cartwheels into your heart

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Internet is a funny thing. Late Sunday night, I was reading Michael Berube (one of my favorite academics, from a time when I actually had favorite academics, and now an astute political blogger), who pointed me to a NYT Magazine article about political blogs, which reminded me to check out Daily Kos, whose top story at around midnight had to do with Alan Keyes, currently running against Barack Obama to become the next Illinois senator. More specifically, Kos, along with two other sources he linked, was reporting that Alan Keyes's nineteen-year-old daughter Maya is a lesbian.

How did they all know? Well, because Maya has her own blog, of course. On which she's publicly posted details about her homosexuality and photos of her with her girlfriend Bria. Who also, incidentally, has a blog. And a profile. (Despite her father's virulently anti-gay beliefs -- he famously called Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter a "selfish hedonist" -- Maya isn't a total rebel, though. She's still very much anti-abortion, like her dad, and she's deferred college for a year to help work on his campaign.)

Overnight, as one might expect, the story turned into a veritable frenzy within the blogosphere. Kos readers argued about the ethics of publicizing this information, especially since there was some confusion as to whether the site was unintentionally left public. Readers who complained that politicians' children should be off-limits were met by retorts that she's an adult, she's already out, and that she works on the campaign, for chrissakes. Others felt that, given this moral gray area, the story should be dropped simply because Keyes has absolutely no chance of winning in November. (If I'm not mistaken, the latest polls have Obama at 68% and Keyes at 17%.)

On Monday morning, a Columbia U. law student with a coincidental legal interest in website protection failures, IM'd Maya (her screen name was on her site) to inform her of the publicity storm. By early Monday afternoon, much of Maya's blog was taken down (or made private). Her own profile was later deleted. But it was, of course, too late. Reporters started asking Alan Keyes that night about the "Internet rumors" (which he deflected), and a Google search for "maya keyes" that on Monday morning turned up one hit was turning up 57 on Tuesday.

It's weird just how much this story has compelled me, though. For the last few days, I've been obsessively checking blogs buzzing with new information, reading and posting comments on sites I'd never previously visited. Undeniably, part of the story's appeal to me, apart from the obvious political ramifications, is that she's a cute nineteen-year-old lesbian (who also writes insightfully, I might add, and seems pretty cool in general). And her blog contains some priceless backstage peeks into the Keyes family, even apart from the whole lesbian deal (this entry, which I copied before it disappeared from the blog, is very amusing).

But I'm also fascinated by the story as a news story. And that's probably because I happened upon it when it was just beginning to break and thus developed an odd sense of (collective) ownership over it. The story so far was pieced together from various clues on random sites (the Xanga blog,, the Keyes for Senate Yahoo group, photos on the official Alan Keyes website) -- perhaps I, as an able web researcher, might be able to put together more of the puzzle? I'm not sure I uncovered anything that anyone else didn't, even after trawling through Maya's friends' blogs, but I was on top of the story enough to break it on ILX and to know where readers of could find the photo of Maya kissing her girlfriend. When I made a comment on, correcting him on his assumption that Bria's profile was in fact Maya's, he added this correction to his original post, with the caveat, "I have no idea what John's connection is, if any, to this story, nor whether he knows what he's talking about." Which is absolutely fair, of course, but I was mostly amused that I might have some "connection to the story" beyond just compulsively tracking it. Think about it, though: all of this happened within 24 hours, more or less. Suddenly, just because I was in the right place at the right time, I've become an expert.

Like a lot of bloggers who've been writing about this story, though, I do have misgivings about giving it too much attention. Based on a site I won't mention, because I think it's committed a grave violation of privacy, I have reason to believe that the media hubbub -- which has hardly even cracked the mainstream press -- has already caused Maya a great deal of stress. I'm only writing about it here because it's been a few days now, I'm not breaking anything new, and my low readership makes me more comfortable in feeling that I'm not excessively contributing to the problem. But I dunno: if this all seems a little too skeezy to you, let me know.

Monday, September 27, 2004

More pictures all around, in fact. I just bit off Nate and added a 2004 favorites section in the sidebar.


1. Overheard at Target today:

Woman 1: "You are definitely a minimalist."
Woman 2: "I am a minimalist."
Woman 1: "You are."


Woman (on cell phone): "I'd rather be ... hot?"

2. I finally broke down and bought Tricky's Maxinquaye -- seven years after my freshman roommate borrowed it on the last weekend of school, only to never come back to college ever again. JASON BASTIEN. That's right: I don't care. Dude was a punk.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Lesson on Noise
(as read last night at the return of Squeezed)

In common parlance, the word “noise” as applied to music means an aggressive, intense, and most of all, loud quality of the sound. It is commonly used by parents yelling at teenagers to “turn down that noise,” and it is almost always derogatory: “noise” in fact is set in opposition to “music”; it is what happens when music ceases to be musical.

Much of what angry parents denigrate as noise isn’t strictly unmusical, though. Heavy metal, despite various nihilistic or otherwise subversive streaks in its lyrics, is nonetheless often the closest modern equivalent to the bombast of classical composer Richard Wagner. The only difference, perhaps, is that Wagner never conducted a full orchestra in his bedroom, rattling the walls just to piss off his stepdad.

And rap, although dispensing with the traditional vocal melody in favor of rhythmic speech, still uses melodic backing tracks more often than not – Nas’s “I Can” is built around Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”! -- as well as the same verse-chorus-verse structure found in any Tin Pan Alley song. Again, the Gershwins usually weren’t prone to urge their listeners to “get your ass to the floor” while bumping the bass in their Jeeps, but other than that…

If a good amount of heavy metal and hip-hop can be considered musical, then what exactly counts as noise these days? In his book What to Listen for in Music, composer Aaron Copland identifies the four elements of music as rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone color. It is my contention that what we might call “true noise” violates each of these elements: it is arrhythmic, unmelodic, unharmonious, and its colors are outside the lines, so to speak. True noise, then, is not much different than true silence: both are extremes, both lack structure. It is tempting to say that music is what happens between silence and noise: it is the result of reining in the formlessness of both.

On the other hand, I’ve always liked John Cage’s principle that “everything we do is music.” Cage was the first musician to present a performance of twelve radios at random frequencies as a “musical composition,” not long after Marcel Duchamp presented a urinal he found and graffitied as an original work of art. And Cage also demonstrated that there is no such thing as true silence. Sealed in a isolation chamber, Cage found that he was still able to hear his own heartbeat and the blood coursing through his veins. His famous work “4’33”,” in which a performer sits down at a piano and proceeds to play nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, is often misunderstood as a silent composition; in fact, the content of the piece is whatever extraneous sounds are created in the performance’s duration – a bird chirping outside, a floorboard creaking, someone coughing.

Certainly, there are contemporary bands that have taken Cage's philosophy to heart, in the sense that they consider themselves musicians despite disobeying almost all of Copland's prerequisites of music. I've recently seen two bands of this sort – Wolf Eyes and Black Dice – whose live performances consisted of pounding indiscriminately on feedback-enhanced guitars while triggering samples of howls and scrapes and hums and buzzes. Despite its lack of "musical elements," there's a strange overwhelming unity to this music, especially when it's loud and right in front of you and filling your chest cavity with its motorized drone. It becomes a pool you can drown in, a soft bodily attack. You can find a quieter, though no less abstract, example on the new Wilco album. Said to be an aural representation of singer Jeff Tweedy's migraines, the fifteen-minute-long "Less Than You Think" is composed primarily of a high-pitched buzz, accompanied by occasional distant thuds and white-noise curlicues.

And yet, in the end, I'd be lying if I said I outright enjoyed this stuff. I realize that this makes me somewhat less than an expert on the subject, having never heard such vaunted noise bands as the Boredoms or Lightning Bolt, on the simple assumption that I wouldn't enjoy them. I only watched Black Dice and Wolf Eyes because they were on the same bill as bands who use noise but in less extreme ways. And that's probably the key. Noise, when it's most interesting to me, is when it can be heard as one aesthetic property among many in a piece of music.

One way to understand this idea might be to go back to Copland's rubric, and think about noise not as a rejection of all musical elements, but as an effect that results from the betrayal of one or two. Probably the easiest to understand is what happens when musicians expand tone color beyond its conventional range, by which I mean moving from the mellifluous tones of the nineteenth-century orchestra to the harsher, uglier tones of modern rock and roll. This can be accomplished in a couple of different ways. For one, numerous musicians have exploited the elasticity of the human voice, from the howls of bluesman Screamin' Jay Hawkins to the squawks of current British rap star Dizzee Rascal, not to mention several generations of rock frontmen's groans. Technology has also made it possible to process sounds through various effects. On the demo version of PJ Harvey's "Reeling," for instance, the guitar, organ, and voice are all distorted and compressed, giving the recording a raw, metallic flavor that can certainly be described as "noisy." And though I've recently come around to the band My Bloody Valentine, there was a time when I dismissed their album Loveless, with its woozy, wavering, effects-drenched guitars, as sounding like a "musical vacuum cleaner." Which still seems fairly apt.

Under my hypothesis, a different kind of noise then might come from the rejection of harmony as a required musical element. This is part of the idea behind free jazz as a genre. Free-jazz ensembles such as Ornette Coleman's eschewed the piano, which solidified the harmonic structure in most jazz combos, thus giving other instruments more freedom to solo outside this structure. In a Coleman piece, saxophones and trumpets snake around each other and frequently collide with alarming bleats and shrieks. Admittedly, I don't listen to much free jazz, but one of my favorite bands ever is Sonic Youth, who've turned dissonance into an art form, albeit a more pop-friendly variety. To isolate just one example, the opening thirty seconds of "Saucer-Like" features two guitars, one playing blunted discordant chords, the other playing a single-note line that twists around the chords like a spider. The clash of the two instruments is what gives the song an intensely claustrophobic feel.

I've already mentioned how rap resists the musical element of melody by placing a greater emphasis on rhythmic speech, and a cut like "Get Low," by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, with a sparse, siren-like synth line hidden behind a whole chorus of guttural shouts and harangues, seems to exemplify this notion. Indeed, a conspicuous lack of melodicism, along with an abundance of boisterous cat-calls and booty bass, is part of what defines the mostly Southern rap style Lil Jon works within known as "crunk." However, I'd also submit in this category krautrock, a genre originating in Germany in the seventies that glorifies an absurdly steady groove, usually under a guitar part that also drones, unchanging, without much in the way of a sing-along. I once sat in a cold hospital hallway where the hum of some machine somewhere gave me no choice but to quietly turn it into a krautrock song, slowly adding the drums in my head. Krautrock gave birth to pioneer electronic act Kraftwerk, who in turn influenced entire subgenres of hip-hop and electronic music. The unending "whoomp whoomp whoomp" of house music can thus be traced back to krautrock and is certainly, in its own way, noise.

The final musical element, of course, is rhythm, although I'm not sure I can make a very convincing case that stripping a music of its rhythm automatically makes it noise. Surely a banging club track, with its hard, relentless beats, is a lot more "noise" than a free-floating, wimpy new-age tune. On the other hand, several musicians have used unconventional tone color in conjunction with a diminished sense of rhythm for a particularly disarming effect. I'm thinking, for example, of some of the ambient works of Aphex Twin, like "Parallel Stripes," where otherwise soft, ethereal synths drone and vibrate like randomly placed power sources in the same room. The formlessness helps to make it feel desolate and oddly menacing, like it's forever building up to some explosion that never comes. I'd also point to certain compositions of Glenn Branca, a formally trained musician who wrote symphonies for an army of electric guitars. (Among his ensemble in the early eighties were Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo.) The "Third Movement" of Symphony No. 3 vacillates gradually between two dissonant tone clusters, with constant clanging and rattling like a warped dishwasher. And yet there's also a kind of cosmic beauty about the work.

Anyway, Jon Williams, wherever you are: this one's for you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The following was inspired by the Freaky Trigger series, with the following rules established by Mr. Tom Ewing:

C90 Go! is a series of articles, each one about a mixtape, written in the time it takes to listen to that tape (or CD). Once the tape is finished the writer is allowed to edit for sense, flow, grammar and factual accuracy, but is not allowed to add anything substantive to their piece. That's the only rule. The writer can talk about as many or as few of the tracks on the CD as s/he wants, and can write about them in any way they like.

C90 Go!: Aries Foster

This mix tape, which I've often considered my best (of few), was created in the summer of 1999, for a new girlfriend. As someone who doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to lyrics in general, I'm not the sort to make "message" mixes, so I'm not sure this tape really reflects any young-and-in-love sentiments. It's mostly just songs I liked when I was 20. Even the title, "Aries Foster," has no hidden meaning: the words appear next to one another on a crossword-puzzle answer key that was part of the collage I made for the tape cover. (Also on the cover, if I'm not mistaken: a great photo of the Bride of Frankenstein.)

SIDE A: Black and Blue

The mix begins with "Binario," a nice wake-up-and-get-ready sort of song. A high-school friend originally introduced me to Komeda, but the summer before I made this mix, I'd interned at Minty Fresh and got an advance copy of their What Makes It Go? album. I found its sassy pop was perfect to listen to in the shower, rhythmically scrubbing shampoo into my hair.

One band the girlfriend and I had in common was Sonic Youth, so I threw on a song I figured she didn't have: "Bouwerie Boy" by the Kim Gordon-led Free Kitten.

Which then segues into "Cross the Breeze" from Daydream Nation. The beginning of this track always sounds so hardcore, with Steve Shelley furiously pounding his kit on every beat, and spiky guitars. When Kim comes in, it opens up -- the guitar lines start sprawling and spiraling – and yet it never loses that initial energy. Even though "Teenage Riot" is hookier and "Eric's Trip" more popular, sometimes I feel like the seven minutes of this song better capture the majesty of the album. And dig that instrumental coda: the guitars are still chiming and buzzing, floating away.

There were few tapes I made in the late nineties that lacked a track by Pavement. They were my favorite band for maybe only a year or two (1996-97), but after Sonic Youth, they were the first indie-rock band I came to seriously love. "Blue Hawaiian" is an underrated song on an album that contains the one-two punch of "Stereo" and "Shady Lane": the organ gives it this great mellow, hanging-out-at-the beach vibe.

Which is maybe why it's fitting that it shifts into "Ease Your Feet Into the Sea," by Belle and Sebastian. At the time, the girlfriend had more of an affinity for folksy sort of stuff than I did, so I figured this was appropriate (although I think she maybe already had it?) -- but after spending six months in the UK and borrowing their CDs from a flatmate, I counted myself as a B&S fan, too. I responded, of course, to the easy pop perfection of their songs; this one has an undeniable shuffle that works well with its bittersweet tone.

Jim O'Rourke's "Women of the World" (an Ivor Cutler cover) is maybe an easy choice for a feminist with a soft spot for folk, but it's also a pretty weird song: it's nearly nine minutes long and consists of nothing but O'Rourke intoning, "Women of the world, take over / Cause if you don't, the world will come to an end / It won't take long" over and over again, as the song gets progressively bigger and busier. Even though I already owned two Gastr Del Sol records, O'Rourke's Eureka was a big discovery for me in 1999: I only acquired it because I reviewed it for a campus newspaper in the UK, and I spent a lot of time admiring its slightly skewed pop.

In general, I'm kind of skeptical of alt-country: a lot of what I've heard just sounds all boring and strummy, with a bit of a twang or a rough voice to make it sound "rootsy." But in the mid-nineties, I listened a fair bit to the AAA station in Chicago (WXRT) and came across the Jayhawks, whose "Blue" I really did fall in love with: its trickling piano and high harmonies give it a lovely summer front-porch feel.

And then more, more acoustic guitar, as I continue to milk that interest, haha. Anyway, I always thought that Beck's Mutations didn't get the attention it deserved; on "Cancelled Check," you can tell Beck is still having fun playing with signifiers (the lap steel, for instance) but it's also a really solid song in that Nashville tradition. Sometimes I wish that Sea Change was more in this vein, and less theatrically morose.

Gastr Del Sol's "Black Horse" is unlike almost anything else that group ever did, although it's close to O'Rourke's Bad Timing in spirit: it's basically a circular Celtic fiddle piece, augmented by some busy low saxophone, that then devolves into this intense finger-picking that reminded me, when I first heard it, of Philip Glass: all minor arpeggios that just don't let up!

Another thing the girlfriend liked was spoken-word poetry, so I did the best I could with the last three songs on Side A. But I'm pretty sure that "Black Dada Nihilismus," a fairly dark and bizarre rant from Amiri Baraka (with DJ Spooky mixing trumpet sighs and cymbal crashes that sound like struck sheets of aluminum), was her least favorite song on the whole tape. Heh.

I fared somewhat better, I think, with "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," because for all its radical content, it's still such a funky tune, with that octave-striding bass line (I'm still convinced that Stereolab stole it for "Metronomic Underground") and jazz flute – not to mention fun catchphrases like "the tiger in your tank or the giant in your toilet bowl." (I'm sure this made more sense in 1970, but you know, that's part of the fun.) This comes courtesy a best-of Gil Scott-Heron CD that belonged to my dad!

And the third time's really the charm with Soul Coughing's "Screenwriter's Blues." The girlfriend had dismissed this band in the past because she assumed they were bad grunge, but immediately took to this song. I liked Ruby Vroom a lot in its day: its nonsense lyrics, weirdo samples, and faux-jazz shtick were exactly what I was looking for at the end of high school. And though I think they took a pretty serious nose-dive after Ruby Vroom, and though that album doesn't even speak to me as strongly anymore, I will still praise this song, evoking strong black coffee and movies like L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Dr.

SIDE B: Moon Rooms

A lot of what I liked about Soul Coughing I also found in Cibo Matto. It's funny: it all sounds so quintessentially nineties now, that whole Grand Royal scene (Luscious Jackson, Money Mark) that carved out within indie rock a place for this amateurish white (and don't forget Asian!) funkiness. I sure dug the samba grooves of songs like "Spoon," though.

Laika's "Looking for the Jackalope," along with the Amiri Baraka/DJ Spooky collab on Side A, appeared on Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip, one of those AIDS-charity comps that are often surprisingly good. Not acquainted with UK shoegaze/post-rock at all, this was the first of Laika I'd heard, and I liked it so much, I bought the album.

As I'm listening to this again, I'm realizing that Side B has a seriously sexy element, as we move from Laika's breathy vocals and insistent polyrhythms into early-seventies Stevie Wonder, of all people. The synthesizer on "Too High" is too awesome.

And then a segue I'm really proud of: "Too High" ends with a chorus of Manhattan Transfer-ish "doo-doos"; a second later, the exact same kind of "doo-doos" open Les Baxter's "Moon Moods." I totally latched onto that mid-nineties lounge revival, despite being too young (and far from smarmy enough) to really partake in the martini-swilling Swingers lifestyle. This here is an original lounge classic, which I've actually used to counter someone who's said that lounge music is lame. No, no, Pearl Jam fan: you're lame.

Only with perspective, I guess, have I realized that my lounge love was somewhat unique (when ILM went about formulating hypothetical Rough Guides for mini-genres, the only one I felt completely comfortable creating on my own was "Late 90s Lounge Pop"). "Doo-Wop Property" is a High Llamas instrumental that is nonetheless structurally similar to a lot of songs on Hawaii. There'll be the traditional verse/chorus part, and then, toward the end, the band will alight on some phrase that they'll repeat ad infinitum: it's usually something suitably trancelike, so you can close your eyes on the beach as the sun sets and the music fades out.

I'm extremely protective of the Aluminum Group. They, too, were on Minty Fresh when I worked there, and I became enchanted with their Bacharach-styled gay pop narratives, but in the last five years, I've also come to know John and Frank Navin socially, and I often think of them as one of my pet musical discoveries. The first song on their first (proper) album, "Chocolates", is beautiful and lush.

For all the lounge music on this tape, probably the most coffee-table, Gap-friendly selection is "Corcovado," the Jobim tune, as covered by Everything But the Girl. Tracy Thorn starts with impeccable-sounding a capella Portuguese, and when the drum-n-bass rhythm hits, you begin to wish you owned silk sheets or something.

Ordinarily, Yo La Tengo right here might make for a jarring segue, but those warm organ tones in "Autumn Sweater," not to mention a similary reverbed kick drum, sound pretty smooth. This is kind of a clichéd indie-rock love song (a cute girl in a cardigan, a tongue-tied boy, falling leaves: tell me what's NOT emo about this!), but it's very pretty. Did I mention how warm those organ tones are?

One of the things I like about "The Argument" by the Sea and Cake is that it rides this krautrock groove for like two whole minutes before Sam Prekop's willowy voice comes in. (But those little asides he makes! The girlfriend and I would always sing "sit tight, y'all" and "I've got-to go.") A really nice example of the band's facility with blending organic and electronic sounds: a lot of the percussion is obviously programmed, but you can also hear all of John McEntire's spontaneous fills, especially in that first half.

I think at the end of 1999, Sam Prekop's solo album was my favorite of the year, and I'm pleased to see that others agree with me that it's better than a lot of Sea and Cake material (especially, I'd say, the last two records). Even when a song like "Showrooms" is decorated with a string section, it still feels more stripped-down and earthy somehow. And I'm such a sucker for these bossanova rhythms, it's ridiculous.

Stereolab is another band I had a hard time keeping off mix tapes; they were, in fact, my absolute favorite band at the time. With so much material to choose from, I selected "Cybele's Reverie" because it starts with this Hollywood string section, right on the heels of Prekop's strings outro. I swear, this thing is really well sequenced.

And we close with Rachel's, a band close to the girlfriend's heart. (Before we dated, I'd already borrowed Music for Egon Schiele and The Sea and the Bells from her.) "Kentucky Nocturne" was from a brand-new album of theirs that we'd listened to with the lights off in my dorm room that summer. More strings, sheesh, starting out quiet and plaintive and ending in this percussive purple-mountain-majesty that punctuates the end of the cassette.

She still likes the tape, by the way, even though we broke up over three years ago. We're friends now, and she reports that it's one of the best mixes anyone's made her (thanks!), as well as a good "intro to indie rock." Which is kind of interesting. I mean, it's true that if you asked me five years ago what I liked, I would've likely said "indie rock," but except for the Sonic Youth and maybe Pavement, the tape is conspicuously devoid of loud guitar songs. I remind myself of this fact whenever I'm feeling the occasional indie guilt.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Since I've resigned myself to the likely fact that I didn't get the Pfork job (they never wrote back), I might as well post the Bark Psychosis review I submitted as part of the application.

I don't think it's a fantastic review, which I chalk up to it being the first full-length CD review I've written in several years. It made me more conscious of some of my critical limitations when it comes to music -- notably, a tendency to obsessively describe individual instruments at the expense of a giving a broader impression of the overall sound. I think it's the close-reading lit student in me.

Anyway, here it is:

Bark Psychosis, ///Codename: Dustsucker

Born and raised in Chicago, I'd always understood "post-rock" as short-hand for a whole crop of Midwestern bands descended from Slint, with Tortoise always serving as the locus of the scene, the epitome of what you meant when you used the term. There was a certain logic to how I imagined the genre's origin: a couple of indie-rock hipsters sick of singing go to a garage sale, find a beat-up vibraphone, and voila! Only after that scene started to die down in the new millennium did I even hear of the so-called "first wave" of post rock (Talk Talk, Disco Inferno, Seefeel), much less discover that it was within that early nineties British context that the term "post-rock" was coined (by dance critic Simon Reynolds). The record that inspired the neologism was Bark Psychosis's Hex (1994), a moody collection of songs ostensibly centered around Graham Sutton's whispering drawl but surrounded, even overwhelmed, by ambient piano, dub bass, synth washes, and Reichian vibraphone loops two whole years before Millions Now Living Will Never Die.

Part of the reason that first wave of post-rock never really announced itself as the Chicago scene's forebear is because several key role-players stopped making music just as the Americans were catching on. Bark Psychosis seemed destined to join these ranks after not managing to release another album by the end of the decade, apart from Sutton's one-off drum-n-bass project Boymerang. But considering the band took eight years before coming out with Hex (they first formed as teenagers in 1986), it perhaps shouldn't be that surprising to see a new Bark Psychosis album in 2004.

On ///Codename: Dustsucker, only Sutton and auxiliary percussionist Mark Simnett are left, but they're joined by a dozen or so instrumentalists, which makes the record much denser than the lonely, spacious Hex. In fact, the opening cut, "From What Is Said to When It's Read," is practically a straight-up shoegazer song, with heavenly voices and chiming guitars plowed over with feedback drone toward the end. And though Sutton claims not to listen to the contemporary rock vanguard, there are noisy passages that are nevertheless reminiscent of similarly minor-key-inclined Brits like Mogwai or Radiohead. In "Shapeshifting," it's where the squealing guitars fall out and the remaining echoing percussion mixes with alien rumbles and growls (cf. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors").

The band's knack for manipulating such a wealth of sonic colors and textures, along with Sutton's production skills, certainly allows for some beautiful and distinctive moods. "Miss Abuse" builds into a slow and dirty grind, as a bass synth squirms over clanging train bells. A reverb-laden vibraphone on "INQB8TR" recalls the pretty, slinky bit on Bjork's "Possibly Maybe." And there's a point in "The Black Meat"
where I'm suddenly reminded of the stylish Los-Angeles-at-night of Michael Mann's new film Collateral: the crisp trumpet and splashy drums would sound fantastic coming out of the limo stereo, as you gaze out the window to admire all the glass buildings.

At the same time, one of the problems with clearly talented bands that attempt such an intricately textured sound is that the end result can often feel too meticulous, too sucked of the breath of life. I've always admired the way Hex breathes in its quiet tension, and I fear some of that's been lost on ///Codename: Dustsucker. (I'd argue that the same thing happened between Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief.) To their credit, one thing that Bark Psychosis does well is provide a sense of movement throughout their head-nodding drones. Much of this is owed to ex-Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris, who lays down lively jazz patterns that, thanks to a steady ride cymbal, nevertheless feel trancelike. Instruments drop in and out; new sections grow organically out of the previous ones. And yet sometimes an otherwise gorgeous groove will start to plod, or a shift will happen out of what seems like mere restlessness.

But compared to a second-wave band like Tortoise, who've struck me as awfully mannered lately, there's something thrilling about the moments of uneasiness that do slip into Bark Psychosis's songs -- from out-of-nowhere scrapes of noise to Sutton's off-kilter sighs, seeming at odds with the music until they unexpectedly, almost accidentally, blend with a distant melodica or bleeding guitar. Though it lacks the
cool austerity of its predecessor, ///Codename: Dustsucker retains Bark Psychosis's sense of beautiful desolation. Here's hoping it will be enough to inspire new post-rock bands until the next album comes out in 2014.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Someone's surely already pointed out that the opening of "Pieces of Me" sounds like Ashlee Simpson's about to launch into "Tom's Diner"?

Friday, September 03, 2004

Another thing: when it hits the final chorus, you can sing "With or Without You" over it. (Although, I dunno, maybe that makes it kind of fun, despite being embarrassingly generic.)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

That new Maroon 5 single sounds like a jam band covering Coldplay. And I actually like Coldplay, but ugh. I can't wait until Kanye stomps their asses at the Grammys next year with the Best New Artist award. (Who else will even be nominated? Comments!)