Monthly Archives: February 2010

Looking Backward

I think I am finally ready to pronounce my favorite song of 2009, Michael Zapruder’s “Ads for Feelings.” I put this song on some Lala playlist I’d created, and this is one of those tunes that no matter how many times I listen to the list continues to be a perpetual favorite. I have to stop myself from continually hitting repeat, though I know how disastrously that habit plays out.

This song is appropriately titled, as midway through, it breaks from its fairly mellow, meandering pace for an exuberant flute break that moves like an eruption of feeling. The use of flute contrasts nicely with Zapruder’s monotone, scaled vocals, creating what I’ve been thinking of as a lethargic energy.  Although this song is more mellow than not, I find it can be danced to, ice-skated to, snow-dayed to–it’s one of those songs that makes you feel you are walking around in a Volkswagen ad, if you know what I mean. But I guess headphones always give me that feeling.

Michael Zapruder, “Ads for Feelings”

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Snow Day Music: Stricken City

Stricken City: Songs About People I knowI’m working on a few “larger” posts, but with Philadelphia about to be hit with another foot of snow, which would make this the winter with the largest snow accumulation in Philadelphia’s history, I’m just not up to anything approaching depth.

Thank God I listened to the Stricken City’s Songs About People I Know this morning. Part The Slits, part Yeah Yeah Yeahs, part PJ Harvey, all post punk pop: the perfect music for dancing around your apartment on a snow day. I remember reading a critic calling The Catcher in the Rye the best “minor novel” of the post-war period. I felt the same way about 2008’s Little Joy album and Stricken City’s Songs: really great minor albums.

Stricken City, “Small Things”

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It's the weekend.

As if you didn’t know it. And in celebration of that, a sparky dance tune that combines two things I like:  Gorillaz and Daft Punk. So break out your dancin’ shoes–

Daft Punk v Gorillaz

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Where I'm From (Pittsburgh version)

A quick look at Pittsburgh today would reveal nothing of tension.  That is, to all observant parties, its character is pretty well-defined.  To the inertial outsider, Pittsburgh stands as a classicist model of blue-collar efficiency, as reliable a vision as its fuel-driven benefactor evokes (until, of course, it isn’t).  To the entrenched insider, however, Pittsburgh is rapidly-evolving, prodded by the quick growth of technology sectors, evidenced by the expansion of both Google and robotics research, and modeled by its spry, distracted, and exuberant younger-class.  However, with such a distinct contrast, tension is inevitable.  This not only has created an underlying identity crisis, but has resulted in gentrification and complicated, though polite, generational dynamics. 

It is in this context that Good Night, States resides.  On their most recent EP (appropriately titled In the Impossible Tension), strain abounds.  Antiquainted organs clash with modern drum machines.  Dissonant vocals warn of happy times.  An opening guitar riff quickly attempts to rush ahead as its surrounding band tries mightily to hold it back. 

Thus, it is my contribution (for now) to the “Where You’re From” thread.  An outsider might view Pittsburgh through Donnie Iris’s “King Cool” glasses.  City-dwellers may relate through Wiz Khalifa or Girl Talk’s turntables.  However, in uncertain times, a band as prone to haunting melodies as it is to Wilco-inspired freakouts seems to best exemplify just what it is that Pittsburgh may, or may not, stand for.

Good Night States – River in the Dry (from “In the Impossible Tension”)
Night States – The Family Dark (from “Short Films on Self

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"It was definitely murder – but was it art?"*

Melty FaceLike the Hoff, Konstantin Gropper is apparently pretty big in Germany.  His music project, Get Well Soon, has just released its second album, Vexations.  It’s a painstakingly-produced concept album (something about finding a corpse in the woods?) that starts out promising enough but then takes a rather unfortunate turn for the pretentious and boring.

Here’s a track that’s not awful:

Get Well Soon – Seneca’s Silence

You might like it; I’m just not going to sell it.

However, on the bonus disc of extraneous songs released with the album, I found this sweet remake of “I’m Deranged,” a David Bowie tune produced with Brian Eno for Bowie’s own concept album, Outside (1995).  You might know it as the song that plays during the opening and closing credits of Lynch’s Lost Highway.

It’s a pretty great song done with synthesizers in 4/4 time, but I really like it transformed into a waltz:

Get Well Soon – I’m Deranged

*The title refers to the short story Bowie wrote that provided the concept for Outside, “The Diary Of Nathan Adler” (.pdf, 5 pages).

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The Modern-Day Pen Pal.

It is hard these days not to gush about digital technologies. The MP3 blog world has for a while now been proving that a collective mass of audiophiles can generate more interest in music than the music industry alone. On top of this, as David mentioned in his inaugural Noise Narcs post, has revolutionized music listening, offering not only one free listen to any album on the site, but also a music listening community that disobeys usual caveats of such Internet communities. Lala is one community in which most people’s “friends” are not people’s friends at all, but people whose music a listener admires. As people listen to music on the site, Lala members see an updated stream of the music their “friends” are listening to–and recommending.This method introduces me to dozens of new albums each week.

Hype Machine is another blog to gush about. As most of you likely know, this site aggregates international MP3 blog postings, so that there is a constant stream of new music. What is great about this blog and Lala is their genre-bending quality. Click play on Hype Machine and when one song ends, the next begins, and the result is music salad. For all of the claims made about the isolating effects of the digital world, well, if you are reading this, you probably understand the spirit of discovery that motivates and unites this world’s inhabitants.

What I love is the gift of something new and unknown, from someone unknown; the MP3 blog entry has become the modern day pen pal letter. Below is one such gift, a tune from the Society Islands‘ upcoming sophomore release, Last Hero of the Western World. I learned about this through Hype Machine, channeling Tsururadio. Boris Rogowski, who appears to be the brains behind the unit, gives me a hint of the early twinklings of a Paul Weller, Daniel Lanois, or similar English vocalist, a pop influence twinged with just a hint of an indie sensibility. I would post his inspired cover of Frank Black’s “Don’t Ya Rile ‘Em,” but alas, the blogosphere has not made the MP3 available (yet). However, you can listen to it here.

The Society Islands, “Last Hero of the Western World”

And for no reason at all, another gift of the Blogosphere, Copenhagen Cycle Chic. A non sequitur, yes–but well worth it, pen pal. I do ride my bike with headphones in.

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"Elvis was a hero to most…"

Never apologize.

At least that’s what notorious kid Robert Evans, retired politician George W. Bush, unconcerned pedestrian Richard Ashcroft, and a whole host of others’ll tell you to do.

But I’m going to open this, my first post to the new site, with an out-and-out apology.  This thing I’m about to show you has recently gone for a bit of a ride across the internet, and I’m sorry if it’s not-at-all new to you.  Within certain circles it seems to have been blogged about, linked to, and generally social-media’d into its second (or third?) distinct life as a piece of notable pop culture capital.  But exactly how widespread it’s been, I’m not entirely sure.

I first came across this on Reddit, but it didn’t seem to receive an inordinate amount of attention there.  A few days later, by chance (or not), I saw it linked to somewhere else.  Then, over the winter holidays, I talked to an old friend from high school who now lives in Seattle about how this song-and-video partly inspired a modern dance piece she helped to choreograph and then performed with some company and a percussion ensemble and ohmygod were we drunk but it all sounded cool and made this thing seem even more relevant and worthy of sharing even though I didn’t yet know that this site would soon exist as a forum for that sharing.

Also, this song was supposedly pretty fucking big in Italy in its original heyday.  (It was in at least two TV specials, which have been edited together for this video, after the jump.)

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Stereotyping Miami (Where I'm From)

It is only recently that I’ve really felt like I come from Miami. I moved to Gainesville, Florida, the day of my 17th birthday and lived there on an off for about ten years, and that city, oddly, was far more culturally advanced than the metropolis I grew up in. The Miami I grew up in was largely devoid of things that would make me call a city home: walkable neighborhoods, and—in the absence of those—a strong public transit system; environmental awareness; a forward-thinking urban presence in music and the arts; and a young foodie culture. The Miami of my childhood could never be accused of being an intellectual, cultural, and environmental mecca.

In and near Gainesville, I was introduced to environmental concern, politics, pristine beaches, a vibrant music culture, a city traversable on foot or bike, and an all-around easy way of life. People call Gainesville the “velvet pit” or “velvet couch,” because it is so easy to slip into a torpid, yet comfortable existence there. Perhaps most noteworthy was and is its music scene. In the 90s, it was home to an internationally renowned club, Simon’s, which put Gainesville on the map where house music is concerned. It is hard for those who did not frequent this club to understand the community that developed around it, one that gathered passionately around music and danced, as a form of expression, not simply due to intoxication. And its punk rock and indie scenes were noteworthy, being home to bands such as Against Me, Holopaw, and Hot Water Music, to name just a few.

Moving to Madison, Wisconsin, was a cultural shock in terms of nightlife, and this might sound funny to people who compare the two cities side-by-side. Madison is, though, quite Footloose, despite the best efforts of its few established djs, who try to cultivate a dancing scene that is fairly dead, possibly due to high property costs and the lack of an embedded dance culture. The corporal energy just isn’t here.

Now I’ve spent almost as many years in Madison as Gainesville, and so I cannot call either one home. Despite Miami’s disastrous environmental footprint, my longing for the familiar and familial, as well as my sister’s recent move back there for graduate school, has made me think of it as home in a way I had never thought possible. Whether this is due to my sister’s presence and our explorations of the city I can’t be sure, but there is an emerging, young, urban food and music scene that feels new, explosive. For years, I have associated Miami with the Winter Music Conference or euro-focused house music. Now, I go to Vagabond and hear nothing short of indie house. And when visiting Miami, I hear music on the radio and in clubs that doesn’t begin to play in Madison for months. In short, I have begun to feel an urban sophistication in Miami that makes it a place I want to go for more than just a short-term visit. I can almost imagine a life there.

So this post is dedicated to my sister Billie, who has invigorated the city of Miami for me and added its nightlife to the many other things, such as family and Jewish delis, that have made me start thinking of this city as home. In honor of that, my favorite song suggested by her from my last trip home, Treasure Fingers’ Remix of “I’ll Get You,”  Mighty Mouse’s remix of Ali Love’s “Love Harder,” and another song taking the Internet house community by storm, Russ Chimes’ remix of Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed.” The latter, while not my personal favorite, is quite Miami.

Ali Love, “Love Harder (Mighty Mouse remix)”
Ellie Goulding, “Starry Eyed (Russ Chime remix)”
Treasure Fingers, “I’ll Get You”

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