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    Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    Come see the city with me

    I keep waiting for my Macbook to turn into a Commodore 64. For my bootleg Microsoft Word to morph into the Tick-blue screen of Word Perfect. I'll be rocking my boys-size-small Lion-O T-shirt, collecting Marvel series-one holograms, and recreating Balki Bartokomous' Dance of Joy all over again. Basically, I'm thinking that the world might be hurtling back in time any day now. If 2008's musical climate is any indication, it's probably already happened.

    Everywhere I look, the rampant wave of '80s revivalism keeps on getting stronger. Artists like Cut Copy, M83, and Ghosthustler have been gaining new prominence with sincere celebrations of the Me Decade's sound. Synth-driven beats, ornate keyboards, gaudy dance anthems, and highly processed vocals are just some of the features making a particularly notable resurgence. And since both artists and audiences raised in the '80s are experiencing record levels of childhood nostalgia, the hunger for more fun, dance-y, theatrical pop isn't likely to fade anytime soon. (The timing also makes some sense historically. Just as synth-pop originally sprouted from the darker roots of post-punk, this synth-pop revival comes on the heels of '04-'07's post-punk revival.)

    One song that perfectly captures the trend is "Vanished" by Crystal Castles. In its normal mode, the duo's songs sound like arcade games having nervous breakdows, and their Atari aesthetic is another prime example of nostalgic-driven music. But "Vanished" is a special case on Crystal Castles' self-titled debut, an asterisk among all the eight-bit mania. For one thing, it's actually a remix of Van She's "Sex City," another song steeped in Reagan-era revelry. Even more unusually, the remix opts to tone down the flamboyancy instead of ramping it up. Still, it's essentially one '80s song becoming another '80s song, an echo chamber of likeminded approaches.

    What keeps this from being annoying is that the music they produce is genuinely pretty great. Most of these artists so far have shown a real affinity and talent for what they're doing (minus, say, She Wants Revenge, We Are Scientists, Scissors For Lefty, etc.) which keeps it from devolving into mere money-grabbing pastiche. "Vanished" is an especially encouraging development, with its gorgeously sheened production and glittery electronic flourishes. Compared to the original, the redone rhythm gives the track a very welcome layer of mystery and lust. (And if you want to be a word nerd, you could note that "Vanished" is a matter of putting the "id" in "Van She.") It's proof that Crystal Castles, and '80s-style artists at large, can show a far wider range than people give them credit for. It's also reason to have great hope for the future, even as music today continues mining the past.

    * MP3: "Vanished" - Crystal Castles from Crystal Castles [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Sex City" - Van She from Van She EP [Buy it]

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    Video Tuesday #51

    "Water Curses"
    Animal Collective

    "Donkey Rhubarb"
    Aphex Twin

    "Little Bit"
    Lykke Li

    "Hard Feelings"
    The Constantines

    Xiu Xiu

    Ghislain Poirier ft. Face-T

    Monday, April 28, 2008

    Blood rain

    I'm always interested how records will hold up over time. Will the ones I'm currently obsessed with still sound good a year from now? A decade from now? Some albums I used to love have faded in my esteem (Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, Interpol's Antics) while others have seemed to only appreciate with age (The Streets' Original Pirate Material, Fugazi's The Argument). But perhaps my biggest surprise has been the sustainability of Girl Talk's Night Ripper. Gregg Gillis's project practically seems stamped with a sell-by date, but here I am two years later, still replaying it on the regular.

    On a basic level, it's still really fun. It still bangs, and the pangs of nostalgia still strike when a particularly well-chosen sample (I'm referring to D4L's "Laffy Taffy" here obviously) comes on. But it's also proven so durable because its purpose has changed with time. When it first came out, its goal was to bust down every dichotomy in sight. Old meshed promiscuously with new; mainstream pushed up against indie; the limits of genre were treated as irrelevant and old-fashioned. But now as Night Ripper's two-year anniversary approaches, and the samples have all reached a certain age, the album's finally become what it once claimed to be--an entity all its own. It's no longer focused on how weirdly subversive "Juicy" sounds over Elton John's piano trills. In fact, it seems so instinctive now that I half-hope Biggie's going to step in with a verse whenever I hear "Tiny Dancer."

    At the same time, if Night Ripper does have a drawback, it would be that same element of familiarity. More than any other album of the '00s, it's built solidly around novelty. Even as the disparate samples have gelled into a cohesive work, I do miss the surprise of what could possibly come next. Now I just expect Missy Elliott to follow Sonic Youth, and while it still works, I can't help but wish there was some way to be taken aback like I once was. In short, I want the novelty of novelty, that gleeful shock of the new.

    That must be why I'm loving Blood Rain by Vancouver DJ Chuck Dollarsign so much. A deliberate disciple of Girl Talk's methods, Dollarsign makes no secret of his influence. And well, he couldn't really. From the explicit overlaps (2 Live Crew's "Face Down, Ass Up," Beyonce's "Check On It") to the implied (the generous dollops of Phil Collins, Mims' "This Is Why I'm Hot"), it's pretty clear he's picking up where Gillis left off. He even retains much of Gillis's libidinal energy, meeting big, driving beats with lots of talk of body parts. But at their core, the key commonality between the projects is the level of high-quality output.

    As he's already demonstrated with his Chuckmore mix, Dollarsign has the essential talent of selecting songs. He knows how to wring the maximum effect out of his choices, zoning on the juiciest bits and letting them loose. He tends to forgo Gillis's beloved 120 Minutes cuts in favor of a more Patrick Bateman aesthetic (Hall & Oates, Men Without Hats, Billy Ocean), but the end result's not far off. Layered under radio-ready hip hop, the poppy guitar lines and catchy productions take on new meanings. Songs gain an extra bump and an exciting new swagger; old favorites hit you freshly from refreshingly askew angles.

    Even tracks I didn't particularly like sound revitalized and vital under Dollarsign's thumb. One of the indisputable high points is his treatment of Dem Franchise Boyz' "White Tee." On its own, it's a good enough song that adheres too tightly to Southern rap tropes. But here, cut up and spliced with Billy Joel's deft piano from "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," it suddenly gets loose and unexpected. With the freedom to remix at will, Dollarsign further adds to the unpredictability with some jarringly effective loops and repetitions. Likewise, his treatment of Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's" is, in my mind, a great improvement on the original. In its recontextualized version, it feels bigger and bolder. With a few sweeping progressions, Dollarsign manages to incorporate everything from Led Zeppelin to LCD Soundsystem, from Steve Reich to the Smiths. Yet it doesn't ever seem like he's showing off for the sake of it; it's remarkable how smoothly it all fits together.

    Throughout Blood Rain and especially with those two moments, the watchword is unmitigated fun. It's all about having a great time, rocking out, keeping the party going. That's why it's really astounding when you reach the end and "Throw Some D's" transitions to the Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." Riding out the bassline from Big Boi's "The Way You Move," Raekwon comes out spitting fire like you'd expect. But under that impassioned delivery, Dollarsign masterfully surprises you one more time. Instead of upping the energy, he keeps the tempo downbeat with a backdrop that's reverent, almost poignant. It always makes me think of that moment when a really good party is winding down, when I'm stepping outside for the first time in hours. That rush of cold air hitting my face, that revelation that there are stars above my head. Feeling spent but euphoric. Then at that pivotal turn, Dollarsign adds in The Passions exclaiming, "I'm in love! I'm in love! I'm in love!" and I think, yeah, exactly.

    It's wonderfully thoughtful choices like this that have kept Blood Rain trapped in my headphones all week. At times, I think it's even better than Night Ripper, because at eighteen minutes, it can sustain its breakneck momentum without adding any filler. (By which I mean, no annoyingly extended cuts of "My Humps" or "Hollaback Girl.") By dissecting the best of Gregg Gillis' work and building upon it, Dollarsign has, in a way, girl-talked Girl Talk. But even more importantly, he's also produced yet another terrific mix that I fully expect to be enjoying two years from now.

    * MP3: Blood Rain - Chuck Dollarsign
    * Previously: Chuckmore: The Mix

    The writing on the wall #28

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    Listening booth #35

    Photo by Noel Kerns

    * MP3: "Parcheezie" (Griff Remix ft. Fitzgerald) - The Coathangers [Buy other Coathangers] [Buy other J-Direct]
    * MP3: "Mecca and the Ox" - Vast Aire ft. Vordul Mega from Deuces Wild [Buy other Vast Aire]
    * MP3: "Charlie Brown" (DJ Mehdi Remix ft. Mapei) - Ghostface Killah [Buy other Ghostface]

    Check out more of Noel Kerns' Night Work set here and his other photography here.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    For I am guilty for the voice that I obey

    Well, here it is, friends, my frontrunner for 2008's single of the year. I hope you can forgive that brief burst of hype, but superlative times like these call for superlative measures. That, and everybody I've played Portishead's "Machine Gun" for has responded strangely indifferently. One friend claimed it sounded like boilerplate industrial music. Another discounted it as repetitive and mopey. A third simply said he's heard better from the band. Meanwhile, this lead single from the forthcoming Third has left me totally floored. I think it's damn near miraculous Portishead can sound so timely after taking an eleven-year hiatus between studio albums.

    First things first, Beth Gibbons still sounds devastating and gorgeous. She invokes the most innocuous lines with deathly urgency. She floats above the chaos beneath like an angel filmed by Wim Wenders. When she sings of "the poison in my heart," there's no doubt some emotional toxin is truly eating away at her. Her lyrics are as bleak and cryptic as ever too, but on "Machine Gun," they seem to allude to our contemporary state. Her mentions of saviors, remedies, and sacrifices could take on geopolitical dimensions if you want them to. Or you can read it as a crisis of faith, religion disseminated at the butt of a gun. Or, and what's probably safest with Portishead, it's a personal condemnation. What's unmistakable though is that even the choices are rigged and that violence has penetrated us all.

    But even more central to this song's ferocity is its defiantly innovative instrumentation. It's great a band so defined by its signatures soundscapes saw fit to shed them entirely. Portishead in 2008 isn't trying to recapture its old glory or merely update successful formulas. They're pushing forward boldly, rewiring their whole musical circuitry. If their presentation of trip-hop was a thrilling synthesis of disparate styles, so too is "Machine Gun." You can hear the genetic strands of industrial music, drum-and-bass, ambient, and experimental electronic in the mix, but this is some recombinant version of those genres, a new animal born to some undefined genus.

    The percussion spikes under Gibbons like a bed of nails--sharp, exact, unyielding. It batters away mechanically, evoking both words of the title separately as well as the weapon they form together. The crossfire of the relentless beats and a reverbed choir of Gibbons sighing is almost unbearable in its tension. But the mood ratchets up regardless, building toward a sadistic last two minutes. With no vocals left, a possessed synthesizer suddenly starts groaning and wailing in the barrage. It reminds me of a helicopter fluttering above a war zone at first, but as it gets more emphatic, I think of someone being tortured. Its harsh squeals and discomfiting jumps in pitch could be a voice escaping a body without any choice. It's a pained, painful protest that sounds almost soulful next to the totalitarian drum machine. It's also a brilliant finale to a brutal song, an absolute stunner that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.

    * MP3: "Machine Gun" - Portishead from Third [Preorder it]

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    I got nobody on my side, and surely that ain't right

    If you ask me, live tracks are mostly not worth the hassle. For every unearthed gem, there are countless more that do little more than deliver a faithful recreation with added crowd noise. Or, even worse, a band will tack on an unnecessarily wonky guitar solo or extraneous vocal tics or a redundant two minutes. Even when the performance is worth hearing, there's something weirdly voyeuristic about eavesdropping on a show you weren't at. It's a bit like hearing a friend tell a story involving a bunch of strangers--no matter how well-executed it is, you can't help but feel reminded you're on the outside.

    With that said, some tracks can definitely benefit from their live settings. The first that comes to mind is U2's famous rendition of "One" in Sarajevo. In a setting so scarred with battle lines and ethnic strife, the audience singing along in a unified voice feels true and metaphorically hefty. Sure, Bono's kind of ruined it since by becoming an ego-tripping Captain Planet with more bombast than a whole clone army of Chris Martins, but that song speaking so deeply to a stadium full of survivors still seems momentous. It reproduced an experience I couldn't have had, serving as a living document of its time and place.

    Another song that apparently gains extra dimensions in front of an audience is Portishead's "Roads." In anticipation of the band's upcoming third studio album, Third, I've been revisiting their back catalogue even more than usual. I even went back to their concert album, Roseland NYC Live
    (AKA PNYC), normally the one work I skip over. Relistening to it today, I was especially struck by "Roads" and how it differs from its studio counterpart. Like "One," it's a song that touches on issues of individuality, loneliness and separation, which makes the interplay with the audience an interesting dynamic.

    Largely before "Roads," Roseland's penultimate track, the crowd is pretty docile. They cheer politely and briefly at the beginnings of songs and clap fervently but respecfully at the end. It's about at the level of, say, a Broadway play two months into its run. But once the opening strains of "Roads" come on, the crowd immediately starts losing its shit. (Evidence suggests that this was the band's first encore song, but even that spillover excitement can't quite explain the response.) The audience members howl like they're finally getting to hear a one-hit-wonder's one hit or like they're getting to hear some contraband treat (think Radiohead playing "Creep" maybe). Since neither is the case, the only other plausible deduction is that this is a whole lot of people's favorite Portishead song.

    It's my favorite Portishead song, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. But I am. And I certainly wouldn't predict the love would be so overwhelming, it would inspire an impromptu clap-along. Suddenly, the crowd becomes almost embarrassingly goofy in its enthusiasm, ramping it up to near-bar mitzvah proportions. Some of the Amazon reviews (the place where I get most of my opinions from) specifically slam the clap-along, but I find it endearing. For music as downbeat, insular and intimate as Portishead's, this level of involvement is strangely touching.

    What makes the reaction even more contradictory and amusing are the lyrics. In typical Beth Gibbons fashion, they're depressing and vague with a queasy mix of loathing and longing. Sung by almost anyone else, backed by almost anything other than Geoff Barrow's and Adrian Utley's lush arrangements, the words would sound like blood-penned poetry by a high school Goth. Somehow though, Portishead makes them not only work, but seem potentially profound. Nonetheless, it's still cognitively dissonant to hear Gibbons sing, "I got nobody on my side," as a whole crowd cheers her on. When she asks over and over, "How can it feel this wrong?" their fawning approval makes the assessment ring pretty false.

    Or that's the cynical interpretation anyway. In my more idealist moments, I think how powerful that experience must've been. Surely, everyone in that audience has hit his own personal low point, has felt the sneak attack of loneliness, has faced a seemingly endless stretch of desolation. In Gibbons' obsessively personal scope, she's enumerating universally painful feelings and neutralizing them. She's rendering them gorgeous or even sensual, producing palatable confessions. In baring something so raw (notice how her voice threatens to crumple in on itself on the word "regardless" at the five-minute mark), Gibbons draws the crowd in and confirms they're a part of something much bigger. That connection, that consolation, is live music's main advantage, and one Portishead has thoroughly mastered on "Roads."

    * MP3: "Roads" (Live) - Portishead from Roseland Live NYC [Buy it]
    * Previously: The greatest #5: Dummy

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    You might as well be off to dreamland

    Guys, seriously, do not try to bring Allison Apperson down. It's not going to happen. Even when faced with a full-scale mummy attack, she'll bounce right back with, "We got mummies at the beach! (Mummies!) We got mummies in the sand! (Mummies!) We got mummies at the souvenir shop! Why won't they stop? They'll never stop!" Other less professional singers would be recoiling in horror or shrieking in falsetto, but Apperson shows an almost special-agent cool about the whole incident. The same can be said when she comes up against a blue dragon ravaging a forest. Rather than, say, running for her life or ducking for cover, she optimistically observes, "And you must be a vegan, you're so swee-ee-ee-eet/ You have got some spinach in your tee-ee-ee-eeth."

    Her band, Hot Lava, is terrific at producing a whole slew of weird, joyous ditties just like these. Every song on the Richmond quartet's new album, Lavalogy, is an exercise in indefatigable verve and energy. The lyrics are fun and surreal, powered by melodies that hop around aerobically. The music delivers a retro flair, channeling bobby socks and smock dresses, beach blanket bingos and surf hops. It'll make you bust out dance moves with goofy names, and/or groove around in your living room in your socks and underwear. (Alas, I'm speaking from experience.) And while Lavalogy projects an air of lightness and ease, it's also clear how tightly crafted the songs are.

    Two of the standout tracks are "Apple Option Fire" and ".JPG in the Sun." Both fit comfortably into the Hot Lava mold, but these two pack an even bigger bounce in their steps. "Apple Option Fire" comes with a chorus designed to keep you humming it giddily for hours. I'm still not sure what it all means, and I'm not really sure that it matters. Stopping to analyze the message is a bit like pausing a parade to count its attendants. ".JPG in the Sun" is clearer, but by no means less offbeat or original. It imagines an infatuation with someone who just happens to be a digital image projected on the sun. No biggie for Apperson, who's shrugged off greater problems before. She just cheers, "Image so perfect desires my attention/ But you are burning, I forgot to mention." In the thrilling pop playground of Hot Lava, apparently even lovers in flames can't extinguish our spirits.

    * MP3: "Apple Option Fire" - Hot Lava from Lavalogy
    * MP3: ".JPG in the Sun" - Hot Lava from Lavalogy [Buy it]
    * Website: Hot Lava Owns You

    Monday, April 14, 2008

    Around the world #6

    Photo by Helen Levitt (via Lens Culture)

    * Jeff Weiss calls out Lil Wayne with a pretty incisive counterpoint. ("Wayne is neither savior nor Satan. What he is a talented rapper with absolutely no concept of quality control.") Lil' Boosie and Lil Mama, consider yourselves put on notice. [Idolator]

    * Shane talks to both My Brightest Diamond and Bell in a single month. Lucky bastard. [The Torture Garden]

    * I just discoverd Lens Culture and its amazing slideshows. So all morning, I've been combing through its archives, and I've decided Helen Levitt's collection of street photography may well be the best. [Lens Culture]

    * The Virginia Festival of the Book was one of the better events while I
    was at school, and it's nice to see them continue their winning streak with readings by my two very favorite poets named Charles. [Virginia Quarterly Review]

    * A new photo essay about parkour in NYC. Yeah yeah, I know parkour is best enjoyed with video, but the shots (with more of Derin Thorpe's work here) are still worth a look. [New York Press]

    * In light of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer win, Bomb's rerunning his terrific 2007 conversation with Edwidge Dandicat. Between Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Dandicat's Brother, I'm Dying, the only award they've yet to win this season is the Dundie. [Bomb]

    Wednesday, April 09, 2008

    Darkness in my heart: an interview with Dan McGee

    Photo by April Novak

    "Lost like it's the law," Dan McGee of the Spider Bags sings as if he knows all too well. And yet it's hard to pin down what he's going through to just one feeling. There's a despair there to be sure, but also a waywardness and maybe a wanderlust. He doesn't know where he'll wake up tomorrow, and while that's unnerving, there's a freedom in it too. That kind of renegade spirit can be found all through the band's debut album, A Celebration of Hunger. Switching between dark humor and sharp grief, first-round hopes and last-call truths, the album hits a range of moods with equal authority. The Spider Bags' sound is just as panoptic, incorporating everything from slow weepers to raucous rockers to reverent folk-country and even a boozy take on a German waltz. Since I discovered it last fall, A Celebration of Hunger has quickly become a daily listen. Won over by its honesty and authenticity, I also named it my eighth favorite album of 2007.

    Here's my conversation with Dan McGee, the Spider Bags' lead singer and guitarist:

    Nerd Litter: So tell me a little about the band. How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard your music?

    Dan McGee: A rock ’n roll band. It’s got a bit of a country influence, I guess, but pretty much a rock ’n roll band. That record, A Celebration of Hunger, it’s got a whole bunch of different influences and styles on it. There’s some German folk music on there, there’s some stuff that’s like early American folk blues, a few more rock numbers on it, but I guess I’d describe it mostly as a rock ’n roll band.

    NL: Did you consciously try to incorporate all those different styles or do you naturally write in different ways?

    DM: Yeah, I think I write in a lot of different ways. I like a lot of different kinds of music, so that just kind of happens. I’ve always really loved folk blues. It was the first music I ever liked. I remember this Blind Lemon Jefferson song when I was like eleven, on this radio station called WKCR out of New York, and I was flipping through the dial. I heard this Blind Lemon Jefferson song and it just fuckin’ blew my mind. That was what authentic music was to me. That’s always been where my heart is. If your heart is in something that’s authentic, no matter where it comes from, you’re going to open to trying lots of different things.

    NL: Where did “Swanson’s Waltz” come from? Where did that interest arise?

    DM: That’s from this guy, Carl Swanson, who I play with in Jersey. He plays accordion. It’s a very loose take on this old German song, “Koster Valz.” Carl and I used to drink a lot. We’d always say that we’d get together to play music but we’d end up getting pretty drunk. Then at the end of the night, we’d play the “Koster Valz” together. One night, we were just playing it and I recorded it. You can hear Carl counting it out, the beginning. He calls out for Ruby, his cat, so that’s in the song—him looking for his cat. But Carl was this guy from Jersey—he lives in Santa Cruz now—he played accordion since he was eight years old. An old sailor taught him how to play. “Koster Valz” was one of the songs Carl loved. And I just really liked the recording so I put it on there. A couple of guys in Spider Bags weren’t into the idea of having “Koster Valz” on there, but I mean, it’s just like a freakout song, you know? This really weird and loose tune. I ended up recording the accordion that night, and then I did overdubs on it. It was one day playing these guitar solos over and over in my apartment, and my neighbors banging on the floor. Man, I love that song… He plays on the record too, he plays on “It’s You.” I wrote that one for Carl. I had an idea for Carl and me, we were going to have a band that played old folk songs, just me and him. “It’s You” was going to be one of those songs for that band, but we just could never get it together.

    NL: You mentioned drinking while playing, and I noticed a lot of the songs are about drinking or bottles or being drunk. Was that a specific time in your life or…?

    DM: Yeah, kind of a specific time. That’s what you try to do with a record, try to capture what’s going on. I’ve been making those kinds of records all my life. I used to walk around with a tape recorder and just record my observations. With music, you want to make it as close to what’s happening right then as possible and hopefully get that onto a record and hopefully people will want to listen to it. But yeah, there’s a lot of talk about drinking on that record. I was definitely drinking a lot back then. That was a dark period.

    NL: And the other big theme of the album is blood and bleeding.

    DM: Yeah. After I listened to the record, I wanted the album cover to be a heart, but I thought that would be clichéd. But there is a lot about blood and bleeding. (Laughs.) There’s a lot about hearts on there. I had been dating a girl, living with a girl, for seven years and it was definitely a rocky relationship. Right when I was doing that record, it was coming to an end. And I’m an Irish guy, we get pretty sentimental. A lot of it came out there in the blood and bleeding and hearts.

    NL: And where does A Celebration of Hunger tie in?

    DM: A Celebration of Hunger, I stole from a Max Ernst collage. I was walking through the Museum of Modern Art and it was part of his showing. I was already finishing the record and I was knocking around a lot of titles. And there’s this one title on one of these collages, A Celebration of Hunger, and it just seemed to be what the record is about.

    "I thought it might be a good idea for me to get out of the city for a while, because I was hitting some dark spots there."

    NL: Okay, one more explanation to get out of the way. What’s a spider bag? Is that a reference to The Wire, because that’s the only place I’ve heard it.

    DM: Well, I knew about spider bags before The Wire.

    NL: But it is the drug reference?

    DM: It is, yeah. But here’s the thing, man. The name of the band was kind of a joke. We didn’t think anybody was going to ever know. Like, one percent of the population would ever know what a spider bag was. And then that television show. At one point, one of the kids shouts, “Spider bag,” and people I work with are suddenly like, “So... spider bag, huh?”

    NL: Well, your other band’s called the DC Snipers so it’s not like you’re exactly shying away from controversial titles.

    DM: (Laughs.) True. The DC Snipers, by the way, are a great band. We’re almost done with the next record. It should be out pretty soon.

    NL: Yeah, I was just listening to some of it on MySpace. Do you see a connection between the two bands? Do they influence each other?

    DM: Oh yeah, man, totally. It’s the same kind of music really. Earnest rock ’n roll. The Snipers are a real collaboration with all the guys, same thing with the Spider Bags. The music you make is the people you make it with. Because even if I write a song or a chorus, it doesn’t take shape till I put it in front of the musicians I’m playing with. With the Snipers, there’s a little more collaboration than there is with the Spider Bags. But yeah, they work off each other. I love playing music with the DC Snipers. I’m hoping we can do some live shows when this record gets finished. We’ve been on hiatus for a while.

    NL: Is there more Spider Bags stuff on the way as well?

    DM: Yeah, hopefully in September. I’m finishing up a record now. We’ve still got three or four more songs to record, then overdubs. But it’s basically done, just a little bit of recording. We’ve been so busy touring, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff on the road. Then when we get back, it’s hard to get into the studio, because it’s expensive. When we get back, it takes a lot of time to catch up. We’re going out for South By, and then we’ll be home for April, and then in May, we’re going on the road with this great band from Texas called the Golden Boys. They’re fucking awesome, really great stuff. But I’m hoping in April, we can get some recording done, so we can get it out by September.

    NL: What’s music in Chapel Hill like?

    DM: It’s interesting. A little more diversified than I thought it was going to be. There are a lot of really great musicians, a lot of great bands. But it’s weird, because it’s not like you’re living in a city. In a city, there are pockets of genres of music that get together, because there’s so much music and so many people, that eventually, everybody that’s similar finds each other and a scene happens. But when you’re living somewhere small, it’s hard for pockets to happen. If you want to book a show, you just book a show. It’s good though. There are a lot of really great bands—Gondoliers, Transportation, Work Clothes. It’s not this tight-knit scene though. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. I don’t want to make anybody mad. (Laughs.)

    NL: What prompted you to move there?

    DM: Well, I had some friends down here that moved down here from Jersey. And I came down and made the record with them and I was still living up in Jersey. Going on the road with the Snipers, traveling a lot. And I thought it might be a good idea for me to get out of the city for a while, because I was hitting some dark spots there. So I came down and I met this girl who’s pretty awesome. Beautiful girl. We just kind of fell in love. Six months later, I realized I hadn’t been back to Jersey in a while. (Laughs.) All my stuff was in her apartment, and all of a sudden, I lived here. Now I live here and I’m fixing wheelchairs. That’s how it happened.

    "It’s beautiful too because you identify with that unhappiness and it makes you feel like it’s human to be that unhappy. Those are feelings people have."

    NL: What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t making music?

    DM: Oh man, I don’t know. I don’t know… I don’t get paid for making music, I’m just making music. So if I wasn’t making music—Man, I would just always be making music.

    NL: What’s your background with it?

    DM: I started playing guitar when I was really little because of Blind Lemon Jefferson. I just wanted to know what that sound was. I started playing guitar and that was about it. I wasn’t always a model citizen, but I always played music. I don’t have any kind of training. I didn’t go to school for music. I didn’t really even start playing shows for a long time, just here and there. I didn’t start playing shows until I was in my late twenties, with the Snipers and then it was every week. That’s pretty much where my public musical background starts.

    NL: Who were some of your favorite lyricists when you were learning to write songs?

    DM: Ah, man. Lou Reed, Robert Johnson, guys who just talk about dark things… It always amazes me, like, Robert Johnson walking down the street with the devil by his side, gonna beat a woman till he’s satisfied. I mean, how dark is that? Those are the things that people don’t usually say out loud. And you can hear in his voice, he doesn’t even know what the fuck he’s saying. Those are the kind of lyricists I love. It’s like, I don’t even know why I’m telling you but I feel like I really have to. This is just something I have to say out loud. It’s guys like that I’ve always been a big fan of. Tom Waits, all the obvious stuff, Shane MacGowan. My main influences when I first started were like Skip James, people like that. What is “Crow Jane” really about? All we really know is this phantom figure that poisons this woman. You don’t even know if it’s a woman he poisons. “Crow Jane” could just be this weird ghost! But this mood he creates, he’s not even really thinking about murder, he’s thinking about what it’s like to be fucking sad. And that’s what I immediately tuned into, the way people like Skip James and Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson were able to tie into something without ever giving it a name. You just listen to this song, and you’re like, I don’t know what this song is fucking about, but that guy is not happy. It’s beautiful too because you identify with that unhappiness and it makes you feel like it’s human to be that unhappy. Those are feelings people have. It’s like that guy Jim Jackson said, you write about something you know and everybody will know what you’re talking about. I love that song he did, it’s called “Old Dog Blue.” It starts out with these lines about how he’s going back to his hometown because his wife died and he hasn’t seen her in a long time, and then the next twenty stanzas are about his dog! The whole rest of the song is about his dog. Because the idea of his wife being dead and him not seeing her in a while is too much for him. I just love shit like that.

    NL: Well, I’d definitely say your album flows in a similar vein. It reminds me of some of the people you mentioned.

    DM: Thanks, man. I made that record in like two days and I didn’t think much of it.

    NL: Really?

    DM: In time, it’s gained momentum. But yeah, we made that record in two days. Those guys came up to New Jersey one weekend and we were tossing around playing in a band. Rob [Dipatri] came up with the band name. And everybody had a good time, and then a couple of weeks later, Paul [Finn] called and he said he ran into Brian Paulson at the bar and he was willing to do some recording. So I just started writing a bunch of songs and went down and recorded them. I just thought it would be another way of documenting things. Because we’ve known each other for a long time, forever, and we’ve played in a bunch of bands over the years and we’ve just kind of recorded it. The idea was never to put out an album or anything like that.

    NL: Now that you do have an album, do you have a favorite song on there?

    DM: One of the reasons why I liked your writeup was because I really like “Alphabet City Blues.” I think that’s one of the better songs I’ve ever written.

    NL: I was just listening to it today and I think what especially strikes me about it is the instrumentation at the end. It sounds like someone trying to be beautiful after ten drinks or twelve drinks. He’s just trying to make it work somehow. And it’s a little wobbly, but you can hear the beauty creeping through.

    DM: Thanks, man. I recorded the base track on an eight-track. I just started playing the piano one night and I kept it. I was listening to a lot of Memphis Goons at the time; maybe that had something to do with it.

    NL: Did you spend a lot of time in New York when you were living in Jersey?

    DM: Yeah, a lot of time. I went to college at Montclair University, which is right across the river. I never rented there though. I lived on a lot of couches.

    NL: What were you studying?

    DM: Literature and Philosophy.

    NL: What was your process for writing something like “Alphabet City Blues”? What did that require?

    DM: Man, if I could tell you that, I’d be a happy man. I have no idea. Sometimes, there’s just a song. I wish I could figure it out, because I’d do it all the freakin’ time. Sometimes you get songs that are really good and you’re happy about it and then sometimes you get songs that are just fucking terrible. I wrote a song a little while ago called “Your Sister.” It was about a guy who wants to have sex with his girlfriend’s sister, so he does after his girlfriend dies. A really weird song. I had it up on MySpace for a while but it got some weird reactions from people. I’m just glad that my girlfriend doesn’t have a sister. She got home and I played her the song and she was like, what the fuck is that about? (Laughs.) I’m just glad she doesn’t have a sister.

    NL: Yeah. “Waking Up Drunk” is kind of like that too, tinged with dark humor. Half-funny, half-horrible. Who would some of your ideal tourmates be?

    DM: I’m pretty psyched up to be going out with the Golden Boys. They’re amazing. You have to listen to their records, they have two out on Hook or Crook. When I was in Texas, they were playing me mixes from their third record and it is mind-blowing. They are going to blow people’s minds with this record.

    NL: What kind of music is it?

    DM: It’s the same stuff we do. Countryish rock and roll, with a big foot in roots. An obvious appreciation for American music. They’re firing on all cylinders right now. They’re just incredible. We played two shows with them in Austin and it’s amazing. I was pretty blown away. They got the keyboard player on trombone at some point, but it’s still punk rock, it’s still rock ’n roll. It’s not practiced, it’s still raw. I’m pretty excited to be going out with them.

    "I just want to make one really fucking great record."

    NL: What are you like live?

    DM: We’re really raw live too. We’ve been changing lineups for a little while now. Sometimes we have six members, we’ve had eight members on stage at times, right now we’re at a solid five and we’re pretty raw. We’re playing songs fast and I think we’re a really good live band at this point. We’ve been traveling so much and changing the lineup so much, we’ve kind of gotten into this rut lately with the same songs. But it’s not so bad to play the same songs. It’s only a bad thing if you’re playing the same songs in front of the same audience. I love playing the same songs actually, because there’s so much you can do. The more you play them, the more you understand them. All those guys played the same songs all their lives. Mississippi John Hurt played “Salty Dog” until he was seventy-something and every time it was fucking beautiful.

    NL: Is the next record a pretty natural progression from the first one?

    DM: I hope so, man. The first one was kind of done on a weekend, and this one, we have a label [Birdman] expecting something and there are some people who are expecting something. So it’s kind of weird to have that kind of expectation, I’ve never had that. Even if it’s so miniscule, the expectation, it’s still there. I still feel it. So I feel it’s a natural progression. I think it’s a good record.

    NL: Will it be as dark?

    DM: Yeah, it’s got some dark stuff on there. I do find myself shying away from explicitly personal stuff on the next one though. There was a point after the last one came out, where I thought maybe I should do songs that are less about people and more about ideas. And there are a couple of songs on the next one that are more like pop songs.

    NL: Pop songs?

    DM: Yeah. Totally fictitious people, being happy and eating gumdrops.

    NL: For some reason, I don’t believe you, but we’ll see.

    DM: (Laughs.)

    NL: What was the logic of doing a song called “Blood For You” and another called “Bleed For You”?

    DM: Actually, that was Rob. Rob had been up in Jersey and we were talking about making music. After he left, I had written a song that was about... whatever that was song was about. And I had remembered this chorus Rob was telling me about, so I just plugged it in there. Then I called Rob and played it for him and he was like, oh, you’re a fucking asshole, I already have a song with that in there. And I was like, well, we could both have a song with that, and he was like, oh yeah, I guess you’re right. So yeah, I stole it from him and they were both good songs, so we put both on there.

    NL: Nice. So now what would you like to happen next with all this? What are you looking for? What would you like to see happen with the band ideally?

    DM: Ideally? We would make the kind of record that some kid would listen to like I listened to a fucking George Jones record. Just one record, one fucking record that people don’t take off their shelves fifty years from now. I just want to make one really fucking great record.

    NL: I think you might’ve already done it.

    DM: (Laughs.) Well, then I guess I can just give up.

    * MP3: "Alphabet City Blues" - Spider Bags from A Celebration of Hunger
    * MP3: "Waking Up Drunk" - Spider Bags from A Celebration of Hunger [Buy it]
    * MySpace: The Spider Bags

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    Video Tuesday #50

    "Graveyard Girl"

    "Natural Rhapsody"
    Jonathan Wilson

    "Someone Else's Ride" (Unofficial)


    "Je Veux Te Voir"

    "Endless Summer" (Unofficial)

    Listening booth #34

    Painting by Matt Sesow

    * MP3: "Santa Clara" - The National from Liberation EP [Buy other National]
    * MP3: "Beeper" (Detboi Remix) - The Count and Sinden ft. Kid Sister [Visit them]

    * MP3: "Doves" - The Black Angels from Directions to See a Ghost [Preorder it]

    You can buy or see more of Matt Sesow's artwork at his website

    Friday, April 04, 2008

    You say you want revolution

    It's fitting that a song called "C.Y.O.A." and whose chorus implores, "Choose your own adventure!" would invite so many remixes. As listeners, we get to pick our own favorite versions, not to mention seeing just how many directions one song can take. My favorite is Flosstradamus' take on the track, which will appear as a bonus on the "C.Y.O.A." single due April 15th. Flosstradamus' reinvention not only stamps their unique flavor on the song, but also handily improves on it. They coax out its dancibility and commit to big, gaudy beats, whereas the original seemed content to straddle the line between rock and electronic.

    The original also doesn't especially work as a protest song, even with Lo's distorted Karen O-ish croaks of "No more wars" and her ambiguous references to revolution. The remix craftily downplays the art-punk attempt in favor of kinetics and rhythm. Flosstradamus do keep Lo's attitude in the mix, but they surround it with layers of giddy energy. HEARTSREVOLUTION aren't exactly self-serious anyway, what with the promo shots in ski masks and a hook that randomly erupts into "Foxes and bunnies, fire and snow!" so the remix's libertine interpretation makes for a better fit.

    In Flosstradamus' hands, the revolution in question isn't so much political coup as skinny-jeaned asses spinning 360 degrees on a dancefloor. It's bodies shaking every which way, following whatever spastic lead the groove delivers. It's hands in the air under swaths of neon and legs pulsing over the soundsystem throb. Of all the adventures to choose from, this remix is the closest to sounding revolutionary. It's the one most likely to inspire me to my feet, ready to rally and ready for action.

    * MP3: "C.Y.O.A." (Flosstradamus Remix) - HEARTSREVOLUTION from "C.Y.O.A." EP [Preorder it]

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #20

    1) "Right Thing/GDMFSOB" - DJ Shadow from The Private Press [Buy it]

    2) "Mismo Canibalismo" - Venetian Snares from Salt [Buy other Venetian Snares]

    3) "Hit and Red" - Ghislain Poirier from No Ground Under [Buy it]
    4) "To Cure A Weakling Child" - Aphex Twin from Richard D. James Album [Buy it]
    5) "Wounder" - Burial from Burial [Buy it]
    6) "'84 Pontiac Dream - Boards of Canada from The Campfire Headphase [Buy it]
    7) "Silver Fox" - RJD2 from Deadringer [Buy it]

    8) "Nine" - Autechre from Amber [Buy it]

    9) "Vic Acid" - Squarepusher from Hard Normal Daddy [Buy it]

    10) "The Return of Sam Snead" - Tim Hecker from My Love is Rotten to the Core [Buy it]

    11) "Skip Divided" (Modeskeletor Remix) - Thom Yorke from The Eraser remix series [Buy it]

    12) "Ki-Gen" - DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo from Ki-Oku [Buy it]

    13) "The Nasty" - Amon Tobin from Bricolage [Buy it]

    Or you can download the full mix as a .zip here.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    Video Tuesday #49


    "Le Night Dominator"
    The Touch

    "Little Bit of Feel Good"
    Jamie Lidell

    "Where Da G's"
    Dizzee Rascal featuring Bun B

    "Get Busy"
    The Roots featuring Dice Raw, Peedi Crakk, and DJ Jazzy Jeff