February 15, 2011

Colin Stetson — Home (New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges)

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You go to a city for the first time. Its smells and pallet strike you as natural, second nature. You’ve been there or belong there. Each corridor and storefront more welcoming than the last, and your ass fits perfectly into every barstool. The bone structures in the faces that pass stir a gut recognition, and even the voices of bartenders and waitresses sound like family. You were shot out into the world three decades ago, 2,000 miles away and you keep finding places that feel like home.

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Filed under: real spiritual 
January 25, 2011

Linda Lewis — Red Light Ladies (Fathoms Deep)

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You’ve been chewing the black pen cap for a solid minute before you realize it’s the public-use office pen at Planned Parenthood. Just lovely. Now you can already foresee the likely return trip for the unknowable milky growth just inside your lip, you think. There is absolutely no monitoring of the tiny radio hidden just behind the fake greenery on the windowsill. Prince’s “Kiss” is followed by a swinging rockabilly tune in which the male lead sings: “She’s sexy and seventeen” (The Stray Cats’ “Sexy and Seventeen”). There is nothing sexy about the two 17 years olds (if that) in the waiting room with you. Or their mothers (Or maybe their open-minded aunts). Or the one other dude, with a Widespread Panic shirt on, that trotted through the room earlier. But it is sort of intriguing how chipper they all seem. They’re just hanging out. Damn near jubilant. Is this the resigned contentment of going all in on bad news? Yes, this is one place in the world where you can expect the worst of everyone and not feel like a cynic or a curmudgeon. Everyone except you of course, you magnificent bastard. You’re fine — aside from having chewed on that public use pen that is. Do you put the brochures back in the rack or toss them in the trash can on your way out? Which is the better indication that you’ll not be needing them?

January 23, 2011

Dirty Projectors — Two Brown Finches (The Glad Fact)

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UPDATE: I found the story. It’s The Ceiling by Kevin Brockmeier.

I read a short story once in college. I suppose it could have been considered science fiction writing. In the story, which takes place in a suburban or midsize town, residents notice a tiny black square far up in the sky, teeny tiny. They go on with their everyday lives, the ennui and malaise and rickety relationships. And every day this giant black square inches closer and closer. Of course, the impending doom of the black square doesn’t stop anyone from taking cheap shots at one another, or generally wasting each and every day. Eventually, this massive Death Star-sized black object is just over their houses. Then, one day, it’s so close the people have to lay on their backs in their lawns. The black rectangle is so close they can see their breath on it. It’s barely reflective. And all this one couple, who throughout the story have been at the precipice of their own collapse, can do is reach out for the other’s hand and wait on this object to probably crush them. I’m fairly certain this nameless short story was post-9/11 commentary, and I guess this is magical-realism — left field, but matter-of-fact in its telling. “Two Brown Finches” is the song we sing the day before we see that far off black square. It’s so small out their out in space, the size of a bean. Then, the size of a raspberry. Then, it’s as big as us. Then, it’s bigger than us. Then, it’s as big as our house. Dave Longstreth’s voice does all its faux-jazz dips and doodles. It’s breezy, but it’s an ominous breeze. And when he says “And we drank a two-liter of Orange Crush,” it crushes in the most literal sense — your big fat far-off plans, your hard little chestnut heart, your old bullshit habits. 

January 14, 2011

Caribou Vibration Ensemble — Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday (Caribou Vibration Ensemble)

When I was in 4th Grade, my teacher Mrs. Hiatt had a calendar made out of a long, thin piece of cardboard, hung from the ceiling and running the perimeter of our desks, a big rectangle above our heads. We faced Autumn. Spring was to our backs. Winter (and more importantly Christmas break) directly to my right, almost just above my head, as I sat on the far right hand side, second or third row back. Summer (and more importantly Summer vacation) across the other students’ desks to my far left. She would clip a little paper with our names to our respective birthdays. And Mrs. Hiatt’s classroom calendar is how I’ve subconsciously tracked the years of my life ever since 4th Grade. It’s how I see time. When I think of a day, I see it up above my 4th Grade classroom. Right now, my mind’s eye knows just where we’re at on this day, Jan. 14, just above and behind me. And just a few space beyond that, it’s someone’s birthday. And her name is clipped to it. 

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Filed under: beenawhile birthday 
December 29, 2010
"People like shit."

— Miles Davis (via richardswift)

December 26, 2010

Eddie Gale — Black Rhythm Happening (Black Rhythm Happening)

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My girlfriend, my dear friend Chris and I went as “Kanyes West” for Halloween this year. Simply oversized .pdf photos of Kanye’s mug printed out, pasted to cardboard and applied with wood paint stirrers to make for handles, our costumes were some of the least elaborate among the other partygoers at the basement dance party we attended that evening. Yet, they drew the most curious and generally creeped out looks. This is probably because Kanye was on a media tear at the time, about to release an album that received a lead, five-star review in Rolling Stone, et al., he was on the tip of every tongue of adults 18-35 years of age and interested in pop-culture. And, well, seeing a Kanye trifecta dancing to “C’mon and Ride It (The Train)” flanked by a Telemundo bee and a banana person in some rando Bloomington basement is right up there among any pop-culture psychedelic experience I can think of at the moment. Once tossed out as a possibility, the Kanye Halloween costume seemed the most obvious answer. Honestly, I feared an over abundance of Kanye Wests on Halloween. “There’s a little Kanye in all of us,” I would yell to the puzzled masses. That seems the easiest explanation for why this costume worked so amazingly well. I’m one of the few Kanye detractors (critics? haters?) I know. Yet, I can also admit he is absolutely The Man of The Year: Self-obsessed and self-martyring; materialistic; faux-spiritual; faux-apologetic; social networking pioneer and slave; simultaneously low, mid and (on a pretty pedestrian level) high-brow; surrounding himself with the uber-hip in attempts to validate or mask his own cool or gaps therein; endlessly shouty. He is you and me at our best and worst. We’re all just walking contradictions, and Kanye puts a magnifying glass to it. He bounces it off satellites and broadcasts it across the networks, across Twitter. He is every character in Black Swan (tip of the hat to Marathonpacks). Black Swan could/should have been an Eddie Murphy-like vehicle for Mr. West. 

On the 2:30 a.m. walk home from the basement dance party, my lady and I decided to take the back alleys. This route took us down the alley that runs behind Sports, one of Bloomington’s “bro”bars, but also one that can feel stra. To its credit, Sports has an upstairs dance club that is one of a handful of quasi-metropolitan experiences offered in Bloomington. Mainly, it’s because a lot of black people go there too, and the dancing and DJing are pretty damn legit. That night, the downstairs patio portion of Sports was blasting “Ants Marching,” Dave Matthews Band’s breakthrough hit from 1994. I received Under the Table and Dreaming for my birthday that year, and was an avid DMB fan through high school and into college. In the alley behind Sports, Kanye and Kanye began to dance. At first, it was the hippie crab-hand dance. Then, Kanye was spinning Kanye, round and round. Kanye was dipping Kanye. Kanye mimicked Michael Jackson for Kanye. Kanye kissed Kanye to a Boyd Tinsley violin solo. Two mirrored but separate walking contradictions twisted up together in joyous dance. Time became unstuck. Pop-culture was delineated, was a vacuum. All art was a giant painting, an endless song, a neverending story, on an invisible plane just out of our reach — but one to which even tiny moments like this, in the alley behind Sports, were valid, maybe even important, contributions. 

December 23, 2010

Mark Hollis — A Life (1895-1915) [Mark Hollis]

This record is a prelude to a haunting. All those subtle suggestions of a spirit visitor in your home before things turn dark. Kitchen chairs just subtly rearranged. It’s what the cat can’t take its eyes off of. The album makes canyons of the tiny rivulets between our life moments. It reminds us of the weight those in between moments truly carry. 

December 21, 2010

Meredith Monk — The Tale (Dolmen Music)

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An admission should be made here before you trust any more of the words I type. “Deck The Halls” contains my favorite song lyrics of all time. Front to back. It’s absolutely the perfect poetry to accompany this bittersweet, strange season. Of flu and cabin fever. Of decorative lights and endless darkness. Of apple cheeks and numbed fingers. Of giving and taking. Yes, I’m sure of it. Obviously timeless, proven over hundreds of years of endless, endless seasonal recitation. But it’s also beyond denomination, before Christians adopted “yule” and all its branch-words, when the only thing left to do in the biting snow was to huddle together, to dance and drink wine. An incantation to keep our hearts and eyes on the prize of deep, focused fellowship and merriment. “Don we now our gay apparel/Troll the ancient yuletide carol.” I challenge ye to present a better couplet. Drink deeply your holiday gin and tonic, your G&T. It tastes just like an evergreen. Or if you will, a christmas tree. Meredith Monk here is chockfull of the holiday spirit, thankful for all she has — her arms, her telephone, her memory, her gold ring, her philosophy and even her allergies, for god’s sake, her allergies.

December 14, 2010

Bill Evans — Peace Piece (Everybody Digs Bill Evans)

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Believe this: My grandmother, Janice Nash, made toast — among many other things — better than you can really imagine. It’s simply a process of taking the toast out of the toaster at specific intervals, and adding butter in such a way. I’ve attempted her method on my own, but to no avail. I can’t explain the golden, melt-on-your-tongue perfection of said toast any better than I can write about jazz. Or really, any better than I can write about a person who loved me more than I’ve loved anything so far. For two nights now, after a whirlwind trip to New York and Philly and back in this quiet house with a giant sleeping cat, I’ve been alone with the strange emptiness and helpless feeling a loss like this leaves. I found the last card she sent me, which simply reads “Just Rolling By…” and I stuck my face in its crease to see if a smell remained that could conjure up a vivid memory — the sheets in the room of her house where I stayed, the Shirley Temples she used to make my sister and I when we would spend New Year’s Eve in her living room. I found one of the individual bags of candy she prepared each year for trick-or-treaters that I grabbed on a visit to her house this fall and later stuffed in our snack cabinet. It’s contents remain untouched. I stuck my nose inside, again attempting to conjure something, anything. No smell other than the particular musky wood smell of my kitchen’s snack cabinet, but I was instantly covered in goosebumps. They haven’t stopped. This year, I was lucky enough to be her date to my cousin’s wedding in Las Vegas, a city my grandma loved. Our hotel room had two king-size beds. I’d come in late, drunk, crashing into my pillow. I rarely sleep through the night, waking several times until morning. Every time I’d wake up in the hotel room, I’d see my grandmother laying down in her bed, staring across the room at me, smiling. I’d smile too and drift back off. 

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Filed under: real spiritual 
November 19, 2010

The Ahmad Jamal Trio — The Awakening (The Awakening)

In the piano stylings Ahmad Jamal we find a sort of wild Bill Evans/Keith Jarrett/Vince Guaraldi hybrid — just this side of shmoov, just this side of free. Jamal fell on to my radar last weekend, in a crosstown Chicago cab. Our driver had the dial set to one of the most perfectly eclectic stations in recent memory (out-disco, Van Morrison, Ahmad Jamal). We were full of sangria. Kurt was in the front seat, chatting up the driver, maybe flirting a bit even. We were on the victory lap of an all-day drunk, the second leg of a bender that included $12 mojitos at the Ralph Lauren bar on Michigan Ave. and a blurry stroll through the Museum of  Contemporary Art’s stunning Luc Tuymans exhibit (more on this later?). As soon as the Jamal song started up, I connected (the song was “Poinciana” from a 1959 live recording, not the one you find here [though I still highly recommend seeking out Live at the Pershing Lounge), my ears perked. I don’t own an iPhone, but Christy does. And she used that one feature that can listen to 20 seconds of a jam and tell you exactly what it is. At some point in human history, someone in bar could tell you what song was playing if you asked around enough. Now, people don’t like to do things like that. I don’t know whether it’s because we have a distaste for this type of human interaction or because we like to feel like know-it-alls. Anyway, I’ve been on a download tear of all things Jamal. And his album The Awakening is nothing short of essential. Maybe a gentrified Alice Coltrane, but it’s killing me right now. This song is also the basis for the inspiring 1990 film, Awakenings, starring Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams and Julie Kavner, a tale of a hospital ward of human vegetables brought to vibrant life by a new drug.

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