At the beginning of quarantine I finally got into Ableton seriously, went into a fugue state, and woke up ten days later holding an album made out of voice memos I’d had on my phone. The art is a picture I found in the philosophic collection I’ve been working on these past five years. There’s no real identifying information, but presumably that’s a shot PB took in Tibet or Mongolia in the early 20th Century. Or somewhere else, who knows — it really doesn’t matter. I’d like to stop talking for a while.
Whenever I make voice memos in my bedroom, my phone thinks I’m playing at Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop downstairs. I try to keep up with re-naming them, but at this point there’s just too many. I don’t have anyone in my life to share art with anymore, which is bumming me out, so I’m just going to put them here, for the crickets. Hello crickets. I’ll share them with you.
god damn it, you have to be kind
just another lonely disease vector
This morning I was thinking back to those heady days of the internet’s infancy, when people thought, unironically, that Facebook would be a universal public good. I mean it made sense, the progressive nature of major cities, now on a global scale! Hate breeds in fear, fear breeds in ignorance, and the original internet appeared in schools as a vehicle of education. We thought this spread of contact and knowledge would democratize the world, ushering in an elevated age of information and openness and understanding.
Instead things got weird. You know this already: we made little echo chambers, which then became cavernous echo chambers, and the once-defused information highway became a handful of enormous one-stop corporate content aggregators, each with their attendant influencers, and we all slid slowly to our chambers of choice. There we did our human thing, the thing we always do: we formed clans and made mobs. In-groups, out-groups, misinformation, hate, fear, and of course the people in power who smelled opportunity and harnessed it. It gets dark, direct democracy, quickly, and anonymity did us no favors.
I was on a date with a girl once and she, for all her erudition, her literature degree from Berkley, spent a lot of time watching the YouTube channel of a trans woman doing makeup. I did not understand. We watched some of it, and I tried, but I just did not get it. It felt like this enormous vacuous time suck, a simulacrum of actual human interaction, the whole experience frankly kind of mystifying.
But then a couple months ago I started watching play-throughs of board games, games that for various reasons of complexity, expense, and sheer lack of like-minded friends, I would never get to play. That’s what brought me in, but now I watch this shit all the time. There is something supremely comforting about it, and it comes from the fact that, without realizing it, I went there because I was lonely. And what I got, tucked secretly inside that board game content, was human contact. Simulacrum or not, I get it now.
So here we have this global pandemic. More than the sickness itself, the honest danger of this thing is the pressure it’s putting on our already cracked and straining societies — In the US we look for leadership and we get a gutted CDC and a president that stands at the podium with CEOs instead of healthcare experts. The strategy of taking over government, breaking it for profit, then pointing at it and calling it broken has come to its logical conclusion and now we’re in a crisis without command.
The virus will eventually settle down, and we will return to a “normal” of sorts, but this is all unsustainable, and always has been. Endgame Capitalism is not an equilibrium to which anyone who cares about human dignity aspires, and yet we’ve got a liberal front-runner candidate with a literal slogan of “return to normalcy.” Give it some time and this crisis will all have been a trial run for climate change, and when that hits for real, there will be no more “normal.” In the end, it’s all the “normal” we demanded and keep demanding that got us here in the first place. All this “normal” is driving our species to the brink of extinction, and nobody in power seems to give a shit. We’re on our own.
And yet something of the old optimism has been creeping up on me. All that crushing alienation, the feckless indifference of the wealthy for what they are doing to all of us, the retreat of people to the internet for connection they weren’t getting in the lonely waste of their wage-slave lives, prepared us for this. Suddenly internet culture has a whole audience in quarantine. Watching some of these streams that are popping up, seeing people connect and comfort each other through this ready-made medium, in this time of fear and the failure of institutions, has my scarred cynic’s heart feeling something about the internet, something about all the weirdos out there, that surprises me.
The internet, no shit, is a source of hope. The world we grew up in may be falling apart around us as we stew in the anxiety of individual isolation, but here I am, watching frightened humans find each other, and be kind to each other, and execute the promise of what this could have been all along. And despite all the danger signs, all the ways in which we’re sliding towards extinction, right now? Just in this moment? What I’m feeling is warm, and bright, and good. Sartre only had it half right. The best and worst part of being a person is other people.
I’ll let Loop Daddy handle it from here:
Edit: So, I thought that was the story. I wasn’t wrong, exactly, but something happened last night. I’m not deleting the original though, because, well, wait. Let’s back up:
Marc Rebillet, aka Loop Daddy, is basically a wizard. He takes topics from the audience and creates songs, whole cloth, on the spot — lots of comedy, lots of filth and nudity, lots and lots and lots of talent. It’s about the music, first and foremost: his percussion and rhythm are razor sharp, his bass lines sublime, and the extended piano chords he layers over everything make it all sing. He’s a special keyboardist, as well as a serious soul singer vocalist, and has samples for any mood under his fingers at all times. It’s music nerd porn at its finest, doubly so for folks like myself who do live looping. Anyways, after his Australian tour was canceled due to the virus, he said he’d do 4 live-streams from his apartment in Brooklyn. The first three were all excellent.
Then last night, as he was about to go live on his fourth and final quaranstream, I sent the link around to a bunch of people with the cryptic message “loop daddy is live.” I figured they’d figure it out. Instead he absolutely loses his shit. After a succession of terrible callers with terrible topics, he stops struggling with a loop that won’t work, turns to the camera, and drops into free fall. Fucking free fall! Live on camera! In front of 10,000 people! And I KNOW that feeling, so well, that everything you do is shit, that nothing is original or interesting, that you’re just repeating yourself in a nauseating pattern of blandness and vanity. My move then is always to get up and walk the hell away; but of course he couldn’t just walk away from thousands of people. So you get to watch him, in real time, try to somehow repair his stalled engines and pull out of this disaster. His usual shtick is such a caricature of bravado and sexuality, that stripped of his confidence it’s like seeing this famous near-nudist actually naked for the first time.
It’s hard to recommend this experience to people. You would need some familiarity with his normal work to really see how wrong this all this, before even beginning to engage with what I’m describing. I recommend at least the first song of Day 2, embedded above. After that, Day 4 will take another TWO HOURS, big bunches of that time spent in straight up cringe and struggle. But if you watch it, for real — maybe smoke a little bowl, relax into what’s happening and let it unfold — you will be rewarded with the most powerfully affecting art experience I’ve had in years.
The show becomes itself, against his wishes, a performance piece on the creative process, the real creative process, on confidence, support, and fucking failure. Real, live, this actually sucks, failure. Watching this incredible artist go into free fall and somehow pull out of it was a narrative arc better than most movies. Certainly more honest. And if you stick around, if you make it to the end, the final song is straight delirious absolution: Rising and triumphant and real and incredible. I cannot, absolutely cannot recommend this two hour train-wreck to anyone.
It’s so good.
If you need it
A couple weeks ago I sat down with my telecaster and pedals, and Steph got set up on a midi pad, playing drum samples through pocket guitar amps. We made a pair of one-take, improvised voice memos in my bedroom. Then Rose drew us some beans.
life is beautiful after all
We are my new favorite band.
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 the Louis Coles or the Hiaitus Kaiyotes of the world moving.
This cover though, 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. 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 beautiful things. 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.
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