Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

I have a problem with Coldplay.

It’s not that they suck; they really don’t suck. They’re clearly talented musicians, and Chris Martin — as he proved all those centuries ago with “Yellow” — is clearly a talented singer.

What bothers me is not that Coldplay sucks, but that their records suck. I don’t understand why or how this happens. They’ve clearly got the skills to make really good records, and they’ve got Brian Eno producing them on this new one Mylo Xyloto and the last one, which I think was called A Perfectly Lovely Dinner Party With Friends or something similar. Eno is not known for producing crappy music. In point of fact, he’s known for goading relatively uninteresting bands (or rather band, or rather U2) into creating really good work. (For a comparison, look at the records U2 put out without Eno, which — aside from Boy and War — have all the charisma of an accounting seminar.)

So why in the name of Hell’s garbage truck is Mylo Xyloto so goddamn dull?

I have Coldplay on my iPod. I do. I’m comfortable enough with my sexuality to admit that, despite a decade of “You know how I know you’re gay, etc.” jokes about the band. Yes, they’re big ol’ pussies. And that’s okay. I find it amusing that people will crack endless jokes about Coldplay and yet have an artist like Bon Iver in constant rotation. I mean, Bon Iver is a giant pussy. Bon Iver makes Dan Fogelberg look like G.G. Allin. It’s music for girls with asymmetric haircuts to cry to when their boyfriend Tyler leaves them for his coke dealer, who is a dude. Apparently it’s okay to be a big pussy if you’re an American with a Grizzly Adams beard who records your albums in, I dunno, a fucking cabin in the middle of the Michigan forest or whatever the hell these kids think is “authentic”. But it’s not okay, it seems, if you’re a metrosexual Englishman permanently wrapped in Ben Sherman high streetwear whose family consists of a decreasingly famous actress and a child named after a computer company.

The Coldplay I have on my iPod consists of their previous album, which is actually called Viva La Vida (Death And All His Friends) (which we’ll get to in a minute) and a track from their first album called “Don’t Panic“. I really like this song a lot. It’s not just the Douglas Adams reference in the title (which Martin has done a couple of times); it’s the combination of the echoing guitar line and the lyrics and the way Martin sings “And we live in a beautiful world / yeah, we do, yeah, we do” in the chorus, in a way that suggests that he might not be telling the truth. It’s short as hell and lovely and I’ll fight anybody who suggests it’s not at least as good as a Radiohead song.

I don’t have “Yellow”, the band’s first big single, on my iPod, because it was impossible to be anywhere in the Westernized world in the early 00s and not hear that song playing. But it’s still a great pop single. The lyrics are odd without being irritating, the hooks are solid, and Martin’s voice is perfect, with that little falsetto yelp that approximates an Irish séan nos hiccup without actually being one.

So I know — I know, goddamnit — that Coldplay are or at least were capable of producing good music. Their position as a sort of diet caffeine-free version of Radiohead has been a running joke for a decade now, but that’s fine. They didn’t have to be Radiohead. But they could have been a really good Coldplay.

The problem, I suspect, is that Chris Martin wants to be liked by everybody. And, as Paul Carr pointed out to me the other day, people who want everyone to like them end up being liked by nobody at all, except Gwyneth Paltrow. Coldplay strike me as the type of band who remix their work endlessly and by committee, trying to achieve some kind of sonic Arcadia, a blissful aural landscape of perfectly stadium-friendly bottom end and hopeful, soaring guitars.

The result is a sort of musical version of the decorational accents they sell at Ikea in between the Billy bookshelves and the improbably small platform beds. It’s fine and nice and goes well with your lifestyle…but it’s devoid of any personality. It’s free from criticism because it offers nothing of itself. It’s wallpaper.

I got Viva La Vida because Eno produced it, and Eno is worshipped as a god in my household (or at least in the part of it that’s actually my head). I expected a revelation; I hoped that Viva La Vida would be Coldplay’s The Unforgettable Fire, the moment when they stepped up their game and became really interesting.

This was not the case. In fact, aside from the title track, the music slid off my brain like it was made of Teflon. Aside from the title track, I literally cannot remember any of Viva La Vida, despite having listened to it at least ten times all the way through. (Usually while cooking, which seems to be the ideal Coldplay listening situation, because their music is actually improved by the sound of sizzling hot oil.) “Viva La Vida” the song is almost interesting; to my ears, what it’s really missing is a harder beat, a more driving bassline. Without it, it’s music for car commercials.

I’m not going to tell you about Mylo Xyloto, because I got about three songs into it and turned it off. Like all of their post-Parachutes work, it was unlistenable, because it was completely devoid of any corners or edges for the mind to hook in to. It reminded me of those lifestyle-porn spreads in magazines like Dwell and Metropolis where bourgeois bohemians show off their exquisitely designed minimalist living spaces. It’s pretty to look at, but you have to wonder what kind of madness creeps in after a few months of living in a stainless steel-and-MDF universe. I imagine these people find themselves fighting the near-uncontrollable urge to grab a Sharpie and start drawing giant cocks on the unbroken expanses of off-white paneling that surround them. The same is true for Coldplay; I suspect that Mylo Xyloto would be endlessly improved by running it through a Squarepusher-style glitch plugin that caused it to skip and stammer.

Also, Rihanna sings on it. I know a lot of you are convinced that Rihanna is good, and that makes me want to go live in the goddamn Michigan forest with Bon Iver and the ghost of Mark Linkous and hoard a stack of Nina Simone records until you all come to your senses. Or die off like the dinosaurs.

This speaks to one of Chris Martin’s more annoying behaviors: namely, his public flirtation with American hip-hop and his bromances with guys like 50 Cent and Jay-Z. I have no idea whether this is all sincere and legitimate on a personal level, or some kind of surreal attempt to establish “street cred”, which is a concept completely orthogonal to the very notion of Coldplay, like the idea of the European Union attempting to look sexy at a party. Certainly his attempts to integrate American urban music into Coldplay’s oeuvre are an act of absurdist theater that would be offensive if it wasn’t such a fucking non sequitur.

And maybe a Coldplay record produced by Jay-Z might be interesting. (It’s a long shot, but hey, stranger things have happened.) I think Eno’s considerable talents are wasted on this source material. What I’d really love to hear is a Coldplay record produced by Squarepusher, or Burial — someone who could strip away the polish, make it ugly, confrontational in spots, make it not appeal to everyone.

They could do it, they really could. I’m convinced that, deep down, Coldplay has the talent to be remarkable. After all, who could have extrapolated Kid A from Pablo Honey, or Achtung Baby from Rattle & Hum, or the Gorillaz from “Boys And Girls”? Despite the reputation of the UK music press as being jeering and suspicious when a musical artist tries to rise above their station, British bands seem to have a lot more ambition at reinventing themselves every so often. And like U2 and Radiohead before them, Coldplay’s in a position to get their freak on if they so desire, to not only change their own artistic statement (or simply make one in the first place) but change the whole conversation of music.

If you’re not old like me, you don’t remember how completely goddamn weird Achtung Baby sounded after the stadium anthems of The Joshua Tree and the pompousness of Rattle & Hum. And yet, it was one of U2’s bestselling records…and you can see the way that it changed the musical landscape. Ditto with Kid A, which was the number one Billboard album for at least a couple of weeks despite being a skittering bleepy piece of Krautrock madness.

When you’ve gotten to a certain point, you can afford to fuck around, try new things, become a new idea. And I wish Coldplay would do it, because as it stands they’re poised to become the musical equivalent of a boutique hotel: a tasteful, lovely environment in which no one actually lives.

If you’re thinking of buying Mylo Xyloto, do yourself a favor and go buy the last couple of albums by Elbow and Jamie Woon‘s self-titled debut instead, and wait in hopes — as I do — that Coldplay will eventually produce something of lasting value, because this ain’t it.

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New Red State Soundsystem single – “Entropy”

The new Red State Soundsystem single, “Entropy”, was inspired by Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey’s take on the character of Lucifer in DC’s Vertigo comics line (specifically Gaiman’s Sandman and Carey’s Lucifer). It’s also a bit of an experimental track.

The vocal treatments were achieved by tripling the lead vocal, pitch-shifting it, and doing some other various weirdness to everything. It was inspired by the way Scorsese treated Satan’s voice in The Last Temptation Of Christ. (Which was probably just an Eventide Harmonizer.) All vocals, needless to say, are mine. I was also attempting to do something a bit more straight-up “rock” than the usual RSS tracks, though it of course still ended up being weird.

I’m not sure about this track — I like it a lot, but I don’t know if RSS fans will. But I figure it’s my job to try new things. Some of them stick, some don’t.

The b-side is an acoustic version of “Berlin Floor Show” with some additional lyrics (not mine).

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Tully Goes Down To The Docks

So, I’ve released a new track for sale on Bandcamp, entitled “Tully Goes Down To The Docks”.

It’s priced at a minimum of $1.00, but you can pay whatever you think it’s worth.

This piece (arranged for toy piano and strings with some digital effects) is one of my generative pieces, meaning it’s entirely composed using software algorithms within Ableton Live. While I’ve made several of these before, this is the first one I’ve really felt comfortable charging for, because I think it’s really good. It’s emotionally evocative and warm, and extremely atmospheric; I’m reminded of a film soundtrack. Hence the title, “Tully Goes Down To The Docks”, which doesn’t actually mean anything. It just sounded like the score for the part of the (non-existent) movie where…well…where Tully goes down to the docks.

The process for creating one of these pieces can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. This one took me about an hour. I created multiple tracks in Live and added looping MIDI clips to them. Each clip consists of just a middle C note, playing a rhythm — eighth notes, sixteenth notes, quarter notes, whole notes, either regular repeating or in some rhythmic pattern. Then I load in the Random MIDI plugin, which randomizes the playback notes. Then I add the Scale plugin, which forces the randomized notes into a scale (in this case, C major).

So the clip sends the middle C note, which is then randomized and then quantized (by being forced up or down) into a harmonic scale, and then sent to Propellerheads Reason, my soft synth environment. In this case, there are three Reason instruments: a toy piano, a solo marcato cello and a string section. The returned audio from Reason is sent to a granular synthesis Max for Live plugin called Hadron, which provides some really interesting (if subtle) sonic texturing, and a whole hell of a lot of reverb.

Once it’s all mixed the way I like it (including mastering but, in this case, no compression, as I wanted it to have extremely wide dynamic range), it’s done. I save the file and go to “Render Audio/Video” in Live’s file menu.

The length of the piece is arbitrary, but in this case I cheated a bit: I manually brought in each track at the beginning and then took them out one by one at the end. The entire track runs 128 measures (or 8:36 seconds). Every time I play the track (or render it out in Ableton Live) it’s different; this recorded version is one of an infinite number of variations on a theme.

I could, in theory, create a custom variation for every single person who bought the track, and I’m considering doing that for the next generative piece I do. It’d be interesting: you would own the only copy of your “version” of the song. No two would ever be exactly alike. It’s a different way of thinking about the idea of recorded music — one that’s really only practically possible with this particular form of composition and recording. (In purely digital music, the two are basically the same.)

I hope you like it. I really do. And enough people have bought it that I think it’s probably worth doing a possible entire album of these pieces!

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Why cloud storage for music is really an opportunity for labels

As anybody who knows me knows, I am profoundly ambiguous about the effects of the network on the music industry — particularly the independent bits of it, such as artists (like myself) who fund, produce and distribute their own music without the benefit of big labels.

However, I am completely unambiguous about the recent explosion of cloud-based music services such as Google Music, Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s Cloud Drive…unlike Chicago-based indie label Numero Group, who have decided to opt out of Apple’s iTunes Match program, which allows users to pay a small fee to “match” the music on their own drives to existing files on Apple’s servers, saving them the time and hassle of uploading those files, which could easily be measured in the tens of gigabytes or more.

Numero says:

In the coming weeks, many customers and friends will ask us this question: why am I not able to automatically access Numero in my iCloud? The simple reason is that Apple and their major label “partners” have created a reward system that is both incomprehensible in scope and totally out of sync with iCloud’s streaming peers’ (Rdio, Spotify, et al) financial mechanics. As we have been entrusted with an incredible wealth of creative assets, and our primary responsibility is to our partners; the artists, producers, and songwriters that make up the Numero catalog, we feel that Apple’s pittance is an insult not only to them, but every other musician, living or dead, and, if the latter is the case, their heirs.

 

While Numero has every right to refuse Apple’s program, I think the problem here isn’t simply a label opting out of a service: it’s a fundamental misunderstanding within the music industry of what cloud storage is and how it works.

Cloud storage is just that: storage. None of the music cloud storage providers allow people to obtain music illegally, so far as I can tell: they simply allow users to store their own music collection, some or all of which may be of dubious provenance. But that provenance isn’t the provider’s responsibility, any more than a U-Stor-It place is responsible for making sure that every item a customer stores in their 8×10 storage unit was legally bought and paid for. All of the providers seem to be taking some steps to ensure that undeniably illegal items (such as leaked, unreleased albums) will be blocked from being uploaded, the same way a U-Stor-It would presumably refuse to allow someone to pull up with a van full of bricks of heroin and dump them in their unit. But if a user happened to have, say, a half-pound of China White at the bottom of a trunk they leave in storage, the onus of discovery isn’t on the storage rental business, any more than it’s on Google Music if somebody happened to have an “illegally” obtained copy of my record.

Nor do I believe these providers owe labels and artists money, any more than hard drive providers do, and I think the only reason labels are going after them is because they’re much larger targets than the group that labels consider the real enemy: people who don’t pay for music. (It has also become deeply unpolitic for a record label to treat the people who pirate their music as freeloading thoughtless assholes, whether or not they actually are.)

What labels and artists ought to be doing is working with the cloud providers, because the providers now have a very valuable piece of data: they know what people like, and their sample data is way more comprehensive than that of music discovery tools like Last.fm and Pandora, because they can see each user’s entire music collection and how they’ve interacted with it, not just what they happen to listen to at work or on their mobile device or what have you.

For example: I’m a Tom Waits fan, so I have a Tom Waits channel on Pandora. Pandora, in return, gives me links to buy Tom Waits records. But each of these ads is a waste of time. Why? Because I already own every Tom Waits record. I’m not going to buy them.

Pandora doesn’t know that, because Pandora only sees what I like, not what I already have. But Google Music does. Google Music knows I like Tom Waits, but it can also tell that I have all his records. It also knows that I have several Elvis Costello records, but not all of them. So it shows me an ad not for Waits’s Rain Dogs, but for Costello’s Blood & Chocolate…something it knows I probably want but don’t actually have. And I’m far more likely to buy that.

More to the point, for indie labels, it can “weigh” my collection and offer me discovery of new/indie music based on an extremely detailed statistical modeling algorithm. For example, I have the Kenny Loggins track “Playing With The Boys” in my music collection, but it’s there mainly to torment people when I DJ at parties. Since I have no other Kenny Loggins tracks (I swear to God), and the play count is fairly low, it’s probably not worth including in a model of my likes and dislikes. But I have four or five Eleni Mandell records; even if I don’t listen to them that often these days, that still suggests that I like Eleni Mandell enough to have several records, and that I would probably like Jessica Lea Mayfield. But I already have both of Ms. Mayfield’s records…so it goes into discovery mode and shows me Lera Lynn instead.

And boom! I’ve just bought Lera Lynn’s record, because it’s right there in front of me, for a reasonable price, and as soon as I buy it it’s in my cloud collection. The barrier to commerce has been lowered so far that it’s probably easier for me to buy it than to steal it.

This actually has more benefit for indie labels than it does for big labels, because a lot of indie music still lies at the edge of the popularity curve: it’s not popular enough to be easily pirated, but by the same token it’s also not popular enough to be easily discoverable. If you want the new Lady Gaga record, you can buy it instantly from iTunes or download it in two seconds from The Pirate Bay, either way…but it’s easier to buy Lera Lynn’s record than to try and find a torrent or even a Rapidshare download for it. (I know, I bought it.) Marrying marketing to the cloud means ads are getting to people who actually want to see them (the most valuable demographic of all no matter what you’re selling) and who are willing to act on them, because they actually represent the path of least resistance.

I hope the indie labels see this opportunity soon rather than railing at the cloud music service providers, which is a wasted and frankly unfair effort on their part, and focus on how this can actually help them — because what helps them helps us, the music-loving audience, by giving us an easy way to find and buy new and great stuff.

 

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The Indelicates – David Koresh Superstar

I’ve given up trying to explain The Indelicates to people, but if you put me against a wall and put a gun in my mouth and told me to describe them, I’d say “Mrrgh mrrff wgggffh fggghh”. Then, when you took the gun out of my mouth, I’d tell you that The Indelicates are like Belle & Sebastian meet Gilbert & Sullivan meet Sacco and Vanzetti. And that’s the last I’ll say on the subject.

David Koresh Superstar is a concept album, which is normally one of the more loathsome excesses of pop music. Or perhaps it’s a cast recording of a stage musical that never happened (at least, not yet): the life of Vernon Howell, better known to you and I as David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian Church of Waco, Texas, who collectively had a standoff with the federal government in 1993 that ended with Bradley tanks and machine guns and most of Koresh’s followers finding out firsthand if there really was a Heaven or not.

I grew up in Texas, not terribly far from Waco (though on the other side of Dallas), held in the bosom of that Old Time Religion; my great-grandfather was a minister — albeit a Methodist one, and Methodists are sort of like the caffeine-free diet Coke of Protestantism. We didn’t roll in the aisles or speak in tongues. (Though I did know a mentally challenged kid who became a snake-handling preacher after high school; he was once sodomized with a Golobulus G.I. Joe action figure by another kid while rummaging in a Dumpster, and I always wondered if that had anything to do with his later career choice. That’s a whole other story, though.) Texas Methodists are far more into Sunday potlucks and preachers in business casual playing acoustic guitar on the pulpit than any of the shit Koresh apparently got up to. But Texas is chock full of demented religious fervor, and I certainly knew and was exposed to a lot of people who fully believed that the Rapture was coming, possibly next week. You could tell who they were, because their big American cars all had bumper stickers warning of uncontrolled vehicles, were the Rapture to occur whilst they were driving.

Besides, Texas breeds lunatics. (I’m living proof.) In his brilliant and venomous routine about the Waco standoff, Bill Hicks said “Lemme see here: frustrated rock musician with delusions of grandeur, armed to the teeth and ready to fuck anything that moves. I don’t know how to tell you this…but that sounds like all of my friends in Austin.”

My point is that when Koresh went apeshit, it wasn’t actually all that surprising; and, as Hicks also pointed out, there’s a lot of evidence that the FBI and BATF’s handling of the standoff was a colossal clusterfuck, and that they basically slaughtered the Branch Davidians and Koresh…who were loopy, but not possibly actually breaking any laws; for foreigners and other aliens, it is not illegal to own a military-grade weapons cache in Texas. (Nor is it illegal to kill someone who comes onto your property without your permission; one of the funniest things to me, in the world, is that very little of what Leatherface does in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually against the law, since the teenage kids not only come onto his land without permission, but actually walk into his house without being given permission. As far as I know, the Texas law about defending your property from intruders doesn’t specify how you have to kill said intruders.)

It’s really interesting to hear the Indelicates’ take on all of this. I guessed, and Simon Indelicate confirmed, that he’s a fan of Garth Ennis’s remarkable, bloody, blasphemous and wholly incredible comic series Preacher, which — like David Koresh Superstar — deals with the trials and tribulations of a Texas preacher, albeit a very different one. Ennis is Irish and the Indelicates are British, and in both cases their Texas is a mythical landscape of gun-toting God-ridden white trash, a post-apocalyptic frontier landscape filtered through a thousand cowboy movies and the endless parade of embarrassing stories about the place in the global media. It’s strange to hear the voices of this passion play singing with English accents, the way it’s odd when an occasional Britishism comes out of the mouth of Preacher’s Jesse Custer, but of course these characters aren’t really Texan; they inhabit a notional Lone Star State.

The album follows Koresh’s life from his childhood to his ascension (if you can call it that) to cheap roadside messiah, and eventually to his sudden backhanded step into the global spotlight as a crazed cult leader who reportedly sport-fucked his way through the ranks of his female congregation and, of course, eventually led most of them to a horrible death at the hands of the Feds.

Both structurally and musically, it bears echoes of Luke Haines’s Baader-Meinhof record, which similarly narrated the history of the Red Army Faction. It has the same odd elements of 70s funk and acoustic folk; the similarity is most evident on opening track “Remember The Alamo”, first single “I Am Koresh”, and particularly “McVeigh”, an almost-disco track about Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh that’s reminiscent of “There’s Gonna Be An Accident” from Baader-Meinhof. It has always been apparent that The Indelicates are fans of Haines, his relentless acerbicism and his various musical products (The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder); it would seem like pastiche except for the fact that Simon Indelicate is at least as good a lyricist as Haines is, and certainly at least as clever. I would provide examples for you to pore over, but I don’t have a copy of the lyric sheet for DKS, so you’ll have to trust me.

The Indelicates aren’t playing this for cheap laughs, though the album is shot through with the darkest of black humor: it’s obvious that behind the absurdity and uniquely American excesses of Koresh’s tale, there’s a story about a frankly pathetic man whose delusions created a great deal of horror and terror for a group of people without the innate capacity to see through his cheap bullshit; brainwashed cultists or not, the Indelicates refuse to make them — or Koresh himself — the butt of the joke, and it turns what might have been a simplistic and cruel comedy record in less deft hands into a genuinely tragic musical story.

Not that they don’t use DKS to strike a few blows at the pomposity of musical theater and the notion of the “concept record” itself. “The Road From Houston To Waco”, Koresh’s first-person narrative of his life, sounds like a Broadway composer’s notion of country music (which sounds, to my ears, oddly like 70s-era Jimmy Buffett). “Something Goin’ Down In Waco” has a chorus of various voices that sounds like the unbearable moments in musical theater when spoken lines are shoehorned into sung lyrics. (If it’s not obvious, I labor under a lifelong hatred of musical theater.)

If DKS has an obvious flaw, it’s one that’s endemic to this genre of work: namely, a lack of subtlety. It’s very hard to write narrative non-fictional lyrics while still wrapping yourself in nuance and metaphor; a great example is Dylan’s “Hurricane”, which is maybe his least poetic work (while still being a kickass song). Doing an entire album means you’re sacrificing poetry for description; you stop asking questions and start making declarations. Simon balances this here as best he can, but you do lose a bit of the complexity that makes his work so interesting normally.

On the whole, though, I think David Koresh Superstar does precisely what it’s supposed to do, and does it perfectly well. The album’s story ends with “Superstar”, a melancholy ballad in which Julia Indelicate seemingly plays the part of an angel receiving Koresh into the afterlife, stripping him of his self-illusions and informing him of his precise place in history — which, according to many theologians and thinkers, would place him firmly in Hell. “The Texas sky is great and wide, the ashes drift away / Stutters and drifts away,” Julia sings in her Received Pronunciation accent, and a piercing violin rides Koresh to his judgment.

The album ends properly with a gospel-style reworking of the old blues song “John The Revelator”, complete with choir, which Simon spits out with his characteristic venom. It’s a folk apocalypse, absolutely apropos as a coda to the story of a man who believed himself to be the American Messiah, only to discover at the end that no one at all was going to pluck him from the flames and carry him aloft on the wings of angels — his final and perhaps most important revelation, you might say.

I’ll be honest: when The Indelicates (who, full disclosure, are Internet friends of mine) announced this project, I was a bit nonplussed. But David Koresh Superstar absolutely surpassed my expectations. The Indelicates manage to capture both the deranged eschatological fervor of the Branch Davidians and the bland suburbanism of their aspirations. It’s a challenging and fascinating work from a fascinating and challenging band, and well worth your time.

David Koresh Superstar is available via a pay-as-you-like model from The Indelicates’ record label, Corporate Records.

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The New Record

I sat down and talked with Aaron Archer (my extremely talented guitarist and friend) about the next Red State Soundsystem record (the next LP, not the Sophia Sessions EP of acoustic versions of Ghosts In A Burning City songs that I’m recording right now), and what it’s going to sound like. I told him I wanted to make a three in the morning dive bar record; music for drunk brokenhearted dudes who read Nietzsche and sultry girls in cocktail dresses with whiskey voices. A velvet and black leather record, a red and black record. I may have mentioned Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan several times, and also Paul Westerburg.

The long and short is this: I’m moving away from the sound of the last record. This new record is going to be more aggressive, a bit more rock and roll…though I’m not abandoning the ambience and electronica entirely. I told him I wanted to make an Afghan Whigs record as produced by Brian Eno. The album’s also going to be a bit less…eclectic…than the first one. Aaron’s going to be working with me a lot more on the arrangements, and I want the songs to have a unified sound. Which is not to say that all the songs will sound alike, but that they’ll probably jump around a bit less than the last one.

And I want it to be fucking noisy.

I have almost the entire record written, at least in terms of lyrics and chord progressions, and in the next couple of months Aaron and I are going to start the actual recording. I’ll probably drop rough mixes of a couple of the tracks, as we go.

So there’s that.

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“Heroes” « Pushing Ahead of the Dame

There’s a lassitude, an echoing, fading grandeur, in the sound of “Heroes”: its dragging beat; its backdrop of squalls and what sound like wayward radio signals;  its lyric, set at the continent’s scarred heart; Bowie’s extravagant, metal-edged vocal; Robert Fripp’s feedback ostinato. “Heroes” is Bowie at his most empathic and at his most desperate, a wish-chant that offers, at best, some tiny regency for the spirit. Bowie, who had once had filled his songs with starmen and calamity children, seems reduced here to a minor scale, despite the talk of kings and dolphins. Any hope “Heroes” offers is meager: we can be better than we are. Only sometimes, and not for long.

via “Heroes” « Pushing Ahead of the Dame.

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Music For Writing Desks

I’m currently working on a nasty horror short story for my friend Jarret Keene’s upcoming anthology of Las Vegas horror stories. When I write, I listen to music; generally instrumental stuff. When I’m doing horror, I tend to listen to a lot of post-rock stuff like Mogwai (the track “Auto Rock” being a favorite), as well as hauntological electronic like Burial, and random film soundtracks, my favorite being Cliff Martinez’s score for Solaris and Clint Mansell’s Requiem For A Dream, as well as Lisa Gerrard and Peter Bourke’s lovely score for The Insider.

However, I find that I run into a problem: the music runs out or changes moods long before I want it to. It might take me three hours to write a scene, and unless I’m looping a single track or album again and again (which, in and of itself, is tiresome) I’m going to lose the feeling of the music long before I’m done writing.

Yesterday, I hit upon a novel solution: I fired up Ableton Live and used some of my techniques for generating algorithmic music to create an evolving, unending “soundtrack” to listen to while writing a scene. It took me about ten minutes to throw together an appropriate set of sounds, rhythms, loops and harmonies…and I left it running for the three hours it took to write the climactic scene of my short story. (When I popped over to it and closed it, it was running to something like 1300 measures.)

It worked perfectly! One long song, with enough variation not to sound like a loop, maintaining the creepy feeling I wanted while I wrote this horrible scene. (It involves a drugged Russian prostitute and a Lovecraftian beastie.) I think I’ll try it for all of my writing projects from here on out.

If you’re curious, here’s a 32-measure sample of the music.

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A Pitchfork Band Review: Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too

As anybody who’s ever heard a musical note knows, tiny Muenster, Texas (pop. 1566) has become the new indie hotbed. Muenster bands such as Punky Brewster Soundsystem and Lars And His Horse People were the bands to watch at SxSW this year, not to mention Helsinki’s IceeBalls Music Showcase and Rumpster Magazine’s Provo-based RumpFest. Raconteurs frontman Jack White has recently announced that he’s opening a vintage 8-track store and BBQ shack in downtown Muenster, just another example of the town’s growing cultural capital. And, of course, there’s Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too, who seem poised to become Muenster’s Next Big Thing.

CWLFT is the brainchild of nineteen year old Ryan Dylan Ryan and his eighteen year old sister Brionna Jennee Ryan. Beginning in 2008 as a Christian indie folk duo influenced by Devendra Banhart and Loggins & Messina, in just three short years their sound has matured, mixing elements of the Arcade Fire’s post-ironic dreariness and the lush electro sounds of El DeBarge with the neo-folk of Mumford & Sons and the undefinable quintessence of Fleet Foxes, whose name inspired one of the words in CWLFT’s own name.

“We started out doing worship music,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, who refuses to do any press unless his name is printed in full every time it’s mentioned, “but after a while I realized that I had my own, like, musical path to follow. Plus people kept calling me ‘Jesus queer’ and punching me in the kidney every time we did a show at the roller rink.”

After purchasing a 1989-vintage Roland CR-69 drum machine from a neighbor with special needs who had previously used the device to communicate with his elderly parents, Ryan Dylan Ryan recruited his sister Brionna Jennee Ryan on hurdy-gurdy, tenor banjo and backup vocals. “I’m not really sure what Brionna was doing musically before that,” Ryan Dylan Ryan says. “I know she sucked a guy’s dick behind the rec center this one time so she could afford to drive to Dallas and see Someone Loves You Boris Yeltsen, so I guess you could say she’s always had this musical obsession.”

Brionna Jennee Ryan (who credits her unique fashion sense to her incipient fetal alcohol syndrome) prefers to avoid the limelight — and, in fact, according to her brother, light altogether. “Yeah, she was born with this weird allergy to light,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “so she never comes out unless we’re playing a gig. I don’t actually even, like, know where she lives or anything. We rehearse in this old abandoned nuclear missile silo that these organic farmers are turning into a massive grow station, but we have to turn off the UV lights or Brionna will start projectile vomiting and stuff.” Ryan Dylan Ryan credits his sister’s delicate, sunny pop-perfect arrangements to the fact that she was born without a lower brain stem or tongue. “She’s so real, you know? She doesn’t like worry about all the bullshit like other people. She just sits in the dark with her hurdy-gurdy and her Brian Wilson records and just, like, makes art and stuff. And hoots.”

Despite being courted by Williamsburg indie darling label Swollen Coke Fork Records, Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too refuses to leave Muenster. “We’ve got our roots here,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “In Brionna’s case, that’s totally literal, by the way.” They chose to release their first album, I Heard Somebody Crying And Then I Realized It Was Me, through Internet channels only, though a limited edition — carved into an Edison wax cylinder and wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf — is available via mail order and through a special distribution deal with the Luby’s chain of affordable cafeterias, a move that Ryan Dylan Ryan describes as “thinking outside the Old Media box”.

The album — co-produced, like every other fucking indie rock album ever, by Steve Albini and Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo — is a curious mix of tender, heartfelt white people singing, reminiscent of Portland’s You Don’t Bring Your Mother and Bright Eyes, and dissonant electronica that one reviewer notoriously described as “sounding like Aphex Twin taking a violent shit at a truckstop in El Paso”.

“We slept in Albini’s studio while we were making the record,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “Only he didn’t know about it. He’s so funny — he’d walk around going ‘Why does my vocal booth smell like a sheep shit in it?’ and ‘Why doesn’t that albino whore have an indented nasal bridge like a normal human?'”

Critical success has come quickly for Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too, as well as a certain amount of underground fame. Ryan Dylan Ryan won’t discuss rumors that he’s currently in a relationship with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, but statistics and the law of averages suggests that he probably is. Meanwhile, Brionna Jennee Ryan has been seen doing high profile DJ gigs at vegan collectives in northern Sweden during the long, sunless winter months, and is recording a collaboration with Karin Dreijer Andersson of Fever Ray to be entitled either Ah, Fuck, The Goddamn Weasels Are Tearing At Our Clits Again or simply Eeeeeeeaaaaauuuugh, which reportedly uses no instruments other than the sounds of Andersson and Ryan banging their skulls against moss-covered Icelandic cliff faces and weeping. “I’ve heard it,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “and it’s a totally challenging record. But it’s like, totally sunny and pop-perfect and danceable too.”

Meanwhile, the mainstream world keeps calling too. Recently director Noah Baumbach used the CWLFT song “Thundercats Ho” in his indie drama Melvin, His Trust Fund And His Bicycle, which also features tracks from Cut Fleet Cold Furnaces, You Don’t Bring Your Mother, Hey Look It’s Lisa Bonet From The Cosby Show and Beck. Another track from I Heard Somebody Crying And Then I Realized It Was Me was used in a television ad for Same Ol’ Hootenanny Moustache Wax. “I mean, I guess it probably looks like we’re selling out,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “but it’s hard to live without money. Plus somebody, I’m not gonna say who, but somebody in the band needed a tail removal operation, and they don’t do that for free in Texas.”

So what’s next for Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too? Ryan Dylan Ryan says the band’s just taking it easy and preparing to go into the studio to record their sophomore album, tentatively titled Fuck I Wish It Was 1988, which is rumored to be produced by the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler. “I called Win up one day,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “and asked him if he’d produce the album, and he said he would if he could fly down to Muenster and give me a Brazilian. I started laughing, but he was totally serious. I mean, dude, what would you do? It’s totally the guy from Arcade Fire? So he flew down and we went out in a cornfield and he gave me a wax. His wife filmed it with an 8mm film camera, but I haven’t seen it on, like, their website or anything yet, so maybe when they do a DVD or something.” The album is apparently a radical departure from the band’s current sound, featuring sunny, pop-perfect vocals over rootsy alt-country rather than shimmery alt-folk. “We’ve got one track, which I think is going to be called ‘Trapper Keeper Yay You’re So Rad’, and we’ve got like seven hundred and thirty vocal harmony tracks,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “Most of them are by Grizzly Bear, but I got my neighbor who sold me this drum machine one time to sing some of them, except he couldn’t remember the lyrics, so he just sang about Huey Long and the fascist takeover of Louisiana, but it’s like way more organic that way, you know?”

One thing’s for sure: Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too is the band to watch out for, for at least the next seven or eight minutes.

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I Like This Band

I’ve written a tiny web app called “I Like This Band” that allows you to enter a band’s name in a search form and get a random list of 20 similar bands. Click on any band and you get bands similar to that band, or click on the “Google ‘em” link to Google the band. Mouseover the band’s picture and you’ll see a truncated bio.

Nothing too exciting, but cool for people like me who just want to find bands that are similar to other bands without having to navigate a bunch of random bullshit to do it.

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