In January


So: it’s January. The weather outside, as I type this, is relatively crappy; I am making do with a series of recent album purchases (James Xerxes Fussell, Amen Dunes, Nathan Bowles, Sleater-Kinney, Attendant, Sick Feeling) and copious amounts of coffee. I have a working oven again; and baked goods will likely be the result. (I’m also weighing the merits of seeing what happens with cookie dough that’s been frozen over a year, but that’s a ramble for another day.)


I started doing some writing about music for BOMB: here are interviews with Peter Jefferies and Weyes Blood, both of which I’m really happy with.

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, I talked with Mike Pace about his new album Best Boy, talked with Andy Choi about the debut from St. Lenox, and posted the transcript of my conversation with Luke B. Goebel from our conversation last fall at Greenlight Bookstore.

I got interview Farel Dalrymple, whose work I’ve admired since Pop Gun War, for Electric Literature.

At Biographile: a look at Nikola Tesla in fiction, the latest from Wes Moore, and the continuing appeal of Patricia Highsmith.

At Men’s Journal, I chatted with James Patterson.

Bought Some Books, Bought Some Records: Hudson, NY



I went up to Hudson, New York for Basilica Soundscape this weekend. I’ll have more to say about the festival–either here or at Vol.1 Brooklyn–but I wanted to do a quick post about a pair of books and a trio of records I picked up when there.

Yoko Tawada, Where Europe Begins
The last time I’d been to Hudson, I spent a lot of time at The Spotty Dog, which combines a very good bookstore and a very good bar. Do you like a well-put-together fiction and essays section and/or excellent craft beer on tap? Then you could probably spend some time in here. Spotty Dog also ended up running a pop-up shop at the festival, where I picked up Tawada’s collection, knowing little more about it than the description and its evocative title.

Breece D’J Pancake, The Collected Stories
One of the books I brought up with me to read this weekend was Roberto Bolaño’s Between Parentheses. In it, he repeatedly praised the work of Enrique Vila-Matas, who falls into the “acclaimed writers whose work I’ve never read” category. Earlier today, I stopped by Spotty Dog to see if they had anything of his in story. They didn’t–but I did see a copy of Breece D’J Pancake’s collected stories on the staff picks shelf, and as I’d been meaning to read it for a while now, it seemed like as good a time as any.

At the festival merch table, a zine was for sale, assembled by some of the same people who had put together the festival itself, and with contributions from many of the artists who I had seen/would see over the course of the weekend. Seemed like a no-brainer.

Gamelan Dharma Swara: Gamelan Dharma Swara
Saw this massive ensemble the first day. I’d heard good things about them from Chris Weingarten, and they didn’t disappoint–theirs was a huge, sometimes ecstatic sound, unlike nothing else on the bill.

Curtis Harvey: The Wheel
I ended up walking past FatCat Records’ store on Saturday, and poked my head in. Curtis Harvey has one of my all-time favorite rock voices; I helped put a Rex show together when I was at college, and reviewed his solo debut Box of Stones a couple of years ago for Dusted. I’d forgotten that this album had come out earlier this summer, so: mistake resolved, hopefully.

Emily Reo: Olive Juice
Emily Reo’s Saturday-evening set was one of the festival’s highlights for me: her sound brings together a solid core of pop songwriting with more ethereal elements, including a lot of effects on the vocals. It doesn’t hurt that her set included a terrific cover of Built to Spill’s “Car” which captures the original’s heartbreakingly bittersweet mood while branching out into an entirely different musical vein.

Music and Talk of Music on a Thursday Night

AlvariusMy Thursday night began at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where The Pitchfork Review was celebrating the release of their third issue. Jenn Pelly read an essay about her first forays into emo, which made me think of The Ataris for the first time since, if memory serves, I was sent a CD of theirs to review for my old zine. Mark Richardson read from a piece that appeared in the journal’s second issue, about listening to Sun Kil Moon’s Benjy; along the way, I realized that I’ve apparently been pronouncing Mark Kozelek’s name incorrectly since 1998 or so. And Lindsay Zoladz read about the device of using hashtags in song names, a titling move that seems doomed to backfire (or at least to tie the song in question to a very specific moment in time.) Taken together, the three pieces provided a fine survey of music writing, ranging in approach from the personal to the analytical.

(Being there, did I feel a little nostalgia for the Best Music Writing readings of bygone years? I’m not sure that I was conscious of it at the time, but looking back on it from the vantage point of a day, I think so. I’m certainly in that spot now.)

Once the readers were done, Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee played a short acoustic set. I’ve enjoyed her band’s music since their debut album, and hearing the songs in a pared-down style did nothing to change that. (See also: the pleasure of seeing someone play music in that space, which is always enjoyable.) From there, I headed up to the L train and made my way to Union Pool, to catch a set by Alvarius B.

I was a relative latecomer to Sun City Girls, the band in which Alan Bishop (aka the aforementioned Alvarius B.) played bass; they were a group whose name I’d seen referenced, but for whom I found seeking out their music far more difficult. When I did see their final album, Funeral Mariachi, at Sound Fix a couple of years ago, I picked it up. From there, I found myself delving into the music made by the group’s two surviving members, brothers Alan and Richard Bishop. This can be a mixed bag: pick an album by either of them, and it may well be bliss-inducing or experimental to an almost monastic extent.

That night at Union Pool, Sam Shalabi played an improvised set on the oud; then Byron Coley led a trio through a number of spoken-word pieces that, I’m assuming, had been written over the years. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that would explain the significant presence of Rudy Giuliani in one of them. Some were satirical; others invoked bygone urban geography and iconic musical figures. (One drew a comparison between Charles Mingus and D. Boon.) Alvarius B.’s set involved some consciously provocative stage banter–I’m tempted to volley out a James Ellroy comparison, in the sense that button-pushing played a significant role in the night’s proceedings.

In other words: the set did involve some beautiful moments, musically speaking; one of them was preceded by an introduction arguing that the song’s inspiration came from wishing violence on random people around him. Was it born out of a genuine sentiment, or was it more emblematic of a consciously nihilistic (or “nihilistic”) aesthetic? The employment of a persona–or, at least, the question of whether one is being employed–isn’t something one seems much at punk and indie shows these days. And that’s probably not a bad thing–the “I have a persona! Watch me shock you with what I say!” schtick isn’t something that prospers in abundance, and there’s a very fine line between keeping an audience from being too comfortable (an admirable move, I’d say) and simply offending them. For my money, last night’s set stayed in the former territory. After an hour and change, the give-and-take between the discomfort and the beatific music left me feeling the same set of emotions that first lured me into punk rock, albeit with a very different balance.





Some Mid-Year Music Talk

guthrieThis year, Dusted debuted a mid-year feature wherein writers write about one another’s favorite albums. That’s how I ended up writing about Anne Guthrie’s Codiaeum Variegatum, a surreal and experimental work that goes a long way towards creating a tactile sonic landscape.

Here’s the first part, and here is the second. Dusted’s writers also contributed lists of their favorite music for the year to date, which you can read here.

Music from Overseas (…literally)



Unless my memory’s failing me, the first time I heard Bedhead was in the summer of 1998. They were, at the time, a band I knew next to nothing about, save that their name kept cropping up as an influence on bands whose music I dug. I’m pretty sure that reading interviews with Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan, in which he cited Bedhead as an influence, played a prominent role in that — in ’98, I was listening to The Only Reason I Feel Secure a whole lot. Maybe obsessively.

Anyway. If memory serves, I was working a temp job in Little Silver for a couple of weeks, and I headed to Jack’s Music in Red Bank after work one day to see if they had anything from Bedhead in stock. Turns out they did: I went back home with Transaction de Novo, what turned out to be their final album, in tow. I followed the Kadane brothers’ musical output from there to The New Year, which preserved Bedhead’s restrained approach while adding in a slightly more cathartic element.

And now there’s Overseas, in which both Kadanes are joined by Bazan and Will Johnson. It’s the first music I’ve heard from them in a while, and my interest — piqued when I first heard of the group’s existence — was piqued. I’m a little bummed to hear that the Kadanes won’t be singing on this one — though I’m a fan of both Bazan’s voice and Johnson’s, I’d also love to hear how the voices of all four of the band’s members could play off one another.

Of the two songs they have posted, I’m a bit more drawn to “Down Below,” which — not shockingly — sounds a bit like David Bazan providing guest vocals on a The New Year song. I suspect I’ll end up ordering the album before long — the collected works of the band’s members inspires more than a little trust. And in writing this, I’ve had a reason to visit The New Year’s website, which alludes to “some news later in the year,” which seems very promising indeed.

Some Thoughts On The Spinanes

[So: I’m on a listserve for contributors to Dusted, and we’ve been taking turns posting things about artists we’re fond of. This was my contribution, which I figured I’d post here.]

Eventually, I’ll talk your ear off about The Spinanes. For the most part, when I say TheSpinanes, I’m talking about the original lineup: Rebecca Gates on vocals and guitar, Scott Plouf on drums. (The albums Manos and Strand; the singles collected on the EP The Imp Years.) But really, I’m also fine with talking about the version of the band that recorded the last full-length made under that name, Arches and Aisles — essentially, Gates and a host of Chicago post-rock types, several of whom would also show up on her sole solo effort to date,Ruby Series. (There’s also a 7″ of Rolling Stones covers that’s utterly fantastic; if memory serves, Ted Leo was a touring Spinane for a little while,. though I never got to see that lineup.) But — I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to a show at the Westbeth Theater Center in 1996, where The Spinanes played on a bill with Versus and Elliott Smith. I’d heard some good things about them from friends. I was in my second semester of college then, and was probably at my most musically intolerable: lots of straight-edge hardcore*, lots of crappy alt-rock. I cite the show as life-changing even though I don’t remember much about the bands that played — I think Smith was the artist on that bill that was the most musically striking to me. It did lead me to pick up Strand a day or two later, though, and…

…I can’t quite explain just what it is that makes me love this album. The Gates/Plouf duo sounds tight and fantastic; Gates’s lyrics are smart and blistering and delivered amazingly. It’s the sort of album that sounds fresh to me whenever I hear it: some new facet of an arrangement makes itself apparent; some new hook arises; some new lyric strikes me as amazing. I’m not sure exactly where I’d place it, but it’s a relatively constant presence on personal top 5 lists, something I can’t say for most records.

(Manos? Also terrific. Arches & Aisles? Totally worth it. Imp Years? Has “Hawaiian Baby,” for God’s sake.)

Gates has a new album due out in May on 12XU. Am I stupidly excited to hear it? Yes I am.

Also, one of these days, I’m going to post my circa-’98 interview with Gates (done for a piece for my college paper, and for my zine**). I did get to chat with her about a year ago, and saw her at Europa last summer. Still highly, highly recommended.

*-i.e. to the point where musical talent ran second to how straight-edge you were. Remember the ’88 revival? I do! Oh, do I ever.
**-profile ran in the paper; full interview ran in the zine.

Porcelain Raft, Best Music Writing, Sara Levine, and more

Many things to report over here, including what looks to be a successful Kickstarter campaign for the 2012 edition of Best Music Writing. But many other things are in progress (including this reading, which all of you should check out), and so instead I’ll leave you with a link to this Porcelain Raft interview that I did for The L Magazine today. (Because the new Porcelain Raft album is, in fact, quite good. Hey, here’s a video from it.)

Unless You Speak From Your Heart from Porcelain Raft on Vimeo.


On Poor Moon

Many years ago, I ended up directing a video for a Seattle band called Crystal Skulls. (If you’re not familiar with the band in question and your tastes in music run towards pop with smart, occasionally biting lyrics, you could do far worse than checking out one of their two albums.) It was an interesting experience: it ended up falling into the category of videos that didn’t feature the band at all, and there were a couple of aspects of planning for the shoot that…well, let’s just say that I learned a couple of things for the next time I undertake such a project.

Where I’m going with this (hey, look: me digressing. Imagine that) is that singer/guitarist Christian Wargo now has a new band, Poor Moon; they have an EP coming out on Sub Pop in March. Admittedly, the guy’s been keeping busy: he’s also a member of an obscure folk-rock outfit called Fleet Foxes. But as a fan of his work as a songwriter, I’m glad to hear that this group exists. The MP3 that Sub Pop has up now? Also pretty catchy.

In Which Music Is Written About (part two: profane punk edition)

A couple of months ago, my friends Diehard were playing an afternoon CMJ show. The band following them had a less-than-enticing name: Diarrhea Planet. A couple of the folks from Diehard advised me to stick around, and I’m glad that I did: DP’s sound recalled a number of irreverent, anthemic punk bands I enjoyed listening to ages ago. Turns out theirs is a sound that one can appreciate just as much at 35.

At the show in question, I picked up their album Loose Jewels; more recently, I wrote about it for Dusted.

(Also: that video’s probably NSFW. If you are going to listen, you might want to have headphones on.)

Zine Postscript, 10 January 2012

When I first started thinking about doing a zine in the mid-90s, two of the zines that inspired me most were Rumpshaker and Anti-Matter*. And pretty much since late last month, I’ve intended to use that as a point to link pieces by the editors of each: Eric Weiss’s interview with Carrie Whitney on the followup to her excellent All About Friends compilation**, and Norman Brannon’s essay “The Death of a Music Writer: A 20-Year Exit Strategy.” It’s always a fine thing when the writers who said smart, inspirational things about music (and why you should care about music) seventeen years ago are doing it just as much today, you know?

*-the third critically important zine for me growing up was Trustkill, for the record.
**-which featured Botch covering “Rock Lobster,” which was utterly awesome. See above.

Ah, reissues

I hadn’t realized that a pair of Three Mile Pilot albums had been reissued on vinyl by Hi-Speed Soul until I found myself browsing through the “T” section at Generation earlier this week. And now I know, and have duly purchased Chief Assassin of the Sinister.

I also picked up Temporary Residence’s Bitch Magnet collection the other week at Sound Fix, and am slowly making my way through that. I’ll admit that I’d known of the group primarily as Sooyoung Park’s pre-Seam band; so far, I’m enjoying exploring their discography, which is heading to some unexpected places. (It’s also prompting me to revisit Seam’s body of work, which is never a bad thing.)