Monday, July 28, 2008

I was as amped about the beginning of Generation Kill as every other Wire-obsessed dork, but so far I haven't made it through more than one episode, and even that was a chore. I really don't need David Simon to tell me for the billionth time how fucked up the Iraq War is, you know? We all know it's fucked up, and I'm not going to learn a whole lot more by having every cynical war-movie cliche thrown at me simultaneously. HBO has Three Kings On Demand right now, and that's Generation Kill with jokes that are actually funny. And: James Ransome? The entire Wire cast is out there, most of them doing commercials for Honey Nut Cheerios and shit like that, and Simon brings back motherfucking Ziggy? The worst character in the entire history of that show? He should just write in Steve Earle and the rat-whisker psychiatrist from season four to keep all his worst actors working.

Everyone's already seen it twice, so it's almost pointless to comment about The Dark Knight anymore, but holy shit that movie ruled. The last half-hour didn't make any sense, but that might've just been because my brain completely short-circuited. If you're one of these contrarians who's making a point about not seeing it yet, seriously, just go see it. Best part is that eerie soundtrack whine that comes on whenever Joker's about to do something particularly heinous. Second-best part is Deebo from Friday's great fleeting moment.

I could be herbing myself out here, but I really like that new Diplo/Santogold mixtape, which is making me wish Piracy Funds Terrorism, Volume 2 had had a chance to happen. This one is more of an omnivorous mess than an aesthetic roadmap, but it's a really fun and inventive and surprising omnivorous mess. I hope the Girl Talk guy takes note: it's really not enough just to make room for all these quick little Pavlovian bursts of great pop songs past. You have to remind everyone what was great about those pop songs in the first place, which usually means letting them ride for a minute or so before you completely molest them.

Also great: the new ABN album. How many people actually knew that thing was out? Someone needs to wake up Rap-A-Lot's promo department. This is exactly what I want to hear from Z-Ro and Trae: rapid-fire verses about being depressed and fucking people up over fogged-out slow synth-beats, barely any guests anywhere. The downtuned metal guitars from the first couple of songs are new, and they're a welcome addition to that cheap cinematic house style. And it's great to know that there are still a few rappers left who understand completely what they're good at. Give me a little more time with this thing and I might tell you it's the non-Carter rap album of the year.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So Pitchfork was a blast, once again. Its booking flawed but interesting and sometimes transcendent, its crises well-managed, its beer free and plentiful. Since my David Banner review, my last ever for the Fork, ran on the day before the festival started, this was my first-ever Pitchfork fest as a Pitchfork non-staffer, but everybody still treated me real nice. And since I wasn't even trying to write about this professionally anywhere, I was free to experience the festival the way sane people do: watch band, hang out with friends, watch a couple of songs of some other band, get drink, hang out, eat, watch band. This was gratifying.

But so the Cut Copy saga: I spent the whole Dinosaur Jr. set trying to get a half-decent position near the packed-in third stage for Cut Copy, who were supposed to be closing the thing out. At go time, someone came out to tell us that Cut Copy's plane had been delayed but that here was the guy from Deerhunter along with his obnoxious little fake-garage buddies to make it OK. Cue dejected mass exodus. As consolation prizes go, Spoon's headlining set seemed more than OK: they had poise and swagger and a ton of great songs. But after maybe twenty minutes, Brandon Stosuy sent me a text that Cut Copy was actually coming on after all, and I grabbed a bunch of people and ran back to see this band rush from their cars to the stage, playing four songs to an absurdly amped if shrunken crowd, sounding amazing. This is how these festivals are supposed to end: triumph from defeat.

Cut Copy had my moment of the festival, but they weren't the band of the festival for me. That's always going to be the Hold Steady, who were as joyous and perfect as I've ever heard them. "Lord I'm Discouraged" damn near made me cry. And Julia Stiles was standing like five feet away from me in the crowd, so there was that, too. (My other celebrity moment: meeting Byron Crawford.)

Here's the other stuff I saw.

Sebadoh. Bubble and Scrape is a really long album, huh?

Public Enemy. Fun! I liked their Summer Jam set better because it was shorter and leaner and Flav didn't play a drum solo, but they're still as urgent and forceful as live rap gets, and they still did like all their best songs. (After Nation of Millions, they did an encore that was almost as long.) Also: half an hour of weird reggae from Hank and Keith Shocklee!

Jay Reatard. You should really only be playing circa-81 facepunch hardcore if you're an legitimately terrifying person, you know? If you're just some dude, it's not a great look.

Caribou. They didn't really do anything onstage, but they sure sounded pretty.

Fleet Foxes. Their album bores the everliving shit out of me, but as a soundtrack to burrito-eating, this was OK. Still have no idea how they're superior to Band of Horses in any way.

Dizzee Rascal. Heated! Dude knows how to rap in front of people. Bonus points for making fun of Fleet Foxes.

Vampire Weekend. Sounded like tiny tiny babies. I still love the album, but these guys could really stand to bring it a whole lot harder live. That Whit Stillman thing works in the Cake Shop, but it's not field-of-thousands music, and field-of-thousands music is basically what they have to be making now.

!!!. It's the MC Hammer model: whatever his vocal capabilities may be, make the best dancer in the band the focal point. The MC Hammer model works. This banged.

Jarvis Cocker. I guess I respect that he doesn't play Pulp songs live anymore, but it's also kind of bullshit. Still: amazing performer, and those solo-album songs sounded a whole lot better than I remembered. Also: the only performer all weekend I heard mentioning Obama onstage. This was weird. It's like: you're in Chicago, and it's not like people were really talking about anything else. (Except Batman. People were talking about Batman.) (The Dark Knight ruled. More discussion on that maybe later.)

King Khan. That whole fuzzy-dice soul-revue thing was fun enough to make for good festival fare. But if you're going to go for a Wilson Pickett/Screamin' Jay Hawkins thing, it might be a good idea to be a good singer. Or to have some songs with hooks. Just putting that out there.

Les Savy Fav. I like how the booking forced us to choose between two kinda-fat shirtless stomach-rubbing air-humping frontmen. The whole Iggy Pop broken-glass thing would never work anymore because these days audiences have to be in on the joke; nobody's going to be the herb who thought the self-destructive dervish onstage actually sucked. So Tim Harrington's authentically disgusting comedy act probably makes him the closest thing we have to an Iggy anymore. People still laugh, but if they're close enough to the stage, they laugh with their faces all covered in mud because a mud-covered Harrington jumped on their heads. This act does not get old, ever. Also: good band!

Rae and Ghost. I knew this was going to rule, and it did. I am smart. Nothing unexpected here, but these guys (Ghost in particular) know how to stay loose and unstructured without losing focus or purpose.

Spiritualized. Impossible to imagine a better sunset band. There were moments during this set where I felt invincible.

R.I.P. K-Swift. This is just devastating. Since the whole white-kid embrace of Baltimore club music has already happened, already been discussed to death, it's important to remember that that first K-Swift H&H warehouse party, the one where a real serious credible Baltimore club DJ played her music to grubby punk dudes and MICA kids for the first time, was one of the dizziest and most cathartic and just generally greatest "live" music experiences of my life. Since I hit drinking age, it might've been the only one where the urgency and energy was anything like what I got to feel at VFW Hall punk shows in high school. K-Swift was a great DJ and a hell of a showman, and also a consummate pro: she kept going through multiple sound-system fuckups. If I hadn't been too pussy to go to the black Baltimore clubs where K-Swift regularly played, I could've probably had a whole lot more nights like that one. K-Swift stayed in the clubs and on the radio constantly, virtually every night of the week, grinding hard. K-Swift did more to get Baltimore club music out into the world than almost anybody. And she was 28, same age as me. She'll be missed.

Back from Pitchfork now. More later.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Favorite Album From Every Year I've Been Alive

People are doing this, huh?

1979: Specials: Specials
1980: AC/DC: Back in Black
1981: Agent Orange: Living in Darkness
1982: Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska
1983: New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies
1984: Prince: Purple Rain
1985: Pogues: Rum, Sodomy & the Lash
1986: Metallica: Master of Puppets
1987: Michael Jackson: Bad
1988: DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince: He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper
1989: Faith No More: The Real Thing
1990: Fugazi: Repeater
1991: Massive Attack: Blue Lines
1992: Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction
1993: Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville
1994: Notorious BIG: Ready to Die
1995: PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love
1996: Avail: 4AM Friday
1997: Sleater-Kinney: Dig Me Out
1998: OutKast: Aquemini
1999: Eminem: The Slim Shady LP
2000: Ludacris: Back for the First Time
2001: White Stripes: White Blood Cells
2002: Sleater-Kinney: One Beat
2003: Postal Service: Give Up
2004: Ghostface Killah: The Pretty Toney Album
2005: Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree
2006: T.I.: King
2007: Lil Wayne: Da Drought 3
2008: The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

You know what kills me? No Rancid anywhere. I couldn't in good conscience rate Let's Go above Ready to Die, Out Came the Wolves over To Bring You My Love, or Life Won't Wait over Aquemini, but every last one of them was close. You know what else kills me? 1989. Faith No More won it, but I had to pick between that and the one Operation Ivy and the random hip-house compilation I loved to pieces when I was nine and favorite albums from Nine Inch Nails and the Beastie Boys and the Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3.

You know what absolutely does not embarrass me? The Postal Service.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wow, that link bar is one goony-ass time capsule. How many of those blogs do you think are still active? Two? Three? Still. Promise kept, belatedly.

Ed Park's Personal Days is one of those comedies about the inhumanity and insanity of office life, about how this absolute dread creeps into your soul if you stay around those places long enough. Except the book doesn't go for the easy joke the way The Office or Office Space would. Instead, it goes for total fucked-up absurdity, gets its jokes out of that. When you work in an office where nothing makes sense and people are getting fired all the time for no reason, the stuff you do there stops making sense too. I couldn't read Personal Days when I was still working at the Voice, so I bought it on the way home from work after my last day. Ed Park's a former Voice books critic, fired during the first wave of firings after I'd been there less than a year. I never really knew the guy because I'm kind of an antisocial dick at work. And anyway, the Personal Days office isn't necessarily the Voice office most of the time; I can only connect a couple of characters to their real-world equivalents. But it's still a pretty jarring and vindicating experience reading the stuff that definitely is that office: the completely deserted wide street, the card-swipers that may or may not do anything, the fucking elevator. I'm sure I would've loved Personal Days even if I'd never set foot in the Voice office, but that shared experience led to some intense hall-of-mirrors shit.

No Age at the Seaport last night: they looked small, insignificant, not really able to raise their game to the free-outdoor-show level. No surprise there; the same thing happened when I saw them at the Bowery Ballroom last year. And friends down front told me it got "wild" so who knows. But my favorite moment came when I left to go to the bathroom. Coming out of the Seaport building, I sat on a bench for a minute and watched the show from behind. This was during one of the flanged-guitar no-drums quiet bits, and I really enjoyed hearing those waves of murk bouncing off the skyscrapers across the street. It was pretty. So maybe that's No Age for me: background music for skyscrapers. Also: no "Everybody's Down"? When you're in a band, and you've got one great song, shouldn't you play that song as often as possible? Like five times in a row? Maybe they played "Everybody's Down" when I was in the bathroom.