Sunday, August 31, 2008

Negative Community
Of course, you could easily argue that it's too early to start talking about Vancouver's weird-punk/harsh noise scene having problems. The scene is constantly growing stronger as an artistic community. Shows, releases and events of various kinds are happening more and more frequently. There's every reason to believe that artists like Twin Crystals and Sick Buildings will produce world class albums within the next couple of years. And - aside from anything else - everyone involved with the scene is really really nice.

Still, it seems very possible that if these folks aren't willing or able to avoid some (perhaps rather obvious) pitfalls that will confront them over the coming months and years, they're going to risk stagnation and/or self-caricature. If you're involved in a musical movement of any kind, you have to stay alert and critical about what's going on around you. Any scene's strengths can easily become liabilities, especially when dogma starts to set in.

The main strength/liability that a real music scene faces is that it is a community. This can be a great thing for musicians - community makes things psychologically and logistically possible. But communities can easily become gangs or cliques. Communities are founded on exclusion of the Other and they're maintained by suppression of the incompatible. If a scene wants to stay vibrant, it must do the unthinkable: recognize elements from the outside the community and let them in. This risks destroying the community but not taking this risk guarantees destroying what makes the community worthwhile.

So, while some people involved with this particular scene have made it clear that they want nothing to do with electronic dance music, there are plenty of weird-punks and harsh noiseniks who do, in fact, know their minimal techno from their dubstep. If these heretical influences are allowed to infect the scene, we're going to hear some pretty startling and original music. Imagine a Villalobos remix of Twin Crystals' "No Clinics".

The main reason someone like Villalobos is so alien to this scene is that his work is primarily focused on hedonism, whereas weird-punk/harsh noise is relentlessly, self-consciously negative. The scene's "harsh music for a harsh environment" approach is all well and good but it only tells half the story. The music really does express something important about the horrific economic inequality that blights Vancouver life. But its aesthetic doesn't propose any viable Utopian alternative and - at its worst - goes as far as glamourising poverty and squalor.

This goes back to the old problem of musical styles that try to evoke urban reality. They inevitably end up buying into the capitalist lie that this reality is some immovable state of nature, rather than the result of a very particular set of socio-economic circumstances. Vancouver could be a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately our collective spirit is being crushed by forces that want to use the city as an experiment in how far neoliberal economics can be allowed to run before total chaos sets in.

We're all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the mountains.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Novelty Rock Video Clash Part Two: "Jesus Was Way Cool" by King Missile

I have to admit that this was a pretty great riposte but we're supposed to be doing a sound-clash here, not a call-and-response. For my next volley, I almost selected "Fish Heads" by Barnes and Barnes but I felt sorry for the fish. Then I discovered the phenomenon of "Jesus Was Way Cool" fan videos and the choice became clear. This is the best one, obviously. Linus was way cool.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I Mean... Obviously, Right?
Thanks This Recording.

Are Joanna Newsom and Andy Samberg really a couple?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Novelty Rock Video Clash Part One: "All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit" by Half Man Half Biscuit

It's on!! Beat that Mr. Impostume!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harsh Realm
Interesting article on the Exclaim! website about the Vancouver noise scene. Nice to see these kids getting some attention in the mainstream media (and - no - The Wire doesn't count). As usual, though, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. The main element that's bothersome is the disdain for electronic dance music expressed by a few of the people interviewed. This seems like bullshit to me, given that the city's uncontrollably vibrant noise crowd is in exactly the same boat as its equally happening post-rave/dubstep massive. Both are having to create their own spaces to exist in; refusing to be squeezed out of existence by the city's crypto-Satanic neo-liberal overground.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obviously, I Want One

Seriously, I haven't felt so niche-marketed since that Vanity Fair cover. Get out of my head Ugobe!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

More Late Notice Local Noise
The Rita gets conceptual at Antisocial tonight. Should be interesting. I think Sick Buildings is playing too and maybe some others. 2425 Main. Starts at eight sharp.

Things are looking up - I'm finding out about cool shows the day before they happen instead of the day after.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Bloody Valentine
When will the right time come? When can we really get into this? When will we know that the language has evolved which will allow us to say what must be said?


So, fuck it - might as well start talking about My Bloody Valentine; fumbling our way towards some sort of enlightenment or insight. Perhaps all we really need to acknowledge, though, is the fact that this music can't be explained, accounted for or tidied away into a neat little box. That's specifically why it's so... is "interesting" too weak a word?

Words are too weak. That's the point.

Certainly, it's been said that lyric-writing was never the band's greatest strength. Where the words are audible at all, they generally amount to little more than simplistically needy pleading for sex or drugs or whatever. But context is everything in music and within the context of MBV's music, these words have an astonishingly precise, elemental power. That's why "Slow" can sound so momentous when it's really just a little ditty about... well... getting a blow job, frankly!

The point is that My Bloody Valentine are absolutely the most conceptually coherent act in rock history. It all makes sense in light of the master plan. And yet, shedding light on precisely what that plan comprises is hard work at best. Are there any precedents for this?

The only name that springs to mind is The Ramones. It's surely significant that The Ramones are a key Valentines influence. Like MBV, they built an incredibly intelligent gestalt from a few dumb elements. Like MBV, they created something shockingly piquant which fans, critics and imitators alike have consistently been unable to explain or recapture. It's easy to identify the parts, impossible to account for the sum. It's unlikely we'll ever know what the Ramones were actually getting at. But it makes so much sense on a visceral level; rings so true.

It could be said that the very problem with MBV is that their muse is so singular. They presented a future for rock music - perhaps, the only viable one that's been proposed in the last 20 years - but they did so in a way that was fundamentally inimitable. This has led many people to believe that, since the band's early-90s heyday, rock has been a style which has exhausted its potential for innovation.

That's why I sometimes have mixed feelings about UK post-rock. Much as I love acts like Scorn and Techno Animal, they did rather seem like ways for rock musicians to escape from the responsibility of carving out a future for rock per se; to disappear into electronica and experimental music. Only Disco Inferno seemed to have a valid vision of some future rock but their ambition far outstripped the technical and financial resources they had at hand.

Still, hearing MBV play songs from Loveless in Manchester this summer... well it still sounded like the future - more than 15 years down the line. It still sounded like there was a future. The lasting impression it gave me was that the last decade and a half of rock has not been a story of exhausted potential but one of mere laziness and cowardice.
The relentless onslaught of critical adulation continues apace. Secret Beaches reviewed on Mapsadaisical.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Do Your Homework
Those of you who enjoyed the Ahmad track on my last '90s rap compilation owe it to yourselves to take a look at this.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Short Notice
Only just heard about this and I probably can't make it but if you're in Vancouver and you're younger and less tired than me, then this show offers a great opportunity to hear two of the city's most intriguing experimental music acts, in a pretty cool venue:

Rundownsun Presents...
Rough Noble & Ian Gregory James
Cassette Release
Tuesday August 19th, 8pm, $3
Solder & Sons
247 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V6A 2S7

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In these distracting times, it's particularly satisfying to find a truly addictive new album - one that takes a hold and doesn't let go; that you just have to hear over and over again. In recent months, the two albums that have really grabbed a hold of these here ears have been Pluramon's The Monstrous Surplus and I'll be the Same by Sun.

Mentioning the two albums in tandem is particularly relevant, as they're both essentially indie-pop records made by experimental artists. Pluramon is the rock-and-pop-focused project of multimedia journeyman Markus Schmickler. I'll be the Same, meanwhile, is album number two from the Australian duo of Chris Townsend
and renowned experimental guitar-and-electronics manipulator Oren Ambarchi

Now, I don't know if I've mentioned Oren Ambarchi before but I'm rather fond of his work. Having said that, it must be confessed that Sun's self-titled debut album was not all that great. Townsend and Ambarchi apparently went out of their collective way to make the most straightforward record they could, suppressing their avant impulses, whenever they arose. The results essentially sounded like Galaxie 500 without Kramer's production. The LP's main saving grace was a bonus disc which set a host of guest remixers loose on the songs.

With I'll be the Same, Sun have clearly found the confidence to just go with the flow, allowing their gift for pop hooks coexist with their restless need for invention. Actually, "coexist" is too wishy-washy a term for what's happening on these six drifting, shifting songs. Sure, the tunes and arrangements sound sunny but there's a real undertow of unease and discontent here that keeps the interest level high throughout. And would it be too fanciful to suggest that this quality is quintessentially antipodean? The sampled poolside chatter on "Bruise Things" would certainly suggest so.

The opening track - "Mosquito" - is the most sublimely catchy tune I've heard in quite some time, piling hooks upon hooks - seemingly more with every listen. "Help Yourself" starts off as post-Jandek free-folk scrabble but develops into a pop song in a manner which is truly witty and ingenious. "Right Now" sounds like Surf's Up era Beach Boys re-imagined by Ween. Elsewhere, there are hints of Pavement, Fennesz, The Animal Collective and so on and so forth.

And so there you have it - a truly addictive new album. It's not really all that new though, to be honest. I'll be the Same was actually released on CD by Staubgold and on LP by Important last year. But it eluded my grasp for so long that I only just heard it. I could never find a record store that stocked the LP and the MP3s didn't ever show up on Solarseek. Eventually, I ordered the LP direct from Important. So here it is, on milky white vinyl, steadfastly refusing to leave my turntable.

Helps that the weather's been so good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thurston Moore Likes Me!
They Showed Me the Secret Beaches reviewed in issue 30 of Arthur magazine by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley. Thanks to Numark for the tip-off.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

White Noise, Pink Noise and New Age Power Electronics
It's probably a sign of the times that much of the most interesting music being made right now is so extreme. It's getting dark and only noise seems to make sense. This is fine as far as it goes but it only goes so far. Here, then, are some proposed escape routes from the cul-de-sac of dark noise.

Russell Haswell is certainly a dude with spotlessly dark credentials; a fan of black metal and Whitehouse. And yet, there's something else happening on his latest double LP, Second Live Salvage. First of all, Haswell takes an restlessly cerebral approach to his noise. These visceral sound-art erruptions are powered entirely by high-end, academic computer music software.

The other interesting thing about Second Live Salvage is that it's a collection of live recordings sourced from audience members. The official-bootleg concept takes Haswell's music away from it's digital source and puts it in a room. This only adds to the elemental power of his mind-bending noise constructions. Second Live Salvage is viciously intelligent.

It also has a great cover, which is possibly a pastiche of Keith Jarrett's new age jazz classic The Koln Concert.

Talking of great album covers, John Wiese's Soft Punk has some of the best packaging in quite some time: a wall of pink Marshall amps on the cover and a slab of marbled pink vinyl on the inside. You've got to love Wiese, the cat who famously guested with Sunn0))), sitting upright in an open coffin, laptop in lap.

Like Haswell, Wiese's noise is distinctly digital but - by contrast - there's very little darkness on display here. Soft Punk is extremely harsh-sounding but it's also relentlessly good-humoured, recalling nothing so much as Kid 606's Down with the Scene (complete with sampled drumstick clicks). Approximately, ten tonnes of fun.

Less heavy but just as effective in its combination of digital noise and good vibes is Astral Social Club's Model Town in Field of Mud. It's been described as a mixture of free-folk with Villalobos-style minimal techno and - while that may be a little fanciful - it's certainly good to see someone from the new weird noise underground (ASC's Neil Campbell is an ex-member of Vibracathedral Orchestra) taking an interest in electronica.

Actually, to these ears, what Model Town's combination of digital noise and acoustic picking really recalls is connect_icut's LA (An Apology). Which is possibly why I like it so much.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Today is that most special of days. Roxie - aka The Sneefler - is seven. Good to see Canada has finally declared her birthday a national holiday.

To celebrate, here's another sneak preview of the next connect_icut album, Let's Hear it for the Vague Blur. The track in the player below is called "The Roxie Music". The title was suggested by perpetual wiseacre Jesse Simon. The image above should appear on the album artwork, which I'm hoping Jesse will design.

The song itself was made heavily under the influence of Haswell and Hecker's Blackest Ever Black. Basically, I used an application called HighC to turn cartoons of The Sneefler into sound loops, then ran the results through my Max patch. The results were suitably bonkers.

Let's Hear it for the Vague Blur should be available as a free MP3 download, some time in the next 12 months. Unless anyone wants to step up and do a proper release.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Still Ill
Great hip-hop top 10 over at Expressway, complete with MP3s. The particularly interesting thing about this list is that, although it's presented as an all-time best-of, the albums are drawn exclusively from the early-to-mid '90s. A few years ago, if one were to suggest that this period happened to be rap music's real golden age, one would inevitably be greeted with looks of blank incomprehension. Take it from one who knows.

Seems that my personal favourite era of music (hip-hop or otherwise) is undergoing quite the critical rehabilitation. Even post-Oval electronica appears to be back in fashion, with glitch diehards like Pita and alva noto (not to mention their associated labels) receiving praise from the most unlikely of quarters. Go '90s!