Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thing About 2007 In Arbitrary Order #4
"Shreds" Videos

This one is at Some Trajectories.

Go here for it.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Thing About 2007 In Arbitrary Order #3
Untrue By Burial, T-Pain

There is good reason to be skeptical when you hear someone talking about emotion in electronic music, even given the fact that most music, as time goes on, is and will continue to become more and more electronic. And this does not mean that I'm sanctioning writing out the entire idea of emotion in the realm of electronic music. Electronic music, like all music, is tied to emotion in a couple of ways at least, though in the case of electronic music the music itself rarely contains or expresses emotion, but rather that the experience of listening to the music, due largely due to circumstantial or extra-musical concerns, triggers emotions in the listener. Of course, this is a totally valid way for music to exist. All I'm saying is, when someone says, "[title of electronic composition] is so emotional," you may as well scoff cause 98% of the time you'll be right.

People like to talk about the Field apparently, but to me it sounds like every other micro house record I've ever heard. Cold, structural, boring, lifeless: entirely devoid of emotion. And sure, joy counts as an emotion, so Justice sort of counts as emotional, I wouldn't be able to counter that argument, but you have to admit that on a purely emotional level, The Cross is lacking something - even if it has joy locked down pretty well at times.

Which leaves Burial's Untrue relatively alone in this year's crop of "great" electronic records as "emotional". Are you skeptical? As I explained above, you should be. "Nothing's moved me since Music Has the Right To Children," you say, and if you say so you may well be right. Maybe there's no hope for you after all. But Untrue is good anyway and here's why.

Electronics when used in music can generally do two things: it can mask things, cover them up, or it can expose things. Amplification allows us to hear things we couldn't hear before - it exposes things. Modern studio production covers things up - it keeps us from clearly identifying the source of sound to the point where something like "Girl You Know It's True" can exist. And 2007 was anything, in terms of popular music (and I do not mean the music business), it was a real banner year for the ongoing battle between these two tendencies of electronics in music. But anyway, we were talking about Untrue.

The main selling point of Untrue is the way that Burial manages to wring emotional performances out of flat, ambiguous, spliced, unrecognizable and unintelligible vocal samples. The two best tracks on the album, and two of the best of the year, "Archangel" and "Etched Headplate" are the best examples of this. "Archangel" takes what are likely sampled pieces of three of four anonymous performances (or, I assume, anonymous to any but the most diehard record crate diggers) and transforms them into a fucking haunting vocal line, without retaining most of the words in any of the samples, or even the original pitch or line of any of the samples. "Etched Headplate" does something similar, though seemingly with material from the same song - cutting, editing between phrases and messing around severly with pitch and phrasing. What comes out in both of these tracks are unforgettable and, yes, emotional vocal performances created from totally forgettable and flat original source material.

And, like Jay Dee did on Donuts last year, Burial often does this while removing superfluous elements from the vocal performances he samples. At heart Untrue and Donuts are instrumental albums, not only because they were largely created on electronic musical instruments, but also because vocal performances on them are largely stripped of linguistic meaning, or even linguistic nonsense. The result is, I guess you could say, something akin to dadaist poetry - but I wouldn't say that. I'd say it's more akin to good instrumental music. Burial frees his sampled vocal performers from the constraints of the words they were trying to say.

And here we can get back to what I was saying before. Untrue reveals through electronic manipulation something about music that otherwise would be locked away in words, logic and a conscious effort to convey meaning in a traditional way. Most electronic music deals with apparent emotion, or potential emotion, Burial gets at actual emotion, and he does so by using the very tools that are meant to cover up - pitch shifting, reverb, digital editing.

But here's the battle for electronic music is fighting an underground war, a losing battle. Burial has created great music, but, of his own volition, will not take the fight to the masses. Our real hero here is T-Pain. If things get really weird we might look back on 2007 as the year that the auto-tuner went from being a studio trick to being a musical instrument.

Where Burial makes the subtle point that electronics can free us from bullshit as much as they can cause it, T-Pain takes a machine meant to fool pre-teens into thinking Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter can sing and turns it into an artistic tool. Holy Shit! Here we have the real maverick, the real danger to the industry. Stop that odd looking guy with flourescent dread locks!

One great thing electronic music has been able to do is take human process, actions, sounds and recontextualize them.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Thing About 2007 In Arbitrary Order #2
"Curses" by Future of the Left

Mclusky broke up in 2005. Future of the Left released their first album in 2007. Really, two years? I was kind of deathly afraid that Andrew Falkous wouldn't ever put out any more material worth listening to, so two years really wasn't very long to wait.

Sometimes I have to treat music releases with reverence. I'd venture that this might be one of the starkest generational hallmarks of the age. Not to get to far into it, but kids, even kids born like a year after me, are so used to downloading music and having music that the idea of anticipation, of self restraint, of waiting to hear music, is becoming a lost idea. I'd fallen out of touch with what post Mclusky machinations were amounting to. I'd heard that Future of the Left had formed, and at the time had searched half heartedly for some tracks on Soulseek, coming up with only a couple of songs buried deep in some cavernous queues that I never was able to delve into. So, I was surprised when "Curses" came out; I didn't actively long for it or anticipate it. I did not count the days, or wait outside the record store or even go over on my lunch break to purchase it (though if I found it on vinyl I'd still gladly pay for it). Nope, I download it like everything and everyone else the day after it was reviewed on Pitchfork.

There was no reverence. There of course was no fucking reverence to Future of the Left. Would that they had it so easy.

With a couple of exceptions "Curses" is the only album released this year that's worth listening to. David Lee Roth, who by the way is awesome watch these videos if you don't believe me

David Lee Roth Video One

David Lee Roth Video Two

once said that if you bought a Van Halen album and put it in your collection with the rest of your vinyl, all your other records would melt. Computers and iPods make that comment irrelevant to "Curses" but it's as close to the same thing as you can get. It will melt something if you put it somewhere, maybe not quite so much as "Do Dallas" but as close as you can get.

I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating that Andrew Falkous is remarkable not for being a snarky cynical asshole but for being a snarky cynical asshole who writes about the banalities and uglinesses of human life with such compassion. It's sort of about cartharsis, but, as usual, that's a relatively shallow way to look at it. Saying "violence solved everything" is juvenile out of context, but who's to say what the context of "The Lord Hates a Coward" is, really? As despicable a statement it might be, Falkous invites you to identify with someone, like him, I guess, who would say such a thing with such conviction. Rather than giving release to your emotional impulses, it validates the darker impulses, confirms the darker thoughts that you file away all day as you sit behind your desk. The joy of "Curses", and the joy of Falkous's writing in general, is this confirmation. Not an ecstasy of release but an ecstasy of ultimate inclusion.

Anyone knows that inclusive groups quickly become exclusive, but Falkous offers a picture of humanity so fucked that, who cares? I hate you, you hate me, I hate me, sometimes, gee whiz if we aren't all human in the first place. And separate this please from the "punk" ideal of nihilistic self and other hatred - the Sex Pistols syndrome, the Richard Hell "I'd kill myself if I could get up the nerve" shit my pants pussyfutting around believing in anything. Falkous's speakers have obviously believed, and often still do, in something if only the idea that life is worth living just because. The joy of making fun of others, for one.

Here's one of the best lines:

"Make a living by contract bridge. Boring and magnificent. Surely you're amazed by it. Suddenly these processes do not seem significant. Now we are not worthy of friends."

And what it comes down to is how can I hear that and not say, "Christ he has me pinned the fuck down all over again."

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thing About 2007 In Arbitrary Order #1
Michael Cera / Judd Apatow

Going into 2007 it was pretty clear that Michael Cera was awesome, but there wasn't much proof. Arrested Development of course is one of the few watchable TV comedies of the past decade largely because of him, but man is that a hard thing to back up. He had the odd position of being the acknowledged secret weapon of a very talented cast in a very well written show. Who could tell for sure if it was him, the part, or the company he kept? Assholes like John Heder (excuse me if that's not his name) are constantly outed as one trick ponies, and given what little there was to go on, Michael Cera could easily have been the next Napoleon Dynamite.Instead, he's awesome. Not that you can't argue that he's still a one trick pony, but you also can't argue that he isn't 19 and that he has had the good luck to somehow appear in both one of the best television comedies in recent memory and one of the best cinematic comedies in recent memory within a few short years.

Enough! An enigmatic, skinny an unassuming comedic voice must be had! Even if Michael Cera turns out to be a hack, which I don't think has a chance of happening, he still gives us hope that earnest, clever comedy has not been totally pushed off the map by Scrubs. Hope! Youth! Michael Cera embodies all that can still be good about Hollywood, and he reminds us that not everyone is irredeemable, even in California. He's Canadian, too.

Maybe even more than Michael Cera, though, it's Judd Apatow that gives us hope. I'm sure Michael Cera has some bad, even terrible movies in him, and seeing as he'll probably only do a couple a year, it would seem that he's not going to save the world. Judd Apatow, though, has somehow become a sort of a Brian Eno figure (I realize this is a less than insightful analogy) who, by attracting talent and having taste, has managed to transform the landscape of comedy in film in a very short period of time. And, like Eno, he has a style, but no one is exactly sure where he comes in in the creative process on any given piece of work. He's done movies as different as Anchorman and Knocked Up and somehow they've all been good. All of them! Like, actually, all of them. Has anyone, ever been involved with 5 comedic films in a row as consistently good and funny as Anchorman, The Forty Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights (ok...), Knocked Up, and Superbad?

I hate to get too personal with this, but I saw Superbad twice in theaters, within the first two weeks after it was released. I'm pretty sure that this has never before happened in my life, except, perhaps, and slightly embarrassingly, for Waterworld. Though I doubt it, I think Waterworld had been out for a while by the time I saw it the second time. This fact, in itself, is enough to make Michael Cera and Judd Apatow worthy of note.

Basically, the point is, when was the last time you saw a funny movie that Judd Apatow was not involved in? When was the last time you wanted to go to a movie theater to see a comedy that Judd Apatow was not involved in? Probably it wasn't this year. I dare you to name a comedy that was actually worth seeing this year that didn't have his name on it somewhere. Ratatouille doesn't count. And neither does The Ten cause Paul Rudd was in it.Get excited about comedy god damn it. That's why this is worth thinking about. There is reason to be excited about comedic film again.

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