The "staff picks" shelf at the record store sucks me in every time. My rationalization: These folks work at a record store, so they must know what they're talking about. Right? Well, we work at a magazine, so, uh...anyway, a few of us here at MoJo decided to compile our own favorites-of-the-moment list. Like it? Super. Hate it? Tell us something better to listen to. Especially if you happen to work at a record store.
We think our picks this week are worth a listen or two. But as LeVar Burton would say, you don't have to take our word for it:
1. "Along the Way," DeVotchKa: Gary saw DeVotchKa perform this song in Austin last week at SXSW, and it's been stuck in his head ever since. Old-world gypsy folk that's pretty and sad at the same time.
2. "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks," Los Campesinos!:
Welsh indie pop band with names almost as twee as their music: Neil, Ellen, Ollie, Tom, Gareth, Harriet, and Aleks.
3. "Organism," Tommy Guerrero: At a recent live performance in San Francisco, Guerrero and his band drove through songs like this with scary precision. Hip-hop beats + thick, reggae bass lines + funky guitar = Tommy Guerrero.
4. "Zhong Nan Hai," Carsick Cars: We hear tinges of Mission of Burma and the mighty Joy Division in this Beijing band's sound. What do you hear?
There have been a few "comic remixes" that have probably landed in your e-mail boxes over the years: The Dysfunctional Family Circus predates the internet, in fact, replacing the originals' cloying observations with sick jokes about incest and drugs, while "Marmaduke Explained" attempts to find humor in this bafflingly non-funny comic via deadpan explanations that are even less funny. But recently I've come across a reinterpretation of a much-derided comic that's pretty stunning, not only because it makes the originals funny, but because it does so not through addition, but through subtraction.
Garfield Minus Garfield has a simple formula: erase (presumably through the magic of Photoshop) every instance of the irrepressible, overweight feline, leaving only Jon Arbuckle to talk to himself. The results are devastating (and hilarious) treatises on loneliness, without punch lines or jokes, reminiscent of the appallingly bleak early Peanuts strips.
Science fiction pioneer Arthur C. Clarke has died at age 90 in Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. Clarke wrote the short story on which Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was based; his accompanying novel was actually completed after the film. In one of the most famous examples of science fiction becoming science fact, Clarke was the main proponent of the concept of geostationary satellites being used for communications (although whether he was the first to come up with the idea is apparently in doubt).
For an author so clearly interested in "hard" science (and who famously dismissed UFO enthusiasts as signs of how rare intelligent life is on Earth) there is a surprising level of mysticism in Clarke's work, something evidenced by the third of his "three laws" governing prediction: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke's approach to the mystical (and mystifying) was one of both awe and humility, and while it's Philip K. Dick's dystopian paranoia that seems to best reflect our current reality, Clarke's visions of the future are both reassuringly optimistic and comfortable with the universe's mysteries.
Well, I suppose it's our own fault. In a move that echoes Radiohead's surprise announcement of an impending album last fall, Jack White's wear-whatever-colors-we-want band the Raconteurs have just announced via their website that they'll release a new album, Consolers of the Lonely, next Tuesday on all formats. But unlike Radiohead, Jack White seems to be a little bitter about, ulp, music critics who jump the gun by reviewing promotional releases or leaks:
We wanted to get this record to fans, the press, radio, etc., all at the EXACT SAME TIME so that no one has an upper hand on anyone else regarding it's availability, reception or perception the Raconteurs would rather this release not be defined by it's first weeks sales, pre-release promotion, or by someone defining it FOR YOU before you get to hear it.
Wow, and all-caps, even. That's internet for shouting!
After the jump: critics, can't live with 'em, can't crush their heads in vices.
Nobody disputes the greatness of the Pixies, but the Breeders are, it must be said, underappreciated. Their first album, 1990's Pod, is an innovative and listenable gem, proving Kim Deal had a unique songwriting style, more melodic and lighthearted than the Pixies. This is even more evident on the title track from their 1992 EP Safari, a hypnotic, almost Krautrock-y number more in tune with their UK contemporaries. Of course, 1993's Last Splash was the commercial breakthrough, but remember what an unlikely hit "Cannonball" was: a bendy guitar melody that evoked My Bloody Valentine, and winking vocals that seemed like an in joke. Of course, the Breeders' story gets complicated after that, seeming to mirror the general state of alternative rock as the '90s progressed: drug problems, side projects, aborted attempts at reconvening. A reconfigured Breeders released Title TK in 2002: a far less ambitious work, not without its charms, but very different from classic Breeders. Could the worldwide hysteria for the Pixies reunion have rubbed off on Kim a little, giving the new album some of the old playful confidence?
What's the problem with having 1,780 bands performing every night on 81 stages throughout the downtown Austin area? With the barrage of nonstop music being played everywhere you turn, it's possible to walk right by an outdoor perfomance tent where Ludacris is performing and not even know it. He could have been Jesus Christ delivering a Sermon on the Mount #2, and I would have been completely oblivious, had I not stopped and asked a SXSW volunteer, "Uhh, who is that on the mic?"
Day Three at SXSW included enough walking to justify a new pair of shoes, hot enough temperatures to justify wearing shorts, and a late-teens event volunteer washing down her ice cream cone with a can of Miller Lite and telling me, "Well that's Ludacris, silly!"
So here's the catch about covering the music portion of SXSW: after a day or two of playing as many as four sets a day and doing back-to-back interviews, musicians are tired of playing music, and even more tired of talking about it. Sometimes they're hung over, or tired, hungry, annoyed, grouchy, or just a little disinterested. Can't say I blame them; although they knew what they were getting into when they showed up, no?
The up-side is that when you tell someone you're interviewing them for Mother Jones, suddenly their face lights up and they say screw jabbering about music, let's talk politics. It's happened consistently while here in Austin. So, here's a brief glimpse at what's on the minds of musicians at SXSW in 2008:
I haven't slept much so far at SXSW—or, "South By," if you're nasty. There is just an ungodly amount of things to see, hear, and do here. It's over-saturating even my high tolerance for over-stimulus. And I mean that in the best possible way.
So by the end of Day 1 here, I learned that the key to success is to chill. Trying to run around and do everything just ain't gonna happen. Having a plan with room for deviation is the way to go. With that newfound wisdom, Day 2 here was a good one:
I decided today that blog talk—that is to say, discussion of the importance, relevance, or social meaning of the blog—is totally boring, and time would be better spent knitting sweaters or baking cookies.