Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"if we can land a man on the moon, surely i can win your heart" by beulah

As you might imagine, I've accumulated a lot of CDs over the years, enough that storing them has become something of a challenge. This problem is accentuated by the fact that probably 98% of my music listening these days is on the iPod, and so the actual CDs go mostly unused: their cases serve as room decor at best and extraneous wrapping at worst.

At this point, I've run out of room for more CD racks (plus I can't get to Ikea) and so I've been forced to begin the process of packing them up into boxes and putting them into storage. Choosing which go and which stay is something of a challenge, although I'm aided by the fact that since 2001 I've created a top-ten list of albums released that year (for the curious: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). This provided a sort of happy solution: there's not enough room to store everything I buy, but there's definitely enough room to store a measly ten a year... plus those are the ones I most want to have at the ready / on display anyway...

But it got me to thinking about those pre-2001 years... the Nineties (and beyond). In order to properly follow through with this project, I should, in theory, need to go back and figure out a list of the Best Nineties Albums.

So I've spent some time, over the last few weeks, looking over the shelves, and trying to make some preliminary list of 100 CDs. It's a decade with a lot of good music: including (for me) canonical college-soundtrack stuff (Nirvana's Nevermind, the Beastie Boys' Check Your Head; Beck's Odelay); landmark electronic / dance albums (DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Portishead's Dummy, Tricky's Maxinquaye); a really strong selection of albums from labels like Matador (Pavement; Liz Phair; Yo La Tengo; Cat Power) and, later in the decade, Thrill Jockey (Tortoise; Oval; Town and Country). Then there's the rise of the Elephant 6 Collective, who released some albums that were pretty key for me back then (Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea). Today's track, "If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart," is from the lesser-known Elephant 6 project Beulah, from their very fine album When Your Heartstrings Break (1999). It's perhaps the best song ever written on the topic of "selling out," a topic which as of today seems, in its way, very 90s.

I'm eager to receive additional suggestions for great 90s albums: feel free to use the comments field.

Friday, November 16, 2007

track of the week: " f/b (e) electric," by derek bailey

Anyone who comes to this blog for the music should already know Derek Bailey (1930-2005), famous for his idiosyncratic approach to free-improvisation guitar. Bailey spent his entire life relentlessly developing and re-inventing this approach, but ask someone to define Bailey's "signature style," and they're likely to describe something fragmented, discontinuous, flinty, and angular, like say, for instance, this track ("M9") from his representative 1975 album Improvisation.

But the Bailey catalog is forty-odd years of documentation of an especially rich creative process: consequently, it's also full of oddities, left turns, and intriguing digressions. One of the most compelling of these, for my money, is the 2000 album String Theory, a suite of experiments exploring the potential of guitar feedback. This track, "F/B (E) Electric," explores the dynamics of long sustained tones as finely as any drone I've heard, and would fit sublimely on a playlist of stark minimalist electronica.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"i," by so

Earlier this year, I suffered through a pretty difficult period of depression-influenced musical disinterest: I wasn't seeking out much new music, and I wasn't listening to much of the music I already owned. Fortunately, the pendulum appears to have swung back the other way, and I've been back to picking up new stuff, listening through lesser-heard old stuff, swapping mixes with folks, etc.

So, this has led me to dust off the old policy of posting some notable track here every week. As a discipline, I've rarely followed this for more than a few weeks at a time, but hope springs eternal.

This week we visit So, an under-rated 2003 collaboration between Oval's Markus Popp and an enigmatic woman known only as "Eri," who hails from Mito-City, Japan. Fans of Oval's glitch-based electronica know that noise contains its own dimensions of sensory delight, and the So collaborations reveal this even more markedly by grafting Popp's brightly-colored, coding-error aesthetic to something more traditionally lovely: a female voice engaged in song. We fret, sometimes, about the monsters that may emerge from a fusion of the human and the technological, but a track self-evidently jubliant as this one ("i") reveals that that fusion may be just as likely to yield forms of beauty. Remember Donna Haraway's claim in her "Cyborg Manifesto": there is a pleasure in the confusion of boundaries.