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    Location: Brooklyn, NY

    The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don't want an MP3 featured, let me know. Links will otherwise stay live for about two weeks before they vanish into the ether.

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    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #18

    1) "Teenage Spaceship" - Smog from Knock Knock
    [Buy it]
    2) "Sax Rohmer #1" - The Mountain Goats from Heretic Pride [Preorder it]
    3) "The Cold Swedish Winter" - Jens Lekman from When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog [Buy it]
    4) "Better Things" - Massive Attack from Protection [Buy it]
    5) "Lucinda Williams" - Vic Chesnutt from West of Rome [Buy it]
    6) "Wolves, Lower" - R.E.M. from Chronic Town [Buy other R.E.M.]
    7) "Dimanche en Hiver" - Keren Ann from La Biographie de Luka Philipsen [Buy it]
    8) "Tonight's Decision (And Hereafter)" - Palace Music from Viva Last Blues [Buy it]
    9) "Oxtail" - Red Red Meat from Bunny Gets Paid [Buy it]
    10) "Bag of Hammers" - Thao and the Get Down Stay Down from We Brave Bee Stings and All [Buy it]
    11) "Grindstone" - Uncle Tupelo from March 16-20, 1992 [Buy it]
    12) "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" - Leonard Cohen from The Songs of Leonard Cohen [Buy it]
    13) "Laser Beam" - Low from Things We Lost In The Fire [Buy it]

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Around the world #2

    Work by Fernando Botero from the VQR series

    * Ian Cohen nails many of the reasons why Juno is so painful. Just in case that's not enough, here's another line for you to digest like broken glass: [Regarding Juno's pregnancy] "This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet."

    * Virginia Quarterly Review has a feature on Colombian artist Fernando Botero and his Abu Ghraib series.

    * Michel Gondry: the mad scientist of cinema. Also, the guy who sat next to me at the coffeeshop the other day.

    * Todd documents the joyous idiocy that is Idiotarod 2008.

    * The New Yorker runs a thoughtful profile of Chinese boxer Zou Shiming (with photo portfolio). Meanwhile, I'm still hoping for a hard-hitting piece on Bèibei.

    * Yeah, you've probably already seen this tens of times and yeah, I've probably seen it tens of times too, but are you really going to be doing anything more impressive in the next six-and-a-half minutes?

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    Triple Nickels, J-Direct and Clean Guns @ Don Pedro's, 12-29-07

    I was urgently scanning the room for an emergency exit. A sharp metal object to deafen me for good. Some wack singer was midway through seeping every ounce of soul out of The Roots' "You Got Me," white-boy-rapping through it so ineptly that it'd embarrass The Offspring. It was bad, Geneva Convention-defying, Eighth Amendment-flouting bad, and yet when he was done, the crowd didn't rush the stage. There was no revolt, no hissing nor rotten produce flung from the front rows. The audience just clapped politely and threw back a few more sips of Heineken. A few even seemed to enjoy the butchery. But my spirits didn't completely flag until the end of his set, when four-fifths of the crowd headed toward the exit. The awful truth became clear just then: these people had come specifically for this act. They weren't interested in hearing real hip-hop, not when this cheap facsimile would do just as well.

    Triple Nickels

    Had they stayed behind with the small, loyal remainder, they would've seen the sharp contrast that followed. They would've witnessed a mighty triple bill making the most of its too-short showtimes, maximizing their minutes with an audible hunger. First up was Triple Nickels, a trio from Philly copping their name from America's first black paratrooper unit. I'd only heard the group in the context of Clean Guns, but here they made a potent impression all their own. They served up rap that didn't fool around, heavy on neck-snapping beats and whip-smart rhymes. Their music was funny and brisk, exciting and undeniably fresh. I would've gladly watched them perform a full set rather than the mere four songs they had time for.

    Clean Guns

    Rap Jack Bauer R-J-B

    Next up were Clean Guns themselves, a Philly duo as well as regular Nerd Litter fixtures. After clocking in over a hundred listens to their debut Sometimes There Is Trouble and rocking out to their mixtapes in the interim, I came in with pretty high expectations for the pair. They more than met those, delivering the same high-quality effort so characteristic of their output. Zilla Rocca was the more frenetic of the two, pacing the stage, emoting with his hands, pairing facial expressions to lyrical expressions. Nico the Beast preferred to stand his ground, using his heft and presence to back up his bravado. If they're not quite Andre and Big Boi yet, they have a similar duality of geek and gangster going on, or as Zilla puts it, "nerd and muscle." Whatever the combination, Clean Guns definitively demonstrated that they're just as dynamic live as on record. By the end of their abbreviated set, I was already asking about the next showdates, already making tentative plans to catch them on their home turf in the near future.


    Closing out the evening was J-Direct, a Chicago duo you've also seen around here before. They too brought their trademark energy, more than compensating for the low-wattage crowd. Griff, the now-Brooklyn-based beatmaker, donned shades and sang while slugging back a PBR. Under a black hood, Fitzgerald prowled up and down stage right, tossing out flows casually but momentously. They were clearly having a good time doing it, and that feeling permeated through the crowd. Mixing old material with new, J-Direct kept us nodding our heads to the very last beat. On a night with admittedly low stakes, they, like their two antecedent acts, managed to raise the bar regardless. As for why so many people weren't smart enough to stick around for the best parts of the show? Baby, you got me.

    * MP3: "Kryptonite" - Triple Nickels [Visit them]
    * MP3: "Blue Magic (Zilla Rocca Remix)" - Jay-Z [Visit Clean Guns]
    * MP3: "Clap/Twerk" - J-Direct from Live and J-Direct [Buy it]

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Listening booth #29

    Photo by Thomas Lottermoser

    * MP3: "Shove It" (KMFX Remix) - Santogold [Visit her]
    * MP3: "Shake a Fist" (Diplo Remix) - Hot Chip from "Ready for the Floor" single [Preorder it]
    MP3: "Lights and Music" - Cut Copy from In Ghost Colours [Buy other Cut Copy]

    Check out more photography by Thomas Lottermoser here or here and buy some of his work here.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    My kingdom for easy money

    It's the thrust that gets me. The collusion of chugging guitars and whiplash drums. Bry Webb shaking his fist and wailing out hoarse anthems. The Constantines have shown they can do sweet or low-key just fine ("Windy Road," "Goodbye Baby and Amen," et al.) but they're at their best when they're pumping out stadium rock for the indie set. Releasing their first single from their fourth still-untitled album suggests some midpoint between the raucous energy of Shine A Light and the maturer working-class punk of Tournament of Hearts. The A-side, "Hard Feelings," tilts toward the latter, but it's somewhat upstaged by its upstart companion.

    Based on its lyrics, "Easy Money" seems like another natural extension of the Constantines' last album. It tells of the rigors of being a band, sacrificing commerce for art, putting in the long hours—a punch-the-clock lament much in the vein of "Working Fulltime" or "Good Nurse." But it also calls back the youth and desperation of earlier Constantines songs, feeling more personal and necessary. You can feel the fire being relit under Bry Webb's feet, the cumulative strain of touring, recording, and the business end of the industry (being dropped by Sub Pop namely) finally kicking in. When he rasps, "Able body with a lazy eye/ Lazy eye in a lost decade" over a churning, grimy rhythm, he sounds ready to revolt. And I remember all over again why that's such a vital part of this very vital band.

    * MP3: "Easy Money" - The Constantines from "Hard Feelings" 7" [Buy it]
    * Previously: Work and love: an interview with Bry Webb

    This information's neither braggadocio nor secret

    Hey, do you remember when MySpace used to be cool? No, me neither, but they're finally doing something noteworthy since those eighty-nine girls in bikinis kept trying to be my friend. There's a free "secret" show tonight with Aesop Rock at Southpaw and, having seen him four times, I can almost certainly guarantee that he'll be making weird, bugged-out facial expressions throughout his set. I can also promise that Rob Sonic will not be good, even though every time I see him open I hope extra hard that he's magically gotten better. But it should still be a pretty fun time, if especially for the hilarity of seeing a Long Islander rocking a Park Slope crowd.

    Aesop Rock, Southpaw, 125 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 8 p.m., free. ("t
    he line forms no earlier than 7pm. the first 350 persons on line will be allowed entry.")

    * MySpace: Aesop Rock
    * MP3: "9-5ers Anthem" - Aesop Rock from Labor Days [Buy it]

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Lost star

    Clean up your apartment; discard the things you keep out of mere habit. Sweep the dust into a dustpan and scatter it outside. Draw the blinds shut and sit in a chair with a hard back. Only then should you put on Timothy Dick's On a Grassblade, a quiet, solitary album that requires and rewards your full attention. It's a work for monastics and hermits, heretics and romantics, a record so subtle it verges on subliminal. Gruff and world-weary, Dick's voice hums beneath the surface; his instrumentation is soft and spare, consecrated by intervals of negative space. His words are impressively precise too, excised and martyred, stretched out and scraped up. On the ballad "Awfully Large Tears For Such A Pretty Face," Dick croaks, "I may seem like a hard man/ Immune to all catastrophe/ But... I couldn't calm the sea." On "California," he sounds even more defeated, simply noting, "All that's left is lost in California."

    Throughout, Dick sings with muddy hands and a trampled heart; his songs arrive dressed in the sleeves of dusty blues records. Timeless in the literal sense, they sound like remnants of some ramshackle era. Or they travel windborne like seedlings—wispy, surrendered, nearly invisible. As of yet, there's no telling if they'll survive the winter, let alone sprout new life when they land. But it's that knowledge, that roughshod truth, that gives these songs their vulnerability and their singer his resonance. It's those same feelings, of loss, resurgence and promise, that make me want to clean house and start over anew. To keep playing this record until it has time to fully sink in and take root.

    * MP3: "Florence" - Timothy Dick from On a Grassblade [Buy it]
    * Previously: The best 30 songs of 2007
    * Also: The Torture Garden on On a Grassblade

    Hong Kong series

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Angkor Wat series