Imaginary Brazilian Revolution

Brazil is a state of carefree serenity. Brazil is attained by forsaking sanity.

Return . . . I will . . . to old . . . Brazil.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hiroshima

Another life-changing experience to report. This morning we watched a Japanese movie called Visitor Q, directed by Takashi Miike, who is also responsible for Audition and The Happiness of the Katakuri's. I thought Audition and THOTK were both pretty excellent movies; a little gruesome maybe, but certainly not horrifying or sickening. Well...okay, they were more than a little gruesome, but not ridiculously so. Let's say they both registered about a 7 on the disturbing scale, with Se7en being an 8 and A Clockwork Orange being a 10. That gives you an idea of the critical scale we're working with here. I consider myself something of a connoisseur/ aficionado of disturbing cinema. I appreciate the virtues of the grotesque and have always tried to pursue it actively. On the disturbing scale, out of 10 possible stars, Visitor Q was about a 16. I am not joking. This film went above and beyond disturbing. It was awful. Absolutely awful. It was shocking and provoking and horrible in every sense of the word. This morning we scraped the grime from the bottom of the cinematic barrel. We hit rock bottom. (My roommates and I, that is.) I won't elaborate on the plot or any events of the film because I do not wish to subject you to the horrors I have subjected myself to.

My life changed because I loved the movie. It was fantastic, life-altering, and I've decided that if I like to be disturbed that much, then I have a problem and need to seek some sort of professional help. I'm ashamed of myself. I'm calling a witchdoctor to exorcise me. Or maybe a hypnotist who can close the portals of my mind that enjoy such filth. Not a Japanese hypnotist though. I don't trust 'em any more. Not after this mornings horrible, horrible rollercoaster. From now on everybody's going to think I'm racist against Japanese people. I'm not. I'm just afraid of them. Freakin' sickos. Every last one of them.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Thinking About Music

Hello ladies and gentlemen...

Sometimes we humans are lucky enough to find things that change us, things that alter the course of our existence. For example, the discovery of T.S. Eliot turned me quickly into a poetry junky. Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher or Terry Gilliam taught me the difference between a good film and a bad film, between a hack and an auteur.

Currently in my iTunes folder I have 188 bands. That seems like an awful lot of artists to me. I feel like talking about a few of them in this post, but one in particular, citing them as one of these afformentioned catalystic discoveries. Standing out, shining brilliantly before 188 competitors right now is...drumroll...The Magnetic Fields. I adore the hell out of this band. They are incredible! The peculiar thing about them is that they aren't necessarily groundbreaking, their music isn't terribly unique or experimental. For me though, it's been the same as discovering another Elliott Smith or Stars: just another artist/band who is extraordinarily good at doing what they do. The songs are typically tight, concise, and conventional, though they seem to utilize more instruments than your average indie-pop band. And could I speak kindly enough about Stephin Merritt's songwriting??? I don't think I could! The dude is brilliant. He's not a poet--he's a songwriter. There is a difference. While I am awfully fond of the poets, (Dylan, Oberst, Smith, Ol' Dirty Bastard, etc.) there is something spectacular about just being really good at writing verses to be sung. "I Don't Believe You," "All My Little Words," and "100,000 Fireflies" are all PERFECT examples of PERFECT songs. Now, I'm not sure how the discovery of The Magnetic Fields is going to spark an evolutionary change, but I'm sure that it will, or maybe it already has. In any case, if you haven't noticed, I really love them. So will you.

Also recommended are Stephin Merritt's side-projects The 6ths and The Gothic Archies.

Tom---how is your relationship with Bright Eyes these days? Do you listen to any other Saddle Creek artists? Cursive? Tilly and the Wall? The Faint? Son Ambulance? Azure Ray? Older Rilo Kiley? Just curious. Speaking of Rilo Kiley though...if you may be considering checking them out, "Three Hopeful Thoughts" is a good jumping-in song. Or "The Good That Won't Come Out." Or if you just want to fall in love with Jenny Lewis and let Rilo Kiley come later, "The Charging Sky" is such a beautiful song. "So my mom, she brushes her hair/and my dad starts growing Bob Dylan's beard." Tiz-ight.

Recently discovered was John Vanderslice. He produced The Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed, (The Mountain Goats,) and apparently played several instruments on each album. I just got his album "Pixel Revolt" featuring the backing vocals of John Darnielle and also some incredible songwriting. "Dressed like that/you are the flag of a dangerous nation." Check him out. He's pretty rad.

Nine Black Alps have been getting alot of playtime lately. I heard the song "Intermission" and was sold.

And as a novelty I've been enjoying The Dresden Dolls. Sometimes I generalize and think of theatrical music-making as sort of gimmicky. The Decemberists are a pretty good band, but sometimes their gimmicks bother me. As a result I can't listen too much. I just think that the music is cheapened by being too thematic, too centralized in one idea. Maybe this thing with The Dresden Dolls will be short-lived, but I've been enjoying the showmanship for now.

(Okay, before anybody calls me on it...I realize that the whole concept of The 6ths is to be gimmicky. There are exceptions to every rule. Get off my back already. Geez.)

Other gimmicky bands:
The Fiery Furnaces...but that's okay
Animal Collective...that's okay too
Belle and Sebastian
uhhh....Bjork? Sometimes there is a fine line between art and marketing...has she ever crossed it? Could she really be so...weird?
Tom Waits...

You know what...this has been a revelatory post. I've changed my mind here, right before your very eyes. The mark of the artist is experimentation and exploration. While some artists are interested in exploring themselves and the way they tick, other artists are interested in exploring ideas, the way their ideas tick. Nevermind the whole gimmick nonsense. I could just go back and delete it, but that would deprive you all of something profound...a bildungsroman experience. Ironic how exploring my own reactions triggered a change of heart. I'm gonna log off and write an album about mutant butterflies attacking Salt Lake City. Peace!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

High School in the Late 80's

Lyman: As I've been exploring Rock/Pop music I've been curious about history. Not so much in the sense of who made what music and when, but how people have experienced music. Since you're so old and you came of age in an entirely different era from me--you: late 80's, me: early 90's; you: genX, me: genY, I guess (okay, I know we're only 6 years apart, but you were aware in the late 80's and I wasn't)--I'm going to interview you here, assuming you're willing. Of course you are. Let's get on with it then. Just go to the posts page and click the button to edit this one and type your answers underneath each question and republish. Then I'll hit you with more questions and so on.

Tom: Give me an overview of how you saw the world in the late 80's. Were you aware and concerned about things going on in the culture and in the world? Or were you just focused on chicks and money?

Lyman: It seemed that there were very few things that were of worry. The Reagan and Bush era was in full bloom and it seemed that Reagan could do no wrong in the eyes of Utahns. So, for me personally, girls and sports were all that mattered.

T: What was the social structure of your high school? You know, who was cool? What kinds of groups were there (mods, goths, F-dudes, etc.)? How did you fit into this structure? Did you have a label?

L: There were no goths or mods (by those names anyway). We had F-dudes, preppies, jocks and skaters. Every one of the groups we had thought they were the coolest. It seemed that people not associated with these groups tended to think the F-dudes as cool only because they seemed to be the rebels. In any other state, they may have just seemed stupid and slow, but in Utah where most kids were pretty sheltered, they were going against the norm. I can't really say that I fit into any one of these groups. I went through stages sort of like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man. I went through a skater stage, but never really was very good so that didn't last long. I also went through a F-dude sort of stage. That is when I tried smoking and alcohol and listened to really crappy music (there are some songs from that period that I still enjoy, but for the most part the Big Hair Bands really were terrible.) I think I was mostly a jock just because I loved playing sports, but I was never really good enough to get the cockiness that is usually associated with jocks. I would need to talk to some of my friends from that era, but I don't think I ever had a specific label. In fact, I had friends from all the social groups. I forgot about one group that was started around that time, probably by people who didn't like any of the other labels. It was called the norms. They just wanted to be thought of as normal. I think I may have fit into this group as much as any, because I didn't really fit into any of the others.

T: Do I remember correctly that there was a kid who went by Soda-Pop? What was he? An F-dude? A punk?

L: Soda-Pop. Wow, now that brings back memories! He was actually a Breakdancer. Do you remember that? I heard a joke that went something to this effect: Do you know how breakdancing was invented? It was when kids started stealing hubcaps off of speeding cars. It really described it well I think. It was a few years late, like most trends to Utah back then. It was like nothing we had ever seen. It was so energetic and crazy. I actually see a lot of the dance moves nowadays and can definitely see the breakdance influence. Soda-Pop became the most popular kid in school instantly after a talent show where he showed off his killer moves, dude. After the trend ended, he had a hard time shedding his name. In fact I still can't remember his real name. He ended up getting me into skating a little several years later. In the end (of my experience with him anyway), he was a jerk. I caught him stealing one of dads little tape recorders and I know he also stole at least one bike from someone. I disassociated myself with him pretty quickly.

T: Were certain kinds of music associated with certain groups?

L: It seemed that is was the music you listened to more than anything that associated you with a particular group. Even more than your clothes and style. F-dudes listened to Heavy Metal (Metalica, Quiet Riot, AC/DC, Ozzy, ect.) Prepies to top 40 (Madonna, The Bengals, U2, INXS, ect.) Skaters seem to have been the group that explored the "weird" music more. The listened to I don't remember anymore, but some of them were like The Dead Kennedys, The Mighty Lemondrops, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies. I'm pretty sure it was when I was hanging with them that I first heard Violent Femmes. Jocks and Norms were allowed more freedom with there music because there aren't many NFL players that sing. Jocks only limitation was that it had the be exciting. It had to "pump you up!"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bug Sex and Me

This morning I had to go to work at 7:00. When working the early at Harmons the grocer in your neighborhood, one can expect that the first two hours will be relatively slow. It's always nice to be scheduled with checkers who are reasonably cool because it gives you somebody to talk to and help the time pass. This morning I was working with a checker named Tiffany. I was telling her about a movie called "Microcosmos," which I watched yesterday. It's a French documentary about bugs. The only human dialogue in the entire film is at the very beginning when a little girl sings a really weird song about bugs, and at the end when an old woman reads a really weird poem about bugs. In between is the sound of fluttering wings, of pitter-pattering ant feet, and of classical music. We quietly behold the microcosm of the insects. This film, incidentally, contained the first, second, and third times I ever intimately watched bugs have sex with each other.

I told Tiffany about this film, and she asked the eternal question: "Why would you watch something like that? It's weird."

Why would I watch something like that? Furthermore, what would I find enjoyable about it? Why are 10 million Americans watching King Kong while Tyler watches amorous ladybugs?

"Why," asked Tiffany, "do you try so hard to be different?"

It's not often that I'm left quite speechless by a line of questioning, but this was a striking inquiry today. Indeed, why? Why anything? Why everything? Do I strive to be different? Do I partake of insect pornography just to be able to talk about it tomorrow? just to assert my uniqueness to the robots I perceive all about me?

The answer is ultimately no, that I don't view such things in order to assert individuality, (though I am a staunch individualist.) I think I have pinpointed my disease. It's my sick addiction. I am addicted to newness, I am addicted to ideas, and for some reason it's very difficult for me to embrace the formulaic.

Now I believe that all of these questions have something to do with the last post about conventionality in art, and namely, our boy Elliott Smith. I've listened religiously to Elliott for a long time, much more so lately. This, for me, is a complicated paradox, as we have identified him as a fairly traditional singer/songwriter type and my entire post is about my obsession with experimentation.

I'm in the middle of Persona right now, so I'm gonna cut this short and remain intellectually woven in this confusion. But maybe it's no paradox at all. I just love what I love and eff what anybody else thinks about it. Strange though.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Escaping Conventions: Akron/Family and Talk Talk [Now with a list!]

You know when you watch a cheesy sitcom like Friends and you can see the jokes coming a mile away? The conventions of sitcom are so well defined and familiar that the machinations of joke setup and payoff are entirely too visible. When the punchline or payoff comes, even though it may sometimes be funny or clever, you feel that it was inevitable, which detracts significantly from the enjoyment. While there are some really clever and witty shows, like Seinfeld and The Simpsons, that work within the conventions of sitcom that are nevertheless a lot of fun to watch, they're still bound and limited by those conventions. Not everything is possible. And because not everything is possible, what does happen is not the best choice of all possibilities, but one choice out of a limited selection. Convention, therefore, can be oppressive, so much so that it stifles and limits the boundless human imagination.

Like sitcoms, popular music has well-defined and widely followed conventions in song structure, chord progression, tension/resolution dynamics, sounds and textures, etc. Which isnot actually a bad thing--some conventions are necessary in order for music to be palatable. Music devoid of convention is not all that fun to listen to (think free jazz). In fact, most of the music that I listen to and enjoy, even indie and alterative stuff that the average person would consider weird, is quite beholden to convention. Sometimes while I'm listening great stuff like Elliott Smith or Uncle Tupelo or Led Zeppelin, even though I really love the music, I still feel the oppression of convention. That's not to say that these artists are entirely conventional or boring; to the contrary, they are adventurous and inventive in many aspects. It's just that every once in a while I get the itch for more freedom and adventure.

Well these past couple of weeks that itch has been scratched by a couple of great albums: Akron/Family (2005) by Akron/Family and Laughing Stock (1991) by Talk Talk. Akron/Family is a lo-fi-ish, alternative-ish, folk-ish, band who released their first album last year. Listening to Akron/Family I get the sense that anything is possible. And they do some great things with the freedom that they afford themselves. They naturally transition from found sounds to rich string accompaniment to submarine/heart monitor beeping and other electronic and synth effects to everthing-including-the-kitchen-sink percussion; from almost painfully slow and quiet to big and lush; from no melody to infectious melody; from nice back porch folk to crazy dissonant noise. The songs go everywhere and do everthing. OK, not everywhere and everything, but they go exploring and do a lot of great stuff.

I can't believe that Laughing Stock came out of an 80's synth-pop band. It's a mostly subdued, meditative album without a cheezy synth line in sight. Nor a pop hook. Nor a catchy melody. Nor a pop song. The voice is pretty much just another instrument alongside the others. The songs have definite shapes, but they're not your typical shapes and they unfold rather slowly. The pleasure of this album isn't so much in the drama and movement of the songs, although there some of both, but in spending time in the musical place that each song builds and in the breathing room and freedom in that space. I don't have a lot of smart things to say about this album, but I haven't heard anything quite like it.

Since no post is complete without a list (except the posts that don't have lists), and since this post isn't long enough already, here are some lists. Keep in mind that I am a hack, so I may be way off base in everything I say and do.

Some Others that I Love Who Are Relatively "Out There":
Radiohead--especially KidA and Amnesiac
Bjork--unique in so many ways
Deerhoof--Once I stopped hating the vocals I started loving the vocals.
Loose Fur/Jim O'Rourke--I put these together because they seem like almost the same project.
My Bloody Valentine--I don't love them really, but I feel cool putting them on the list. They don't really make songs and they don't really sing but they create beautiful music.

Some Who Buck Convention But Don't Quite Do It For Me
Bjork--Medulla was painful.
The Fiery Furnaces--I like their spirit and their sound. It just doesn't quite come together for me. They lack discipline, I think.
Animal Collective--Great, inventive sounds and textures, but the songs are flat-ish and not too compelling. I go back and forth with these guys.
Mogwai--They bore me.

Some Who Are Fairly Conventional But Very Good
Andrew Bird
Bob Dylan--I know he was revolutionary and unconventional in his day, but to my ears he's traditional.
A lot of Neil Young
Elliott Smith
Magnolia Electric Co.
R.E.M.

Some Tweeners--They Do Both Pop/Rock Convention and Avant Experimentation
Wilco--"Heavy Metal Drummer" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" on the same album? Choppy, clunky improvized guitar solo and a big, cheesy riff in the same song ("Spiders (Kidsmoke)")? Only Wilco. This is one reason Wilco is such a lovable band. They have materail to satisfy all of one's multiple personalities.
The Flaming Lips--The songs are often of standard and simple structure, but they are adorned with so many bells and whistles. It's an irresistible combination of unique sounds and great songs.
The White Stripes--I like them best when they're rockin' like only the Stripes rock. Their traditional stuff can be good, but it doesn't quite keep my attention.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dan Bejar, King of [Indie] Pop

OK, I can't really defend that title, but it got your attention, no?

Dan Bejar is the brains behind and the voice of Destroyer. He's also part of the supergroup the New Pornographers. The reason I can't really call him the king of Pop is because the only work I've heard from him is on the latest Pornographers album, Twin Cinema, and Destroyer's new album, Destroyer's Rubies. But I can say that he stands head and shoulders above his peers.

Yesterday in the lab I listened to several indie/alternative pop albums: Twin Cinema, Oh, Inverted World! by the Shins, The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian, and Set Yourself on Fire by Stars. These are all quality albums with great sounds, nice hooks, catchy tunes, well-written and well-performed all around. But they're not exceptionally adventurous or undpredictable. I enjoy the music a lot but I'm not extremely enthusiastic about it. Destroyer's Rubies, on the other hand, while fitting into the same category of these pop albums, is big and adventurous, and relatively unconstrained. I think I'm going to post a proper reveiw of Destroyer's Rubies, but I just wanted to get it out there that I think Destroyer is the head of the indie pop class.