8.11.2009

Ground control to Major Lance



I keep meaning to start blogging about the home improvement I'm doing, but it's funny how working on the house so much has left me without much energy to actually do any blogging. Sad, really.

But something that's never sad is finding a great 45 for 50 cents -- such as the Major Lance (a great Chicago soul singer, who's biggest hits were penned by Curtis Mayfield) single I picked up the other day from a bargain bin.


"Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" by Major Lance

7.10.2009

Rhyming words



It's been damn near forever since I've posted anything, mainly because I've suddenly become a homeowner. One of these days, I'll actually get around to blogging about the progress of the renovations, but every time I have a moment to write I become acutely aware that I could be using that time to patch/sand/prime/paint/tear out/put in/restore/remove something in the house. Is there a variant of that old chestnut "If there's time to lean, there's time to clean" -- so often heard at shitty jobs coming from the mouths of shitty bosses -- that could apply to my situation? "If there's time to blog, there's time to..." The rhyming words that immediately come to mind don't seem to fit.

Oh well.

Above is a photo from (surprise) the 4th of July (hence the fireworks) -- one of the first days I allowed myself a break from working on the house.

6.25.2009

Reissued: Galaxie 500



It's always interesting to muse about the various artists without whom it seems almost impossible to imagine the alternate course music would have taken. Certainly, a large portion of my record collection would not exist without the influence of the Velvet Underground. Certainly, a large percentage of current indie rock is derived, if not directly from the Velvets, from the large crop of late-80's/early-90's bands who were themselves disciples. There's an old adage -- I'm totally blanking on who said it originally, and a cursory search was no help -- that goes:
Not many people heard the Velvet Underground... but every one who did started a band.
One of those bands was Galaxie 500, who in turn could have a similar statement said of them. Which brings me to the actual news. While their album This Is Our Music has been oft reissued and is readily available on vinyl, the same cannot be said of the rest of their catalog. However, on July 28th, we shall see new vinyl reissues of both On Fire and Today. I can't wait. Maybe on July 29th, I'll start a new band.

(I realize that it's perhaps a bit odd to talk of the vast influence of Galaxie 500 and the Velvet Underground on the day that Michael Jackson died -- especially when, even combined, their total album sales are probably around 100 times lower than Jackson's.)

6.22.2009

Inventory

I have been a long-time fan of the A.V. Club's take on pop-culture. While parent publication, The Onion, gets regularly compiled in book form, there has only been one A.V. Club book thus far -- the [quite good, by the way] interview collection Tenacity Of The Cockroach, which was published in 2002. The A.V. Club is finally putting out a second book this October, this time a collection of writings their "Inventory" feature -- which one could probably deduce from the title:

Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists

It's the type of thing I enjoy way more [perhaps] than I should.

On a related note, I'm curious to check out A.V. Club head writer Nathan Rabin's new memoir (a genre I tend to approach cautiously) which is due out soon:

The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought To You By Pop-Culture

From the advertising copy:
Rabin writes movingly about how pop culture helped save him from suicidal despair, institutionalization, and parental abandonment -- throughout a childhood that sent him ricocheting from a mental hospital to a foster home to a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents.
I have a soft spot for the "saved by pop-culture" idea. Always have. Probably always will. I might have more to say on the subject at some point, but my laptop is doing the overheating thing again (which is fun, because it starts making sounds like Chewbacca fucking a Roomba) so, I'm just going to cut this short for now.

6.13.2009

Looking forward to forgetting

A few nights ago I was watching The Daily Show and during a commercial break I caught a very familiar piano melody -- the one that opens Matt & Kim's "Daylight."* Bacardi is using the track in their recent ad campaign which (as far as I can tell from cursory searching) began airing sometime early last month:



Oh, and just so we're clear up front about this: I have no intention of tossing around any accusations of "selling out" (ah, that old and overused idiotic term) or other similarly adolescent nonsense. No one likes the guy in the room who says things like "Oh, I used to like that band, but now they're a bunch of sellouts."

That said, I'm still fairly amused by the late comedian Bill Hicks' take on the subject**:
If you do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll-call forever... There's a price on your head. Every word you say is suspect... And that goes for everybody, except Willie Nelson... I just try to avert my eyes whenever he's singing about tacos.
Thanks to YouTube, said commercial -- which, years ago, Willie Nelson did to help pay off his gigantic IRS debt -- is preserved for all to see:



In a strange way, it's better (from my perspective as listener and fan) if an artist performs some new jingle for a commercial, thus at least preventing their catalog of songs I actively listen to from conjuring up the brand in question. It does bum me out a little bit that when I hear Matt & Kim's "Daylight", my brain will continue to bring up the association with Bacardi. Which, of course, is certainly among the goals for the advertising campaign, and why Bacardi is willing to pay to use the song. If you know anything about just how little musicians tend to get paid, it's also easy to understand why artists say yes.

The nice thing is that, in time, Bacardi will move onto the next ad campaign, and perhaps I'll eventually forget all about it. That's my hope, at any rate. We shall see. It doesn't work all the time. I certainly haven't forgotten about Of Montreal allowing their song "Wraith Pined to the Mist" to have the lyrics completely repurposed to suit the needs of Outback Steakhouse:



While searching for that commercial, I also discovered that Of Montreal also did a commercial for T-Mobile, in which they also star:



I was also surprised recently when one of the most recognizable songs in The Sea And Cake catalog, "Jacking The Ball", recently found its way into a CitiBank commercial:



It's of no use to complain about it, in part because I'd likely have a difficult time turning down cash for music I'd written were someone to offer, unless it were for something absurdly (or unrealistically) horrible -- as in, "No, sir, you may not use that song in your new advertisement for cholera." Also, complaining would be pretty darn futile.

I do, though, look forward to the point in the future when I've put these ads -- and the numerous others featuring music I care about -- out of mind.

_________
* It's a damn catchy song. On a recent trip to Chicago, there were multiple occasions when, while walking down the street, I would spontaneously begin humming the piano line out loud. Tangentially, I refused to pick up the LP while I was there, because I've always had a hard time accepting that I liked Matt & Kim, in part (as I explained to my friend Jon, in the record store where he had pointed out that the album, Grand, was in stock) because Matt & Kim were sort of similar to Mates Of State, and I had spent nearly 10 years hating Mates Of State, and it felt like enjoying Matt & Kim was to admit that I had been wrong all these years about Mates Of State. I have since both bought Grand and relistened to some of the Mates Of State catalog -- I remain unconvinced overall, but will admit now that they have their moments.
** The bit is, primarily, a brutal skewing of Jay Leno, in no small part because of Leno hocking Doritos. In case you've never heard it, the version from
Rant In E-Minor appears below:

5.23.2009

Reissued: Wilco


Many thanks to my buddy Seth for bringing this to my attention, because I had totally missed the news on this one. So, apparently, back in February, it was announced that Wilco would be doing some vinyl reissues in time for Record Store Day. Of course, said holiday has come and gone and they didn't show up. While delayed, we shall be seeing Being There (yay), Summerteeth (super yay) and A.M. (eh) in 180-gram 2xLP editions on June 2nd. I (and many others) have said this a bunch, but goddamn, what a good year for vinyl this is.

[UPDATE: The release date has been changed to July 28th.]

5.19.2009

Reissued: Braid



I've been enjoying the Japandroids record a fair amount, but every time I listen to it, I can't help but think "Man, this totally reminds me of Braid." To clarify, that's meant to be complimentary. Much of my current taste in music can be traced back to the point, right as the 90's were drawing to a close, where I (having been introduced to much of it by my roommate at the time, Marc) was obsessing over stuff like Braid, Mineral, Jawbox, Knapsack, etc. Seems like forever ago -- back when you could pick up almost any random album that came out of Jade Tree and the odds were reasonably high that it'd be pretty cool.

I'm feeling old.

Last year, Polyvinyl reissued what is argueably Braid's best record, Frame and Canvas. That's not to put down the rest of their discography, nearly all of which Polyvinyl will be putting back in print fairly soon. Though they haven't set a date more specific than "summer" yet, we'll get new vinyl copies of Frankie Welfare Boy Age 5, The Age of Octeen, Movie Music Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, and the I'm Afraid of Everything 7-inch. Let's hope they go a similar route as they have with the Mates Of State and Ida reissues and offer a special package deal.

I just wish that DeSoto had the resources to do a big vinyl reissue campaign. Wouldn't it be great to see Dismemberment Plan, Burning Airlines and Shiner back on wax?

Where's the other foot?



Many people, when they begin learning to play guitar, spend a lot of time learning other people's songs. For the most part, I hated doing that. I was way more interested in just noodling around on my own. Every once in awhile, I'd attempt to learn a cover. Getting tabs and chord charts online was probably the first thing the internet actually proved useful for (well, okay, the second...), though back in the lowly days of, oh '96 or so, there were no guarantees that anyone had gotten around to figuring the song you wanted tabs for. Anyhow, one of the few songs I bothered to learn was "Asshole" from Beck's lo-fi folk record One Foot In The Grave.

To this day, One Foot In The Grave is still probably my favorite Beck album. Even back in high school, as much as I loved the genre-blending slacker-cool of Mellow Gold and Odelay, I remember being shocked and amazed when I finally heard One Foot -- "Wow, I didn't realize he made stuff like this!"

I was really excited when it was announced a couple months ago that not only was One Foot In The Grave getting reissued, but that there was going to be enough extra new material (not just alternate takes) to nearly double the track listing. Then I got sad, because it appeared it was going to be CD only. But today I am happy, because it will in fact be appearing as a double LP about a week from now -- and (thank god) it'll be a quarter of the price of the obnoxiously expensive (as a result of being perhaps over-packaged) Odelay reissue.

Maybe I'll have to dig out the acoustic tonight.


"Asshole" by Beck

5.18.2009

Disconnect



I've been listening to Metric's new album, Fantasies, fairly obsessively lately... wait, sorry... let me back up a bit.

So, in 2006 Emily Haines released her solo record, Knives Don't Have Your Back, which was one of my favorite records of the year, and [hands down] my favorite album title of the year. I can't remember exactly what prompted me to pick Knives up. (I think at that point I was only vaguely aware of Metric, and I was only just beginning to get into Broken Social Scene -- a band I had avoided listening to for so long simply because they seemed to get so much damn press. And yes, I'm aware that such a reaction is fairly petty, and in this particular case a disservice to myself.) No matter the catalyst, I'm thankful I found it, as it was a record that truly resonated right with me. So beautiful and sparse and melancholy. God, her voice. There's something about Emily Haines' voice that absolutely slays me.

Thus began my little crush on Emily Haines.*

I'm really not prone to developing celebrity crushes. It very rarely happens to me. Sure, most everyone has their list (hopefully only a mental one) of movie and/or rock stars they'd love to spend a night in bed with, but that's really just one aspect of attraction. Crushes are such a different beast -- there's this [psuedo-] emotional component in addition to the aesthetic (read: carnal) attraction. Sure, there's the desire for the night in bed, but first you want to do John Cusack-ian things together like falling in love while learning to ski the K-12 and rebuilding a '67 Camaro. I think it's often about a (clearly falsely) perceived emotional connection -- something about their tone, their style that resonates. It's not too difficult a thing to swat down, because it is so obviously a one-sided thing and not an actual connection, merely the observation and recognition of personally desirable qualities.

Fast-forwarding a bit: I've been listening to Metric's new album fairly obsessively lately -- it's such a wonderful piece of smart pop music. Being back on an Emily Haines kick, I decided to put Knives on the stereo while on my drive home last night. In the song "Crowd Surf Off a Cliff" she sings the lines "I'd rather give the world away / than wake up lonely," which, especially due to the tone she sings this with, always gets me -- in one of those "God, I know that feeling" sorts of ways. I had just enjoyed a very fun and awesome evening, but while listening to this song, I couldn't help but think about a conversation that was had, which basically revolved around myself and two of my friends being in fairly similar positions -- namely, that the three of us were dealing with feeling weirdly and deeply fucked up by relationships that were long over and that we had no desire to revisit. Speaking only for myself, it's a strange thing, feeling so over a person in every way, but unable to change the fact that I am a vastly different person as a result of my experiences; that I have built walls (as the old-as-dirt adage goes) and that there are ways in which I isolate myself long past what seems necessary. Despite the wonderful evening, I couldn't help but take that song in, and briefly reminisce about feelings of loneliness -- thinking about the frustration of waking up alone, and also just-as-bad/sometimes-worse feeling of waking up lonely despite company. With that on my mind, I sent out the following message via Twitter**:
Emily Haines, stop breaking my heart.

An hour or two later, I received an email:
Metric is now following you on Twitter!

I found myself feeling oddly embarrassed about what I had written -- despite the awareness that I had been added by a publicist through automated means, combing search terms, with the desire that I will, in return, add Metric to my own Twitter feed, thus allowing a direct pipeline to me (the likely fan) for promotional information. I'm more than aware (and actually quite glad) that no one in Metric is following my life on their cell phone. ("Ben's trying to decide if he should get out of bed to get the Lester Bangs biography from his car." "The Jim DeRogatis one? That was pretty decent." "Oh, shit.... he's totally got a thing for you, Emily!" "Jim DeRogatis does?" "No, that guy Ben we started following on Twitter tonight." "Ha ha.")

This is tangential (and perhaps should have just been a footnote), but: I've never quite understood why there are such heated discussions and strong opinions in regards to Twitter -- I feel that both the "It's the most amazingest thing that ever was or will be"-camp and the "It's destroying the very fabric of the universe with it's banality"-camp are equally insane and expending way more energy than necessary on something that is fairly harmless and innocuous. (Interestingly, this exact same debate seems to happen over Chuck Klosterman, and I retain basically the same stance.)

Alright, so... Irrationally embarrassed, I thought back to something I had written in a recent email exchange regarding the new Metric album with a friend, and I felt strangely (and sillily) glad that it wasn't something that I had said publicly (ah, irony) on Twitter:
One day Emily Haines will marry me, and life will be perfect.
I think for many music-obsessed people, there is a lot of casual hyperbole and hero worship. It's not intentional. It just happens. It's all part of that odd one-sided feeling of connection that some song or album evokes in us. Friends and fans connect to one another through having like-minded idolatry; a similar connection stirred even while listening on headphones and stereos separated by a thousand miles distance.

At this point in my life, so many of my friends are are flung fairly far and wide across this country and beyond. I find myself quite thankful for the explosive growth and widespread adoption of social networking tools and the variety of ways in which they can provide some semblance of connection to the day-to-day realities of far-away friends. I'm aware that things like Facebook and Myspace are, at their core, merely platforms for generating advertising revenue. (Which is fine, as the developers to code these new communication tools and the electricity needed to power the arrays of servers on which these tools run aren't, obviously, free.) With a quickly expanding user-base, in no small part due to the [absurd] amount of media coverage, of course a wide variety of commercial interests have begun to investigate ways to use Twitter. That's not inherently bad, per se (just as it certainly isn't inherently good either). I can't help but think about the language and terminology of social networking. On Facebook or Myspace, we might have plenty of people on our Friends List who are not, in reality, our friends. Twitter's use of the word "follower" is interesting as it is, in my mind at least, such a loaded term. It'd be foolish to take these terms too literally of course. I guess I just find it fascinating that with all our new communication tools, it can be so easy to break past the metaphors and feel a real sense of disconnect.

Of course, disconnecting from something that is illusory isn't such a bad thing. In the practical reality of my life, I'm not affected much by the awareness that Emily Haines is not actually following the mundane details of my life on Twitter (again, I'm relieved, in fact), just as there aren't any pangs of heartbreak with the knowledge that the odds of us marrying are effectively zero. I would, however, love to learn the ship date for the vinyl copies of Fantasies.

(Photo above by Wendy Lynch for Under The Radar.)

__________
*Interestingly, spell check suggests that Haines is not a word, and offers to replace it with Highness.
**I have a hard time bringing myself to use "tweet" as a verb.

5.14.2009