classics...or not?

The new ratatat album, Classics, is almost out (although I snagged an advance copy), and it has really delivered on all of my expectations.

I know I only really write about bands I like, but ratatat is seriously in my top 3 or so most listened to bands of all time. Check out my audioscrobbler if you don't believe me. Their s/t album is definitely my music of choice in any work environment, and is probably the one really repetitive album that I really enjoy. In fact, I have 2 copies of the album on my itunes so that I can listen to each song twice. That good, yeah.

Classics is much lighter/not as dark as its predecessor. There are a lot more experimental beats and the ranges are definitely more expansive. The high notes are especially exultant when they get there, and they don't seem to rely on as much bass as the previous album.

Two songs really stand out to me:

Tacobel Canon

Since a bunch of other folks posted it already, I won't do it here, but it is definitely dynamic. It starts with these almost creepy swishy sounds, like wet rags stuck to someone's feet, layed over an almost digital purring. This song makes me picture a very tall belabored giant swinging a wet bag of rice over his shoulders to one side, then the other, as someone plays bagpipes in the background. There is something uncharacteristically pretty about it, despite the odd sounds used for the arrangement.


This one starts out with a pretty quick and catchy beat. It then it gets kind of low and sweet. "Gettysburg" is a good example of why this band's repetition is not only bearable, but can be listened to on repeat pretty much forever.


so cheap and juicy!

I was really rather unfair about Regina Spektor's new album, Begin To Hope. I had a pretty strong, negative reaction against it the first time I listened to it. Yeah, it still sort of sounds like a Top 40, but I have listened to it a lot the last few days, constantly stuck in traffic as I usually am, and it has really grown on me.

Begin To Hope is much more subtle and nuanced than I originally gave Regina credit for. Beneath that classicly trained voice, there is this sort of whimsy that only Regina can really do. A lot of people consider her part of the antifolk movement, but there is really something more refined about Regina Spektor that puts her at the periphery of that genre. She certainly doesn't sound like any of the usual suspects, but her cadences and staccatos and strange lyrical content certainly set her apart from the "uncharacteristic drivel" with which I originally characterized this album.

"That Time"

This is my favorite song on the album, and the most quintessentially Regina Spektor. It's also probably the most "rock and roll" song of the album. There is this abruptness that chacterizes her singing style and it is especially well executed here, especially when coupled with the more melodic rises and falls. She experiments a lot with sound volume here. The whispering is sexy, but the sudden burst that follows them is even better. And, of course, there is the "so cheap and juicy!" part, which is pretty amazing.


This was originally one of the songs that made me hate the album, but it is quite pleasant to listen to and very pretty. Sure, parts of it are very "Top 40," but it kind of surprises you. I especially love the verse that occurs around 1:39. Her voice is really beautiful and the song is just so happy and catchy, despite the tragedy represented in the lyrics.

"Apres Moi"

This one is a lot darker than the others, and much more reminiscent of Soviet Kitsch. It is very Phantom of the Opera, and the piano is excellent. It could be amazing background music for a grotesque horror film about monsters and vampires in crushed velvet. She also sings in Russian about halfway through, and it is dark and sumptuous. I found this article when I was trying to figure out the dialect. There is a really interesting part about her incorporation of hiccups and odd sounds into her music.

Really, all of the songs on this album get pretty memorable after you listen to them a few times. "Samson" and "20 Years of Snow" are especially representative of her ability to incorporate multiple stylistic elements into a deeply beautiful cocophany of sounds. I feel like this album has texture. It reminds me of dark chocolate, rasberries, black currants, velvet, heavy tapestries.


I love Japanese hardcore

Back in April I posted about the events leading up to my purchase of a second hand, home shopping network record player with built-in speakers. Well, since I have no one to talk to about records, really, I thought it would be fun to review one of my records per day for awhile. I'll still do other stuff. There is enough genre overlap in my collection to review older records when newer albums of those bands come out.

About half an hour ago, I thought my record player broke. It was skipping all over the place and probably scratching, too. Having absolutely no technical knowledge of record players, I fiddled a bit, changed the needle, jiggled it around a bit, and got it to play some of my 7's. The 12's were too heavy for the platform, I guess, which was causing the aforementioned skippage.

This first installment will be entirely about my 7" records. Next time, 10's, 12's and on through the collection.

I have a surprising amount of Japanese and Korean hardcore in my record collection, all oweing to a sale at Asian Man Records which caused Karim to buy me a ton of them. Most of these are 12"'s, but I have quite a few 7's (Asian Man and not) that I really enjoy.

My record player does not, unfortunately, have audio output, so you'll have to find these jewels for yourself.

In order, starting with my favorite:

1. The Magnetic Fields: i don't believe you/when i'm not looking, you're not here:

This is my favorite band, obviously, and this is one of my most prized possessions. Both of these tracks were previously unreleased when Merge Records released them on a 7" in 1998. It is, as far as I know, the last pressed Magnetic Fields album on vinyl, and the ninth 7". "I don't believe you" was re-released in 2004 on the theme album, i, and is probably one of the most popular of the band's songs besides "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" (I never got that, by the way). I'm really not sure how rare this particular press is, but it is definitely my personal favorite.

2. Darlington/High School Dropouts split:

I really only care about the Darlington side of this one. People make fun of me when I say that Darlington is my favorite pop punk. If you've ever listened to Mr. Christy Brigette Darlington, though, you would totally understand why. Meant to be a complete and utter mockery of everything that has come to define what we usually think of as that genre of contemporary, fast paced horse crap with stupid emo lyrics and whiny little boy voices. I promise, I'm not bitter. Goldschlager and Jim Beam, featured here, aren't even the best selection of Darlington songs, but I love owning this 7" because it sounds hilarious. I think it may have been misprinted because it says its a 45 but when I play it at that speed it sounds really low and slow. The clear white wax is also pretty cool to look at. It looks like a ghost when its spinning.

I'm tired of typing. I'll do the rest in the next installment.

What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?

This afternoon (yes, I am an afternoon matinee kinda gal), I saw the long-awaited A Scanner Darkly. Phillip K. Dick, Richard Linklater, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, what more could one want from a semi-futuristic, rotoscoped creative descendant of everything from Waking Life to Minority Report to my personal favorite Arnold movie, Total Recall (who doesn't remember that girl with the three boobs?).

Richard Linklater, despite his previous fumbles with School of Rock is also the genius behind Waking Life (which includes a couple of Phillip K. Dick references), Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunrise/Before Sunset.

In Waking Life, Linklater used rotoscoping to create the sensation of ephemeral dreamlike existence. It is not suprising, then, that he uses it in A Scanner Darkly, which derives most of its meaning from alterations to conscious matter induced by the use of the most addicting substance known to humanity, Substance D, or as its users call it, "Death." The film is commentary on the extremes of pursuing the war on drugs, implicating the "soldiers" in that war to the continuation of its eternality. I know, I am being cryptic. I don't want to give away the end if you haven't read the novel.

I will say a few other things, though:

1. Robert Downey, Jr. does a great job as James Barris, a dude who clearly went to college at UT, became paranoid from all of the drugs he did, and was too smart to be with the rest of the bums in the house. Woody Harrelson also does a pretty magnificent job of acting like a total idiot. Winona...I feel like anyone could have played this part, and the rotoscoping didn't quite capture her image, but I suppose that that is the point. Keanu...he is kind of everpresent, reading lines and so forth, and does what he does best, as the confused but waiting to be enlightened narrator and, arguably, main character of the film.

2. This is the second time I've watched a Richard Linklater film and felt that it took place in Austin. This one tells you it is California, but there is something very Austin about it. Maybe it's Linklater. Maybe its the Barris character. Who knows? I like this feeling, because it was an identifier that set Linklater's production style apart from anyone else who may have taken on A Scanner Darkly.

3. Charlie Kaufman originally worked on the screenplay, before it went to Linklater. Would it have turned out differently? I thought about this a lot during the movie. Certain elements would certainly have been presented with a stark realism that is difficult to induce with the rotoscope, but that seems as if it is the point. Sure, the Kaufman version would have been a far cry from the interpretations of Phillip K. Dick we see in Total Recall or Minority Report, but I think that, as much as I love Charlie Kaufman, it was the rotoscope that really made this movie.

4. I feel like there needed to be a little more artistic license taken with the ending. It certainly skirts the issue of the implications of anonymous law enforcement, but it never goes so far as to actually say what I think the whole point of the story is: that in a world in which we do not know who is watching us and who is given power over us, we are forced to discipline ourselves, or take the chance of existing entirely outside the law.

Overall, I recommend that you see this movie if you enjoyed any of its predecessors. It is not nearly as thought provoking as Waking Life, or as action-packed as any of the aforementioned Phillip K. Dick novel and short story adaptations, but it is definitely worth watching if for no other reason than that you get to see Keanu Reeves completely lose it a couple of times and there are these cool shape shifting uniforms (which, again, could probably not have existed without the rotoscope).


from evolutionary biology to punk rock to the careful strumming of a folk guitar

Yes folks, Greg Graffin, of Bad Religion fame, has a folk album. This is highly exciting because BR is one of my all-time favorite punk bands, and definitely one of the most important American punk bands ever. Greg Graffin also has, interestingly enough, a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology. He pursued his graduate degrees while touring with the band over a period of ten years, I think. This album is also exciting because I love folk music.

Cold As The Clay is to Greg Graffin what Showtunes is to Stephin Merritt. Both albums are very different from the vast majority of Graffin and Merritt's work, but still have a definite stylistic fingerprint that makes it impossible to identify the work as anyone else's.

The entire album used to be available on Greg Graffin's Myspace but now only two of the songs are available. You can listen to them all on the Amazon page.

"Talk About Suffering"

Thematically, "Talk About Suffering" is reminiscent of pretty much everything in the post "How Could Hell Be Any Worse" period. Religious undertones abound, but with its descriptions of life as "sorrowful" and the afterlife as a "gospel train," this song seems distinctly more religious than anything we'd expect from Greg. I can still easily imagine Bad Religion covering this song, though, especially, with its darkness and dynamic repetition. My only qualm is that sometimes it is *too repetitious* but it still sounds good, so I'm not complaining.

"Don't Be Afraid To..."

This is the kind of song that I would expect to hear from Bad Religion, anyway. The only real difference is the acoustic guitar, but I think part of the appeal of Greg Graffin's voice is that it is so melodious, almost too melodious for punk rock. Simultaneously, he is a significant contribution to BR's overall higher quality over most other bands in the genre. Everything sounds so perfect and beautiful, whether its acoustic enough to sway you, or whether it electrifies you to the point at which it is impossible to dance.

Both of these songs lead me to believe that Greg Graffin would have had a fairly successful career as a folk artist, even if Bad Religion had never happened. His artistic vision is dynamic enough that it can never be boring, even when repetitive. Maybe I just have a huge music crush on this man, but I really love what I've heard from this album and I can't wait to hear more.