22 July 2008

"Yeah, it's a good feeling/Yeah, it feels pretty good"

More on the Pitchfork Festival to come in the next few days (after I fully recover). But for now, if you take a gander at the above photo of Craig Finn taken during the Hold Steady's superlative Saturday afternoon set, you might see a familiar face:

Yes, that handsome, pixilated blur is me. And, yes, we will return with photos where I don't look like Ms. Pac Man documenting our Chicago adventure, wherein we braved the Ohio Turnpike, Goose Island IPAs at 11:00 in the morning, rambunctious teenagers, and the motherfucking, currency mutilating King Khan...and lived to tell the tale.

As James Murphy might have said: I was there.

15 July 2008

I Got A Girl/Drug Problem

That is the least accurate depiction of Mark E. Smith I have ever seen

This week sees the release of The Believer's annual Music Issue, the time of year when the magazine detours from all things of the page and focuses on that other favored pursuit of all the sad young literary men: indie rock. Well, usually anyway: this year the corresponding CD comp spotlights music from "beyond the bounds of post-Shins indie rock," as Pitchfork has it, keeping with the issue's focus on the intersection of western artists and their non-western inspirations. As such, we have tracks from Tartit, Googoosh, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Ya Bounma, none of whom I, or people who actually read The Believer regularly, have heard of; of course, by way of a life preserver, we also have indie standbys Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, and Dirty Projectors, but even these choices decided do not fall on the "post-Shins" continuum. Now, I haven't heard the CD (trying to track down The Believer in suburban N.J. has proven surprisingly difficult), but Michaelangelo Matos, who would presumably know from such things, has declared the comp "probably the best cover-mount CD [he's] ever heard." Also, the magazine itself - you know, the reading part - includes features on such worthwhile topics as Ian MacKaye (most famously of Minor Threat and Fugazi, but that Embrace CD is pretty fucking mind-blowing), Norwegian black metal (is that...Brandon Stosuy's music I hear?), and rap CDs purchased on the street. Probably worth looking into, that.

So, back in 2005, I went on a magazine subscribing binge: The New Yorker, The New Republic, Index, Foreign Affairs, and The Believer. Of these, I still receive The New Yorker and The New Republic, Index apparently folded (and still owes me either two issues or my fucking money back), Foreign Affairs at roughly $32 for six issues seemed like a lot of money for so infrequent an experience, and The Believer...well, as it turns out, I didn't really read enough books to make a magazine predominantly preoccupied with the medium worthwhile. (I will say this - I checked out Dennis Cooper's God, Jr. due to The Believer and it remains one of my favorite novels. After all, how many books basically take place inside of a copy of the N64 game Banjo-Kazooie?) Still, in summer '05, I got the Music Issue, and the CD that entails.

Intriguingly, the conceit then was au courant bands covering their peers: Spoon covering Yo La Tengo, Colin Meloy covering Joanna Newsom, Wolf Parade covering Frog Eyes, et cetera. And believe me, there was some brilliant shit on there. The Constantines' cover of Elevator to Hell's "Why I Didn't Like August '93" might just rate as the best 2 minutes, 5 seconds of rock and roll this decade (Mick Jagger disclaimer: "That's not really true"). CocoRosie's recorded-on-an-answering-machine rendition of Damien Jurado's "Ohio" is unequivocally the best thing they've ever done, allowing them for once to fully realize the implications of their ghost-hop aesthetic. And hell, while we're at it, Devendra Banhart's rollicking version of Antony and the Johnson's "Fistful of Love" actually made me forget why I wrote off Devendra Banhart; probably because on this record he sounds as loose and sexy as he thinks he does when he's sloppy and irritating. Also worthwhile: The Shins' reading of labelmates Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes" (originally included on the EP of the same name) and Jim Guthrie's muted interpretation of The Constantines' "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)" (man, it's easy to forget how "big" they were in 2005 before Tournament of Hearts failed up Shine a Light's ante). Good times.

If you can still find it anywhere, the issue is worth picking up for the CD alone (unfortunately it doesn't appear to be available via the McSweeney's store). Plus you also get a flow chart laying out the hierarchy in the kingdom of singing drummers (Rex: Phil Collins, Regina: Mo Tucker), Douglas Wolk's meditation on The Fall's six disc Peel Sessions box set (which remains the least explicable yet wholly unregretted music purchase I've ever made), and an interview with Smoosh (pronounced smush), a pair of sisters - then 13 and 11, now 16 and 14 - who played reasonable rock and roll and were thus embraced by the Daniel Johnston/Wesley Willis crowd. Fucking twee bro.

11 July 2008

The Last Action Hero

Number one in rock and roll heaven

Sub Pop, the independent record label which needs no introduction, has turned 20 years old. For me, the Sub Pop story begins and ends with Nirvana, who were my first real favorite band (before that: Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Bill Joel for "Beat It," "Born in the U.S.A.," and "Uptown Girl" respectively). Cool kid that I was in sixth grade, I didn't get into them until after Kurt Cobain's suicide, meaning that my worship was consecrated in overdramatic douchebaggery: lines which seem lifted from Mystik Spiral b-sides - "I miss the comfort in being sad" or "Throw down your umbilical noose, so I can climb right back" come to mind, though that's just because I was listening to In Utero this morning - seemed like cosmic totems of profound insight, a perception sealed when Cobain, unable to ascend directly into heaven in corporeal form, opted for plan B. You can trace a not-so-straight line of hysterical devotion from The Smiths and The Cure through Nirvana on to emo stalwarts like Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World (whose "Bleed American" reads like "Teen Spirit" run backwards) before ending up at My Chemical Romance, whom blogger hate-object Ultragrrrl once characterized as "this generation's Nirvana." Her assessment, widely ridiculed at the time, largely by the "35 year old men writing for other 35 year old men who think they're actually writing to 21 year old college kids" she was calling out, is resonant because it keys in on where MCR fits in the lives of today's teenagers, which, I imagine for a good lot of them, is precisely where Nirvana figured in my own adolescent passion play. I had the posters of Kurt, Krist, and Dave, as well as one of the cryptic In Utero cover (a title whose provenance I mightn't have discovered until much later in life were it not for the album); I listened to the albums religiously, making tapes of them to listen to on my Walkman during car rides of even the shortest duration; for a brief time I even dressed in flannel and tried to part my hair the way Kurt did - a period from which I am eternally grateful no photographs survive. Nirvana meant everything then, and even though there have been other flames - Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Elvis Costello - maturity, critical distance, whatever the hell you want to call it, has kept me from the same unquestioning adoration. Of course, it could just be that none of those guys is as good as Nirvana was, a notion that would doubtlessly be contested by those that were there with their heads on straight, the clinicians who have seen it all and chart every blip on the rock and roll continuum with perpetual bemusement. Then again, if you actually happed to be at the Sermon on the Mount or the Last Supper, you would probably wonder what all the goddamn fuss was about, too.

10 July 2008

Me Too. It Was Gross!

Yeah, this song is ridiculous and exploitative, I guess. I don't know who Katy Perry is and I really don't care. We have to agree, as Americans and human beings not to get worked up about this shit from now on. Anyway, it's kinda catchy; I'm guessing that six months from now "I Kissed a Girl" will attract its share of poptimist revanchists trying to heave it up the Pazz & Jop. My only complaint is that the video sucks: she doesn't kiss a girl, and she wakes up in bed with a dude - as in, she had a naughty dream about lipstick lesbianism, but deep down she's all about the dick. You know, misogynist douches get their ideas somewhere.

09 July 2008

"Because I Said So" Is Probably an Insufficient Reason

Listen, I think I know what's best for people living 219 years from now. After all, I'm on the fucking dolla dolla bill y'all.

As great as we think our system of government is, and as wise as we fancy our Founding Fathers, the way we elect our presidents is profoundly stupid. Only in the United States, the world's self-proclaimed leading democracy, could one candidate receive a clear majority of the votes, the other guy be declared the winner, and there is virtually universal assent to the outcome. At least in other nations, when the guy with fewer votes wins, he or she has to fudge the numbers to at least make it appear as though he or she received more votes than the other guy; in America, this process is obviated by the existence of the Electoral College.

There are three reasons to retain the Electoral College:
  1. The framers of the Constitution provided for the appointment of electors with the duty of choosing the president. Since obviously the Founding Fathers were omnipotent supermen who could foresee the future and therefore establish rules and institutions capable of meeting all possible contingencies, there must be some compelling rationale for retaining the present system, even if we don't know what it could possibly be.
  2. You reside in one of the handful of states characterized as a "battleground," and relish the attention lavished on you by the Republican and Democratic presidential candidate.
  3. You are a Republican who has "learned the lesson of 2000," and can't conceive of the possibility that one day the tables could be turned. Like, say, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri.
The National Popular Vote bill is a proposed interstate compact whereby member states consent to allot their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote; the measure would take effect only when a number of states possessing an aggregate 270 electoral votes between them sign on. Four states - Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, and Maryland - representing 50 electoral votes have adopted the NPV thusfar. Rhode Island was poised to be next, until the aforementioned Governor Carcieri scotched the deal, thus incurring the wrath of Hendrik Hertzberg, who delivers a well-reasoned riposte ("Small State, Small Mind", dag yo) to Carcieri's ill-informed, eliding veto message, which you can and should read in its entirety.

For my part, I will note that no other elective office in our nation, to my knowledge, is filled by dint of a mechanism similar to the Electoral College. In every other instance, the voters, that is to say we, go into the booth and select the person we believe best for the job, and at the end of the day the votes are totaled and he or she who has a plurality - or, in some instances, a majority - wins. It's good enough for offices from the school board to the U.S. Senate, and it is fundamentally simpatico with our shared ideal of an educated electorate being able to select a government of their choosing. I therefore see no compelling reason why we should accept a system of electing presidents governed by an anachronism designed to protect the parochial interests of thirteen fractious, loosely-confederated polities 220 years ago. Of course I'm not the ghost of James Madison or Thomas Jefferson, so what the hell do I know?

Now Is The Mid-Season of His Discontent

Ace?: 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H

Admittedly, with the Mets on a four game winning streak - a span during which they have had no fewer than 10 hits per game - and the Yankees picking up a much-needed 5-0 victory over the division-leading Rays after beating the Red Sox twice straight, now probably isn't the best time to write a story a) declaring 2008 to be one of the worst New York baseball summers in memory and b) reminding us all what idiots we are for passionately supporting, both financially and emotionally, multi-million (if not, when you take into account the new stadia and in-house broadcasting operations, multi-billion) dollar corporations. Yet, that is what Allen Barra, writing over in the Village Voice, has done.

In keeping with the Voice's dissenting view of the Mets' and Yankees' new publicly-subsidized stadium projects, Barra spends some time whacking those pinatas, correctly noting that both structures are designed to exclude, and not include fans - they're smaller, flush with amenities designed to appeal to more upper-class fans, and generally way more expensive, ticket-wise. He asserts that the rank and file New York fan, contrary to the official media line, is not clamoring for new digs; nor is he or she, in Barra's words, "joining in on this 'Come celebrate with us as we tear down our stadiums' nostalgia crap." These are reasonable claims. The Yankee fan would be perfectly happy to see the team play in Yankee Stadium, where a lineage of great players stretching from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter have roamed the field and where the team has enjoyed 26 world championships. The Met fan, though less than passionate about Shea Stadium aesthetically, will doubtlessly recall the magic of 1969 and 1986, and those of us of a more recent vintage, like myself, will remember how the joint positively rocked on its foundations when packed with 55,000 believers during the 2006 playoff run. While I think that the Met fan looks at the gem of a ballpark rising over the center field fence with more enthusiasm than Barra allows, certainly he or she, like the Yankee fan, will always look fondly upon the old digs.

Where Barra kinda loses me is his positively savage assessment of how each team reloaded for 2008 after disappointing 2007s:
This year, both clubs were in a superb position to erase the ugliness of 2007. Instead, we've gotten one of the worst baseball summers in memory, with both teams more or less hovering around .500 as they limp into the All-Star break. Yet the Mets, loaded with mad money, made no substantial roster change except for the acquisition of Johan Santana, and the Yankees made no substantial roster changes at all—according to ESPN, they actually went into the 2008 season with a payroll $9 million less than last year.
This statement is absurd on its face. For one, the Yankees' 2007 was not ugly, at least not on the field: after being 21-29 in May and 14 games out in the division, the Bombers spent the latter half of the season on a rabid tear, winning at an astonishing .700 clip and icing the Wild Card, while nearly eclipsing Boston in the A.L. East. During their run, they brought up Joba Chamberlain, who began his career by pitching nearly 40 innings in relief without surrendering an earned run, an astounding feat. Yeah, they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season, a disappointment for Yankee fans harboring ludicrously high expectations every season, but not exactly ugly. Sure, things off the field quickly got messy: Joe Torre was basically handed a "fuck off" offer and split for L.A., and A-Rod created some drama by opting out of his deal, a situation which was later resolved with the $300 million, ten year contract that he frankly deserved, in the world of stratospheric baseball salaries. But Yankeeland is possessed with a certain animating tsuris every off-season; why should last year be any different?

Yes, the Yankees did fail to "reload," refusing to trade for Johan Santana in favor of building around their young prospects, Phil Hughes (who pitched well when not injured and performed fantastically in his one postseason appearance), Ian Kennedy (also terrific down the stretch), and, of course, Joba (who is, so far, looking pretty good since transitioning into the rotation). At the time, this did not seem like such a terrible decision: after all, to acquire Santana ostensibly would have meant parting with a prized pitching prospect who was already locked up contractually, as well as shelling out a gigantic contract extension for a pitcher whose ERA and home runs surrendered ballooned last season. Offensively, the team scored more runs than anyone else in the game; there weren't a lot of pieces on the market that could have ostensibly improved them. Sure, you can point to the bench and the bullpen as weaknesses, but I don't think that for Barra, who focuses his ire on the Yanks' failure to acquire a Santana or a C. C. Sabathia, the question is about finding a solid defensive first baseman or a lefty specialist.

Barra's complaints about the Mets, who did have an ugly 2007 due to the disgrace that dare not speak its name, are even more churlish. The Mets, you see, made "no significant roster change" beyond acquiring the putative best pitcher in the game - the very same Johan Santana Barra roasts the Yankees for not seriously pursuing. Apparently, with a roughly $140 million dollar payroll (third highest behind Boston and the skin-flint Yankees) and an equivalent commitment to Santana over the next seven seasons, the Mets are, as Barra has it, hording resources instead of putting the best ball club possible on the field. Never mind dropping $20 million per year for Carlos Beltran, locking up once and future All-Stars Wright and Reyes, or spinning Lastings Milledge into OF Ryan Church (who was hitting around .320 before his battles with post-concussion syndrome rendered him a question mark) and excellent defensive catcher Brian Schneider. This is a team that clearly does not prize winning, despite the clearly salubrious effect 2006 and the ensuing tidal wave of hope has had on the Mets' box office receipts. And firing Willie Randolph - a move that means the Wilpons will be paying him millions to sit on his ass at home - that wasn't the move of ownership desperate for a winner.

Well, according to Barra, it wasn't: "...
the Wilpons approved of or even initiated Willie's termination for PR purposes." He then, after a sarcastic diatribe mocking Omar Minaya's assertion that Willie's personnel moves in part led to his departure, claims that the GM left the manager's cupboard bare in the bench and bullpen departments:
Nearly all of Willie Randolph's choices worked out pretty much as they could have been expected to, given the level of talent available to him—and the man with the primary responsibility for providing that talent was Minaya, with a reputation last season as a smart baseball man. If the Mets GM couldn't be expected to provide a Koufax or Mize, then why, with the team's newfound resources, couldn't he at least have given Randolph a better bullpen and bench than you'd find on an average Triple-A franchise?
Nevermind that bench player Fernando Tatis has hit two game winning home runs thus far and is filling in admirably for Moises Alou in left field, or the valuable contributions of Damion Easley and Endy Chavez. And while we're at it, let's forget about Aaron Heilman, who has improved considerably since Willie's exit; that couldn't possibly be because of Jerry Manuel's decision to formulate logical, relatively stable roles for his relievers. No, those guys totally suck, and Omar Minaya should have waved his magic multi-million dollar wand to conjure up, well not "Sandy Koufax" and "Johnny Mize," ha ha, but somebody good.

Look, I don't dispute that the way the Mets handled Willie's departure was bush league: they should have axed him in New York before his tenure devolved into a highly distracting death watch. But after granting Randolph a reprieve following 2007's indefensible collapse, the Mets played like frozen turds for the first two months of the season. He didn't motivate the team, he refused to do anything that might embarrass underperforming veterans like the now-resurgent Carlos Delgado, and worst of all, he didn't win, which is, last I checked, the ultimate arbiter of a manager's success. The 2008 Mets looked like a team in a mortal torpor, unable to shift into any gear higher than neutral. Now, I wouldn't characterize Jerry Manuel's tenure as miraculous; after all, the team has only now gotten its head above .500 for the first time in a month and a half. But anyone who watches the Mets night in and night out can tell you that they look like a different club than they did under Willie: they hustle, play with a little spring in their step, and don't give up when they get down early - a kiss of death earlier in the season. Now, with four straight wins, and six out of their last nine, their nostrils are starting to fill with that sweet smell of success, and one can only wonder if, perhaps, Manuel is at least partly responsible for the turn around.

Frankly, the most bizarre aspect of Barra's article, which aimlessly pisses rain on a season barely half over just as such criticisms seem to be particularly dated, is how ignorant it makes him appear. Sure, he's right to be cynical where money's concerned, but his petulant insistence that the Mets and Yankees could make their teams better simply through sheer force of will and wallet is a queer refraction of the acquisitive Steinbrenner the Elder mentality that brought Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Javier Vasquez, (gulp) Randy Johnson, (double gulp) Carl "Have You Seen Me?" Pavano, and (triple gulp) Roger Clemens Redux to the Bronx with hyperinflated salaries and even bigger (mostly unfulfilled) expectations. You can't sign players who are under contract or don't exist, and if you're the Mets, who just emptied their depleted farm system to land Santana, you can't trade beads and expect to land Matt Holliday or Xavier Nady. Both Brian Cashman and Omar Minaya would love to ink a Mark Teixiera to play first base in their respective pinstripes, and next year when he's on the market, they'll do their damnedest to get him. But wishful thinking simply does not make it so. Besides, as they say, 2008 ain't over 'til it's over, and with the Mets 1 1/2 out of first, the Yanks inching closer to Tampa Bay, and the trade deadline well ahead of us, there's plenty of time to right the ship and keep New York fans glued to their seats and their sets into September, and hopefully, beyond. So cheer up, motherfucker: it's baseball season.

08 July 2008

You Better Hang On To Yourself

As bored as I look

From the thematically unrelated files, other than I couldn't get my thoughts on Jamie Lidell's Jim off my chest fast enough, and dormancy is death, yo:

Beck -
Modern Guilt Danger Mouse is like relish: I'm ambivalent when it's available, and rarely notice when its not. The man's tally is thus: the better-than-average Demon Days with Damon Albarn's Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley's one pantheon single (uh, "Crazy") and two otherwise mediocre albums, a couple of so-so collaborations with The Rapture, The Black Keys last, mostly forgettable record, and The Grey Album, which was 90% provocation, 10% interesting music. So I'm happy to tell you that Modern Guilt, his "return-to-form" collaboration with "man without a country" Beck, is actually a taught little listen, free from the faux-hop excesses of the boring Guero and turgid The Information. It's a kind of rock album, though Beck's cadences of late are pretty much stuck in languid California dude gear, so whatever. The songs run about three minutes a pop, roll forward like Rommel across North Africa, and cut off at the end like a sheet of two-ply. The high points are the low points and vice versa, but the rising tide has carried Mr. Hansen's boat to the point where consistency is a virtue rather than a mind-numbing vice. In other words, this is the first album Beck has made since Sea Change that is not an ersatz Odelay; in other words, it is his first "good" album since then, though I use the term advisedly.

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack This is the soundtrack from the D.A. Pennebaker film documenting Bowie's final Ziggy concert, marking the end of his most durable persona and, in effect, his trajectory as a teen pop idol. Later Bowie might have been better, weirder, artier, but he would never again have the same main circuit connection to the youth market, certainly not in America, at any rate; ergo, the beginning of the end, or rather, the end of the beginning. Bowie has the rare distinction of having released three superb "official" live albums (pending, of course, the forthcoming Live Santa Monica '72), and of these, Ziggy is the definitive portrait of his glam era road show, capturing the cream of not only Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, but also 1971's portentous Hunky Dory and a rip-roaring cover of The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat." The vocal performances are enthusiastic if drained; while he can't hit the high notes throughout, David skillfully bends without breaking, and the phrasing lends him a new weariness in keeping with the Weimar-via-Chuck Berry tenor of his material. The band, led by guitarist and creative co-equal Mick Ronson, is shit hot throughout, and you wonder what compelled Bowie to fire them. Of course, then Station to Station arrived and you forgot the question altogether. Or you forgot Bowie altogether, which would be to your detriment.

07 July 2008

Make That Money Take That Money

Zimbabwe, one of the few nations in the running, along with Iraq, Somalia, and North Korea, for worst place in the world, has long been plagued by staggering hyperinflation, thanks in part to "President" Robert Mugabe's policy of simply printing more and more money. Well, that may soon end as, according to The Lede, the German company that supplies paper for the Zimbabwean dollar has ceased to do business with the regime, owing to mounting political pressure at home. The choice quote, lifted from the Times of London, comes from Moses Chikomba, a worker in Harare, regarding Mugabe, who was recently "re-elected" in a sham runoff vote: “We are all billionaires who can afford nothing. That is why I hate that old man.”

06 July 2008

For Fun (Gimme Indie Rock)

#1: 1997, 2000

If you want to know why, click here. My basic criteria was needle time: what have I been playing the most, and what will I want to play the most in the future. This helps to explain (though not expiate my guilt over) the lack of hip hop - there are a lot of years here where a rap record might land at number two or three, but it would be disingenuous of me to pick Fishscale or Madvillany over The Thermals or Arcade Fire when the iTunes play counts don't bear that result out (incidentally, this approach kept Bjork out of the top spot in '97 over OK Computer).

1981: Elvis Costello - Trust
1982: Michael Jackson - Thriller
1983: New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies
1984: The Replacements - Let It Be
1985: The Smiths - Meat is Murder
1986: Peter Gabriel - So
1987: Guns 'N Roses - Appetite for Destruction
1988: Pixies - Surfer Rosa
1989: The Cure - Disintegration
1990: Depeche Mode - Violator
1991: Nirvana - Nevermind
1992: Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted
1993: Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
1994: Weezer - Weezer ("Blue Album")
1995: Pulp - Different Class
1996: Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
1997: Radiohead - OK Computer
1998: Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1999: Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs
2000: Radiohead - Kid A
2001: Daft Punk - Discovery
2002: Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
2003: TV on the Radio - Young Liars EP
2004: Arcade Fire - Funeral
2005: Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
2006: The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
2007: LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
2008 (so far): Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

01 July 2008

Britannia Rules the Waves


If you find yourself in the U.K.: British Sea Power, possibly the world's most underappreciated (and most eccentric) band, are hosting a three day festival at the Tan Hill Inn, described by The Quietus as being "the highest hostelry in all England." For £50 (presently a hair under $100 American), you can see three BSP performances, "husky racing, duck herding, a pub quiz and an attempt to record the loudest ever human voice." Additionally the band will be debuting their own locally-brewed nut brown ale, the proceeds from which will be directed to charity. From August 29-31, in scenic North Yorkshire, England.