Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wolves in the winehouse

Kandia Crazy Horse nails the British soul girl vocal minstrelsy. I find myself liking Amy W. because of her unapologetic, endearing dementia but the phenomenon of Joss Stone unnerves me. It's like Mary J. Blige's voice got really thin and weak and sickly and went to live in Julia Stiles' body.

One wants to big up Allen, Winehouse, and Stone on the sisterhood empowerment tip for their brassy attitude and scathing kiss-offs to trifling men on these recordings. And it's interesting that they've emerged at a time when their male counterparts, such as Morrison — and David Gray and Chris Martin — seem to have "bitched up." Yet this gender power–reversal is sadly trumped by glaring issues of race and authenticity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Painting pictures for the blind

Record recs!

A riot grrrl revival is tearing up the Twin Cities as we speak. Among the perpetrators are Baby Guts and Kitten Forever (above). Baby Guts see your Spiderfighter, raise you a rerecorded Pretty on the Inside that is actually listenable. Kitten Forever knit fat positivity, vitriol and Allison Wolfe-ian high irony (vocalisms, too--they end up somewhere between Bratmobile and Deep Lust). "This is a hostile takeover." Anti-nostalgia, non-capitulation. Feminist riotcore, grotty punk brilliance. Kitten Forever holler in "Keep It Up": This is what we need to do/take it back from those dudes. Laura Larson is the singer/guitarist for Baby Guts, the bassist for Kitten Forever, and yr new heroine. Kitten Forever have a cassette called "Sissy Party" and Baby Guts have the Pocketknife demo, as well as the Gasoline EP. City Pages has already caught on, so should you.

The new Mirah record could be the concept album coup of '07. It's all about entomology and uses words like "phloem" and "ecdysis" and "liquefaction" and "vociferous." The entire thing must have about 20,000 rhymed couplets in it (I lost count round about track 3). It sounds kind of like early Rasputina sometimes, being just vocal and cello and drums, though there is also accordion and oud. Rasputina have a new record coming out themselves on June 26th, which beats Mirah's release date by a week (hers is August 6th).

I love how Pink Flag still sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Or maybe it's just that everything coming out these days sounds like it was recorded in 1977. Hi-hat to beat the band and leave it for dead. If you listen to "Strange" with headphones on you get one side of the riff curling into each ear individually, so it's like having a twine-covered ping pong ball bouncing around inside yr skull, left lobe to right, right lobe to left. How Elastica ever worked up the guff to quote from "Three Girl Rhumba" in "Connection" the way they did is beyond thought.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Her Noise

My Electrelane feature/interview/review is out and about and readable. I didn't allow myself to look at the other press for No Shouts while I was working on it, so once I was finished I went on a spree and eventually found this puzzling salvo in Stylus:

Electrelane are great. They can’t really play their instruments, aren’t particularly talented singers, and record almost everything in a super-minimal, naturalistic way that could best be described as sparse. I think they’re fantastic.

It surprises me that someone could listen to No Shouts and come away with this opinion (listen and form yr own here). The "they can't play but I'll condescend to like them in a patronizing, slightly ironic way" line of criticism makes me nervous, especally when its premise appears to be invalid, and even more especially when its condescendsion is directed towards women. It reminds me of the way some people still talk about the Slits and the Raincoats.

I had been looking forward to doing an Electrelane story that didn't bring up the fact that the band is made up of women--that looked forward to a future where the existence of a "girl band" was a ho-hum non-story rather than a sexist salt-lick and moldy journalistic fetish. I chose not to, because as tempting as it may be to imagine, that future is still unrealized, and until it's been safely midwived in we're going to have to continue publicly waving about our all-lady bands and labels and festivals and snack foods-based performance art collectives that make Emma Goldman sculptures out of Hostess cupcakes. An explicit, vigilant feminist politics of visibility may be exhausting, but for now I've decided it's kind of a no-brainer.

Case in emphatic point: the expansion of the Her Noise project, which lives here, to include a documentary film:

Her Noise was an exhibition which took place at South London Gallery in 2005 with satellite events at Tate Modern and Goethe-Institut, London. Her Noise gathered international artists who use sound to investigate social relations, inspire action or uncover hidden soundscapes. The exhibition included newly commissioned works by Kim Gordon & Jutta Koether, Hayley Newman, Kaffe Matthews, Christina Kubisch, Emma Hedditch and Marina Rosenfeld. A parallel ambition of the project was to investigate music and sound histories in relation to gender, and the curators set out to create a lasting resource in this area.
The video documents the development of Her Noise between 2001 and 2005 and features interviews with artists including Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon, Jutta Koether, Peaches, Marina Rosenfeld, Kembra Pfhaler, Chicks On Speed, Else Marie Pade, Kaffe Matthews, Emma Hedditch, Christina Kubisch and the show's curators, Lina Dzuverovic and Anne Hilde Neset. The documentary also features excerpts from live performances held during Her Noise by Kim Gordon, Jutta Koether and Jenny Hoyston (Erase Errata), Christina Carter, Heather Leigh Murray, Ana Da Silva (The Raincoats), Spider And The Webs, Partyline, Marina Rosenfeld's 'Emotional Orchestra' at Tate Modern, and footage compiled for the 'Men in Experimental Music' video made during the development of the Her Noise project by the curators and Kim Gordon, featuring Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke.

I've only seen five minutes and already I can tell it's heaps better than that Play UK "The Punk Years: Typical Girls" rubbish.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Here slum the warm jets

Also in re: the Arctic Monkeys--Pants noticed today that the Monkeys' song "Only Ones Who Know" off of Favourite Worst Nightmare has the same opening chords as Brian Eno's "Some of Them Are Old." There are worse subconscious/accidental musical influences. Eno is a smartie with words as well as notes:

Years ago I realized that the recording studio was becoming a musical instrument. I even lectured about it, proclaiming that "by turning sound into malleable material, studios invite you to construct new worlds of sounds as painters construct worlds of form and color." I was thrilled at how people were using studios to make music that otherwise simply could not exist. Studios opened up possibilities. But now I'm struck by the insidious, computer-driven tendency to take things out of the domain of muscular activity and put them into the domain of mental activity. This transfer is not paying off.

The essay is from 1999, but it's obviously still hyper-relevant today. See also this more recent lecture from Pop!Tech.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The unforecasted storm

This month is the 25th anniversary of the forming of the Smiths. When you give yr rare Australian 1988 Hatful of Hollow reissue a celebratory spin, think of me. The Guardian has a couple of remembrances, an essay here and a top ten list there. Possibly the best point:

The sense of possibility that their best songs contain, the possibility that a 'simple' pop song could be as potent and as intimate, as literate and as allusive, as any other kind of great writing. You can hear that same sense of possibility in the lyrics of Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, another writer who deals in the poetry of the parochial, who paints from a quintessentially English - indeed definably northern [sic] - palette.

Having seen the Arctic Monkeys at First Ave last week* I can say that this is true. Turner is the poet laureate of blog rock and it shows in his performance posture; hands clasped behind back, eyes downcast, mouth close enough to the mic so that no syllable will be lost, he doesn't sing so much as declaim. Morrissey tossed words like belligerent, tremulous and conjugal into Smiths songs and made it look easy; Turner manages the same (balaclava, escapologist) and demonstrates a Mozzian fondness for enjambment ("This House is a Circus"). He's also a mean internal rhymer from way back: There's a circle of witches--ambitiously vicious they are/ Our attempts to remind them of reason won't get us that far ("If You Were There, Beware"). It's not quite "cemetry gates/Keats and Yeats," but it'll do.

*The Moongkeys were totes upstaged by Be Your Own Pet. Jemima Pearl flailed and thrashed and banged her head around so much she threw up. Lady must be killing her inner ear equilibrium.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

People don't you know/ don't you know it's about time?

I contributed to this weekend's Mercury. It's the music issue (the biggest in the paper's history, apparently) and the theme is Rock & Jock. I changed Bette Midler to Kylie Minogue at the last second because she felt too last-generation throwback and I just couldn't bring myself to use Christina Aguilera. My Rolodex of fag hag icons is hopelessly dated. Ezra deserves credit for the queer angle, it was all his idea; that it dovetails with my plan to become the Eve K. Sedgwick of pop music crit is only a happy accident.

The best part of writing the thing was having an excuse to listen to "Get Ready For This" approximately seven times. That and falling down an early house wormhole that led me to discover the hotness of Ya Kid K. Wow. I bet a lot of people still don't know she's a woman. Call it the Mo Tucker effect. I doubt "Move This" gets played at sporting events as much as "Pump Up the Jam," but its video is especially excellent when viewed through a queer lens.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A friend, a banana and a camera

While doing research for my Electrelane story I ran across an old Power Out-era interview from when Rachel Dalley was in the band:

JF: Do you guys get fan mail? How does it make you feel?

EG: Sometimes it almost makes you want to cry. We once had a letter from this guy in Turkey and it was really sweet. He lived in an abandoned amusement park and he listened to our album while he was walking around with headphones.

MC: He was saying that all the rides came to life when he was listening to our album.

EG: And quite young teenage girls, we get a few letters from them. It's not like we have loads of letters, but when they do come, they make you feel better. To help someone get through something.

JF: Have you ever written fan mail?

EG: [To Rachel] Now you have to tell her the Robert Smith story.

RD: I didn't write to him, I turned up at his house with a banana. There was this magazine called Smash Hits and if you took a picture with a famous person holding a banana, you got a £10 voucher, so I went round his house with a friend, a banana and a camera. Caught him on his way out. He was living with his mum. We just knocked on the door and said, "Is Robert here?" He came out and chatted with us and let us take the picture.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Boys on the radio

I will be in Minneapolis all this summer writing for the Mercury and working for Minnesota Public Radio. Sanden is still a producer there and I am hoping to run into him often in elevators and stairwells and bustling around corners. I used to be in his band Baa Baa Blacksheep that is now Bla Bla Blacksheep and promises to take the Twin Cities by storm in the balmy Mpls June-August corridor. I do not even mind being the Caroline Rue/Jill Emery of this situation. Cuddlecore is where it's at in '07.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Train in vain

Not so good for listening to on trains: Love Is All; Delta 5 KRS comp/reissue; These New Puritans; The Queen Is Dead; Standing on a Beach; No Shouts, No Calls. The reigning champion of train-appropriate records is still Either/Or. The key is genre but also mood; anything jerky and aggressively up-tempo (post-punk obviously a no-no) doesn't cohere with the locomotive roll and you end up unable to enjoy either the music or the motion.

Trains really are the transportation of the future. In addition to the constant promise of Lady Vanishes-style Hitchcockian shenanigans you also get, on most trips longer than eight hours, double-decker levels with staircases, crazy-spacious bathrooms, water fountains, exciting theme cars (observation! dining! ladies' lounge!) and an entire bank of seats to yrself, since everybody else has paid triple the price to get an inner earache whilst squished into an airplane seat between a crying baby and an investment banker scream-brokering into his cell phone.

I could live happily on this train for several days, or as long as the carrot stick supply held out. If I stayed on I could be in Portland by Thursday. At the moment I am scooting through the marshes of Wisconsin. Did you know Wisconsin had marshes? Neither did I. It also has some smallish mountains that, on second thought, are probably only ambitious hills. In Michigan there were wild turkeys. See America by train! It'll surprise you!