Sunday, May 29, 2011

Braids' Liver and Tan and Native Speaker

Two great tracks from a very good young band, Braids, from the incredibly fertile Canadian indie-pop scene. Braids have a fairly cerebral, noodly, droney musical base, but they're also sex-obsessed which heats things up nicely. MBV were like this too, and so was early Kate Bush. These are good things to be reminding people of!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Auden's Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Thanks to a kind youtube commenter for directing me towards this Auden cracker.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ólafur Arnalds's Untitled #6

From the mesmerizing Eulogy for Evolution disc of a year or two ago. Possibly could use some Tarkovskian visuals, still v. bee-yoo-tiful as is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another pedestrian Gaga song

Hard to believe that this turgid rehash of some of Cher's and Bon Jovi's less inspired moments (via, perhaps, some of Pink's and Kelly Clarkson's lesser moments) will excite anyone not already besotted with Gaga (poor Clarence Clemons gets a dreadfully reigned in/limp sax solo and re-entry that's quite dominated by thwacking drums and synth whooshes so that there's no feel to the episode at all). Enter Shikari's aping of (in their case, van Halen-style) big '80s/'90s MOR rock from a few years back feels truly joyous by comparison:
In general, best to avoid Gaga in favor of Robyn or newies Glasser and Ronika for one's interesting-young-(dance)-diva needs for the foreseeable future. (Unfortunately, Gaga doesn't seem inclined to allow that to happen - she's frickin' everywhere, from Oprah yesterday to Farmville today to Cannes tomorrow...)

Update May 16, 2011: Another Gaga song, 'Hair' dropped... v. similar to Edge of Glory, but even less interesting. I continue to think that Gaga needs to take a break - try to write some songs with real feel and musicality, learn how to arrange stuff (Transitions between sections of songs! Is that too much to ask for? Jesus, it's getting embarrassing. Go and take some lessons from Bat for Lashes or Newsom or Elton or Mark Mothersbaugh or Andy Partridge or....) , explore different lyrical approaches, learn to rely less on the same chundering chorus over and over, and so on.

Update May 23, 2011: Slate's review of the BTW album raises a point that crystallizes something for me:
'Gaga is a rocker at heart. She has little feel for, or interest in, black music; there's almost no hip-hop on her records. Her songs are powered by blunt foursquare house beats—a European sound that, thanks to Gaga, has become the default pulse of American pop.'
While I hold no special brief for hip-hop, I've increasingly been alienated by the lack of feel in Gaga's rhythm section: her records mostly plod, they aren't geared to move to (the Gwen Stefani-Sweet Escape/NoDoubt-Just a girl hybrid Summerboy from Gaga's first album is a pleasant exception). The bass drum hammers you, the bass is never sinuous or slinky (I'm not asking for James Jamerson or Bernard Edwards or Louis Johnson here, although that would indeed be pleasant. Jam and Lewis or Steve Bray-style keys would be fine!). And that's a huge problem: there's nothing especially dance-able or dance-worthy in Gaga's music, and yet dance music is allegedly what she's selling. Note that all of this really does set Gaga apart from Madonna, a dancer, who grew up with Soul Train, who was drenched in Sylvester and Chic, who sought out Reggie Lucas, and Rodgers and Edwards, and so on.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sheena Easton's For Your Eyes Only

The passions that collide in me
The wild abandoned side of me
Only for you
For your eyes only
What a beautifully written song. E.g., lyrically, notice the reverse from me to you between the couplets, and the order reverse/palindrome within the second couplet. And consider the ambiguities within 'abandoned'. Nice job there by Michael Leeson (a screenwiter who wrote episodes of Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Partridge Family, etc., as well as good movies such as The War of the Roses and atrocious movies such as IQ).

Put that not-Ira-Gershwin-but-pretty-jolly-good level of lyrical craft together with a true, powerhouse performance from Easton and inventive music and arrangements by Bill Conti and you get a track that's a complete knockout. Moral: Leave Bond to soundtrack and big band industry pros, and keep the rockers away (unless perhaps they're freakishly talented magpies like McCartney).

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ronika's Forget Yourself

Evidently channeling early Madonna (reminds me of fan fave 'Think of me' from M's first album) and some other post-disco/pre-house stuff (some Tom Tom Club vocals and Evelyn King 'Love come down' overall feel), this song is lots of fun, isn't compressed to hell, and has a nifty vid too. Also, Ronika appears to be 'hot', but isn't pushing that side of things hard at all (by current pop standards); a good sign. Word is that her follow-up song, Wi Yoo, is even better. Yay.

Update: The Guardian did a 'one to watch' profile of Ronika back in February (which I missed at the time). They were right!

My arrangement of Herrmann's North by Northwest theme

Herrmann's theme for Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) is one of the most exciting pieces of music ever written. My vaguely techno arrangement of that piece perhaps helps one hear all of the radical dissonances that Herrmann uses, but which he (as both composer and conductor) made sound so natural and great. What an education for the ear people like Herrmann and Stalling and Morricone and Elmer Bernstein provided to the masses in the mid-20th Century! Nothing like it happens nowadays, that's for sure.

And how about a 'modern' trailer for NbNW?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Great Day: F*** Yeah

I believe in 'Ding dong, the witch is dead!' moments.

Congrats to all the obvious people: the special forces troops involved, the intelligence folks, to Obama, Clinton, Panetta, and so on.

Our thoughts and thanks should at this time also go out to all the nameless people who'll be pulling long hours right now rather than celebrating. OBL's death will have shaken many trees, signals will be flashing, networks will be lighting up. Lots of brave, smart people will have to be watching and listening, working towards the next great day rather than enjoying this one. Thank you.

Update May 4, 2011: There's been a lot of hand-wringing from certain quarters about OBL's death. Much of that relies on the idea that the only satisfactory end-game should have been a criminal trial of some kind. But, rightly or wrongly, the US and OBL alike conceived of their struggle as a war. The goal of war is to defeat/destroy the opposition/enemy. The enemy can surrender at any time, and POW and legal provisions then kick in immediately. But until that happens, the primary goal is to make the other guy die for his country or cause. That doesn't mean that 'anything goes' or that war crimes can't be committed etc.. But it does mean that identifying and killing your enemies - killing them so efficiently in fact that they start to surrender to you preemptively rather than keep up the fight - is the business you are in when you are fighting a war. Not ascertaining guilt but eliminating threats is the name of the game. Apparently, Obama seriously considered both drones-strikes and massive, B-52-delivered bombardment (20+ 2000-pound bombs) as alternatives to sending in special forces to get OBL. Those are the kinds of options that are characteristic of war, and only in the latter case is surrender-at-the-last-minute an option. Of course, 'long wars' conducted by irregular troops hiding among civilian populations pose many problems that make military action complicated and fraught in various respects. But, ha ha, it's probably much harder for irregulars living among civilians to last-minute-surrender than it is for regular military. OBL's style of war may in this way have come back to bite him.

And, yes, it's perfectly decent and reasonable to celebrate a victory in a struggle/war: someone who would eliminate you in a second if they could and who would not, did not ever surrender is gone. Ding dong. [It's probably better, however, to refrain from saying that successful military operations, even triumphs, do or reflect justice. You may hope that your win would be endorsed by some hypothetical, impartial adjudictor - God say - as an appropriate outcome, but you don't know that it would be. More importantly, you certainly aren't currently engaged in anything like impartial administration of sanctions etc..]

Update May 6, 2011: And, yes, there are many senses in which Bin Laden 'won' and got what he wanted. The most important thing for Bin Laden was to get US forces out of the Muslim Holy Land (Saudi Arabia), and he got that pretty smartly by late 2003. Go here for the basic Wiki treatment of the point, but, briefly: the US couldn't leave Saudi if Saddam was still in power in Iraq. Allowing the US to get out of Saudi, thereby stopping ticking off the likes of Bin Laden (and more generally putting some distance between itself and the problematic Saudi regime and getting more plausibly onside with both actual and possible modernizing/liberal democratizing forces in the Middle East) was therefore a major motivation for the US to invade Iraq. Insofar as Bin Laden had a more general goal of weakening the great Satan/far enemy, well, the multi-trillion dollar war on terror has been a huge hit hasn't it? and the damage done to the US's standing in the world (and history more generally) by its descent into legalized torture is enormous (trillions off Brand 'USA' I'd guess, if one tried to do a rough analysis of that sort). All of that's compatible with fast-growing economic inequality at home and financial crises being still more damaging (contracting HIV or hep C or becoming schizophrenic or getting Lou Gehrig's or... is still a horror even if cancer is your worst problem). But those are all sunk costs at this point, and can neither justify nor discredit taking actions against OBL in the present. And OBL's various 'wins' may evanesce. The US's standard of living and reputation will presumably eventually repair themselves. And, essentially the US calculated that 'giving OBL what he said he wanted over Saudi' (at least if Iraq didn't turn out to be a complete disaster) would over time unleash genuine modernizing forces in Saudi and elsewhere rather more than it would spur OBL's favored creeping Talibanization and theocracy. It's still too early to tell yet ('nothing ever ends'), whether the US calculation (prayer?) was correct (has been answered). Let's hope it was (has been).