Saturday May 8, 2010: The High Line

The wind was gusting in New York all day Saturday, enough to nearly pick me up off my feet at times or push me out in front of an oncoming car- despite my typical inclination to avoid that sort of thing.

High winds signal a change in the weather, and those of a literal bent were not frustrated in their devotion to  cause and effect.  We got that weather change- 30- and 40-degree weather ensued to general consternation, to great elbow hugging and shoulder-hunched complaint in the fast lanes of New York leisure.  But I, being of a more metaphysical persuasion, took it as portent of greater changes afoot.  On the last big New York day and night my fiancée and I will take together before our move across country, as we embarked on one of those weekend days only found in a city that is bigger than itself, a day exploring new territory and never-before-discovered neighborhoods, sites, and restaurants, as we inadvertently took the rare cab ride through the sights we will not see together until we again visit this city as a couple, strong winds were blowing.  Many miles were walked, many blue-skied and alien views of the suddenly unfamiliar skyline were revealed to us.  Overlooked and out of the way street corners yielded the rest and repast and unexpected charm that is New York’s reward for the risk taken when you walk through a door on a side street with nothing more than a pasted up  menu to recommend it.  We had one of those Saturdays that made us both appreciate this city way back when we first met it.

From the high-end shopping mall that sprung from the site of industry and absolute human degradation that was the Meat Packing District, we walked the High Line to its current terminus. It can be argued the human degradation stands out today in yet sharper relief on this end of 14th ST where you can't buy a belt for less than $200.

The day ended at the Bowery Ballroom, where, alas, I took no shitty cell phone photos of Caribou astounding me with their ability to play an album live that I had thought had to have been entirely pasted together from loops and sequences in a DAW.  Their rendition of the first single off this year’s Swim was a bit too fast, causing the band to drop notes or lyrics here and there (the only time during the whole show), but overall the band played extremely well.

Falconing

After sitting my sedentary hours at the office today, requisite for not much longer, I went for a 5.5 mile run to circulate the blood and shake the funk I was in.  Looking up as I made my laps, I noticed a hawk hovering in a giddy state of confusion over the patch of lawn on the Bayard Street side of the McCarren Park track.

I knew that careful hovering maneuver from having seen it so many times growing up, where field mice could be plucked from the fields like grapes from a vine.  The red-tailed hawks back home would circle that tightly and somehow float in midair only if there was something on the ground they intended to eat.  The birds will hold their position there in the sky, seeming to stay aloft by an act of the will alone before giving free reign to gravity, dropping on top of some soon dead rodent.

I don’t often see hawks in my neighborhood, so without knowing what he was after, I found myself willing him to drop, empathizing with him, hoping he could make the kill he had set his predator’s heart on.

And then I looked down.

A group of girls in their twenties were standing in a group with their chihuahua and chihuahua-derivative dogs frolicking about them, both dogs and owners blissful in their absolute self-involvement, oblivous to the death multiplied in its potential perched and stopped and hanging held back by nothing at all in the very air above their heads.

Oh— oh, yes!  Yes, I thought to myself.  Please, mighty spirit of the world grandfather, smite a small dog, star of any one of these girls’ lives of vapid indulgence.  In this neighborhood that is a fantasy of the artificial, amid the Halloween makeup, false pretenses of broken glass, the disguise of the condos’ high-rise, please intrude with the memory of order, leaner times, austerity, loss, consequence, and… livable rent?

The bird of prey trembled, hesitating, waiting for the girls to clear.  Several times he flapped his wings, beating the air again to gain loft and buy time, holding out the ravenous hope he could take one of those mammalian trinkets as a meal.

Finally, he gave up.  He flew to roost atop a nearby building.  In a twist so emblematic of this place, what came out the gates thinking he was the hunter went home hungry and disabused of the idea.  When I passed that way on my next lap, the bird was nowhere to be seen.

I am leaving this city.  I’m leaving sooner than even seems possible.  As I ran that night I pondered on one reason that this was a very good thing:  That, as I hoped for the hawk to grab one of those little dogs to shrill keening, I, like every next person keeping this undead city alive with its flagrant exploitation of youth, its ostentation and propaganda of selfish enterprise, would like to see harm done to another living thing.  I would like to see someone else suffer loss- as though that would do something to restore the loss of balance that I feel here.

Joe Hill wrote a short story that encapsulates this feeling, the backwards, nihilist, reactionary joy that is the refuge of those who would starve if they didn’t eat their neighbors first, the black comic sardonic mode of laughing at the very inconceivable ridiculousness of actually riding to hell in a handbasket.  It’s his You Will Hear the Locust Sing, collected in 20th Century Ghosts, the story of a boy in an atomic age America who wakes up to find he’s the new Gregor Samsa. He wakes up a giant bug, and he likes it.  In the story the boy kills his best friend first to give him the sci-fi buff wonder of being attacked by a giant bug “because he loved him.”

That’s it, New York.  No more long hours spent misusing communication and fomenting confusion, no more pushing products people don’t need.  I’m going falconing no more.

Trans Am at Knitting Factory BK, and What Might be an Image of the Same

I had the happy accident on Saturday to walk past the Knitting Factory and notice the placard advertising Trans Am were playing the following night.  So, Sunday night, to cap off an anodyne afternoon of walking across the Williamsburg Bridge to see The Runaways (it was good), I was back at the Knitting Factory filling my face with rock.

There were two opening acts— The first was the phenomenal Jonas Reinhardt, whose perfect channeling of Gary Numan, rhythmic Krautrock, and the show’s headliners were worth the price of admission all by themselves.  The second was affront to talent Nice Nice (what is with you guys picking up mediocre to plain bad electronic acts and putting them on your decreasingly illustrious roster, Warp?).

Jonas Reinhardt’s guitarist and vocalist is Trans Am’s Phil Manley- to whom, not knowing this at the time because I never really knew what the Trans Am guys look like, I gave an enthusiastic “What up, awesome opening band?” type “Fucking awesome!” to as we passed in the crowd.  It made a little more sense why they sounded so much like an austere version of Trans Am once I figured that out.

While I enjoyed myself near to stupefaction during Jonas Reinhardt’s set, I felt I had to avenge the second act’s very presence or become scarce so as to avoid trouble with the security staff of the establishment.  Most fun activities in New York, though, are sanitized cattle stockades, meaning that even if an opening band is really, really bad, bad like Nice Nice was bad, you can’t really leave the venue and go to the bar  Why can’t you go to the bar?  You can’t go to the bar because the club is maximizing its income by hosting a stand-up open mic event (I doubt those open-mic’ers were getting paid for the booze money they were funneling into the joint with their humiliating efforts) in the only other part of the place you could find refuge.  You also can’t throw things, etc.  So, I had to wait it out.

Nice Nice nervously manipulated live loops and step sequences while a drummer wankily flourished his command over his weird drum set.  The sequencer/guitar guy looked a lot like Dana Carvey.  The drummer had one of those snares that’s only about half as deep as it should be, meaning it gave that high-pitched, unsatisfying pop every time it was struck, and his toms were all about 3/4 of the circumference of a normal set of toms.  He was obviously a very good drummer, though he could have done with a band and a kit that didn’t inspire homicide.

Trans Am kept true to the form of their current record, Thing, out on Thrilljockey just this month, and played a compelling, dread-inspiring set of off-time changes, insane drum artistry, vocoded enigma, and dazzling bass and guitar chops.  I particularly liked that they threw Red Line‘s “I want it all” and “Play in Summer” in the setlist, the most accessible tracks of one of their more off-putting albums.  A song like “Futureworld” just wouldn’t have fit in the hemi-kiltered set they had put together.

If I may make a comparison across art forms, Trans Am seems to work on a cycle similar to Pynchon’s— Pynchon, in ten-year arcs, swings in his prose production from the purposefully and masterfully baroque (V), drifting to the easier to digest narrative (The Crying of Lot 49), to the abstracted and purely hallucinatory (Gravity’s Rainbow), back to the straighforward Narrative (Vineland), and then further rule-bound into  the baroque (Mason & Dixon) before swimming back into the waters of the collective unconscious (Against the Day).  Trans Am follows a similar arc from the very conventionally digestible to the esoteric and ineffable, with the mastery and skill to pull it off.  Some records see them hewing very closely to a theme and song-oriented approach (Futureworld 1999, Liberation, 2004, Sex Change, 2007), while others, contain more exploration of theme and instrumentation (Red Line, 2000, TA 2002, Thing, 2010).

The feel is always a kind of cold dread and ecstatic expectation, and they do it well on Thing. From the album art to the song titles, Thing is an sci-fi/psychological thriller of expectant encounters with the uncanny and uncertainty.  They’ve been one of my favorite bands for over ten years, and I’m glad I got to see them play again.

Atlas Sound at Music Hall of Williamsburg 10/21/09

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It comes as no surprise to this reviewer that I got a ticket to the Atlas Sound show at Music Hall of Williamsburg as soon as tickets went on sale.  Nothing would be left to chance for me in the idle man’s game that is CMJ, the only world-famous rock festival that isn’t a festival.  If you’re a million shows all over one of the biggest me-first shit show cities on earth and you can’t guarantee admission to someone who has a badge, you’re just a whole bunch of hyped shows and a bunch of dollars richer, CMJ.

The new Atlas Sound record came out this past Tuesday, October 20.  Entitled Logos, it hews more closely to the focused dreaming of the world-changing last Deerhunter record, Microcastle/Weird Era Continued, than the preceding Atlas Sound release from 2008, Let the Blind Lead those Who can See but cannot Feel.

The first opener, Atlanta’s Selmanaires, was the the second band I have seen in a week who would go on to support the headlining act as the backing group.  They opened the set with some dopey and lurching psychedelic rehash replete with go-nowhere tooting organ noises and vaguely middle eastern tuning.  After a song or two of that I went back to the bar to read.

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I parked my ticket stub in my book when Broadcast took the stage.  I remembered liking the tracks that KEXP had played from 2005’s Tender Buttons when that record was new.  They were stripped and simple, noisy but not unintelligible gems of foreboding electro pop.  The songs from that record even now remind me of the eerily clean and unencumbered fuzzy and ostensibly innocuous paeans to death and sex that Trevor Kampmann was putting out as hollAnd a few years earlier— most notably “Oh, Death” and the rest of the songs from 2001’s Drums.  Two tracks are below, one from Broadcast’s Tender Buttons and one from hollAnd’s Drums, so that the clever reader may draw the comparison.

Aside from becoming more incrompehensible due to the wetness of the echo effect on Trish Keenan’s vox, Broadcast has in the long interim since that record developed into a noisier, more visually oriented duo, focused mainly on making an hour or so of noise with the occasional dramatic appearance of quantized synthetic beats accompanied by Keenan’s wailing.

To clarify, it was mainly wailing, but the complementary moan was now and again employed.  She dressed in a bit of a ghostly tunic, too, though they played in the dark, their own presence second fiddle to their Spirograph inspired video accompaniment.  When you hear the direction their sound has taken in its recorded form, it is readily apparent why the two acts were playing together- they both enjoy sitting on the saturated side of fuzzy atmospherics.  Live, it didn’t quite carry, though I enjoyed the set and I am glad I got to see them.

I can say so many nice things about Atlas Sound.  I have already said so many nice things about its parent project Deerhunter to have surpassed redundancy so often it’s like I’m a track star running laps.  What can I say?  It’s the act that restored my faith in modern music from the maximum depth of jadedness.

During his set, the self-effacing Bradford Cox bantered relaxedly about how ill-at-ease he was on stage that night, engaging the audience in conversation between reworked live versions of his loop-dependent, production-heavy new album and running between his position at the microphone with his mouth harp hanging over his shoulders and his guitar in his arms to the back of the stage to beat on the skins.  He hit nearly every track on the new record, ending alone on stage with the house lights up playing an electric guitar and loops version of the title track, Logos.  Sadly, Laetitia Sadier was not in attendance to lend her ethereal vox to “Quick Canal”.  That one was a glaring omission from the tracklist.

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Cox’s presence on the stage is confounding.  He jokes that he likes to go see Tyler Perry movies with his mom, that they unironically laugh about it together, and in a deadpan throwaway comment shrugs off the disappointment the audience must feel now that they know he has nothing dark or disturbing to offer.  One can tell he takes genuine joy in doing what he does so well, and as a presence, not just as the idea of a creative mind behind great music, you believe what he says.  His music, be it with Deerhunter or under the auspices of Atlas Sound, is so ghostly and often so dark lyrically, though, as to belie all that.  “Kid Klimax,” for example, recounts how the workaday life will, after it has robbed you of your zest for taking breath, numb even your ability to be moved by the fact.  He sings (as nearly as I can make it out) “You will grow to be untouched/unphased…oh my god, oh my god.”

In a world that has turned against you, you do not have the choice to live in another one.  What Cox’s music so often says in its sometimes unaffected and sometimes sad expression, is that the artist must choose to live in this world that has turned against us, be that life beset by trouble or drowned in rapture.  Life may appear to be a conspiracy, but one can learn to hear its chinese whispers as a joke.

More pics below.
Continue reading Atlas Sound at Music Hall of Williamsburg 10/21/09

Having Danced

Having danced last night to Love is All, tickets to which I received free of charge by responding to a Time Out New York ticket giveaway blog post, I am thankful that I sweat as much as I did.  I think it did something to ameliorate the hangorative effects of all last night’s imbibing.

I don’t know anything about Love is All, nor do I know anything about its members’  previous band, Girlfriendo.  The tickets were free and I was by myself and the pace of the show was enough to keep me on my toes.  Sometimes, very rarely, that’s all I ask.

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Poni Hoax at Studio B

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Last night at Studio B, Tigersushi’s Poni Hoax put on a little party for us. They sounded great, played with an austere setup of two keyboards, a guitar, and a backline, and their singer is balding and wore bad sunglasses. He also wore a bad suit. Or maybe it was a tux. Leaping around to his own band’s fantastic soundtrack, I remember thinking that I liked that my first reaction to seeing this guy performing was enmity, because despite any visually induced prejudices I may have wanted to bring to the table, there I was on the floor fully dancing with my friends in rapt enjoyment of music that a band was unabashedly good at making. There was no unimportant criticism you could throw at the act that would stick. Pretty Tall Girls and Antibodies off of Images of Sigrid, the new release, were the definitive highlights of the set.

The Synthesizers were far more audible and buzzing live than on the album, always the hint of a pulse wave or a saw buzzing at a low octave. The guitar was equally pleasing in its buzzsaw distortion and its position at the fore of the sonic field, driving ahead of the strings on Antibodies and adding a level of grit and immediacy to the show that the immaculately-produced album tracks don’t do justice.

A Vision of HIM, Galilee Stylee OR I’M ON UR EARZ DYIN’ 4 UR SINZ

In the full eventuality of everything, so goes the notion of ergodicity, all possible things must be.

The most popular metaphor used to describe this ergoditic necessity of the universe to, over time, fulfill all the possibilities it has laid out for itself is the notion that, if one put 1000 monkeys in front of typewriters, probability dictates that eventually they must produce a flawless copy, in chronological order of original penning, of the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Now, please, consider:
I'M ON UR EARZ DYIN' 4 UR SINZ
Galilee Stylee

So, should I see a plan in randomness or a Deist plot in the propagation of this thinking?  Should I tremble and declaim that I have seen the hand of the demiurge at work and that I have seen that work playing out (O Mystery!) when I catch a glimpse of the divine, as I did Friday morning, in such an unlikely, such an unworthy, quotidian mise-en-scène as the Bedford L stop on my stumbly way to work?  Should I wear hair shirts, wigs of razors, beat myself with cats ‘o nine tails until I am worthy to soil such hallowed observations with the words I form in this mouth, those words spat bathed in my lowly sinner’s saliva?

Suppose this condition of certain sets of behavior in the universe IS the result of the hand of a higher power.  If this is Destiny, then 1000 monkeys laboring at metallurgy in the shop class of history for these 2007 years brought to mine eyes Friday morning a vision that is so much more, so much better and more unmistakeable than those recent manifestations of Him on toast, or Him in a sliced-in-half avocado, or Him on grilled cheese.  Because He willed it, I saw Him punched in stencil out of a thin sheet of brassy alloy, hanging from the ears of a deluded daughter of Williamsburg , beatific and haloed.  His bearded visage smiled at me reassuringly between blingy glintings, as if to mumble such pillow talk to the immortal souls of passers-by thus:

I’M ON UR EARZ, DYIN’ 4 UR SINZ
4 EVAH & EVAH
SON!

Like Xanadu, however, this vision’s glow faded, became misted.  The way back to it was lost.  I roused from these musings as a train rolled into the station and back out again with too many people crowded on for me to board.  The only words I could remember then echoed back to me…

“1000 monkeys… 1000 monkeys… something… Man that girl had some fucked-up earrings.”

Certainly, in the eventuality of everything, there will be some variety of circumstances that will stun us into wonder.

And, just as certainly, there will be some variety of circumstances we can safely attribute to more prosaic forces than divine intervention, ones which will provoke an affect dissimilar to wonder.  This, friends, is what happened Friday morning.

Thanks to this girl, we are helped to see that, no, ergodicity is not destiny.  Although 1,000 monkeys can, conceivably, pound out the social and moral musings of each of Lev Tolstoy’s extensive novel meditations on the right conduct in life in descending order by page length, it seems they could just as easily run enchanted through a room of shiny iconic images, affixing them to their persons.

Ergodicity is not destiny, and this probably also isn’t the year for someone to take it on themselves to see that Galilee-Stylee Crunk breaks out to get its fart in the pews of fashion.

It might be time, however, if it please the universe, to get a grilled cheese and avocado sandwich for lunch.

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