Tag Archives: music

17 X 10: My favorite cultural moments of the year

In no particular order, here is my meta-list of my favorite music, films, books, and whatevers, from a year in which we really needed good music, films, books, and whatevers.

1.  Twin Peaks, on Showtime. Because of a broken knee, I missed the community viewing parties and was forced to watch this show by myself at home, where it was a punch in the gut that haunted me for weeks after. Especially that last episode, and of course episode 8, maybe the weirdest thing ever on broadcast TV, eclipsing the White Lodge sequences from the original series.

2. Legion, on FX. A psychedelic and surreal superhero show with a nonlinear plot. An example of the kind of bonkers WTF TV that owes a lot to Lynch, but this show was a lot more fun.

3. Anna Meredith at Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn. A British composer bringing a giddy experimental sensibility to pop music. The live version of this song was one of the most heart-stoppingly fun performances I’ve ever seen from a band.

4. Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, at New Museum.

5. Borne, Jeff Vandermeer. To my shame, I hardly ever read novels anymore. Part of it is my lousy time management, but the other is failing to find an author or book series that I really love. That ended this year, as I found sci-fi writer Vandermeer, whose Southern Reach trilogy I plowed through (just in time for it to hit the big screen), and whose 2017 novel about a talking blob that falls off of a 3-story high flying bear I couldn’t put down.

6. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream. Not the album of the year – maybe not even in the top 10 or 20 albums of the year. It just feels good that they’re back.

7. That Darth Vader scene from Rogue One. Who knew that this character’s most memorable film moment would come in an unnecessary prequel 40 years after his first?

8. Lady Bird. I was expecting a quirky mumblecore kind of film, and then 3/4 of the way through realized how perfect the writing and acting were – and also how moving. The most satisfying movie of the year for me, by far.

9. Song Exploder. Just when I’d grown weary of 90-minute chatterfests, this refreshingly short podcast (actually from 2016) featured artists simply breaking down the writing and recording of a single song of theirs.

10. Can football be art? Well, yeah – when it’s this Super Bowl catch by Julian Edelman.

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Xmas 2017

It was an ugly year, right? That’s the word that keeps resurfacing for me. There was ugliness in the streets, ugliness in the corporate offices, and seemingly nothing but ugliness coming from the Oval Office. The meaning of Christmas is that ugliness doesn’t get the last word, but with each year it seems like it’s a little harder for Christmas songs to work their way into my brain. Does this holiday have to be ruined along with everything else?

Thankfully, no. But this collection of songs may be a little more ambivalent than usual. I loved the junkyard folk, Tom Waits-ish feel of “Our Rest Has Come” and the Argentinian band Queridas’ gorgeous version of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, the Snow is Falling.” I included a reading of  G. K. Chesterton poem, one of my long-time favorites. I had more fun with the found audio than the actual songs. But I still love how it came out. So enjoy it in the player below, download it for yourself while it’s here (a few of my other Xmas mixtapes are on Mixcloud as well), and… Merry Christmas.

(the cover is a ripoff – sorry, homage – of a handmade card by Lithuanian-born American printmakers William and Marguerite Zorach that I stumbled on on the interwebs.)

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Christmas 2016, at last

I don’t need to recap all of the ways that 2016 was horrible. Forget just a little – we need a lot of Christmas now.

Summoning the holiday spirit was difficult this year. Traditions somehow feel less comforting. I wondered if I should take a radical departure from my typical mix and do something completely different. In the end, I stuck to the same formula, because Christmas doesn’t need a reboot. Christmas is the reboot: God entering the world as an infant.

So business as usual, more or less, with the exception that I tried my very first actual mashup – with admittedly mixed results (but at least it’s short). The great artists that we lost this year are represented here – Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen. Because we’re a nation of misfits I included the Inflatable Men cover of the familiar song from the classic TV special. There are a few fun new songs, some great takes on classics, and other stuff not represented on the tracklist. So – enjoy!

 

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If you like this one and want more, you can still hear my mix from last year:

 

Here is a quieter, more reflective mix to soothe your soul, which I did in 2014:

 

And here’s Xmas in Space, if you like your Christmas music with beeps and boops and sound FX and recordings of alleged UFO eyewitnesses:

 

Lastly, here is a link to a folder with every mix I’ve made going back to 2007, available for download. Get busy and Merry Christmas!

 

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SXSWrap

I just returned from the SXSW music festival in Austin once again. It’s still a ridonkulous clusteryouknowwhat of humanity, but the conference has appeared to cool off just a bit in terms of spectacle (even if the actual attendance numbers are still ballooning), and that’s great news for music fans, at least in my opinion. I couldn’t care less about John Legend or Guns N’ Roses opportunistically helicoptering in at the last minute to play a “secret show.” The event originated as a showcase for unsigned and unknown bands to get attention and, although the music business doesn’t work that way anymore, this year seemed to be more about those hard-working under-the-radar acts playing their asses off to make a breakthrough, and not wondering if Lady Gaga was going to appear inside of a giant Doritos machine. And, even if they’re not really that far under the radar, it’s still a great opportunity for discovery.

The band Hinds alone played 17 shows in 5 days. Seventeen. You could have just called it SXSHinds. A lot of bands I saw played 10, 11, 12 shows over the course of those days. You get a sense for what a band is really like when you see them multiple times. Car Seat Headrest‘s shows were completely unpredictable: not just the song choices, but the very tone of the set. The day I saw them they were punchy and aggressive, but my friends reported that at other shows they were the exact opposite. I chose to see TEEN, a Brooklyn band whose new album I love, at the Flood magazine party which Sir the Baptist basically turned into a raucous St. Patrick’s Day karaokefest – in other words, not the ideal setting for a band with thoughtful lyrics and Krautrocky grooves – but then was able to see them later in a more suitable venue. And I was happy to go back and see Beach Slang twice – they already are like The Replacements on Red Bull, but at their last-slot-of-the-night show at Sidewinder they basically tore the venue a new one, in the best way possible.

Small is spectacular. Here’s hoping that the festival will continue to grow that way. Here are some clips from last week.

 

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Sister Christmas

Is it ever actually going to get legitimately cold out there? It almost feels like the wrong time to be uploading this.

I’m back with another mix of Christmas music, what else? The art for this is an homage to Sister Corita Kent, the pop artist whose work had a breakout year. Corita was a nun, an active member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, but her work was full of wit and visual inventiveness. I’ll write more about her in my year-end list, but that’s the same kind of thing I’m thinking about when I choose Christmas music. That, and maybe what St. Etienne said here recently about how Elvis fits Christmas (although they are wrong in disliking this classic Pogues Christmas song).

Anyway, here it is. Play or download. Merry Christmas!

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I realized as I was uploading this that it’s the 10th one I’ve done. Not the 10th year, because I did two of them in 2014, just the 10th mix. So here they are. If you click on the thumbnails you’ll be able to download each individual one.

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Surrender Music

I know: I need to add Music to the title of Words, Pictures, Humor. When I started the blog, I wasn’t envisioning posting mixtapes. But, this idea just kind of happened, and it wasn’t difficult to do.

I was fortunate enough to see the Chemical Brothers perform at Electric Zoo this year on Randall’s Island in NYC. I have always liked them, but there’s a dichotomy between their live show and their albums. Their albums are albums in the old-school way – a bunch of individual songs that sound kind of like a singles collection – while their live show is your classic DJ performance with songs gliding in and out of a continuously pounding mix. The twin identity, I assume, has enabled them to both sell recorded music and also keep their placement within the EDM world (something which is more common nowadays with David Guetta and the like than it was when the Brothers started out in the mid-90s). But when I listen to their albums I want them to sound more like the live show.

Better Surrender_back

So here’s what I did: I gathered all the tracks from Surrender, arguably their best record. I swapped out the momentum-killing album tracks for Surrender-era b-sides which are considerably more jacked up, threw in some remixes, resequenced the songs, and spliced them together (slickly, I think, for a mere wannabe DJ) into one continuous banger of a mix. It’s like Surrender, but better. And it’s now at Soundcloud.

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The love before Loveless

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I’ve always been a fan of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, where individual authors write a book about a single album. In the volume about My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Mike McGonigal writes:

Here’s a list of possible antecedents for Loveless: a baker’s dozen, mostly slow and dreamy, “pop”-based musical works which are equal parts raw invention and delightful melody, and that predate Loveless. (It’s a bit wanky, but it was fun to compile – and everyone loves lists, don’t they?)

He then goes on to suggest a playlist of sorts, starting with Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” and on through various songs (and a few full albums) by Faust, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, and even electronic pioneer Delia Derbyshire’s weirdo White Noise project, among others. Well, everyone loves a good playlist, right (as I wrote here recently)? So I decided to take Mike a step further and mix all of these songs together into a single 46-minute playlist. Yes, admittedly also a bit wanky. His original list would have taken well over two hours to listen to, so I only included a few choice minutes of the 12-minute-plus opuses, but it’s all in the spirit of My Bloody Valentine: after all, they were making pop music. I also added into the mix one obvious antecedent, Dinosaur Jr., just because. Does Loveless sound like it could have sprung forth from this stew of droney noise-pop? Judge for yourself over at Mixcloud, where I’ve uploaded it with tracklist, or listen below.

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