Friday, October 02, 2009

MORTON FELDMAN "For Bunita Marcus"
MORTON FELDMAN "Interview with Morton Feldman, 1967"
MORTON FELDMAN "String Quartet II" (2/3rds of it, anyway)
BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (SONY)

CHEAP TRICK In Color (the Steve Albini version)

Been listening to a lot of Feldman at work lately... the whole staff is into it. We work in a somewhat fast-paced and unpredictable environment where any music that has a strong depressurizing effect is appreciated, and the John Tilbury version of "For Bunita Marcus" is certainly up to the task. After that we dared ourselves to play all six hours of "String Quartet 2" (the Ives Ensemble 4CD version on Hat Hut), and made it through damn near four of 'em before throwing in the towel and switching over to Blind Willie Johnson late in the day. We might've made it too, but before "String Quartet 2" we had been sidetracked by an hour-long mp3 of a 1967 interview with the composer, in which he said something interesting enough for me to transcribe right now: "With the new stuff there became less anxiety about time itself. I think where someone like Stockhausen has great anxiety about what he does with his time... a kind of hysterical anxiety... you see, Cage doesn't have anxiety." I think this can be applied to rock music as well... of course all upbeat rock music would seem to be inherently anxious about time compared to the music of Feldman, but there's actually a lot of shading possible in there. For example, the Stones and the Beatles have some discernable anxiety about time, Neil Young and Crazy Horse have notably less, and the Grateful Dead have absolutely none (many would say "not nearly enough"). Velvet Underground had plenty of anxiety, but not about time. Same with Can/Faust/Amon Duul/Ash Ra Tempel/etc, all of whom had plenty of anxiety, but not about time, which was what really made krautrock distinctive, the way it blended anxiety and serenity. Anyway, there's a nice Morton Feldman website here:, and if you don't have six hours to sit down and devote to listening to all of "String Quartet 2," but do get hold of the goods, fast-forward to the movement from 3:13 to 4:50 -- it's incredible.

I can't believe we're in the midst of this new American wave of tropicalia... I can barely hang with the original Brazilian wave. Seriously though, it's kind of this new "indie noise tropicalia" going on here, right? With the kicker-off being Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons album waaaaaayyy back in 2002, the appropriate lifestyle branding media seed planted with a coinciding Vice Magazine featurette that talks about "DJ sets on the beach," a "hippy surf film," and the band being "stoner." The movement soon made it to the Pitchfork Nation with the increasing popularity of artists like Devendra Banhart and especially Animal Collective. I guess Vampire Weekend too, huh? I've never heard them so I can't really comment, but I would include today's "beach punk" as a Pitchfork-approved indie noise tropicalia subcurrent... Waaves suxx, of course, but that group Ganglians are total tropicalia, and I think they're actually pretty good. Most of this music I find just as annoying (in its own uniquely American/cosmopolitan way) as I find most of 1970s tropicalia.... but for every Sun Araw side that I still can't get through, there are some artists and records I consistently enjoy, like the self-titled High Places album on Thrill Jockey. This duo takes dreamy melodies and various little instruments and processes it all through a crisp electronic filter that somehow evokes a young Suzanne Vega type busking melancholy folk tunes with a steel drummer on a street corner during the off-season winter in some half-empty Southern Hemisphere resort town. On a big screen HD TV. I've listened to it all the way through a good four or five times over the last year and I'm still liking it more and more. The last song, "From Stardust To Sentience," why, it's downright Cosmic.

I have never really gotten into Factums, but their new (though recorded in 2006-2007) Sacred Bones LP Flowers is probably their best yet. Like all their other albums, it is at least 10 minutes too long, and the songs and jams still aren't quite as memorable as the sound and attack they are played with, but it seems to have shorter and more punkish song constructions than previous albums, played with more overall drive, which makes Flowers more enjoyable while its on, more like the A Frames/Intelligence sides of the band, but rendered with the same Pacific Northwest fog that was the best thing about their previous albums, like an looser, hazier, and antipodal Six Finger Satellite.

The still-unreleased Albini version of the Cheap Trick album, recorded in 1997, is incredible. Zander's voice seems to be even leaner and meaner than it was in '77, the instruments are on fire, and the whole thing goes down like a ripping live set. Seriously great tunes on this album, and hearing 'em with the Albini rawness rather than Tom Werman's radio job is a blast -- accordingly, they redo "I Want You to Want Me" in the roaring Budokan-style instead of the 1977 version's piano vaudeville. Rick Nielsen himself explains the remake in simple terms: "Sonically we never liked In Color. The songs were good, but sonically it's wimpy and we're not wimpy." Why haven't they released it? "Because we're Cheap Trick."

The new Jim O'Rourke album is really, really good. Takes all his experience with minimalist ideas and spins it into his most calmly florid and expansive Van Dyke Parks/film soundtrack/countrypolitan/prog-rock composition yet, a 38-minute epic.

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