Friday, July 3, 2009

aught music : 2001 : "tonight was a disaster" and "number ten" by casiotone for the painfully alone

Some folks will tell you that the saddest instrument in the world is perhaps the Spanish guitar, but I know better: the saddest instrument in the world is the thrift-store synthesizer. As Exhibit A, I present you with "Tonight Was A Disaster," by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the solo project of Californian depressive Owen Ashworth. The instrumental bridge that commences right at the track's midpoint is probably the most plaintive forty seconds 2001 has to offer; pathetic in a classical sense.

As a bonus, I'll throw in "Number Ten," a song which concludes with a uniquely heartfelt usage of searing circuit-bent noise. It sounds pretty much like a dental drill banging around inside a washing machine, and yet it's also unmistakably the sound that rages in your skull when you're in the middle of having your heart broken.

Listen: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone >> "Tonight Was A Disaster" & "Number Ten"

Monday, June 29, 2009

aught music : 2001 : "i want wind to blow" by the microphones

Music from 2001 is currently being reviewed over at the Aught Music blog. Here's my seventh post for that project (my third for 2001).

Readers of this blog may have notes that it's at least in part devoted to celebrating those clusters of memories which indelibly link specific albums to specific times and places. A partial listing of my own albums that feature in such memories might include Patti Smith's Horses (the soundtrack to my first apartment in Tucson) and Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die (the soundtrack to my final apartment in Tucson). By 2001, however, I'd left that city for the crumble and overcast glory of Chicago, and one of the first albums I listened to death there was The Glow, Pt. 2 by the Microphones. Its ramshackle song structures, ultra-low-fi production, and mumbled lyrics ("The sound of cars / the smell of bars / the awful feeling of electric heat") still evoke the feeling of being in that cramped apartment, surrounded by compact discs and books, looking out the window at the wires and brick of North California Avenue, feeling wistful for relationships that had ended, and generally being a man in my late twenties in every possible way.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: The Microphones >> "I Want Wind To Blow"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

aught music : 2001 : "a raga called john" by pelt

Music from 2001 is currently being reviewed over at the Aught Music blog. Here's my sixth post for that project (my second for 2001).

The music world, collaborative and promiscuous by its very nature, tends to generate its share of "strange bedfellows"-type alliances. A good example could be seen by those who kept an eye on psychedelic music throughout the Aughts: early in the decade that scene was characterized by a lot of heady cultural exchange between the free folk subculture and the drone subculture. This fecund blooming of partnerships between two microgenres of music that didn't look that similar on the surface was puzzling: both groups were obviously interested in prying at the doors of perception, but was there really a meaningful sonic kinship, or were these just folks who got along because they liked the same drugs? For my money, this is still an open question, but it's helpful, now as then, to have the band Pelt to gesture at as an illustration of the potency of the allegiance. Everything seemed to flow into them—Fahey-esque Americana guitar, Indian raga structure, ethno-drone instruments from around the globe, acid-trip logic, the blasted-out hum of post-Sonic Youth rock amplification—and from this nexus materialized this campfire apparation: the 2001 double album Ayahuasca. This album maintains real value for me as an awesome synthesis of disparate influences.

Listen: Pelt >> "A Raga Called John, Part Three"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

aught music : 2001 : "love with the three of us" by stereo total

Music from 2001 is currently being reviewed over at the Aught Music blog. Here's my fifth post for that project (my first for 2001).

"Love With the Three of Us": if there was a better song written about the practice of menage a trois this decade, I'm pretty sure I didn't hear it.

Actually: can anyone claim that there's been a better song written on this topic? Like, ever?

Listen: Stereo Total >> "Love With the Three of Us"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

aught music : 2000 : "var" by nils okland

Music from 2000 is currently being reviewed at the Aught Music blog. Here's my fourth post for that project:

No discussion of the music of the Aughts is complete without reference to Norway's Rune Grammofon, perhaps the single most consistently intriguing label of the decade.

One reason this label's releases appealed to me so strongly was because of their eclecticism. They adhered to no particular genre stricture, and consequently they were free to romp across an intimidatingly broad expanse: their discography includes albums of electronica, modern composition, cerebral jazz, stark drone... They seemed perhaps happiest releasing albums that violated genre boundaries in and of themselves, or otherwise proved hard to classify. As evidence, one need look no further than their very first album, Supersilent's 1-3 (1998): a three-hour, three-disc set consisting mainly of free improvisational pieces that unexpectedly melt down into passages of electronic abrasion.

But today I want to talk about something prettier. Specifically, Rune Grammofon's 15th release, Nils Økland's Straum (2000), an album consisting primarily of fiddle music. It's very lovely, but no less of a damned thing in terms of classification. This track, "Var," for fiddle, piano, trumpet, and voice, is airy and drifty enough that it could fit on a New Age sampler without incident, and yet it's impossible to listen closely to the piece without noting its roots in jazz and improvisation. And Økland's playing the Hardangar fiddle, a traditional instrument of Norway, so maybe we should be talking about it in terms of "folk music?" Or should he be treated as a composer for the fiddle, creating something that fits that oxymoronic category, "modern classical?"

Sigh. One really shouldn't agonize over something this beautiful.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

aught music : 2000 : "feel good hit of the summer," by queens of the stone age

Music from 2000 is currently being reviewed at the Aught Music blog. Here's my third post for that project:

Queens of the Stone Age is a band featuring the guy who used to be in Kyuss, which is kind of a dubious pedigree as far as I'm concerned, and I wouldn't say that they were a great band. But I'm glad they existed, if only for "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," a song in which the lyrical content consists entirely of a list of recreational drugs, repeated unto excess. Should you appreciate it as a song built around a formal constraint? Or as a uniquely explicit representation of the Dionysian linkage between substance abuse and rock musicianship? Uh, sure, but for my money the song's real value simply inheres in the way it evokes a lifestyle so hedonistic that it would kill the most of us very quickly, were we to adopt it. This ignites a special kind of vicarious pleasure in the listener's head, and I'd argue that that type of pleasure is one of the fundamental reasons popular music even exists in the first place. Enjoy!

Listen: Queens of the Stone Age >> "Feel Good Hit of the Summer"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

aught music : 2000 : "sweepstakes prize" by mirah

Music from 2000 is currently being reviewed at the Aught Music blog. Here's my second post for that project:

Most anyone who has spent much time making mixes has made at least one mix that was intended for a person who they were romantically interested in. To really make a "courtship mix" with the requisite fervor, one must believe that certain songs possess an almost magical capacity to seduce the listener. People who believe this, of course, are themselves not immune to the seductive capacity of song, and may in fact be even more susceptible to it than the average person. And so, every once in a while, a mix-maker comes upon a song that causes them to fall into swoon, and they can only hope that this song will never be aimed at them with seductive intent, for they know in their bones that they would be helpless to resist whoever wielded it. To many people, Mirah's 2000 track "Sweepstakes Prize" may simply be a run-of-the-mill indie-pop confection, but when I first heard it I knew it was a song that was personally irresistible, and I reacted to my discovery of it with a sort of hideous chill, the same way one might react to discovering a bullet with one's name engraved upon it.

Listen: Mirah >> "Sweepstakes Prize"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

aught music : 2000 : "mountain music," by momus

Music from 2000 is currently being reviewed at the Aught Music blog. Here's my first post for that project:

Rich Thomas and I occasionally debate which music-related events from the 1990s cast the longest shadow over the music of the Aughts. At the top of my list is usually the 1997 reissue of Harry Smith's great Anthology of American Folk Music. Pretty much everyone who bought a copy of the reissued Anthology immediately went out and bought a banjo or a fiddle, and would end up doing at least a short stint in a freak-folk band by the end of the decade. Needless to say, this also led to a lot of engaging head-clutching about issues of authenticity and fake authenticity: i.e., is is OK to go around emulating the music of (say) hardscrabble West Virginian working-class people if you're (say) a white kid from some middle-class suburb somewhere? But issues of authenticity are awfully tricky, and this fact is nicely pointed out by cultural wag Momus on his 2000 album Folktronica. This track, "Mountain Music," points out (and embraces?) the oddity of appropriating old-time music for a modern context while simultaneously critiquing our entire notion of authenticity, pointing out the ways in which it's a distorting (and comforting) illusion. Representative verse: "It never was so simple / it never was so pure / the folks who made it never were / so ignorant and poor / They traveled round the world / and never stayed where they belonged / and if they had we'd never have / these lovely mountain songs."

Listen: Momus >> "Mountain Music"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the aesthetics of triumph

If I were ever to find myself in a position in which I needed to commission artists to write the score for a video game, one of the first people I might turn to would be Parts & Labor keyboardist Dan Friel. The noise-pop miniatures found on his solo release Ghost Town don't make direct use of 8-bit "chiptune" samples (there are enough other people doing that already, often to great effect) but a track like "Buzzards" nevertheless perfectly captures the essence of old-school video games, evoking an aura of propulsion, navigation, collection, and triumph.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

geek apotheosis

Earlier this week:

...and, well, I meant it. Take "Red F," for instance. For the first two minutes it's a pleasing blend of frenzied drum programming, synthesizer noise, and geek anthemics—which already hits my pleasure center pretty hard—then, just before the 2:00 mark, it gives one final push into the transcendent. If this is what my God looks like, then this track is what my angels sound like.

Caution: loud.