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    Location: Brooklyn, NY

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    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    My mom is only my mom until I'm eighteen

    Photo by Bob Richards

    Well, this is it. The suitcase is out of the closet; the months of crusty dishes are simmering in the sink. A cold wind's already threading through the Montreal nights, confirming the creep of fall. Tomorrow, I'll be back on the Amtrak, taking in the green landscapes before they're shedding their dead leaves. After a three-month high, I've been errantly wandering this city these last few days. I've been getting all contemplative and shit, reflecting on my run here, wishing I could somehow prolong this truant summer a little bit.

    It's not quite an extended vacation, but Mas Y Mas's new EP, Sum-mer, might just do the trick. Besides the à propos title and the swimming-pool-blue cover, this Virginia band ably sums up the spirit of the season. Their songs are all about headstrong youth and impetuous antics, with music just as gleefully raucous to match. The EP's pretty ephemeral too--five songs cranked out in just over ten minutes--emphasizing the P far more than the E.

    Three of the tracks are live versions from the highly-acclaimed Proud Sponsors of Pepsi, usually a lazy cash-in tactic but one that really works here. The songs document how Mas Y Mas transforms in concert, hypercharging album cuts into faster, meaner, hardcore-inspired terrors. When lead singer Vinny howls, "No talent, no rhythm, no guts, we're the kind of band that America wants!" on "Hi!," it sheds its usual aloofness and irony for a kind of undistilled desperation. It feels young and stupid and brash and alive all at once.

    My favorite moment though is their new song, "Summertime Runaway." It renders their attitude of rebellion and escape explicit, while carrying over some of their live energy to the studio. It also sports their signature playfulness, opening with overenthusiastic wails of "Whoa-oh-oh!" and a crude take on realizing when you're all grown up: "Fuck holding a grown man's hand." It's about living for weekends and stretches of freedom, about mixing things up and being mixed up. It's extremely fun and sunny and even kind of sad, and just like the time that inspired it, it's over before you're quite ready.

    You can order Sum-mer on vinyl for just $4.50 from the band's website here or download it for free on their label Sound/Friends here.

    * MP3: "Summertime Runaway" - Mas Y Mas from Sum-mer EP
    * MP3: "Hi" (Live) - Mas Y Mas from Sum-mer EP [Buy it]
    * Website: Rock So Tough
    * MySpace: Mas Y Mas

    In related news, you really need to watch this video, which has media insiders already buzzing about Oscar shortlists and which A.O. Scott recently called "one of the most important short films since 1962's La Jetée." Nerd Litter is proud to present the music-blog premiere of Archie Coates' "Mas Y Mas dancing on my parents' countertops."

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Video Tuesday #56

    "Kim and Jessie"

    "In Our Talons"

    "Just A Friend"
    Biz Markie

    "You're Everything"
    Bun B ft. Rick Ross, David Banner, 8-Ball & MJG

    "Radio Ladio"


    The writing on the wall #41

    Montreal edition #15

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Thirteen ways of looking at Lindstrøm's Where You Go, I Go Too

    Hans-Peter Lindstrøm's long-anticipated official LP debut, this album features three sprawling songs that range between ten and twenty-nine minutes. It's epic and expansive where most electronic music of this ilk is built around immediate payoff, patchy and challenging and moody where most others aim to please.

    The natural intersection between dance as ambient and ambient as dance.

    The score for an hour-long meteor shower.

    A funeral procession for a disco legend. Black chiffon, elbow-high gloves, and neon boas on parade. Raccoon eyes spiked with tears and red nostrils dusted with white powder. Regret tempered with miles of glitz.

    A proof of Newton's First Law of Motion.

    The extended version of a theme song for a mid-'80s cop drama. A lead character named Dirk Rockland, a moustache thick enough to bury contraband in, a fondness for catch phrases and former cheerleaders. Glossy shots of gritty downtown corners lit up at night, obligatory slo-mos of getaway vehicles going airborne. Police Chief Morton will slam his desk and order Dirk to play by the rules at least once per episode.

    God running a marathon.

    Spilling out of the club in droves, outstretched like banners along the curbs, bodies still frosted with sweat and AC. The four a.m. blear of a tincan sky, eyes squinting into n-dashes, basslines still pumping behind distant walls, our skin still twitching electrically.


    A cheerleading routine choreographed by methheads.

    Crowd surfers gliding over sound waves. Maneuvering a crest of hands at high tide, flecked with the spume of six-dollar beers, tipping back into the pull of the omnivorous current.

    What a young Søren Kierkegaard would throw on at his Thursday night house parties.

    The best dance-ish album since LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and a must-hear for 2008.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    If I could just reverse time, I would

    Photo by Xris Manteris

    The stalest trope in hip-hop criticism used to be the plight of the female MC. Why there weren't more, why they didn't get more attention, why they weren't better. It was trotted out in the early days of MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Salt 'N Pepa and revived for the bitch-hop heyday of Foxy Brown and Li'l Kim. But at this point, I'm almost starting to miss the cliché. There are so few woman rappers of note today that no one's even around to call attention to their absence. It's shocking and frankly kind of weird. If I were listing the ten best, I'd probably be forced to include that woman calling out "Papadonna" on Outkast's "Mamacita."

    The sad thing is that it's not just a matter of Title IX or anatomical equality. As I've noted before, women rappers, when they're not trying to outgun their male counterparts, do rap differently. They have largely different concerns and a different approach that hip-hop still rarely accommodates. Outside of, say, known softies like Lyrics Born or Common, swagger inherently outweighs sensitivity. More pressingly, because hip-hop's such a vital conduit of the young black experience, the narratives of its urban females are going underrepresented and unheard.

    I couldn't ask for a better example of its power than Jean Grae's new song, "My Story." It's a subject far outside of the typical rap tale that still engages the genre's traditions on its own terms. Taking on a favorite approach--the hardscrabble coming-of-age saga--Grae defuses the bravado and pride of street survival we've come to expect. Instead, her harrowing track is all about doubt and gnawing guilt, self-hatred and self-destruction. With painfully precise details of abortions and miscarriages, Grae doesn't glamorize anything about her rough choices. All this autobiography tries to do is explain why and ask for forgiveness.

    "And you don't know what it's like in waiting rooms," she says, before articulating the experience for us. "[O]utside, the picketing pictures can slay you/ They scream at victims and spittin' till they shame you/ I hold my head low and shiver, push my way through./ They put you in a room where you can change into/ Your gown and shower cap, shaking like a fiend would do." Grae applies that same bared-soul approach throughout, relaying her story so honestly it's hard to bear at moments. The part that gets me the most is this post-op observation: "And then you wake up in another room with plenty others/ They call it Recovery, you thinking, 'We ain't mothers.'"

    "My Story" is so raw that its chorus, a soggy Mary J. Blige-like hook, feels conventional and out of place. More in keeping with the song's themes are the stray moments when Grae's doubts even disrupt her flow. Contemplating what she'd do with a second chance, she tries to be definitively declare, "If I could just reverse time, I would." But absent of easy answers, she has to circle back and admit, "I don't know what I would do/ Honestly, it's not good." And even more disarming is the outro in which she just repeats, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry" like her conscience finally breaking through. It's a sentiment you rarely hear in hip-hop, from a voice that reminds me how much we've been missing.

    * MP3: "My Story" - Jean Grae from Jeanius [Buy it]

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    Listening booth #40

    Photo by Reem

    * MP3: "What Was Raymond Doing With His Hands? (A Soundtrack for a Real Swinger of a Nightmare)" - Steinski (via The Village Voice)
    * MP3: "Get It Up" - Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, M.I.A and Radioclit [Buy other Santogold] [Buy other M.I.A.] [Buy other Radioclit]
    * MP3: "My Work Will Be Done" - Blue Sky Black Death from Late Night Cinema [Buy it]

    You can check out more of Reem's photography at Flickr here as well as at DeviantArt here.

    Adventures in LARPing series

    Parc Jeanne-Mance, Montreal, 8-17-08

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    Come on over, turn me on

    Photo by Stefano Corso

    Sometimes, you need night songs. Lullabies gentle enough to ease you into sleep, or seductive enough to strike a different tone. Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell's second collection together, Sunday at Devil Dirt, is steeped in just such nighttime moods--lassitude, ache and more than a little libido. With their contrasting vocal styles, the singers ably embody all those competing desires. Lanegan, formerly of grunge asterisks Screaming Trees, sounds like a grizzled trucker coming home from a marathon drive. Campbell, once of Belle & Sebastian, opts for breathy and lusty, purring like a perfume ad. It's sandpaper against silk, the darkness nestling up against daybreak.

    As the title suggests, the album flirts with Biblical themes, but it's at its best when it sticks to more secular flesh. On one of its highlights, "Come On Over (Turn Me On)," the duo melds together to lovely effect. "Is it any wonder/ Is it any wonder/ I lay awake all night," they sing at their most needful. Between Lanegan's growl and Campbell's sigh, they really convey how deep their stirrings are, how hungrily they're awaiting their lovers' arrivals. They further build the mood with a slinky jazz-lounge piano and a sinister guitar caterwauling at the margins. It's another sharply drawn contrast that reveals how well opposites attract, and that every night's a gateway to many inviting possibilities.

    * MP3: "Come On Over (Turn Me On)" - Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan from Sunday At Devil Dirt [Buy it]

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Which motherfucker wanna see my dogs die

    Art by Stallio

    Violent times call for violent measures. And Venetian Snares, with its free-form carnage and propulsive energy, certainly fits that bill. From Aaron Funk's new album title, Detrimentalist, to the genre he's a leading figure in, breakcore, the focus is firmly on destruction over deconstruction. In his crosshairs, furied electronics detonate the line between song and noise. His hyperactive beats batter around meanly and dizzily like punchdrunk moshers. Pushing further and faster than peers like Aphex Twin and Autechre, this is music driven by pure unchecked id. It's coke-fueled binge, temper tantrum, and aerial assault all messily mashed together.

    Of course, that's pretty much been Funk's M.O. throughout his prolific decade-long career. (So far, he's managed to release fifteen EPs and, with Detrimentalist, a staggering seventeen full-length albums.) What separates this new work is his heavier reliance on vocal inserts and a restraint in indulging his more annoying experimental tendencies. Both those factors help make the music just a little more palatable, giving the breakneck abstraction a hint of shape. It also helps that the samples he's picked this time are uniformly cool, from KRS-One's dis track "Phucked" in "Gentleman" to the Massive Attack-esque dub joint in "Eurocore MVP."

    Two of the album's best songs, "Gentleman" and "Eurocore MVP" also splice fun stylistic flourishes into the relentless snarl. And even better, they aggressively reinforce the album's themes of anarchy and anomie. "Gentlemen, I'm here 'cause I fucked...," a heavily accented voice declares. "Somebody jump in my computer server and take the information out." Here, it's as much a smackdown of musical hacks as computer hacks, a declaration of war against Venetian Snares' pale imitators. In the latter song, against a minefield of explosive spikes, a mad rapper barks, "Which motherfucker wanna see my dogs die?" As his voice rises to a grotesque pitch, it's clear the senseless bloodshed's just getting started.

    * MP3: "Gentleman" - Venetian Snares from Detrimentalist
    * MP3: "Eurocore MVP" - Venetian Snares from Detrimentalist [Buy it]

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    To live in a house with no home

    Photo by Damiao Santana

    Sit in a patch of wild grass and slip on your headphones. Throw back a slug of whiskey lemonade and watch the sun deflate like a punctured yolk. Think about your most private regrets and your most secret desires. Feel the pale wind slip in and out of your T-shirt sleeves. And most importantly, put on "Curs in the Weeds," the new track from Horse Feathers' upcoming House With No Home. It's an ideal accompaniment to summer's end, ripe with spectacular but understated beauty, peaceful and serene but tinged with loss. It speaks to all the things we never got a chance to do, all the people we never got a chance to become.

    Put the song on repeat. Watch the violet bruise of dusk overtake the the last spots of yellows. Marvel at the petty miracle of fireflies. Feel the wind get more aggressive and maybe even shiver a bit. By now, the full magic of "Curs in the Weeds" should be starting to sink in. Like its closely related brethren on Horse Feathers' tremendous debut, Words Are Dead, this is music that can't be rushed. The first listen might wow you, but it's going to grow deeper and more poignant with every play. Like the dark, it'll drip in slowly until you find yourself fully immersed.

    Follow the trail back by the light of a scrap of moon. Feel the pebbles grinding into your soles. Toss back the last drops of alcohol. Admit to yourself the things you've long tried to elude. In that total solitude, you can feel the full effect of Justin Ringle's incredible voice. You'll be able to notice how placidly it seems to float above the music, lacing all the other elements together. How Peter Broderick's evocative strings keep switching between wistful and urgent, gentle and resurgent. How it serves as a perfect counterpoint to Ringle, and as another summer slouches toward its end, gives us a perfect song to memorialize what we're left with.

    * MP3: "Curs in the Weeds" - Horse Feathers from House With No Home [Preorder it]
    * MySpace: Horse Feathers

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Around the world #10

    Photo by Christian Gates, from the Montréal Graffitis pool

    * It's time to GET YOUR WAR ON!!!!!!! [236]

    * I can't believe I haven't mentioned how good the new Ear Farm looks. Go check it out, but promise you won't compare it too much to this blue piece of shit, k? [Ear Farm]

    * Because I can't be everywhere this summer unfortunately. [Flickr]

    * Heh heh, Facebook. I get it. [McSweeney's]

    * Oh hey look, Tricky's back. Even if Knowle West Boy isn't his best album (duh), at least he's quit hanging out with those guys from Live and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. [The Wire]

    * New short story by Joshua Ferris. If you haven't read And Then We Came To The End, go do that first and then you'll see why I'm excited. [New Yorker]

    The writing on the wall #40

    Montreal edition #14

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Everything is forgotten in a bliss

    Photo by Tookie

    All that mopey, glacial, utterly transportive music? It turns out that Sigur Rós was kidding all along. They're really party boys at heart, trading in their hallucinogens for Xanax-and-Ecstasy cocktails. At least that's what "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur" suggests, their brightest and most gleeful departure to date. It's a spaz-out jamboree, with a Top 40 drumbeat and parade-route energy. Literally translating to "In me, a lunatic sings," it's a celebration of humanity's wild-eyed heights, all the shudders and shivers of visceral pleasure.

    It's lucky that the band sings in Icelandic, because the English translation does come off a little hokey. It reminds me mostly of a breathless teenager scrawling in her unicorn-cover journal: "My best friend, whatever may happen/ I swallow a tear and breathe in your hair/ Causing commotion, we cry in each other's arms/ When we meet/ When we kiss/ Lips burning, holding each other's hands." And yet as delivered by Jónsi Birgisson, his delicate voice brimming with emotion, the jubilant music booming behind him, it feels genuinely inspiring. Even more to the point is when he insists, "Allt gleymist í smásmá stund," or "Everything is forgotten in a bliss," the song buoyantly ramping up toward ecstatic crescendo.

    * MP3: "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur" - Sigur Rós from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust [Buy it]
    * Website: Sigur Rós

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #24

    1) "Southern Girl" - Erykah Badu ft. Rahzel from Make The Music 2000 [Buy it]
    2) "They Say I'm Different" - Betty Davis from They Say I'm Different [Buy it]
    3) "Fish In My Dish" - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings from Naturally [Buy it]
    4) "More Than A Woman" - Aaliyah from Aaliyah [Buy it]
    5) "You Don't Know Me At All" - Bettye Lavette from The Scene of the Crime [Buy it]
    6) "Eyes On The Prize" - Mavis Staples from We'll Never Turn Back [Buy it]
    7) "Lose My Breath" - Destiny's Child from Destiny Fulfilled [Buy it]8) "Things Got To Get Better (Get Together)" - Marva Whitney from It's My Thing [Buy it]
    9) "Barry Farms" - Me'shell N'dgeo'cello from Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape [Buy it]
    10) "When Hearts Go Cold" - Candi Staton from His Hands [Buy it]
    11) "Young, Fresh N' New" - Kelis from Wanderland [Buy it]
    12) "Dream" - Alice Smith from For Lovers, Dreamers and Me [Buy it]
    13) "Mr. Bojangles" - Nina Simone from Legends [Buy it]

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

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Video Tuesday #55

    "The Escapist"
    The Streets

    Erykah Badu

    "In Step" (Unofficial)
    Girl Talk

    "A Cause Des Garçons"


    Max Richter

    The writing on the wall #39

    Montreal edition #13

    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    It's the right thing to do

    Art by bijijoo

    A few years ago, I was on a cruise as war between Lebanon and Israel broke out. Between greasy buffets and ports-of-call, I had to rely on nothing but CNN to keep up. The coverage was relentless but oddly uninformative--the biggest developments were the back-and-forth accusations between official spokesmen. Hard data and substantive analyses ceded to soft-lit man-on-the-street interviews; each side tried their best to play the victim, and both seemed to believe it. With every passing day, the clash of media relations took precedence over military formations. It felt like less a battle of bodies than a war for hearts and minds. PR agents were the new ground troops; loaded images (regardless of how true or representative they were) were the new weaponry of choice.

    This blurring of military campaign and ad campaign was even more explicit in the Bush administration's 2003 scramble to war. From Colin Powell's presentation before the UN, to constant appearances by top-ranking officials on news shows, to headlines blaring cherry-picked evidence, the run-up to conflict was rolled out just like a Hollywood blockbuster or a worldwide product launch. Hazy aerial shots of supposed chemical labs were broadcast over and over like corporate logos. Talking-point slogans ("weapons of mass destruction" "mushroom cloud," "slam dunk") and suggestions (Iraq = 9/11, Nigerian yellowcake uranium) were repeated with the faithfulness of taglines.

    The roots of this stylized warfare can be largely traced back to the Gulf War of 1990 and 1991. Although far more primitively, that war was also carefully managed and selectively represented. After the messiness of Vietnam, Americans were treated to night-vision explosions that looked as clean and fun as 16-bit Nintendo games. They could root for clear-cut heroes like Generals Schwarzkopf and Powell, and against villains like Saddam Hussein. (For the sequel, we were given an entire deck of villains to oppose.) But in a prelude to embedded journalism, most of the information reported to the public came directly from the military, and both coverage and access were subject to governmental pre-approval and censorship.

    That's the funny thing about public opinion. People's views are far more malleable than they'd like to admit, and advertising is far more influential than we realize. As media's reach becomes even more pervasive and multifaceted, it's far easier to run whisper camapaigns. It's far easier to distort the truth just by repeating the lie enough times. (According to a recent Pew poll, 12% of surveyed Americans still think Barack Obama is Muslim. 25% doesn't quite know what he is and 1% is pretty sure he's Jewish.) It's become about defining your opponents in two or three catchy terms, burying the inconvenient subplots to sell the public clear narratives.

    As a former TV adman, Steinski understands how the game is played. His music is as much a critique of mass media as a celebration of its profound influence. In his song, "It's Up To You" (Television Mix), he pays tribute to the the idiot box while also thoroughly undermining it. And not unlike Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, he calls out showmanship with the skill of a showman himself. He does this by slicing together the views of pop-culture, establishment-culture and counterculture figures like Howard Beale, George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Jello Biafra and Mario Savio, letting them collide with a bumper-car glee. He also sets that echo chamber of ideas to snappy beats, making it go down as palatably as a fast-food jingle.

    Steinski's most subversive act is to push you into thinking critically. By repeating Bush insisting of the Gulf War, "It's the right thing to do," we're left with a feeling of ambivalence. Put in a speech, that line might really inspire assent, but looped out of context, it sounds more like propaganda. It's even more thrillingly confusing when the title sample keeps promising, "It's up to you." In the most basic sense, that may be true, but that an outside voice has to remind us makes the statement suddenly suspect. That the phrase keeps repeating drains it of meaning, reducing it to a motivational speaker's mantra or advertising posing as self-empowerment ("Obey your thirst [as long as it wants Sprite].") Steinski adding in a wicked laugh midway through even makes you question his intentions, which, of course, is exactly what he wants.

    Still, even as Steinski satirizes (and reflects) the noise of mass-media, he does reserve his best shots for Bush I. He follows a public service ad for the American Mental Health Fund ("Sometimes, extreme behavior can be the warning sign of a mental illness. Learn to see the sickness.") with the President justifying the use of force. Steinski also intercuts/undercuts Bush's argument for war with his own acidic asides. "I am certain our cause is just" is quickly followed by Bush himself adding, "a gallon of gas," presaging exactly what YouTube collagists would be doing a decade later. Steinski treats "and I am certain our cause is right" even more derisively, interjecting a snippet from David Mamet's House of Games: "Give me the goddamn money."

    However, the most telling quote is Bush's first appearance when he declares, "Americans know power belongs in the hands of people." In other words, he's advertising ideals like plurality and democracy to sway popular opinion for his own agenda. And yet, in his own persuasively roundabout way, Steinski is making a similar case and luring us to buy into it. He's also using the media to create and disseminate his persona. And he's also winning us over by flattering us and playing on our emotions. The fact that he manages to include that many complicated levels of discourse (and self-awareness) in something that still sounds so playful is what separates and elevates his art. That he manages to reveal the strings of so many talking heads, to expose conventional wisdom as pitch and to render the subliminal supraliminal, is why I find Steinski so brilliant. Of course, whether or not you choose to agree, that's up to you.

    * MP3: "It's Up To You" (Television Mix) - Steinski from What Does It All Mean?: A 1983-2006 Retrospective [Buy it]
    * Previously: Something is wrong here, something is terribly wrong
    * Website: Steinski