Friday, February 25, 2005

For some reason, my bootleg copy of The Massacre has all the tracks in reverse order, so it starts with the G-Unit remix of "Hate It Or Love It", and then it goes through all the lame love raps before finally getting to the bangers. It's a weird, disorienting way to hear an album, and it highlights the way G-Unit dudes have pretty much come up with a formula for their albums just as rigid as the one the Chemical Brothers have always used (a couple of bangers into singles into more bangers into lameass love tracks into one final great track vs. squeally big-beat tracks into hazy psychedelic tracks with Beth Orton or someone who sounds like her). It's not a fun way to hear an album. After a couple of listens, The Massacre is sounding really weak. Maybe it'll get better when I hear it the right way, but right now I'm pretty underwhelmed by stuff like "Piggy Bank" and "Ski Mask Way" that internet people seem to love. My bootleg version of The B.Coming is definitely not the real version (songs out of order, wrong levels), but it's great; I cannot wait to hear the finished product. I need to stop buying bootlegs, though. I love the whole experience of waiting for the day an album drops, putting it on for the first time, letting it unfold in your ears with no surprises spoiled and no secrets revealed. Bootleg versions are almost never the real thing, and they always seem to give you little dribs and drabs, only hinting at the dimensions of the real thing. I should save that money for mixtapes instead.

The LCD Soundsystem singles never really blew my head in half; they always just seemed like arch little slices of genre toe-dipping - nice but hardly revolutionary. But the album is gorgeous. The production sounds pretty much perfect, drums hitting just right, bass dissolving into liquid noise-washes, guitar stabs falling from the ceiling. Some of the best tracks sound like waking up from a nightmare in the middle of the night shaking and sweating with the Trax boxset is playing in the next room and Terminator 2 muted on TV and realizing that everything is OK. Every inch of the album, every little production choice or synth flourish or guitar clang is suffused with this sense of joy and confidence and urgency. I really wish I'd made this album.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Hood's Outside Closer sounds pretty much exactly like Hood's last album, Cold House. I like Cold House, but I already own Cold House, you know? The tracks sound nice when they're on my headphones and instantly disappear immediately afterwards. I could not hum a single song off it. The tracks aren't really songs, actually; they're just little sketches of aimless acoustic guitar and mumbled British-dude vocals and clicky beats. It's nice enough, but I can't imagine anyone ever loving this album.

I'm a little sad that Sacramento traded Chris Webber to Philly for some no-name scrubs. They probably had to get rid of him eventually, since his knee is shot and he's never going to get them a championship, but it seems like they could've at least got something out of the deal, and Corliss Williamson is not that something. I'm mostly disappointed because I'm going to see the Kings play the Wizards on Sunday afternoon and I was looking forward to seeing Webber make a big return to DC. This will be my first live NBA game since I was ten and I saw the Bullets get crused by Charles Barklay's Sixers in one of the games that the Bullets used to play in Baltimore to make up for the fact that DC stole the team. I remain seriously amped about Sunday's game; the tickets were a ridiculously badass Valentine's Day present from Bridget, and now the Wizards will probably win.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Last week, I got Matos's 15-CD ultimate biblical 2004 megamix in the mail. It's more than 24 hours of music. It's a whole hell of a lot to process. Listening to it for the first time is sort of daunting; you're like, "This D Double E track I've never heard is pretty cool, but I hope it ends soon so I can hear this Kano track I've never heard before." I'd post some reflections on it, but Jesus, it's just so much. Maybe later.

The NBA All-Star Game was, once again, a terrible basketball game: blown passes, zero team chemistry on either side, ridiculous shots. I loved it. I love it every year. I love the pageantry, the look-at-the-famous-people shots, the endless player introductions. I could watch Vince Carter's off-the-backboard self-pass alley-oop every day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it. And! Big & Rich halftime show! I can't believe it took someone this long to think of a Big & Rich halftime show! They're pretty much custom-built for the form. Charles Barclay hated it. So did my girlfriend and my friends. It was so awesome.

I spent my 3-day weekend doing shit like going to an Imax movie for the first time in years and drinking Sparks while playing Halo 2 at my friend Evan's house. It's enough to make me wish I was unemployed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

After the whole psyche-folk thing blew up last year, there seems to be a full-on classic rock revival thing brewing in indie-rock this year. (Can I talk about The Woods yet? No?) I'm not even sure if "classic rock" is the right term - I'll leave the nomenclature thing to someone else, but something is definitely going on here. Last year there were the Comets on Fire and Dungen albums, neither of which I was all that into. But this year we've got Black Mountain, who easily lap both of those bands by excising most of the noise-freakout pyrotechnics and aiming for evil sexy blooz-throb, somewhere between Spiritualized and X but totally unafraid of fringed-jacket harmonica choogle. Their self-titled album really is something: howling hook, riff, buildup, vamp, gorgeous layered production, everything rising beautifully into the sky and hanging there like clouds, held up by nothing. Worth mentioning in the same breath: the three or four really good songs from Superwolf. Most of the album is the sort of diffuse airy barely-there cooing folk stuff that I generally associate with Will Oldham even though I don't know that much about him, but the great songs (I'm thinking "My Home is the Sea" and "What Are You?" especially) have this great desperate underwater Lee Hazlewood wavering sparkle. Gorgeous like that.

(When Will Oldham lived in Baltimore, I hung out at his house once. He wasn't there. I watched one of his boar-hunting videos.)

Does High on Fire fit in with this whole classic-rock thing? Should I buy that album? I went to see them a couple of years ago because Black Eyes was opening, and I left after a couple of songs, but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood.

The LCD Soundsystem album really is as good as I was hoping it would be. "Tribulations" on headphones just about made me gasp. More when it sinks in.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day, dudes! I love all y'all!

Sage Francis is a strong performer. Onstage, he looks larger than he actually is, which is always a good sign. Last night at the Ottobar, he looked striking and singular: monk's robe, parka, huge beard. He had one hypeman, two hypewomen, and a totally superfluous guitarist with him onstage, all of whom were dressed in all black with Sage Francis hoodies. When he moves around the stage, frantically flopping for comedy points or prowling the stage during serious moments, he makes a great focal point. He's even better when he's standing still at the middle, flanked by his soldiers, standing tall. His show is long and rehearsed and focused and powerful. He's got a thick, commanding voice, and last night he held an extremely packed Ottobar crowd in the palm of his hand. He gives you your money's worth. But Sage Francis irritates me. He's a slam poet from Rhode Island who positions himself as the true savior of hip-hop culture or whatever. Last night, he dissed Buck 65 and Jay-Z, both of whom I like a lot more than Sage. (Can you imagine if Jay deigned to respond? Shit would be like Godzilla vs. Bambi.) At the end of the show, his whole crew kneeled and faced the turntables while the DJ played the King "I have a dream" speech and then played a Hendrixy distorted "Star-Spangled Banner" on the keyboards. He dissed the idea of dancing, for fuck's sake. It was all a bit much. Right now, Nate Patrin's blog has a nine-minute MP3 of Sage and Apathy freestyling at some radio station. It's not amazing or anything, but it captures Sage relaxing, enjoying himself, rapping for fun. I'd like to see a lot more of that guy and a lot less of the stentorian prophet-myth guy I saw onstage Saturday night.

Other than one album I can't talk about here yet, the Geto Boy's The Foundation may be my favorite album of the year so far. (Runners-up: Game, Black Mountain, Chemical Brothers.) After listening to it for a month or so, it reminds me of a Western about three old gunslingers who've known each other and fought side-by-side for years but who grew sick of each other and stopped being friends, ignoring each other when they'd walk past each other on the streets, until some outside threat forced them to come together one last time, for honor and not for glory, knowing no one would even see or acknowledge what they've done. (Not sure what the outside threat would be here, so maybe ignore this analogy.) Their voices just have such authority, just sink into the beats with such leathery perfection. The beats have the same mythical tired rock-hard lope. The moments of beauty are fleeting, but they add this sad pathos to the whole thing. It's mean and misogynist and homophobic, and Scarface sounds kind of clueless when he misquotes "Lean Back", but it really is a powerful piece of work.

Three surprises from Southern Smoke 16: Jermaine Dupri murders Slim Thug on "I Still Ain't Heard of That". Mase crushes Lil Scrappy on "Take a Picture". Killa Kyleon absolutely destroys Young Buck on the Youngbloodz' "Datz Me" remix.

I didn't watch the Grammys.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Chemical Brothers album is endearingly clueless, like they've been living in 1997 for the past eight years and won't let anyone tell them that the world is a different place now. (Q-Tip! On the single! In 2005!) It's oddly nice in a comfort-food/security -blanket way, and it sounds perfect on my headphones walking to the library and Taco Bell on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in February while the snow melts into little rivulets all over downtown Baltimore. The Chemicals have some sort of innate gift for this sort of thing; they know exactly when they're starting to repeat the vocal sample too many times, so they toss in a wicked conga break or some British dork rapping to keep things interesting. And oddly it ends up sounding derivative but not dated; they stick to the modus operandi they've been pimping for five albums now, but that modus operandi is not really all that far removed from, like, Out Hud. And "Hold Tight London" and "Surface to Air" might not be as great as some of their older woozy bleary elastic widescreen weightless wing-walking zone-outs, but they're both a whole hell of a lot better than the new M83 album. Too bad the album cover practically screams, "We are old and irrelevant like the Crystal Method or something! Please feel free to disregard us!"

I was getting pretty sick of Lil Jon ("Girlfight" is ass), but he pulls out a couple of neat new tricks on Southern Smoke 16. Game's "Throw It Up" has this ominous mournful noir foghorn tuba with relentless muted tack-tack drums; it's sad and dark and beat-down and bedraggled. But it's not as good as Shauna K's "Dance", this amazing retro electro-freestlye 80s throwback R&B jam with vocoders and Miami-bass rapping and staccato synths and drums. It's like "Jam the Box" or something, beautiful insistent Miami Vice shit with more going on than you first notice. Lil Jon would really be on to something new here if he'd just stop fucking screaming. But he may not be quite done yet, which is more than I can say for David Banner, whose new trick is apparently metal guitar.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Portland was crazy, not even real. From the moment I left my house on Thursday morning, everything had this sort of filmic glow, like everything that I was doing wasn't even real, like I'd taken a break from my real actual life and jumped into a movie about a person more interesting than myself. Everything was sort of blurry around the edges from sleep-deprivation, jet lag, fear, nerves, happiness, intense happiness, worry, triumph, often alcohol. Friday morning: wandering around outside my hotel, splitting hangover headache, looking for a drugstore so I could pop some Excedrin and get all my stuff out of the hotel room by noon and drop it all off at my friend Dan's apartment (thanks, Dan!) and then do what I had to do, which I can't really talk about but which was amazing and life-affirming and just ridiculous. Portland seems kind of big and small at the same time, like I have shin-splints from walking around it for hours and hours but somehow it doesn't seem like a city big enough to have a basketball team; I kept expecting to see Blazers walking around, buying shoes or eating sushi even though I live in a medium-sized city with two large professional sports teams and have never once seen any of the players out. The mountains look amazing from a plane; I knew what Mount St. Helens was even though I'd never seen it before and the pilot didn't point it out. Here are some things I learned about Portland: 30% of the population is between twenty and thirty years of age, there is at least one cinema drafthouse, the hills are steep and plentiful, public transportation is more than decent, bars are cheaper than you'd think, microbrews are better than you'd think (and I hate microbrews), record stores are all over the place even though only a few are really any good, trucks selling Mexican food set up shop in every parking lot, most of the bridges are the kind of bridge that goes up when a boat goes under it, the air tastes different. I love Portland.

Right now I could talk about the Chemical Brothers album or the Super Bowl or Alien vs. Predator or Chunklet magazine or the Super Bowl commercial with Diddy driving a Diet Pepsi truck or the Pitchfork half-decade album list, but I'm tired. All I really want to say right now is that you need to fly out of Chicago right after the sun sets and the city stretches out beneath you, all lit-up flourescent interlocking checkerboards bleeding into each other, the plane's wing sitting right behind you, reassuringly blue, Spacemen 3's Playing with Fire on your Discman. You need to do that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Going to Portland tomorrow. See you chumps later.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Is the Pazz & Jop list up yet? How about now? Come on!

The Pitchfork singles list is pretty good, even though all the songs I wrote about are in the bottom half and only one of the joints in my top five made the list ("B.O.B.", dur). If someone wanted to use the Men in Black memory eraser ray to make the entire population of the world forget the existence of "Hey Ya" completely, I'd be cool with that. How did "Ante Up" not make it? Quibble quibble quibble.

Bright Eyes! I think I might like Digital Ash better than I'm Wide Awake, and I don't know what that means. Wait, no, nevermind, I don't. Digital Ash is a Postal Service jack move, which is just fine with me; I love me some Postal Service. The lyrics have a nice specificity; they aren't just about vague poetic platitudes like too many of the lyrics on I'm Wide Awake. I really like Conor's lyrics; they remind me of long, deep conversations, senior year of college, middle of the afternoon, Rachel Henderson's floor, talking about how she was just going to move to the middle of nowhere after college, how I was going to move back to Baltimore. "Arc of Time (Time Code)" (god, his song titles suck) has this nice little quasi-African lilt to it. But he doesn't have the voice for straight-up synthpop. At all. This will all be in my track review for "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" (see what I mean?), but one of the great things about the Postal Service record was the way Ben Gibbard did the Neil Tennant/Bernard Sumner fey monotone coo thing, singing distantly about big emotions. Wheras Conor always sings emotionally about big emotions, with that pay-attention-to-me voice-cracking howl thing. I mean, I like that, but he'd really do better to bite NIN with that thing, you know? I'm Wide Awake is pretty much exactly what it sets out to be, his big country-folk record that my mom might like if I buy it for her. I like it. It's nice. Comfort-blanket nice. "Road to Joy" sounded like a terrible idea, but it's one of the best things he's ever done. But he's not the new Bob Dylan, and this record kind of screams "I'm the new Bob Dylan!" He should knock that shit off. He's emo. You know it, I know it. My favorite Bright Eyes album is Fevers and Mirrors because it's the most emo. He's really, really good at emo. (Also, the lyric sheet to I'm Wide Awake is done in one of those fonts that's designed to look like handwriting but isn't. I hate that shit.)

Is Conor Obherst really a year younger than me? And does that mean I'm in my mid-twenties while he's in his early twenties? Jesus. Maybe he should be criticizing me.

The Geto Boys album has those sort of omniregional invincible G-Unit beats, although they aren't quite as good as G-Unit beats. All three members have incredible, beautiful, perfect voices, charisma just dripping off them. They're coasting here, not quite realizing that this album should be a really big deal, Houston on the rise, all eyes on them. There are no big producers, only one guest MC (Z-Ro), none of that creeping-low new Houston sound. (Also, thank God, no crunk.) There's a song where Face awkwardly quotes "Lean Back". There's nasty sex talk, and that's not really what I want to hear from these guys. There's hardass street talk, which is a little more like it. But this album should be amazing. I want to hear Scarface rap about being on top of the world, president of Def Jam South, five-mic album, and then just walking away. I want to hear Willie D rap about being black in Azerbaijan, trying to make money in this alien environment, what's on TV there, what the grocery stores are like. I want to hear Bushwick Bill rapping about getting shitcanned from Memphis radio, trying to find bit parts in shitty movies, talking to Hollywood scumbags who have no idea they're in the presence of a legend. My favorite track on the album is "Leanin on You", the song to God. The beat is a pretty little Kanye bite, and Bill raps about people staring at him because he's different ("Why did God make my brother so tall and me a dwarf?"), trying to kill himself, feeling God looking at him in the hospital. It's devastating. I feel this weird sort of kinship with Bill, coming from the exact opposite end of the height spectrum, so tall that people stare, ask constant questions, tell me they'd dunk on me, whatever. I hate it. I hate walking past someone and then hearing him say something about how tall I am, total strangers telling me I'm wasting a gift from God by not playing basketball, kids asking their fathers if I'm the tallest man in the world. I hate that, and I know Bushwick Bill gets it a lot worse than I do. I feel for him.