Wednesday, October 29, 2008

You Can Vote However You Like

October 29, 2008

You Can Vote However You Like

"Young Barack Obama, I'm all for it," Juelz Santana raps on "Black Republicans", which eventually appeared on Lil Wayne's phenomenal Da Drought 3 mixtape last year. It wasn't the first pop-music recording to mention the junior Senator from Illinois-- Neil Young name-checks Obama on "Lookin' for a Leader", from 2006's scattershot Living With War, for one-- but it was the first that I had on repeat. "Black Republicans" surfaced on the internet in January 2007, a full year before Obama's game-changing Iowa caucus victory over Hillary Clinton. I mainly liked the track for Wayne and Santana's lyrical Lambeau leaps and shameless flouting of more established rappers, but there was also a weird thrill in hearing my personal political-news-junkiedom echoed in pop culture. When the original "Black Republican" (singular-- don't ask me) showed up on Nas's Hip Hop Is Dead in December 2006, it was momentous not because of any (dubious) political content, but because the track was the first-ever collaboration between Nas and longtime rival Jay-Z.
Fast-forward to 2008. Rapping over one of Wayne's most-rapped-over beats, Bangladesh-produced Tha Carter III single "A Milli", Jay-Z joyfully describes himself as "the hood's Barack." Nas samples Obama's idealistic Iowa victory speech and a pessimistic line from 2Pac's "Changes" for his untitled ninth album's "Black President". Of course, there's's celeb-packed "Yes We Can" video, which turns lyrical political rhetoric into music that sounds like political rhetoric. Russell Simmons and mixtape DJ Green Lantern eventually dropped an Obama mixtape, and rappers Kidz in the Hall and Common have paid tribute, as well. Half-Kenyan band Extra Golden recorded "Obama", and an instrumental version of the National's "Fake Empire" appeared in an Obama ad. There have also been hundreds of amateur efforts, from "the Obama girl" and Amigos de Obama's Spanish-language, reggaeton "Obama" on down. It would take more than 55 hours to listen to the 1,000-plus songs about the Democratic nominee uploaded to the YouTube playlist Obama Songs.
By the pop-music metric, John McCain was behind even before his October descent in state and national polls. Despite an endorsement from Daddy Yankee, the biggest music-related headlines from the Arizona senator's campaign were often negative: One by one, artists complained about the use of their songs at campaign events, from Heart to John Mellencamp to the Foo Fighters. Jackson Browne even sued. Toby Keith, who had delighted conservatives with ass-kicking 9/11 anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)", called Obama the "best Democratic candidate we've had since Bill Clinton." As if twisting the knife, he added, "And that's coming from a Democrat." Kid Rock, who performed at a Republican National Convention-related event in 2004, has been conspicuously noncommital this time around. But the current Republican presidential nominee has his musical tributes, too. John Rich of country music duo Big & Rich wrote and sang a Chuck Berry-style rock'n'roll rave-up called "Raisin' McCain", and Hank Williams, Jr. attacked Obama and all his rowdy "terrorist friends" in the honky-tonk number "McCain-Palin Tradition" (an update of his own 1970s hit "Family Tradition").
In a presidential election year where both candidates claim a mantle of "change," the use of original campaign songs is, to be sure, nothing new. People who took high school U.S. history may remember "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", the slogan from a popular 1840 campaign song praising Whig candidates William Henry Harrison and John Tyler at the expense of Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren. But what about "Get on the Raft With Taft" for William Taft in 1912? "Happy Days Are Here Again" was Franklin D. Roosevelt's theme song in 1932, Dwight Eisenhower ran to Irving Berlin's "I Like Ike" in 1952, and Frank Sinatra customized James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn's "High Hopes" for John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Although campaigns continued coming up with new songs well into the latter half of the 20th century, what ultimately spelled the campaign song's d-o-o-m was the rise of TV and radio to replace rallies, parades, and boisterous bands, Frederick N. Rasmussen writes in the Baltimore Sun, citing Irwin Silber's 1971 book Songs America Votes By. If a changing media climate is (at least part of) what has consigned 1960 Richard Nixon campaign theme "Click With Dick" to the dustbin of history, though, it's also a big reason why candidates are becoming associated with custom-written songs again today. Nowhere else but on YouTube would's "Yes We Can" video have almost 11 million views; even Mike Huckabee has "Stuck on Huck", and Ron Paul can boast several online tribute songs. In that sense, the "netroots" associated with Howard Dean's failed 2004 campaign have become real even beyond their ability to fill campaign coffers with many small donations, as internet use has gradually gained ground on TV viewing as a media source.
With the presidency of George W. Bush sinking toward its current 25% approval rate, critics and pundits often asked what happened to the political music of previous eras. Where was our equivalent of Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'", Hüsker Dü's "Divide and Conquer", or Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang"? Robert Christgau has repped for James McMurtry's seven-minute "We Can't Make It Here", but its Texas Americana-rock doesn't sound much like the present multicultural moment; the fake folksiness of millionaire TV pundits notwithstanding, any extra votes Obama may get from traditionally Democratic demographics like women and African-Americans count just as much as the votes of traditionally Republican-leaning white males like "Joe the Plumber." I initially took John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" as a derivative wuss-out (when Bob Marley interpolated a Curtis Mayfield song, he at least gave the man a share of royalties), but Christgau argued pretty persuasively at this year's EMP Pop Conference that the 2007 radio hit opens a dialogue with an audience big enough to count on Election Day. Sadly, you can't say that about politically minded records like TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain, Super Furry Animals' Love Kraft, or Josh Ritter's The Animal Years.
2008 has been a year of not just political songs, however, but campaign songs, at a moment when a black man finally has a genuine chance of becoming president. The historic nature of such an accomplishment has informed many of the pro-Obama songs this year in a way that running to be the oldest president ever elected could never have boosted McCain, even if you set aside the youth-leaning bias of pop music. And race perhaps explains why some of the most interesting and most widely disseminated campaign songs this year, from "A Billi" to "Yes We Can", have come from hip-hop, while one-time Obama openers the Decemberists (used by conservatives to explain the huge crowds at one Obama event-- and to imply Obama is communist) are still singing about "Valerie Plame". At the end of two decades during which mainstream rock critics and fans of rap's "golden age" have decried the violence, misogyny, and materialism in hip-hop, it's telling that one of this pop-music genre's most critically and commercially successful artists, Jay-Z, is seeking to link himself with a politician, rather than the other way around. CurrentVibe cover star Obama is, by all appearances, the most popular figure in hip-hop. (Just don't tell that to DMX, who asked XXL magazine, "What the fuck is a Barack?")
The candidates themselves have stuck mostly to the campaign-song model of the TV era, using previously written music at their events. I've already mentioned the complaints McCain has received from some musicians, reminiscent of the debate over Ronald Reagan's use of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." in 1984. However, McCain has often also used Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", along with Kenny Loggins' Top Gun song "Danger Zone" (amusingly, CNN's Bob Greene recently appeared to miss the "Maverick" connection there; in fairness, most dance-music fans probably missed the connection to disco legend Giorgio Moroder, who co-wrote the tune). McCain and Obama both have used Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America", a song previously claimed by Bush. Obama has also frequently been known to play Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" after speeches. But none of these songs have been for the candidates what Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" was for Bill Clinton in 1992.
If history is any guide, campaign songs are usually as ephemeral as the worst novelty schlock. Regardless of who wins on election day,'s "Yes We Can" and Rich's "Raisin' McCain" may soon be as hard to stomach as "Macarena" or "Mambo No. 5"-- assuming they aren't already. Or do you still rock "Go With Goldwater" every morning on your iPod? This year's best campaign songs, aesthetically if not politically, are the ones that incorporate their candidates' messages in new, subtle ways, rather than simply reciting the flimsy media narratives that can turn both sides, liberals and conservatives, Olbermann viewers and Limbaugh listeners, TalkingPointsMemo readers and LittleGreenFootballs posters, into unthinking dittoheads. Hell, one song that isn't political at all, T.I.'s No. 1 hit "Whatever You Like", has already become part of the political discussion in three hilariously great ways: as a Joe Biden endorsement; as a Weird Al song about recession; and, as Idolator pointed out, as a group of totally adorable school kids singing "You Can Vote However You Like".
Here's an unscientific sampling of 10 songs mentioning the candidates (plus one relevant outlier) that I think are worth discussing in greater depth. Barring another 2000-style quagmire, we may find out the night of Nov. 4 whether there's any truth to Obama's recent boast on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show": "I'm convinced I'm a better dancer than John McCain." Come to think of it, let's skip the election and decide the presidency with a special evening of "Dancing With the Stars". Makes about as much sense as the Electoral College.
Nas' untitled album this year was a typical post-heyday Nas album: uneven, with a few moments of lyrical brilliance, and questionable beatmaking decisions. This song has its flaws, too-- when Nas is "like, what the fuck?", so am I-- but whether on the official LP or on Nas' The Nigger Tape with Green Lantern, this song's drummer-boy beat and debate between Nas's positivity and 2Pac's weary skepticism has kept me coming back more than any other campaign-related tune. My wife taught it in her 7th grade English class last school year in Brooklyn; her students liked it, too. Key line: "It ain't the '60s again."
Hova may not be a billionaire yet, but in a year when even Danish waterfall artistswere rhyming over "A Milli", Jay's enthusiastic bling-politics rhymes here are rivaled only by Fabolous and Lil Mama among the (too many) "A Milli" versions I've heard.
Speaking of "bling-politics", one-time undecided voter Young Jeezy sounds masterful on arguably the least explicitly political Obama song of all. His president is black, his Lambo is blue-- so what? Same difference. "I'm important, too," Jeezy exhorts, comparing his motivational ability to Obama's. Nas sounds like he got lost and ended up on the wrong track.
The wah-wahing soul funk of recession-scarred "Something's Gotta Give" is perfect for Big Boi's flexible flow and Mary J. Blige's gorgeously smoky vocals. Blige is the one who big-ups B.O., but Boi has a political statement to make to self-styled music connoisseurs, too: "The great debaters debate about who's the greatest MC/ Subject matter don't matter because their verses empty/ No room for thought, nothing for the brain to digest/ So I guess it be about who can jive talk the best."
I liked this one better when it didn't have fiddles or sound like "Monday Night Football" and was called "Johnny B. Goode". Also, what does "Raisin' McCain" mean, exactly? I thought I was supposed to be the media elitist who doesn't know my Bible. "Play that American guitar, son." As for the video, well, I see white people.
Hank Williams, Jr., like most Americans, doesn't believe that ol' "left-wing liberal media" anyway, so I won't explain to him that the financial crisis has nothing to do with bankers not wanting to make loans and Bill Clinton saying, "You got to." When being a Republican means you can't know what a credit default swap is, the recent poll numbers make a lot more sense.
Bethesda, Md.-based lawyer and amateur musician Judd Kessler's earnest, piano-based message of unity is my favorite McCain anthem. "Imagine someone with a real voice singing it," he says. Aw, dude, you're welcome in indie rock anytime.
When former "Ego Trip's (White) Rapper Show" contestant John Brown first released his tribute to Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, I was hesitant to discuss it-- after all, was there any point in reinforcing the idiotic sexual fantasies circulating about her, from Rush Limbaugh calling her a "babe" to the National Review editor Rich Lowry seeing "starbursts"? Sometimes funny is just funny, though.
Obama has spoken highly of Kanye West, and the Chicago rapper has returned the favor in interviews, but West has stayed more circumspect about the election on record, focusing his most recent output on his own Heartbreak. On this track from the official Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement soundtrack album, he joins with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and previous collaborator Malik Yusef to fuel the GOP's Obama-as-Messiah meme.
Obama has also spoken highly of Ludacris, so this horn-bumping track from Luda's otherwise-forgettable DJ Drama-- aka "Barack O'Drama"-- Presents: The Previewforced the general-election candidate to distance himself from some of the rapper's uglier remarks. As Pitchfork contributor Ian Cohen put it, "Essentially, this is Obama's Sistah Souljah moment, giving him the opportunity to make bold disapprovals of Luda's views of Hillary ('she hated on you so that bitch is irrelevant'), Dubya ('mentally handicapped'), and in the money quote, McCain ('don't belong in ANY chair unless he's paralyzed')." I'm still not sure what that last lyric means.
Many indie- or rock-oriented artists have shown their support for Obama, from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Superchunk, the Breeders, Jeff Tweedy, Conor Oberst, Shudder to Think, the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Joanna Newsom, the National, and M. Ward to Andrew Bird, Les Savy Fav, Fiery Furnaces, No Age, Vampire Weekend, and Lightning Bolt-Foot Village project Noise for Obama-- among others. But few (if any) major indie-rock bands have actually written a song about their candidate. The possible reasons could fill up a whole other feature, whether they're simple cynicism, an aversion to putting art in the service of a specific politician (politicians are, after all, politicians), recognition that such songs rarely stand the test of time, or what. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle evokes this tension nicely in "Down to the Ark", a piano-driven song he wrote for the Super Tuesday primaries at the behest of public radio's "Weekend America". Darnielle denounces the tax cuts and war matter-of-factly enough, but he portrays the candidates themselves in a darker, more fantastical light. After all, all politicians have pledged their loyalty in blood to a "cloven-hoofed prince," right? Given the enormous challenges facing this country, whoever wins... let's hope not.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

CMJ: Saturday

News Article
October 26, 2008

CMJ: Saturday [Marc Hogan]
Photos by Francis Chung ; Above: David Banner

David Banner is more interested in entertainment than authenticity, which made him an odd man out at last night's stop of the second annual Hip Hop Live! Tour. He has a social conscience, but in a way that blends the sacred and the profane. The first opening act, un-Google-able Atlanta comer B.O.B. , complained about "ringtone rappers", rhymed "rap" with "crap", and picked up the guitar for a sophomoric love ballad even Jack Johnson would've tossed back into the Pacific; the second opener, North Carolina conscious crew Little Brother , mocked the T-Pain voice and playfully rapped a bit of a Young Jeezy track as a matter of course during an otherwise fairly rousing set. Banner made the obligatory (and still hair-raising) speeches about the prospect of a black president, calling ours "the most relevant generation in motherfucking history"-- suck it, Brokaw!-- but Election Day was still a week and a half away. There was more pressing shit to worry about.

Like whether or not Banner was going to fall off the balcony railings. The Mississippi rapper and producer has been touted as the next big star since before he had a label, and what he lacks in commercial appeal he definitely makes up for in star quality and effort to please (an all too rare combination). A few songs showed Banner's love of MTV-style mosh-rock, culminating in a short "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sample/cover; "Suicide Doors", from Banner's disappointing 2008 album The Greatest Story Ever Told , came with the necessary UGK tribute (they appear on the album version) but quickly turned into something that was more "Buzz Bin" than BET. Banner was at his best, though, as he threw his 6' 3", 230-pound frame all around the 2,100-person venue, spouting ridiculously raunchy shit like "A Girl" (sample lyric: "Do you like it when I grab your neck? And squeeze it till your face turn blue?") even as he danced with a totally grown-up woman in the back section. The raw homophobic humor in his version of Lil Wayne's Banner-produced "La La" at least called attention to an actual political issue, which is more than Little Brother accomplished with jokes about how Bush voters probably got 600 on their SAT.

By the time Banner climbed up to that balcony, he'd already tripped backwards once over a monitor, so we knew he was working without a net. Through energetic, ferociously entertaining performances of "Lollipop"-sampling "Shawty Say", a "rock version" of "9MM", and Greatest Story single "Get Like Me", he never fell. Before performing his biggest hit, "Play", from 2005's Certified , Banner asked a woman in front whether he should say "body" or "pussy". New York is "a real cultural city," he said, "[and] I don't want to offend anyone." "Pussy" it was.
Talib Kweli [Nokia Theatre; midnight]

Talib Kweli , in contrast to Banner, was better than Top 40 hip-hop only in the same way late-1990s roots rock was "better" than late-1990s Top 40 pop. "Let's hear it for real hip-hop music," the Brooklyn rapper announced at one point. "I still can't believe he could spit out all those lyrics so fast," I overheard one guy saying afterward. Kweli performed with the same highly proficient big band as the rest of the Hip Hop Live! acts, the Rhythm Roots All Stars, whose multiple percussionists helped give a Latin-flavored funk feel to the evening. On "Give 'Em Hell", from last year's Eardrum , Kweli raised the never-before-asked question of "how they know" where we go when we die; the baseball-capped white guys grinding on their girlfriends seemed to really like it when he did Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain" before Eardrum slow jam "Hot Thing".

Kweli brought out a host of guests from his Blacksmith label-- unfortunately not including Jean Grae-- but after he had his Idle Worship side project do the awful dance-rap number "Black Snake Moan", so few people cheered that Kweli started practically begging us for some kind of reaction, any reaction. Even a Sarah Palin mention in a freestyle wasn't enough to keep him from having to ask, more than once, whether we were still awake. I was trying, dude! Finally Kweli played his Kanye West-produced near-classic "Get By", from 2002 solo debut Quality , and I could get back to listening to guys who don't necessarily rap fast, but have humor, originality, and showmanship.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

CMJ: Friday

News Article
October 25, 2008

CMJ: Friday [Marc Hogan]
Photos by Francis Chung ; Above: Róisín Murphy

Róisín Murphy [Mansion; 9:30 p.m.]

A costume change is just another well-choreographed dance move for Irish dance-pop chanteuse Róisín Murphy . Making her U.S. solo debut, the former lead singer for trip-hoppy duo Moloko switched fanciful outfits-- a silvery space-knight ensemble, an angelic-shaped furry coat, a crow-like black coat with a hunchback, and, oh yeah, all kinds of great hats-- more times than I could count, often beginning right on stage, in mid-song. Backed by a pair of smartly choreographed female singers plus guitarist, live drummer, bass player, and electronics guru, she commanded the audience at this Chelsea nightclub with her shimmying, expert stage presence. "I'M SOW INTO YOU," screamed one fan's handmade sign. The disco balls on the ceiling were nice, too, and appropriate.

The music, you ask? Murphy's Matthew Herbert-produced solo debut, 2005's Ruby Blue , and the follow-up, last year's Overpowered -- neither has been released in America-- are driven by a similarly intricate sense of style, matching the shiny pulse of early cosmic disco to the r&b sensuality and tech-jazz micro-edit intricacy of contemporary avant-pop. In concert, no amount of energetic dancing could dim Murphy's smoldering vocals, in a set that relied mostly on material from Overpowered and only one song, "Forever More", from Moloko. The sound system at the Mansion was immaculate, a CMJ rarity, delivering every drum hit with clear, granular, body-shaking intensity. Hell, Murphy rocked , headbanging during a heavy metal coda to underscore the point of Overpowered 's hyper-intelligent nothin'-but-mammals come-on "Primitive". There was no "If We're in Love", a staff favorite from Ruby Blue , and a few of the more hypnotic house cuts dragged on a bit long for a pop show rather than a club night, but any admirer of Murphy's records couldn't help but leave impressed. And not just by her fashion sense.

The Dutchess and the Duke [Pianos; 11 p.m.]

Low-key Seattle folk-pop duo the Dutchess and the Duke are the perfect kind of band to stumble onto by accident. After the Longest Manhattan Cab Ride Ever (it's official, we checked), Francis and I weren't sure we were going to make it to Piano's in time to catch Oxford Collapse, scheduled for 10:30 p.m., and when these punk veterans started their set around a half an hour after that time, we weren't even sure at first who we were seeing. With casually well-crafted songs that sound like Rubber Soul done the Vaselines' way-- and a comfortable, super-cool onstage camaraderie-- singer/guitarists Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz quickly made themselves known. A mop-topped tambourine/maraca player accompanied them on tunes about fortune tellers and fucking in phone booths, from their Hardly Art debut, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke . The occasional flubbed note, like Morrison's slyly barbed banter, only helped to cement a bond with an audience who all felt like the band's friends (for all I know, they were). It was Morrison's birthday; everybody sang.

Oxford Collapse [Pianos; 12 a.m.]

"Don't fondle our bass player's legs while he's trying to play the most intricate bass line he's ever written," Oxford Collapse singer/guitarist Michael Pace quipped at one point during the Brooklyn post-college rockers' set. I don't often find myself listening to these guys when I'm not covering them, but I've always given them the benefit of the doubt: Three dudes armed with youthful enthusiasm, an obvious love for American indie from R.E.M. to the Dismemberment Plan, a few scruffy brainy wistful heart-tugging anthems-- what's not to like, right? On stage, where Pace's shaky bark was harder to decipher, I mostly found myself noticing how overly "intricate" a lot of these songs really can be. Pace on guitar, Dan Fetherston on drums, Adam Rizer on bass: Each obviously knows his instrument, but they're often doing too much, and as impressive as the constant fretboard movement or tricksy drum fills are, they get in the way of the songs. As do Pace's leg-kicking guitar moves (guitarists, please don't do this) and Rizer walking around with guitar face (bass face?). Didn't seem to stop anybody around me from losing their shit over the better songs from solid Sub Pop albums Bits and Remember the Night Parties , including the still-great "Please Visit Your National Parks", and by the final moments, most of the first couple rows seemed to end up on stage, singing along and bro-ing down.

Friday, October 24, 2008

CMJ: Thursday

News Article
October 24, 2008

CMJ: Thursday [Marc Hogan]
Photos by Francis Chung ; Above: Crystal Castles

Bearsuit [Cake Shop; 6:30 p.m.]

If there's any band that embodies the old punk ideal that anybody with ideas and a bit of imagination can make music, it's Bearsuit . On 2005's Cat Spectacular and this year's Oh:Io , they've shown themselves to be among the finest purveyors of explosive, schizoid, kitchen-sink indie pop, sort of like Los Campesinos! with more Deerhoof. And more BIFF! BANG! POW!: They played at Cake Shop wearing capes and face paint.

From plenty of other bands, that sort of costume could come off as a thinly veiled attempt to compensate for lousy tunes, but for Bearsuit, it's just the final step in transforming six mild-mannered English girls and guys into the indie superheroes suggested by their (head-snapping) breakneck tunes, from Cat Spectacular 's "Rodent Disco" and "Chargr" to the new album's "Foxy Boxer" and "Keep It Together, Somehow". Lead vocals are split between Lisa Horton's energetic alto and Iain Ross's matter-of-fact Graham Coxon murmur, backed by plenty of shrieks and shouts, while all manner of synths, samples, reckless drum patterns, and fuzzed-out bass lines careen around them.

Naturally, Bearsuit had no trouble finding the balls to ask for interaction from the very first song, Oh:Io 's "Jupiter Force"-- they say Jupiter, we say Force... or else a baby dies!-- and the decent-sized crowd (especially at this time slot, and for a criminally under-recognized UK band) complied. Forthcoming single "Muscle Belt" commanded us to "dance for my love." Introducing another recent 7" side, the bouncy "More Soul Than Wigan Casino", Ross self-deprecatingly calls his band "the least soulful" in all of humanity. A cape is such a lightweight thing, but that and wearing underwear outside your clothes are pretty much all that separates Superman from Clark Kent.

Fujiya & Miyagi [Webster Hall; 9 p.m.]

At this point, just about a month after the release of latest album Lightbulbs , we know what Fujiya & Miyagi are and aren't. Four people, not two, from England, not Japan, they methodically (de)construct rubbery krautrock grooves and sleek keyboards into sproingy dance-pop songs with whispery vocals about, like, all kinds of random stuff: from shoes and knee bones and not actually being Japanese to their own band name, dishwashers, and Lena Zavaroni. They're at their best when they're at their least straightforward. The new LP doesn't quite have the peaks of 2006's Transparent Things , but Fujiya & Miyagi still put on a fine, if eventually a little samey, performance of songs from both records-- the drummer was particularly impressive-- while speaking little (if at all) between songs. I think that was because they're Japanese.

Crystal Castles [Webster Hall; 10:30 p.m.]

I'd heard Crystal Castles were awesome live, and I knew their ominous lo-fi electro-punk retro-futurist "pummel-throb"-- Tom Breihan's final compound phrase there nails it -- made their remixes and 2008 self-titled debut LP some of my favorite things of the past couple years that I never really thought of as my own personal favorite things. Their live show last night was an experience, and I don't even know if I wanna talk about it because I almost don't want to corrupt it. You know? The Toronto duo of analogue noise-maker Ethan Kath and singer/crowd-surfer/demonic pixie/red-wine-baptismal-pourer-to-her-supplicating-masses Alice Glass have played around the world now, and they've done shows in New York a few times. But usually at smaller-capacity spots like Studio B and the Mercury Lounge. I doubt when they played the medium-ish (1,800?)-size Webster Hall last year opening for Metric they looked out upon such a teeming, frothy ocean of bobbing heads, pumping fists, moving bodies.

So much movement, I'm amazed Francis could catch any of it on camera. Hit the strobes, out comes Glass-- Kath off to the side in his hood, they have a touring drummer too-- and she goes on to spend an agonizingly brief set shouting out fractured, electro-tweaked vocals from on top of the monitors. Or sprawled out in the crowd's upstretched arms. Or writhing on the stage floor. Clearly, nobody in here is an exorcist.

Anyway, she looked terrifyingly fearless, and the audience returned the trust-- crowd-surfers would jump up on stage, then promptly dive back into the mob. I can never even remember most of the words (sometimes they just come out sounding like scary-movie effects), but they played basically the entire record. It was kind of like a dance party that's also a positive, subliminally erotic black mass. Nobody around me had seen anything like it, including the bartender-- who you'll be too busy spazzing out over Crystal Castles to have to visit during one of their killer sets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CMJ: Wednesday

News Article
October 23, 2008

CMJ: Wednesday [Marc Hogan]
Photos by Francis Chung ; Above: Beach House

Hello Saferide [The Bowery Electric; 8 p.m.]

Sweden churns out pop singers and songwriters like I blow my nose, but Hello Saferide 's Annika Norlin is one of the best. The Stockholm-based songstress's 2005 debut, Introducing Hello Saferide , was packed with catchy, funny, and tenderly heartfelt story-songs that could appeal to almost anyone. Her Swedish-language album last year under the name Säkert! showed that Norlin's brightly colored guitar-pop had hooks even if you couldn't understand the words. The just-released More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide shows Norlin continuing to develop her knack for tuneful, narrative-driven songs that can pack an emotional wallop, even as producer Andreas Mattsson couldn't resist an (understandable) urge to pretty things up a bit.

Even during a free, no-badges-required showcase during happy hour ("$4 drinks!"), Hello Saferide's music and stories carried. The transition from the low-key indie pop of Introducing to the polished rock of More Modern Short Stories makes more sense live, when you realize: Hello Saferide are a band now. Norlin was joined by a four-piece backing band that included multi-instrumentalist Mattsson as well as guitar, backing vocals, and harmonica by Firefox AK, who also played a shy but impressive opening set as a sort of one-woman New Order. (Another opener, Juvelen, was similarly compelling as a one-man Prince, pulling off the difficult task of getting people to dance at 7:30 p.m.; I suspect they were Swedes, though.)

Hello Saferide played a stirring, increasingly confident set of songs from the new album, from heartbreaking first single "Anna" to the theatrical, keyboard-based "Overall", in which a couple try to figure out where they went wrong in raising their neo-Nazi son. A rapt hush fell over all but the buzzily networking crowd back by the bar. Between songs, Norlin offered brief, genial commentary, putting her tunes in context for the unfamiliar. "I'm sorry for talking so much, but I'm going to tell you one more story," she said at one point. For the encore, Introducing 's achingly exposed romantic questionnaire "The Quiz", the whole room clapped along.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow [Knitting Factory Tap Bar; 10:30 p.m.]


For a minute it looked like endless problems with the monitors might put a cloud over A Sunny Day in Glasgow 's set. The Philadelphia four-piece have gotta be a headache for sound guys, with their heavy use of reverb and samplers, but their debut album, Scribble Mural Comic Journal , was one of 2007's most criminally overlooked releases: billowy shoegaze for people who like their Twilight Sad with less U2 and more C86, or with less balls and a little more oceanic femininity. Robin Daniels sent her sing-song vocals echoing around the fluffy feedback clouds like the wraiths of dead children. Eventually, the technical issues-- which weren't a problem from our end, anyway-- somehow got resolved, and a Sunny Day in Glasgow's best songs, like "5:15 Train", and "C'Mon", left me wishing they had more of them. The next band, New York's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, also overcame monitor problems for a really solid set of screeching, shoegaze-tinted indie-pop with echoes of beloved, largely forgotten 1990s bands like Rocketship or Madison Electric.

Beach House [Le Poisson Rouge; 12:30 a.m.]

Beach House 's Devotion is my favorite 2008 album to fall asleep to. The Baltimore band's set started promptly about 23 minutes past midnight. You do the math. But their organ-shimmering gothic love dirges were no snooze: Victoria Legrand's rich, deep voice toyed with the dreamy refrains of songs from both Devotion and 2006's self-titled album as if she were a lover, a torturer, or some kind of dark magician, while Alex Scally traced out rippling guitar patterns, equal parts ominous and sensuous. A live drummer helped lead Beach House toward morning, particularly on the thumping, folkier "Used to Be", an echoey new single wracked with a long-distance lover's doubts. Finale "Gila"-- introduced as "an old song," or at least old as in "six months ago"-- showed once again that yes, there are hooks amid all those echoey atmospheres. And pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CMJ: Tuesday

News Article
October 22, 2008

CMJ: Tuesday [Marc Hogan]
Photos by Francis Chung

Cut Off Your Hands [The Delancey; 8 p.m.] 

New Zealand has 4.2 million people, spread out across two islands and 103,738 square miles. Manhattan has 1.6 million people, spread out across one island of fewer than 23 square miles. During the New Zealand Showcase last night, the Delancey definitely felt like Manhattan. Not only was the small venue sweatily over capacity for Cut Off Your Hands , but the Auckland four-piece played propulsive, new-wavey guitar-pop, with lead vocalist Nick Johnson's voice occasionally taking on some downtown Julian Casablancas gritty elegance. The rhythm section did a lot of the work, anchoring the songs with funky Orange Juice basslines, so when the kick drum broke ahead of "It Doesn't Matter", from the band's 2008 debut You and I , well, it mattered. Cut Off Your Hands, who also played the New Zealand Showcase at the Delancey last year, managed to get the problem fixed pretty quickly, in the meantime keeping the crowd at bay with ringing guitar arpeggios and tambourine.

The Ruby Suns [The Delancey; 8:30 p.m.] 

The contrast between New Zealand and New York made itself more apparent for the Ruby Suns . A dank, crowded Lower East Side rock club was a long way from the sunny, pan-global psych pop of this year's Sea Lion , the Ruby Suns' sophomore album and first for Sub Pop. It seems head Sun Ryan McPhun has pared his live band down to a duo, with McPhun and his bandmate Amee Robinson passing around guitars and sharing in drumming duties. Much of the time, though, McPhun was huddled over his electronics, helping conjure the thick, tropical layers of instrumentation of songs like "Tane Mahuta". These ephemeral song clouds have plenty of details to examine in headphones, and they're a relaxing enough escape wafting across an apartment on a summer night, but last night they didn't quite translate to a rock-performance setting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

US managers stand by expansion plans

News Article
Financial Times
October 19, 2008

Financial Times

US money managers making a push for European assets acknowledge that the current crisis raises new challenges for their plans, but are not scaling back their international goals just yet.

US asset manager American Century Investments announced its international expansion earlier this month, while Brown Advisory, an independent Baltimore-based investment advisory firm, opened a London office in February in order to build a European fund range and presence.

Groups such as Turner Investment Partners, Delaware Investments, Legg Mason and The Hartford have also ramped up their European businesses.

US fund managers are generally taking a long-term view of the crisis, says Jag Alexeyev, senior managing director and head of global research at consultancy Strategic Insight.

“Most fund managers are reiterating, especially with regards to Asia, the case for long-term growth,” he says.

If US money managers are altering their European strategies, the changes are tending to be of a short-term, tactical nature. Mr Alexeyev says companies are looking harder at how to address their clients’ needs in the next year and how to deal with other immediate issues arising from falling share prices.

Vanguard Group, known in America for its low cost index funds, is one US house that expects its European business to weather the storm.

“We have offered funds to institutional investors across Europe and the Nordics for a decade, and we believe it is a long-term business that can and has withstood shocks to the financial markets,” Vanguard’s Rebecca Cohen says.

”We do not believe this crisis will significantly impact our European business. Our transparent, straightforward funds might be seen as an antidote to less transparent, complex offerings in the marketplace.”

Legg Mason is another US-based asset management business standing firm in its efforts abroad. New chief executive Mark Fetting has previously expressed plans to increase international assets under management to more than half of overall business from about one-third previously.

“Our strategy doesn’t change in a market environment like this,” says Terry Johnson, managing director of international distribution at Legg Mason Investments, the non-US distribution arm of Legg Mason.

The market turmoil could represent an opportunity for Legg Mason’s franchise in European markets, Mr Johnson says, as the assets investors have been taking off the table will eventually create a large pool of capital needing to be reinvested.

Mr Johnson points to Legg Mason’s “multi-boutique” structure, where the parent company oversees 10 independent investment managers that run the funds, as one factor putting the business in a strong position.

James Charrington, managing director and head of international retail at BlackRock, says the market turmoil is going to impact the ability of US houses to parachute their products and services into Europe.

But Mr Charrington does not see US-based BlackRock as such a house, because of its significant presence in Europe. According to Strategic Insight, BlackRock’s BGF Global Allocation Fund is the second-largest Ucits fund as of August, with $18.3bn (£10.6bn, €13.6bn) under management.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the scale of the job in front of us,” says Mr Charrington, who cites investor confidence as the biggest casualty in the ongoing crisis.

Meanwhile, Hartford Financial Services Group announced this month that German insurer Allianz has agreed to make a $2.5bn capital investment in the US-based company. The Hartford unveiled plans earlier this year to sell variable annuities in Germany starting in the first quarter of 2009.

As market volatility continues, the US houses with a fair amount of cash, a vision for the future, and ability to think long-term stand the best chance of riding out the storm, says Ben Poor, director at US-based research firm Cerulli Associates.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Album Review
May 12, 2008

Narrow Stairs

Love isn't watching someone die, contrary to what Ben Gibbard memorably sang on Death Cab for Cutie's major-label debut. No, love is watching someone grow and change and still staying with them-- whether we're talking about family, friends, romantic interests, or a little college-town indie rock band from about an hour-and-a-half outside Seattle. Death is just the dénouement. In the three years since their platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated Plans, Gibbard and Death Cab producer/guitarist Chris Walla have both entered their thirties, coming off a wave of successes that included 2003's Transatlanticism going gold and the debut by Gibbard side project the Postal Service becoming Sub Pop's best-selling disc since Nirvana. That's a whole lotta love.

Narrow Stairs, Death Cab's second album for Atlantic and sixth proper LP overall, is one of the darkest and most muscular in the band's discography, but they're still aiming for the same place: your heart. It's an album about growing and changing and becoming resigned to the fact that you'll never be truly content-- not even if you quit that day job, achieve your rock'n'roll dreams, and find yourself in a loving marriage. At times, the maturation feels forced; the more adventurous moments here are experimental only for such a high-profile group, and they don't play to Gibbard's sentimental, word-weighing strengths. Still, even the disappointingly sleepy Plans had ear-catching singles, and when Death Cab go with their pop instincts on Narrow Stairs, they bang out songs focused and evocative enough to win over maybe a few of this loved-and-hated group's longtime skeptics.

There are some vast expanses to navigate first, both production-wise and lyrically. Where Transatlanticism spanned an ocean, and Plans opened astride "the East River and Hudson," Narrow Stairs starts along the California coast, where Gibbard retreated to write the album. "I descended a dusty gravel ridge," his bookish tenor begins, in clear but vivid language, on "Bixby Canyon Bridge". Gibbard has said the song is about trying to commune with Jack Kerouac, who stayed in the same cabin to write Big Sur. From an initial echoey guitar trill, the track grows to pounding, distorted bombast somewhere between OK Computer and the new Coldplay single.

Speaking of singles, Narrow Stairs' first is the eight-and-a-half minute "I Will Possess Your Heart", a decision that's likely to be more successful as brand repositioning than it is as rock music. Death Cab get uncompromising-artist points for the four-minute intro that builds up with vamping bass, sprinkles of keyboard, and atmospheric guitar, but it's hardly essential to the standard-length pop song that follows, about how a well-intentioned man can turn into a de facto creepy stalker. "You gotta spend some time, love," Gibbard sings, as if by explanation for the song's length.

On Narrow Stairs, Death Cab move from the undergraduate longing of their earlier work and the looming mortality of Plans to a more generalized existential angst. But they're most successful when they don't switch up their style to match; the sound of settling, as Transatlanticism maintained, is a peppy "ba ba," not the krautrock pulse of this album's synth-touched remainder metaphor, "Long Division". Elsewhere, the tabla on "Pity and Fear" sounds out of place, not far-out; as Indian-instrumented songs about an apparent adulterous one-night stand go, this one's no "Norwegian Wood".

"No Sunlight" cuts through the murk like a beam of, well, sunlight-- musically, at least. Bright keyboards and guitars sweeten Gibbard's pessimistic lyrics, which contrast childhood bliss with the emptiness of adulthood. The best song on the album, "Cath...", matches the knotty, Built to Spill-style riffs of Death Cab's early records with a plainspoken (and gut-wrenching) account of a bride who dooms herself to misery by marrying the wrong man. Where fools rush in, Gibbard refuses to rush to judgment: "I'd have done the same as you," he concludes.

What Death Cab have to fear most is not their urge to dabble in different genres, but the risk of sounding like a more cloying version of their younger selves. On "You Can Do Better Than Me", which waltzes its 1960s-pop organs way past the line that Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" toed like a ballerina, Gibbard's nice-guy earnestness becomes too much even for a listener who relates to nice-guy earnestness. It's easy to tell where the heavy-handed "Your New Twin Sized Bed" and "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" are headed as soon as you hear their first lines, and thin ice is a pretty thin cliché for such a lyric-focused group. "Grapevine Fires" does better, adding funereal harmonies and recalling debut LP Something About Airplanes with a line about "wine and some paper cups."

Surely Death Cab's awkward position as one of the few indie rock groups with a platinum record would be enough to drive anyone to drink. Fellow million-sellers Modest Mouse brought on Johnny Marr for their latest major-label LP; the Decemberists, who also signed to a major but didn't go platinum, have yet to release their follow-up. Narrow Stairs' musical growing pains make sense for an album that stares into the banal void of contemporary adulthood. If you love the band, you'll probably find enough reasons here to keep sticking with them.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Battles - Mirrored

Album Review
June 2007

 Cover Art: Battles,  'Mirrored'

Songs guaranteed to start a mosh pit at band camp.

Remember "shock and awe"? On their debut album, Battles bring that brutal, futuristic precision to the art-rock avant-garde. Featuring keyboardist/guitarist Ian Williams of math rockers Don Caballero and drummer John Stanier of post-hardcore virtuosos Helmet, this New York-based group layers sound manipulator Tyondai Braxton's alien vocals over muscular, off-kilter grooves. Think Captain Beefheart, if he'd been a fan of kraut rock and Animal Collective -- or, on the deep, martial drums of single "Atlas," Marilyn Manson. For rock that's both fist-pumping and forward-looking, this album suggests that Battles have few peers.

Spank Rock and Benny Blanco - Bangers & Cash

Album Review
December 2007

Cover Art: Spank Rock and Benny Blanco,  'Bangers & Cash'

As nasty as they wanna be -- with a postmodern rimshot.

Their mothers must be so proud. Baltimore-bred, Philly-based rappers Spank Rock hook up with New York producer Benny Blanco -- and anything with breasts -- on this raunchy five-song EP. Spank Rock already scored with their absurdist porn shtick on 2006 debut YoYoYoYoYo. Here, the influence of Miami bass buffoons 2 Live Crew is more, well, explicit: "See the sweat drip to your cooch from your doody hole." Grimy, Diplo-worthy beats make stripper jams like "Bitch!" and "Pu$$y" as propulsive as they are quasi-ironically misogynistic. But 2 Live Crew got arrested for their profanity. These new shock jocks are just playing it safe.

Gorillaz - D-Sides

Album Review
January 2008

Cover Art: Gorillaz,  'D-Sides'  

Funky monkeys clean house with roundup of odd tracks.

Two albums as a cartoon chimp finally brought Damon Albarn the U.S. success he barely tasted in Blur. And even though he's moved on to the Good, the Bad and the Queen, this rarities collection (which focuses on the Danger Mouse-assisted Demon Days era) still has some surprises, especially the zither-adorned "Hong Kong" and protest song "Stop the Dams" (recorded with ex-Sugarcube Einar Örn). For simian disco, electro-pop remixes by DFA and Hot Chip stand out amid Disc 2's uneven DJ fodder.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Interview: Atlas Sound

January 14, 2008

Atlas Sound

As frontman for Atlanta band Deerhunter, Bradford Cox emerged as one of underground rock's most beloved-- and loathed-- performers of 2007. Such intense reactions came on the basis of Deerhunter's perversely stunning Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP, some confrontational live shows, and a notorious band blog. As Cox gets set to unveil his full-length debut as Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (due February 19 on Kranky), he's deeply engaged in what he refers to as a year-long process of "demystification": decoding Cryptograms to reveal the shitting, fucking humans behind it, while also talking at length about the ideas and inspirations animating his forthcoming solo release.

When I meet the singer and multi-instrumentalist for this interview, he's sprawled in pajamas on the floor of an apartment in New York's East Village, his limbs spread in painful-looking, yogi-like poses for a magazine photo shoot. Beside him sits a small bottle of anti-anxiety pills. As our conversation begins, wreathed in cigarette smoke on an 11th Street stoop, Cox goes on to describe his friendship with Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt, call himself "stupid" and "autistic," and reject everything you've read about guitarist Colin Mee's brief split with Deerhunter last summer as "complete bullshit". Cox also hints at the future of Deerhunter, explains how meeting electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros influenced the Atlas Sound record, reminisces on everything from lovesickness to Loveless to sadomasochism, and shares a few reservations about the Lamborghini-driving ability of Lil Wayne.

Bradford Cox: Dig in, man.

Pitchfork: If you're ready.

Cox: Don't be afraid of, you know, it's gonna take-- I'm gonna talk a lot.

Pitchfork: Don't be afraid to. So the first Atlas Sound record I bought was your split 12" with Mexcellent, Fractal Trax, but you've been doing things under the Atlas Sound name for years.

Cox: Ever since I was a kid. My parents had a karaoke machine that they had bought our family in some sort of failed attempt at family togetherness, and of course it just sat in disuse. Eventually I discovered it in our basement. I realized, because I had read an interview with Beck, that you could take a cassette recorder and record one thing on the first tape, play it on the second tape, plug a mic in, and record along with the first tape onto a second tape, and just keep bouncing the tapes. And that's how I invented the whole Atlas Sound thing, when I discovered the capabilities of multi-tracking and the fact that I didn't need a band. 'Cause I was kind of like a lonely kid when it comes to finding people to play with who would do what I wanted. In that era, when I was like 15, 16, I was really into krautrock. I was really into Stooges. I was really into Stereolab, and Sonic Youth, and Steve Reich and stuff like that that I'd gotten into because I'd read about it in Stereolab interviews.

Pitchfork: I was just going to ask how you got into all that stuff.

Cox: My cousin turned me onto punk rock when I was like nine. And then through punk rock I somehow got from the Stooges to Sonic Youth to Stereolab. I only listen to bands that have names that begin with "S". Swans...

Pitchfork: Last time you talked to Pitchfork, you said Atlas Sound is an outlet for ideas that don't really work with a five-piece band. When you start working on a track for Atlas Sound, are there other fundamental differences from how you go about writing one of your Deerhunter songs?

Cox: I hold a lot of my creativity at bay with Deerhunter because I want it to be a collaborative effort. There's five musicians in that band that are all excellent and have excellent ideas. I've never intended to be, or wanted to be presented as, the principal songwriter in that band. So I might have an idea for a fragment of a song, but I want to leave it skeletal so the guys can fill it out. Whereas with Atlas Sound, everything is done in an hour. The process is just completely stream-of-consciousness, you know? I sort it out later. In terms of aesthetic, with Atlas Sound I choose to use instruments that are computer-based, a lot of times, that I've made in a piece of software that allows me to turn pretty much any sound into a MIDI-controllable keyboard.

Pitchfork: Is this a tracker program?

Cox: It's an Ableton mod. It's an electronic music creation program, but it can also record acoustic drums, electric bass, and guitars, and I've found that to be really cool. I probably never will be able to record a vibraphone or afford the studio time to go in and record a vibraphone, but I can definitely make a vibraphone on my computer.

Pitchfork: What's the process for recording the songs? Do you start with just kind of noodling around with a loop pedal, or...

Cox: I didn't use that many effects on this record that weren't built into the software. Like, I didn't use a lot of looping. I used some looping effects and sampling, kind of like I do in Deerhunter, but a lot of the vocals are recorded straight and without effects. I think the reason for that is I just get tired of my own tricks. The genesis is usually a beat. I'm really a drummer at heart. I can just listen to the drum tracks from one of my favorite albums and pick them apart for hours, you know? Something I've been really interested in lately is layering drum tracks, like the way that Brian Eno did it on his pop albums-- having two or three drum tracks panned in different speakers so it creates kind of a multi-rhythmic effect. Things that you can do without using effects to create the same kind of delay.

Pitchfork: Each of your albums has had a dedication. The Atlas Sound record is dedicated to your best friend, Lockett Pundt. Why did you decide that?

Cox: Oh, well, he's been the center of my life for over 10 years, and we do everything together. We're like 24-hours-a-day together. We live together, play in a band together, tour together, stay in the same hotel rooms together. Whenever we're on tour, it's always me and Lockett in one room and the rest of the guys in the other. He's like my muse-- my second half, my other half.

Pitchfork: And the cover art?

Cox: I made the cover art out of a painting I found in an old medical journal, of a doctor treating a lovesick boy while his mom looks on, concerned. It's a Norman Rockwell-looking oil painting. And it sucks because when I took the picture of it-- I didn't want to scan it, I just wanted to take a photo of it for my wall and treat it and half-tone it-- the flash of the camera whited out the boy's face. Which kind of took away from the photo, because the look on his face is the most melancholy thing. He's the saddest boy, and he's lovesick and emaciated. But somehow I found that romantic, the idea that there was so much emotion in the face that it got whited out.

I found it in a thrift store. For the longest time, when Deerhunter was first starting out, we had this place called No Town, which was like the back of my dad's mortgage office. All I'd do was work little piddly day jobs and smoke pot, and at night I'd just get off work and go rummaging through thrift stores. That was my life. Alone-- it was kind of lonely-- but I would find all these things, these books, and make collages from them and Xerox art, 'cause we had a Xerox machine there. We made a lot of the early Black Lips fliers there. When we were starting out, it was very much just kind of an art factory in a way, and I remember being in a thrift store and finding that book at like 9 on a summer night. This must've been four or five years ago. And I related to that boy so much that I literally, in the thrift store, almost started crying.

Pitchfork: What do you relate to about him so much?

Cox: The look in his eyes, that you can't see on the album cover. Just that lovesickness. It's unmistakable.

Pitchfork: You've talked before about why you didn't include the lyrics in the Cryptograms liner notes. You said that's kind of boring or might demystify it. But for this one you not only put in the lyrics, you also put in super detailed information about all the instruments that you used.

Cox: Kranky has a policy. They have a thing called the 10 Commandments of the K, of Kranky. I broke two of them on this album artwork. The first is that no lyrics will be printed, because Joel [Leoschke], the owner of Kranky, believes that it demystifies the experience of a rock record. I agree with that a lot. For instance, around this time of the year, every year, there's some seasonal albums that I listen to, and of course one of them is Loveless. In the past two days here, riding around the subway and in cabs, I must've listened to that record 20 or 30 times consecutively.

Every time I listen to Loveless I focus on a different song. [This time] I got into the song "Sometimes", which is just a gorgeous, hypnotic song. And I was just like, "What are they saying?" I went on the internet, and I went to the website they have set up, and I looked up the lyrics. The first thing you see on the lyrics page is: "As many people know, due to their unconventional songwriting process, the lyrics are not considered important." And I identify with that a thousand times. All they have up there is what people think they're saying, and it's filled with question marks and blank lines where they don't know what's being said, and I just find that real interesting.

The reason I chose to print the lyrics was I wanted to see what they looked like, because I didn't write them in advance. All the lyrics on the record are made up as they're being recorded, first take. And then I just feel like sometimes I don't enunciate. As I'm getting older, I'll be honest with you, I don't feel like putting effort toward mystifying anything. I've been in the process in the past year with this band, since we started getting attention, of demystifying the process, and us, and myself as a person. Some people respond to that terribly, with hatred and venom, because they don't like who I really am. And fuck those people. You know? They can really suck my dick two times. Those people are just hateful. A lot of them are just jealous. And they're all anonymous. People that know me know what I'm about. I have a lot of friends and that makes me feel good. The thing is, is that the expected process for musicians in the field we are in-- experimental punk music, alternative rock, or whatever you want to call it--

Pitchfork: [Laughs] Pop?

Cox: Yeah, pop music-- is that people try to build up these cryptic, self-mythologizing mysteries and create an image that's kind of hard to penetrate. And it just doesn't interest me. I'd rather expose frailty, have mistakes. I'd rather embarrass myself, get into fights with journalists, you know, get in trouble for stupid things, because you know what? I'm a stupid person. I never said I wasn't. I don't think I'm hot shit. That's the misinterpretation I think that people get, is that I want attention, I think I deserve attention, I consider myself to be this certain type of thing-- and I don't. I have no idea what I'm doing. I have no interest in being fake or shallow. I just wanna be real as much as possible.

I think that printing the lyrics is embarrassing, and it's like having a close-up of your zit on the inside of your album cover. Some of the lyrics are personal on this record. A lot of the lyrics on Cryptograms were personal, and I'm at the point where I'm also interested in lowering the vocals in the mix. That's something where I am very inspired by My Bloody Valentine. The lyrics were treated as secondary.

Pitchfork: The vocals are lower in the mix, but you have the lyrics there, which seems like kind of a contrast. I guess they're secondary, but you mentioned they're also personal, and the themes seem a little bit different this time. The existential dread maybe isn't there quite as much. It's more about that lovesickness, right?

Cox: Yeah, I mean, we can go song by song. I'd love to do that. Do you have the album here?

Pitchfork: I have my iPod with me, which has the album on it.

Cox: Oh, it's right here. "A Ghost Story" is an incidental piece. I built that out of a sample that I found on this free audio archive that just contains tons of just free music sampling stuff. A cassette of a little boy telling a ghost story. I just thought it was moving, and I wanted to create a haunted record, you know? Kind of filled with ghosts. I thought it just set up the album nicely. And I've always been into intros. It's basically just a cassette and effected hammer dulcimers.

On "Recent Bedroom", the lyrics deal directly, really minimally, with a specific experience I had when my aunt died a few years ago. I was with my family, and we were in her bedroom, and it was evening-- dusk. She was in her bedroom, and everybody knew she was about to pass away, and she went out, she faded out, and everybody just started crying. It's one of the few times in my life I've seen my dad actually break down into tears. I walked outside, because I was a little overwhelmed, and I tried to cry to myself. But I couldn't. I could not cry. And-- I'm not trying to present the lyrics, but it's like-- I didn't know why. I didn't know why I couldn't cry. I didn't know why I was lacking the emotion. This is a period when I was very involved in drugs; I felt like I'd killed off my childhood instinct, which would've been to cry. I felt like I'd hollowed myself out, and I felt empty. It's a song about emptiness, and moving from childhood to adolescence, and just that first transition where you start to feel a little bit emotionally vacant and detached.

And "River Card", that was simply based on-- I don't do this that often, but I had read this collection of kind of modernist Puerto Rican short stories, and there was this story called "There's a Little Colored Boy at the Bottom of the River". It was about this boy whose parents lived on some kind of boat, like a sharecropping farm that was on the edge of the water. The mother, I believe she goes off and runs away, leaving the father alone, who I believe kills himself, leaving the boy just living alone in his house. He keeps looking out into the river and he sees a boy at the bottom of the river, which is obviously his reflection. It's, you know, the age-old tale of Narcissus. And he falls in love with this other boy. I liked the way that it was dealt with in the story-- it just said he fell in love with the other boy. It didn't say he wanted to be friends with the other boy or he was lonely and wanted a buddy. It's like, he fell in love with the other boy, you know? It's almost like this childhood homoerotic energy, which I remember experiencing and relating to. Eventually, of course, the boy jumps in to join his reflection and drowns. And so it's a song about a dead child.

"Quarantined" is a song about children living with AIDS. A lot of children with AIDS live with this idea that there's a chance that the virus could change and go dormant. I read this article about Russian children who are born with AIDS because of their parents' various lifestyles and mistakes and they're in a hospital, quarantined and waiting to be changed. To me, it represents-- I was a very sickly child. You know that. I still am a sickly person, and the reason I'm so emaciated and everything is cause I have a genetic condition. I had to have a lot of surgeries when I was 16 and I spent months and months in the hospital, and so I got real used to children's hospitals. They're kind of haunted, weird places. That's what I wanted that song to encompass. The big explosion at the end? I wanted that, if there's a video for that song, I want to have like this dance sequence with sick children. Like a Charlie Brown Christmas special when they're all dancing, but I want to have it be like they're ghost children, kind of transparent.

Pitchfork: Yeah, I just watched that, "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

Cox: "On Guard" is a simple song. It's kind of a lullaby. And it's about getting to the age where you used to be a social person. I did. I used to feel really at home with people, feel comfortable with people. I still do, and it's like, I'm talking to people like you, that-- like, we might barely know each other, but you know more about me than-- I mean, we have a relationship here.

Pitchfork: That's always weird, for sure.

Cox: And you've also influenced the changes in my life, too, and you probably don't even realize it. But "On Guard" is specifically about the part in your life where you just let go of that and you start, you have this newfound anxiety where it's like, you want to make friends, but there's something missing, you know? Whether it's because you're trying to recover from an unrequited love situation or you're just going through the type of things that people our age go through. As much as you wanna go out and meet somebody new-- you think that that would be the answer that would distract enough, you're searching for distraction-- but the distraction can't come, because you don't have the energy to represent yourself to people. You're always on guard. It's kind of a sad song.

"Winter Vacation" is a song about a trip that my family took to Savannah [Geo.] the week I met Lockett. The day I met Lockett I saw him in a busport, and he looked so lonely. I was like, who is this lonely boy? I was attracted to him, but not in some kind of like, just physical way. I was attracted to his melancholy, his sitting alone, staring at the ground. Like: What was the kid thinking? I immediately fell in love right then at first sight. I remember driving to Savannah with my family, my parents arguing the entire way, because my parents fought all the time before they divorced. I had a real kind of intense upbringing with my family. And we didn't have any money, we were very like lower-class, and there was just a lot of tension. There was alcoholism and stuff. It was a time in my life where there was a lot of pain and suffering that a lot of people go through-- I don't feel alone or pity myself.

But I just remember sitting in the backseat in heaven, feeling like I was on ecstasy, listening to headphones. I believe I was listening to The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, "Back Side of the Moon". My parents are fighting in the front seat and we arrive at the beach, in Savannah, and it's the dead of winter. And just, the beach is just the most desolate place, and I remember it was raining. A lot of the lyrics are like, "I saw the rain crash into the windshield." It's just the details. And the details somehow were infected with that new love I had and seemed blown out of their normal kind of tame or subtle context. Everything seemed like an explosion. It all seemed new, it all seemed real bright, and I was so excited. I was so excited. Lockett had just given me his phone number for the very first time. And I was driving with all these expectations of, like, "I want to make this boy my friend. I want to possibly make this boy my boyfriend." I was in love for the first time in my life, ever, and it made this desolate beach scene seem so... cozy, you know? It was just a warmth coming from within for me.

"Cold as Ice" is a very simple song based on a guitar loop Lockett made.

Pitchfork: Right.

Cox: It's just a snapshot. The meaning is not really significant. I had really been in love with this girl in fifth grade, and I proposed marriage to her on the school playground. She was the sweetest girl, she was kind of homely. Her name was Alice. And I gave her this ring, and she laughed at me in front of everybody. Everybody gathered around and she said, "This ring is a cheap piece of crap." She threw the ring down in the sand and just walked away, and, years later, I worked with her at Subway. She would walk in and walk right past me, go back into the back room, which is like the refrigerator, and she'd change into her outfit. Sometimes, for no reason-- she was really involved with drugs later on when we grew up-- she would invite me back there to watch her change in this room, and it was cold as ice. She'd be like, "Go back there and wait for me." It's like this weird mental game she played with me. I don't know. She was trying to torture me or something. She ended up marrying a cop.

"Scraping Past" simply created itself and I don't even know what I would say about the words. It's about moving on, you know? And wondering if somebody is going to come with you or if they're going to stay behind. It's just a consideration of, what are you leaving behind? And it also does the typical pop song cliché thing of making a reference to, like, rain that comes and goes, sunshine comes and goes, cycles, friendships come and go. The end of it is me saying, basically to Lockett, I guess: "Are you going to come with me, or are you staying here?"

And "Small Horror" is the most depressing song on the album to me. I mean, it's just the sound of like banging depression, you know, it's just concrete. And it basically was like a plea for like, hey, it's like, I understand you can't return my love exactly how I extend it, but hey, you know, just pretend. Because I'd rather you pretend, you know? Hold me even if you don't care. Even if it doesn't mean shit to you. Just do it, and pretend.

"Ready Set Glow" is just an ambient piece that I really wanted to create the impression of passing out and falling back into a bed of strobe lights.

"Bite Marks" is a pop song about sadomasochism and boy prostitution. I kind of just took an experience I had, which was I was making out with this guy and he bit me really, really hard on my shoulder, and I had bite marks that were there for like two weeks. Every time I got out of the shower, I saw them. I wrote it from the perspective of somebody who-- I also remember when I was abused as a child, kids would put cigarettes out on me. This happened once on Christmas morning, and those kind of things kinda got put in there.

"After Class" was just a sonic experiment, a rearrangement of a previously existing song. I was just experimenting with the computer. I don't feel bad including it, because I don't think it's a waste of time. Critics are going to say it drags, and wastes time, and slows down the album, but I wanted it there.

Pitchfork: You've kind of said you like having everything you want on an album even if...

Cox: Yeah, I don't care what bores people, you know? "Ativan", the 13th song, is really about the most straightforward song on the album. It's just a garage-rock pop song about being addicted to Ativan, which is something I deal with. It's kind of cliché probably, but I don't care. It's an honest song, and it talks a lot about how things have changed between me and Lockett's relationship and how he's met a girl and, I mean, our friendship is never gonna change, but it's difficult sometimes. It's written from the perspective of somebody that just wants to not deal with the reality that's going on. I know that things aren't going to be the same, and so I'd rather just take whatever drugs it takes to go to sleep and sleep through it, you know? I'm not prepared to face it yet.

And the last song is just an instrumental title track. What I wanted to accomplish with that was I just wanted to create a little bit of a circle because the album begins on an ambient note, and I wanted the album to end on an ambient note, and in that way, the entire album was a dream. And it kind of was. The entire album is the dream of one summer, this last summer I had. It's almost as if I had one continuous dream and the product of archiving it is the album you have here.

Pitchfork: You talked in the press release about how you wanted this to be kind of therapeutic. Did you get that from Brian Eno?

Cox: I had a conversation with Pauline Oliveros. I was driving around with a friend who was stoned off his gourd and just mentioned to me that Pauline Oliveros was playing at a house show in Decatur, which is a suburb of Atlanta. I said, "Holy living fuck, you have got to be kidding." And he said, "No, it's going on," and so I said, "Get me there now, goddammit," you know? We showed up and she had just finished playing, but she was sitting alone, in front of a bonfire, and there was an empty chair next to her. I sat down with her, and we talked for about two and a half hours about how music can help people mourn. Music can help people make changes in their lives. Music can give people strength. Music is the only art form I know of that has such an immediate effect on the human psyche. She talked to me a lot about some academic stuff about brainwaves and how they respond to certain types of music: drone music, microtonal music. She was a big influence on me. It was like meeting a hero of mine. She runs an organization that studies music as therapy.

Pitchfork: What was the role that Nudge's Brian Foote played on this album? You mentioned him on your blog.

Cox: He picked out the equipment that I used. I would have had no idea what to choose. He showed me the basics of the software, which I would have been hopeless without.

Pitchfork: 'Cause you were like four-track for your previous Atlas Sound stuff, right?

Cox: Total lo-fi, yeah. And he really helped me sort stuff out so that I could have ideas that I didn't even know I could have, just exploding everywhere out of me. Just a real immediate, fast process. I treat it almost like a graphic design situation.

Pitchfork: I haven't seen you do the Atlas Sound thing live. Well, I've seen a little bit on YouTube...

Cox: Did you see the Fader thing? That was a joke. That was a very dark joke.

Pitchfork: So what are you going to be doing for this, live?

Cox: I'm doing a tour with White Rainbow-- Adam Forkner. [And] Valet-- Honey Owens. Brian Foote is going to be playing with us, and Stephanie Macksey. It's going to be a full band. It's gonna be fun, a very psychedelic experience, I think.

Pitchfork: So Atlas Sound, with the backing band?

Cox: I'm not Atlas Sound. Atlas Sound is just the name of the project. Atlas Sound is going to be this band for this time. Next time I want to have three drummers.

Pitchfork: That kind of brings me back to all this Deerhunter stuff. You just got back from Europe-- you've toured there before. How was it this time?

Cox: The European experience? It had its ups and downs. It was good. It was successful. We were treated very, very well, very respectfully. The problem is we've been playing Cryptograms for two years now. I never commented to you guys, or to any other media place at all during the whole Colin [Mee] situation. Although, the way that was represented was complete bullshit. Everything about that was complete bullshit. He knows it, I know it, we all know it. Basically, he left the band for his own reasons, which had nothing to do with us, had nothing to do with our blog, had nothing to do with anything. We have all been trying to write songs. He was not trying to write songs. That was the issue.

That's been misrepresented because a lot of people think that he has somehow changed my performance style, because I have stopped wearing dresses. I have kind of tamed down my performance. But that has nothing do with-- I don't answer to anybody. I do not answer to anybody except myself, my conscience, and my instincts, and I didn't feel like wearing dresses anymore. I thought it was boring. I thought the point was made, and I just wanted to work on a huge sound. And Colin-- I mean, the band. I don't know, man. That's why we're taking a hiatus, because I don't know. It's all up in the air. I'm not saying the band's breaking up, I'm not saying the band's not breaking up. I'm not saying that the hiatus will be more than six months, I'm not saying the hiatus could be over in two weeks. I'm saying, whatever happens, happens. It's not that I'm focusing on Atlas Sound now and that's taking over Deerhunter. It's just that I'm doing whatever. I'm playing music every day, and whoever wants to play music with me, let's play music, you know? A lot of times, being kind of a loner, I play music by myself.

Pitchfork: You were mentioning earlier the responses people have to you, and I think that ties into the way people may have misinterpreted the Colin situation and all that. Why do you think you get such extreme reactions?

Cox: Because I'm an odd-looking guy who is not afraid to bend the rules of what is acceptable for someone of my stature. People expect me-- I don't want anybody's pity, because it's worthless. Worthless, worthless, worthless. It's never helped me before. I just do my shit: I don't give a fuck if people like it, I don't give a fuck if they don't. We're not going to be rockstars. I don't give a shit whose top 10 lists we aren't on. It feels good to have some nice people, because you meet cool friends. That's what I'm interested in. I'm interested in connecting with people, one to one. Like, you wanna talk, talk. Don't fucking anonymously bait me. Don't fucking threaten me, because I'll take on anybody's fucking threats. Because I believe in this shit more than I believe in anything else. To me-- I mean, I'm retarded. I'm, like, autistic. I'm totally an autistic person. Punk rock, my image of it, is what drives my instincts and what makes me create stuff. I don't understand half the stuff I create. I don't have to explain it. I don't have to explain myself or my motivations.

I'll tell you one thing. Here's what my motivations aren't. My motivations are not to be some successful indie rock band. My motivations are not to be a flash-in-the-pan, fucking mediocre-- I'm not gonna name names, but there's so much mediocre garbage being produced by fucking attractive, educated people, and it's like, what the world needs now is noise. And I don't mean... What the world needs now is noise in a pop song. The world needs to give in a bit to psychosis, to the mentally ill. I think that music is really safe right now, and I think it's really tedious.

I don't think I'm doing something grandiose. I'm not the answer. I'm just this frail kid trying to do his own thing, you know what I'm saying? I'm not gonna be the-- I'm just wishing for somebody else, maybe, that would. I would love to be that person, but I'm weak. I'm weak as fuck. The transgressions I get myself into oftentimes just embarrass me. I don't make real smart decisions because I don't think about stuff a lot. I just do, I just act. It just seems like, you know, eventually people are gonna realize that the world's not as safe as you wanna make it-- with your music, with your Ikea furniture, and your (clears throat) iPods. I have all these things. I'm not being elitist here. I'm just saying, I'm guilty of the same thing. I want to distract myself as much as possible from reality, from my anxieties.

Pitchfork: One thing that I think is really interesting is how you're one of the few notable musicians who keeps such a thorough mp3 blog. You post mixes, you post covers, you post other people's songs, and you write about them. But you're also part of a band in this mp3 blog era. How do you see your role as an mp3 blogger and how do you see all that affecting your music?

Cox: I just want to DJ with invisible songs. I want to DJ with a guitar, a bass, a drum kit, and some simple effects. I want to DJ songs that haven't been written yet. I want to make mixtapes that are instantaneously produced. That's the way I've approached the Atlas Sound material, and that's the way Lockett I think approaches the Lotus Plaza material. We don't expect an audience reaction. We don't expect anything. We're just doing it to do it. We have computers. We have the means to produce something. Why waste our time? And why keep it from the audience, hold it over their heads until it gets to the release date, and have to have them wait until it leaks onto a blog and download a shitty encoded mp3 of it? It's like, "Hey, I'll save you the time-- here's three songs I wrote today." It just made sense to me. Really what I'd love is if we could anonymously post stuff, and I'm trying to figure out a way to do that. I want to remove ego from things, I want to remove possession. I'm already removing possession by saying, "Hey kids, these songs are yours." There's no buying. I'm making songs for the kids who want to hear them, if they do.

It's also real educational for me because I'm constantly wanting to learn about new things I can do with my equipment. I know that sounds a little bit sterile, boring, or methodical, but if somebody writes me and says, "Man, I really want you to cover the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Beginning to See the Light,'" I can do it in the same day, and it's like a game to me. It's just like somebody who plays Scrabble or goes bowling. It's like, all right, here's the match. This guy is serving me a ball, Velvet Underground, and I'm gonna return that ball in eight hours to him in a perfect stroke. That song is for him.

And I'd do that for anybody when I have the time. [When I'm not on tour] I hope to God people want to send in some requests, because I want something to take up my time. I don't want to think about how depressed I am, how tired I am, how I want to change things, and how I wanna quit my band sometimes. Which I'm not going to, necessarily. These are just natural human feelings: self-doubt, insecurity. I just want to be distracted from all that. It really makes people happy when you record a song for them. I'd rather just really make people happy. If I could bake them cookies, I'd do that, too. And it's not like I'm trying to suck up to my fanbase or something like that, it's just mutual respect.

Pitchfork: Do you have any other songs for the next Deerhunter album, Microcastle, besides the ones you've posted?

Cox: They're coming slowly. I think what we're going to do is not be so quick to debut them, though. Because I don't want to make more demos and then find out that we go into a fucking studio and pay a shit ton of money to record them and feel like the demo's better and know we have to release the studio version. The more demos you make, the more disappointed you get when the final version doesn't quite have the intensity, or the noise, or the low fidelity. I've always been a fan of demos.

Aw, man, I wish I could tell you more about the next Atlas Sound album. It's not coming out until 2009 or something. All I can say is it's very drum-heavy.

Pitchfork: You mentioned Lil Wayne at one point on your blog. What's your take on what he does?

Cox: Lil Wayne? I think he's a genius. I think he's quick. I think he's got a good head on his shoulders-- maybe not the best judgment, though. I was driving down the boulevard and he almost hit me in a green Lamborghini. They were shooting a video without a permit or something, and I don't even know what happened, but all I know is this car cuts out in front of me, I have to go up on the sidewalk and...

[Cox's publicist announces it's time for the next interview.]

Son of a bitch! OK, well, I'm going to treat this guy like shit.

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