cartwheels into your heart

Friday, February 25, 2005

I have some things to say about a few new singles.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Six highlights from last night's surprise Kings of Convenience show at Schubas (added at the last minute after the Double Door tonight sold out, and restricted to 60 minutes because of a later show booked in the space):

a) The red stage light haloing Eirik's wavy hair as he sang.

b) Erlend: "You know, maybe it is good that we play just one hour. Our shows this tour we play usually an hour and a half -- but sometimes I think maybe we don't have enough good songs for that long -- so an hour is better.

Eirik: "Don't be so ... self-deprecating."

Erlend (sheepishly): "I was trying to be endearing."

Eirik: "I hate when people say, oh I'm not very good, or I can't do that very well. You were being like that, self-deprecating."

Erlend: "But in an endearing way!"

c) Erlend introducing a new song as having "lyrics borrowed from another song, an American rock song from 1995 [sic]." "It is a Kings of Convenience song," Eirik clarified, "but the lyrics in the chorus were written by someone else." The verse sounded much like any other hushed lullaby of theirs, until Erlend, sitting at the piano, broke into, "I wanna range life ... so I can settle down."

d) The hurried, off-mic murmuring in Norwegian before a song started up.

e) Erlend complaining that whenever he plays a solo, Eirik stands in front of him, back to the audience, as if to hide him. "So you're basically admitting," Eirik said, "that you view a solo as an opportunity to show off." Several minutes later, Erlend did the same thing to Eirik, prompting much audience laughter and applause.

f) Erlend's invitation: "After the show, I am going to be at Clarke's -- you know, by the subway, er, railway -- for some Swedish pancakes. I was there earlier and had scrambled eggs, and then I saw they had Swedish pancakes. So if anyone wants to join me and ask questions about the music, you are all welcome to come." (I happened to walk past the diner maybe 90 minutes later, and if he had been there at all, he had since left.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

1. I'm as disappointed as everyone else with Daft Punk's new Human After All, but I have to say, I was recently listening to the first couple of tracks (which I do like: it only slips into meandering pseudo-industrial loops with the pointless train noises at the end of "Primetime of Your Life") -- so: listening while walking through the underground tunnel that connects the Red Line and the Blue Line, and strangely I was alone, no traffic in either direction, and I noticed if I kept my head up and looked straight ahead, the geometric patterns on the curved walls and arched ceiling seemed to radiate and move: I felt like I was navigating a virtual 3-D environment instead of a real one, and as the vocodered robots reminded me I was "human after all," I couldn't help emitting a small, audible laugh.

2. I bought Joni Mitchell's Hejira the other day and have tried to listen to it a couple of times, but despite its elements sounding appealing on paper -- spidery guitar lines, fretless jazz bass, Joni's still clear-as-a-bottle voice -- the whole thing makes me nervous. Physiologically, I mean. The only thing I can think to compare it to is when you're eating a Fruit Roll-Up and at first it seems sweet and grapey and fun, but then it turns tart and its stickiness lodges in your teeth, this rubbery bundle of sugar you can't quite extract, and you begin to feel like your molars are just impossibly coated with the stuff. Yeah, like that.

3. There must be a little "ping" sound at the start of Jon Brion's "Knock Yourself Out" "Strange Bath," from the I ♥ Huckabees soundtrack -- I'm too lazy to check, but there must be, because whenever a downward elevator arrives for me at the end of the workday, its bell automatically triggers Brion's piece in my mind. How's that for zen?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Pazz and Jop

Yeah, I know, the esteemed Village Voice annual music critics' poll is over a week old now, and what more is there to say that hasn't been said already? Except for, you know, the thing where I link to my ballot and then the thing where I link to Glenn McDonald's alignment chart and pontificate on where I stand (right in the middle at #304, which means I voted for Kanye, along with a million others, but I was also one of only two people to vote for Luomo, and the only one period to vote for Bark Psychosis! Out of almost 800!)

But so Glenn's chart sort of whetted my appetite for conducting ridiculous statistical analyses, and I mean what is P&J useful for if not as a massive data set? So for the last few days, I've been tabulating the results of the poll if only women voted in it. Now I have no particular ideological axe to grind here, but I thought it'd make for an interesting study, since I really had no idea what to expect: strangely enough, I don't have any preconceived notions about what female rock critics like. Perhaps the undertaking would merely prove that there's no difference whatsoever between men's and women's tastes -- although I have to say, having now spent many hours on this project, I'd have been sorely disappointed if that had been the case.

No, I think you'll find the results quite fascinating, actually. First let me assure you that in the case of ballots with sexually ambiguous names, I did the requisite Google searches to find photos or pronoun references. While it's possible, of course, that I may have made a quick assumption about a name that's more ambiguous than I realize, the impact of such a case is probably negligible. Here, then, are the top 40 albums as tallied using only women's votes:

Women's Top 40

AlbumPoints (votes)% of total pts from women*
1 (1)Kanye West, The College Dropout393(34)13.9
2 (4)Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand389(37)24.8
3 (3)Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose300(27)16.8
4 (5)Green Day, American Idiot242(18)19.3
5 (6)Arcade Fire, Funeral205(20)17.5
6 (12)TV on the Radio, Desperate Youths and Blood-Thirsty Babes197(18)22.6
7 (10)Danger Mouse, The Grey Album154(13)17.0
8 (27)Killers, Hot Fuss138(13)29.8
9 (7)Streets, A Grand Don't Come For Free137(13)11.8
10 (35)Usher, Confessions133(10)37.0
11 (20)Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender128(11)23.2
12 (2)Brian Wilson, Smile123(11)6.0
--- (9)Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News123(12)13.1
14 (8)U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb119(11)11.9
15 (71)Thermals, Fuckin A114(8)62.0
16 (33)PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her112(10)27.5
--- (14)Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous112(9)15.8
18 (22)Elliott Smith, From a Basement on a Hill108(12)20.3
19 (26)Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters105(10)22.6
20 (18)Bjork, Medulla99(11)17.1
21 (17)Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat98(9)15.9
--- (68)Tegan and Sara, So Jealous98(9)51.3
23 (13)Wilco, A Ghost is Born93(9)12.0
24 (74)Le Tigre, This Island82(7)46.1
25 (30)Libertines, The Libertines80(5)18.3
26 (56)Jill Scott, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 278(8)31.0
--- (23)M.I.A./Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 178(8)15.0
--- (36)Morrissey, You Are the Quarry78(8)21.9
29 (24)Dizzee Rascal, Showtime75(9)15.3
30 (47)Futureheads, The Futureheads73(8)25.3
--- (19)Interpol, Antics73(8)13.1
--- (25)Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus73(6)15.4
33 (53)Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives72(7)26.8
34 (83)Gwen Stefani, Love.Angel.Music.Baby71(7)45.8
35 (42)Air, Talkie Walkie66(6)21.6
--- (55)De La Soul, The Grind Date66(7)25.9
37 (14)Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me64(6)9.0
38 (28)Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands58(5)12.8
39 (43)Walkmen, Bows and Arrows55(7)18.4
40 (205)Garden State (soundtrack)53(6)77.9

*Women accounted for 15.6% of all voters (124/793), which means that, with a few exceptions, albums with a percentage in this column higher than 15.6% moved up and those with a percentage lower than 15.6% moved down. Bold text indicates albums with support from women greater than 25% -- i.e., albums disproportionately liked by women.

Miscellaneous Stats

Highest-ranking album overall not in the female voters' top 40:
Madvillain, Madvillainy (#11; women accounted for only 47 of its 875 points)

Highest-ranking album overall not receiving a single female vote:
Eminem, Encore (#63; 23 total votes)

[EDIT: Barry asked me what the highest-ranking album overall not receiving a single male vote was. It's the Faint's Wet From Birth (#321; 4 total votes).]

Albums in the overall top 40 that received less than 10% support from women:
Drive-By Truckers (#16): 3.2 %
Madvillain (11): 5.4
Brian Wilson (2): 6.0
Animal Collective (21): 6.4
Ghostface (32): 7.0
Youssou N'Dour (34): 7.2
Big & Rich (39): 7.5
Hold Steady (31): 8.6
Nellie McKay (14): 9.0
AC Newman (40): 9.1


So Kanye West still wins, although Franz Ferdinand is nipping at his heels so closely that another #10 vote would've put the Scotsmen on top. The biggest shock for me, though, is the placement of Brian Wilson's Smile, which ran neck-and-neck with The College Dropout on the overall poll but couldn't even muster a third of its points among women. The best explanation I can give for this phenomenon is that Wilson's support was strongest among older, boomerish voters, a faction that probably doesn't include very many women, as they tended to get into that rock-crit game later. (Chuck Eddy, please send me complete demographical stats, okthxbye.) But you know what I mean: who represents the "old guard" of female music critics? Ann Powers?

As for the records that did considerably better among women, the most unsurprising beneficiaries are probably albums by female artists: making significant moves up the chart were Joanna Newsom (+9), PJ Harvey (+17), Jill Scott (+30), Tegan and Sara (+47), Gwen Stefani (+49), Le Tigre (+50), and the Thermals (ft. Kathy Foster on bass) (+56), and in all of these cases support from women voters exceeded 20 percent. It's worth noting, too, that those artists can't really be said to have anything in common besides their chromosomal makeup: their collective femininity takes on both strident and elegant strains. Which is why I'm puzzled that Nellie McKay not only missed out on this swell of support but took one of the most precipitous dives (-23) in the women-only poll. I mean, if it's precociousness that the female critics can't abide, what saved Joanna Newsom?

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the implication that there are certain albums designed to appeal to women, but I also won't pretend to be baffled by the support female critics gave to Usher (+25, the biggest gainer within the top 10), whose crooning and pleading throughout Confessions has the outright goal of wooing a special lady: maybe it could be you! Likewise, the Garden State soundtrack (+165, by far the biggest gainer within the top 40, with nearly 80% of its points doled out by women) is essentially Zach Braff's personal emo crush mixtape: what gal wouldn't love to give in to his/its dreamy charms? Let me emphasize that this sort of fetishization, if it does exist, is by no means a one-way street and maybe goes a ways toward explaining Nellie McKay's drop after all: she's the sort of cute, perky college girl that dudes constantly fall for but women see through as unfunny and attention-starved. (I haven't even heard the album, I'm just going by what I've heard.)

Looking elsewhere on the list, I'm especially curious as to what accounts for the dramatic rise of the Futureheads (+17), the Killers (+19), and the Hives (+20), but I'm not willing to make any more half-baked generalizations as to why this might be the case. (I will remark, apropos of nothing, that all three bands are pretty stylish.) And then Eminem, who garnered not a single vote from women: a stand against the rapper's misogyny or merely the good sense to recognize that Encore is the most lifeless record Marshall's made? This, inevitably, is where my female readers come in.

* * *

Finally, here's some more P&J observations I scratched out and read in public a few days ago, all while wearing a gray fuzzy hood with bear's ears on top (don't ask):

Last week was a bit of a mixed bag for Kanye West. At the Grammys on Sunday, he lost two of the awards he was expected to take home -- Best New Artist and Album of the Year -- scoring his only major win in the rap category. But earlier in the week, the Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop poll placed The College Dropout at the top of its list. Kanye himself probably would’ve preferred a glamorous trophy and another go at the podium to an honor he can’t even show off bestowed by a bunch of unemployed snobs. But for those who do care about such things, his victory represents a significant achievement. Since OutKast’s recent double album topped the critics’ poll in 2003, this now marks the first time that hip-hop records have scored back-to-back wins -- which maybe means that critics have finally cast aside their nostalgia for aging rock heroes (Bob Dylan won as recently as three years ago) and caught up with a culture where hip-hop has been the lingua franca for at least a decade.

Then again, the Pazz & Jop runners-up were 62-year-old former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, whose Smile was merely the apotheosis of a project he began in 1966 -- and 70-year-old Nashville legend Loretta Lynn, whose record was, yes, produced by a hip young person, but a hip young person who made a point of recording his last album on equipment made exclusively before 1963. And since a poll of this size rewards sheer volume of votes, if The College Dropout was able to best these two records, it may not necessarily mean that everyone was over the moon about Kanye, just that they paid attention to him more than anyone else, and for the most part generally liked what they heard. I mean, my own Village Voice ballot is probably typical. The College Dropout was one of only a handful of hip-hop albums I heard in 2004, and I didn’t love the whole thing, but I found much of it charming and accomplished enough to make the final cut. It was the only rap album on my list, and I stuck it at #8. My guess is that Kanye got to #1 overall on the strength of a whole lot of #8s.

This still doesn’t negate hip-hop’s dominance, though. In fact, it probably reveals a hidden aspect of its dominance: lots of people are listening to hip-hop, while lots of other people feel like they should be listening to it. Which isn’t always pretty, as you run the risk of being accused of tokenism if you compose a top ten list of mostly white indie rock and electronic records and then throw Kanye in at the end. But for all the critics who respond to hip-hop out of an awkward sense of liberal guilt, there are surely others who are genuinely engaging with these records. And either way, I can't wait to see what the next few years hold.

Friday, February 11, 2005

1. Last week, someone on ILM had the bright idea to do a collaborative mix CD. Someone else selected a theme -- "chutzpah" -- and started a group blog so that we could all take turns posting tracks, round-robin style. Anyway: here's my contribution, Gil Scott-Heron's funky anti-nukes protest, "Shut 'Em Down." (By the time it got to me, the disc had already ballooned to 75:00, so in order to keep it within the limits of a single audio CD, I had to do a little fade-out magic -- which was fine because the band just kinda jams for the last couple minutes anyway, but hence: "Jaymc Edit.")

2. I'm going to be writing some feature articles soon for Stylus, one of the best music sites on the web. I'm pretty thrilled at the opportunity, as I've been meaning to start pitching my writing elsewhere, anyway. Of course, I'll post links once my stuff is actually up.

3. Is it just a coincidence that since I started Motherless Brooklyn -- Jonathan Lethem's novel about a detective with Tourette's -- not one day ago, that I've found myself in the vicinity of these three men: a) one who got on the bus last night giggling uncontrollably for a solid minute, b) one in Dunkin Donuts this morning (I'm out of orange juice) who said joyfully to the grizzled old man next to him, "You can tell I got it last night, huh? I really got it last night. From what, I dunno. I probably got it from a buffalo!", and c) one who burst in between train cars and started a loud and somber monologue that, as best as I could tell, drew a connection between the blood lost at circumcision and the global rise of socialism? (Incidentally, did the premise for TV's Monk, about a detective with OCD, arise from the book, or is that just a coincidence, too?)

Saturday, February 05, 2005


I haven't seen a handful of high-profile releases (The Aviatior, Kinsey, Ray), and I stupidly missed some smaller but highly acclaimed films (Los Angeles Plays Itself, Moolaade), but it's February, and I'm ready to be done with all this year-end nonsense, so here's my top dozen:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (M. Gondry)
2. Collateral (M. Mann)
3. Sideways (A. Payne)
4. Before Sunset (R. Linklater)
5. Million Dollar Baby (C. Eastwood)
6. Undertow (D. Green)
7. We Don't Live Here Anymore (J. Curran)
8. The Manchurian Candidate (J. Demme)
9. Shaun of the Dead (E. Wright)
10. The Dreamers (B. Bertolucci)
11. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Q. Tarantino)
12. Anchorman (A. McKay)