Thursday, March 31, 2005

OK, so I fucked up pretty bad. A few people have e-mailed me to let me know that my track review of the Roc-4-Life roster's mixtape "Triumph" remix had a couple of glaring factual inaccuracies. I wrote that Rawkan, who I'd never heard of, was on the track, but it was Raekwon, and I absolutely should've recognized his voice. I got the names from the tracklisting of the Catch 22 mixtape where I found the song, and it turned out to be totally wrong; I should've checked it. Also, I credited a line to Oschino or Sparks when it turned out to be Young Chris. One of my great failings as a music critic is my inability to distinguish between Young Chris, Neef, Oschino, and Sparks. There are now threads on Okayplayer and Soulstrut dedicated to my fuckup, and these dudes seem to be taking the opportunity to hate on Pitchfork. Well, it wasn't Pitchfork's fuckup. It was mine, and I'm crazy embarrassed. (I still don't like the track.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I know it's lame to jump on the hype train late, and I know I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but Arular really is unbelievably tight like that. I can honestly say that it's the only album I can think of that gets progressively better as it plays. The first five tracks are just OK for me, but everything from "Amazon" on is absolute fire. It's also probably the best workout album I've ever heard; it actually made me feel like I could stay on the elliptical joint for more than 15 minutes (this thought turned out to be deceptive). As the hype enters its third or fourth cycle, there's a lot of debate swirling over Maya's constant Tamil Tigers namechecks, people asking if she's just glamorizing terrorism and exploiting Western fascination with the Other. In her Seattle Weekly review, Geeta Dayal described four levels of listening to M.I.A. Well, I'm stuck on level one. These beats and hooks are ridiculous, and that's all I need. If I can get past Cam'ron talking about "put your legs behind your head", I can get past a few vague references to terrorism.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Watching the Hold Steady Saturday night, Bridget was fully on point: "The human version of Finnegan". Uncle Finnegan is our dog, some sort of terrier/bearded collie mix she found at the pound a few years before I met her. And he is the dog version of Craig Finn when Craig Finn is onstage: a frantic wirey intense focused OCD bundle of nerves, like "oh shit where's my green squeaky frog toy? WHERE'S MY GREEN SQUEAKY FROG TOY? I NEED IT RIGHT NOW! Jesus, OK, here it is, OK, OK, I'm cool. But wait, I need to bury it in this towel RIGHT NOW!" Craig Finn in person offstage: totally relaxed, personable, articulate, pleasant even when the rest of his band is dizzy-drunk, all cramming into the Ottobar photo booth. Onstage, he looks like he's expecting to be shot dead by Dominican mobsters any second: jerking around, forgetting ("forgetting"?) to "sing" into the mic half the time, utterly spazzing out. The rest of the band looks like indie-rock scuzzballs from bands I hate, rocks like experts, totally fun to have a drink with after the show. (Tad tried to give me his medallion.) They were opening for the Oranges, and it was one of those glorious nights where it's just end-to-end fun as soon as you step in the club, spend too much money on drinks, spaz out, see half your friends, talk shit about the other half, pass out. It's spring. It's time for some nights like this.

Or like last night, when Grand Buffet, the greatest live band in the world, came through. Al was there; check his blog if you don't know who they are. All I'm going to say is that they are total entertainers, absolutely rip it every time out, sychronized dancing, backflips, tandem rapping, singing entire Journey song all the way through with absolutely no provocation, dropping the funniest between-song banter I've ever heard - like, Kings of Comedy-level funny, seriously. They stayed in character when I was interviewing them before the show: "Would I ever sign to a major label? Um, maybe if they got Bono to press his bare ass up against my chest and fart. I'd consider it then." I wonder what Sage Francis thinks when he watches them.

Yo, almost half of this Justus Kohncke album I bought is cheesed-out kitsch-pop like the music from the beginning of John Waters movies thrown in to indicate that we are now in grinning cold-war technicolor sitcom land. Dude, this thing is German! I dropped 17 dollars on it! I do not want to hear this stuff! You house music people are weird. (However. The track "Schwabylon" is a completely bananas sleazy greasy coked-out sliding violin disco monster; it may actually be worth the 17 bones I spent on the CD.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I know everyone's severely hating on the new Daft Punk, but I like it. Daft Punk was never the be-all or end-all of anything for me, and I haven't spent the last four years twisting and turning and lying awake at night wondering when the next album was coming out, so it's not that big of a deal for me. It's not as good as Discovery or even the new Out Hud, but it's a nice little sparkley-glitter disco album, and I'm happy with that. The first time I heard it was after riding home on the bus squished up between two fat people and listening to the Pig Destroyer album on my Discman. This was not a pleasant experience. After that, hearing Human After All felt like diving into a cool, clear swimming hole on the hottest day of the summer, for real. Clean and refreshing.

Pig Destroyer? Not good. I love the Mastodon and High on Fire albums because they've got that crunch-swing groove; they slow their stuff down far enough that their punches connect. Pig Destroyer is more like Lightning Bolt with Cookie Monster screaming over the top, all jern-jern-jern-jern-toom-toom-toom-skreee-aaaaaugh-reele-eedle-
jungajungajunga-graaaack. I don't need that in my life.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I'm listening to the new Hold Steady, and it's great, scraped knees and Gideon bibles and broken teeth and broken bottles refracted through Meat Loaf pianos and George Thorogood choogling. Reading the lyric sheet is an excercise in frustration, in understanding that you just can't write like this guy; if the first album was Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle reimagined as an epic of Russian literature, this is the best novel Denis Johnson never wrote (unless he wrote it and I didn't read it). And so I'm thinking, how powerful a critic am I? Can I blow this band up like the Arcade Fire? Because that's what I want to do.

I'd been looking forward to hearing A Gun Called Tension's album just because "Gold Fronts" is such a great, majestic, dizzy single; the dumbass lyrics should've tipped me off. The album sounds something like what might happen if Mark E. Smith had heard a bunch of circa-99 Rawkus stuff and decided that he wanted to be a rapper. This is a bad thing. "More imagination than Dali's ghost / I kick metaphors through the goalposts" - does anyone think these are acceptable lyrics?

The Ring 2 is the best movie I've seen all year, even if all that means is that it's better than Be Cool. But really, critics and Julianne need to stop hating; it's good. The scary-jump moments work, the ooky creepy something-bad-is-about-to-happen scenes work, everything works. The movie does its job, even when the douchebag behind me was talking on his phone all through the damn thing, Star-Spangled Banner ringtone going off every ten minutes, speakerphone sometimes on (not even joking).

Friday, March 18, 2005

O'Malley's March, the Celtic rock band led by Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, played its last show last night. I never saw or even heard O'Malley's March, but I always loved the idea that my city's mayor opened for Shane MacGowan while serving as mayor. O'Malley is the first white mayor Baltimore has had during my lifetime (Baltimore is overwhelmingly black, if you didn't know), and he's almost certainly the basis for the slimey Councilman Carcetti character from the last season of The Wire (which is being renewed for another season, jyeah!). He's a young, good-looking guy (totally ripped, wears muscle shirts), and he came into office on a split ticket and a Giuliani-esque hard-on-crime campaign. Before he took office, I was afraid he'd pull Giuliani tactics like throwing everyone in jail and putting Starbucks on every corner and shutting down all the clubs. He didn't do any of that stuff. He also hasn't done any Giuliani-type stuff like actually reducing crime in the city substantially or making it any safer. But because he's white and young and good-looking, he's practically got a sign that says "rising politician" stapled to his forehead. He'll probably run for governor against his Republican evil twin Robert Ehrlich next year, and there's a good chance he'll win, especially if people stop getting murdered so much in the city (which would be awesome!). And so he's retiring his band. For some reason, I find this oddly depressing.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Summer 2000: I was working at the Knitting Factory in New York part-time with no other job, living with my girlfriend-at-the-time in my first stab at cohabitation. I didn't make enough working at the club to pay my rent, especially since my paychecks regularly came six months late, and I didn't get free drinks ever since my friend and coworker Alicia got busted drinking at the bar and they stopped letting underage employees mess with alcohol. But I did get to see every show that came through that summer for free: Luna taping thier live album, Kristin Hersh trying out stuff from Sunny Border Blue, Non-Phixion sucking. More than any other show, I was crazy amped about Chuck D rolling through the club with his new band Konfrontation Kamp - the name raised alarms, but I was too dumb to let my hopes down. Konfrontation Kamp turned out to be one of the worst abortions I ever witnessed, Chuck looking exeedingly bored and embarrassed while some rap-metal tool with a shaved head and a mesh shirt grunted and uurrged right next to him. It was sad. Opening acts: MF Doom, J-Live, Atmosphere. I didn't like MF Doom much, thought he sounded like a second-rate Raekwon. J-Live seemed affable enough, but he didn't exactly crackle onstage; he could've maybe used a hype-man. But so Atmosphere, on their first trip to New York, Eyedea as the hypeman and probably some DJ (don't think it was Dibbs) stole the show with ridiculous ease, bouncing around the stage, ridiculously excited, Slug and Eyedea throwing freestyle jabs at each other a few nights before Eyedea won the Blaze battle. I'd never heard of them, and I walked out loving them. Which brings us to last night, when Slug rolled through a ridiculously packed Ottobar with a live band of Guitar Center slobs, rocking a crowd that looked pretty much exactly like what a Jack Johnson crowd probably looks like but with more hoodies and not as many girls. This was not a perfect setup; I suffered through P.O.S. and Grayskul drinking in the back, bored, not sure anything in this setting could do anything for me. And so when the band came onstage and went into this extended watery-funk vamp, my heart was sinking. Or it was sinking until Slug bounded out in a Hatebreed shirt and a hoodie made for a very fat man, head shaved like chemo, crazy excited once again, and just murdered it. As far as indie-backpack-rap goes, I really don't think anyone is fucking with Slug. He's got the skill and eloquence and swagger and authority to be a major star, and that's not really something I would say about Murs or Aesop Rock, you know? He stays right in the track's pocket without sacrificing the boom of his voice - delivering his lines like a rapper, not like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. He's got presence and intensity and charisma. And he's got lyrics; his emo-rap is pretty much the only emo-rap other than Ghostface or Bushwick Bill that really hits me in the middle. I was dubious about the band, and they did occassionally stray into noodle territory, but they were able to do things with the songs that a DJ couldn't do, laying liquid hooks and bringing the songs up to big, raging climaxes. Every fratboy in the crowd knew every word to every song, confusingly enough, turning "Always Coming Back Home to You" and "The Woman With the Tatooed Hands" and "Godlovesugly" into wrenching cathartic emo singalongs. I don't really know how he does it, but Slug is one of those guys who has the power to transcend his surroundings, to turn anything he does into an event.

If you've ever spent fifteen minutes watching music videos on any Christian television network, you've probably seen a rap group comprised entirely of enormously fat Mexican or Samoan guys with braids and chin hair and huge baseball jerseys talking about La Raza representing Christ or whatever. I don't know if this one group is hugely popular or if there's like a million groups like this, but you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen it. Now imagine if this group's members decided that they wanted to be taken seriously as rappers, and so they started biting Aesop Rock and got a bass-player who looked like he got kicked out of Non-Phixion and didn't add anything to the music except a constant durnn durrn durrn underneath. Got it? You are now imagining Grayskul. (I kind of liked P.O.S.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I really, really hope Kweisi Mfume becomes Maryland's next senator, although I have to admit that I have absolutely no idea how well he'll do in an election. Does Garrett County like insanely diginified civil rights leaders with hard-to-pronounce names?

My brother went to the Run the Road record release party in New York after seeing the listing for it that day in the Village Voice. He said it felt like he'd been trapped in a block of ice for five years and then woke up and heard all the hip-hop he'd missed. I should probably be jealous, but I spent my weekend eating Mexican food and eating Indian food and watching the Rockets crush the Kings and watching Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and playing with my dog, so I'm good.

Apparently, I am now an important music critic. I just got my first rap promo that has been rendered unlistenable by a mechanized voice saying my name every thirty seconds. Or at least I think it's saying my name. "Blurr blurrblurr" could be "Tom Breihan", right? Like I would really bootleg the C-Rayz Walz album. Please.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

50 and Game have called a truce, complete with a press conference cumulating in a dramatic handshake like they were Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin or some shit. Which means that either Em and Dre stepped in with something to say or this whole thing was completely planned from jump. (I don't think someone getting shot was planned, but maybe the crews didn't know or maybe one of Game's people got overzealous.) Somehow, this whole thing magically happened right after the Soundscans for The Massacre's first week came out and found that 50 had sold more than a million in five days. Either way, I feel like I've been taken for a ride.

But the Mars Volta at #4 on the Billboards? What's that about?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Yo, the Jennifer Gentle album is just terrible, all the worst impulses of the entire freak-folk movement rolled up into one intolerable pile of tics. If you're in a band and you're thinking about singing a song entirely in chipmunk squeak, please reconsider.

I had jury duty on Monday, and it was simultaneously one of the most fascinating and most boring experiences I've had in ever. After waiting around for a couple of hours in the morning, my number was called and I went with about a hundred other people to a courtroom where a murder trial was about to start. I've never really been in a room with a hundred other randomly-selected adult Baltimoreans, and it was sort of fascinating to see Hopkins professors and lawyers and the deputy mayor of the city sitting next to toothless electricians and divorced housewives. I was next to a funeral director who dressed just like Kanye West. We all had to give our occupations and say how much education we'd had. And then we had to sit around for hours in uncomfortable chairs while we had to pee. And then the judge gave us all a 20-minute lecture on the history of the courthouse. And then the lawyers picked the jury (the defense attorney turned me down; I sort of wonder why), and everyone went and got lunch and sat back in the huge waiting room where they were showing Welcome to Mooseport. Welcome to Mooseport is really bad. I'm told that Baltimore residents get called for jury duty about once a year since this city has so many trials. This is not good news.

Friday, March 04, 2005

I live in the same city as Lungfish. Sometimes, I see Dan Higgs at the farmers' market or at a record store. I can't talk to him. This isn't the rule for me. Last month, I flew out to Portland to interview Sleater-Kinney, my favorite band in the world. I was nervous, but I could still look Corin Tucker in the eye and shake her hand. I've interviewed some of my favorite musicians (Ian MacKaye, Travis Morrison, Craig Finn) with no problem. Lungfish isn't my favorite band; I don't regularly play their records around the house or anything. But they make me nervous as all hell. Onstage at the Ottobar last night, Lungfish was pretty much incomparable. They basically have nothing in common with any band ever. They don't even seem like a band; they seem like ancient druids thawed out from a block of ice or something. Seeing them live for the first-time is like discovering a herd of winged unicorns still living in some remote corner of the Amazon rainforest; not only can you not believe a band like this still exists, you can't even believe it ever existed in the first place. Onstage, their music is like a whirlpool of boulders, a crashing wave of electricity, the hole at the middle of the universe. You walk out of a Lungfish show feeling like you have comets for eyes and blue whales for fingers. It doesn't even make sense to write about Lungfish. But Lungfish is touring right now, and Lungfish doesn't tour too often, so for God's sake go see them if you have half a chance.

The following is a conversation between me and the guy who I by mixtapes from.
Guy who I buy mixtapes from: Yo, you ever heard of Stylah?
Me: No.
Guy: Yo, you need to hear this! (messes with his radio for a minute; it doesn't work.) Well, I ain't lying, this dude is tight! He from the UK! Southwest London!
Me: Yeah, it's a lot of people coming out of the UK right now. There's this compilation, Run the Road, coming out next month of all UK rappers. It's great.
Guy: Yeah, I believe that. It seem like people from the UK, like Phil Collins, they do good work.
(He was right about Stylah. His freestyle at the end of Catch 22's It's a New Day 2 tape is no joke.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

People should stop referring to Dalek as underground rap or whatever. Dalek makes industrial noise-drone with someone rapping on it. Before I ever heard their music, I thought they would sound like Three-6 Mafia. They don't. At all. Whatsoever. I was sort of disappointed. But as someone who likes both rap and indie-drone stuff, I have to say they make some pretty great indie-drone stuff. The distorto-synths have this great glacial epic-grandeur thing, going for beauty instead of ugliness, which makes them roughly infinity times better than Wolf Eyes right there. When I asked my editor at the City Paper what Dalek sounded like, he said it was something like Nine Inch Nails except rap. I think he meant it dismissively; he laughed pretty hard when I said that that sounded awesome. (They don't actually sound anything like Nine Inch Nails, unfortunately.)

Run the Road really is as ridiculously great as everyone keeps saying. It's banger after banger after banger, with only a couple of slow bits (Roll Deep, Ears), and even those would sound pretty good if they were on Southern Smoke 29 or something. I won't say much else about it here since I have to come up with 800 words on it, but here's a preview: The beat to Kano's "P's and Q's" sounds like a southern college marching band playing the Knight Rider theme in some terrifying dystopian future.

Jonathan Lethem's Men and Cartoons is a shockingly boring book. Lethem is one of my favorite novelists because he builds most of his books (Motherless Brooklyn especially) from trashy fiction genres like hard-boiled detective stories and Twilight Zonian science fiction, keeping all the pleasures of these genres intact but also using them as a jumping-off point, using them to play around with language and ideas. I liked Fortress of Solitude, but not as much as some of his older books, since it seems like he decided to leave the genre fiction alone and dive into a Serious Novel. He made it work by keeping it close to the bone, letting all the autobiographical details hit hard. But most of the stories in Men and Cartoons are on some Paul Auster-biting shit, pointlessly weird metatextual show-offy whizjet stuff that seems to imply meaning than actually meaning anything. The one big exception is "Super Goat Man", which I already wrote about when it appeared in the New Yorker a while back. It's no coincidence that "Super Goat Man" is both the best story and the one where he goes the furthest back into genre fiction, the genre in this case being super-hero comic books. The science fiction story is pretty good too, but I forget the name of that one.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

My subscription to the New Yorker ran out in January, and it isn't starting again until the end of the month, so I've missed a few stories. I was at the YMCA last night, finished with the elliptical thing and waiting for Bridget to get done, and they had a few back issues from the past couple of months sitting around. I got to reading this article about, a website I'd never heard of that gets more hits than Pitchfork or the Onion, and I recognized one of the names in the article. This kid Jake who I got to know when I moved back to Baltimore after college was one of the people who started the site. Jake is someone who I never knew all that well but who I always really liked; he was/is always working on some weird togue-in-cheek conceptual art project. A while ago, he told me he was moving to San Diego and starting a company with some other people. Now he lives in Manhattan and makes mad crazy loot off a website that's apparently mostly comprised of pictures of drunk people. That = bananas.

I'm getting tired of talking/thinking about the Game/G-Unit situation, but one thing occurred to me this morning. Game is someone who loves to rap about the rap industry, to describe backroom deals and contract clauses and the processes at work in the creation of music. The events of the past couple of days have probably given him enough material for an album or two. This whole thing may yet be good for him.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Is 50 just mad because Game made a much better album than he did, despite 50 being the better rapper? Or is 50 scared that The Documentary is going to sell better than The Massacre? This whole ridiculous situation is almost as depressing as last night's non-blizzard. 50 needs to relax and enjoy his success. How does "New York" hurt him? How would his reputation be damaged by a Nas/Game collaboration? Why is he organizing his entire battle-plan around a weak-ass dis track? "Piggy Bank" is more a flat collection of one-liners than a masterful broadside like "The Takeover". It's like the existence of the dis track has become more important than the track itself.

I can't believe I let myself go like fifteen years without ever going to an NBA game. Sunday's game wasn't perfect - the Wizards could've won, Peja and Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon and Bobby Jackson could've been healthy, the Kings could've not traded C-Webb away a couple of days before. The entire arena probably made less noise than my row at the Ravens game I went to last year. But Gilbert Arenas scored 43 points and tied his career best. Steve Blake ended up in the double digits, almost winning the game with a three-pointer at the buzzer. Etan Thomas played like Ben Wallace-Lite or something, hanging on to rebounds for dear life and dunking offense boards and missing almost all of his free-throws. Almost as good: when people aren't playing, they really do their best to keep you from getting bored. This was retro day or something, so the teams wore throwbacks (Bullets jerseys!) and all the kids trying to make half-court shots or whatever during time-outs wore afro wigs and the Trammps were the half-time show. My favorite extra was the Wizards' secondary mascot, G-Man, a dude who dresses up like a superhero in blue spandex with big fake muscles and rides around on a scooter and makes dunks off a trampoline and has a little kid sidekick who dresses like him and makes dunks on a shorter hoop. The entire arena probably made less noise than my row at the Ravens game I went to last year.

The High on Fire album has nothing to do with the whole resurgence of 70s rock that I was talking about a couple of weeks ago. It's a metal album, and it never tries to be anything else. It doesn't surge or throb or swoop. It just fucking hammers at you, just swings away. The production is huge; you can feel every cymbal crash. The riffs have force and swing and crunch; it isn't a tinny scrape like that last Hate Eternal album. It does its job. I need to listen to more metal.

Scott Walker's Tilt was one of those albums that I'd been meaning to buy forever because so many critics loved it so much. I was totally flummoxed when I finally heard it. There's nothing there. I barely noticed it was on when it was on. It was like whale song or something. And when I did notice it, it was fucking dumb, like that song about haggling over the price of cows or whatever. The Anthony and the Johnsons album is like Tilt except good. It's got the same loose song structures, the same high-pitched drama-queen warble, the same cryptic lyrics. But the album's net effect is a sort of sweet haze, a sweeping operatic sad blanket. Anthony's voice is just silly at first; I put the album on in the car the other night and Bridget busted up laughing when it came in. But by the time that track with Lou Reed came on, she was feeling it, sinking into the seat, letting it bleed into the empty road in front of us, letting it carry her away.