11 January 2007
DO THE BARTMAN
GRAPESHOT #01 ALL OVER YOUR FACE
John Legend [ft. Pusha T]: "Heaven" (Remix) [Download]
This ended up sounding something like what I imagine Pharrell thinks he's doing when he sings the hook on Clipse records. Actually it's maybe even a little difficult not to hear Pharrell-like turns in Legend's melody, especially that "last night was the worst night" part. I like Pusha's line about how he'll take a girl to the jeweler and she will leave looking like she sat in a cooler. It's pretty much that line exactly, I just checked: "I myself will have you sitting with the jeweler, leave there looking like you were sitting in a cooler." 71 RIFFS
Michoacan: "She's Sent (Heaven) (The Emperor Machine Remix)" [Download]
The last Tiny Sticks release I heard was Dondolo "Dragon" but now I'm thinking they're LTW material in this sort of backwards, forget the a-side and skip straight to the probably badass remix sort of way. (To wit, the other Dondolo release has Hot Chip and Mock+Toof remixes but no a-side, which speaks positively of Dondolo as a self-editor, not-so-positively as a producer, oh well.) Pretty obviously a Meecham remix from the first few seconds--that really papery but muted snare and the reverb on the hi-hat clicks and the guitar tremolo and the bubbling italo synths--but this one's his best since Röyksopp. 74 RIFFS
In Flagranti: Wronger Than Anyone Else [Download Reputation Or Notoriety"]
17 tracks, mixed, no track longer than 3:53, spans a bunch of currently popular dance music styles, thought it was a mix the first time I put it in actually. This is a fantastic idea though as far as dance artist full-lengths are concerned: If you're not really playing with time and repetition and build, if you're keeping loops infinite merely because you can, just get in and get out and on to the next. Todd mentioned Mr. Oizo to me yesterday and that's dead on obviously, but that's just the pacing. I like the idea of dance artists not pigeonholing themselves with samey 12s, or conversely not allowing themselves maximum creative space and maximum chances to try any number of songs in any number of genres, which this sampler lp approach takes care of. To say nothing of the fact that if a song drags it'll be over soon enough, etc. 79 RIFFS
Jim Jones: "We Fly High"
TMI, I've been practicing the "ballin!" ad lib a lot, really trying hard to get the length and pitch and cadence down so I don't sound like an idiot. I didn't understand what "infectious ad lib" meant until this holiday when I caught myself saying it whenever anything merely happened: the dog coming into the family room, my mom passing the ketchup bottle, the ketchup squirting out onto my plate, my eyes blinking, etc.. Ballin'! I fucking love "ballin'." I've thought a lot about ballin' and I like the way it makes me feel when I say it. It's definitely the closest I will get to actual balling.
Anyway the song played every other back home over break and I realized something. No matter how much you or I love to yell "ballin!" I am 100% positive that Jim Jones like to say it more. I heard him squeeze it into his verse on "Walk It Out" and it really hit me: This is a catchphrase Jim Jones is probably a little angry caught on so much. He never intended this. He might even hate when we say it. He loves "ballin!" and we are fucking up a good thing. We are I-Didn't-Do-Iting Jim Jones and he'll never forgive us for it. 8 RIFFS
10 January 2007
DAVE TOMPKINS: GUEST RIFF WEDNESDAYS
Kicking off 2007's Guest Riff Wednesdays is one of my favorite music writers, Dave Tompkins. He is frustratingly not this Dave Tompkins, so I learned, but feel free to check out "Dave Tompkins"'s searchable online CD collection. I'll also probably write something today about Jim Jones or whoever but we'll see what happens. Thanks. --NBS
Welwitschia a happy New Year.
Day Of The Riffids
By Dave Tompkins
The welwitschia is Cousin It of the desert. The tweeds and turtlenecks might call a “living fossil.” Thankfully this heap is neither locomotive nor carnivorous. Not so much with the Triffid, however. Any Triffid would tell you that it’s easier to be locomotive and carnivorous when hanging out with a bunch of blind people after a meteor shower.
This year I accidentally killed most of my household plants. The only survivor was a cactus that had been commemoratively potted inside my late brother’s leather left half boot. (The right boot had been lost in a dance battle in Union Square two summers ago. This is somewhat of a mystery since he was doing The Lawnmower, not exactly the most boot-losing of dance moves.)
It is doubtful that James Brown ever did The Lawnmower. He did however do the Zombie Walk while performing “There Was A Time” at Boston Civic Center--in 1969 we think. He wore boots and appeared to be electrocuted by his own sweat, perhaps transmogrifying into The Zombie Mower. The Zombie Walk is kind of similar to The Lawnmower in reach but has more stagger, more goofer dust, more seizure and shoots the sleeve from the shoulder. Though the Zombie Walk wasn’t cited in the recorded version of “There Was A Time” (which cited the Mashed Potato), it was certainly there in spirit.
A rap group called Skram once did a song called “We Didn’t Even Need James.”
My brother once ran over my Mickey Mouse backscratcher with a lawnmower. The backscratcher posed as my dog Alice’s tombstone. (Mom’s idea.) The mower’s rip cord was tied to a shrapnel of kindling that drew blood, leaving you with what my brother called “Old Man & the Sea Hands.” The mower also had the shakes, bad, and put you on vibrate for the rest of the afternoon. We can speculate that my brother had picked up an early iteration of the Zombie Mower during this time.
Bushwick Bill, who’s into zombies but never lost his boots in a dance battle, did lose his pride one time in a Union Square Fresh Festival B Boy Dance Off, when he got served by a girl. Two days before Christmas 06, Bill called and talked about meeting his favorite drummer Pumpkin at Mr. Magic’s Rap Revue back in ’84 with RUN-DMC and everybody else.
In 1982, when Bushwick Bill was hitting trains under the name IS (I=Infinite, S=detective Jack Spade’s last name), my parents got divorced. My mom and I moved to Providence Drive which counted among its residents: 5 widows, a clock repairman, a 79-year-old guy who bicycled to his liquor store job every morning with rubber bands around his plaid cuffs, and a nurse who wore paperclips in her hair. There were no kids save for the one with cerebral palsy who stole all my brother’s Tiegs-era Swimsuit Issues (including Raquel Welch in Cancun).
Providence Drive was less a street and more like a small lump. I remember mom calling it a “cheery little street” one day when she’d driven me to school with her coffee mug frozen to the roof.
The first person I met on Providence Drive was Mae Leitch (like Leech*). We didn’t call her Widow Leitch, the way Mitchum says Widuh in Night of the Hunter (Incidentally, Foghorn Leghorn bit that shit when calling on Widuh Hen, eh?). She was just Mrs. Leitch and her house was full of old newspapers. To avoid cleaning, she spent most of her time on her stoop or lumbering around the front yard with a rusty flower pot. Mrs. Leitch was a Sunday school teacher and her students gave her plants which often got loose in her yard, giving it a mismatched shagginess, no more kempt than the botanical bedhead we had for a yard. She let that shit go and we loved it. The rabbits loved it too. (Mrs. Leitch’s backyard had lost the kudzu war long before mom started calling the neighbors “Chemlawn.” Two Christmases ago, I went back there and found an old stove, two mowers and a wilted basketball)
The week we moved to Providence Drive, Mrs. Leitch leant me her basketball and ensured I had a place to hone my baby jump hook. The backboard was rotten and devoid of sweet spot--it felt like I was throwing the ball at a defenseless barn door. It went wamp.
One night Mrs. Leitch came over for tea to welcome my mom to the neighborhood. I was in the next room watching UNC get upset by Wake Forest (I still like the name Delaney Rudd). Apparently, right when Leitch said something like, “David is such a nice boy,” Carolina went down by 10 and I yelled something like goddamn motherfucking shit and punted the TV tray across the room. The china rattled and mom made teeth and kicked the door shut.
In attendance at the UNC-Wake game was my dad’s best friend (named Frog) and Hugh Morton. Hugh always sat under the goal taking pictures with the press corps, dodging Michael Jordan’s shoe, Chiki Yonnaker’s kneecap and so on. Hugh owned Grandfather Mountain and somehow managed to be both a developer and an environmentalist, which is near impossible. Kind of like being a cactus and a shoe. My brother worked for Hugh in the Grandfather Mtn animal habitat. He once ripped his pants while fending off a “big fat diabetic pissed-off bear” with a broomstick.
My grandfather (who lived near Grandfather Mountain) once told my brother: “Boy, you got too much future in those pants.” Which is to say that his pants were too big. James Brown’s pants were so tight that my grandfather might’ve said he had too much past in his pants. There was a time and JB ripped a hole the future.
Hugh Morton, Mae Leitch and of course James Brown all checked out this past year. I heard Leitch went quickly. Her prewar bay window house was recently leveled by what my mom called a giant orange lobster claw (manufactured by Frog’s construction equipment company.) My mother watched the demolition from her window after rescuing a few Lenten roses, a baby magnolia and a pair of Mrs. Leitch’s salt shakers. It’ll be supplanted by some obnoxious Shock & Awe box with a private team of mowers to trim the welcome mat.
Mom tells me this on the phone while watching a squirrel guzzle all the Kool-Aid from her humming bird feeder.
“Goddamn squirrels. Sorry I’ve got to hang up. I’m gonna go out there and kill that bastard.”
*not to be confused with Winston Leech, the Phantom of the Paradise, who got his head stuck in a record press and had to be connected by the chest to a giant modular synth called TONTO**.
** My friend Toshio just got back from getting lost on a jungle island in Japan. His legs were covered in leech hickeys and he emailed me a picture of a synthesizer triggered by earthworms. I sent this to Maggotron McCauley, a gardener/Miami Bass artist who once referred to himself as the Thumpatollah of All Nematodal Keyboards. You really need to see Attack of the Mushroom People.
91 GUEST RIFFS
08 January 2007
HARDHITTING MUSIC CRITICISM IN 2007
Heard You're Sick, So I'm Wishing You Well
RIFF MARKET INAUGURAL 2007 POST
Oh Fuck It's a Lit Crit Art Crit Music Crit Gangbang (Remix)
This Canadian writer Robertson Davies, I just finished his 1985 novel called What's Bred In The Bone, which tells start-to-finish the life of one Francis Cornish, a rich guy who does low-level spywork for his dayjob but what he really loves is painting. Part of his comeup is mimicking the Old Master works stroke for stroke, figuring out their techniques and then applying them to his own paintings--so he's practically an Old Master painter, but living in a post-WWI art world sent into shock by cubism and friends. There's this one scene (and this is starting to sound like a Status Ain't Hood post I know but bear with me) when Cornish exposes what's purported to be Hubertus van Eyck's heretofore neverseen "Harrowing of Hell" as a forgery, and all the art critics who were previously praising "Harrowing" for its transporting beauty and its emotional depth suddenly changed horses, "If it's modern, then whatever, fuck this painting, etc." Sort of like a reverse Mike Jones, or an upside-down Yung Joc.
Anyway I finished this book the same day Dan Balis from Brooklyn disco band Escort sent me his latest release, "A Bright New Life." My support for this band is well-documented, and "Starlight" was my favorite song of 2006, though I know I was living cognitively dissonant. I've struggled a bunch both publicly and privately with the point of semi-fascist throwback acts-- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Metro Area, Earl Greyhound, Escort, Jamie Lidell, Nomo, Antibalas, that "Spanky" band Joe Tangari likes, the list goes on-- and normally I said something to the extent that "we can enjoy this semi-fascist throwback stuff but we can't reward it critically, it's not of this age, it's riding the coat-tails of certain stylized nostalgia X [heavy funk, disco, Motown, Led Zeppelin, etc.] which has had decades to accrue meaning over time, etc" which is super-silly and insider because really all it has to do with numerical ratings and topten rankings. My bit was normally met with arguments of "I listen not for novelty but for craft, and reward well-made songs, so fuck off" or that brand of "I like what I like!" anti-critical bullshit that has no business masquerading as definitive review. Rootless music is impossible, but at least try to do something new, was my understanding; I point to my LCD Soundsystem interview as a good starting point for moving talks of "innovation" from composition to production, or rather understanding music's vertical space as fertile, unbroken ground.
But Christ that's a lot of work just to say, yeah, I like what I like, isn't it. This new Escort 12" is fantastic: "Bright New Life" thumps steady in octaves while the singer rambles moodily and uncertainly, strings drag then get cagey as the chorus nears, then BAM all that empty space in the verse is filled with this huge horn-heavy chorus and performative "a briyut newww life." It's smart songwriting, the stylized diction is perfect, all the instrumental buildups are taut, not a note out of place, no smirk in sight.
I remember hearing this song both times I saw the band live and thinking to myself that they really love playing disco out--love the acrobat-like thrill of playing such soulful music so note-for-note, so tightly wound. There's such an energy to that restraint, maybe the reason I'll always prefer James Brown, who micromanaged like a motherfucker, over George Clinton, who just let it all hang out. Beside the point. What I'm tasked with once again is making it OK for me to like this song. Without being all fuckitall about it, or just ridiculously pedantic, it's really tough.
So Davies. There's this part where the guy who forged "Harrowing of Hell" gives this whiny but basically hardhitting semi-extended monologue that calls, basically, for absolute criticism, criticism without heed to context--and from there, calling for absolute art, art that needs no context to be understood. Again, it's all impossible, but what my good friend The Internet has done is afford more opportunities for contextless artmaking and appraisal, which brings up the usual questions: Why do genres die? Was it who, or what, that killed disco? I mean to an extent I wonder how much of it is supply/demand, and from there how much of it is merely supply, access, presence. I'm sure one of those new books about disco has an answer too. But how much of this is a function of industry machinery? Out with the old, in with the new, etc.?
In other words, if we pretend criticism can help or hinder the newness of new music (it can't; for another time), the reason it's OK to reward semi-fascist throwbacks critically is because positive appraisals doesn't impede new music from coming along. I can see how it would have gotten pretty annoying if everybody kept drawing the same fucking Nativity scene over and over again, and there's limited space in museums and art galleries and so on, and the voraciousness of music consumers and art buyers in general all but demands the new, but all's to say I'm relieved not to be such a crank about this stuff all the time now.