Tristan Perich is the no-joke genius behind 1-Bit Music and 1-Bit Symphony, two works that go well beyond their unusual presentation to explore the nuances of sound generation. As good as those other works are, Surface Image, which is Perich's first large-scale piano composition, is a huge leap forward--it's a little more than an hour long, but it goes by in a flash. The work is 1-bit electronics and Vicky Chow's piano, but it is, like so many other masterful pieces of music, a thing that exhibits emergent properties, surprises in tone, emotion, and sound, with the combinations of the components opening up into wonderful and weird little musical worlds. If you savor that feeling of hearing something truly new--something that makes you feel grateful that there are people who restlessly create and experiment, etc.--then definitely listen to the whole of Surface Image. This thing is a journey (I had a lingering idea of Chow's piano as a sort of companion throughout the pulse and stutter of the 1-bit electronics), and it's one of the most exciting pieces of music I've heard in a long time.
There's that heartfelt City, across the water, with its two beautiful bridges and its shoulder on the ocean. Now it has that frenetic feel to it, a wild-eyed panic, a desperation to be on the cusp of everything. And the Town, an echo of the City, reclines against the hills. The Town has charms: a lake, two lakes, good people and culture. The City's got mists, pockets of cloud, loud fogs, and occasional sunshine. The Town is all clear, all sun. Beulah's music works for both, even though it came from the City.
I went to see David Bazan play a show with the Passenger String Quartet in San Francisco on Saturday night. David Dondero opened for him. I'd never seen either in the concert before, and I'd only ever heard Bazan's music (though only his Pedro the Lion stuff). Both were pretty great--totally charming in their own ways. Dondero played with just his guitar and he ran through maybe 14 songs in about an hour. Before playing each song, he would talk about its origin, or tell a weird story related to the song, which had the effect of making him seem like someone new to touring, for some reason, even though he's apparently been playing out for decades--it was funny, though he seemed nervous too, so there was a little ambient anxiety throughout his set. His songs are pretty awesome though--each one has at least two or three incredibly well observed details and his singing voice is so plain-spoken that both he and his songs come across as personable and trustworthy, even though there's a sense that he is kind of a mischief-maker too. South of the South is about Florida and it is dead-on about Florida.
I know precisely one EP/LP (Winners Never Quit) of David Bazan songs well, though I've heard others in the past too. He played guitar and keyboards along with the Passenger String Quartet, and the overall effect was impressive--the quartet's sound was rich and full, and Bazan's guitar playing mostly functioned as percussion (the strumming was all you could hear, really). Bazan has a great voice, very expressive, and that was the main focus for this performance--which meant that some of the songs were great and others felt a little odd, like the string arrangements did not supply the right amount of oomph that the vocals seemed to call for; but it's cool to see an artist like him do something different. You can listen to and buy the Bazan + Passenger String Quartet LP over on his site.
Posting this again because 1) I love this song, and 2) Excepter is back with a new album, Familiar--though I haven't heard it yet (more on that soon). Just happy that John Fell Ryan and co. are still making music.
This is, I think, the meanest beat Excepter's ever made. This track breaks jaws--that beat is police sirens and broken factory windows, and someone tied up in a damp furnace room, banging out an SOS on steam pipes. "Targets" sweats outs a very purpose-driven/not-to-be-fucked-with vibe. So seductive.
If you've never listened to Excepter before, maybe now's the time to try. You're getting older everyday. Things can't be all witchwave and chillstep forever. Kombucha IVs and organic oatmeal will not save you. Nor will artisanal puddings, yogurts, or pastes. Respice finem, etc. Sometimes you need to listen to a song that's nothing but convergent moans, synthesized lathes, and mammoth drumlike entities.
He was shown into a room by the curators, and they told him the film would start shortly. The room was small, the size of a large walk-in closet, maybe, with speakers against the back wall, a screen covering the entire front wall. An armchair sat in the exact middle of the room, and there was a circular sidetable next to the left arm of the chair and on it a bowl of popcorn, which was an extraordinary touch, he thought. He sat down. The film started, though there were no pictures--he could heard dialogue, something about a trip to New Jersey to pick up a high-chair. A man and a woman speaking, and he found both voices calming. Then silence. Then a baby crying, and this seemed to go on for quite a long time, three or four minutes. And then a child's voice said, "Mama," and sang a little wordless nonsense song. Then the same voice, clearer, said "I'm very disappointed." And that he found odd, though he could not determine why--there was something unsettling about that sentence, not so much the content of it, but the aura about it, as though this were a triggering phrase for him, something he had been conditioned long ago to respond to. "Won't you marry me?" the little voice said, breathing deeply. "I love you more than life itself." Hearing this made him shiver, for he had said much the same thing--if not that precise phrase--when he'd proposed to a girl he knew in the first grade. He'd knelt down on the hard ground of the recess yard and presented a costume ring to this girl, and said a line he'd heard in a movie. How would this have been recorded? he wondered. Or had it been recreated? He looked over his shoulder to see whether one or both of the curators was in the room, but the only presence behind him was that of the speakers, which continued to broadcast excerpts from the dialogues and monologues of his life.
Walk down to the water's edge. Look across. That's an actual palace. But it's better to stroll on this side, the commercial side, because there are better breezes. This is why you'll hear pedestrians say, I'll take the view in D but I'll take the air in P. Just kidding, no one says that. Stop at a ruin bar, get a beer. You might think the interior looks like a post-apocalyptic Applebee's, I realize, but try to cast your mind back maybe seven or eight years to when this was the only one in the city and then think about how thankful you would have been to stumble onto and into it. There are like a dozen dudes playing chess in a small room around the corner, a room that is also suffused with at least four or five distinct kinds of tobacco smoke. Everyone writes their names on the walls. In the summer it's hot and you walk outside to the courtyard and in the winter you just huddle under the orange halo of the heat lamps.
Molars has now been in existence, in one form or another, for a decade. September 2004 was the beginning, at the old address of greenideasblog.com/molars. I was 24 and I knew next to nothing about music, writing, blogging, mp3s, or life. My friend Matt Henry, then living in Brooklyn, had started a little blog called Greenideas, to which he asked me to contribute. Greenideas was a way for us to peddle our opinions on politics, music, the Boston Red Sox, and philosophy (Matt), and literature, football, cartoons, Richmond (Va), and music (me); the tone we used was a strange mix of royal-we imperiousness and confessional whispering. It was a wild time, 2004, and almost definitely the heyday of 'blogs,' when some writers who hit it big had their sites bought out by (somewhat) bigger media companies, or received contracts to write books that expanded upon their blogs, etc. (which still happens, I guess, for novelty tumblrs that get turned into little bathroom books like "Hippos in Monocles," or whatever). So what I'm saying is that we went into this blindly, with zero experience, and it definitely showed at first.
Anyway, six months into Greenideas, Matt asked me to start a sub-blog and to do with it whatever I wished. I'd been reading Fluxblog and Said the Gramophone for a little while by then, and there was another site that had existed way back in 2000 that had also posted songs with little write-ups (I wish I could remember the name of this proto-mp3 blog, but I'd already forgotten it by 2004. I learned about Belle and Sebastian and Elliott Smith from that site, and I dearly wish I could remember its name)--those were my main inspirations in building an mp3 blog. The other, more personal reason for creating Molars was that I wanted to make myself write more often. I'd been messing around with writing fiction for a couple years by then, but I wasn't making much progress, I felt--my stories had bonkers plots and the sentences I wrote were convoluted and whimsical and shitty and yet I couldn't seem to find a way to change my bad habits. I suspected that writing about music every day (or almost every day) would make me a stronger writer, one who was capable of expressing things clearly and simply. That suspicion was mostly correct, though it took me a long time to become a better writer and an even longer time to get better at writing about music (which is still tough, anyway).
In the decade since starting Molars, I've listened to countless hours of music, some of which I liked and some of which I did not. I've written a lot of posts: lazy ones, funny ones, absurd ones, insightful ones, drunk ones, sloppy ones, heartfelt ones, skeptical ones, joyful ones, etc. I've had the pleasure of posting writing by three of my good friends: Matt Henry, Tony Luebbert, Sean Barry, and Andrew Porter, all of whom are excellent writers. There was a Steely Dan week, a long time ago now. There were contests that people actually entered (the earliest of which generated the tagline for the site). There is a multi-part philippic against the music and personhood of Don Henley that has been in progress for at least half a decade. I've met a lot of wonderful people through this blog, both online and in person, and even though there have been times when doing it felt at once frivolous and punishing, it has been totally rewarding. I'm thankful to everyone who's read, commented, or listened over the past ten years. Maybe I'll go for another decade (which would be nuts) or maybe I'll stop when it feels right. Who knows. But it's been fun and it's still fun.
So all of that is to explain why I put up the three songs I did today. These three tracks were among the first 5 or 6 on the site, and I wrote some crazy shit about each of them. Enjoy.
We prodded the photos with our nails and lifted the static-heavy plastic to finger the polaroids and dull, cloudy portraits of our mother, posed in scenes and settings that we were barely able to believe or recognize or grasp without physically holding the photos in our hands, up to our faces, close enough to smell the chemicals of the pictures. There she was—our breakfast, lunch, and dinner mother, our laundry mother, our first-aid mother, our tuck-in mother, our second-opinion mother, our own dear, personal mother—out in the world before us, thinking her bright thoughts and looking very young. She wore a fur coat and stood, smiling, in front of a birch tree. She sat at a picnic table, hair done up in a dizzying swirl, surrounded by young women in uniform blue jackets, laughing and clutching her hands to her chest, happy. Seeing my mother like that, while in the company of my brothers, living in ways that we had never known or witnessed, had a displacing effect, and it felt to me like waking up in the middle of the night, or in the morning, and seeing my hand, after my arm had fallen asleep, and not knowing whether or not it was still attached to my body. It was also like coming upon a pattern within a section of wallpaper and seeing some remarkable and uncanny resemblance to a familiar face.
I still can't believe this band is back. The band that at one point did this, with Max Weinberg, on Conan:
Which, if you haven't seen it, is probably one of the top 10 performances on Conan, at least for wildness, and definitely for the intensity of Weinberg's involvement. DFA 1979's debut album was abrasive and entertaining and fun, and their second album, The Physical World, is just as adrenaline-rush good; their songs are wonderful for aiding the execution of fast drives and long runs. Trainwreck 1979 is such a hard brag, and like most of their best songs, it's dependent on the charm of Sebastian Grainger's expressive voice and Jesse Keeler's equally expressive bass. Same with Cheap Talk, during which Grainger sings "talking cheap will never last," though, awesomely, it also sounds like he's saying, "Duncan Sheik will never last."
BELATED LABOR DAY/END OF SUMMER/DENTIST'S OFFICE MIX
This is, somehow, only the second time I've done this, though it feels like I've done it more often--which is probably in keeping with the spirit of this undertaking anyway. Labor Day, which happened last week, signals the end of the summer and resumption of, well, something--school for students, harder work (?) for adults, shorter days & longer nights. And I've always associated that end-of-summer/interminable-Sunday-afternoon anxiety with the same sort of nervousness and apprehension that attends most visits to the dentist's office. Probably the whole thing is all wrapped up in notions of aging and decay! Enjoy. Also, below is the prefatory note I wrote last time I did one of these, and I think it serves pretty well for this mix too.
Obviously the music played in a dentist's office cannot be too stimulating or intense, since the patients will inevitably succumb to their natural urges to dance or play air guitar or sing at the worst possible times, i.e. when the dentist is like 2 mms. away from drilling right through the roof of the patient's mouth and into the temporal lobe. The music at the dentist's office needs to act as a sedative in its own way, transporting the patient to a world of soft neon, mist, precise percussion, perfect vocals, light euphoria, and cumulus synths.
All three of these songs have been played in dentists' offices across the country perhaps millions of times. No doubt. I put this mix together for people who want, for whatever personal and secret reasons, to recreate the experience of sitting in that pneumatic chair, head tilted back, mouth open to ligament-ripping aperture, having their teeth worked over and tricked out.