORRIBLY and VIOLENTLY wrong that ALL THE WORLD APPEARED IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
I have never fallen into a proton accelerator and neither has The Rollercoaster Project. But the thing Bugorski felt, this in some way we felt. And many of you have too. Perhaps it was a sentence, or a word, or a phrase, or perhaps yes a wave of heavy atoms. Something she said to you over the crackle of a phone, or something he whispered from the street-corner, or the look in her eyes when she squeezed your shoulder. There are many things it could have been. But it knocks everything utterly down, takes you apart from your barest part. It falls over you like a tsunami. It is vast and terrible and seems in the moment utterly apocalyptic. "WHAT HAPPENED / TO US?!!?!?!?!", The Rollercoaster Project screams from the thick of it, from inside that terrible & splendid cacophony of synths. "WHAT HAPPENED?"
But the lesson is this: Anatoli Bugorsky emerged, lived on, married and had a son. He laughed again, and ate soup, and sang songs, and made love. He petted cats and did crosswords on long train journeys. He did not die on July 13, 1978.
Hey, did you hear about Said the Gramophone's WONDERFUL VIDEO CONTEST? The deadline's not for another month, which is tons of time to enter. It's an opportunity to win exciting prizes, but also a good reason to get around to making something beautiful, personal, creative and lots of fun. I just finished adding details of TWO NEW PRIZES - including stuff from Wolf Parade, CSS, Eugene Mirman, Shins and Iron & Wine, - courtesy of Sub Pop. All the details are on the Video Contest page.
Thanks so much for everyone's submissions so far. A couple of reminders about the rules: please don't submit videos for bands you're in, and, um, don't you think it would be more fun to make a new video for this contest than just to recycle something from several months ago?
I recently added Red Threat to our blogroll. It's an mp3blog writing generously, excitedly about new sounds in dance music, and their ears are very good indeed.
I haven't forgotten what you said about New Year's Eve. About how it's full of beggars, for a dime, for a beer, for some acid, for an idea, for a kiss. And how on New Year's Day no one really talks about that, they just put their heads down and turn towards the wind. I'd be worried about this year, it's the most unsure year I've ever faced, but I still don't know how I scored for all the other years. As soon as I get my report card for 2000-2007 I'll be more ready for 2008. Until then, The Low Lows will shake me around in their cup, they'll keep me humble and working inside this sock-drawer winter apartment until something gives way. Something has to eventually give way.