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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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    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    We are right to fall

    After the strange revelation that was Before the Dawn Heals Us, it was tough to imagine how Anthony Gonzalez would follow it up. With Saturdays=Youth appearing on the horizon, we now have our answer: stick to the same template. The glacial synths, the weird semi-homages to mid-career Kate Bush, cryptic spoken interludes, instrumentation with one foot in the '80s and another in a parallel-world future, moods that vacillate between somber and astral. If it's mildly disappointing that the new album is so faithful to its predecessor, that deflation doesn't last long. No, this album is too affecting, too idiosyncratic, and too alien to dismiss or ignore. In this still young year, it's probably the most full-on beautiful work I've heard so far.

    "Too Late" is one of the stronger tracks, this album's answer to "Farewell/Goodbye." The piano intro is simple yet chilling, especially after all the intricate effects that precede it. It sets the tone for a song that approximates drifting through space, past asteroid showers and warm solar flares. Its first lyrics are potentially silly, with lines that wouldn't be out of place on a Savage Garden single: "I look into your eyes, diving into the ocean/ I look into your eyes, falling." (The misplaced modifier suggesting eyes doing an armstand forward somersault pike makes it even funnier.) But the trippy reverb and bare-heart sincerity mostly steady that misstep.

    More successful are the next lines though, which posit, "Like a wall of stars, we are right to fall." (Or at least that's what I think they're saying. I've alternately heard "world," "whirl," and "well" for "wall," and "ripe" for "right.") Surreal and vague, it's a sentiment that encapsulates everything I love about M83. Every time I feel like I'm getting closer to grasping it, it dematerializes and floats away from me. It seems to inhabit a world built around its own heady logic, where stars have tangible geometries and humans are tied to the skies. It's what makes "Too Late," like almost all of Saturdays=Youth, such an eerie but inviting riddle. It's why, rather than dwelling on its few minor drawbacks, I'd rather keep revisiting its singular cosmos again and again.

    * MP3: "Too Late" - M83 from Saturdays=Youth [Preorder it]

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    Listening booth #33

    * MP3: "Invaders" - DSL from "Invaders" 12" [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Royal Flush" - Big Boi featuring Andre 3000 and Raekwon from Sir Luscious Left Foot [Buy other Big Boi]
    * MP3: "Rope of Sand" - Jamie Lidell from Jim [Preorder it]

    Check out more photography by Tainá Frota here.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Around the world #5

    from We Went to Wonderland, by Xiaolu Guo (showing at ND/NF)

    * One of my favorite contemporary writers, Jeffrey Eugenides, has a new story up at The New Yorker. That's nice and all, but does he have a sparsely read music blog that he intermittently updates?! I bet he totally doesn't! [The New Yorker]

    * The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art present their annual New Directors/ New Films Festival. Considering I want to see about ninety percent of these movies, I'm gonna go ahead and pronounce this a pretty impressive slate. [ND/NF 2008]

    * A nice review of David Gordon Green's highly anticipated (by me, anyway) new movie, Snow Angels. [Chicago Reader]

    * J-Direct's Live and J-Direct celebrates its one-year anniversary with a half-off sale! (Here's what I had to say about it way back when.) In related news, start getting excited about their upcoming followup, which I hear is going to be another standout. [J-Direct]

    * Peeps dioramas: a helluva lot cooler than the gefilte fish dioramas I was trying to craft for Passover. [Washington Post]

    * Another day, another Santogold interview. The cynic in me wants to snipe that her debut album hasn't even dropped and she's already overexposed. But the rest of me just can't wait to find out this fantastic this LP will be. [Fact]

    Beijing series

    Shanghai series

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Instruments of destruction

    The end is near. I don’t know if it’ll arrive via lab-made pandemic, meteorological disaster, or domino effect of nuclear attacks, but I’m giving humanity as we know it three centuries tops. Judging by their new album, Quaristice, electronic duo Autechre would probably offer an even grimmer prognosis. Though their work deceptively begins and ends with rare moments of beauty, almost everything else it contains is bleak and distressing. It seems to foretell a coming dystopia, or maybe even chronicle a current one.

    "Plyphon" in particular recalls classic Autechre, which is to say strange, urgent, difficult, and mechanized. At every turn, it threatens to collapse unto itself; twenty seconds into the track, it suddenly stops, restarts and stops again. Most times, I think my headphone jack has come loose or that my iPod's just died, two possibilities very much in keeping with the music's theme. The frantic, otherworldly glitches that pulsate throughout remind me of severed wires oozing electricity. The furious beats, especially toward the end, sound like fists pounding on a steel vault draining of oxygen. It's suspense laced with doom, breakdown by way of lockdown.

    It also presents a cool paradox: using machines to suggest a trepidation over machinery. There's palpable violence among all the noise, but there's a clear vulnerability too. Machines falter, they fail, they malfunction just like us. They've already figured out the most probable causes of our destruction--and theirs--will be global cyberterrorism or a widespread computer virus. With their advanced intellect, they've calculated what the future will look like, and they've already started mourning the fallout.

    * MP3: "Plyphon" - Autechre from Quaristice [Buy it]

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    I lost the blues I lost the blues for you

    I know I should be writing about current music, this being one of those shiny newfangled MP3 thingies I've been hearing so much about. But today, I can't. It'd be disingenuous to pretend I can listen to anything but a nearly two-year-old song, "Coming Down The Hill" by El Perro del Mar. Since recently getting her new album, From The Valley to the Stars, I decided I should first revisit 2006's self-titled effort. Most people remember El Perro del Mar for the lead single, catchy retro-pop bopper "God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)" but my go-to song was always the downer "I Can't Talk About It." The rest of the album tended to blend together for me, all pleasant and atmospheric but ultimately too similar. I never expected that one of the tracks would snag my attention as unilaterally as it has, commandeering my iPod for over three hours now.

    "Coming Down The Hill" is deceptively simple, and a scan of the lyrics wouldn't suggest that there's much going on. Sarah Assbring announces "I've got some good news," which turns out to be "I lost the blues for you." It's a pretty line, but nothing particularly revelatory. What gives the song its profound power is her delivery, tinged with trace elements of regret, reticence, acceptance, and even hope. In one line, it sounds like she's going through all five stages of the Kübler-Ross grieving model at once. (Well, maybe not anger.) On the word "news," her voice climbs into some majestic register, becoming sparrow-like and vapory. She keeps repeating every line as if she needs to convince herself of its truth, while vocally suggesting that the healing process is only beginning.

    The title action, coming down the hill, also gets more interesting on further glance. Normally, we'd associate being high with happiness and being low with depression. (Even the word "depression" itself is literally a low point.) But here, El Perro del Mar is moving on by coming down, as if she's finally ready to walk among other people again. The hill sounds like her self-exile, a sentence of solitary confinement while she nurses her wounds. Maybe (and I'm pretty sure I'm reading too far into this) it even half-alludes to Moses coming down from Sinai, but instead of delivering Biblical gospel, Assbring can only offer the small matter of her personal resolution.

    But whatever its virtues, I know the main reason I relate to this song so suddenly is that I've been at my own nadir lately. These last few months have been notably awful, all defense mechanisms and anxiety attacks. I got sidetracked by the wrong things, and a lot of what I was hoping for didn't pan out. All the while, I kept waiting for my spell to break, for my momentum to reverse. Well, I finally think it's starting to--gradually, cautiously, but happening all the same. And that transition is the perfect timing for rediscovering "Coming Down The Hill," a song explicitly about transition. In a less capable singer's hands, it could've been facile or one-dimensionally celebratory, but El Perro del Mar sounds too close to the blues to downplay their damage. She realizes that even the cleanest of breaks will leave some scars. She knows moving on is a lot simpler than it sounds, and that moving forward is a tender process.

    * MP3: "Coming Down The Hill" - El Perro del Mar from El Perro del Mar [Buy it]
    * Website: El Perro del Mar

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Way down in the hole

    WARNING: Spoilers aplenty.

    During The Wire’s penultimate episode, the finality finally set in. Clay Davis was confessing to Freamon about the shady illegalities of drug lawyers, and I thought, what a great set-up this would be for the next season. After already delving into the underbellies of the ghettos, the dock, City Hall, the school system and now the newsroom, The Wire could really do a terrific exposé of the machinations behind the legal system. It could further explore the backroom dealings of courthouses and all the loopholes exploited by shysters like Maury Levy. But as with so many other strata of B-more society (the church/religious institutions, the healthcare system, the foster care system/city services) the show has only grazed, we’ll just have to greedily imagine what depths The Wire could’ve excavated. Instead, we’re left to marvel at what scope it did (un)cover in its five-season run, cutting across class and race with revolutionary equanimity.

    Still, as one of the guiding principles in the show’s moral code is critical inquiry, it wouldn’t be fair to laud The Wire without a thoughtful assessment of its flaws. Namely, I want to look at the fifth season, which has been nearly unanimously derided as the weakest. Now that we have the full arc of the show to examine, I have to agree. While even imperfect episodes embarrass most other television programs at their best, noticeable problems did crop up in the storytelling. Some—the newsroom scenes, the serial killer storyline—have already been repeatedly and roundly picked apart, while other less noted ones were more intrinsic and inevitable to the format.

    First, the obvious problems. The most glaring for me was easily the simplicity of the Sun characters. We could always count on Gus to be saintly and Alma and Fletcher to be hardworking and honest, just as reliably as Templeton would be weaselly and the higher-ups oblivious and accommodating. Their actions were hugely predictable, never once upended with any sort of deviation or nuance. The Wire’s chief asset is its ambiguity (think Hamsterdam or Carcetti’s moral standing), but the newsroom was didacticism at its baldest. (They even needed to mock the word “Dickensian” twice and name an episode after it. Take that, TV critics!) After The New Yorker profile of David Simon, it’s hard not to imagine him settling scores with his old paper on some level. It’s also disappointing to think what great potential that arena held, had the writers not used it for such linear and obvious moralizing.

    The other oft-stated drawback of Season Five is the implausibility of McNulty’s red ribbon killer. (It’s ironic that the season’s foremost quote, Bunk’s “The bigger the lie, the more they believe” was pretty much disproved by the fan outcry.) The serial killer fabrication didn’t bother me as much, because it led to so many interesting ramifications. The ripples it sent up the chain of command, the politicking it revealed in the mayor’s office, and the dilemmas it created in some of our favorite characters all helped temper the disappointment of the newsroom. Nonetheless, it did strain credibility to think Freamon was so obsessed with Marlo that he wouldn’t consider his actions more deeply. All his court testimonies should’ve made him at least a little more hesitant about the eventual legalities of his arrests. A few more conversations about downsides, a few more doubts along the way would’ve helped sell this iffy premise better.

    Now the more inherent, perhaps unavoidable problems. The main one is also among the reasons that the show is so wonderful: its span. With every season, The Wire has ambitiously expanded its reach, trying to untangle and identify the many intricate facets of the drug trade. But as the cast’s continued to spiral, that’s meant less and less screen time (and sometimes simply cameos) for beloved characters. It’s meant episodes that have to shoehorn in as much as possible, sometimes to detrimental effect. In its last season, the show has had to weave together five years of threads, while still trying to tell a coherent, gripping narrative. Considering the feat required, Simon, Ed Burns et al. have done remarkably well, and I can only imagine the dissatisfaction if certain plots were just dropped altogether. Still, the canvas felt overloaded at times, stuffed to a point of distraction. That’s why I maintain that the best season remains the first, which had the clearest and still most compelling arc of all. (For the record, my list of seasons in order of preference is 1, 3, 4, 2, 5.)

    Related to this is another logistical problem: the ten-episode run of the final season. All the other seasons had either twelve or thirteen episodes, which gave them enough extra breathing room to unfurl at a reasonable pace. Here, the abbreviated run gave it an odd dynamic, feeling both slow to take shape and yet simultaneously rushed. On the one hand, Lester was just figuring out the clock code by Episode Eight; on the other, bodies were dropping toward the end at near-Departed proportions. With so many characters to deal with in less time than ever, the endgame also felt somewhat anxious and unsatisfying (and I don’t mean unsatisfying in the way that the show aims to be).

    Finally, in watching five seasons of arcs play out, it was becoming pretty obvious what to expect. Maybe you couldn’t always guess the exact outcome and maybe there were some tweaks in the formula, but most of the usual beats were hit. Reformers and courageous whistleblowers were routinely pushed out; compromisers and line-toers retained their positions. People in power were corrupted by power, eventually brought down, and speedily replaced by someone just as bad or worse. Real change is slow, arduous, and incremental, only achieved at an institutional level, but at the first signs of progress, it will be washed away in favor of easy solutions. In some sense, these inevitabilities are the crux of the show, driving home the points that Simon wants to raise. And yes, they largely do reflect the realities of life. But in Simon’s adherence to Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama as inspiration, and in our increasing canniness as viewers, most of these lessons felt unsurprising, even redundant.

    Yet, even with these problems, the fifth season still had plenty to recommend it. The smart continuations of the schoolkids’ paths, Clay Davis’ dubious redemption, Bubs’ gradual, well-earned redemption, the grotesque hilarity of characters like Snoop and Landsman, and Jimmy’s rousing wake were all highlights that recalled the show at its peak. For me though, the best moment of all, the most chill-inducing and most heartening, was the final montage that showcased The Wire’s true star. There were the streets of Charm City, in all their strange, rundown, hard-to-love glory. In five years, these were the corners and alleyways we were given access to, beside the ordinary residents populating them, and where we were shown just how much occurs beyond the stereotypes and surface. The Wire reminded us how vital and indelible these surroundings are, despite their imperfections. It also proved that even the best show in television history can unfortunately fall victim to its own evident truths.

    * MP3: "Way Down In The Hole" - Tom Waits from Frank's Wild Years [Buy it]
    * Website: The Wire

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Around the world #4

    "Wood Load In" by Mike Rea

    * Yeah, so it turns out that The Wire creator David Simon is still pretty ornery: "If people didn't realize after this many seasons of
    The Wire that they were watching a Greek tragedy, writ across a modern American city… And if they thought that there were going to be redemptions and [awarding] of the Fates, they need to get up with their Medea and Antigone and their Oedipus. I don't know what else to say." [AV Club]

    * There will be wood: an interview with extraordinary sculptor Mike Rea. [Fecal Face]

    * Sigur Ros's 2007 documentary Heima now available for free. Shrooms not included. [YouTube]

    * The appropriately named Wonderful Video Contest concludes with the top five. [Said the Gramophone]

    * One of my top-five-of-all-time favorite movies is being revived at Film Forum this week! And of course, with revival comes the usual critical reappraisal! [New York Times]

    * The always worthwhile La Blogothèque ups the ante with two nice new Concerts à Emporter, Stephen Malkmus and Yeasayer. [La Blogothèque]

    Listening booth #32

    Photo by 8=7

    * MP3: "Dirty & Hard" - DJ Edjotronic & Spoek (via Palms Out Sounds) [Visit DJ Edjotronic] [Visit Spoek]
    * MP3: "Ready For The Floor" - Hot Chip (Marian Pramberger Remix) [Buy other Hot Chip] [Visit Marian Pramberger]

    * MP3: "Where Da G's?" - Dizzee Rascal (El-P Remix) from Maths and English (U.S. version) [Buy other Dizzee Rascal] [Buy other El-P]

    Check out more of 8=7's photography here.

    Guilin series

    Great Wall series #2

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Video Tuesday #48

    The Count and Sinden (ft. Kid Sister and Flossdatramus)

    "Don't Dance"
    Olde English


    "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)"
    The Roots

    "Wait For The Summer"

    Missy Elliott

    The writing on the wall #27

    Five Pointz edition #5

    The writing on the wall #26

    Five Pointz edition #4

    Monday, March 03, 2008


    The F train is stuck again. It’s clogged in a passageway like grease in a fat man’s artery. The conductor is mumbling a garbled message in some extraterrestrial language and a toddler is wailing one shrill, unbroken note. I’m squirming against the door, miserable, spent. Sometimes, this city seems calibrated to drive you to your breaking point, but this morning I have a cure. I flip over the iPod dial to Chuckmore: The Mix and drift off. I start nodding like a yesman, tapping along to the jerky syncopations. Soon, I’m even rocking out in the aisle, not giving a fuck if I ever make it to my stop.

    The new mix from Vancouver-based DJ Chuck Dollarsign, Chuckmore is thirty-three minutes of insta-party—joyous, fun, breathlessly high-energy. It fits together flawlessly, sounding as organic as a carbon compound. That’s especially impressive when you consider just how many pitfalls a mix presents: digging up the best bits of your raw material, knowing how long to draw out your samples, intuiting when to tweak or switch up the tempo, having to accommodate the divergent tastes of the crowd. Dollarsign has a clear talent for rising to these challenges, serving up stretches that seem effortless.

    Almost all electronic, the first third of Chuckmore relies on a baseline of big, visceral beats. But the mix doesn’t fully kick into gear until minute ten, when Dollarsign brings out the vocal samples. Suddenly, the sound gets even bolder and more engaging, masterfully flowing in and out in crescendos. It all builds up to the climactic twenty-first minute, a stunner of hiccupy synths, a caffeinated pulse and a sexy vocal line. It’s so club-ready you can practically see the flashing lights and taste the smoke machines. But Chuckmore's also the perfect soundtrack for warehouse parties, night drives and endless train rides, delivering the requisite jolt and bounce to make any moment an event.

    You can download Chuckmore: The Mix here. And check out Chuck Dollarsign's Tumblr here.