Monday, January 19, 2009

A Bush Review

I usually try to engage people in one on one conversations about politics as I find getting on a soapbox doesn't really accomplish the type of mutual respect for differing opinions that personal discourse can. However, with tomorrow being the end of the Bush administration, I have found the last week to highly introspective in terms of the politics and largely how to it has affected society and myself for my entire adult life.

Here is a 9 minute video by Keith Olbermann that reviews the Bush administration. My discussion follows below.

I understand that Keith Olbermann makes a living off of using his emotion and exaggeration to make money. However, his summary shows some facts that really are hard to deny.

1. We never captured Bin Laden.

Instead, we took the tragedy and shock of a nation, to sell a war in Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11. Once Bush was outed for connecting the two in 2004, he still maintained that Al Qaeda was in Iraq. When confronted with the fact that they only were in Iraq because of his war, he stated "So what?" He vowed to take justice on those responsible for 9/11. He did not.

2. The size of government grew.

This is the most damning of the Bush presidency. Most of the people I know that voted for Bush believed that he would shrink the size of government post-Clinton. Who doesn't want less government in their life? It make sense to me. Instead, we have spent almost $600 billion on the war in Iraq, and have broken records for most any presidency has spent. So for those heralding Bush's tax cuts, you have to look at the fact he has increased spending. Therefore, our deficit is worse off, and we have mortgaged our future. Oh, and don't get me started on the $700 billion bailout.

3. The United States engaged in human rights violations.

I'm not one of those liberals that has idealistic views towards war. I understand that war is a violent, primal beast. That said, for an administration that consistently spouted that we are spreading democracy to Iraq, we apparently had some serious cognitive dissonance: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the lack of habeaus corpus. Bush has admitted in a few different ways that he knew what was going on. The world isn't stupid. They hear our words and see our actions. Nothing hurts worse than being the global hypocrite. I want my family, friends, and myself to be safe, but we didn't need to sacrifice our American values to do so.

4. Critical thinking was attacked as "Anti-American".

Using the war as a primer, people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove used arrogance to hide what really was going on: the war was not succeeding. I understand that a leader needs to make diffcult decisions. However, a leader must be able to listen to what people are telling them. It seemed that we lived in the Twilight Zone for 3 or 4 years. The sad part about this is that Bush's actions permiated out into the public. If you weren't with us, you were against us. As soon as you spoke out against the administration, you were fired.

5. Bush has taken no responsibility for the last 8 years.

In the last week, Bush has done interview after interview, and he simply doesn't get it: the reason why he wasn't popular was because he made mistake after mistake. He didn't listen to leading experts on foreign policy and economics.

Ending on a more comedic note:

By the way, this isn't a partisan issue to me. I wish parties didn't exist. I am neither Republican nor Democrat.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lost or How To Find Something Not So Familiar

Last year, I found myself finally captivated by television: Six Feet Under, Dexter, Weeds (though this show toiled in season 3), Damages, and Pushing Daisies help me through winter. This year, I haven't been as avid with television, but with the wonderful ending to The Shield, I don't believe anything will top it.

So what have I done? I've something I wouldn't typically do, but I'm finally getting around to the sensation that is Lost. Lost Seasons 1 and 2 had a captivating premise, but as time went on, I found that the writing had all the elements of aggravation. Flashbacks used to predictably push the narrative forward, side episodes not tied to the more interesting main stories, and characters very easy to dislike. It took about 6 months for me to finally finish Lost Season 2.

Something happened at the end of season 2 that made me a believer: the show finally stepped into territory I had never seen in television. Science fiction twists with shady unknown characters I haven't seen since X-Files.

While parts of the season 3 have suffered the same problems as the first two seasons, Lost Season 3 excels when it unveils a little more of the mystery: the Others' past, the mysteries of the Island(s), and flashbacks for the main characters that add a little more depth.

More Kate and Sawyer in cages...

More Jack in tense surgical moments....

Less oddly placed flashbacks in the middle of the best the main story has ever offered showing minor character's manufactured and laborious pain...

I'm hoping the shorter seasons of 4 - 6 allowed the writers to cut out the excess fat of monotonous side stories and continue to find something not so familiar.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Musical Discoveries of 2008 Part 3 of 3

Peter Broderick - Float (Type, 2008)

Peter Broderick had a big year: he released two solo albums, did all the arrangements for Horse Feathers, and toured with Efterklang. Float's main melodic drive comes from subtle piano arrangements backed by a large variety of instruments. As the title suggests, no individual track really steals the show. The album feels like one complete tracks meandering about picking up sad melodies along the way.

Pigeon Funk - The Largest Bird in the History of the Planet... Ever! (Musique Risquee, 2008)

Kit Clayton, Sutekh, and Safety Scissors show how being technically apt with the studio and instruments can pay off for fun's sake. Pigeon Funk's second album hits many genres: glitch, techno, lounge, polka, big-band, musique concrete, and more. A great reminder to everyone that techno usually takes itself way too seriously.

Quiet Village - Silent Movie (!K7, 2008)

Taking some of the same ideas from the Avalanche's Since I Left You, and removing the dance beat, Quiet Village leaves us with tracks that sound like a family's old 8mm home movies. Swelling strings, beach sounds, and smooth bass, it could make for a cheesy romp through kitschy 50s and 60s soundtracks, but somehow Quiet Village pulls it off.

Sixto Rodriguez - Cold Fact (Light In The Attic, 1970)

The reissue world is often riddled with music snobs who use music's obscurity to show how academically superior they are to everyone else regardless of the quality of the music. However, the best part of the reissue community is when people and labels such as Light In The Attic manage to commericially channel their passion for a lost musician into something that sounds relevant even today. Rodriguez's Cold Fact is one of the those that has all the right ingredients: poetic lyrics about society, poverty, love, life, and psychedelic guitar breakdowns.

SOS - Balance 013 (EQ/Stomp, 2008)

Doing a thoughtful well through out mix over 3 CDs is not something I recommend anyone try. SOS manages to pull it off using just about every style of music: baleric disco, 80s new wave, house, jazz, and more. SOS shows they understand a variety of music styles and blends it into a perfect ebb and flow mix.

Stimming - Resident Advisor Podcast #111 (, 2008)

The one exception to my list of albums. Every Monday morning, I look forward to the new Resident Advisor podcast. They manage to get many of the hot DJs right now to do an exclusive mix just for RA. My mind was blown when I heard the Stimming live set mix. Essentially all tracks are his productions minus the first track remix, so I would consider this his album. I have not heard any dance music this year that has the same sense of urgency as Stimming. He understands that the high tempo bass beat should service the rest of the track which he often feels with amazing melodies. My favorite new dance artist for sure.

Subtle - exitingARM (Lex, 2008)

For Hero: For Fool left me a little disappointed after A New White really promised a new sound. exitingARM is more effective at what they were trying to do last album: better melodies, harder and faster raps, and no dead songs. A fitting way to leave the Subtle project for a while.

Susanna - Flower of Evil (Rune Grammofon, 2008)

Another form of recontextualization of music that I believe is more difficult is the cover song. In most cases, the artist covering the song doesn't really bring anything new to the track. Susanna Wallumrød is notorious for her covers. Her melacholic and sweet voice has transformed some pretty untouchable classics in the past like "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Flower of Evil has her in full piano diva mode with subtle guitar and drum arrangements on select tracks. This is perfect Sunday morning music.

Various Artists - Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985 (Strut, 2008)

Last year, minimal techno was king: repetitious drums, very minor melodies, and quiet shifts in dynamics. Thankfully, disco made a huge comeback this year notably in musicians like Hot Chip, Hercules & Love Affair, Lindstrom, Prins Thomas, and others. To mark the landmark year in awesome disco music, Strut has put together an amazing collection of Italo Disco. Heavy percussion, early synths, and spacey melodies showcase the best of the period. Stevie Kotey, owner of the best current disco labels, Bear Entertainment and Bear Funk, mixes them all together with a few exclusive re-edits. Vintage bliss!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Musical Discoveries of 2008 Part 2 of 3

Harmonic 313 - EP1 / Dirtbox (Warp, 2008)

Mark Pritchard has flirted with using old synth sounds with hip-hop previously on the Global Communication Fabric mix and his nod to old library music project, Harmonic 33. He fully realizes those sounds on his latest project, Harmonic 313. Releasing two EPs this year, EP1 finds Pritchard in similar territory as some of J Dilla's electronic hip-hop producations while Dirtbox has mostly a dubstep sound. Harmonic 313's remix work is also worth a listen.

Jacaszek - Treny (Miasmah, 2008)

Miasmah continues their excellent output with Polish musician, Jacaszek. Combining chamber orchestra, female vocals, and prepared electronic sounds, Jacaszek manages to portray music of forgotten memories.

Kail - True Hollywood Squares (Alpha Pup, 2008)

This year was a little short of hip-hop for me, but Kail's concept album featuring different characters describing the true seedy underbelly of Hollywood rang to for me. Producation ranges from 8-bit video game samples to big band horns. Kail is a true ghetto tour guide.

Lambert and Nuttycombe - At Home (Fallout, 1970)

In a simiar style of Simon and Garfunkel, Lambert and Nuttycombe feature subtle guitar strumming with delicate two-part harmonies. There is a terrible sadness to this album that really shows the issues of Lambert's heroin addiction. I think I listened to this album more than any other from this last year.

The Left - Jesus Loves The Left: The Complete Studio Recordings (Bona Fide, 1984)

With all the recent so called punk music rotting on modern radio, many people want to claim that punk is dead. There are a few bands carrying the punk torch, but no other punk album that I heard this year hits like The Left. The Left capture what is best about punk: tiredless teenage boredom, asking questions, and wonderfully sloppy melodies.

Lindstrøm - Where You Go I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound, 2008)

Dance and electronic albums typically suffer from having one or two tracks that are great, and the rest of the tracks sound the same. I guess dance music is usually best in DJ mixes and live sets. That said, Lindstrøm manages to craft an album that combines many of the best parts of current dance music trends - am bient keyboard flourishes, disco breakbeats, and melodic dynamics - all into 3 epic and ambitious tracks.

Märtini Brös - The MB Factor (Poker Flat, 2008)

A mix album of the Märtini Brös best tracks from the last 10 years. Not since Tiefschwarz' Fabric mix has a minimal house mix sounded so good. Throw in some subtle flourishes over the 70 minutes with funky basslines, and it's all good.

Metro Area - Fabric 43 (Fabric, 2008)

The Fabric serious this year has some great contenders: Luciano, Ame, Robert Hood, and Mark Farina. Metro Area's mix beats them all out of sheer fun. The album starts with them commentating over the first track to give it a goofy feel, and then they settle into some rad Italo-disco and electro from the past 20 years.

Nik Bartsch's Ronin - Holon (ECM, 2008)

The European Jazz scene is one which has many different niche's and different styles. I am a fan of free jazz and improv jazz, but no other jazz album from the last year had the most intriguing mix of styles as this Swiss pianist's Ronin group. Modern classical, jazz, funk, electronic drone, and world music all find their way into these 6 varied tracks.

Noisia - Fabriclive. 40 (Fabric, 2008)

Each year, Fabric has a shining example of what's hot in the drum and bass world via their Fabriclive series. Noisia's release foregoes much of the cheesier vocal sounds of typical drum and bass and aims for dark complex beats. For 80 minutes, this mix consistently deals with the ebb and flow of the beats attempting to descend into glitch chaos.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Musical Discoveries of 2008 Part 1 of 3

My apologies for not blogging in so long. I've been busy working, reading, playing Call of Duty, socializing, playing with my dog, watching movies, and hanging out with Capree.

Typically, in years past, I would be up on the current year of music enough to do a full list of music from that year. I have listened to enough music from this last year to do a list, but I felt that this year also had a lot of older music that affected me. I'm also getting rid of numbering albums because I feel like all of these albums had something I really enjoyed in some way.

The list is simply albums (with one exception). This rules out much of the music I listened to this year. I spent much of time this year listening to dance singles, web mixes, and podcasts. This allowed me to continue to listen to music even though my work environment is more complicated and less music friendly than in the past. This next year, I'll make sure to document what I'm listening to regardless of format, year, or genre.

So without further ado, here is part 1. Part 2 will follow tomorrow, and part 3 the day after that.

Aaron Lightman - Aaron Lightman (Fallout, 1970)

Similar in style to some of Donovan's music as well as other more successful musicians of the baroque pop tradition, Aaron Lightman intersperses shorter pop tracks with longer orchestral arrangements. The reissuer, Fallout Records, is a UK label that specializes in reissues of lost music from the 60s and 70s. I attribute my interest in baroque pop music this year to the label's strong output.

Blue Sky Black Death - Late Night Cinema (Babygrande, 2008)

Having been blindsided by their first album, A Heap Of Broken Images, back in 2006, I have been eagerly anticipating their next instrumental full length. Kingston and Young God combine samples from classical, blues, soul, movie soundtracks, and other places unknown with their own instruments such as pedal effects guitar, cello, and keys. The eclecticism of their tastes really shines in their style of Godspeed dramatics with boom bap beats.

Colin Blunstone - One Year (Water, 1971)

Another baroque pop gem. Colin Blunstone is the singer from The Zombies who took to doing his own work after The Zombies broke up. Tracks like "I Can't Live Without You" highlight the sheer madness of Blunstone's vocal dexterity over chamber orchestral arrangements.

David Axelrod - Seriously Deep (Dusty Groove, 1975)

Long out of print, Seriously Deep is one of the most sampled records during the golden age of hip-hop. David Axelrod was known for his productions, and his own album captures his variety of styles: jazz, funk, electronic, classical, and the prototypes of hip-hop. Capree says this sounds like cheesy porn music, but I don't care!

The Final Solution - Brotherman OST (Numero Group, 1975)

A funk and soul soundtrack for a blaxploitation film that never came out. Numero Group has been doing fantastic deluxe reissues of lost funk and soul of the 70s and 80s for a few years now. This is my favorite release of theirs from this year.

The Frogs - It's Only Right And Natural (Homestead, 1989)

The Frogs do what most irreverant gay music cannot: avoid kitsch and novelty. The Frogs sound like early Pixies or Nirvana demos, but with a passion and humor really unheard by my ears since Xiu Xiu. While Xiu Xiu's main drive is emotional intensity, The Frogs use satire to highlight the ridiculousness of the fears of the socially conservative.

Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet - The Breadwinner (Erstwhile, 2008)

Two musicians known separately for their work in experimental music come together to remind us how to use the physical space of a studio. All sounds on this album were original recordings from Lambkin's home: the radiator, the creaks in the floor, the silence/noise of the various rooms/hallways, the neighbors talking through the wall, etc. Using the physical medium of tape to stretch, distort, and splice, Lambkin and Lescalleet remind us of the power of sampling: the ability to recontextualize and present something new from something old, tried, and common.

Grouper - Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type, 2008)

Grouper has always had potential, but I found the concepts on her earlier stuff to be done much better by bands like Charlalambides and Christina Carter's solo work. With Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, she has given more structure to her typically ambient/drone folk. What ended up happening is a melancholic fresh take to the late 80s 4AD roster such as Cocteau Twins and His Name Is Alive.

Guilty Simpson - Ode To The Ghetto (Stones Throw, 2008)

I first heard of Guilty Simpson from Madlib and Jay Dee's Jaylib project and Dabrye's Two/Three. I have always found his brash rapping about living in Detroit to be hypnotising. It captures the documentary style found in the best rap and hip-hop. Madlib, Oh No, Black Milk, Mr. Porter, and J Dilla all contribute fantastic production. My favorite hip-hop album of the year.

Gultskra Artikler - Kasha Iz Topora (Miasmah, 2007)

Miasmah is hands down my favorite label currently. Erik Skodvin, half of Deaf Center, snatched up Gultskra Artikler after Lampse put out the fantastic 2006 release, Pofigistka. Kasha Iz Topora is a continuation into the Siberian madness of previous releases. Classical cello and piano, electronic flourishes, and field recordings are combined to evoke haunted Lynchian memories with Russian folk tale flair. Miasmah is the new Kranky!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

'Nuff Said

"That's not light red. It's pink."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The marrying of media

One of my favorite experiences in the world of art is when worlds collide. Two musicians I respect and admire come together for a project, a writer teams up with a director, and so on.

To go along with this, a favorite of mine is to keep track of what The Criterion Collection is putting out every month. Around the 15th, they unveil usually 3 to 5 new titles coming out three months from the unveiling. Almost as much I enjoy seeing what titles they have coming out, I peruse their cover art. It consistently surprises and amazes me how well the layout and design of the packaging compliments the films themselves. Other media that I enjoy does this as well, but I wanted to focus on Criterion.

The main graphic designer that I admire that works with Criterion is Eric Skillman. You can reach his blog, Cozy Lummox, here. He describes the behind the scenes design process that goes into designing the layout of Criterion's titles as well as other projects he is involved with. So without further ado, I wanted to highlight 5 titles that he designed that I particularly enjoy.

1) Divorce, Italian Style (illustrations by the famous Jamie Hernandez)

2) Yi Yi

3) Robinson Crusoe On Mars (painting by Bill Sienkiewicz)

4) Night And The City

5) Hands Over The City (illustrations by Danijel Zezelj)