Video Tuesday #26
Broken Social Scene
Gusgus ft. Daniel Agust
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Broken Social Scene
Gusgus ft. Daniel Agust
|Alec Hanley Bemis, co-founder of Brassland Records along with National brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, checked in with The National message board with some info about the band's upcoming May album. This fourth full-length is quite a turning point for the group, who already won many converts with 2005's Alligator and is poised to have an even bigger breakthrough this time around. I saw them perform four of the songs slated for this new release, and as Hanley Bemis confirms, it's not going to rewrite their sound but perhaps revamp it and expand it. Here's more of what he had to tell us:|
I've now heard the material that will make up the new record as, I'm guessing, have one or two friends of the band also on this list. They gave us early versions to help w/ sequencing. A listening party of the mastered record was held on Valentine's day -- though I was seeing Arcade Fire at Judson Church.
The music is great, perhaps a bit more of a mellow vibe than Alligator overall -- perhaps somewhere between the Cherry Tree mellow/beautiful sound and the Alligator more up-beat/rocking sound. Most notable about the record is that it has the best arrangements they've done, by far, and there's some unexpected & wonderful new elements that you haven't heard before. Think trumpets, and other brass instruments; increased use of female backing vocals; excellent piano bits by Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman & sideman to David Byrne, Bebel Gilberto, Laurie Anderson, The Frames, Yoko Ono); and possible even some playing by band friend, Sufjan Stevens.
Thematically it intertwines songs about love, songs about war, and songs about office life. Or, more correctly, songs that are about all three topics at the same time.
Needless to say, I'm unconscionably excited about this as-far-as-I-know-still-untitled effort, and am already counting down the long weeks till May. If anyone knows any more details (other than two of the songs being called "Fake Empire" and "Start a War"), drop me a line.
UPDATE (9:45 am): It seems there's now an album title too: Boxer.
UPDATE 2 (5:32 pm): Well, I guess now we know why the information's been trickling out. Pitchfork had to get the exclusive. Here's the info with tracklisting, cover image and brief tour dates.
* MP3: "Minor Star of Rome" - The National from The Believer June 2006 Music Issue
* MP3: "Lit Up" (Live) - The National from Black Sessions, 4-29-05 [Buy other National]
* Artist Website: American Mary
Tags: The National, Brooklyn, Alec Hanley Bemis, Start A War, MP3
Crushed cars #2, Tacoma 2004
It'd be a telling experiment to ask people what they see first in Chris Jordan's work. Is it the sublimity of his scope, and the sudden grandeur he gives everyday objects? Is it the degraded wreckage left in the wake of our country's appetites? Or maybe it's even the aesthetic achievement—the sharpness of colors, the elegance of lines, his intuitive eye for balance and pattern? They're all essential to his Intolerable Beauty series, a critique of waste that can't help but also function as reluctant celebration.
Cigarette butts, 2005
Jordan knows how loaded his images are, writing, "I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination. The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity." Beyond the question of consumption, his series also recalls increasingly pressing issues such as homogenization, mechanization, mass production, conservation and even personal versus societal responsibility.
As the photographer himself smartly notes in his statement, "The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences... As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but... my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry." In an age of styrofoam, single-serving packaging and disposable goods, Jordan's photographs feel surprisingly indispensible, not only artifacts of now but propechies of possible tomorrows.
Glass, Seattle 2004
Mas Y Mas knocked up pop and coked up rock; they hotboxed funk and outfoxed punk. They shot the sheriff, the deputy and Mr. Burns, and somehow still found the time to throw a house party where the girls are down to their bras by eleven. Yep, they’re pretty much goofy lunatics, firing out music that’s raucous, ecstatic and one high-pitched yelp away from ridonculous. In other words, get ready to flush your Adderall and hook up the pony keg. The Unicorns-times-two have just arrived and they’re not leaving till the whole block is rocked, stoned and totally TPed.
Or hold on a second actually. I just listened to their great EP, Latin Outreach, again and I’m thinking maybe I went too far there. On further review, only three out of five songs really fit under the headings of “schizophrenic,” “manic” and “riotous.” The last two, “Jenny Says” and “Ruby Ain’t Teen,” hint at something like maturity, with prettier if still noisy melodies and a single mood that’s sustained throughout. They still rock reliably and rowdily of course; they still sound just as fresh and fun as their balls-to-the-wall brothers. But somebody has to be the responsible one around here, to suggest maybe cutting back the party to six nights a week. Okay, okay, six-and-a-half nights tops.
Pick up Latin Outreach for an extremely fair $3 from Shut Up! I Love You Records here.
* MP3: "Everybody and Everything" - Mas Y Mas from Latin Outreach
* MP3: "Jenny Says" - Mas Y Mas from Latin Outreach [Buy it]
Tags: Mas Y Mas, Virginia, rock, MP3
"More or Less"
"Long Lost Penpal"
Hello Saferide ft. Firefox AK
"Take It Back"
A few weeks ago, I received a MySpace message that I almost dismissed. It seemed too simple, a three-line note that basically said, “Here are some MP3s. It’d be neat if you listened to them.” There was none of the usual mention of other blogs the singer had appeared on, a record label I’d never heard of that he was signed to, or any long, oblique, unfounded comparison between him and some legendary artist. It was just a dashed-off postscript really, so I figured that the music would probably be pretty dashed-off too. But when I pressed on to hear Desmond Reed’s songs, I realized things weren’t as simple as they sounded.
This isn’t to say though that his songs aren’t simple. On one level, they certainly are. Reed’s music is a lo-fi project: just him, his guitar and a 4-track spinning away in his bedroom. The melodies are sunny, folky and sweet, and his casual delivery has a cheerful, wide-eyed innocence about it. His lyrics are mostly about everyday topics like dead-end jobs, crushes, homework assignments and being bored—pretty much a catalogue of life as a suburban high school student. But the more I listened (and I ended up listening a whole lot), the more I also picked up on some depths that set his music apart.
For one, Reed, only twenty-two years old and based in Orange, Massachusetts, is a deceptively talented writer. It’s easy to miss because he tackles such familiar subjects, but the vivid, precise details he chooses tell so much. On “Summer Vacation,” he sings about visiting his friend Brian’s house to play MLB ’99: “I’ve been working on my lineup/ Willie McGee is batting leadoff, Darryl Strawberry’s batting cleanup/ Mo Vaughn is batting third/ I write it all down in my notebook while I’m sitting on a rock/ While I’m standing in the front yard where I can see the sidewalk.” In just a few spare lines, he’s taken us back to the days of couchbound afternoons of PS1, swimming pool laps and Country Time lemonade mix.
Another interesting part of his music is the sadness that’s hidden under all the sunshine. As optimistic and joyful as Reed’s songs sound, sometimes his lyrics seem to be hinting at adolescence’s uglier side. “Summer Vacation” finds him not wanting to get out of bed and hanging out alone, wondering where all his friends are. Right after he finishes telling us how happy he is, he adds mysteriously, “Nobody noticed I’m starting to think/ A lot like I used to, too close to the brink.” He also jolts us with, “I know I’m running out of time” before retreating cutely with “'Cause I can’t call you after nine.” Even his best song, “Guinea Pigs,” can’t help but touch on his prized pets’ mortality: “Seventeen dollars for Mona, seventeen dollars for Floyd,/ Three weeks and then they got married and then had two girls and a boy/ Linda, Michelle, Nick and Howard, but Howard wasn’t born alive/ And that’s how two little guinea pigs can quickly turn into five.” It’s a wonderful, unique summary of how life works that’s simultaneously happy and disarming. Even more importantly though, it’s simple—simple in the best possible sense of the word.
* MP3: "Guinea Pigs" - Desmond Reed
* MP3: "Summer Vacation" - Desmond Reed
* MP3: "The Babysitters Club" - Desmond Reed [Visit him]
Tags: Desmond Reed, Guinea Pigs, Summer Vacation, Babysitters Club, MP3
(Pt. 1 is here.)
David Cross continued his hilarious streak while everything was falling apart around him. His defining feature, that he clearly and proudly didn't give a fuck, was a large part of his success. He was able to roll with whatever went down, soak it in with a undisguised smirk and fire off some wry, rude, on-point observation. He noted that with all the flubs, missed cues, failing skits and technical difficulties that it was pretty much "pants-shitting time" backstage.
The biggest miss of the night had to be the much-hyped "iPod battle," where two teams of wannabe DJs would take turns playing tracks. In reality, they mostly stood around, waiting for their equipment to work, for the sound guys to turn up the volume, for their indecisive fingers to rotate their iPod dials. And even when their selected songs would come up, it was a big, yawning shrug of a non-event. One team tried to rally the crowd by bouncing up and down and grinning idiotically; the other team had worn masks and capes while bootyshaking and throwing handfuls of glitter in the air. The whole thing had about as much momentum behind it as a Joe Biden presidential campaign, and frankly wouldn't pass for entertainment in my basement on a Tuesday night let alone at the prestigious Plugs. The crowd was quick to catch on, booing vociferously and often. It got such a terrible reception that a planned second round was cancelled on the spot. (In the spirit of mismanagement, the organizers later tried to reinstate it, but we started booing again so loudly that they had no choice but to re-cancel.)
That was the most glaring error, but there were oh so many others to choose from. At one point, a giant puppet of David Cross came out. It could've been really funny or at least interesting, but the premise was promptly ruined by a pointless, awful attempt at a skit. Later in the night, another skit in which Cross supposedly gets into an impromptu argument with an audience member derailed because her mic wasn't working. I was close enough to hear the bit, and the mic not working was seriously a blessing. But even after that was abundantly clear to everyone in hearing range, her mic was fixed and the fake argument started again. When the now-familiar boos began to grow louder and louder, Cross pretty much summed up the ethos of the night with, "Hey, fuck you, guys. I know this skit isn't funny, but we're going to finish it anyway so fuck you." (That's a paraphrase. The original included more "fucks.") And let's not forget that when the late J Dilla won Artist of the Year, what should have been a honorific moment was quickly ruined. A video of his mom thanking God for giving her such a wonderful son was shown with sped-up audio so that she sounded like Minnie Mouse. People laughed; any remaining poignancy died.
All that pretty much left to enjoy were the remaining performances, and even that was a mixed bag. One of my favorite artists and my main reason for attending these awards, El-P, was up next. He came out strong with "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')," attacking the beats with trademark hunger. It seemed like he was growing into performing, his act adopting a greater showmanship than usual. But his calls for people to get their hands up went largely unmet. It was pretty evident from the reaction that the crowd preferred indie rock over hip-hop. (When J Dilla won his award, the girl next to me asked her friend, "What is he? Like a rapper or something?") In my totally biased opinion though, I thought he killed it and I couldn't wait to see how he'd follow up. He chose to launch into another new song from I'll Sleep When You're Dead. But even with the addition of a hot horn section, the crowd seemed unable to move or put their hands in the air. Then, instead of playing two more songs as planned, El-P and crew took off. I couldn't tell if it was because of newly imposed time constraints or the lukewarm response, but David Cross clearly wasn't in the know. He had to race panting up to the stage.
The seven-nominations-zero-wins Silversun Pickups were up next and I was not excited. (As in, maybe we should just have that second iPod battle instead of this.) There was very little I liked about their debut LP Carnavas, but I tried to approach the band with an open mind. They certainly seemed very sweet, with singer Brian Aubert joking that he was honored to have Deerhoof opening for him. And though I didn't particularly enjoy the music, I didn't mind it as much as I was expecting either. The big criticism leveled against the group is that they're derivative and true enough, they unmissably are. But I guess it can also be fun in a way to pretend it's still 1993 and the grungy plaid shirt Aubert was wearing came from a thrift store in Seattle. Maybe it's before July and Siamese Dream hasn't even been released yet. Back in the present, the one aspect that did appeal to me was Aubert screaming. It was a lot more dynamic than his singing, and it got my attention every time. If they ever consider reinventing themselves as a screamo outfit, they can count on me as a fan.
Batting last in the lineup was Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. They were set to receive the Plug Impact Award, the apparent indie version of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Of course, in keeping with the tenor of the show, there had to be one more long, inscrutable skit to get through. This one, Inside The Musician's Studio, had a lot of potential as well, with Cross as unctuous Jimmy "J.J." Lipton interviewing Malkmus. As usual, Cross was pretty funny, but Malkmus, though game and sporting a child-molester mustache, went surprisingly laugh-free.
From there, Malkmus took the stage, Jicks-backed and with Sleater-Kinney/Quasi's Janet Weiss on drums. It was a typically quality set, but a full three-and-a-half hours into the awards, my feet were aching, my back was aching, I was tired of being pushed around and I was no longer in the mood for the band's loose, rambling detours. In more ideal circumstances, I would've noticed their masterful interplay or how ably they adapted songs for a live setting. I would've rejoiced that they decided to play "Jo-Jo's Jacket" and that it sounded as awesome as ever. But by the end, I was just hoping that there'd be no more songs and certainly no more skits to come, that someone would have the decency to finally pull the plug on this night.
* MP3: "Everything Must Go" (Demo) - El-P
* MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Preorder it]
* MP3: "Pencil Rot" - Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks from Face The Truth
* MP3: "It Kills" - Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks from Face The Truth [Buy it]
* MP3: "Do These Effectively Hide My Thunder?" - Tobias Funke
* Artist Website: El-P
* Artist Website: Stephen Malkmus
Tags: Plug Awards, Irving Plaza, David Cross, El-P, Silversun Pickups, Stephen Malkmus, MP3
Congratulations to the Grammys, the big winner at Saturday's Plug Awards. Because with the arrival of this two-year-old ceremony, the Grammys no longer hold the title for the most inept, pointless and ridiculous music show. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure what went down at Irving Plaza that night. My best guess is that the organizers plotted the show on a cocktail napkin an hour before showtime, spilled a drink on said napkin, and then ran the show based on the inkspots and smudges.
The Plug Awards kicked off with a brief appearance by a marching band, who were succeeded by a suit-clad barbershop quartet. It made no sense of course, but it was early so it still seemed delightfully kooky at the time. They sang a few lines from Band of Horses' "The Funeral." After that, an image popped up on a video screen announcing that it had won the Song of the Year. Huh? Was this the show? People were already starting to look confused and the host hadn't even turned up.
David Cross did come on next, explaining how this process was going to work. Apparently, only three more categories (out of thirty-three) would be presented, there were no actual awards or speeches, and none of the winners were there. (And somehow, Album Art of the Year qualified as one of the all-important three.) That seemed like a pretty weird deviation, but Cross was being hilarious and spontaneous so I didn't care. And I was busy trying to keep from yelling out "Douche chill!" and "Huzzah!" all night.
Tokyo Police Club were the leadoff band, looking like they'd just caught the L from Bedford Avenue. They played exactly what I was expecting--fun, rhythmic, guitar-driven dance-rock. It's what you used to call "angular" and name-check Gang of Four to describe before those became lazy shorthands. (Now you do it anyway and point out that they're lazy shorthands.) I enjoyed their set well enough, but it was exciting in an overly familiar way, fun in the standard three-Brooklyn-lagers-at-Lit kind of way. I bet I would've liked them more in that brief span post-Interpol and pre-Bloc Party, but in the here and now, I wanted something that felt newer.
Of course, the TPC seemed like straight-up pioneers compared to the iffy entertainment slotted between performances. The first such disaster was Jason Trachtenburg of the Trachtenburg family singing "The World's Best Friend" as a totally nonsensical way to announce the Album Art of the Year nominees. Since his wife and daughter couldn't attend, he was backed by a stand-in singer. The performance was hoarse, painful and cringe-worthy, like an overearnest talent show put on by a relative. Trachtenburg might as well have been Harvey Fierstein with a sore throat and the whole thing felt like an awkward homage to Ana Gasteyer and Will Farrell's out-of-touch music teachers, The Culps. Anyway, Hot Chip won, a few people clapped, though most were just relieved that segment was over.
Deerhoof was the second act up thankfully, and their excellence was a nice change of pace. I've been a fan of their mutated, refracted, transfigured takes on pop, rock and noise for a while, but got especially interested in the band last year in San Francisco. This was my first time seeing them live, and the transition between album and concert was just right. My one complaint was that Satomi Matsuzaki's vocals were largely drowned out, but the music went far in compensating. It was muscular and mystical, with riffs that could blow open bank safes. Though Deerhoof is experimental and schizophrenic enough that I often prefer them in smaller servings, I would've loved to have another hour with the band that night. That feeling only intensified when I saw all the other inexplicable oddities and mishaps Plug still had in store...
Tune in tomorrow for reports on El-P (with video), Silversun Pickups and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.
* MP3: "Matchbook Seeks Maniac" - Deerhoof from Friend Opportunity
* MP3: "+81" - Deerhoof from Friend Opportunity [Buy it]
* MP3: "Douche Chill" - Tobias Funke
* Artist Website: Deerhoof
Tags: Plug Awards, Irving Plaza, David Cross, Tokyo Police Club, Deerhoof, MP3
Cipher (at the BET Awards)
Styles P, Papoose and Lupe Fiasco
"Again and Again"
The Bird and the Bee
"Da Mystery of Chessboxin'"
"Ponds and Puddles"
I shouldn't have been going to see The Books. I'd crashed at a friend's apartment, hadn't showered in two days and was eking out the vestiges of whatever deodorant was left between my arms. I stank of two smokes, was still residually hungover and mostly wanted to catch up on lost sleep. Also, I'd already seen The Books in April, and since they didn't have a new album to promote, there was no reason to think this show would be any different.
And yet my hope that the show would be the same was exactly why I was going. That April night, I'd stumbled out of Great American Music Hall in a wild, heady excitement, charged with inspiration. I seriously considered wandering the city all night. I suddenly needed to photograph every incongruent monument and document every strand of beauty. I wanted to become a musician then and there, any instrument, it didn't matter. I wanted to take up abandoned art projects or be the next Allen Ginsberg or at least one of the lost souls of "Howl." In the end, I settled for downing two cups of coffee, listening to William Basinski and writing until the dawn cracked the horizon. And though I knew that high wouldn't happen a second time, I was heading to Webster Hall instead of home to get another hit of creativity.
The Books on record already send my mind reeling with possibility. Fusing snippets of found sound with dollops of Paul de Jong's cello and Nick Zammuto's guitar and bass, and experimenting with aleotoric, acoustic and electronic melodies, the duo produces wholly singular music. With song titles like "If Not Now, Whenever," "A True Story of A Story of True Love," and "That Right Ain't Shit," they're challenging the syntaxes and structures of music and language. And yet it's that rare project that's at least as grounded in flea market scrounging as academic theory.
But the band goes even further live, adding a visual element to their sonic bricolage. The Books have amassed a whole lot of found video and images to go along with their songs. Projected on a large screen behind them, these collages are just as unexpected, offbeat and powerful as the music: Mormon men removing their hats and putting them back on, Alan Watts pontificating on meditation, African women discussing impotence, snippets of English instructional tapes. These visuals create even more connotations and disjunctions to consider. And when they're combined with Zammuto and de Jong playing live, the effect is weird and hypnotic and profoundly inventive.
The experience—and it is foremost an experience—was indeed much the same as my last one, up to and including their sweet cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song." But there were also a few pleasant additions to the lineup. For one, Zammuto introduced an unreleased piece he'd written for his newly born son, which was based on the alphabet. His younger brother, Mikey, also joined The Books onstage to play a song he wrote called "The Classy Penguin." That song was backed by images of the Zammutos and de Jong as kids, providing one of the few moments of clear and sincere correlation between audio and video.
Even though I largely knew what to expect this time around, my re-reading of The Books still proved quite inspirational. The band is simply operating on a level of intelligence and experimentation that's extremely rare and hugely rewarding. After the show, I inevitably stayed up yet again, scribbling fiction, blaring music, no longer worried about insignificant matters like sleep or hygiene. By dutifully gathering up the detritus of donated tapes and the litter of discarded sounds, The Books reminded me yet again what artists could accomplish. By turning them into artifacts, they reminded me that I was an artist too and that all the things in the world were art in the making.
* MP3: "Smells Like Content" - The Books from Lost and Safe [Buy it]
"The Classy Penguin" (Live In Philadelphia, shot by CoolLikeMiles)
The Meditation video (Live in Philadelphia, shot by CoolLikeMiles)
* MP3: "Motherless Bastard" - The Books from Thought For Food [Buy it]
Art by Mista Breakfast* MP3: "Rehab" (Hot Chip Remix) - Amy Winehouse [Buy other Amy Winehouse]
* MP3: "Accident and Emergency" - Patrick Wolf from The Magic Position [Buy it]
* MP3: "Virginia State Anthem" - Mas Y Mas from Remember The Alamode [Buy it]
More Mista Breakfast art and clothing at Mono Clothing..
I'm not sure that Jeff even remembers this, but our first encounter was a scuffle in Gerard's comments section. I said something somewhat smart-alecky, he responded sarcastically, and my first thought was, "Man, this guy's an asshole." Then a few weeks later, I noticed that Jeff had added me to the blogroll on his site, The Passion of the Weiss, and I thought, "Well, maybe he's not so bad after all." Ever since then, I've become helplessly hooked on his blog, itchily clicking over there around 3 a.m. just to check if he's put up his daily update yet. I'm never sure what kind of post to expect, but I know it'll always fall somewhere between smart, witty, insightful and hilarious. Jeff's not only proven himself to be one of the best and most prolific music bloggers around, but he's one of the most unique, covering everything from hip hop, satire and pop culture to indie rock, movies and of course, everyone's favorite topic, outing gay wrestlers. Here's my interview with the man behind the blog:
NL: So what was your initial motivation to get into blogging?
POW: I was working as a journalist at a business newspaper in Los Angeles and while I enjoyed it, it wasn't something I wanted to make a career out either. I'd always loved music and comedy but never had the urge to do stand-up, so that was out. I'd been reading a bunch of blogs for a while—Sexy Results, Straight Bangin', Whatevs, Blagg Blog—and saw that there was potential to do something really creative in the medium. Since I couldn't get a paying music-writing job anywhere, because you have to know someone, go to Harvard, or have, like, four great internships (none of which I had), I figured blogging was the best way to put myself out there.
NL: What’s been the best part of blogging?
POW: Honestly, I know it sounds really hokey but I really do appreciate knowing that people actually read my stuff. I'd been working on a novel for four years before starting the blog and writing a book is a very solitary process where you get absolutely no feedback from anyone (or at least I didn't because I didn't want anyone to see it until I was absolutely finished). But blogging has a certain immediacy to it, with the comments and all, and it’s just awesome to hear that other people are interested in my self-indulgent ramblings. Plus, I've gotten to meet a bunch of like-minded souls and new friends to make snide remarks about pop culture with. Which is always nice.
NL: What’s the worst part of blogging?
POW: The worst part of blogging is probably the time commitment. When I first started, I would throw up posts chockful of spelling and grammatical errors. Now I spend hours and hours revising every post, which eats up most of my day. And sadly, they still remainj full of spelling and grammatical errors.
NL: Nice touch on "remainj.” Very clever.
POW: I try.
NL: How much time do you spend on an average post?
POW: It honestly all depends on what the post is. Those year-end wrap-up post/lists took about five or six hours each with revision and everything. But on average, I'd say I spend two to three hours a day blogging. Unless I've written something for Stylus that day and then I get lazy and just throw up a link to that.
NL: How do you decide what to write for Stylus and what to write on your blog?
POW: Well, Stylus has a ton of writers and I'm pretty new there, so the big-tent reviews generally go to the more experienced writers (as they probably should). Being one of the only two L.A. writers on Stylus, by default I have my ear closer to the ground out here, so I've done Cold War Kids and the Parson Red Heads reviews. I've got an Elvis Perkins review coming up. (I think he counts as L.A. kind of.) The London guys do a lot of London stuff. The NYC kids do a lot of NYC stuff…
NL: I'm noticing a trend here.
POW: It all just kind of works itself out. The truth is, the writers there are all incredibly impressive in their own way. I've never met a bunch of people who know more about music then those guys.
NL: Interestingly though, I have actually noticed that the way I listen to music has been affected by my move.
POW: Really? How so?
NL: Joanna Newsom, for example, sounded a lot better in San Francisco and El-P sounds a lot better in New York. San Francisco’s very mellow and poetic and trippy and tangential à la Joanna Newsom. New York is so much more chaotic and crazy and urban and aggressive—hence the post-apocalyptic rap.
POW: Yeah, all of Def Jux would seem to be tailor-made for the city. Can Ox and Aesop Rock too… though Aesop did move to San Fran.
NL: That probably would’ve been the perfect music for my plane ride over. So who are some of your favorite local artists?
POW: I really like the Parson Red Heads a lot. I like the Cold War Kids live show and I thought their album was a solid debut. I like the Stones Throw stuff, Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf. Autolux is great. Little Ones, Mezzanine Owls, The Broken West are good too.
NL: I found The Broken West too poppy for my taste but then my pop quota is fairly low.
POW: L.A. just seems to have a knack for producing really catch pop/rock music historically with the Byrds/Doors/Love of the ’60s and the Paisley Underground of the '80s and then now these guys doing their thing. Yeah, The Broken West aren’t New Pornographers- or Shins-good, but I tend to go easy on bands with their debuts unlike some critics who want to smash every blog buzz band making its debut. I just don’t get it. If you heard A.M., you never would've thought Wilco would produce Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
NL: Indie culture is still largely based on hate and one-upmanship.
POW: So am I supposed to rip on Cold War Kids just because Stereogum likes them? It doesn't make any sense.
NL: No, you’re supposed to rip on them because Pitchfork hates them. But on the other end of the spectrum, you do have some blogs that act like they've never heard a bad note.
POW: Yeah, I agree. The problem with blogs by nature is that when you're "discovering" a new band everyday, it gets hard to write about exclusively new bands. Eventually, the well runs dry. Not to hate on anyone, because I think the big MP3 blogs are big for a reason—they're mostly good sites—but keeping up can get dizzying.
NL: What do you think sets your blog apart from other people's?
POW: I think my blog is different because it’s effectively genreless. I don't really focus exclusively on any one topic, which makes it tough to pigeonhole. It's obviously heavily music-focused, but I like to branch out and do some comedy stuff at least once a week. I just try to make it funny because I know if I were trying to waste time at work, I'd want to laugh. Music is entertainment; it doesn't need to be treated with a heavy approach all the time. All I really want to do is make people laugh. I just try to be funny. Hopefully, people agree.
NL: What are some of your favorite local venues?
POW: I really like Spaceland because it’s five minutes from my house. I love the Troubadour even though it’s on the West Side, in traffic hell. The Hollywood Bowl is pretty incredible in the summer, but I wish they wouldn't be so damned punctual. They literally start on the dot and half the time you miss the opener because you're stuck in traffic.
NL: What band would you most like to see go away forever?
POW: Justin Timberlake. I don't understand why people like him and I never will. *NSYNC sucked. Granted Timbaland makes awesome beats, but you watch that Prince tape at the Super Bowl and tell me that Justin Timberlake isn’t just doing a bad Prince imitation. Or Michael Jackson at times. Zero originality. Terrible lyrics. And just a purely egotistical and arrogant stage persona.
NL: Interesting answer, but he’s not a band so you lose.
POW: Okay, then Coldplay. Why is Chris Martin on the Kanye West album? Or Jay-Z's?
NL: Or X & Y or Parachutes?
POW: Or ripping off Radiohead. Poorly.
NL: It was like he had this revelation: Radiohead + U2 + Tylenol PM = GENIUS! Even he doesn't sound like he cares what he's singing about so why should I care?
POW: It worked though, incredibly enough... I'm not even the biggest Radiohead fan in the world but you can't listen to the two groups side by side and not think, “Wow, Coldplay is just maudlin, watered-down tripe.” Whatever that means…God forbid you try to have any originality. You’ll get slammed like Jack White does in the press. The Jack White-hating is one of my biggest pet peeves about music critics.
POW: He's a true artist, a real original, and a brilliant musician, live and on record, and he gets bashed all the time no matter what he does.
NL: That's fair, but he is also building on a lot of blues-rock that came before.
POW: Every artist has his influences. It just depends how fluid your synthesis of them is. That Raconteurs album wasn't great though. I will say that, but it was still pretty good for what it was.
NL: What about Get Behind Me Satan?
POW: I thought it was an interesting musical evolution and a very good record though not as good as the stuff that came before it. It’s a good transitional record.
NL: Mm, I'm kind of worried that it is a transitional record. I hate to be one of those people who wants musicians to keep their sound the same, but I do kind of want them to keep their sound the same. Or at least make it a more subtle change like the transition from White Blood Cells to Elephant.
POW: Yeah, I feel you. I’m reviewing the RJD2 record and it’s sort of the same thing. Like, if it ain’t broke, don't fix it.
NL: I really want to like that record, but so far I don’t. Even with Since We Last Spoke, I was already like, stop singing and fucking around. It'd be like if I suddenly decided to turn this into a gossip blog, which P.S. I'm doing.
POW: Perez Litter. I like it. My cat would approve.
NL: Why a cat and not a dog?
POW: I took in a stray that was living in my parking lot. I named him F. Scott Fitzgerald (the Cat).
NL: That’s kind of awesome. So what are some of your all-time favorite concerts?
POW: My Morning Jacket over New Year’s at the Fillmore is number one. Seeing the White Stripes in New Orleans in the summer of ’03 is up there. Coachella ’02 and ’04 were incredible.
NL: Jesus, can you please stop talking about that MMJ show? It's like I don't feel bad enough about missing it already.
POW: I will be wherever they are every New Year's for the rest of my life.
NL: Maybe I can catch them this year. What is a day in your life like?
POW: I wake up to my cat jumping on my bed and trying to get me to let him outside and then I slowly drag myself to the gym. I blog in the afternoons, then write all evening. Unless I'm going to a show or working on some sort of freelance assignment. My life is incredibly boring really. I'm a homebody. I'm currently trying to watch all forty-nine Woody Allen movies. Thus far, I've seen, like, seventeen. And I try to read a lot, though not as much as I should.
NL: I don’t want to ruin it for you but most of Woody Allen's movies are less than great. And anyway, I like setting more manageable goals for myself, like, say, watching all of Christopher Nolan's movies.
POW: I kind of think Allen's a genius of Shakespearean proportion. I’m calling it The Manhattan Project.
NL: That's a pretty great name. Except Shakespeare never subjected us to Anything Else starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci.
POW: Haven't seen that one yet. Scoop was godawful though.
NL: Well, I'm calling my project Rollin' with Nolan and it’s already completed.
POW: I've only seen Memento, which was awesome obviously.
NL: It was a pretty easy task. He only has five movies—Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige—and they’re all well worth watching.
POW: Perhaps that will be my next project.
NL: What's your favorite Woody Allen other than Annie Hall?
POW: Yeah, I probably would’ve said that. Otherwise, I'd say Sleeper just because it’s so unbelievably funny. Deconstructing Harry is also up there though. Crimes and Misdemeanors too. They're all good though, at least before 1980.
NL: My two non-Annie Hall favorites are Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters. Sometimes, I even like Manhattan more than Annie Hall just for the Gershwin soundtrack and the black-and-white cinematography.
POW: Just saw Manhattan last week actually. It was incredible, definitely in my top five. Never seen Hannah.
NL: Oh, it's classic Allen. Adultery, obsession, neuroses, family, sex—all of which also happen to pretty succinctly describe my teenage years. What upcoming albums are you most excited about?
POW: Aesop Rock and El-P have never let me down, so I'd have to put them at the top of the list. I'm anxious to hear the Wilco album too. I'd say those are the top three for ’07 that I'm anxious to hear. Or whatever Spencer Krug is doing now, I'm sure will be great. Judging from the last two years, I'm sure he'll come out with something.
NL: There'll be a new Wolf Parade coming out, I believe. And I hear he has a new band coming out as well called Moonlight Handjob. How did you pick the name Passion of the Weiss?
POW: I'm a big Mel Gibson fan. The movies he's made over the years, I don't watch them much...but the virulent anti-Semitism, I respect that.
NL: He says what we're all thinking, but more eloquently.
POW: And more wild-haired and bushy-faced too.
NL: And stinking of whiskey. You know, I'd say that we should be friends if you weren’t too tall to befriend. We would look ridiculous hanging out.
POW: I slouch.
NL: Mm, maybe if you were always standing at least ten feet away, it could work.
POW: Plus I grew up around only Jewish kids. I look like Gulliver most of the time. I’m used to it.
NL: Well, I'm the tallest member of my family and I'm still barely allowed on amusement park rides.
POW: You should move out here then; it is not a land of tall folk.
NL: Nah, I'm too dirty and aloof for L.A.
POW: On second thought, yeah, don’t move to L.A. I can't actually encourage someone to do that.
* MP3: "Days of My Youth - Parson Red Heads from King Giraffe [Buy it]
* MP3: "O Is The One That Is Real" - My Morning Jacket from My Morning Jacket/Songs: Ohia split EP [Buy it]
* MP3: "We're Famous" - Aesop Rock ft. El-P from Bazooka Tooth [Buy it]
One of the worst things I've ever seen is this 2006 Gap commercial starring Common. It's not even the predictable criticism of musicians shilling for a paycheck that bothers me—it's how downright clumsy and embarrassing the result is. Common's sanitized "rap" tries to equate Gap's hoodie with the hood, a connection so preposterious it borders on parody. And yet we see more musicians popping up with awkward product placements and ill-fitting ads. (I still shudder at the thought of LL Cool J "honoring" Jam Master Jay in a Dr. Pepper commercial.) I know that many musicians need to pay the bills and there are better ways of marketing, but sometimes, it makes me wonder if anyone is immune to the compromise.
And then I remember Immortal Technique, an un-Common rapper whose position on corporate dollars is as militant as his leftist politics. Case in point, Technique refuses to sign with any label, despite numerous offers from the majors, so he can keep his views undiluted. He also often addresses this topic in his self-released verses. For example, on 2003's "Freedom of Speech," he touches on Bill O'Reilly's war with Ludacris. "And O'Reilly, you think you a patriot?," he spits, "You ain't nothin' but a motherfuckin' racist bitch/ Fulla hatred, pressin' a button tryin' to eject me/ But I don't got no motherfuckin' deal with Pepsi/ No corporate sponsor telling me what to do/ Asking me to tone it down during the interview."
That's just the beginning for Peruvian-born, Harlem-based Immortal Technique, first known as Felipe Coronel. It's also probably one of his least controversial, provocative and potentially offensive stands, considering just how outspoken and radical his views can be. Calling himself a "socialist guerilla" and most closely aligning with Marxism, Technique pins 9/11 on the Bush administration, asserts Senator Paul Wellstone's plane was sabotaged, and that the United States supported the rise of the Third Reich. He also targets similar topics of race, economics, and sociopolitics as like-minded rappers like The Coup, Dead Prez and Chuck D.
But Immortal Technique is at least as technically gifted as he is ideologically spirited. He delivers his lyrics with a fury and drive that feel relentless, backed by sharp beats that don't fool around either. His flow, clearly honed via freestyles, features cadences that sound impressively simple and natural. His rhyming is novel and clever; his wordplay is often intensely creative. On Revolutionary Vol.1's hidden track, for example, he offers, "Using numerology to count the people I sent to heaven/ Produces more digits than twenty-two divided by seven." And he raises the stakes further on "Industrial Revolution" with "The bling-bling era was cute but it's about to be done/ I leave ya fulla clips like the moon blocking the sun."
Even without a record label, Immortal Technique has managed to amass quite a committed following. The continuing influence of his two albums, Revolutionary Vol.1 and Revolutionary Vol. 2 (released in '01 and '03 respectively), has thus far only stoked the need for a follow-up. A third album called The Middle Passage was supposed to come out in '05, but two years later, it still remains unreleased. Here's hoping that this will be the year that Immortal Technique will make his grand comeback. Because while he'll certainly be too radical and too heavy for some, I for one can't wait for these commercials to be over and for the real show to begin.
(On a sidenote, while doing research for this post, I discovered that Immortal Technique and I went to the same high school at the same time. All this time, I had no idea that one of my favorite rappers was that same upperclassman Felipe who ambushed me with snowballs one icy winter afternoon. That's pretty crazy.)
* MP3: "Harlem Streets" - Immortal Technique from Revolutionary Vol. 2
* MP3: "Freedom of Speech" - Immortal Technique from Revolutionary Vol. 2 [Buy it]
* Artist Website: Immortal Technique
Tags: Immortal Technique, Harlem, hip hop, Revolutionary, MP3