This video is a tiny slice of hundreds of hours, back and forth between Dar es Salaam and Vikindu. We made this trip over, and over, and over, and over again, the soundtrack to Drive on heavy rotation via headphones for a good chunk of it. As substance abuse and my relationship spiraled simultaneously out of control, existence in Tanzania took on an increasingly surreal and cinematic aspect. You’re getting an authentic taste here: Me and Philipo, coming back from work. We only ever spent time together like this, in transit for money, me speaking to the back of his nervous head. In hindsight he was one of my best friends.
I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of music school kids at this point, and the tools they’ve acquired through thousands of hours of struggle and practice and strain, while incredible, and frankly intimidating, are in themselves simply tools. What’s done with those tools remains up to the individual, and there’s much room for misfiring, for competitive wankery, for making discordant sounds, weird sounds, unsettling sounds, sounds designed for ears that have tired of obvious melody. A whole huge generation of kids have now gone and gotten trained and appeared on the internet with their new tools, and while the output of that much training is always impressive, at best I usually find it interesting. Very rarely do I find it moving.
This cover, of my first and still favorite Vulfpeck song, is weaponized music school. Arranged by Ryan Lerman (the guitarist hiding behind her right shoulder) the alterations to the original are all excellent, unobtrusive choices: those two guitars, the close mic on the piano that catches the pedals, the little chromatic walk downs, and of course her VOICE! Her fucking CONTROL! Everything here is so carefully cultivated, the arrangement pays such homage to the original, that despite being clinically, technically precise, they make it all feel relaxed — easy. They’ve nailed the whole point of the song. You can see it right there on her face. This. This is why you go to music school.
I call it the Amadeus Effect:
When a new artist enters your orbit and everything else abruptly pales, listless, lifeless in comparison. DakhaBrakha fucking Wolfganged me. They sucked the air out of all other music, my own efforts included, and left me swooning in grateful, helpless, head-nodding admiration.
Everything about this band, from their cultivated visual aesthetic, their Slavic folk lyrics, their internal rhythm and delicately deployed multi-instrumental capacities, their multi-part chanting harmonies, down even to their origin story in the Kiev theater scene amid the political tumult of modern Ukraine, it’s all exactly right. I’m sure this will pass, I’m sure I’ll be able to appreciate other artists, other kinds of beauty again, but…
God damn man.
This shit is electric.
“None is poor, O Bhikha,
everyone has rubies in their bindle;
but how to open the knot,
they do not know”
“…Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?
Here at least
We shall be free;”
–John Milton, Paradise Lost
a Postal Service song
Things have been bad lately, and I’ve found myself sinking deeper, losing light, forced to explore down here in the darker places. On a recent deep dive I stumbled upon the influences of the Postal Service, and discovered there something gorgeous.
I’ll be true again
But until then…
The best thing about the void is that absolute black is the perfect backdrop to feature beauty. So I placed my find on that lightless plane, and up from the depths I carried it back, cupped in my hands, to share its warmth and color here, with you.
Whatever he was asked about Zen, Master Gutei simply stuck up one finger.
He had a boy attendant whom a visitor asked, “What kind of teaching does your master give?” The boy held up one finger too. Hearing of this, Gutei cut off the boy’s finger with a knife. As the boy ran away, screaming with pain, Gutei called to him. When the boy turned his head, Gutei stuck up one finger.
The boy was suddenly enlightened.
a Phosphorescent song
I was talking about fruit from the Mac Demarco music tree here recently, and this performance is the prime example. Check out Mac back there in the blonde fan-boy wig, happily playing back-up egg-shaker. He’s much more famous than Connan Mockasin, but here he is on stage without a guitar, grooving and singing along. Watching him back there, just happy to be hanging out, asking no part of the spotlight, really makes me smile.
As for this video, I’m putting it here as much for myself as anyone else. Much of it is from Connan’s second album, Caramel, and the real delights don’t start for me until around the 23:00 mark when they begin ever so slowly to tease out Forever Dolphin Love (30:00), and then again at 51:00 for Megumi (57:00). But if you’re looking for something to put on in the background at home, I recommend it all.
The sound is mixed better than any live recording I’ve ever heard, the aesthetics are on point in all aspects, and they’re just having such a good time together up there. The music is complex and sneakily potent, drawn from a jazz background and then played in an almost lazy, laconic style, like he’s not even sure how his guitar works. Make no mistake though, that weird little Kiwi is a serious god damn musician.
If you’re looking to up your hipster cred, here’s your chance: Connan Mockasin is currently on every indie musician’s list of hopeful underground collaborations (most recently he featured on a James Blake song). What he has chosen to express is undeniably strange, but you can’t argue with his ability to articulate his vision. The guy is a scientific singularity. Though he draws from a thousand influences, you could never mistake him for anyone else.
Full disclosure, it might take some work to get in there. This sort of Funkadelic-meets-Pink-Floyd phenomenon didn’t click for me right away. I recommend taking a maybe counter-intuitive tack and starting your listening with the bass player. Close your eyes and find the groove he’s laying down. Then work your way back through the instruments: bass, then drums, then rhythm guitar and synth, then lead guitar, and last land on the vocals. When you look up and it’s the middle of Forever Dolphin Love, and all that weird noodling has come together and your head is bobbing uncontrollably, well, come and find me — I’ll have Mac get you sorted with a wig and an egg shaker.
Seriously, get involved.
We may have lost today; that’s okay. I’ve lost a lot of days. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow anything is possible.
i can’t stop thinking
about how when you’re standing
on your feet all day they swell
so you lay yourself down
because the idea of pressing
blood against meat against bone
of pressing against the bone
on the bottoms of your feet
so you stay down
and discover the pressure
has just shifted to your back
to your legs to your ass you get
fat you get bedsores and still
wherever you’re making contact
there it is, pressing, so you stand
and then you realize this is it:
i have to shift this weight — i will
always have to shift this weight;
there’s no avoiding it; it’s unbearable
if you think about it too much,
and what is too much? any much.
but you have to work you have to
press something against something
in this life this compression you have
to have a job you have to struggle
to eat you have to age you have to
watch people fall away you have to
shift that weight you have to
walk out into the world
you just have to.
but maybe if we were wealthy
we could commission a vat
full of special buoyant liquid:
a vat to suspend us
and we could live there and work
there and fuck there and eat
there and get out for tolerable
jaunts on our poor compressed
feet then run home and jump
(oh sweet freedom,
sweet airborn bliss)
back into the vat.
but my make-believe vats i know
are for make-believe people — rich
people — and we sick must stand
or lie down or squirm; we must
shift weight we must press meat
against blood against bone
we must press against the bone.
and let’s be honest:
even were we wealthy,
we should not live in vats.
If you ever find yourself wondering what album to play while speeding down the coast of East Africa, high on cocaine and cane liquor, heading to a local white sand beach, feeling cool as fuck in your aviators while the hot wind whips your hair and the thing you love most in the world withers and dies in your senseless hands, well, wonder no more. I got you.
“and now you’re giving me the look…”
The story goes like this:
During his first marriage, Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseyevich) took for his mistress a peasant woman named Marta Helena Skowrońska. When his first wife died, he married Marta in secret, she changed her name to Catherine, and would go on to bear him twelve children. Peter spent much of his reign rooting out corruption in his government, and Willem Mons, Catherine’s secretary, was accused of peddling access to the royal family through his position. Catherine supposedly knew, but chose to ignore the offense out of affection for her secretary. After Peter ordered his summary execution Catherine was furious — the couple didn’t speak for months.
The story also goes like this:
At some point during their marriage, Catherine took for herself a lover, a man named Willem Mons. When Peter found out, he had Mons beheaded, and his severed head preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. Then he forced Catherine to take time each day to sit and look at it.
Andy Hull’s song tells the second version, from the alternating perspectives of Peter and the head. It’s almost pornographically gruesome, yes. And there appears to be no evidence for any of it. And I absolutely hate when art requires extensive contextual explanation, or a background in obscure esoterics, before it makes any god damn sense. But this obtuse erotic torture fantasy somehow won me over, because despite all of that, what it really is, is a love song. And it’s just brilliant.
“Oh Catherine tell me, was it worth it for him?”
a Bad Books song
Also, it’s worth noting here that when Peter died he had no male heirs. During the succession crisis, the “new men” whom Peter had raised to prominence, for merit rather than birth, pulled off a successful coup against the return of the old aristocracy. For the face of this new government, they chose Peter’s popular widow. So this peasant woman, born Marta, now known as Catherine, would succeed Peter to the throne of Russia, and rule for two years as Empress Catherine I. As the first female to sit the throne in her own right, she would set a legal precedent for the position that would come to include her own daughter, Elizabeth, and in time her great-granddaughter-in-law, Catherine the Great.
So? How’s that for a happy ending?
Yeah, still pretty dark, I know.
“…and the man goes walking, I go walking, through the forest and I run into five hundred thousand Galicians who are walking and crying. And then I stop (a kindly giant, an interested giant for the last time) and I ask them, why they’re crying. And one of the Galicians stops and says: because we’re all alone and we’re lost.”
Joshua Clark Orkin
On the moon there was neither air nor wind. Its vacuum was perfect for preserving memories unscathed. No one could unlock the heart of the moon. Aomame raised her glass to the moon and asked, “Have you gone to bed with someone in your arms lately?”
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Do you have any friends?” she asked.
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Don’t you get tired of always playing it cool?”
_____The moon did not answer.
Tengo had no idea, of course, what Aomame had offered to the moon that time, but he could well imagine what the moon had given her: pure solitude and tranquility. That was the best thing the moon could give a person.
–Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
“Blessed are the anonymous and obscure,
for they shall be least interfered with.”
“and if I squint I can pretend…”
Joshua Clark Orkin