Picture yourself in a living room: The Spoon Post

So I’ve been thinking about writing this post for days (UPDATE: weeks) now, and fear (UPDATE: know) that the initial inspiration may have drained out of me. But I’m cracking my knuckles and giving it a shot anyway, dammit, cuz this blog needs a post! Our readers need constant, updated entertainment! (ALL of them!) Keep shovelin’ motherfucker! Must feed the gaping maw of the Internet!

So here’s what I’ve been thinking, for days now, about Spoon.

…. giving you a second to cue your favorite Spoon record ….

needle11.jpg

Ok …..GO:

Spoon are one of the many indie-rock bands overlooked by Sasha Frere-Jones in his bizarrely generalized critique of indie rock a few weeks ago in the New Yorker, in that they generally understand the combust

ive power of rhythm, of restraint and abandon, of booming bass frequencies and sharp percussion, and other qualities generally ascribed to “black” music. The best Spoon songs introduce a simple, rhythmic figure, often on piano, and then punctuate it with small, striking elements – well-placed handclaps, for instance, (the chorus on “The Way We Get By”) or a melancholy two-note doodle of a melody surrounded by space (see: Everything Hits At Once, at the 1:03 mark). This oft-remarked-on use of space is what distinguishes them from pretty much everyone else in indie rock (Interpol understood it for a minute or two there as well), and it’s why their music shares some (SOME!) DNA with Timbaland, whose music is often so spacious as to feel cavernous. Every band member contributes to this sensibility, but it’s Jim Eno’s drumming — arguably the greatest drummer in indie rock — that pretty much embodies Spoon’s musical philosophy.

But that’s not even what interests me most about Spoon: that’s just what attracted me to them initially, and what most critics gravitate towards when writing about them. (Either Mike Powell of Stylus said it best, with his review of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” — “Spoon has made a career out of being terse” — or it was Sasha Frere-Jones, in a much more characteristic — read “excellent” — piece).

No, what makes me return again and again to Spoon is the lurking spectre of Britt Daniels’s concealed hurt, which broods beneath the music’s swagger. It’s the subsumed hurt of a 50’s-generation male, the kind Tommy Lee Jones portrays so beautifully in No Country for Old Men. (He achieves this largely by standing around being baggy. Method acting at its finest.) Emotions never coalesce into words; they just swim around until they find an outlet, whether appropriate or no. Cue “The Fitted Shirt,” a song from Girls Can Tell that expresses both Daniel’s veneration of his father’s generation and his uneasy sense that he will never measure up in their eyes: “When I was growing up, and Dad head off to work/He put coat and tie on/over fitted shirt/Nothing else would fit right, or seem so directly applied/the fitted shirt hung on me.”

ragingring3.jpg

De Niro as Jake LaMotta as self-flagellating Modern American Male. (Remember, this post is about SPOON.)

Fitted shirts aren’t the only by-products of malehood of that Daniels fetishizes. In “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” he sighs the words, over and over: “It’s just my/Japanese Cigarette Case/Bring the mirror to my face/Let all my memories be gone,” and I picture him clutching the little case tightly as if it were a talisman that could ward off weakness or self-doubt. Then there’s “The Underdog,” in which the bright, cheery horn section is undercut with Daniels wistfully singing: “Picture yourself in a living room/Your pipe and slippers laid out for you.” Your PIPE AND SLIPPERS? Now we’ve bypassed James Dean and headed straight for Ward Cleaver. Even with this uninentionally comical image (where’s the dog bringing a newspaper in its mouth?) the longing is clear, and affecting. Daniels imbues these inanimate objects –the fitted shirt, the pipe and slippers, the cigarette case — with a profound sense of moral authority, of the stoic wisdom of his father’s generation.

Then there’s the messier, more stereotypically “feminine” side of his persona, which finds its way out in moments of arrogant, wishful denial (“I turn my feelings off/made my untouchable for life” he insists in “I Turn My Camera On“) or in startling moments of open-hearted confession. The clearest example of this is in “I Summon You,” perhaps the most emotionally raw moment in Spoon’s catalogue. Over a simple acoustic-guitar shuffle, Daniels mournfully surveys a wrecked relationship, which climaxes in the devastatingly succinct line “How’d we get here? It’s too late to break it off.” If the terse, indirect nature of his other music is to be believed, Daniels and his other probably “got here” through mutual misunderstanding — “the signals have crossed” — that Daniels tries to cut through with a simple, pleading directive: “I summon you here, my love.” Then, silence, as he waits and the guitar ticks off the seconds.

There’s a lot more out there, but not sure I’m ready to tackle it all. Consider this an installment. (Ah, the privileges of blogging. Imagine doing this with a paper?) Till next time, dearies…..

4 Comments

Filed under post-millenial manhood, Posted by Tyco, rock/roll

Cass: Wist, Doom and L.A. via Baltimore

Safe to say I like Cass McCombs significantly more than anyone else I know. Not counting shadowy internet personalities, ‘course. I’ve had a Cass post somewhere in me for the last six months+, so it’s a bit odd/unsettling to just sit down and try and puke one out w/o a clear “thesis” or whatever. But I guess sometimes (okay, most times) that’s gonna be the only way to get something (ANYTHING) from digital ink to digital scroll.

Immediate heresy out of the way: I’m gonna focus mostly on A, Cass’s debut full-length, here, with probably a cursory stab at deflating Dropping the Writ, his latest, and almost completely fly by Prefection, the sandwiched LP. This is partly for sanity’s sake (I clearly need to feed my will bite-sized morsels) and also partly because the chinked-armor, basement looseness of A serves as the better contrast to the morning-sun-in-L.A., Devendra-as-the-Eagles milquetoast-ness of Dropping the Writ. Stay with me here (I’ll try the same).

Almost all of A drags. The drums are loping and aggressively drowsy; you could probably count the number of times the hi-hat gets hit on one hand. The sonic stew is essentially standard issue: guitars (clean electric, acoustic), bass, acoustic piano, keys, drums. It’s not like dude is e-bowing an electric violin or some shit. Even the stand-out elements – drone-y/buzzy keyboard, the super left-panned distorted electric guitar ripping on “Gee, It’s Good to Be Back Home” – are subtle-at-best.

Cass’ voice itself is a slightly off-kilter indie wheeze – it does well to be perma-brushed with reverb. Still, it’s affecting, and adds equally to the understated task at hand, wherein all these unremarkable things (standard instrumentation, dirge-y pace, post 90’s indie dude vox, general folk-rock) create an ENCOMPASSING sense of sincere emotion and doom.

There’s something in the repetition of A. There’s a paranoia and a DRONE to it – even when there are moments of swinging or lilting or gentleness, it’s almost MENACING. Even a determinedly passing look at the lyrics/themes (and believe me, I more determined to pass ’em by than anyone) seem to paint an anguish, a desperateness: “I went to the hospital / they put me in a bed / I may soon be gone / To pluck on our hearts”; “You ain’t gonna pin it on me / I don’t wanna hear your sermon / You spit like hypodermics”; heck, the entirety of “Meet Me Here At Dawn.”

Sure, from a distance there’s a teetering on WISTFULNESS or, like, indie MOR or somethin’, but this isn’t a fuckin’ soundtrack to yr post-work camomile, believe. These tunes (and YES, there are FER REAL TUNES on here) are enveloping and patient and HARROWING.

At this point, I’d almost rather not delve into Writ – a second installment perhaps. As way of a preface, just know: there is a dynamic shift more than anything else. There’s twinkle and vocal swells and some occasional (and occasionally welcome) sweetness, but what there AIN’T is MENACE. A minor, odd gripe I suppose, but there it is.

I Went to the Hospital [mp3]
Meet Me Here at Dawn [mp3]

3 Comments

Filed under Beatific sadness, Posted by Doorknobs, rock/roll

Cassie: This Ain’t Yr Daddy’s Rhythm Nation


Oh hai there.

So…r n’b. I’m not a popist or anything, but I’ve crawled out of my hate hole far enough to appreciate (and even OBSESS OVER) some of the neighborhood dudes n’ divas. Usually it’s the hit single, or whichever-album track-Rich Harrison-produced jams that shine through (you know: “1 Thing,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” every Ciara single ever, “Gotta Make It,” “Let Me Love You,” etc.) I’m not, like, pouring over Keisha Cole b-sides or anything, but its worth taking the collective finger off the mute button if you like pillowy synths n’ shit.

Considering all that, it’d be really really tempting to file Cassie neatly under “had one great track due almost entirely to its pansy/pounding production” (“Me & U”) like a lot of the highlights of contempo r n’b, but GUESS WHAT the album is actually pretty fuckin’ good!

First oddity out of quite a few: production consistency. R n’b (and rap, largely at this point) production tends to be all mercenary style (*guys in suits at Arista* “let’s get Scott Storch, Jazze Pha, Timbaland, The Neptunes and seven guys no one has heard of and add one reggaeton remix as a bonus track”). Which is fine n’ dandy and usually produces 1.5 good singles or so and then a lot of cookie cutter stomps and DRIPPY BALLAD CRAP. On Cassie, Ryan Leslie has produced just about every fake snare hit and vocal burp. At the risk of insulting all the Golden Age nerds, it’s an easy comparison to the Bomb Squad/Public Enemy or Primo/Gang Starr days when there were simply variations on ONE sonic palette. Obviously this dude isn’t Dr. Dre or something, but Ry Ry proves enough of a unique MIDI keyboard knob twiddler to make Cassie swing.

If there was any confusion, SONICS is mostly what I’m eyeing here. Cassie herself is basically a breathy alien supermodel. Which could be pretty compelling, but mostly is just kinda servicable here. The “lyrical themes” or whatever are boilerplate ’00s r n’b: “Look at me I’m hot, u want me, LOL”, etc. If anything, I occasionally daydream about how many imaginary points better this album would be with Ciara singing/monotoning all over it. The important VOID that Cassie shares with Ciara, though, is a total lack of show-offiness, which means no buzzkill wonky melisma (see: Mariah, Xtina ballads). YES, it might be because she just doesn’t have the pipes for it anyway, but, ummmm, THAT’S OKAY.

In any case, Cassie the SINGER is not really why we’re here, I’ll try and stick to the plot from here on out, starting with the most immediate slug-in-the-chest thing about the album: the SYNTHESIZERS.

The thing about the synths on Cassie is, it’s not just synths-as-keyboards. EVERYTHING is synthesized. The bottom-end of “Me & U” (a complete monster) is a synth’d CELLO. Elsewhere you’ll hear some processed harpsichord. Normally such upfront THIS MUSIC IS SUPER FAKEness might be a red flag for cheesedickery, but there’s something about the depths plumbed here that sells me. I mean, this album actually heavily features FLANGER. And it sounds GOOD! Every surface is polished and cold; it sounds mechanical, but it’s still FUN, which is pretty miraculous, indeed.

With all the processing, it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s such a MINIMALIST feel to a lot of the production, particularly the percussive elements. It’s lots of syncopated odds n’ ends – snaps, claps, shakers, TRIANGLE fer chrissakes. It all sounds super SHARP and clipped; there’s basically NO reverb. The production on Cassie sits way outside the Harrison/Just Blaze/Timbo axis of cascading snares/big horns/funk samples/etc. I kinda hate myself already for saying this, but the production here is the Suicide of contempo r n’b. Maybe a little less repitition and, like, cyberpunk-ness and whatnot.

In any case, the first five tracks on Cassie are immediate standouts, especially the ones with goofy r ‘nb spellings (“Me & U,” “Long Way 2 Go,” “Call U Out”). The second half dip dangerously into “No Scrubs”-y lite-ness. There are some neat sonic moments (fake dulcimer and harp on “Not With You”) and the songs never hit ballad rock bottom, but some of Leslie stretching his stylistic wings here falls flat. Thoughts:

– “Ditto” is like Annie by way of AARON CARTER.
– “What Do U Want” borders on popstress guitar pop ala Kelly & Avril (even has a “Girlfriend“-y breakdown); wait, wait, FLANGER AGAIN?!?

Cassie ends with the Basement Jaxx Jr. of “Miss Your Touch” – a funkier moment than any other on the record. It’s not a revelation or anything, but it’s a fun, flitty ummer bounce and its a decidedly welcome flittiness after an album of Big Dark Sounds.

A taste?

“Me & U” [mp3]
“Call U Out” [mp3]
“Miss Your Touch” [mp3]

5 Comments

Filed under Pop, Posted by Doorknobs

Parsing a Conversation about Middling Rap using Hypertext Links


I Google’d “mediocre rapper.” Seriously.

doorknobs: have you heard i get money rmx w/luda
doorknobs: ?
doorknobs: listening now
Tyco Nightglow: yeah
Tyco Nightglow: luda sounds great on it
doorknobs: “Lil Wayne – Waynes World Vol. 6”
doorknobs: it never ends
Tyco Nightglow: gawd
doorknobs: “Freeway – Flashing Lights Freestyle” wanna hear this though
Tyco Nightglow: I downloaded another one yeterday out of curiousity — it was TERRIBLE
doorknobs: really?????????????????
Tyco Nightglow: He’s running on empty
doorknobs: yikes
Tyco Nightglow: the beats were total garbage
Tyco Nightglow: his voice sounds more ragged than ever
doorknobs: dude you don’t even know
doorknobs: “Britney Spears ft Lil Wayne – Gimme More Remix”
Tyco Nightglow: he still has some good lines, but he sounds honestly like he’s completely exhausted
Tyco Nightglow: I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing anymore haha
Tyco Nightglow: yeah haven’t heard that one
doorknobs: man it’s hard to listen to a LOT of rap
Tyco Nightglow: haha – meaning that it’s hard to listen to rap in quantity or that lots of rap is hard to listen to?
doorknobs: i’m listening to this 3-6 mafia track with a “the final countdown” sample
doorknobs: terrible beat
Tyco Nightglow: yeah that sounds bad
doorknobs: and the last line was “chiefin with the rastas, i eat shrimp and pasta”
doorknobs: ……………………..
doorknobs: and this terrible multitracked r’nb hook
Tyco Nightglow: hahaha
doorknobs: uuuuuuugh
Tyco Nightglow: a year ago I would have defended that
doorknobs: luckily this same blog has a new sheek louch
doorknobs: :–)
Tyco Nightglow: SWEEEEEEEEEEEET
doorknobs: and a young buck song ft. trey songz!
Tyco Nightglow: Young Buck I still think is good
doorknobs: ps – what i meant is the volume is so HEAVY with remixes, new tracks, mixtapes, etc…it’s like dance music
doorknobs: so overwhelming
doorknobs: and so samey
Tyco Nightglow: right
doorknobs: hard work getting to the nuggets
Tyco Nightglow: VERY
Tyco Nightglow: I completely agree
Tyco Nightglow: I got tired of wading through so much crap
Tyco Nightglow: “This papoose verse isn’t as terrible as other papoose verses …. interesting…”
doorknobs: hahahah
Tyco Nightglow: “Hmmm this is quite the Hell Rell freestyle”
doorknobs: eeeeeeeeeeek
doorknobs: I WILL DOWNLOAD ANYTHING THAT FEATURES THE WORDS “ITS YR BOY, DUKE DA GOD
Tyco Nightglow: HAHA
Tyco Nightglow: have you seen the cover of Hell Rell’s new album?
doorknobs: nope
Tyco Nightglow: looking
Tyco Nightglow: damn can’t find it…it’s hilarious
doorknobs: “ya’ll pussycats, i knew ya’lls kittens / if we was young and we was cold, i woulda stole ya’lls mittens”
doorknobs: WHEEEEEEEEEEE
doorknobs: juelz freestyle
Tyco Nightglow: haha
Tyco Nightglow: I can’t find it, which is really disappointing
doorknobs: is it weird?
Tyco Nightglow: there’s a thumbnail here that doesn’t quite convey it’s majestic shittiness
Tyco Nightglow: http://www.xxlmag.com/online/?p=14049
doorknobs: loading
doorknobs: have you heard “pimp like me”?
doorknobs: twista
doorknobs: ?????????????
Tyco Nightglow: no I ain’t heard that
doorknobs: i’m 3/4 way in and
doorknobs: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
doorknobs: it’s got this minimal sub-bass-y beat
doorknobs: it’s like the crunk version of cassie “me & u”
doorknobs: and then it goes into this JUKE part
Tyco Nightglow: whoah
doorknobs: you know juke?
Tyco Nightglow: okay fucking SEND IT
doorknobs: the chicago thing where it’s double time
doorknobs: http://www.zshare.net/audio/2717719c32aa70/
Tyco Nightglow: yeah like “Watch My Feet” right?
doorknobs: yes
doorknobs: DUDE N’ NEM best name evah
doorknobs: hahahah btw, i had seen that hell rell
doorknobs: “Thought it was apple juice / now she drinkin’ pee pee”
doorknobs: WTF
doorknobs: (hell rell)
Tyco Nightglow: hahaha vintage Dips

1 Comment

Filed under IM, Posted by Doorknobs, RAP MUSIC

Regret is beatific.

And “Someone Great” is great. This might be my record of the year, which is an annoying, critic-y way of saying that I hold it lovingly to my chest and will probably treasure it for years. The song has a gorgeous, sighing rhythm, stemming from the gossamer layer of white noise that pulses quietly in the foreground. Gently insistent, it lulls you with its drowsy rhythm and frustrates your efforts to clearly hear the song all at once — the proceedings, as a result, seem both distorted and somewhat remote. “The Dream of Evan and Chan” played a similar, bewitching trick on your senses, as it seems to emerge from nothingness and dematerialize into the ether. Murphy sketches the acute pain and dazed bemusement immediately following an incomprehensible loss in fine, vivid strokes:

I wake up and the phone is ringing

Surprised, as its early

And that should be a perfect morning

Then, something’s a problem

To tell the truth, I saw it coming

The way you were breathing

But nothing can prepare you for it;

The voice on the other end …

Then he trails off pensively, and you’re left with a burbling keyboard riff while you ponder everything else the narrator might be thinking. The song doesn’t raise goosebumps because it doesn’t contain any epiphanies, just a wistful, clear-eyed sigh of regret.

Rawws

Rick Ross has nothing to do with this post.

8 Comments

Filed under Beatific sadness, Posted by Tyco, Stream

holy jesus those horns.

yeah, I’m a sucker for huge, vaulting grandeur. Maybe I can’t even distinguish the earned kind from the cheaply lyrical kind, the kind you see in Irish soap commercials and SUV ads. Maybe Danny Elfman scores get to me (well, at least the “aaaahing” chorus for “Edward Scissorhands”) and maybe the big Hammer-of-Thor obliterate-all-discernment cliches work too goddamn well on my ears. But HOLY FUCK those horns that swell up near the end of “Ocean of Noise,” like the flowering promise of the bass line’s suggested melody, held at bay for the entire song’s length. The horns’ arrival is spectacularly dramatic, accompanied by echo-laden guitar and held aloft by a banging piano doubling the melody. Slowly, the song transforms from measured and muted to triumphant, an exalted procession. And yes, YES they sound like mariachi horns. That’s the FUCKING BEAUTY OF IT, that’s what stirs the lizard brain and makes the whole moment magical, the surprise — who invited these guys into the session? — and the familiarity, the sound we’ve all heard somewhere, in a shitty Chi-Chi’s-style Mexican restaurant, in a subway, wherever. The Arcade Fire are working a broad streak of populism with both fervor and dedication, and I love them unreservedly for it. As a listener, I have to admit that while cul-de-sacs hide invaluable treasures that I have made my life’s work to snuffle out, I prefer bringing said treasures to the light rather than slavering over them, Gollum-like, alone. There is nothing more depressing to me than a dank basement record shop with rank, stale air and greasy-haired middle-aged males, walking cautionary tales, shuffling discontentedly through used vinyl. They DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR. Seriously, how pathetic is that? They’re just blindly — LOOKING. For lack of anything else to do. If you don’t know what you walked in for, how do you know when you’re supposed to walk out??

Tangent. Sorry. I was talking about how I am often moved by even ham-fisted grandeur. There is plenty of it to be found in the Arcade Fire’s music, particularly in Win Butler’s lyrics, which don’t reward close inspection, and on Neon Bible, their latest album, which piles on the chimes and organs and quavering strings. However, I saw them live twice this year, and I am still with them. They belong to a select group of messianic rock bands often ridiculed for their cornball optimism and plaintive earnestness, a pantheon that includes such big fat targets such as U2, Pearl Jam, and “Soft Bulletin”-era Flaming Lips. IT’s a thin line between “The Soft Bulletin” and “At War With the Mystics,” between the soaring, unifying statement and the crass, vulgar overstatement, but from my vantage point, the Arcade Fire are still operating on the right side of things.

I have no idea if this makes sense. But I’m trying to BLOG HERE. JUST CRACK YER KNUCKLES AND HIT “PUBLISH.”

Peace and love,

TN

2 Comments

Filed under Posted by Tyco, Stream

Is you is, or is you ain’t: Dubstep


Cubicle music is night music

I know dubstep is supposed to be, like, DARK and MENACING, but my fave tune of the moment in this microest of microgenres is a one-off comp cut that almost…flutters. “Unite,” from the anonymous dubstepper-of-the-moment Burial, is featured on Soul Jazz’s seemingly must-have Box of Dub comp. He’s already stood out from the Skreams, Loefahs, etc of the world because:

A) No one knows who he is (obv)
B) In his (admittedly limited) discography, the production BROODS way more than it POUNDS.

The lack of reliance on sub-bass stretches the limit (and definition, even) of the genre, new as it may be. Now, I know basically fuck-all about most of the recently popular UK electronic music waves (drum n’ bass, 2step, garage, etc) but there’s something in the subtle melody and light touch of “Unite” that makes me think Mr. Faceless doesn’t have as much of a fingers-in-ears attitude toward the recent past as the rest of the trailblazing d-step pack.

“Unite” sounds almost LILTING in a way that most other current ‘steppers would never touch. First of all: it fades in. There’s no rush, no throbbing, no urgency. There’s no off-setting percussive syncopation, it’s a carefully constructed shuffle. And man, the melody. A heavily reverb’d female vocal sample of “oohs” and “yeahs” with a dumbdumb simple repeating two chord piano part. It almost sounds like melodic Aphex Twin or something. I mean, IDM! The horror!

It’s the DUB that plants “Unite” (tenuously enough) in with the dubstep crowd. There’s reverb on everything, basically – all the little sonic elements bouncing off of each other until the coming-up-for-a-breath moment halfway in.

Final (but noteworthy) point here, RE: the bass. Most dubstep focuses on sub-bass THROB and syncopation, but the bass on “Unite” is that rare d-step breed: a bassLINE. It’s downright BOUNCY! I mean, not to beat the WTF-horse into submission, but…WTF, right?? It flits around and shit! It’s playful!

Anycase: the goods.

3 Comments

Filed under Beatific sadness, dubstep, Posted by Doorknobs