1.29.2009

Scarlett Johansson



Okay, everybody see the picture? Yes. She is a movie star. She is gorgeous, and is very well endowed in certain ways.

Judge her accordingly for launching a music career. Yes. Judge her.

Finished? Good.

Scarlett Johansson, stripped bare of her movie star identity, is an awesome singer and a great artist. I loved her Tom Waits covers record, and this cover of the (wildly overrated) Jeff Buckley strikes me as a more intimate picture of her as interpreter. A certain set of tastemakers are driving up the hateometer... And for obvious reasons, but bad reasons.

Scarlett Johansson is totally legit as a singer and as an artist, and if she had any other name, people would dig her work, because it's solid.

End of discussion.

I go back to sucking blood next week.

1.28.2009

Animal Collective III: The Microphones Angle

Okay, this is getting a little old for those of you who don't care about such matters, but I have to go there.

I just started listening to "Campfire Songs" again after a few years, and it helped me understand the strangeness in a new way.

What those songs reminded me of most were the lo-fi architectural masterpieces of Phil Elverum of The Microphones and his numerous other production gigs for those in the K-Records crew (Calvin, Mirah, Adrian Orange, etc.)...

Back in around 2000-2001, Phil was pioneering a new height of mainstreamness, even garnering album of the year status from contemporary tastemaker Pitchfork. Lo-fi was on a high, and all was primed for Phil to make a big jump with his group into some form of 'pop' incarnation.

But that was not what Phil was vibing on. Instead, Phil decided to end his (relatively famous) 'The Microphones' project and start a new one, "Mount Eerie", named after a mountain on his native Fidalgo Island. That is what one would call a PR agent's worst nightmare.



But Phil has continued to make really great lo-fi music as Mount Eerie, and has continued to make awesome analog recordings of other artists. He has fans, he tours, I'm sure he does relatively okay.

But Animal Collective, now that is another story. Somehow, those cats have taken what was essentially an avant-garde/lo-fi experimental art project and made it into the most vital pop act in the world.

Where Phil turned his back on such accolades, Avey Tare, Panda, and Geologist have capitalized, and in a major way, which I find interesting, given the relative similarity in each "group's" initial style...

1.23.2009

"Indie Rock" vs. Jam Bands: The Animal Collective Dilemma

This is a follow up on my last post, where, having just seen them live, I pointed out what I considered a crucial flaw in the recent Grateful Dead/Animal Collective analogy that the members of the group themselves have alluded to several times in interviews recently.

First of all, this brings to mind an hilarious incident from several years ago. I was at a large outdoor Todd P event, which was held down on the tip of Roosevelt Island (which remains my favorite place in the universe. The whole of Roosevelt Island, really, but especially the tip). Many bands were performing acoustically, including a number of people who are now quite famous (Ezra, the singer from Vampire Weekend, for instance, was there, with really long hair, playing saxophone with Aa. Matt & Kim played that addictive hit of theirs before it had really blown up).

But this is beside the point.

I overheard a person who has become something of an Avant/Indie icon in years since talking with Todd P. This person was like: "Dude, why is that guy wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt? We (meaning the Todd P movement, or whatever) are so not about that. That is so not about this." At this point, it was my distinct misforture to chime in with something like "Well, actually, he's probably wearing it because one of their keyboard players committed suicide the other day; I wouldn't take it too ideologically, in light of recent events."

Todd P and this person met this suggestion with indifference (or so I thought) because, while it was correct, it in no way altered the true sentiment that had been expressed: this movement, this barbecue, this "type of DiY Brooklyn thing" was philosophically opposed to all things Jam Band, all things hedonistic; this thing wasn't like the failed utopianisms of the 1960s, this thing was different, an extension of punk that was utterly horrified by the banal "trustafarian" jam band/Phish culture of the late 90s. This was way more serious, way less commercial, way closer to the world of Art than the world of the stoned rich kids. This was about doing it yourself and not selling out.

But of course it wasn't then, and isn't now, simply because it can't be; that very rejection of utopianism in the name of an allegedly more refined, purer dedication to art is itself a utopian gesture. Of course the Brooklyn scene had (has?) in it elements that would never fly in a jam band context, namely dissonance and disruptive, analytical song structures, etc, but that is quite academic. Differences aside, a potentially monstrous child, a "terrible beauty," is born...

Let's examine why this is potentially problematic.

Brooklyn is high on organization, not at all into spontaneous jamming unless it is REALLY out jamming (which is actually composed), or is done in a knowing and/or correctly positioned way.

Brooklyn is about songs, not about improvisation. Brooklyn is about Mahler, not Miles Davis (I disown this statement--ed.). Jamming is out, and concise, exact, infinitely repeatable songs are in. (Woods, who I didn't know in January, wildly disprove this. They are incredible...--ed.)

But this is breaking down. The biggest bands these days, groups like Deerhunter (who I linked to above), for instance, have embraced an element of 'seemingly improvised' guitar fuzz soloing into their songs. This, a few years ago, would have been frowned upon, but as the Indie---->Mainstream transformation continues (this thesis is flawed for many reasons. No more disclaiming edits.--ed.), such gestures towards "classic rock" are more accepted by audiences and 'tastemakers' alike.

This brings us back to Animal Collective. Their shows do share things with those of the Grateful Dead. They also share certain audience members with the (about to return to save us all) Phish scene. For instance, the other night there was a kid dancing frantically in front of me the whole night. He was a small, weaselly looking guy with two earrings who clearly had been to his share of Phish shows (as have I, full disclosure). All he lacked was that glazed over look of stoned/mushroomed insanity and a pair of glow-sticks.

And this was "not what this was about" a few years ago. I saw Animal Collective in a small space back in 2005, and it wasn't like this, it was much more the "stand perfectly still, don't move, that's not what WE do" crowd one is accustomed to encountering at Brooklyn shows.

No more. The move to the mainstream, the jamminess/raviness of the music, draws in the crowds, and the Brooklyn Fascists can't do anything to stop it. And, ironically, they need those people, now more than ever.

These artists, in the fat economic times of 2006, must have believed that if things ever really got tight, they could always bail out, get a corporate job based on their degree from Vassar or whatever, and everything would be okay.

But that ship has sailed. No one is hiring. If you are an avant musician/home depot employee, that is your lot for the foreseeable future, and you are glad for it.

But there are still plenty of people paying to see music. Especially hypnotic music with a physical element. Music you can wig out to, if you catch my drift, music you can use to "get away from it all."

And thus here we are. Animal Collective are more Brooklyn than Brooklyn, yet they flirt with the jam band scene. The circle is closed.

I remember a few years ago (07 I think), my parents asked me to take my younger brother to a Dave Matthews concert at Fenway Park in Boston. I grudgingly accepted, knowing it would be awful, but hoping to find it at least socialogically worthwhile. I could not have been more wrong. The audience was, without a doubt, the preppiest, whitest, absolutely most bourgeois middle-class America of any crowd I have ever seen. It was mind boggling (if not exactly surprising).

And yet, there they were, 25,000 or more of them, filling this stadium, filling the pockets of the band and all associated with it.

I hate to say it, but are we headed in that direction? Has the avant garde truly died at last?

Of course not. But this merging of scenes bears watching.

Armchair sociological speculation aside, Merriweather Post Pavilion is absolutely incredible. Such great bass samples.

1.21.2009

Dershowitz debates the Palestinians

Haaretz radio has an exclusive debate between "noted American legal scholar" Alan Dershowitz and a group of Palestinians.


Alan Dershowitz Debates the Palestinians - Haaretz Radio

The Problem With the Animal Collective/Grateful Dead Analogy


Lately, this has been all over the news: growing up, Animal Collective were like big into the Dead, and now we are supposed to understand the progressive/non-perforated song structures of their (AC's) contemporary live shows as being somehow another generation's answer to the spontaneously epic jamming of The Dead.

All well and good on the surface. Having seen them tonight at the Grand Ballroom, I can testify that the songs did indeed blend together.

However, at no point was there a Scarlet/Fire moment even remotely analogous to the transition from the 5/8/77 Cornell show. No, there was no spontaneous discourse between Dave Portner and Noah Lennox that created a new sense of gravity, a new sense of dynamical interplay within the existing idea of the band. No. For that, you would have to look to The Dead, circa 77-78.

But what you do have with AC, in place of the at times fruitless jamming and "musicianship" of the GD, is amazing melodies, incredible song structures that lie waiting to explode onto the scene.

With the Grateful Dead, one waits for the explosive moments of interplay, the accidental, "wild" combinations that occur within the freedom of the jam. With Animal Collective, it is just the opposite; the usually very repetitive sample-based structures that predominate between "songs" serve as a plateau, a base upon which one builds up an expectation of the melodic release to come.

This is particularly true of the Panda dominated songs, but also, I'm noticing more and more, of the Avey Tare pieces.

So what we have, roughly, is this:

Grateful Dead=Best Moments in the Jamming.

Animal Collective=Best Moments in the Songs.

1.17.2009

The Autobiography of Arlo Harshenstein: Chapter III

My Autobiography has elicited little praise or acclaim. This is no doubt because thus far it has focused entirely on my besotted parents, those paragons of horror. But by now you have the background you need, and I will never mention them again.

My childhood was unhappy.

Upon reaching adulthood, I found myself in college at Davidson. Needless to say, that was not good enough for my exacting... ambition. Yes, ambition.

The trees and buildings in North Carolina agreed with me, but my classmates did not. Their uninformed, inadequate (because not sufficiently austere) conservatism, not to mention their thinly veiled antisemitism (despite my own wanton antisemitism), got over my skin immediately.

And I do mean got over; I felt covered by a filthy meniscus of Jewishness in the eyes of the patrician, southern lacrosse players, the blond Scots-Irish masters of the blood of the plantations. They hated me without even knowing why they did, despite my being superior to them in every discernible way (outside of lacrosse). It was obvious. My professors valued my insights, almost over their own, it seemed at times. I was the glistening star in that clouded nebula of dimwits.

But no matter, my time at Davidson was relatively brief. I applied to transfer to several schools (and failed to get in to any) and then decided to take a semester off, returning briefly to New York before accepting an internship in Boston at a Sports Management company.

That was what they called themselves, at least, but aside from a few minor league Hockey Players and a couple of faded Red Sox players who still had endorsement deals with incredibly obscure local prodcuts, it was basically just a law firm. It was there that I began my transformation.

You see, readers, you only know me through these words. You have seen me open, my heart on display, my viciousness and aplomb both unhinged. In person, except for rare moments of valor, I am a perfect gentleman, someone you would never suspect capable of the purest social sadism and spiritual vagrancy.

But it is so.

My mask of sanity is a lie. Nostradamus knows this all too well, having long ago discerned my true nature.

I seethe with hate, and others notice it at times. They try not to notice it, but they can't help but be dimly aware. It's something about the way I smile and laugh; I can never make it believable.

And this is not just with disgusting Aryan jocks either, it happens with women, Jewish or otherwise, and it especially happens around my parents and their friends (which makes sense: I really hate them).

But hate can cause one to be ostracized, and to lose important elections, such as the one for editor of The Davidsonian (the hated Media Board had no regard or me at all). But no matter.

At the law-firm I managed to conceal this hatred adequately, perhaps for the first time successfully. I made friends with the lawyers; they valued me. I learned. Future disappointments at Davidson aside, I was changing.

My time in college cemented my doomed course down the path of hate, but I embraced it, just as I now embrace wickedness and the scorn of my fellow man.

By the time I left college my Semitic skin had turned a lovely shade of olive, freed of the morose, vampiric pallor of my New York roots.

I next moved North, but that tale will have to be told on another day.

1.16.2009

Best of All Time


B Riemann can attest to this. Since the moment he entered the NBA, I have declared Lebron James to be the greatest player in the history of basketball. I declared this unilaterally, literally after one game. Ask B Riemann. It's true.

That said, some five or six years later my view is finally starting to creep into reality. Truth be told, Lebron should already have won at least one MVP award (last year), but due to the absolute ignorance of the NBA (and Washington) press corp, Steve Nash has two, Shaq has one, Kobe and Dirk have one, and the rest is history...

In any event, Lebron James is the Best of All-Time. The cat is a monster, and if he wants to he will play until he is 40, in the later years reincarnating Karl Malone with a better handle...

In closing, LBJ, best that ever played. Believe it.

1.14.2009

#2/#1

The Countdown of most significant media figures or whatever it was never really ended.

Now it will.

#2 is Natalee Holloway, the person whose disappearance gave new meaning to the words "filler story"; the amount of coverage devoted to her fate is infinitely greater than that given to contemporaneous events such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, or the NSA wiretapping scandal... Or the mounting, totally frivolous, deaths in Iraq of civilians and US Military Personnel.

Never mind. This is the story that got the blood flowing, and it explicitly demonstrates the duplicitous relationship that persists between advertisers and sponsored television news broadcasts, cable or otherwise...

And #1 is the year 2005 itself. Sheehan, Schiavo, Holloway, Harriet Miers, Katrina, Michael Jackson, the Michael Jackson accuser... 2005 was a year for the ages. It brought us to such a new low of media coverage and Congressional behavior.





1.12.2009

Antoine's Restaurant Times Gazette Exclusive

Johnny from Antoine's Restaurant interviews current Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in, where else, Antoine's Restaurant.


Hank Paulson Visits Antoines Restaurant - Johnny Messina

Spread the Hate

I'm back, and I'm pissed.

What the fuck is going on with Obama? Is it me or is he fulfilling all of our worst fears?

Whatever, only a moron wouldn't have seen this coming. Time to spread the hate. Fuck the Rick Warren thing, this is the real affront to our votes.

Until I see fucking Donald Rumsfeld in jail, Dick Cheney in jail, no amount of Gitmo closing is going to fucking appease me.

Love
Nostradamus

2008--Year of the Sports Douche

We have two reasons for this, both of whom are enormously obvious candidates for such infamy. I'm not going to go into it too deeply, but douche number one is Tim Tebow, Christian-Honky-with-no-brain-and-no-NFL-future-number-41245. I fucking hate Tim Tebow like the guy who assassinated Rabin hated Rabin.

And I think that is a "just" analogy, given Tebow's repeated references to Jesus and his utterly banal choice of verses to inscribe on his eye blacks (John 3:16? Really? Can you get a little less orginal?). Never mind that he is an arrogant bitch, with his fucking useless Gator chomp.

But my main beef? That haircut is fucking beyond lame.

On to obvious douche #2 Michael Phelps. That cat is fucking despicable.



What more can you say?

Douche bag of a lower order (because not as successful) but still massively douchey: Tyler Hansbrough.



Makes me want to fucking drown myself.