Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dead Meadow's new album is sleepy woozy nodded-out psychedelic woosh; there's pretty much no metal in them at all anymore, hardly even any Sabbath. Onstage at the Ottobar last night, they were even more oceanically blunted; they sounded like the screwed-and-chopped version of Jane's Addiction or someting, like kickass stomp riffs coming through walls of mud and murk and swamp, bending the air and folding around them. I really liked it for like 45 minutes, and then I got tired and bored. They'd be a lot better as an opening act. The actual opening act, Jennifer Gentle, would be better as silent dead people. Jennifer Gentle may be my new least favorite band in the world. Every chipmunky screech, every wackly little oomaph riff, every doinky-doink drum fill made my skin crawl. It's like soundtrack music for hobbits playing duck-duck-goose, and it makes me want to die.

Does it make me a bad person that I still hate Alonzo Mourning even after he donated his entire year's salary to kidney research? Is it terrible to wish he'd pull a muscle next time he tries the flex-and-roar thing? Am I going to hell now? Part of me hopes the Heat and the Rockets make the finals so Jeff Van Gundy can run out and grab his leg every single night. This same part of me wants Phil Jackson to take the coaching job in New York just to piss Kobe off.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Out Hud reminds me of Neneh Cherry riding a bike down some completely gentrified Brooklyn street on a breezy spring day, chewing Bubble Yum and blowing bubbles, gray hoodie halfway off her shoulder, the Trax box set on her discman, no helmet. It's almost too perfect. The new album is just about everything I want from a bunch of people who used to be in indie-rock bands and now make poppy house music: gorgeous Middle-Eastern cello washes, ravey blips, echoed-out drums, shivering glistening keyboards, floating bells, flangey guitars. It's pretty, happy music, and it makes my work day fly by a whole lot faster, but I didn't really expect them to be as great as they were at the Ottobar last night. These songs make great background music when they're trickling out of your tinny office-computer speakers, but they sound amazing loud and coming out of big speakers. Everyone in this band seems to love the fucking hell out of being in this band, dancing all goofy when there aren't any instruments to be played, leaning over and lazily plinking out the one-handed synth riffs when they have to. They're playing at the Pitchfork-curated Intonation Festival in Chicago, which is otherwise dominated by indie-pop stuff that I don't care bout (Decemberists, etc.), and they are going to be such a fucking breath of fresh air.

For some reason, they're touring with Hella, a noisey noise band who were pretty boring when I saw them open for Quasi a while ago. The guitar guy from the band didn't play the show because his father is sick, so Zach Hill, the drummer, played an improv set with a few other people. Some guy I didn't recognize played bass while Rjyan Kidwell, who just moved back to Baltimore, did some electronic-manipulation stuff and he and his wife Roby screamed a bunch. Improv noise is So Not My Thing. But it was nice to see Rjyan and meet Roby. And it's worth noting that Zach Hill is seriously diesel; from the neck down, he looks like the guy from the Bowflex commercials.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I was walking past a bus stop on the way to Lexington Market for lunch just now, and this enormous guy was waiting for the bus, singing loud in this unbelievably awful nasal voice (like Mike Jones when he sort of tries to sing) with a couple of smaller dudes standing and listening very intently. He was singing "Locked Up" but changing the lyrics: "Locked up but they let me out / They fucked up when they let me out." I'm ready to leave Baltimore, but I'll miss it.

Someone at Rap-A-Lot just asked for my mailing address. Life is good.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

So El Guapo was a pretty meh Dischord band who decided, perversely enough, to change their name to Supersystem, sign with Touch & Go, and go full-on dancepunk. And it's not like El Guapo was setting the world on fire or anything, but this seems to be a pretty strange decision now that no one will admit to liking dancepunk anymore now that LCD Soundsystem is getting played in the background on The OC and whatnot. But holy god, this Supersystem album is ridiculous hot, fuzzbomb bass and eerie John Carpenter synths and jittery disco hi-hats and Diwali handclaps and and Middle-Eastern strings and horns and ridiculous splattered nonsense lyrics. They've retained a lot of that Dischord crashing-drama aesthetic but plugged it into this caffeinated epic white-funk thing which, fuck it, I still love. "Born Into the World" is one of the two songs I totally forgot about when I was doing my quarterly report (the other is Do or Die ft. R. Kelly: "Magic Chick"), and I honestly cannot imagine it not setting a dancefloor on fire. Probably no one will hear this album, but wow, it's breathless and skittery and desperate and just, like, unstoppable. It gets better every time I hear it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

So Joseph Ratzinger is the new Pope. Awesome, dudes. It's nice to see that the Cardinals managed to make just about every wrong decision in their selection. It's nice to know that they were never going to pick someone who wasn't white or who might one day consider the possibility of letting a woman become a priest. It's just so cool that they managed to come up with an archconservative European former nazi. I cannot even tell you how glad I am that the Church I was raised into, that my sister was just confirmed into last month, is determined to make itself obsolete. Great going, guys. Really swell work.

EDIT: Dude looks like Zell Miller too. Whatever.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

This is a bit late, and I haven't done one in six months, but what the hell, it's time:
Quarterly Report

Music has just been ridiculously good so far this year, especially albums. Any of my 6 to 10 would've made my top five this time last year. Any I decided to only include albums which had actually dropped during the first three months of this year, which is good, since I have no idea how the Hold Steady and Sleater-Kinney and Caribou would fit into this crazy mess.


1. M.I.A.: Arular. It's fine that her father is a terrorist and she's from Sri Lanka and she's crazy fine and she's Diplo's girlfriend, but none of that stuff means much of anything when I'm listening to the actual album, except maybe the Diplo thing since he produced the weakest track. What matters is those big, wet hooks, those cheap farty synths and hole-punch drums and ecstatic wordless chants, Maya's blithe authority when she's kicking ridiculous blank-faced nonsense choruses right at you. So goddam cool.

2. The Evens: s/t. What a gorgeous record. I saw the Evens play their second show about a year ago at a small second-floor art gallery in Baltimore that has since closed down, everyone sitting on the floor and listening attentively, little kids running around, the opening band a male-female duo that'd just gotten married earlier that day. I cannot possibly imagine a more wholesome setting for this gummi autumnal woozy grownup punk stuff. Except that I can. This weekend, Bridget and I were walking around Mount Pleasant in DC since we'd figured out that we can probably actually afford an apartment there. Bridget is going to grad school for social work in the fall, and we'll be moving, leaving Baltimore. We weren't sure where yet (there was talk of New York or Ann Arbor). But walking around this beautiful secluded little neighborhood, old rowhouses and front lawns and homemade basketball hoops in the alleys and people walking dogs with no leashes, I felt like I was already home. I never liked DC much, but then I'd spent all my time in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, places where everyone you see on the street practically secretes money and walks around like they already own the universe - I can never feel comfortable in places like this. But Mount Pleasant - I imagine Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina sitting out on a front porch somewhere working out these songs, letting the serenity of their surroundings bleed into their sensibilities. (I have no idea what "Mount Pleasant Isn't" is about.)

3. Beanie Sigel: The B.Coming. I reviewed this in Pitchfork yesterday, but to summarize: gorgeous cinematic post-Blueprint East Coast soul production: crashing strings and noir horns and chipmunked Bon Jovi. Perfect sequencing. Amazing guest spots (esp. Twista). Beanie bringing a dark, regretful bitterness, sounding distracted half the time, so mad he can barely speak. So sad. Who is that singing on "Lord Have Mercy"? That song just kills me, punches me in the stomache, makes me sick.

4. LCD Soundsystem: s/t. John Waters once wrote that ugliness is more interesting than prettiness. It draws people in, sucks their attention up. And so that's why he used to glue fake zits on Mink Stole's face and black out Divine's teeth. James Murphy does something similar; he works up these classic mid-80s-Chicago house tracks and then fucks them all up with weird whirring noises and nasty guitar clangs and pterodactyl screeches and tincan drum freakouts and sickening gurgles and his own mumbley grunts. And so these songs lurch and stagger and crash when they should glide and purr. It's not about rolling five deep to the club, doing lines off the toilet tank, laughing with your friends about how lame the scene is. It's about being stranded drunk on Sparks and alone in a neighborhood you don't know, looking for a cab, jittery and queasy and shivering and scared, rats running over your shoes, broken glass glittering under street lights. It's not pretty, but it sucks you in.

5. Geto Boys: The Foundation. Scarface and Willie D have voices that sound like they've existed for thousands of years, rumbling up from vocanoes, rolling across forests and mountaintops, echoing through canyons, scattering flocks of birds. Bushwick Bill sounds like a deranged game-show host high on PCP, wandering around the street at four in the morning with a frozen grin on his face and a meat cleaver in his hand. So when these voices are talking about killing you, they carry a little more weight than, say, Murphy Lee. And when they're crying on your shoulder, asking for help, thanking God that they're still alive, they carry more weight still.

6-10: Black Mountain, Out Hud, Run the Road, Game, High on Fire.


I'm not including "Pow (Forward)" or "Still Tippin'" here, even though everyone else seems to be. If they were on the list, they'd be something like #1 and #3, respectively.

1. Game ft. 50 Cent: "How We Do". The heartbeat drums and handclaps would by hypnotic just by themselves, but with beautiful chilly swirling eight-note synth riff, even better when they icey strings kick in, it's like when you catch yourself staring at a cherry-blossom tree for five minutes without realizing it. Game is fine, exaggerating the West Coast heft in his voice, pushing on the beat. But 50 is just magnificent, swooping in and twisting his voice all through the beat, like he's spent the past five years listening to it on headphones every night as he goes to sleep, knowing every nuance and twist instinctively. The "better than AVERAGE on tracks I'm a SAVAGE I DAMAGE..." part sweeps me right along with it, forces me to catch my breath still after the millionth time I've heard it.

2. Amerie: "1 Thing". God, those drums, crashing and swishing and leaping and dancing. "1 Thing" sounds more like the young Jackson 5 than anything since, so relentlessly funky and joyous. Amerie pretty much is the young Michael Jackson, yelping for joy and letting the track carry her away.

3. Montgomery Gentry: "Gone". I didn't even realize that this was a single until I heard it on the radio last night, scanning past the country station on my way to 92Q when I was doing the dishes. Bridget came in when I was singing along and asked if this was the country Guns N Roses or what, and she's totally right; whichever one it is singing has that total high-pitched silky ecstatic desperation thing in his voice on the chorus, howling back and forth with the background singers, who sound like a gospel choir but aren't one. The song builds momentum as it goes along, piling on the greasy riffs and juicy organ and and drum fills until everyone is just screaming at the end. Do they play this on rock radio? They should. I'll even forgive them for being right-wing assholes now.

4. Trick Daddy ft. Cee-Lo & Ludacris: "Sugar (Gimme Some)". I don't know why Lil Kim replaced Luda on the video version of this; maybe Luda couldn't show up to the shoot or the Atlantic people insisted. She did OK and all, but Luda's verse is a thing of beauty - he skips in and out of the beat like a little kid, playing with his voice and rolling his words around, having more fun than he has in years. The beat is a pretty, shiney, sparkely thing, acoustic guitar and sidelong drums baking in the sun. Cee-Lo beautifully rasps out the chorus to a Talking Heads song I've never heard, and Trick sounds like a filthy, kindly old man, which is a good look for him.

5. Juvenile ft. Wacko: "Sets Go Up". The beat is something that Mannie Fresh might've made in 1998: floating butterfly synths rippling around hard, clipped drums and Dr. Dre organ stabs. And Juvenile sounds like he did in 1998 but better: staying directly on top of the beat, riding it hard, letting his voice bleed into it. Wacko sounds just like Juvenile, which is great. Plus, it has one of those "Lean Back" ominous soundtracky string intros. I love those.

6-10: Gwen Stephanie ft. Eve: "Rich Girl"; Ashanti: "Only U"; Z-Ro ft. Devin the Dude & Juvenile: "The Mule"; Snoop Dogg ft. Jay-Z, Pharrell & sometimes Slim Thug: "Drop It Like It's Hot (Remix)"

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Aesop Rock is a pretty good rapper, even if I don't really like his whole idosyncratic delivery/swallowed locution steez. Mr. Lif is a great rapper, enunciating perfectly right on top of beats, equally adept and party-rocking, narrative rap, and super-scientifical weirdness. Both are good performers, never staying still, never stepping on each other's lines, tossing out rehearsed between-song banter like old pros. But holy jesus their show bored me. A lot of it was the crowd, goateed meatheads claustrophobically packed into the Ottobar, parroting back every word Aesop said, getting crunk to this shit like it was "Ante Up" or some shit. Some of it was the openers - Hanger 18 and some dude from SA Smash, just ass. I'm sure that more than a little bit of it was the long-ass Monday I'd just had, working eight hours and then coming home to write reviews for another two. But mostly, I think I was bored because there was nothing at stake. In the past couple of months, I saw Sage Francis, who I don't really like, and Atmosphere, who I do (check the Seattle Weekly today!), and both of them treated the show like it was something important, a vehicle for something powerful, speaking to kids like something depended on these kids hearing them. Aesop and Lif treated it as just another show: no serious moments, no energy crackling between them, no force or urgency. I left early.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Miss USA pageant is being held tonight at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, two blocks away from where I am right now. Downtown Baltimore is a total mess as a result, blocks shut down for film crews, everyone else in congested clumps of traffic trying to get around it. On my lunch break, three or four contestants walked past me on the street, headed toward Lexington Market. They were dressed like they were going to the mall, except they all had their sashes on (I think they all said "Miss Teen USA" and then their state). They looked skeletal and tense. They were not attractive.

Baltimore is weird like that. Our brushes with fame and immortality are the random scraps that other cities toss off. Like, Bridget and I were driving around DC yesterday, and it sort of blew my mind to be like: "Wait, we can't drive down this street. It stops because the White House is right there and we need to detour around it", these incomprehensible places being reduced to just buildings (albeit really great-looking buildings) in front of you. People in New York must be really used to this, walking past Laurence Fishburne on the street or whatever. Baltimore doesn't have that. But we do have Edgar Allen Poe's body, which lies maybe 50 feet from where I'm sitting right now. My block was Chris Rock's DC ghetto neighborhood in Head of State. A lot of times, movies that are supposed to take place in DC (Enemy of the State, Meteor Man) are filmed mostly in Baltimore because it's cheap and all the people who worked on Homicide and The Wire and John Waters movies are just sitting there waiting for more work. So it's like: every little brush with national recognition we get makes us (meaning: me) feel just that much more provincial.

Hollertronix came through town on Saturday night, playing the local weekly coked-out hipster/suburban "The OC" kid dance party, and it was sort of weird actually getting to go to one of their parties, after playing Never Scared enough times to remember which tracks come when and missing the Philly Halloween party with Bun B and MIA because we couldn't find a place to stay in time. They're good-not-great DJs, occassionally letting the record skip or playing something a little too obvious ("Dancing with Myself", "Bombs Over Bagdhad"). But their aesthetic is pretty much perfect, pretty much just exactly what I want to hear. When I die, if I'm good, I'll get to dance to the Cure and Baltimore club and "Knuck If You Buck". Jamin Warren and his friend Elliott came up from DC and down from NY, respectively, for the party and were perfect guests. Folded the blankets and everything.

David Foster Wallace has an article in the new Atlantic Monthly about conservative talk radio, and it's pretty much old-school idea-heavy experiential think-piece DFW, no postmodern jargon-spewing or sweaty self-conscious freakouts. His basic idea seems to be that talk radio is essentially a very specialized and lucrative business, motivated by profit more than ideology. It chews up its content providers and spits them out whenever it's convenient, and it distills messy reality down to bite-sized ideological chunks in ways designed specifically to maximize dollar-value. If left-wing talk radio made money, that's what these guys would go with instead. It's sad and depressing, but it's a joy to read. Wallace is one of those guys who make me want to step my game up so that I'm roughly within his league, and it's great to see him back on top of his game.

Sideways would've been a pretty good movie if the main character wasn't such a wormy little bitch. I liked the other main characters, as simplistically drawn and emaciated as they were. I liked the sunny cinematography and the fake jazz score and the part where the guy runs out of the house naked. But man alive, that Miles guy was fucking horrible. The success of the movie was predicated on me the viewer liking or at least identifying with this guy, and that was just not happening. This probably shouldn't bother me too much - Sideways was better than Napoleon Dynamite and Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Alfie but not as good as The Ring Two or Starsky and Hutch or Ray, maybe roughly as good as The Passion of the Christ. But it's being held up as this example of virtuous filmmaking, of character-first, as the antidote to Jeepers Creepers 2 or whatever, and it's just ass. It's not like there aren't good "intelligent" movies out there - why does this piece of crap get to be the standard-bearer?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Oh my God dudes, Spring is hitting like a ton of bricks this year. I cannot possibly express to you how great it is to ride the bus home from work and know that I have a good three hours of daylight left, that I can grill hot dogs out on the parking pad if I feel like it. Downtown Baltimore looks like a much scuzzier version of The OC today, girls in hoop earrings hitting the streets en masse. And I'm sitting here with my Propel water and my spicy big bite and my Chewy Spree (whoever opened a 7-11 downtown gets big daps if ever we meet), and I'm seriously considering never walking into an office ever again as long as I live.

Speaking of hot shit, the Suns knocked the Lakers officially out of playoff contention last night, dropping 17 three-pointers on they punk asses and winning by 26 points. Now if someone could just do something about the Spurs, the world would be a truly beautiful place.

And continuing with the hot shit, Bob Dylan's book is some awesome crazy-old-man demented rambling. It kind of reminds me of the Rev Norb columns I used to eat up in Maximumrocknroll (god, I loved those things) - all digression all the time. It's like, "I met this one guy and he said this which reminded me of this one time I was in Egypt hanging out with Tom Petty and he was like, 'You're an old soul, man', which made me think of when I was kicking it in Peoria with Johnny Cash talking about wrestling." It's a whole lot of fun to read, albeit nowhere near as great as an anthology of any ten random Rev Norb columns.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Rawkan or no Rawkan, I'm contributing a gang of reviews to thee resurrected Hit It or Quit It, and dudes, I am fired up. I'm amped just to read this thing. Jessica Hopper has rounded up most of the absolute tightest writers in the game, lined up some of the best interviews (not sure I should divulge what little I know), and got this shit bound like a book. This feels like I just got invited to join the Ego Trip staff or some such, and the only drawback is that I have to spend the next week listening to, like Smoke or Fire and Jane so that I can adequately savage them instead of playing The B.Coming over and over and over. In fact, fuck the haters, I am straight taking over this year. Check Seattle Weekly in a week or two. Check the cover story in the next D.I.W. This is my summer. Nothing can stop me.

I've long been sleeping on Jeff Chang's writing, mostly because his tastes and mine don't overlap much (I don't like neo-soul). But Can't Stop Won't Stop is the best book about music I've ever read, even though it isn't really about music. This thing was an absolute joy to read from end to end. I didn't think there were too many new ways to tell the whole birth-of-hip-hop story, but Chang nails it so perfectly, bringing these images I just can't get out of my head: Grandmaster Flash trying to take apart and put together radios that he stole from stripped cars, the Rocksteady Crew doing blow at the Roxy, Korean kids with white headbands coming in from the suburbs with rifles to defend liquor stored during the L.A. riots, the entire Source staff walking out on Dave Mays. These beautiful, sad, glorious things just keep coming, page after page. I would've liked to see a thing or two about the rise of Southern rap and maybe a chapter on Biggie but fuck it, this is a masterpiece.

The day after I saw Sin City, I was talking with my friend Nat on the phone, and we were going over all the things we liked and didn't like: Micky Rourke was serious, Clive Owen's sneakers were totally weak, they made Rosario Dawson look busted, it was boring in parts, etc. And then Nat said: "And Miho .... Man, they even had a ninja! That movie was awesome!" Thoughtful pause. Me: "Yeah, that movie *was* awesome." Although I do have to say that the use of Rory Gilmore as a hooker with bad earrings was perhaps the creepiest thing in a movie jammed full of creepy things. Bridget made the point that the movie kept subtlely referring to Gilmore Girls when she was onscreen: highlighting the blue eyes, making her call her mom every couple of minutes. Not right.

Can someone please tell me the deal with the good-not-great new Pimp C album? Like, when was it recorded? Did he produce the tracks? Did he do this from prison? (Seriously, I want to know. I have the bootleg, and it conveys no information.) If he did, this is truly one of the weirdest albums I've ever heard. It's got none of that Beanie Sigel claustrophobic regretful incarcerated sadness; I don't think he even mentions prison over the course of the thing. It's like a less likeable version of the last Devin the Dude album: slow, lazy sunkissed beats with twinkling acoustic guitars and glittering reggae drums, pinched nasal twang flowing freely, guests stopping by like it was a dinner party. Some cruise ship stuff. And he made this while he was in prison? Truly mind-bending.