Slowdive – Here She Comes [a surreal fan video]

Here’s an admission: shoegaze is still one of my favorite genres. The gauzy dream-sound of guitars blurred into pure haze.. it’s never left that soft, nostalgic center of my brain. Effects pedals, ghosted vocals, and a sort of spectral swagger will always their place in my heart.

Today I listened to Slowdive‘s monumental second album, Souvlaki, and it all came flooding back.

Here She Comes is the simplest, most direct song on the album. The impressionistic lyrics are just dark and weird enough to not seem juvenile; combined with the melodic cloud of hand drums and reverb-laden guitar, they form a surreal love poem.

It’s so lonely in this place
So cold I don’t believe
And as no-one knows my name
It’s easy to pretend
It’s easy to believe
There’s a shadow on my wall
It dances like my soul
Dances like my soul
It’s so cold now
I swear it will be warm
Here she come now

Since they recently reformed, I’m hoping for at least one chance to see Slowdive perform in this lifetime.

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Someone was kind enough to upload the entire Souvlaki album on youtube, so give it a listen if you don’t already own it. As one of the best albums of the 90s, and easily one of two or three crowning achievements of the shoegaze genre, it’d be a damn shame to miss out on this experience. Buy the album for less than $10, if you’re interested. Or listen first below.

There’s a shadow on my wall / It dances like my soul

Armistice Day and Kurt Vonnegut’s Birthday

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“…all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.”

- Kurt Vonnegut

(emphasis mine)

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I mean no offense to Veteran’s Day. It is simply a different holiday, the honoring of US soldiers in general. I believe that there is room in our cluttered calendar for both observances. While the individual soldiers deserve our respect and empathy, the holiday it usurped was meant to commemorate possibly the gravest moment of human history. I’m sticking with the original intent, as Mr. Vonnegut so eloquently spelled out 41 years ago.

Happy birthday, Kurt. I wish everyone a peaceful Armistice Day, and a moment of silence at 11:11.

Thoughts On ‘Interstellar’

I just watched Interstellar. I had a great time. I feel like director Christopher Nolan really nailed the feeling he was going for – which, to me, was a bold mixture of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brian Eno-scored NASA documentary For All Mankind, life affirming earth panorama Koyaanisqatsi, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos… with a sprinkling of exquisite 90s galactic haunted house Event Horizon and Terence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. It may not be for everyone, but for my particular tastes and predilections, it hit the spot in a very specific way.

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It never coheres perfectly, but I was genuinely caught up in the illusion he was pulling off this time. I was high on the experience, despite seeing his influences splattered everywhere, in startling clarity. Hell, the main theme is an unabashed riff on the final movement of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi score. In that last sequence, we watch a Russian cosmonaut rocket explode on takeoff, then tumble to the earth, pirouetting in slow motion. See it here:

Powerful stuff, right?

It’s an apt metaphor for the fear driving this film’s ambitions. Writer Jonathan Nolan was quoted saying, “We’re not fucking going to space,” to originally attached director Steven Spielberg. He goes on to say, “We’ve literally peaked as a species with a little flag on the moon. Can you imagine in a million years when the alien anthropologists turn up and they find the flag and say, ‘Fuck they almost made it. They got that far.’”

I get the feeling that when a science fiction film is considered, all bets are off for the pedants who normally respect the illusory irrationality of cinema. While I will make no case for Interstellar as a perfect piece of cinema, or an important one, I will say that it’s not only a grand ride; Neil DeGrasse Tyson agrees.

As I reminded a friend: Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a film expert. I’m merely making the case that, because someone who has dedicated his life to what most of us deem speculative fiction can fully accept the film and take it on its own narrative terms, surely the armchair (or wood panel basement) equivalent can learn to relax and enjoy sci-fi as you would any other genre. Or not.

I suppose that tangent was merely a nod toward the fact that, hailed as a “true” sci-fi epic or not, this was a supreme aesthetic experience that never blows audience intelligence out the airlock. It may not even attempt the depth most of its inspiration (especially Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, which Nolan has specifically mentioned and is totally fucking streaming in full on youtube here) but it grabbed me on a gut level that few films do. I think you should watch it.

Addendum

Sitting at work this morning, contemplating Armistice Day, I recalled a line from Interstellar, regarding the spaceship under construction. “Every rivet could have been a bullet.” This appears to be a direct nod to President Eisenhower’s famous Chance For Peace speech, where he intoned the following:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

This reinforces my understanding of the film as not only a thoughtfully grand magic trick, but a call to arms (so it were) for the current generation to focus our ambitions beyond ourselves, and look to the skies rather than our borders. It’s a remarkably similar sentiment expressed countless times throughout the modern iteration of Cosmos, which is now streaming in full on Netflix. Watch it if you have yet to.

Vote Today: November 4, 2014

For US based readers and listeners: I just thought I’d drop a friendly reminder that, however fucked our so-called democracy has become, voting still matters. It’s not only important to voice your opinion where it counts (as opposed to the internet); it’s important to exercise your primary duty as an informed citizen. One reason so many asshole Republicans get into office is that my generation lets old, cynical, fearful people dominate the polls. That is something that could change.

Since this is a music blog, I’m also sharing a song that I’ve probably listened to 40+ times this year.

Sandwell District’s Feed Forward collection is probably the best and dark techno release of the past decade. I can, and have, felt lost in this music for days at a time. Keep this playing as you brave your local polling station.

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If you need help with the local issues and candidates, as well as the location of your local station, go here: https://2014.votinginfoproject.org/

Thank you, friends!

Robert Hood’s Dancer, An Ass Shaking Classic

I’ve been a fan of Robert Hood‘s brand of sensually minimal techno since hearing a reissue of his classic Minimal Nation double 12″ in 2009, falling in love with the beyond-lush Motor: Nighttime World 3 a few years later. Somehow I’d never dug through his vast collection of singles until last Friday. I was working at my desk when Dancer queued up, and immediately had to stomp my feet along, slapping the desk with my open palms.

This track is a 4/4 monster, piling grand piano and a hairy sax groove on top of a throbbing beat, with just the slightest hint of guitar sprinkled around. The mixture of pure electronics and live instrumentation works in a way most hybrids could only dream of. It’s the kind of song Daft Punk would kill to make; the sound feels like peeling their recent album Random Access Memories down to its beating heart.

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Only a handful of Detroit masters craft techno with such soul, such a playful jazz sensibility, as Robert Hood. I’m thinking of Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, and of course Underground Resistance, where Hood began his musical odyssey. While this tune is obviously more of a house thumper, I’m happy to share it as another example of the playful, jazzy core of what makes Detroit techno one of my favorite sounds of all time.

Andy Stott’s Brilliant Boiler Room Set

Here’s Andy Stott spinning dark techno brilliance for almost an hour. I’m totally unsure of how I managed to miss this. Dropping two years ago – just before his stunning full length Luxury Problems – this live set mixes in a whole lot of his signature abrasive 4/4 monstrosities and searing vocal colors from Alison Skidmore. It’s a dark, sinewy construction, shambling its way through the back caves of your mind.

Basically, it sounds exactly how you’d expect Andy Stott to sound like live. Fans of Luxury Problems will be especially pleased around the 19 minute mark.

In typical Boiler Room fashion, the crowd consists of listless hipster types sipping on beers and occasionally tilting their hips. The real draw is the sound. Turn your volume up, and read something interesting while you listen. I suggest this illuminating treatise on the philosophy behind invisible prisons that shape our lives. It’s called The Black Iron Prison, a term birthed by Philip K. Dick in his final novel, VALIS. You should probably read that at some point in your life. It’s a transcendent (and partially autobiographical) dissection of sanity itself.

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I don’t have much else to say about this. Just listen. Or watch, too, if you’re in the mood to see people looking miraculously bored at one of the most intimate, brilliant techno sets I’ve ever heard.