May 28, 2006

The Best Jeff Tweedy Show Ever: 2002-06-10

Download the full concert: All 31 Tracks [100 MB]

Download a song: New Madrid

The only thing to do after making a list is to make another list clarifying why the top-ranked this or that is so top-ranked. In the case of the episode of the Amazing Spectulariffic Jeff Tweedy Traveling Variety Show from June 10, 2002, the answer is simple: This one just has everything.

1. a Thax Douglas intro featuring Boris Grebeshnikov shout-outs and two poems, one of them not half-bad (see below)
2. Tweedy coughing along to the opener, "I'm a Wheel"
3. good audience rapport: "You guys are being really nice already..."
4. bad puns: "I'm really hot... [Should we] turn the fan on?... I'm trying to turn the fans on, man!"
5. a great setlist featuring the likes of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," "Please Tell My Brother," "Hesitating Beauty," "Pecan Pie," "Be Not So Fearful," "Acuff-Rose," "Jesus, etc.," etc.
6. a rare cover of "Henry & the H Bombs" by Mott the Hoople
7. the best version of "New Madrid" to date
8. the word "penis"
9. a Stan-the-sound-guy story
10. "Passenger Side" as a drunken sing-along closer

Jeff Tweedy live links
-at The Abbey, Chicago, 2002-06-10 (full concert)
-at The Vic, Chicago, 2003-01 (three highlights)
-at Mandel Hall, Chicago, 2006-02-25 (full concert)

This Setlist
Jeff Tweedy
The Abbey
Chicago, IL

1. [thax douglas intro]
2. i'm a wheel
3. spiders (kidsmoke)
4. someone else's song
5. i'm the man who loves you
6. [talking: she's got a penis]
7. sunken treasure
8. i am trying to break your heart
9. pick up the change
10. please tell my brother
11. heavy metal drummer
12. [talking: in the house]
13. when the roses bloom again
14. hesitating beauty
15. california stars
16. henry & the h-bombs
17. [talking: ian hunter]
18. we've been had
19. casino queen
20. [talking: the classic rock section]
21. pecan pie
22. be not so fearful
23. [applause]
24. [talking: stan]
25. was i in your dreams
26. acuff-rose
27. war on war
28. jesus, etc
29. reservations
30. new madrid
31. passenger side

Boris Grebeshnikov
by Thax Douglas

Eventually a carp will cover the exact entire bottom of the lake
like stars plugging up the holes in the sky, but which carp?
The rest of the carp might start feeling intense
pre- or post-nostalgia for the dirt or the air
so strong that the hard-livered gills, etc. are like little kids
who want to grow up to be actors instead of solid reliable organs.
But the carp at the bottom will keep the lake fresh and clean
with the millions of gills shivering over its body.

May 23, 2006

He walks home with a carton of white peaches / Held high on his should like a badge.

Peach / Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Ensemble

Parallel / Metal Tastes Like Orange

Japanese free jazz conspirator Otomo Yoshihide recently performed in Seoul with Sachiko M, Sato Yukie, and Joe Foster. Above are two highlights from his career. The first is a dirty waltz through half-deserted streets and past unmoving bodies. The second, from Secret Recordings 1, is straight noise. Plus saxophone.

iTunes Chronology & the iTunes Word Game

Breakfast / All of My Brother's Girlfriends

Breakfast in NYC / Oppenheimer

The world of wires has, of course, changed the way music is made, distributed, and consumed. But it's also changing the way musicians live, writes Chris Dahlen, the best Christopher Pitchfork writer since Chris Ott. There's an awful lot of fancy stuff you can do with a computer and a bunch of music files, he continues. You can keep track of your listening habits, make your own mash-ups and remixes, get recommendations from people or machines you don't even know, and automatically generate mixes to fit your mood. Moreover, if you have a nice computer and a degree in computer science, you can even analyze online music reviews. Pitchformula, the brainchild of Loren Jan Wilson, creates wordlists by scouring the database of reviews available at and ranking key words like "guitars," "dissonance," "frenetic," and "warmth." The first goal of this project was to demonstrate the limitations of critical language in describing pop music. (Check it out yourself by viewing Pitchfork through Wilson's filtering program. Predictably "positive" words appear in green and "negative" ones in red.) The second goal was to use the words with highly positive connotations to select criteria for writing songs that would score well with reviewers. Despite this careful work, unsurprisingly, the songs that Wilson ended up producing for this project are far from 5-star material. Much better are those he'd already written, freely, for his band Starlister, which hails from Hyde Park, Chicago, and has recorded a number of decent cuts, including The Deepest Color of Your Hazel Eyes.

The gap between Wilson's "real" songs for Starlister and his "homework" songs speaks to the obvious conclusion that both he and Dahlen reach: There's an unidentifiable "mystery element" that makes certain songs and albums great. Call it luck, fate, passion, sweat, creativity, heart, or feeling. Whatever you dub it, its defining feature is that it's not open to analysis. Anyone approaching music without considering this fact is missing the point. Computers can probe all they want, and musicians can try their best using electronic wizardry to satisfy snarky critics, but there's ultimately more to music than that. Nevertheless, computers can assist us to better appreciate and better analyze songs. In fact, they often help us the most when they keep it old school. Computers are best at improving our daily lives when they're used in relatively simple ways: for e-mail, for playing music and movies, or for finding the address of a restaurant. Think Number Munchers and Crystal Quest.

Maybe all this background is obvious. Complex statistical analysis doesn't help your average indie fetishist, and music isn't just ones and zeros. The point is, there are fantastically simple things that can be done with songs and computers. Simpler than, and simpler than AppleScripts. Below are two blue-collar iTunes tricks that can help spur new interests and new connections. Both, hopefully, can make things a little more interesting without sacrificing the elements of chance and creativity. Either way, they're easy and we can pretend they're important.

1. History of the World in Song: iTunes Chronology

Recently, I met a guy who is truly obsessed with iTunes. He's one of those folks who must have artwork for every album and spends hours carefully delineating genres. Anal but not abnormal. The thing that surprised me about this guy was that he organized his entire music library by album. That is, all his albums were in alphabetical order, leaving The Immaculate Collection right alongside The Low End Theory and Let's Get It On alongside Let It Be and (more appropriately) Let It Be... Naked. I found this amusing. I found this foolish. But to him it was genuinely more important to have all the songs from compilations and soundtracks next to one another than it was to have all of the albums by a particular band grouped together.

I disagree with my friend's organizational approach, but I applaud his dedication. And I thank him for forcing me to reconsider how I was using iTunes myself. After our encounter, I immediately realized that I wanted my albums in chronological order by band. The solution was simple: place the recording or release date before the album title (e.g. 1997 Handsome Western States). Now each musician in my music library has his/her/their catalogue neatly organized like a timeline. 1997 Handsome Western States comes before 1999 When Your Heartstrings Break, as it would have in your average iTunes library, but they also both come before 2001 The Coast Is Never Clear. A little difficult to explain, but easy to grasp visually: Take a look.

Of course all this is as stupid as it is obvious, but once you organize your music in this way everything is put in perspective. Hundreds of connections and concatenations reveal themselves. You have the intense satisfaction of being reminded—every time you listen to it—that Blood On the Tracks was released a full ten years after Bringing It All Back Home. Then maybe you remember that the "blood" is symbolic of the end of Dylan's marriage to Sara Lowndes. You also realize what sense it makes, historically, that 1969—that year of endings that followed the assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy and saw the death of the counterculture movement—was the year of the last true Beatles release; the year in which the Kinks put out an album with the phrase "decline and fall" in the title; and the year of Nashville Skyline, a continuation of Dylan's return to acoustic Americana and away from politicizing his music. It suddenly makes perfect sense that the Velvets released Loaded at the beginning of the "Me Decade," and that Brian Eno retreated into the studio and focused on electronica halfway through that same decade. Seeing the years alongside the album titles reminds you that every piece of music—no matter how great it is, no matter how much it transcends time—falls into a history of events, of people and of places. The '70s become the '80s as Joy Division becomes New Order. Sonic Youth, born in 1981 and debuting in '83, grows up alongside you, through the fall of the Berlin Wall and through the fall of the World Trade Towers. Today, SY lives on—a twenty-something finding new ways of doing old things—while R.E.M. and U2 turn decrepit and senile. Sure everything's in its right place, and time and seasons and bands turn. But everything turns at its own pace. The interesting part is connecting the dots and comparing those paces.

2. Searching for the Perfect Mix: The iTunes Word Game

The other iTunes trick is not so heavy. It involves trying to find words or phrases that will create mixes. The idea is simple: You type a word into the search box in the upper-right corner of iTunes with the goal of making a mix of reasonable length—between 30 and 80 minutes, say. Words like "chicken" and "arrange" work reasonably well for me (40 and 33 minutes, respectively). So do the phrases "all days" and "new time" (44 and 30 minutes). Words like "love," "change," and "dreams" don't fair so well, producing mixes that would require an entire spindle of CD-Rs to burn. Words like "fish" and "stereo" fail for another reason: too many songs by the same artist (I get all of Fishscale and all of Swordfishtrombones, all of Apples in Stereo and all of Stereolab). And words like "apostrophe" and "challenging" are just too clever (I get nothing for either). Basically, you have to find words that are interesting enough to be used but not over-used. Part of the fun is being better than your friends at finding the right words. And part of the fun is seeing just how weird your music collection is (I get hits for "children die," "wise cousin," "onion necklace," "jollity dog," and "inside hippo"). But, of course, the real goal is to find the perfect word or phrase, the one that selects a 79-minute mix with no repeats.

I have yet to nail a 79-point bull’s-eye, but a recent favorite discovered through the iTunes Word Game is the "Breakfast Mix," which includes 11 songs, features 10 bands, clocks in at 30'34", and starts with an instrumental track. The two tracks posted above are from young breakfast-loving bands that are using the internet to reach an international audience: All of My Brother's Girlfriends is from Sweden, and the more polished Oppenheimer is from Ireland. Thanks to Chris for introducing me to the latter.

1. Breakfast With Blockhead / Aesop Rock
2. Breakfast / All Of My Brother's Girlfriends
3. 40 Oz. For Breakfast / Blackalicious
4. I Am The Milkmaid And I Bring Your Breakfast In / The Blow
5. Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast) / Bob Dylan & The Band
6. Raining Rage / Breakfast
7. Breakfast Eat Rice / Breakfast
8. Finish Your Collapse And Stay For Breakfast / Broken Social Scene
9. Breakfast At Tiffany's / Deep Blue Something
10. Breakfast Cake / The Lovely Feathers
11. Breakfast In NYC / Oppenheimer

May 21, 2006

Their Skin Was Made of Ice-Cream Trucks

Claudine / The Bats [1985]

Claudine / Sambassadeur [2006]

It seemed impossibly unlikely that these Swedes would ever release anything else as good as their first single, "Between the Lines," but their latest EP dispels this unlikelihood and proves Sambassadeur at least as gifted as The Concretes. Both "Claudine" and "Kate" are tired from running through heads all day. (Go here to download "Kate" and purchase Coastal Affairs.)

May 20, 2006

No Radio: Stars, Wars, Cures

Turn the Radio On (live) / Jude

No Radio / Dirty on Purpose

The first song's about needing distractions ("We got so high we stop pretending / That you and I were never-ending / And it's a long way home / Turn the radio on"); the second's about being so happy you don't need anything. Some nights things are all wrong—off in metaphysical sense—and yet you wake up and everything's just right again. Sure, "there are places we have never been," but that doesn't matter for Brooklyn superstars Dirty On Purpose because "the sun came up" and Hallelujah Sirens (2006) is coming out.

Next door: Two penguins are in a communal shower. One says, "Excuse me, could you please pass the soap?" The other stares at the first and replies, "Nooo, no radio!"

May 18, 2006

Put on your spurs; dance; make Wes Anderson jealous.

La Moda / Ennio Morricone [from La Donna Invisible OST, 1969]

Holy shit. Thank you, Adriane.

May 16, 2006

Raining Electrons and Cigarettes

Goodbye / Asobi Seksu [2006]

Close Watch / Theta Wave State [2002]

Asobi Seksu is not inexperienced. They’ve been around in some form since 2002, and their name means "playful sex" in Japanese. Yet "Goodbye" sounds as if it were recorded during that period of early adolescence when you knew "sex" was an important adult word but were still uncertain exactly what it meant. "Goodbye" is young for its age. It's the jangliest, most Belle & Sebastian track on AS's forthcoming sophomore effort, Citrus, even though it lacks BS's melted-Toblerone-under-your-dress perversity.

Citrus itself is strongest at these types of moments, when the band pushes its inclinations toward the extremes. If "Goodbye" is the condensed sweetness at the center, the bit that gets stuck in your teeth, then the preceding track, the eight-minute "Red Sea," is the distilled border, with chords and macromolecules floating off the skin and out into space. It's last five minutes recall the band's previous incarnation as Theta Wave State, particularly the quiet "Close Watch," the only TWS track to feature Yuki on vocals.

Go here for the Music For Robot's post on Citrus, and here for Colin's post on Asobi Seksu's first album.

May 15, 2006

The king made a brief appearance to announce tourism.

How To Lie / Shushshush

If I still bought albums the same way I did in middle school, I'd probably end up owning Shushshush's forthcoming debut and listening to it with as much frequency as Rubberneck, Pet Your Friends, and Breathe. Or not. Maybe, just maybe, everything will fall into place for Shushshush and they'll manage to continue embodying only the best elements of their Phantom Planet-ness. Or maybe next time they'll spurn "You possess a sugar-filled neck" in favor of its soundalike: "You possess a sugar-free neck." No matter the future, "How To Lie" is satisfying, and the best moment on the strangely unimpressive Music For Robots compilation. Occasionally, when the questions seem most elusive, power pop is the only answer.

Despite the weak comp, MFR itself is the shit. Check out the new track from Asobi Seksu.

May 11, 2006

Rural Psychogeography

Jason Kahn’s sack of instruments features the basics: drums, wires, metals, room. Whatever he's using, he's using to explore the cavities and crevices of space. He'll mic water glasses, record a stairwell, or play the cymbals live without ever touching the two discs. He's featured on collaborations and compilations with titles like Popular Music That Will Live Forever, The End of the Fear of God, and Rural Psychogeography. Would you take a class entitled "Rural Psychogeography 300"? Would that class be bullshit? These are the type of questions inspired by those most elitist and elemental of musicians: noise artists. The answers are both "yes" and "no." With Kahn, potentials are exploited to such a degree that you are forced acknowledge just how much is there when you listen closely enough; you are forced to say, silently, "yes."

Kahn was recently in Seoul, playing at Relay ("a series of collective perfomances of media art presented by SLOWALK"). He stormed out obtrusively mid-performance, apparently after becoming upset with the work of one of his improvisational collaborators. Dude was using samples or some shit—samples! What a fool. Point is JK takes this stuff seriously but has the goods and good taste to back it up. You can read his thoughtful survey of the Relay scene here. Coincidentally, this weekend is huge for Relay, which will be featuring Japanese noise superstars Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M. Come with boobs and a Sharpie.

"Sihl 4" is from 2005's Sihl, named after the river in Z├╝rich. "Timelines 3" is from 2005's Timelines. Kahn's site has tons more free sounds.