cartwheels into your heart

Friday, January 30, 2004

I don't want to be an elitist indie kid about this, but there's something disconcerting about the fact that half the comments on Dave Pajo's LiveJournal are from users with names like BillyCorgan_Fan or Pumpkins4Ever. These are people, I suspect, who first heard of Pajo through his involvement with Zwan (a band I'm convinced was only created to play at rock-radio festivals) -- and they accordingly treat him like a "rock star," rather than the prolific but fairly low-profile post-rocker I've always known him as. I do have to say, though, that he and Paz Lenchantin make a cute couple.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I'm pretty sure that the first blog I ever came across, several years ago, was josh blog, a collection of thoughts on music and philosophy written by a student at Iowa State University named Josh Kortbein. At the time, it was a real revelation, and not just for the novelty of the blog format. In short, I was extremely sympathetic to Josh's main reason for starting the blog. In wanting to write about the arts myself, I had also felt uncomfortable about the aesthetic problems raised by the typical approach to writing reviews, and was frustrated by the limitations of academic essays. With its brilliant stray thoughts and semi-narratives, josh blog encouraged my belief that there was a value in the personal response and the margin-scribbled insight. I also fucking loved that Josh was seriously interested in the phenomenology of aesthetic experiences: he'd write about what it was like to hear a piece of music on headphones compared to in a distant room; he'd evaluate why he was drawn to particular records and not others. I even discovered ILM through his site (although, to be honest, I forgot about it until I went Googling for "pazz and jop" a while later).

So it's with some sadness that I've discovered that the blog (which my last post just linked to, even) is no longer running. In its place is a short message from Josh: "I've closed up in order to take care of myself. Thanks for reading and occasionally writing." I sure hope he's okay. Thanks for the inspiration.

(Links above courtesy the Internet Wayback Machine)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Sometimes I write about music; sometimes I write about the philosophical implications of words. (Oh no, I'm turning into Josh!)

Notes on Hello

1. There’s a moment in All the Real Girls, last year’s remarkable film about young love, where 18-year-old Noel leans into her new older boyfriend, Paul, and says, "Come here, let me tell you a secret." When he puts his ear up to her mouth, she simply whispers, "Hello hello hello hello." In this incipient romance, the first real relationship he’s had after years of empty sex, and her first relationship ever, those "hellos" act simultaneously as a "sweet nothing" (words words words) and as a wake-up call. Here she is. No: here she is.

2. Because the word doesn’t really mean anything. We can define it in terms of its context of usage -- "used as a greeting," "used especially on the telephone" -- but there’s no actual reference, nothing it signifies. It’s like defining "table" as "a word used in kitchen situations," with no mention of flat surfaces or legs. And so, without any anchor to the physical world, "hello" slips into babble, becomes a word to fill space. Asked to test a microphone or otherwise showcase our voice, we resort to hellos: "Hello, hello, is this thing on?" We answer the phone with "hello" because we have to say something. It doesn’t really matter what.

3. But when a word that signifies nothing external is used repetitively like that, it does begin to reference something. Even without meaningful content, what’s still there is the voice, the speaker, you. And so "hello" becomes a statement of existence. On the phone, where you’re physically absent from your interlocutor, "hello" is really what summons you, calls you into being. Silence. "Hello?" You appear. When Jim Morrison announces all at once, "Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?" the seemingly superfluous word at the beginning is used to set the scene: "Here I am." It’s the equivalent of stage directions: Jim Morrison enters … and thus becomes a character, a part of the world.

4. Of course, most of the time, "hello" is not merely a statement of existence. If the reason we speak is to communicate, it is also an engagement, an attempt at connection. Lost in the forest, or in the dark, we shout "Hello out there!" to anyone who might be around. In other words: "I’m here. Are you?" In both All the Real Girls and the Doors song, in contexts of love, it carries the implication, "Please notice me as I’ve noticed you." And in conversation, when our partner is no longer on the same wavelength, how do we shock them into understanding us again? "Uh, hel-lo?" Whereas words like "hi" or "hey" usually function as simple nods of recognition, "hello" has a greater purpose: a declaration, a proposition, a communion.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

M. H. Abrams’s Glossary of Literary Terms (5th ed.) defines enjambement as a poetic situation in which "the pressure of the incomplete syntactic unit toward closure carries on over the end of the verse-line." For example, note the ends of lines 2–4 in Keats’s Endymion:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness, but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

I learned the term in 12th-grade English class, after inadvertently employing it in an irreverent poem about our assistant principal. But recently, I’ve noticed that it’s one of Jay-Z’s favorite tricks. Here’s "Change Clothes," the first single from The Black Album:

He and the boy Pharrell make beautiful music /
He is to the East Coast what Snoop is /
To the West Coast, what Face is to Houston

Or his guest rap on Beyonce’s "Crazy in Love":

Ol’ G, big homey, the one and only /
Stick bony, but the pocket is fat like Tony /
Soprano, the ROC handle like Van Axel

It’s a useful technique, clever even, but I’m unsure about the way Jay-Z still pauses at the end of the line instead of rapping straight through. (Or at least he does in these examples; I haven’t actually heard 90% of his recorded output.) When reading poetry aloud in school, I always made a point of avoiding the simplistic sing-songiness of rhyming couplets. With Shakespeare especially, it seemed important to preserve the natural rhythms of speech; if the couplets weren’t immediately identifiable, one still felt an inherent musicality in the language. Plus, it just seems like it would be more impressive for the man who considers himself the best rapper on the planet to demonstrate a bit more verbal dexterity. Or am I expecting too much?

Friday, January 02, 2004


5. Basement Jaxx, Kish Kash (Astralwerks)

So, I’m one of those people who refused to take anything resembling house music seriously until quite recently, figuring it was probably fun to dance to (that is, if you were even into dancing) but not inspired or inventive enough to warrant appreciation on a more attentive level. Which is stupid, because I’ve always held a soft spot for disco, which is as rhythmically straight-forward and diva-centered as house. But so once I realized that ILM was a de facto Basement Jaxx fan club, I came around to the British dance act’s newest record, Kish Kash. What I liked almost immediately was the playful, falsetto-topped bounce of "Hot 'N Cold," on the album’s more downtempo second half. But those first three songs, which at first blush seemed too dense and in-your-face chaotic -- Cockney rapper Dizzee Rascal shouting over sexy moaning and hard beats in a crowded Persian bazaar ("Lucky Star") -- now feel like a beautiful knock-out punch.

4. Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)

I like what I wrote here. And I especially like what Kenan wrote in agreement (though I never even said the G-word!): "Jaymc nailed it when he said it sounds like they're moving away from the dour retro poppy Scottish kind of gayness and into the Broadway musical kind of gayness. It's still pretty gay. I like it." The most consistently good pop album of the year.

3. Prefuse 73, One Word Extinguisher and Extinguished: Outtakes (Warp)

Scott Herren’s new material under the name Prefuse 73 is certainly more restless than his 2001 debut -- One Word Extinguisher spans 22 songs in an hour; the outtakes collection, Extinguished offers 23 in half that time -- but what it provides him is greater emotional range. The full-length runs from a busy, boisterous rap, courtesy rising star Diverse, to cuts like "Detchibe," sounding like mellow 70s jazz played by a band of modems, and "Why I Love You," featuring samples of R&B melisma fractured so as to sound almost sinister (and a perfect segue to a Da Brat song on a mix CD I made). But throughout the two records are these thick, stuttering beats and shards of melody that satisfied both my newfound need for bangin’ rhythms and my time-tested interest in head-nodding, space-out sounds.

2. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (Capitol)

The day after the release of Hail to the Thief -- the first new Radiohead album since I officially became a fan of the band -- I went over to Matt’s and we put it on at full blast, leaned back, got high, and closed our eyes. By the end of "Sit Down, Stand Up," with Thom shouting "the raindrops!" as if he was on a constantly accelerating treadmill, caught in the midst of electronic precipitation and alien phaser gunfire, I was already blown away. It struck me as a beautiful blend of the minor-key experimentalism of Kid Amnesiac and the bombast of OK Computer: arpeggiated guitar lines actually opening into tight, jagged riffs underneath millions of brilliant effects. A fantastic listening experience, and yet recently when I’ve put it on, for some reason, I’ve barely been able to get through the first few tracks -- the life suddenly seems sucked out. And I wonder if Radiohead made a record so meticulously impressive that it lacks the kind of human breath or space we need in order to connect over time. Maybe, but still...

1. OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)

The main criticism of this record is that the separate discs supposedly dilute the brilliance of Big Boi and Andre 3000’s partnership, and that straying from that winning dynamic results in missteps and filler. Okay, but I don’t care. Maybe it’s because one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2003 was to get into more hip-hop, and after a few brief excursions into indie rap, this record -- as lyrically engaging as indie, as outright catchy as R&B and funk, and as slick and bouncy as mainstream rap -- was exactly what I need to hear. Or maybe it’s because in this age of mp3s (I installed iTunes at home late last year), I became less interested in the integrity of albums and more in great individual tracks -- which, everything else aside, this record has in droves. (Even an understated number like "Reset," buried near the end of Speakerboxxx, has these breathy female harmonies that, next to the guttural rhymes, sound amazingly sad and hypnotic.) I mean, for those who sneer, "Well, it’d make an all-right single album" (and surely it would), then start uploading and get to work! And then show me an album where the hits keep coming for longer.