I'd been hoping this would happen.

It's kind of shameful that it took nearly two months of the new year for me to see a new CD for sale that actually made me want to pick it up and bring it home right now. What makes it even better is that it wasn't one CD--it was three. Two of them, granted, were reissues: Holy Mackerel! Pretenders to Little Richard's Throne (Ace) and The Soul of Spanish Harlem (BGP). The other is the new K'naan album, whose buzz is so heady right now it makes me want to know a lot more. I actually picked up K'naan's You Can't Buy This mixtape, mixed by K-Salaam and Beatnick, which I've only gone through all of once, because I was floored by "Kicked, Pushed," which utilizes Lupe Fiasco's hit to tell the story of racist violence and police brutality in Amsterdam: "When the cops showed up, I felt a little at ease/Although to be honest, I don't trust the police (yep)/But I thought this was Sweden/Progressive liberal vegans/Religiously tolerant, even/Plus the evidence is breathing/A black man on the ground, bleeding/What else could they be needing to take these criminals to the precinct?/Hell yeah, we got a case/And I know the promoter will come to our aid/He knows we professionals/We just got paid--by him/He even said, 'Hey thank you for doing this thing'/And something about an after-party/This shit's not a probably/They've got to pursue justice and partly/Well, they know we rolling with the Marley family/And in music that's good as an army family/Then I felt my veins boil in rage/When I saw the promoter lower his gaze/Pacing front and back, looking at his performers turned victims/But trying to avoid eye contact with them/Ain't this a bitch?/What's this southern white camaraderie shit?" I hadn't quite intended to quote so much, but there you go--this is probably my favorite song of the year so far. I think that's why I've been avoiding the rest of the CD--I want to hear the album.

It'll be a while. I've been skidding by since returning from New York--and I was watching every dime while there. Things are looking better than I was thinking they would for a while; it can't be overstated what a relief that is. And of course I have a whole bunch of downloads to wade through: at least 20 more CDs' worth. (I went ahead and got the rest of the Lux & Ivy mixes; haven't listened to any yet.) But it's nice to have that as a goal. And I'm pretty secure in the knowledge that things will turn around next week. (There's another potential thing-in-offing as well, but I won't know about it for a while.) By then I should be finished with . . . most of what I've gotten. Maybe more than most. But we'll see.


It's been quiet here.

I've been quiet, period. I spent a week in New York, which was great--it actually helped me find a couple potential work leads, which is great (and unexpected), and seeing Angela after three months was quite a relief. (She visits me again in a month.) My friend Rickey died (more here), the day after I turned 34; it's awful and it comes in waves, probably will for a long time. Before and after, not not many assignments, little money coming in, frugality-a-go-go.

Up until about a week ago, anyway. I have picked up a couple CDs for some research into a project I want to pursue: R.E.M.'s Reckoning and the dB's Like This, neither especially impressive on one play each. (I knew the R.E.M. in parts; I have a fuzzy recollection of having taped Like This off LP, maybe I found it at Cheapo on Lake Street or something, but otherwise nada.) And a week and change before, I'd picked up the Paul's Boutique reissue. (I got the PB Audio Commentary MP3 from BeastieBoys.com as well, got through about eight minutes, and that'll do, thanks.

Four days ago, I idly noticed I had most of my downloads left on eMusic for the month. I decided to see how long I had: till the 24th. (They refreshed today.) My new habits have carried so far that I barely download anything now. I was actually relieved the other day when the Forced Exposure package arrived with six CDs. Finally, I thought, something new to listen to--all the while having something like 300 different blog pages sitting on a Word file, ready to be ticked off one by one, and an equal number of download-ready publicist emails sitting in folders labeled "Digital promos," none of which I've touched, unlike the blog posts, which I've at least cherry-picked at various points since '09 began.

Recently I wondered if I'd lost interest in music. I now realize that what I'm disinterested in new music as an end in itself. That's nothing new, of course--most sensible people start feeling that way long before they turn 34. I do think more and more, though, it's not me, it's music. I could be cute and point out how much of what I like right now that's "current" really isn't: J. Period & Q-Tip's The (Abstract) Best Vol. 1, an old-man-rap catnip free mixtape, or DJ Koze's new remix compilation, or Clipse doing what they've been doing forever, or revisiting my own year-end oldies comp (the best mix I've ever made), or falling head-over-heels again for Franco's "Limbisa Ngai" (please, Ken Braun, include this on Francophonic Vol. 2), not to mention "Lisolo ya Adamo na Nzambe," the next-to-last track from Francophonic Vol. 1, which has some of the most floridly dynamic interplay I've ever heard between voices and instruments, and yet never stops swaying light and nimble. If I'm lucky enough to find the kind of work where I can listen to music, maybe I'll just chuck everything and listen to Franco.

Not yet, though. I've got a mile of music to get through. Thank god! Clearing the path is one thing, but cleaning it up completely has helped, I think, worsen my mood lately. Because one of the pleasures of making new music my livelihood is that it can heighten my alertness to everything else. Letting my list of URLs, not to mention two email addresses' "digital promos" folders, pile up is not working that great either. (I still haven't downloaded that new Thermals single, FFS.)

But when I was looking for something that had charted that I was curious to write about, I Hype Machined it and came across a blog I see a lot through that--one that puts up MP3s that I am consistently curious about. I have never bookmarked or linked it. I can't even remember what it's called, all of a day afterward. I never remember it. OK, fine: I deliberately forget it. Because everytime I'm there I download everything I can get my hands on. And that's what I did yesterday--seven or eight MP3s. Even more so than when dealing with MP3 blogs normally, this felt like grabbing candy and running. Especially because the cop I was running from was myself--this blog's imperative. Very enjoyable feeling--sometimes you don't find music to listen to because you want to approach it responsibly, like homework, you want it to feel hotter, more illicit, even if in experiential terms, it's anything but. That routinized feeling is what I started this blog to combat.

Anyway. eMusic. I had over 200 downloads left for the month and decided to go berserk. I also downloaded some other things from other places because why not? Sometimes not having a logjam in front of you allows you to drive. But if you don't have a direction and could really use one, it can feel like the desert. Here's what I've got to get through. Wish me luck.

Sin Fang Bous, Clangour
Senegal 70 - Musical Effervescence
Prefuse 73, Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian; Savath y Savalas, La Llama; Diamond Watch Wrists, Ice Capped at Both Ends (all new Scott Herren titles)
Lux and Ivy's Favorites - Volume 01 (eleven volumes here--thanks, Douglas; who knows, maybe I should just grab the rest too and put 'em in the pile)
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie and the Wheel
U2, No Line on the Horizon
Thomas Mapfumo, two very early albums
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Blind Blake, Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker
Big Star, #1 Record/Radio City (not new to me, but I'm curious to hear it again)
The Young Big Bill Broonzy
Bernarda Fink & Roger Vignoles, Brahms Lieder (classical music! weird. thanks, Tom Moon)
Bad Brains, I Against I (re-downloaded, but I don't know this well at all)
Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck, Djam Leelii
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (another re-download)
50 Cent, I'm Rising to the Top (convinced by Jayson Greene's hilarious eMusic review)
Diego Bernal, For Corners


Mr. Me Too

From Maura, via a whole bunch of others, a meme about iTunes. Seems appropriate to put it here.

Number of Songs:
Number of Albums:
841 (not all complete, obv.)
Most Recently Played Song:
Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Say It Isn't So”
Most Played Song:
Dear Jayne, “Rain”
Most Recently Added Album:
Sleeping in the Aviary, Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel
First Song Alphabetically:
PPP, “Abundance"
Last Song Alphabetically:
DJ Koze, “Zouzou”
Smallest Song Numerically:
PPP ft. Neco Redd, “1 Luv 2 U (Waajeed vs. DJ Topspin Remix)"
Largest Song Numerically:
Pretenders, “2000 Miles”
Shortest Song:
P-Funk All Stars, "Pump Up & Down” (0:08)
Longest Song: “Sutekh Live!, Seph Live!, Dj Koba & Dj kid.chic @ stock5 pres. ARGENTINIIA vs. USA - Harry Klein Club (M√ľnchen) 31.10.2007 - www.dj-y-the-one.de" (artist is same) (7:55:44)
First Album Alphabetically:
PPP, Abundance
Last Album Alphabetically
: Afrobutt, Wunderbutt
First Band Alphabetically:
A1 Bassline
Last Band Alphabetically:
Zoo Brazil
First Ten Songs That Pop Up On Shuffle:

London Elektricity, “Cum Dancing”
Joe Budden ft. Joell Ortiz, Nino Bless, Crooked-I & Royce Da 5'9", “Slaughterhouse”
Martyn, “Vancouver”
Billy Paul, “Billy's Back Home”
J. Period & Kamaal the Abstract, “Behind the Scenes: Reinvention”
Radio Slave, “Grindhouse Tool (Dubfire Terror Planet Mix)”
Luomo, “Tessio”
Shackleton, “Blood on My Hands (R. Villalobos Apocalypso Now Mix)”
Oasis, “Falling Down (Chemical Brothers Remix)”
Ne-Yo, “So You Can Cry"


Loose thoughts on '03 to '08.

I wonder if I will end up not really caring about music anymore as a result of doing this. I can actually see it starting to happen already. Part of that comes from re-evaluating my priorities in the face of the ongoing grind that is having a long-term long-distance relationship, sometimes abstractly and sometimes as starkly as stuff vs. her, winner her. Another part is the simple needing to exhale after immersing myself in it for so long, especially as the past half-decade, on the whole, feels as uninspiring as any period I can think of in pop history.

I like writing about singles because I like the kind of off-canon pleasures they can provide. I like canons, too. And the ways in which those categories interact is something I’m fascinated by—a few things I’ve written, and others I haven’t yet, are deeply informed by it. So depending on your ambition, the amount of time you have to indulge your ears, the number of recordings you can access, and the relative ease of keeping track of listening on a laptop, it’s presumably as easy to find 100 good albums a year as 10, enough to fill a single 80-minute CD-R of favorite tracks from the year as to locate 100 songs that do it for you on some level.

Or at least that’s the way it feels to me, because I did all those things at different times over the past five years. In 2003, 2005, and 2006, I could barely name 10 favorite albums for the year; in 2004 I did a Top 100 albums list that I still think looks good today. In ’05 and ’06 I could barely make a year-end mix; each featured two tracks longer than 10 minutes. That’s what kind of years those were. By comparison, in 2003, ’07, and ’08, I put together lists of 100 tracks or more; only the ’03 selection looks at all forced in retrospect.

And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if, approached from a slightly different angle (maybe a more stringent interest in indie rock, or global pop, or minimal techno, or rap, or etc.), those numbers could be reversed around with little real loss of quality, and probably a number of gains. (In that period I hadn’t listened to R&B with real diligence until ’07, so that’s probably one right there.) That doesn’t mean I think there’s “no such thing as a bad year”: I still think 2005 and ’06 were the pits, and even the little bit of catch-up I’ve done since then hasn’t convinced me otherwise. But my memories of those years are so different—’05 very satisfying personally, ’06 quite the opposite—that I think baggage has little to do with it. And if anything, ’08 proved the rule: I like every one of the 50 albums and 100 tracks I listed, but as Jess pointed out when I played him an embryonic version of the tracks list while visiting Baltimore in May, “These are all good songs, and there’s absolutely no narrative here at all.”

There’s been less of a need for pop music to have some kind of overarching narrative for a while now; we can all construct our own from various blogs and websites, or plug into specific kinds of fandom and get deep into their codes, or we can pluck impetuously from Hype Machine, or just listen to the radio and watch TV and take our musical cues from there, or blah blah blah—you get the idea. All of that is fine, but it’s harder to pull a compelling narrative from all that data. Or else, and maybe more to the point, it’s entirely too easy to find those narratives, all of them coming up at once making it harder to focus, so that the array and amount of possible avenues to explore/be rewarded by blur so hard into each other that the whole cancels out the parts. It’s probably not either one; it differs for each of us. But those poles don’t seem as far apart as they might appear.

Again: I don’t think we’re living in a golden age, not particularly. Well, we are in terms of telecommunications devices and digital storage and etc.--everybody knows that already. I do think that ’03 to ’08 has been almost entirely a transitional phase, pop-wise. Little during the period has seemed to develop with much rapidity; maybe some of the U.K. hardcore-continuum stuff, but even there the developments have come to seem preordained, the mutation from grime to bassline/Northern/funky mirroring that of jump-up jungle into speed garage/2-step. Yet you can tell the difference between a record made in 2001 and one made in ’04, or one made in ’06 from one in ’08. There are loads of revivals, trends, fads, remixes, and leaks to be heard from time frame to time frame; you could put together a 1,000-song playlist to demonstrate them all.

The question is whether doing so would make you more of a diligent historian than a nut job, or vice versa. Certainly the fact that I thought about it long enough to write it down demonstrates that I’m a little of both. But there’s something about the era that makes tagging it and bagging it seem logical: we have more time to reflect on the present when it doesn’t seem especially tumultuous. And the sheer amount of types of stuff means we will sometimes approach something wondering which category it goes in.

My friend Jill came to hear me DJ two weeks ago. I played a Caro track, and she asked, “Which kind of dance music is this?” I told her house; she was confused—to her, “house” means pianos, 1987 to 1990 or so. The truth is that I couldn’t care less about the more niggling end of dance-music genre distinctions except in an umbrella-term way, so I struggled with further explanation. But parsing those semantics is a way to approach something like dance music, or “world” music, where finding out about the unfamiliar is part of the appeal. And “world” has been making increasingly up-front gains on the popular imagination—not so much via Marley-type global superstars (close as artists from Shakira to Manu Chao to M.I.A. have or may yet come) as foreign pop having become normalized, the same way iPod culture is said (rightly, I think) to have propagated a more directly pro-pop (or at least not anti-pop) stance among indie fans.

This is a greater gain in consumer terms than purely in musical ones—at least right now. Your town may have a lousy Gypsy-punk band or two, or a DJ who’s experimenting with some of the stuff she’s gotten to know thanks to a gateway like M.I.A., or another band that’s preparing, appearances be damned, to go Vampire Weekend a step further by really nailing that loose-slip groove on all those Franco reissues and trying to write songs to match. What it’ll lead to over the next five years is too murky to predict—a pile of good records, I imagine, if nothing else.

But if there’s nothing else, what good are the records? Focusing my listening has made it obvious how forest-for-trees serious listening has become in the larger culture. (I’d say “larger picture,” too, but that’s not really news at this point.) Because I’m not willy-nilly downloading stuff that, put together in a playlist, might give the appearance of a nascent narrative for the month or year or epoch, I’m not thinking of or hearing music quite that way right now. That will change as I up the amount of new stuff I’m listening to, but I could easily see myself caring about that less. It’s already happening, largely because this is a rotten time for freelancing: I’ve had far fewer assignments this month than the last two Januaries, when I was slowly getting back to speed after putting together critics polls, and without stuff to review I don’t listen to as many new CDs. This will likely continue through the year—there aren’t as many places to write, at least not for pay. That said, if I wind up caring less about music-as-it-evolves, that’s fine; there’s still a lot of music-as-it-evolved waiting to be explored.

One month later.

Well, it seems to be working. There isn't much to add that I haven't already noted in previous posts, which seems like proof that it was worth doing. I don't buy or download music with near the same sort of impulsiveness I did even a month ago, when I was beginning to consciously scale back. Listening to less seems to come with it as well, though I plan to pick it back up as I do more cleaning, rid myself of more stuff, and focus on a couple projects I hope to have a better handle on soon.

Here's what I've listened to today (since getting up at--wtf--1:30 a.m., after falling asleep at 6 p.m.):

Junior Boys, Begone Dull Care
Horrible title, but I like this already.

Zomby Rave Mix

Up on Discobelle the day after Christmas, didn’t hear of this until just yesterday; unmixed, 46-minute, 96kbps “set” that is, as you’d predict, full of great stuff.

Big Chief ft. Jim Jones, “My Swagg”

Entered the R&B chart early January; found it on eMusic; basically a relick of the Mims “This Is Why I’m Hot” beat, which is cool with me. Column possibility?

The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil
(2007 edition); The Rough Guide to the Music of Tanzania (2006); The Rough Guide to Calypso & Soca (1999)
I have almost two shelves’ worth of RG comps; I stopped getting them sometime last year, but it was hard to justify asking to get back on the list since it’s almost impossible to review anything, much less a 15-year-old series that’s probably issued 200 titles by now. (I'm including year of release because the series has re-used several titles over the years--South Africa, Brazil, etc.--as earlier comps go out of print and new ones take their place.) I decided to listen to a few to see if there's anything I might want to play on Wednesday night when I DJ at Havana. Found a handful of possibilities so far, which I'm noting elsewhere.

Dream FM: January 1995
Two sides of a 60-minute cassette of happy hardcore taped off the air of a UK pirate station. Found here, via Simon; in truth I haven't played it yet since I'm not yet halfway into RG Calypso/Soca, but this is next.