Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Julianne has had a lot to say lately about misogyny in hip-hop, and I'm glad she's saying it. It's been there for years, of course, and I've been tolerating it for years. It's fucked up, and I don't like it, but I still love hip-hop. I don't know if that's contradictory or not. Bridget would say that it is. She's quick to point out that I love guys like 50 Cent or Beenie Man or whoever, guys who have some really basically evil things to say, while I make fun of conscious-rap type dudes like Common and Kweli for being lame and sounding like girls. This is true. I do this. I really wish the guys I love would stop being dicks or that they guys I find boring would start being awesome so I could like them instead, but that's just not happening. The song Julianne mentions, "Can You Control Ya Hoe" is, in particular, possibly the worst example of hip-hop violence against women I've ever heard. I had a paragraph or so of splenetic ranting about the song in my Pitchfork review, but that was edited down to a snarky sentence or two. Bottom line is it's fucking disgusting. So who's to blame? The artists? The record companies who push this stuff? Me for buying it and economically supporting it? The simple answer is everyone, but that doesn't really answer anything. I really hate misogyny in hip-hop, even though I tolerate it. Everyone I know who loves hip-hop feels the same way. So are we the exceptions? Or does everyone just tolerate it? Does such a significant portion of the record-buying public just love bitch-slapping to the point where it would be fiscally unwise for rappers to stop talking that garbage? That seems unlikely. So why don't they just stop? Fuck, man. I don't know. If I had a comments section, we could talk about it, but I can't figure out how to put that up, so e-mail me if you want to discuss.

Julianne linked this Lynne D. Johnson post, which includes a bell hooks article written on the subject in 1993. hooks blames the society that creates this misogyny and allows young men (like, I guess, me) to idolize the rappers who propagate it. She argues that this misogyny is everywhere, including pseudofeminist art films, so hip-hop isn't to be blamed. It's a symptom and not a cause. Well, that lets me off the hook! Except that no, it doesn't. It's very much worth reading. She mentions an interview she did with Ice Cube for Spin in 1993 and talks about how the article was gutted of actual content before going to print. That article was the first place I ever encountered hooks. It was the first Spin I ever bought. I was 13. It had Evan Dando on the cover making out with some indie-film actress. It had the "The A to Z of Alternative Culture". I think it was the first music magazine I ever bought that wasn't Circus or Hit Parader or maybe the Rolling Stone with Ice-T on the cover in a cop uniform. The article blew me away; I was not at all used to cultural figures thoughtfully analyzing their place in the world using terms that were over my head. I had no idea I was reading the neutered version! Think what the O.G. article would've done to me!

I've been wicked busy lately working on all my year-end lists for various publications. Pitchfork wants 50 albums and 50 singles! That's hard! I'll put them up here soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Luna is probably the only band in the world whose guitar solos I like better than their verses or choruses or intros or breakdowns or whatever else. Their guitar solos are just breathtakingly gorgeous soaring neon curlicues. They kind of remind me of the opening credits to movies about Las Vegas like The Cooler or whatever, where they pan over the city at night in slow motion with Dean Martin on the soundtrack and the lights are just these smears of color bleeding in the desert. Before last night, I'd only seen Luna live once. I was twenty and living in Brooklyn and working at the Knitting Factory, which is where they were playing to tape two thirds of their live album. I'd never heard them before, but it was free and they weren't jazz, so I went, and I was totally amazed. After that, all their albums sounded just kind of meh - even the live album was just whatever - but they just open up at shows and bounce off each other perfectly and give those solos room to breathe. They played Baltimore last night on their we're-breaking-up tour (sad, but how old are they? pretty old), and they weren't anywhere near as great as the first time, but it was still pretty great. It took them a while to gel perfectly, so the only real sublime moments came in the last 4 or 5 songs, but those songs were no joke. "Indian Summer" is my jam!

Does the new T.I. single sound like Baltimore club music to anyone else? It's got the giant rudimentary clap-stomp drums, the seesawing chopped-up anthemic horns, the insanely recognizable vocal sample repeated over and over. It's not as stripped-down or insistent or fast as most club tracks, but I swear to God the influence is there. It was kind of funny going into Kim's in New York this weekend and seeing all these prominently-displayed white-hipster-kid mix CDs (Diplo, Ayres, Cex) with lots of B-more club on them. White hipster kids know it exists now! Exciting! (To be fair, Cex has been bigging it up for longer than I have, but then again he's from here. And the Diplo and Ayres mixes are great, so I'm not hating. And I don't know anywhere near enough about club music. I just feel cooler than everyone else is all. Simply by virtue of being from Baltimore. That doesn't happen too often.)

The best thing about the bootleg Fade to Black DVD I bought in New York this weekend: the sound is just slightly out of sync with the visuals, so it looks like everyone in Madison Square Garden has no rhythm and can't dance, which is funny.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Hey, did you know that there's a town in Antarctica? There is! My friend Justin is going to be spending a month there next year. A lot of scientists go to Antarctica to study scientific things, and a lot of people work for those scientists, and those people have a town. About 1000 people live there, though the population is constantly turning over as people leave and arrive. The town has two bars, a bowling alley, and a video rental place. A bowling alley! Think about that!

I was in New York this weekend, and I felt like I was born and raised in that town in Antarctica. I've been to NYC plenty of times - I lived there for a few months in 2000 - but I've never felt like such a provincial slackjaw there before. It'd been a year and a half since I'd last been there, and I've barely left Baltimore in that time. We didn't have a whole lot of time to relax on this trip - there was a whole lot of rushing around to meet our friends, etc. - and I ended up feeling like I was in a washing machine or something. We went to dinner at this Indian place with lights and reflective surfaces everywhere, Christmas lights dangling about a foot and a half below my height level, constantly thrumming noise. Someone at the next table had a birthday, and when the waiters found out, they turned off the lights, put on this loud-as-fuck bhagra club jam thing, and stood around the people's table clapping for like five minutes before all disappearing. I just felt woozy. I love New York, and I had fun on the trip, but I'm not used to feeling shaken like I'm somehow in the center of the world and it's all rushing around me, completely oblivious to me, like I was in the "Ray of Light" video or something. It's a disorienting feeling.

I missed all the Pistons-Pacers drama. Damn. I guess Ron-Ron is getting the vacation he wanted. Allure is sure to blow the fuck up now!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

My review of Snoop Dogg's R&G is up on Pitchfork, now with factual inaccuracies removed! Oops!

I'm pretty busy these days, going to New York tomorrow and trying to cobble together my end-of-year lists, but I should really just say that the new Trick Daddy is just an amazing album. The thugged-out kill-you plastic crunk stuff is great, and the freaky sex jams are OK, but the album's real high points are the breezy, gorgeous inspirational songs about children and making something out of yourself and all this stuff that would be painfully trite in just about anyone else's hands. Snoop should take lessons from Trick on how to make a mature, melodic hip-hop album without embarrassing yourself. He's got this warm, gruff, inviting voice, like an uncle or something, and the songs have these beautiful shiny glistening rolling beats and irresistibly corny uplifting kid-chorus hooks. Thug Matrimony has a higher grin-count than just about any album I've heard this year.

Monday, November 15, 2004

I was really, really sad to hear about ODB's passing; it's about the most shocking and dismaying news I've heard from the music world since Aaliyah died. I know I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. I was driving when the news came on the radio, and I seriously slammed on my breaks when I heard it. He was supposed to play at the Ottobar next month, and I knew it probably wasn't going to happen, but not like this. Gah. The worst part is that I feel a little bit implicated. Dirty's always had a Wesley Willis aspect; people (including me) loved him for his crazy-dude antics as much as his music (and I love his music). He was killed by the same tendencies that made him famous and loved. I never understood all the hype around Return to the 36 Chambers; I thought it was an unlistenable mess when it came out, and I've probably bumped it all the way through like three times. It was uber-weird and everything, but it just didn't seem even remotely good except for "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Baby C'Mon". Nigga Please, though, is easily one of my ten favorite hip-hop albums of all time. It just never lets up with the ridiculous amped deliriousness or the candy-hard plastic hooks. I hope it's what he's remembered for.

On the brighter side of things, The Incredibles is absolutely great, like totally enthralling.

Here's me on the Michael Jackson box set in Pitchfork. It got slightly Pitchforked up; I don't like the edited-in smarminess in the little bit about Invincible, which I think is a genuinely pretty good album.

I was a bit disappointed by And It Don't Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Past 25 Years. I suppose hip-hop writers have earned a certain amount of pride, but I found the tone of the whole collection to be off-puttingly self-congratulatory. Just about all the pieces come from the obvious Voice/Source/Vibe/Spin axis; there's nothing from Rap Pages or Murder Dog or even ego trip. There's all the really old "look, kids are break-dancing!" type articles as well as the elegies for Biggie and JMJ that you knew they'd have to include. Southern and Midwest rap are barely even mentioned, and beyond a couple of excellent pieces on Ice Cube and Tupac there's nothing about the West Coast. The book inexplicably includes fawning pieces about Naughty By Nature and late-90s Rakim. And of course there's lots of bourgie boho this-is-our-culture junk (Toure's godawful "State of the Hip-Hop Nation" thing from the New York Times a couple of years ago) and five elements blahblahblah, but there isn't enough about the actual aesthetics of the music. It's a decent read with a handful of really great articles (fun time-capsule pieces on hip-house and new jack swing and Charles Aaron's "What the White Boy Means When He Says 'Yo'"), but if aliens came down and read this thing, they'd think hip-hop was self-satisfied boho ego-tripping stuff like jazz or something.

Oh, also, fuck Colin Powell. I know no one was listening to him or anything, but his departure pretty much amounts to a surrender. The crazy people are running the show now.

Hey! New York people! I'll be up in your area this weekend! Say hi!

Friday, November 12, 2004

I forget sometimes that I actually like indie-rock. One big reason for this: I never go to live shows anymore, so my experience is pretty much limited to records. Ted Leo doesn't jump out of the speakers like Triple-6 does, and I'm a busy man, you know? But indie-rock rules! Sometimes. I had a really good time going to see Travis Morrison, who I guess is sort of indie-rock-in-name-only, at the Talking Head Tuesday night. I saw Travis's first show with his new band there a couple of months ago, and the band has tightened up considerably since then. Travis's live show is so much better than his actually-pretty-bad-I-guess record that it isn't even funny. The percussionists build up a nice clatter and the keyboards space out, and this is exactly the way Travis's songs should be presented. They aren't amazing songs or anything, but that's how they should be presented. Bonus: two good opening acts! This is like striking indie-rock gold since lately I have no patience for wack openers (Beep Beep, stand up! Entrance, where you at?) . Karmella's Game, a local band I'd somehow managed to miss up till now, plays supper-amped ecstatic girly bubble-core new-wave emo, and they are total absolute dynamos live. (And most of the crowd seemed to be there to see them, since the place pretty much emptied out when they got done.) And the Beauty Pill is just great. Have I mentioned how much I love loose, mathy, pretty, expansive late-period Dischord stuff? Especially when it's being done by a group with almost Luna-level onstage chemistry? I don't think I have.

If someone wants to come over to my house and play all the hard levels on GTA: San Andreas so I can finally get past the fuckers, please let me know.

I'm reviewing the new Michael Jackson box set for P-Fork (sort of an intimidating assignment), and let me just say that holy shit the first disc kills it. Early-to-mid-period Jackson 5 shit is just like pure distilled joy in song form. The last disc is, of course, terrible.

Oh, and the new Snoop is pretty much butt. I'm reviewing that one too.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Remember all that stuff I said about feeling cautiously optimistic (or at least not fatalistic) about another four years of Bush. Forget it. I don't feel that way. I'm grasping at straws here.

M.I.A. and Diplo's Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape is absolutely murder-hot, one of the best things I've heard all year. The two are an inspired combination. M.I.A. is all breezy homegirl charm, skipping rope over monster-hard beats like a new-millennium Neneh Cherry. The bit where she breaks into "Walk Like an Egyptian" is perfect. Diplo continues the great Hollertronix tradition of tapping directly into my brainpan, playing exactly what I want to hear when I want to hear it. Here he pulls out bubblecrunk bounce and low-tech early dancehall with occasional sidelines into baile funk and B-More club ("You Big Dummy", in fact, probably my favorite club track ever). This guy knows exactly what he's doing. M.I.A. is going to have to work very, very hard if her album is going to be anywhere near this good.

Also pure fire: DJ Roli Fingaz' Reggaeton Fever mixtape. This is the first reggaeton mixtape I've ever heard, so I have no idea if it's the ideal introduction to the genre, but it's working for me. This stuff is great, all chunky off-kilter drum machines and fleet, winding synth-guitar bits and frantic, occasionally Nellyish Spanish sing-rapping. Daddy Yankee sets it off a couple of times, but my favorite MC on here is probably Ivy Queen, the only girl. She's got this huge, self-assured, rumbling, joyous boom of a voice. She completely destroys the "Like Glue" beat. Roli Fingaz keeps things moving quickly, mixing tracks nimbly and never interrupting to yell his name. The end result is thrilling.

Pitchfork reported last week that my favorite band, Sleater-Kinney, has signed to Sub Pop and that they're recording with Dave Fridmann right now. I'm glad they're getting that paper, but I really hope Fridmann doesn't try to smother them with flugelhorns and glockenspiels and shit. They are not Mercury Rev.

Friday, November 05, 2004

So yeah, the election got me fucked up, got me feeling like I don't understand my own country. But you know what? Bush or no Bush, the last four years have been the best years of my life. I don't see any reason why the next four won't be the best yet again. And maybe it's all just concession-speech goodwill, but maybe Bush will actually try and unite the two parties somewhat and bring the country back together now that he doesn't have anything to prove. I mean, he probably won't, but what if he does? And if he doesn't, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who aren't necessarily crazy and don't necessarily hate me. And now maybe the Democrats will start to reevaluate, to consider the possibility that a Massachusetts billionaire isn't going to be the guy to harness the hopes and dreams of the working poor in the rural Midwest, you know? I've spent a lot of the past week walking around muttering and sighing and whatnot, though, yes. And the New York Times opinion page and certain blogs have helped me think hard about the coming four years; they've just been great. Marianna Ritchey, in particular, has been magnificent. Also, big love to Sasha Frere-Jones, Yancey Strickler, Jay Smooth, and David Drake. You guys are a big help.

Also, it's hard for me to be too down because I've got a couple of nice little hustles going; it looks like I stand to get money for writing about music a whole lot in the coming year, possibly to the extent that I can quit my day job. This is always what I've wanted to do, and I've just recently started contemplating the possibility that it could actually happen. In any case, should the urge strike you, you'll (hopefully) be able to walk up to the Safeway magazine rack sometime in the next couple of months, pick up Blender, and find out what I think of MM Food. Which is crazy!

Other reasons why I can't be too mad: The beginning of a wide-open NBA season, the beginning of a new season of The O.C., the release of Arrested Development on DVD (I really should have been watching it all along), reggaeton!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

This is sort of like how it felt when I found out pro wrestling was fake.

I don't think Bridget understood how totally I expected Kerry to win up until, like, this afternoon. She never thought he'd win. Bridget is a domestic violence crisis counselor. Every day, she helps women who have been beaten, raped, threatened with death. She's a lot better-acquainted with hate and evil than I ever have been. I should've listened to her.

Not this again. Not this again. Not this again.

Thanks, rural Americans. You douchebags.

Monday, November 01, 2004

It's time. Hold your breath. Dip Dip Dive endorses John Kerry for President, Barbara Mikulski for U.S. Senate, Elijah Cummings for U.S. House of Representatives, Martin O'Malley for Baltimore Mayor, and Paul Dibos for Baltimore City Council. Dip Dip Dive also endorses George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for Getting They Asses Beat Down By Me.

This is great! Kalefa Sanneh, get a blog! Rockism is a problem, and it's not just music writers propagating it. Most of the people who know that rockism is a problem are music writers or at least people who thing very seriously about music, and most of these people, I think, hang out with other music writers or other people who think very seriously about music. And I think a lot of them live in New York. Well, I live in Baltimore, and I don't hang out with other music writers. I hang out with the dudes who I knew in high school and my girlfriends' friends and my brother. A lot of these people think bluegrass is great because it's authentic and ask me if I like R. Kelly ironically and talk about oh dude did you hear that new Finnish psychedelic album that just got reissued. These people are some rockists. (That Ashlea Simpson thing was pretty funny, though. And I don't think most people are appalled or incensed about the fact that she lip-synchs. I think most people think it's funny that she totally fucked up and got busted. It's funny when people fuck up and get busted.)