Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Song Title: "The Night Supervisor"
Artist: Plosive
Search Term: "Plosive"

Artificial intelligence experts are apparently still struggling with creating robots that can eke out a passing grade on the Turing test (without resorting to hilarious bickering), but since the days of Kraftwerk, electronic music fans have been indulging the notion that we're listening to computers and machines singing and performing, writing with superhuman precision but human creativity. That's patently untrue, of course--even the most hands-off generative music ever made has a human catalyst--but the idea that machines could spontaneously decide to create music that successfully captures the ineffable way great compositions can touch our human souls is such a delicious one that it's hard not to allow yourself pretend, on some level, that it's the case. And if you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a few minutes, songs like Plosive's "The Night Supervisor" can be even more masterfully moving than they are on the surface. Meek electric piano and bell sounds carom around the mix with the relaxed but vivid velocity of a Pong game, a fleecy synth bass gingerly provides a warm melody, and spluttering drum-and-bass rhythms keep the song buoyant without overpowering any of the other elements. It's audibly the sound of one person--in this case, a chap named Aaron McCammon--programming noises that make him feel content, with no bristles or thistles to imperil the song's glassy smooth serenity, but the fact that it's a beautiful electronic piece, with that fantasy of sympathetic automatons lingering in the back of the listener's mind, imparts a sense that the world is a more fascinating and benevolent place than one might have suspected. I'm making "The Night Supervisor" sound like kind of a wimpy, flighty endeavor for LARPers and people who post manga drawings of human-cat hybrids on Deviant Art, but I don't think it is. It simply sounds private and intimate, removed from the need for big, extroverted gestures. It's not a vibe I've encountered often in this genre: The closest comparison I can think of is the snug merriment of the excellent indie electronic artist I Am Robot and Proud. The best compliment I can give McCammon is that this song is so friendly and comforting that it's easy to believe that it was written by something better than people.

(FYI: The album from which this track was extracted, Neutral, can be downloaded for free at the label's website.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Song Title: "Gesuidou no Petenshi (Swindler in the Sewer)"
Artist: The Stalin
Search Term: "Swindler"

Japanese punk band The Stalin have me excited about exploring them further, and I can't remember the last time a punk band inspired that reaction in me.

As soon as I typed that sentence, I realized it was about three months ago, when I first heard British punks the Adicts. It's never fun to realize just how much unreliable hyperbole I actually use in everyday conversation, but I am still really stoked on The Stalin.

Singer Michiro Endo breathlessly blurts a series of Japanese lyrics and the band pounds out an acerbic mix of mechanized structure and unpredictable guitar harshness, reminiscent of Gang of Four or early Pere Ubu. (There's a certain complementary resemblance between this song and the latter's indelibly unhinged "Life Stinks.") Once again I can offer no data about this entry's lyrics beyond "They are performed in some godless non-English moon language," but Endo's shouted performance is likably confrontational without toppling into overexaggerated aggro. There's nothing humongously special about "Swindler in the Sewer," since it is, at bottom, just another punk song, but its peculiar energy and adroitly flailing-yet-well-considered production are extremely appealing to me.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Song Title: "American Gladware"
Artist: Divtech
Search Term: "Gladware"

I honestly try not to be a cynical person, but I have absolutely zero hope for the future of our nation. It's terrifying to me, but when I try to envision a future for the United States 20 years down the line, I cannot realistically come up with anything that doesn't look apocalyptic. I can't imagine circumstances under which our elected officials will ever make even a minor effort to slow down the rapid consolidation of all our nation's wealth into the hands of six guys at the expense of a functional society. Nor can I imagine realistic circumstances under which we Americans will be able to actually elect conscience-driven leaders, since I think such an opportunity would require a complete overhaul of our electoral system that would include massive campaign finance reform, a reversal of the Citizens United vs. FEC decision, instant-runoff voting, etc., all of which would require the corrupt elected beneficiaries of our current system to willingly rejigger everything in a way that would likely oust them from their cushy positions.

In the past few years, the public mood has become angrier and angrier as we cope with continuing economic and unemployment crises that resulted from the unchecked--and thus far unpunished--greed of corporate America and its government enablers. Yet those who caused the collapse and who suffered the least as a result have, through various media mouthpieces, successfully convinced a significant chunk of the victims that this anger should not be directed at the amoral plutocrats in charge but at their fellow citizens: Public workers who receive retirement benefits, those unable to find jobs who require a monthly pittance from the government to feed themselves and their families, and basically any of us who would prefer to live in a nation that functions as a large community with the benefits that come from certain judicious shared expenditures rather than in a nation of isolated, mistrustful hoarders who live by a strict code of "every man for himself."

Two of the three current frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination are dominionists who are constantly trumpeting their supposed Christian bona fides but who are essentially running on a platform of increasing taxes on the poor while scuttling every social program and service that might help the neediest among us so that enormous corporations and the obscenely wealthy can continue sopping up all the country's wealth. (The other frontrunner is a dog torturer who recently flat-out remarked, "Corporations are people, my friend.") In a sane society, any political party presenting a nominee whose core principles were so brazenly selfish and callous would be a distant also-ran in every single election. In our America, however, one of these clowns will be waging a viable, potentially victorious campaign against a spineless dud of a incumbent whose famous promises of "CHANGE" were quickly contravened by a laughably fastidious continuation of his predecessor's policies, and who has spent the past two and a half years selling out his onetime supporters by capitulating to the Republicans in pretty much every battle, invariably defending the desires of the richest 1% against the inconvenient needs of the other 99%. (And still the Republicans howl that he's a liberal socialist.) These are our two choices.

As my friend Devan eloquently said, "The lions have convinced the gazelles to be their defenders. The gazelles believe it's in their best interest to protect the lions and ensure that they are fed well with the meat of their brethren. The gazelles are happy to do it because they've been told that one day they could become lions themselves. They will never be lions, but they don't know how to live without the fantasy anymore."

I say all this not just to get it all off my chest--though it did feel nice--but to emphasize that when I say, "The comedy of Bill Hicks is useless," I'm not saying that because I find his aggressively pessimistic take on American life too dark or unreasonably sour. In fact, his messages about Americans' depressing eagerness to lap up mediocrity from pandering politicians, entertainers, and corporations have sadly become no less relevant since his death in 1994. So philosophically, I'm not on an entirely different page from Hicks. My problem with Bill Hicks is he delivered those messages in the form of condescending, misanthropic truisms that never struck me as going any deeper than a high school kid drawing "anarchy" symbols all over his textbooks. (Advertisers use sex to sell sugary drinks! The media distorts the facts! The dangers of recreational drug use are sometimes overstated!) Worse still, I've just never found anything funny about his "I'm the only one in the world with a brain" take-downs of authority figure straw men. I would be a fool not to acknowledge his vast influence on modern comedy, but the only instance in which I've ever laughed out loud at any of his material was his immediate response to Yul Brenner's posthumous anti-smoking PSA (the first 20 seconds here).

The reason I've bothered to launch into a random rant about Bill Hicks today is because this song, by breakcore artist Divtech, offers very little to discuss except for a lengthy sample of Hicks castigating the public for self-medicating with American Gladiators while ignoring their government's ongoing deceit. As with all his routines, Hicks never evinces any honed linguistic skill or interest in pushing his conceits to imaginative lengths; he trafficks in explosive, superficial attacks delivered with a blunt sledgehammer no smaller than Gallagher's. (At one point, Hicks refers to the Gladiators as "pituitary retards" but pronounces it "pit-choo-ary." It's tough to drive home an insult about someone else's intelligence when you egregiously mispronounce a crucial word in your verbal assault.) When Hicks sums up the government's attitude as, "You are free to do as we tell you!" it's the sort of tiresomely sophomoric barb that John S. Hall might toss into a King Missile song to parody antiestablishment blowhards.

I will give Divtech himself a milliliter of credit for recognizing that this sample had become timely again with NBC's ill-fated 2008 American Gladiators remake, but he gets no credit for anything musically. It's generic hard techno through and through.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Song Title: "Cilia Nje Ate Zemar Plot Kujitime"
Artist: Behida Pakastica
Search Term: "Cilia"

I hesitate to even attempt to make any statements of quality regarding this Eastern European folk song because I am way out of my critical depth here. This track was taken from a compilation entitled Kosovo: Music of the Albanian Kosovars, and that is literally all I can tell you for certain. (The song title is likely an English transliteration from the Albanian alphabet, which makes Googling information about it--let alone translating it--a task to which I am unequal.) It's embarrassing for me not because I think anyone reading this expects me to have a working knowledge of every genre into which I jab a toothpick here, but because I worry about potentially causing someone grief if I ignorantly describe a song like this as resembling, say, the Bavarian folk music that's piped ceaselessly throughout poultry gristle depot Zehnder's in Frankenmuth, Michigan, when in fact it's a heartfelt lament regarding some touchy subject that should by no means be dismissed in such a fashion.

I would also likely not be so worried about the potential for such a faux pas if the melody here didn't immediately remind me of the song Zoltan Veramirovich performed in his school talent show on The Critic, which prompted a similarly terrible reaction from the crowd.

So with those caveats issued, I'm going to say this song is just fine and I enjoy it. Pakastica has a weepy but room-filling voice that stops just shy of overpowering the accordion, flute, hand drum, and tambourine that comprise the acoustic arrangement, and although I am at a loss as to what the song's meaning might be, its celebratory tune and relaxed rhythm would fit right in at your next outdoor wedding, Renaissance fair, or corporate trust-building nature retreat.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Song Title: "Sparkly Queen Areola"
Artist: Bitch and Animal
Search Term: "Sparkly"

Egads, this song would be no more off-putting if it sent a stream of maggots and melted Fudgesicles coursing through your headphones. I'm guessing it's meant as a fierce anthem to encourage urban women to push back against the forces that would marginalize them or try to make them feel inferior, so good intentions and all, but the execution is so completely insipid and clangorous that it sounds almost like a witless Phyllis Schlafly parody of how she imagines we liberal feminists greet one another. Between incessant chants of the I-feel-stupid-just-typing-this slogan "All hail ye, Sparkly Queen," either Bitch or Animal recites atrocious "female empowerment" blessings like, "May your crotch never itch/May you always be a bitch," while the other one mostly blares sarcastically and obnoxiously. A violin browses to kill time and the actual musical architecture of the song is provided by bongos and an infuriating succession of cheap orchestral hits. (It was coproduced by Ani DiFranco, whom I respect but who is also no stranger to gnawing on my last nerve.) It's uniquely abominable; I'll say that much. But don't let that pique your curiosity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"College Rule"

Song Title: "I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts"
Artist: Tin Huey
Search Term: "College Rule" [This track seems to have been saved to someone's playlist that contained the word "college" in the title.]

Punk rock was created as a brute-force rebellion against the logy, vain rock that had been clogging radios in the '70s: Fed up with the unwieldy tedium of Iron Butterfly and the Eagles, the oversimplified legend goes, the Ramones and their contemporaries eschewed everything that wasn't a fast 4/4 beat, a brickbat barre chord, or a sneered antisocial couplet, because why would a rock song require anything else? The first punk albums began to appear in 1976, and it's interesting to discover how quickly punk bands started to once again beef up their songs' infrastructure after this initial turn to elegant simplicity. This song, from Akron art-punkers Tin Huey, was released in 1979, and it's largely a whole bunch of stuff mounded on top of a double-time performance of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK." Not only does this song replace the Pistols' spartan fuming with pogoing rhythms, cartoonishly bright harmonies, and a horn section, but it undercuts Johnny Rotten's unadorned, charred bile with jokey lyrics about the difficulties of procuring the necessary equipment for a revolution. I'm probably overestimating how much of this track was an intentional satirical comment on the unsustainability of the punk ethic, but I think it's loads of fun when viewed through that lens. (Viewed in isolation, well, it's "Anarchy in the UK" buried beneath layers of quirky-jerky frosting, which is still enjoyable but maybe not terribly necessary.)