Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I always do this shit.

My good pal, RP, who is to modern day Philadelphia what Madame de Pompadour was to 18th c. Versailles, linked Mike's fantastic collaborative blog, ReallyLongNecks.com--please see the link to the left. Anyhow, RLN put the list feather to my neck and tickled me into composing one of my own. Caveat emptor: This is probably the first of this kind of device I've made and not restricted it to releases of the year. Be a dick and sue me.

The auld lang syne. listened to these recordings most in 2008:

1. Van Morrison-Veedon Fleece (re-issue cd and vinyl original--holy snobshit, right!?)
2. The Bug w/ Warrior Queen-'Poison Dart' (12")
3. Howard Hanson conducts Barber-Symphony no.1 (Mercury label, Stereo, 1963)
4. Jonathan Richman-Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild
5. Doris Day-Day Dreams (CBS, Mono, 1955-burned by Dan Buskirk)
6. Pet Shop Boys-Discography (and various 12" singles)
7. Murder She Wrote: Cabot Cove Crack House Party (RP mix, so awesome it defies gravity and everyone who hears it says so!!!)
8. Hamish Milne-Bach: Piano Transcriptions-5 (on the excellent Hyperion label!)
9. The Vibrators-'Baby Baby' (from the Gooski's jukebox, soot and blacked out memory)
10. Burger/Voigt-'Bring Trance Back'/ GAS-GAS (12" & vinyl reissue, respectively, both on Kompakt)
11. The Pastels-'Been So Long' (Chess 45, 1957)
12. Fennesz-Black Sea & 'Plays Charles Matthews' (Touch Records is in the vinyl business!)
13. Bob Dylan-The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia, Mono, the hauntedness of some moments & how they bore you away, my entitlement in your arms)
14. Lil Wayne-Da Drought III & Tha Carter III (respectively, bootleg mix & Columbia album)
15. Choeur des Moines et des Moniales de l'Abbaye du Bec-Hellouin-Psaumes la Nuit le Jour (on Studio "Monasteres", 1992)
16. The collected recordings of the late, incomparable Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks
17. The Miracles-Ooo Baby Baby (Tamla, 45, 1965)
18. The Rosebuds/The Rosebuds vs T-Pain & Lil' Wayne-Life Like & 'Can't Believe It's Life Like' (studio lp, Merge; The Hood Internet mashup download)
19. Daft Punk-Alive 2007 (easily in the running with Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club for best ever live album!)
20. Conway Twitty-It's Only Make Believe: The Best of the MGM Years

Friday, December 26, 2008

A dream about the apocalypse.

Mark Rothko (Latvian-American 1930's?)

I have been trying to explain this dream ever since I had it. Ideally, it would be told to Tracy Stanton, at his wonderful bar, The 700 Club, over a birch beer and a neat double Bushmill's. He would, as is his way, listen politely as I mix the facts of the dream with certain elastic bonuses, hidden possibilities and, yes Tracy, outright lies, as is my way. Then he would tell me I'm full of shit.

This dream came to me maybe five years ago. I'd thought back to my teenage love of Britpop and how to my liking, the annual Q Magazine Music Awards were always my favorites in that they seemed to always go to bands I loved. Perhaps the ambition to be a part of it--even if just in a dream, was seeded deep, and given that it (and my desire to be there) emerged in a dream concerning the end of all times I should say it was seeded as deeply as could anything short of the quietude of love be.

The setting was on an ampitheatric slope at sunset. The stage looked up the hill, which was crowned by the fading last light.

Arching over the seated hillside was a series of grand tree boughs, simulating a set of rafters and crosswalks, hung with fantastic, crystal chandeliers. It was the end of times and Q Magazine was sparing no expense. Along the branches were laughing parties in tuxedos and old platinum flapper gowns, drinking champagne from those shallow mezzaluna cocktail glasses I always loved. So much commotion went on above that depending on where one stood it could appear that a stormy, jubilant nightfall had already descended the hill.

This was the Q Music Awards for All Times.

Everyone was there. Every band or singer who ever did something great from The Kinks all the way down to Kula Shaker. There was a rough air of order as awards went out to Best Sad Song Ever: a Thunderboy/Tony Conrad fragmentation-mix of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", which I didn't even know existed til that dream, and in truth it was colossally heartbreaking; Best American Country Music Song-Nashville Style-Ever: Tammy Wynette's "It Keeps Slipping My Mind"; Best Ever Awesome Singer Who Got Shit On But Was Genuinely Sensational: Tom Jones. Christina Aguilera presented this award, and upon reading "...and the Best Ever Awesome Singer Who Got Shit On But Was Genuinely Sensational" she muttered with self-deprecating good humor--and if I may say so excellent comic timing, "I hope it's me...". It got a terrific laugh and someone in the cheap seats shouted adoringly and to thunderous applause, "you should've sang for Massive Attack". When Jones and Aguilera embraced it was epic. Though no pictures would ever be developed from the Q Music Awards For All Times I tell you the white light of those bug shudders left us momentarily snowblinded.

A peak moment came when Smokey Robinson joined Clinic for a medley of Distortions/Falstaff/Ooh Baby Baby. Rather than forcing Clinic into unmasking themselves for the occasion, Smokey, ever the diplomat, donned a surgical mask himself. There were Palestinians and Israelis singing along. he dead were rising. A young girl standing on her father's shoulders tossed a ball high into the air with the word "Arsenal" written on it in marker, and shouted with outreaching fists, "Best Ever!" Ornamental, but imbued with the final joys of the hour, which is why I mention it.

Finally the time came to announce The Q Music Award for the Best Band in the History of All Times.

To better flesh out the moment I feel inclined to usher in a few additional details. The boughs above the amipitheatre, once bouncing with partygoers and their bubbly parties were now so heavy with festivity that they seemed a mere few dozen feet in the air, whereas once they seemed to hover in heaven. Champagne ran in white strings from the chandelier crystals, and swiftly in streams along the wooden rafters. The sun had almost descended entirely, and the light was now a pure dusk, changing colors. Looking up the hill one could see a second world colliding with ours. All time wanted to be a part of this moment, as great people and many a loved one long since departed, arrived in great numbers. Everything got bigger.

In the front row sat a strategically placed Rolling Stones--Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor and Brian Jones were all present. They appeared to know the fate of this final award before I did--which was, I'll admit, mildly disappointing since, along with Shaun William Ryder, I was presenting the award. When I met Ryder on stage I felt a peculiar peace. My characteristic stage fright was nowhere to be found. We too wore tuxedos, and carried bottles of champagne with us. Ryder looked a little aerated, and I suppose so did I--am I drunk in my dreams? Probably.

The crowd. which now included all people and all things, standing room only, rose on their seats, on the rails, the boughs, and hill crest which extended deep into the sky and vanished, crowded, into the purple sun.

"Enough, enough" he said boyishly. The throngs grew silent. The effect of his appeal was incomprehensible, but then the whole dream was. I handed him the foil envelope for him to read the name of the recipient of the final award, but he deferred to me.

I looked but couldn't breathe. I thought maybe I couldn't speak, maybe this is a dream. The Rolling Stones rose to their feet, smiling. I handed it to Ryder, who began jumping and screaming. The world was coming to an end. Not today, not soon. It was happening minute by minute, darkening as people, years and all light converged. Everything was so dark and light, everyone was looking and waiting. Everyone was smiling.

"And the Q Music Award for the Best Band in the History of All Times goes to..."

Keith Richards was already on stage, Mick Jagger ascending the stair. Demure Charlie Watt seemed to pause.



Coxsone Dodd's soft, rare soundsystem version of the band's 1966 rocksteady tune, "Ting A Ling" played in the sky. Everything began to disappear in a cannoncall of applause, tears and culminating happiness. Confetti. When the trio rose to accept their awards they were as they had been as teenagers, wearing humble matching uniform suits. Smiling.

The Rolling Stones turned and walked off in disgust as the last of the daylight fell completely behind the hill and the converging plane of the heavens. Charlie waited to congratulate the The Heptones, which I thought was a touch of class. Ryder and I jumped and sprayed champagne on the people in grateful revelry.

Leroy Sibbles put his hand on my shoulder, and I awoke.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

There is love, and there is what love loves.

Pieter Bruegel-The Wedding Feast (Dutch 1568) 

I don't do it often, perhaps owing to my shark-like propensity to keep moving, but I plan to re-post an old entry this Wednesday.  The review of the latest Fennesz record, Black Sea, I ran is so scattershot, and the record itself so full of fantastic sounds and ideas, that I figured it deserved a more diligent analysis.  My pal, Bill, bought it at Paul's, and my first impressions formed the original review.  I feel confident in the basic opinion, but going back I see the writing itself jumps around way too much to constitute a significant statement.  I'll have something else once Paul gets it back in and I spin it a time or two more.

That the ambulatory sensation and the stirring of the world might not fail me as I systematically forget so sadly much of what has come before.

Prevailing conditions this morning lead me back to something Lyndon Johnson  once said of the presidency, that it was like "being a jackass in a hailstorm...nothing to do but stand there and take it".  Of course he was referring to the thanks-for-nothing he got for tinkering around with the precarious fulcrum of American civil rights, whereas I am negotiating a mere hangover from Molly & Pete's lovely wedding party.  Mind you there's no law dictating an analogy must have balance of magnitude, just commonality.  Established.

I awoke to find that my hideous "test" cake (I baked them a wedding cake) had been--rather barbarically, snacked upon in the night by a dog who shall remain nameless, an erstwhile suspicion I found born out in her morning business.  The empirical evidence leading up to that moment suggested it could've only been one of the three of us;  Dan and I were pretty trashed --enough to remain prime suspects until the convicting stool appeared.  Couldn't say what her opinion of it was, but of my own devices I enjoyed it.  The basic recipe was taken from Emeril Lagasse's Food Network files--a truly reliable resource, that FN site, which has helped me over on a number of blank occasions (and, no, by the way, no shame in using Emeril--the guy's recipes are surprisingly unhistrionic and tasty).  I augmented the flavoring with an orange reduction and bourbon, and opted for a three double-layer logistic instead of the prescribed four single-layer version.  The results were, I suspect, denser than had I used the blueprint faithfully.  But in the stodge of winter I felt the substance of my idea was better suited.  Knowing the citric application would moisten,  and thereby additionally beef the texture I figured why not, as the great Lil Wayne says, go balls out.  

My head is split in two right now, and were it not for another fine Fennesz recording, his cascading elegy, Live in Japan, which so tearfully captures all the poignant light and melodic jumpcut of his Endless Summer, I'd surely be on the floor, still apologizing to Pete's amazing step-dad (in absentia) for spilling my beer on his pants.  Christ, the diplomacy with which he shook that one off!

I like to play it up like it was a disaster, at the center of which I was playing the fool, and in moments perhaps it was, and perhaps I was.  Such narcissism.  But as memory serves it was just a tranquil and happy night on the Planet.  I must admit I felt horribly separated from so many people I love.  But there was who they needed to be there.  And they were there.  The consolation was enormous.   

On a final note I should tie on that the epic "atomic" burger at Tessaro's I had Thursday evening went down easy--even if I couldn't quite finish it.  But I'm reminded of the hostess who said prosaically, "someone should be along shortly".  As if saying so finally connected me to the available universe.  And by thanking her as I took my seat I was thanking her for everything. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A year of music listening and warming pierogies.

After leaving A.K.A. Music my resources have slimmed for compiling a year end music list.  It was one of the simple pleasures of life in Philadelphia to walk down the aisles and recall albums of the year, cover by cover.  It is a different sensation--though one no less gratifying, to have nothing whatsoever to do with the alley-catting of the critics and otherwise hip.  Truth be told, after a while it got kinda hard to take any pop music seriously.  I've worked in record stores, bars and restaurants of all class strata and ethnic origins, and the result is always the same:  you come to loathe the wares you traffic.

That said, I continue to find differences with pop music--that could take a while.   Pitchfork still ain't helping.

New (and some old) finds include Hamish Milne's superb Bach Piano Transcriptions: 5 on the English Hyperion label.  The performance is witty and penetrating, especially in the somber Goedicke versions. I don't often comment on it (because I don't often detect it) but the disc earns as much praise for its crystalline production, which grants a hologram of recorded space: the silence is as nice as the music.  

On the other hand it's been a great year's end, spent on the floor of Jerry's classical aisle, rummaging through mostly crap 78's to find shushing Carusos and Kathleen Ferriers--though no true believer in Woody Allen's last ditch resuscitation bid (white collar Scarlet Johanssen porn) the austere Match Point made handy use of Allen's inevitably terrific antediluvian record collection.   But heads above these dust plates are the precious few Alfred Cortot's scored through several (not exactly cheap) French eBayers; their lanky native son looked kinda like Basil Rathbone, and played like a Steinway shambling down a fire ladder.  So wild.

I have a few others from those visits in the currently infatuated with stack, so comment shall be presently withheld.  More blog stuff on that to come--though you can scroll back to the Howard Hanson piece to see the first spoils of the expeditions.

Dan sold me on The Hold Steady, while the cathartic liquidation of my cd collection has lead to revisiting some missed connections and forgotten faves:  Gillian Welch's Time, The Revelator, Wilco's A Ghost is Born, Oval's awesome Diskont 94 and Tindersticks' sadly neglected Waiting For The Moon. 

Tindersticks' latest, The Hungry Saw, is also a fine showing.  I do miss Dickon Hinchliffe's sophisticatedly haunted arrangements, but the new (Americ-indy) simplicity benefits from some terrific songs.    

After listening to my pal, Daniel, sing the praises of Lil' Wayne I finally caved.  An easy favorite of 2008.  As usual Daniel is right: 2008 was a banner year for Wayne, yielding  Tha Carter III. the jawdropper bootleg mixtape Da Drought III, and The Hood Internet (often linked through Pitchfork's "eh" Forkcast) turned up a mash-up with Wayne on T-Pain's "Can't Believe It", set to The Rosebuds' latest title cut.

On to The Rosebuds.  Once again, to very little fanfare, they've put great new pop songs into our midst.  Life Like improves on Ivan's recent mystical bent, while Kelly has never sounded better.  Going back to The Fall's Brix-era I can hear that 'we hate everything in love together' viscerality in the (albeit nicer) Rosebuds swooning domestica.  It's been so long since his & hers synth pop has sounded so gothic and stirring.  

So much of me lives in the past that labels like Soul Jazz & Honest Jon's have acquired perennial status:  this year's are the already lauded Give Me Love collection from the latter (already went there) and the former's Steppas' Delight, which manages to bottle the proverbial lightning of U.K. dubstep on four annihilating discs (when I left Philadelphia they were still selling compact discs, of which you needed but two to make the set--but come on).  There's a fine Boxcutter tune, and Burial crony, Kode 9, returns.  But it's the one-two punch of Uncle Sam's cocky summer jam, "Around The World Girls", followed by the bone-crushing, feministic electro-ragga of The Bug & Warrior Queen's "Poison Dart".  The comp never stoops to define dubstep, as so many of its assortment lessers did.  And for its liberality it kinda defines it anyway:  The complements of popular reggae derivatives and dark funk/electro rhythms converge, it all works.   

The Vibrators' "Baby Baby", on Gooski's jukebox, is decidedly not new. But it too, makes the list.  Did I mention Veedon Fleece?  That too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Black sea.

Still from Werner Herzog's Lessons of Darkness

One of the biggest problems I have with organized religion is wondering how so goddamned many people can come up with the same basic notion of Heaven.  I mean any two people, by what silly compromise do they come up with that?  I picture myself sitting at a very specific table, in a very specific restaurant in the mist of the woods.  There is a girl (no names) and I am shocking everyone by tearing off bits of Sarcone's bread, running it through a stainless steel bowl of carnation-colored aioli, and feeding it to the wolves lingering at my feet.  No one is sure how they got there, and my confidence seems to stem from the way they seem to love me.  The girl loves me.  Everyone is shocked and lovely.  

Who else carries that around?  What fool?

I mention it because I'm hearing the new Fennesz record for the first time just now.  One thing that has always endeared me to him, especially amid his abstractions, is his gift for renewing small melodies.  His Live in Japan is a long format indulgence in the tricky simplicity of "Endless Summer"--an acoustic guitar/laptop gush contrastive that peeks its head on Black Sea

As simply as I can state it, Christian Fennesz is aging in the most beautiful and sophisticated way.  His textures are reaching such a state of relief and unburdenedness that even those classic ambient songs seem kind of postured by comparison.  Time passes in the space between the tracks and the silence is dutifully rich; every misstep (I'd say) in his wan Eno/Budd style collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto has built strong.  Last year his production of a Charles Matthews grand organ piece--a 7" on Touch, both presaged and linked him to the emerging refinements of Black Sea.  He had taken a distant stance with Sakamoto (whose collaborative talents are genius, in all fairness) by allowing him to dictate the melody.  Big mistake.  Pairing those two texturalists must've been a thrilling concoction but it resulted in a kind of producers' stalemate, with neither generating anything in the way of a tune.  

Just pretty shit.  

Fast forward to the afterglow of the Matthews pair-up, Fennesz is now trafficking a scientifically close sound, lingering appropriately, and letting his melody grow only so small.
One of the most common complaints I heard about his excellent and phonetically clever Venice, was how it sided with concept, taking away all the wrong plusses of Endless Summer and Hotel Paral.lel.  True enough.  Makes the maturation of his new quiet music that much more impressive; he makes songs now that are only barely music; they have an appeal as ephemeral reminders of a real world and owe nothing to it.  

If Endless Summer was my before the fall love, Black Sea is a beauty and a love designed for life after that fact; superlatives are failing me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No soup today.

Claude Raines (taken from the fantastic Vinyl is Heavy)

Yesterday evening I sat on the 54c, and the sentence came to me:

Love is good and the fullness doesn't wander, I bet it doesn't do anything wrong in the dearth of the heart's suspicion.

Also, my pal, Bill, gave me a piano and violin record of Ives compositions.  Woke up to it.  I was listening to it when I suspiciously eyed the foot of Polish Hill and the snow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Middle-aged romantic seeks low blue flame, steady employment.

Jacques Louis David Self Portrait (French 1794)

I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty

That stanza was taken from David Berman's excellent, shaggy meditation on aging, Self Portrait at 28. I distinctly remember discovering the poem five years ago, when I turned 28 myself. There is a silliness that helps move the underlying notes of regret and confusion; it is a world with a hill, a dog whose reliance on the compassion of its owner is paramount, and a kind of time passage that leaves wisdom in a dearth residue. We (our people) never actually become smart.

Today is precisely the kind of spiritual day that I looked out from a window above houses that rowed like the layers of shark's teeth, and beyond, the Delaware and decided to return to Pittsburgh and live. I thought of that tired adage about the Alaskans and their 69 words for snow; we must have at least as many in Pennsylvania for no longer raining exactly. There it was. And here it is. The sad truth of rewards is that what they most often reward is so probable, or maybe even inevitable, that the thrill is just a vague buzz in the hands, or a feeling of surprise, like when you fall asleep with the flu and wake up momentarily not knowing if it's 6:30 P.M or A.M.. It just occurred to me that while trying frame an observation in a Berman poem I unwittingly began to parrot him.


The rain is only part of the equation. 

Over the weekend I picked up Howard Hanson conducting a Barber bill on Mercury, probably around 1947. Logistically it's a fantastic jumping off point for both Barber and Hanson, as it includes the familiar Adagio for Strings. Instantly the rapport between Barber and Hanson is established. Just as instant is the conductor's conservative approach. Much as I like Charles Mingus for his adherence to classical and folk modes of expression in his composition, I appreciate how Hanson, a charter figure in the influential Eastman School, seized a moment bustling with avant garde ideas and resisted judiciously. Symphony no. 1 appeals as a kind of statement of New Romantic principles. There's nothing pedestrian in the excitement and abstraction of the Pennsylvania lansdscape, nevertheless listening to it--perhaps the product of the wackiness that surrounded it--and then ensued; or just time itself, it feels as if the chemistry of composer and conductor produces a stabilizing expression.

These late mornings in which music is invariably a solitary experience, seem cut from time and set aside. Symphony no. 1 was written in 1936, when Barber, a child prodigy whose earliest compositions were written at age 7, was just 26. What stands out today--again, especially in contrast to the enduringly jarring sound of the avant garde that ran in a kind of self important caravan through the 20th century, is how at once confident and stirring it sounds without ever falling upon novelty or haughty challenges. The composer's love of the Romantic poets presses the ardor of the composition, while the sterling features of the sound suggest something entirely local, tactile and absolutely familiar.

But in the authorial chemistry of that sound I keep finding myself thinking of Samuel Barber, the imaginative, sharp-minded child.  There is of course no anecdote to support it, but the Symphony emits the sense of a child's imagination (set to an adult's talent for order). The moving parts are brilliant and impossible, striding with the essence of the land, its living and all sound.  

It is not that kind of day.  Not naturally. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cognac soup.

Bruegel the Elder-The Corn Harvest (Dutch 1530)

Finally, after several weeks of restorative hard work and creative (culinary) brainfarts, I've emerged on the far side of the ephemeral blur.

The kind folks at Girasole have redoubled their creative generosities by allowing me to make their soup of the day on two occasions:  the former resulted in a orange-accented chorizo red pepper stew--whose citric compliment to the unctuous sausage one hairdresser described as "inappropriate"--I thought the brilliance was a sunny catharsis at the onset of winter, and apparently Chris, who showed the cosmetician the door, agreed; the latter, a quite refined (and subversively French) cream of mushroom soup.  The process resulting in the mushroom took about two active man hours, and at least eight times that when including stock simmering, and two separate vegetable roasts (scallions and the titular creminis).   I even thought to call it a veloute, but thought better of it.  Way too cosmopolitan.  Not that these folks are rednecks by a long stretch, but their appeal is expeditiously in fare for the gut.  Judging by their noisy lunchtime crowds (Who the fuck eats out lunch on a Tuesday!?) I'd say they just about have it nailed.  I added a third and final roast of creminis and rehydrated porcinis and called it, prosaically enough, Cream of Mushroom Soup.  A secret infusion of cognac--once again, geoculinarily at odds, gave a final and improving stroke of subdued light, as if having passed through stained glass.

If this gambit pays off in the figures I may be asked to produce more batches down the line.  Of course there's a very real possibility that in the name of Margherita I'll be run off, with my tricolore lying on Walnut Street...

There's always Gooski's!

Monday, December 1, 2008

That one.

Jacques Louis David The Death of Jean-Paul Marat (French 1793)

Brutal work, these nights at Gooski's.  I find one friend along the brass rail come quittin' time and suddenly beer o'clock takes on an ominous tone reminiscent of The Iceman Cometh.  Okay, not that bad, but, you know, bad.  I cut my left ring finger open hugging a spastic man named Thommy, last night--wasn't using it anyhow!  Actually he leapt at me.  It was more of an amicable defense maneuver on my part; would've perforated my peritoneum had I not been so quick to prepare myself!  I'm just pleased I can remember why I awoke bleeding.  Some nights distort the facts like three card monty.  It's like, it has to be one of the three.  But such a trickster that one.

This is just a friendly confession and reminder: soup's on tonight at Gooski's; I gotta be good tonight, so no late night hanky panky.  Still, come out.  I got curried chicken,  cream of sweet potato, minestrone, turkey corn chowder, mustard green and cannellini, and a few others.  Plus my testosterone levels tell me I'm fixing to stew up a pot of chili.  Nature's antidepressant, that stuff...