I know, what a silly header. To many people, just absurd. Blogging is writing’s karaoke; a poor analogue of the journal, where links are presented as important and/or current facts wrapped in half-baked commentary slash thought. And yet it’s a new media with a third estate all its own, leaning somewhere towards an op-ed state of personalised journalistic integrity and immediacy without the legal finality of publishing proper, and hence easily ignorable, unworthy. What’s aesthetics got to do with it.
Well, new technologies are usually not appreciated for their potential art or integrity. And in the weblog’s case, this all boils down to the art and integrity of the writer using the medium. So, from this POV, I mean to bring blogs back into the (potentially) literary fold, by focusing on the quality that goes into them. But in terms of potential aesthetics, in a medium so shiftless and gossipy, where does one begin to draw a system or code of criticism? And indeed, what’s the point when there’s already a complex and well-mapped history of literary criticism directly related to writing proper?
Well, I’ve just disclosed that I tend to like blogs that share many of the same qualities of good writing. And all that guff about literary theory is just that; I mean what’s the use of stucturalism, reader-oriented theories or deconstruction in an online environment? Theories based on the heritage of novels used as a primer for media in which novels are not written (yet
), or hardly even considered in depth, and which is fiendishly anti-quality or -textual care… as you can see, it’s a spur for self-questioning, for mediated conscience of a kind.
But anyway, my point: and I regret that it is only a little one: what I like about good books and what I like about the fine punctuation of literary styles is a certain sensitivity and attentive care to detail
; and hence I like blogs which not only differentiate particularities of thought, expression and idea with subtle scalpels of honed prose, but in particular those blogs which tend to approach the literary in quality by boosting the amplitude and imagistic resonance of details. I mean the kind of stuff that makes any writing memorable by casting it diagonally, obliquely into the mind’s memorial faculty. A clarity of images which makes one a trusted voice in terms of narrative, reader-care as well as the cerebral tingles of literary creation and participation. Which gives of a certain completeness as opposed to just so much more tiredly interpretative thought (or criticism, reviews, as the case may be).
Let that be my care and incentive from now on.
A strangely mixed, ambivalent city. There’s plenty of evidence of former glory and middle class wealth, yet there’s a lot of decay and disrepair unbalanced by new development or maintenance. There’s hallmark Riviera stylings and massive, elegant beachfront hotels, yet no beach to speak of nor a central, main attraction to fully focus attention and orientation. Sprawling with traffic, incoherently allocated, yet typically French and solid on the map, gravitating to the sea, surrounded by hills and between the drawing power of Monaco and Cannes. I guess this is what it means to live on the Cote D’Azur, that long stretch of holiday development, mad scooters and suspicious wealth that only lives fully for two months a year.
The grand apartment buildings have palatial names and lofty ceilings, but the half-open shutters are rusting or falling apart. Some streets seem to be in long periods of maintenance-hibernation; one major shopping street was just gravel for petanq players. Brass plates for doctors everywhere: paediatricians, dentist-surgeons, kinesthesiologists. Beggars of all hue, some talented and singing an honest trade. Never a rush to clear out. No mad rush for the status of new cars. Teeming young couples or pregnant types; a healthily diverse gene pool. And a Mediterranean humidity that leaves you slightly glazed, giddy.
But, importantly, from the food angle up, Nice (and by extension France, the Continent) presents simple fare and perfect proportions; all home cooked and unpretentious. I didn’t get to try many of the specialités Nicoise, but I loved the service and the wine with everything, the cheese, the value. The mad varieties of ice cream, the dog with the balloon, the street labourer smoking a pipe, and the simple courtesies no matter how small or trite the purchase or meal.
...Some interesting reviews, in easy-to-read paragraph format.
Shakti w. John McLaughlin, A Handful of Beauty
I’ve taken a real shine to John’s acoustic playing. Here he uses an acoustic with scalloped fingerboard and crossing drone strings to amazing effect. Rich bends up and down, amazing runs and fireworks matched by occasional slow exercises in sustain, like a sitar. Shakti area great band (violin, tabla, ghatam) and this is a harmonious (and rapid) meeting of musical worlds.Blue Brazil
I love the way Brazilian music lends itself to compilation. Almost every comp I’ve got is a winner (Brazilica
, the David Byrne selections etc) because I think strength of song quality is better appreciated in South America; the sheer amount of good songs is uniformly higher per recorded output. They have legitimate song contests with quality writers and a healthy respect for music as social force that’s lacking in our song/dance/Eurovision climate. I particularly love the Edu Lobo track Viola Fora de Moda
. As with most current compilations, all have quality surprises.
Sufjan Stevens, Greetings from Michigan The Great Lake State
Quite simply one the best albums I’ve heard in a while. Balanced, complex, melodic and instrumentally interesting. Sufjan has a gift for chorus and coda, and here Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)
(yes, dig the titles) is another supreme and gentle song of faith and hunger for heaven with a killer run-out line. Lots of songs about people and a state’s self-assessment slash identity (possibly masking its poverty, hard work and a love of nature). Worth every cent. I’ve also a suspicion that Sufjan, Wes Anderson and David Foster Wallace all inhabit the same universe.
Gilberto Gil, Acoustic
My man Gilberto is Brazil’s Minister for Culture. Recorded live in the studio, this is a great exposition of the songwriting panache and virtuoso musicality that seems to dominate Bossa music today. Happy souls, wise souls, true performers every one of them. This man has songwriting to spare. Also some great bass. More than just great middle-class snob’s dinner music.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Yanqui U.X.O.
What is the emotional sound of a cruel and barbaric war machine? In you, the listener? In a band?
Os Mutantes, Everything is Possible!
Weird, funny, funky Brazilian pop from the late 60s/early 70s with a hint of psychedelic. And tasty, impressionistic lyrics.
Orchestra Baobab, Specialist in All Styles
Proof (if ever that had to be any) of the direct African heritage of Cuban music. Left me slightly annoyed with myself 'cos this is the kinda music I wanna make. Guest spots from Youssou N’Dour and Ibrahim Ferrer.
Fela Kuti, Expensive Shit
Set up for a bust, Fela swallowed the joint. The cops waited for the evidence in his shit. A friendly, clean shit was presented by a fellow-inmate and Fela gets out and writes this amazing track about the steep turd. Big sass horns, the solid Afrobeat shuffle and a great bass presence. Call and response, wise-ass lyrics and a private community of wives for backing vocals. Probably his definitive track thus.
13th Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere
Once you’ve heard that weird, chickeny gobbledygook, you never forget it (AllMusic assures me it’s electric jug). Prime early psychedelia from Texas and everything the Byrds ain’t.
So the Japanese offer some extra tracks; is that sufficient cause to re-release a perfect EP locally as something more akin to an album? Especially if one of the tracks (Stereodee
) turns into a bold (as in not many other signed bands would get away with it) and relentless scream of guitar noise for its last ten minutes? I’ve never heard such a demanding sheet of noise. The familiar major-sounding chords of the last four (original tracks) are almost a relieving closure from the b-side tracks before them. One for the fans.Cluster & Eno
Bean curd, bean thread, cellophane, chasoba, chow fun, dang myun, dumpling, e-fu, egg, farfel, glass, gooksu, harusame, hokkien, knodel, kreplach, lo mein, mei fun, mung bean, naeng myun, pirogi, quenelle, ramen, rice, sevian, shirataki, soba, somen, spaetzle, udon, wheat, won ton.
The Black Crowes, Amorica
Remember how good all that 70s guitar rock used to feel? Feel it again. It’s almost unnoticeable how limited Chris Robinson actually is as a singer, unless you’re a room away and get bugged by his whine-format.
Brian Eno, Nerve Net
This is Eno wih modern beats. That is, interesting collages that roll along nicely but also cry out for more cream, especially lyrical and vocal cream. Eno’s lyrics (when they are applied) are pretty throwaway here, surprise surprise. Some vaguely jazz progressions, mostly soundtracky-songs, some forgettabe stuff, but also some superb ambient works. One or two of the samples and riffs actually sound like modern hip hop samples. A great headphone or hi-fi listen, maybe a little bit keyboard-heavy, it's significant for being so unlike and dissimilar to Tiger Mountain
Fripp & Eno, Evening Star
Tranquil. Unruffled. Expansive. Equable. Composed. Quiet. Assured.
What I like about Beck, particularly after a hashed-up revisit with Mutations
, is that he can write great songs set to very defined and crafted musical settings. Here, there’s only one or two interesting songs, and though they’re all well-defined production pieces, it’s just not such an interesting album. It’s rather mill-running Beck, methinks. It sounds great, but it leaves you lingering for the precise punch of a hit, for the combination of sound and craft that define musical success.
Mogwai, Happy Songs for Happy People
Somehow, to my mind, irrespective of thought, mood or place, this stuff taps right into what it feels like to be alive (in cities, suburbs, or highways) and functioning (albeit aware, critical, questioning) and feeling (lonely, distant, obscure). Instrumental music completely of our time, just like Neu! was for the autobahn 70s. Sophisticated, progressive, sculpted and humane. These guys aren’t just making interesting soundtracks to imaginary films, they’re ready for films to meet and complete them.Remember Shakti
Calm. Flute. Tabla. Warm nights. The measure of a culture’s (musical/social) complexity lies in its attitude to improvisation. Friends. Continuity. Recognitions. Dharma.
Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue
Coke, flake, snow, toot, blow, nose candy, her, she, lady flake, liquid lady, speedball, crack, rock, Charlie, bump, slim.
In my cynical heart of hearts I might concede that the only differential between Allison and that other electro-pop "singer" Kylie is that Ms Goldfrapp didn’t go through many rounds of Stock.Aitken.Waterman horseshit to get where she is today. Ms Goldfrapp could do it by singing talent alone. But on several occasions here she just sounds like another starlet vamping over DJ-craft; not like the sexy waif-voice of Tricky’s Pumpkin
, or the perfect chamber-torch-pop and deliciously palpable sexuality of Felt Mountain
and some of Black Cherry
(I mean, to sing about a lab rat wired for orgasms sublime). It just sounds like more of the same now; and though it does take a nearly interesting turn halfway through, I want more of the explicitly feminine sex and songcraft of her earlier designs. Allison, do you hear me? You know there’s better material to be had with your voice. I’m thinking a Bond-theme. I’m thinking a collaborative effort with cigar-smoking Frenchmen, something distinctly continental and slightly sus. I’m thinking tabloid scandal and cigarette superlatives.
Miles Davis, Nefertiti
The axel, camel spin, death spiral, flip, flying, free skate, ice dancing, lift, loop, Lutz, over-rotation, toe pick, quad, salchow, serpentine, sit spin, spin, spread-eagle, toe loop.
Miles Davis, ESP
What with Sorcerer
as a loose group of discs, ESP is certainly the superior. The band which felt cold and business like-before (in the sense of new recruits getting the hang of their new manager, trying to anticipate his expectations and adopting a deliberate informality to seem assured and confident, certain of eventual bonding (whilst said manager is already contemplating other recruits and new lines of business (his eyes calmly perceiving the effect of his reputation in action))) is here finally relaxing creatively and improvising warmly. Miles, consequently, is certainly in top form.
There’s more, but I’ve lost steam, oomph, vigour.
Matthew Buzzell, Jimmy Scott - If You Only Knew
My man Jimmy, what a heartbreaker. One area where the world wide web is deficient is in footage of our man in action, so I got this as soon as Amazonianly
possible. I knew most of the personal history already; I knew of Jimmy's need for family and emotional mainline to his lost mother; and I knew of his impeccably behind-the-beat phrasing and complete possession-immersion in the song with that sublime androgynous and clear voice; but I wasn’t prepared for the magnetism and intense focus of his performing style, to see him in action. So personal and yet so performative, so much singing from the deepest, private heart, with everyone hanging on his every note. Such rare genius, so rare and total soul, such faultless execution. Jimmy’s heartbreakingly simple lesson: it all comes from the soul. The broken, suffering, but moving-on soul. And a part of his beauty as a person comes, partly, from an intelligence born of that suffering. An articulate, moving, generous man.
Heaps of concert footage on the road in Japan, heaps of interviews with family and friends, heaps of music and archival photos and anecdotes; even an 'artistically' bespectacled art-fart biographer to pad out the historical detail. Simple, respectful documentary homage. An important chapter in the historical trajectory of vocal jazz.
John Coltrane, Ballads
Something I’ve carried over from my Miles studies, no doubt, is the habit of measuring a jazzman by his facility and strength with ballads, standards, and slow tunes. It’s the basic premise of musical modesty: the master returning to the simplest, most familiar songs to display economy, soul, superior statement and technique; or rather, musical wisdom. The master at home in all formats as well as being a radical technician and explorer elsewhere.
So I was looking forward to this album lot. AMG
hints at commercial/audience interests being a possible motive for this album, coming off the relative hard exploration and demanding work of Giant Steps
, say, which ain’t quite Ascension
yet. The record company gunned for an inoffensive crowd pleaser without sheets of sound or squawking horns. Coltrane rises to the challenge by not sounding chafed or restrained – there’s quite a few of his hallmark fills and contained runs on the tenor’s middle range. There’s no soprano here – though my personal mix includes the awesome simplicity and sweetness of Central Park West
which one could call a ballad of sorts though I’d much rather call it melodic wisdom in its purest form – one of the humblest, most humanly sufficient tracks ever recorded.
The only gripe with this album I can muster — though the band is excellent and the recording, song choice and laid-back late-night mood are all impeccable, it’s that Coltrane as solo horn sounds a little lonely – I’d think he’d be better accompanied here by another horn, trombone, trumpet for a completer band sound, instead of having only the steady piano response of McCoy Tyner. Maybe it’s a subtle lack of sparring or dialogue, or occasional, repetitive hanging on a dependent note of the solo – I just thought a quintet might be more to the point. Maybe Dolphy, a Curtis Fuller or Freddie Hubbard. This probably goes against the sanctity of his ‘classic’ quartet, and that entails for Coltrane purists, which I am certainly not. But it’s a pleasant album nonetheless.