Mission Statement Part 1: Fillum

    It’s 2012! That means it’s time to write about things that are not terrible, terrible bands. In the interest of doing so, I thought I’d start with a (probably-intermittent, let’s be honest) series of “Mission Statements.” Starting to air all of this business on this corner of the internet means that I’m starting from zero. But toward the end of somewhat-fairness, I’m going to write about movies.
    When I was a kid, I watched a lot of movies, mainly because I didn’t much care for television particularly (that’s going to get its own entry, so I’ll not spend too much time with it here). Partly because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, partly because I have a sister who watched movies all the time, and partly because, especially in late adolescence, they became a thing that I could do that wasn’t something everyone was doing.
    I’m not going to ruminate too much on being from somewhere tiny, but the upshot of it all is that I spent my days around people whom I not only didn’t have anything in common with, but didn’t particularly want to. The upshot of which is movies seemed less massive. Oh, going to the theatre was something that you literally did in groups (and something that I’ve never cared for doing particularly, at least not when compared to doing any movie-watching activity that doesn’t take place in a movie theatre), but watching them at home, late at night, by myself was doing something that I was able to keep to myself, and meant that I could do something that wasn’t being curated by something else. By this point I’d already started down the road that led to record-collectordom1 (and I would make every stop along the way, from annoying know-it-all yobbo to insufferable hipster to vaguely-annoying obsessive), but that was, due to being a kid in the mid-to-late nineties, basically the result of finding things that had already been “curated.”
    Technically sitting in front of IFC (or, less often, HBO, or, even less often still, whatever other cable channel was saving money in its programming budget by playing a long, effort-light movie) was also watching something that was curated, but I could exercise a binary choice in the matter – I could watch, say, Trees Lounge, or I could go elsewhere.
    This increased when I got to college, and went out of my way to see as many self-consciously “great” movies (or at least the ones that I hadn’t already forced myself through in years before) as time and resources would allow, and then…I stopped. And I went several years watching and enjoying movies like a relatively-normal person and then even that tapered off. Oh, I still watch fifty or so movies a year  (which seems pretty average to me, but I’m not, like, working off of a statistic or anything2.), but more and more, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not particularly interested in conventional dramatic films.
    That’s probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever said, and here I’ve said it in public. Nevertheless, it remains the case. A well-structured, well-executed story about, god, I don’t know, people disappointed in their parents or learning some kind of lesson about the world based on the terrible things that happen to them in the blah blah blah blah is just not really going to get my attention, or at least isn’t going to get in the door with me. I mean, I’ll watch and enjoy stuff like that if it’s what’s being watched and enjoyed, but generally speaking I’m only ever drawn to movies that are idiosyncratic, and possibly even deeply flawed.
    Note that’s “deeply flawed” not “terrible.” I have little to no interest in liking things that are actively bad (although I am more likely to watch them). I don’t like to make fun of people for artistic endeavors that have gone awry, I don’t like to unnecessarily insult the work of someone who lacked the means (even if the means they lacked was something as basic as self-awareness) to get across their own vision, but what I am interested in is that vision. I’m interested in what people are communicating, or attempting to communicate, to me3, much more than I am in the actual success per se. And given the nature of the way films tend to find their way to me (I have little enough exposure to the world of actually-independent film, and am not as interested in it as I feel the reward would be to seeking it out. Basically I’m lazy, to an extent, about the channels that I travel through, and I’m pretty unrepentant about that.), they do so after even in the best-case scenario a byzantine, labyrinthine process, so it’s more likely that the message, or the vision, will be communicated through a movie by not working.
    An example that best illustrates the phenomenon: I have never seen the movie The Deer Hunter, which is easily one of the most well-regarded and well-praised movies I’ve ever encountered mention of, especially since I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything bad about it, at all. Ever. And I would barely be able to tell you anything that happens in it, because I’ve not only never seen it, but I don’t remember if I’ve ever even tried. I have, however, seen Heaven’s Gate twice. And it’s not necessarily because it’s one of the most famous failures in cinema history (well, that might’ve been why I watched it initially, I suppose). It’s because while I’m sure The Deer Hunter is a fine and edifying movie that I’ll enjoy a lot, there’s a lot more that I’m interested in understanding about the enormous, bloated, over-ambitious follow-up.
So, from time to time here on Ohio Needs a Train, I am likely to write a thing or two about the wild and wooly world of cinema4. I’m not entirely sure what it will look like, though. I like things that are funny, but I don’t usually have things to say about them other than “golly, that was funny” or what have you. My inclination, which is to write about the films that appeal to me, is pretty well covered by any of a number of sources (there’s a boom market in watching movies that aren’t particularly successful, and a robust body of work on films that are successful because they’re weird), and I’d hate to have to submit my own half-a-blog to “Who The Fuck Reads This.”
But there will, probably, be “Who the Fuck Watches This,” when movies are particularly difficult to parse (because, remember: the point is not that it’s bad, just that there really couldn’t be a possible audience for it, which seems to describe about thirty movies a year, even without being a wise-ass). Of course, there could also come a time when I’m ashamed to have committed all of this to cold, black and white pixels, and I rue the day I ever declared my opinions about film. But that day is unlikely, as if there are two things I love it’s my opinions and declaiming.
Actually, I suspect I have more to say about not liking stories told on film, but stay tuned.

1 – or whatever you call it. “Digital file aggregator” will simply never have the same ring to it.
2 – as opposed to, y’know, a couple dozen seasons of television and five or six thousand songs. Clearly this is an imbalanced figure.
3 – This is probably why I prefer music and books over anything else – the route between creator (and the number of creators involved) and me is pretty short, and there’s less of a game of telephone for the message to get lost in.
4 – and probably in more forms than “passing references to Lizzy Caplan”

Who The F*ck Listens to This Volume 2: Skrillex and WIMWPSTDTD

    Well, I was going to regale you all with the long-winded pontifications of self-importance that really are de rigeur early on in a blog. I’ve got about half a post on films written, and sketches laid out for other media, and probably some jokes planned for all of it, and I was all set, here in this still-new year, to be a much better blogger. Then God reached his hand down from the sky, and he flooded the land when he set it on fire: Skrillex has collaborated with Whatever Is Meant When People Say “The Doors” These Days.
    I’m not going to waste anyone’s time. You all know who these people are. I will say this: if Skrillex is responsible for the “death” of dubstep, then it wasn’t a form that was going to live very long anyway, and I can only hope he was also responsible for the death of Whatever Is Meant When People Say “The Doors” These Days (WIMWPSTDTD, which I like because it has STD right there in the name1). Or will be. See, this is all part of a five-part documentary called RE:GENERATION, whereby a bunch of DJs are going to “re-create” past styles of music. What makes this hilarious is that two of the five DJs (Pretty Lights and the inimitable Mark Ronson) already do this for their jobs2, and also that this is part of The Grammies somehow (they’re paying for it, I guess? There might actually have to be a special edition of Who the Fuck Listens to This devoted entirely to the Grammys).
    While a couple of the pairings (Crystal Method and Martha Reeves, DJ Premier and Nas and the Berklee Symphony Orchestra) make sense and could sound cool, one of them sounds like a terrible idea that someone overmarketed (Pretty Lights, Ralph Stanley and Leann Rimes?), and one sounds like it will actually be respectably awesome (Mark Ronson, Mos Def, Erikah Badu, Trombone Shorty, the Dap-Kings and Zigaboo Modeliste), only one looks like a warmed-over trainwreck ready to take out the idea of listenability with it.
    But before we get there, who the fuck would even want to listen to any of this? This whole thing is pitched as a documentary, which I guess is kind of cool. Everybody enjoyed It Might Get Loud, which was a similar cross-generational look at stuff, and the idea of applying that philosophy to things that used to be dance music (funk, bluegrass, older hip-hop) by having the people that made it collaborate with people who make what is now dance music is a pretty good idea. It’s also an idea that’s done to death3 , but fine. Maybe there is a market for this. Maybe this documentary seems like a great idea on paper.
    So they come up with three and a half parts of a reasonable conceit (what the fuck is Leann Rimes doing here? Three and a half.), and then…Skrillex and The Doors. Now, so far we’ve got a bunch of music that people have, in fact, danced to. Happily. Hell, I’ve danced to some of those people and I never dance4. No one, ever, has danced, ever, to The Doors, ever. Even people that like The Doors don’t say “so I was cutting a rug last night, and boogieing really hard to those The Doors fellows, and let me tell you, I plum wore my best gal out.” Nobody says that. Nobody.
    And that’s The Doors. Like, the version with the singer. WIMWPSTDTD isn’t even that. It’s a bunch of guys who spent five years or whatever in a band that a lot of people liked, trying desperately to make sure that people remember them enough to keep their swimming pools filled with Voss Water. They have no connection to what’s going on here.
    Except they have pretty much everything in common with Skrillex: they were a big, dumb band that was basically just crowd-pleasing music that kids liked, and that became very, very much of its time5. People that were young at and around when it happened like it, people like it when they’re young, and it sort of loses what power it had as we move away from it (or as we get older). Skrillex, I’d imagine, will be in the same situation, with a marginally-dumber and/or more awesome haircut, just like lots of people who become extremely popular among sixteen year olds. It’s a model.
    That said: a shared idiom does not mean for a good experience. Peanut butter and mousseline are both made by mashing things up into a paste, but I don’t recommend that you consider them a part of the same family, nor should you try to put them together. Because the point here, as with any remix project, is the sound. The context doesn’t really matter, because collaboration and/or sampling are things you do with the actual sounds created by the other musicians, not something you do with their sociocultural position.
    So how does it sound?
    It sounds…like Skrillex. Which is kind of the problem. If there were some more of WIMWPSTDTD in there – if it were an actual collaboration, say – then it would probably be considerably worse. So the real question is: why WIMWPSTDTD? I can’t answer that question. In the video, the three old dudes look disinterested. Poor John Densmore (probably the most musically interesting member of the Doors, and certainly the most rockin’6) was given little to do except tap at a bongo and clap. Oh, they all clap.It’s a little less bass-heavy than other Skrillex songs (and the Doors totally didn’t have a bassist! Like, whoa!), and there are periodic sections for Ray “the Piano Man” Manzarek to tinkle on his keys like a….well, like a guy in a Doors cover band, to be perfectly honest. Robby Krieger     is playing a guitar in the video, and it might be the effects-drenched thing we hear that corresponds to when (if not what) he’s playing.
    Other than that, it’s a Skrillex song. A kind-of-ok one. I guess. I mean, I’m not a Skrillex expert, but this seems to be in the middle of the stuff I’ve heard. It’s certainly not a Doors song. It’s got too much clapping, for starters. 
 So who the fuck listens to this? I would guess, if I had to, people like me, who listen to it to talk way too much about it. Also: people who hate Skrillex. I can’t promise I won’t do all of this again when that fucking Leann Rimes song comes out.
Here’s your future.

1 I’m twelve.
2 also: The Crystal Method still exist. Who knew?
3  to death. While one could think that it would be interesting to hear this, let’s remember that “The Rockafeller Skank” and “Block-Rockin’ Beats” were legitimate and actual hits without brainy think-pieces surroudning them, and that Rednex existed, guys. No matter how hard you may want to deny it, Rednex existed. Also: the entire career of Beck. And Henry Flynt. And that one Moby album. Basically, ten years ago this would’ve been a good idea. Which I guess puts it at about par for the course for the Grammys. Grammies? I don’t care.
4 I have, however, been known to ride my bike un-til I get ho-ome.
5 It’s 2012. I do not have to talk about Jim Morrisson’s “poetry.”
6 I honestly thought that John Densmore was the guy that didn’t participate in this shit. Wikipedia says it’s him, though, and he looks like he does in google image searches, so I’m gonna call him John Densmore. Old guy with the bongo, if you read this, and you aren’t John Densmore, shoot me an email and I’ll correct my oversight.

DJ Mix – Januarium

Completed my latest dj mix yesterday.  These songs have no specific meaning, just a sample of what i have been listening to lately.

Download here: http://www.mediafire.com/?xsioeal8qa3pnl4


Revolvo – Nimmo
The Playwrights – Why We’ve Become Invisible
Calla – Rise
Loch Lomond – Spine
Walls – Sunporch
Jazzanova – Coffee Talk
Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
jj – Still
The New Rags – Your Room
The Kills – Future Starts Slow
Primus – Wounded Knee
Sofa Surfers – Good Day to Die
Belle & Sebastian – Expectations
Plej – You
Lamb – Softly
Men Without Pants – Let’s Meet In Real Life
Loney Dear – I Dreamed About You
Caribou – Irene
Burlap to Cashmere – Build a Wall
Rob Dougan – One and the Same (Coda)

Thoughts on Spreadsheets

You can stare at a blank spreadsheet for hours.  Any task you wish to complete is daunting with nothing more than grids staring back at you. On top of the grid there are buttons with hidden meanings, menus filled with commands you’ll never use and strange greek symbols.  What the hell are you even doing with this program?  This isn’t for you, this is for some back-room nerd, or high-rise accountant to use.  Why don’t you just go back to playing the sims and leave the grids and formulas to the big boys.  But after the initial shock of the whole thing, you realize that you recognize these symbols. “Wait,” you say to yourself, “Half of this is just the font and color…i know this.”  People around you turn their heads, wondering why you are talking into your computer at a Starbucks.  These aren’t even cool Starbucks people, because this coffee cart in a Barnes and Noble isn’t actually a real Starbucks.  One minute you are browsing through discounted kitten calendars and the next you are digging through your trunk to find the netbook you bought 2 years ago when you said you were going to write that novella.  But this isn’t about “Midnight Mystique,” this is about a spreadsheet.  Your spreadsheet.
You use your track-pad to clumsily move some cells around.  The grow and shrink at your whim.  You feel powerful, you ARE powerful.  You are staring at this grid which has a direct link to an amount of processing power that would have won WWII for the Germans if had it fallen into Nazi hands.  This project of yours isn’t for the Reich though.  You have important things that need to be done, and damn it you are going to do them.  You are going to use formulas.  Remember those?  Those make you feel like a hacker in a Hollywood movie, using less thans and greater thans, ifs, thens, and all sorts of other crazy commands.  You can use phrases like “I just have to debug these formulas” and you would not be bullshitting someone.  You have data damn it.  And you need to process it.  You are a one person data processing unit.  This data will be processed and the results will be bold…no, bold and underlined…and in blue…if you want them.  Why not?  Well, maybe the blue will distract you later…maybe just stick to black.  You start to type on the number pad…remember that?  You used to be quick with that thing, maybe if you ever get a large column of data you can use that number pad again…you wish you had some data here right now, damn you would process it…Maybe this hobbit Starbucks will let you inventory their coffee.  No, probably not, they probably have a very sophisticated system for that.  But guess what?  It is probably based on a spreadsheet.  Some back-room nerd wrote it for some high-rise accountant to use…and you are using the same exact program.  You’re possibilities are endless.  You take your last sip of coffee, you shut the lid to your net-book, you pick up your bag of comic books and you go to your filthy car and you drive home.

Februarymakeup’s Top 50 Songs of 2011 in Alphabetical Order

I was in the car, listening to a version of this very list (I think) a couple of weeks ago, when I mentioned aloud that “2011 was an especially good year for music.” The response was “it’s been a long time since I heard you say that.” I suppose that’s true. I think of every year as a good year for music, but sometimes, you know, it seems like some years take it better than others. 2011 was a good year for music, or at least, my tastes matched the things that came out that were good. Anyway, what follows is the fifty best songs that came out last year. There are no arguments to be had, this list is objectively correct, and contains no errors, as is the case with every single thing I’ve ever written.

Boris “Jackson Head” – One of a handful of bands to put out a bunch of albums this year (Lil’ B is laughing at their constipation, I realize.), this one is from Heavy Rocks, the throwback-y LP that came out second (or, well, that came out in the first set of two that came out in America). It is, indeed, Heavy. It does, indeed, Rock. They spent some time doing some weird creative digressions into pop music and fusing a bunch of elements of their sound (see: the other version of “Jackson Head” they released this year), but they also did this, and this is what counts.

Danny Brown & Black Milk “LOL” – XXX was a wonderful album, and Danny Brown had a hell of a year, appearing on an enormous percentage of hip-hop records I loved this year, and generally stealing the show on them, but the production was kind-of uneven. Black Milk, who never has any trouble not being an uneven producer (fuck you, I’ll use as many negatives as I want) turned out to be the solution, and this record was much less talked-about, but still equally great.

Bill Callahan “America” – Supported by an absolutely killer ending line (that makes the whole record make sense), this is basically Bill Callahan doing what Bill Callahan does. It’s hard to quantify what that is, but since his name comes first alphabetically, it’s going to be where it gets mentioned that 2011 was a year where a lot of people put out records that were very good, but not appreciably different from any of the other albums they’d put out. The difference, sonically, between Apocalypse and Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle or Woke on a Whaleheart is present, I guess, mostly in instrumentation, but Apocalypse is a better record by a largish margin, and “America” is a pretty stunning starting point.

Glen Campbell “Ghost on the Canvas” – Glen Campbell is seven thousand years old, has Alzheimer’s, and decided to hole up in a recording studio to make what would stand as his last recorded statement. That’s a sad enough story (he also announced his battle publicly so that the people that went to see him on tour would not be worried if they saw him exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms on stage. That’s a consummate showman), and to help him figure out the way to express his feelings at and about being lost he went to the man who could’ve written the book on that sort of thing, if he were the type to write a book, Mr. Paul Westerberg (who, since this is his first appearance on this blog, wrote the song “Valentine,” which contains the line “plenty of times you wake up, in February makeup.” Hi.), who wrote is best song in years (since probably “Got You Down” in 2002). The contrast between a man singing about losing his mind and not having lost a single bit of his beautiful voice, the thing that made him famous, is heart-wrenching.

Death Grips “Takyon (Death Yon)” – Opening up the hip-hop doors by taking percussive violence to its logical end, Ex-Military­ managed to be harsh and intense, while still avoiding the “harsh and intense” clichés that hip-hop calls normal. Also, elsewhere on the album they figure out a way to take advantage of both “Rise Above” and “Interstellar Overdrive,” which is as shrewd a move in attention-getting as it is inspired as a piece of art.

Decemberists “This is Why We Fight” – Because I’m a collegial white dude, and I have a thing for anthems, and you are all welcome to go hug a cactus.

Doomtree “Little Mercy” – Doomtree had a big year, first being responsible for 13 Chambers, the brilliant Fugazi/Wu-Tang mashup record, and then, well, pretty much mashing-up Fugazi (political consciousness, sonic adventurousness, devastating basslines, a couple of really top-notch vocalists) and Wu-Tang (a revolving door of MCs, understated, artful production, being cohesive in spite of such disparate focuses) on this, their third and finest album. But “Little Mercy,” the best track on a stellar album, is a winner hands-down. A captivating, tense number that never lets up, I’m pretty sure I jumped around the room like a moron the first time I heard it.

Drive-by Truckers “The Thanksgiving Filter” – I’ve said that I find the Drive-by Truckers’ albums to be more interesting (if not always as satisfying) since Jason Isbell left the band, and I maintain that’s true (although now that Shonna is out, I wonder how much of that she’ll take with her). “The Thanksgiving Filter,” paradoxically, is the kind of reliable Patterson Hood story-song that tends to work more-or-less every time. I suppose as long as there’s a couple of these per album, I’ll continue to buy their albums.

Earth “Descent to the Zenith” – Earth remain the finest purveyors of drone in the world, and Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 was probably as accessible as they got. “Descent to the Zenith” is a powerful piece.

Eternals “War’s Blazing Disciples” – I still like anthems. And people shouting. Can’t get enough of people shouting over beats. Oh, and the Eternals have floated around at the periphery of things that I like for awhile now, and it’s nice to welcome them into the fold of things I officially care about.

Evangelista “In Animal Tongue” – Carla Bozulich used to have a way with weird, upside-down song structures that led Geraldine Fibbers to have songs that sounded for all the world like smash hits from another planet. Over the course of the ten years or so since GF parted ways, she’s spent time devolving her own melodic ability until what ends up in place is the signifiers of the structure that was there to begin with. Also, I’d probably listen to her sing the phone book.

Explosions in the Sky “Trembling Hands” – When this song happened, and dimoko and I were discussing our first impressions, there were a number of Friday Night Lights jokes. That’s probably going to happen to Explosions every time. The important thing, though, is that it sounded like a new direction for the band – it’s short, it goes somewhere quickly, it features Chris Hrasky’s admirable drumming, there’s kind of a vocal on it. And, as a result, Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care Take Care etc. became the first disappointment of 2011. I can’t endorse the record (it’s fine, but if you have an Explosions record, you already have it), but “Trembling Hands” remains a pretty exciting addition to the band’s work.

The Feelies “Later On” – The Feelies, having basically invented a brand-new way to be a rock band with their very first record, then sort-of abandoned that sound for a new one, then abandoned their formerly-new sound for a new one, then broke up. They came back with a sort of evolution of their last record, and that’s probably what anyone should have expected. It was fine, in the same way that the back half of their catalogue was fine, but “Later On” was a point at which they were actually doing something particularly interesting, and proved that, even after a million years of not doing anything under this name, they still had something to say. I’d buy the single or whatever.

The Felice Brothers “River Jordan” – The Felice Brothers are a band that makes B+ albums with A+ tracks on them. 2009’s “Run Chicken Run” was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the songs on the pretty-good Yonder is the Clock, and their breakthrough single “Frankie’s Gun!” was the clear highlight of The Felice Brothers. The difference is that those songs also got a lot of attention and, inexplicably, “River Jordan” did not. The album’s closer, it’s probably Ian Felice’s finest vocal (which, y’know, isn’t something he’s usually known for, but still), and it also features a weirdly-building momentum that belies the fact that it doesn’t, y’know, have a structure. That’s a hell of a feat, and I hope there’s more like it.

Fucked Up “Queen of Hearts” – And sometimes what you want is a big, dumb, rock song. Hardcore isn’t supposed to have anything left to say, and a lot of ink (well. e-ink. Wait. That’s trademarked. Pixels, then.) has gone into talking about how Fucked Up managed, without changing what they were doing, to make the finest hardcore record in a couple of decades at least, and I’ve got nothing to add to that. I will only say: this song is basically a series of “the good part”s glued together, and the result is like a monte cristo: yeah, it’s a sandwich, it’s deep-fried and then it’s dipped in jelly, and that’s exactly why it works, because it’s everything that could possibly be good, taken at once. Song of the year.

Grails “Deep Snow” – Grails, like Fucked Up and Bill Callahan already, are yet another band that put out the best work of their career in 2011. That’s about all they have in common with Fucked Up or Bill Callahan, I suppose. Grails at their best are one of the finest story-telling bands in the world, and “Deep Snow” is a vivid, imagistic walk through an extraordinary landscape.

Grouper “Moon is Sharp” – Grouper’s records (and there were two of them this year) continue to get better, and “Moon is Sharp” is an easy, soothing tune from the slightly-less weird album. Incidentally, it may be too late, but if I do end up posting links to where you can find these mixes, don’t listen to them in alphabetical order or the sequence this is somewhere in the middle of is going to be the dumb part.

Tim Hecker “Studio Suicide, 1980” – Jesus Christ this record was amazing. The first great record of 2011 (and one of Hecker’s two great records of 2011), any of the songs on it could’ve made the list. “Studio Suicide, 1980” stands apart as its own piece a little better than the other songs than the rest of them do, so it appears on this list.

Hella “Yubacore” – It’s good to have you back, Hella. Please don’t ever hire more band members ever again. Also, I don’t know if, technically, what Hella and the Russian Circles do is considered the same thing, but good god damn it was a good year for whatever it is they have in common. Anyway. I don’t know what a “Yubacore” is, but I sure enjoy listening to it.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit “Codeine” – Y’know, Jason Isbell’s records have also gotten more interesting since he left the Drive-by Truckers. I’m back and forth on Here We Rest as an album (most of my issues are with the arrangement and production. He should use less of both.), but “Codeine” is a brilliant way to present a situation lyrically, and a funny story to boot. Capturing the exact essence of watching someone tailspin away from a relationship in a real, humanizing way, Jason Isbell has probably never written a song this good. And it’s sentences like that that make me hope no DBT fans actually read this blog.

Jay-Z & Kanye West “Made in America” – Oh, god. You all know about the record and the people. This is the slower Frank Ocean one.

Jayhawks “High Water Blues” – An interesting thing about the Jayhawks reuniting with Mark Olsen (or, well, recording an album some three years after they reunited with Mark Olsen. There’s no way to get these things done quicker, guys?) is that, for all that they weren’t as good as Tomorrow the Green Grass, the Jayhawks post-Olsen material was much more consistent. With the return of another songwriter comes the return of unevenness. And yeah, we’ll never get another “Blue,” and that’s ok (I mean, really, there’s a handful of people who have ever written a song that good in history), but “High Water Blues” is exactly the sort of thing that we loved the Jayhawks for anyway. And I’ll take a lumpy record if it means the high point is this nice.

Jesu “Brave New World” – I will never, ever, for the life of me, understand what is with people. When Jesu’s Conqueror came out in 2007, it was talked up as a phenomenon, and a man who’d had a career for over half his life looked to have arrived (well, again. I mean, people do still talk about Napalm Death) as a force, and it was great, because Conqueror was a mind-blowingly good record. Ascension, from 2011, was very nearly as good (actually, it was better in places), and got almost no attention at all. Anyway, you should all pay attention to it. Jesu are an exciting band doing exciting things, and “Brave New World” is a great song.

Killer Mike featuring T.I. “Ready Set Go” – I hope that this record, and this track particularly, is good enough to dislodge Killer Mike as the guy from “The Whole World.” Yet another of the many, many things Outkast has to answer for for no reason other than their own greatness. Anyway. I also like T.I. This song is good. How many more of these do we have left?

Kontakte “The Ocean Between You and Me” – A story-song band in the Grails mold, Kontakte made a fine, fine record. “The Ocean Between You and Me” is evocative and expressive, it makes the images, it tells the story, and it does so in a languid, leisurely manner. It’s like listening to Peter Falk talk. Feel free to use that quote, guys. Peter Falk. Talking. Yep.

Low “Witches” – Man, I don’t know what acting like Al Green would even entail. Preaching? Being so. In-a love-a with yo-ou? Wearing suits? Anyway, I’m glad that the people out there are trying to do it, and that it upsets Alan Sparhawk so much, because this song was the result. Low are a remarkably consistent band in their ability to utterly floor me with their records, and this blurb is going to devolve into an enthusiastic handjob soon so let’s move on.\

David Lowery “Marigolds” – Of all the people that could’ve put out a great album in 2011, “the guy from Cracker” was probably not a suspect. But, you know, he’s always done his best work far, far away from the radar. He’s lost none of his way with a melody, or his sense of humor, and this song is a beautiful song about something I’m sure (I don’t listen to the lyrics). I’ll be it’s something nice. Anyway, 2011 was also, apparently, a good year to be an old dude. I hope this sort of thing continues for him.

Mark McGuire “Get Lost” – When A Young Person’s Guide to Marc McGuire came out earlier in 2011, dimoko asked me “why have I not been listening to Mark McGuire this whole time?” And the answer is: because he hadn’t made this record yet. Continuing the trend of making great records without significantly changing what they were doing, Mark McGuire made a record that manages to combine “ambientness” (yes, I know that the word “ambience” exists, but it doesn’t mean what I want it to, so I made up a different word) with “movement” in such a way that you actively want to go drive along a freeway at night a little too fast and watch all of the lights zoom past. It was, however, only the second-best album called Get Lost in 2011, and that’s a real shame.

Efrim Manuel Menuck “Our Lady of Parc Extension and Her Munificent Sorrows” – I’m fine with being the only person who was actually excited about this record, and this song. In fact, I probably still am. But you’re all wrong, because it’s amazing.

Mogwai “Rano Pano” – I wasn’t won over by Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. I can appreciate what they were doing, and the state of their evolution, and they seem to have won over a lot of longtime fans with the record, but I thought it sounded like something that hadn’t quite happened yet. Not a bad record, just a record that could’ve been different (and therefore slightly better). Except for “Rano Pano,”which is the kind of roaring attack that Mogwai used to be the undisputed kings of, and that finds a new way to work within their existing strengths. Also, that riff is a monster, and that’s a quality that I didn’t hear a lot of this year.

My Disco “Lil’ Joy” – We may never know why they spelled out the word “little” in the title of their album and then abbreviated it in the title of their song. They worked a lot in stabbing, pounding repetition, and “Lil’ Joy” is sort of the best example of this (with “Sun Bear” being the solid runner-up), mostly because of its amazing bass pulse, and being moved forward by its drumming.

Noveller “Alone Star” – A gal and her geetar, and the most appropriately named record (Glacial Glow) of the entire year. Noveller’s minimalism, and her compositional abilities, have grown enormously over the time she’s been making records, and “Alone Star” (and the rest of Glacial Glow) is sort of the pinnacle of that growth. A slow, expansive, beautiful record.

Frank Ocean “Novacane” – It remains to be seen how much of Odd Future I’m Not Typing the Rest of This Nonsense’s thing remains a part of the landscape, but in 2011 it was a lot of the landscape. And while a lot of it was just skillful brinksmanship (or at least a willinginess to be dumb and loud in public), these things never happen without some reason – after all, horrorcore, shock rappers and the like have existed for a long time, and they don’t always get famous. And we can’t lay all of the credit on Earl Sweatshirt. Frank Ocean, then, was a sign of them branching out. An undeniable talent who lent his voice to other people’s songs even, Frank made a pretty good record on his own, with “Novacane.” I’m pretty sure that, lyrically, this song is terrible, but the lyrics are also perfect, and the production matches the voice and the sentiment, and there’s very little else you can ask an R&B single to do. Well, that’s not true. Great R&B singles are my favorite kind of singles. So, this isn’t really one of those. It’s a pretty good one. And, y’know, it works.

Oneohtrix Point Never “Child Soldier” – As much an improvement on Returnal as Returnal was on Rifts, Replica is a moving, beautiful album that gets away from OPN’s then-regular sound, to update it by focusing it a little differently, letting off the pressure a little bit, and moving the music more propulsively. “Child Soldier” is another imagistic landscape of a song, and one that achieves its point over admirably little time.

Parts & Labor “No Notalgia” – If only every band was nice enough to go ahead and release their final statement in song form. P&L will be missed.

Psychic Paramount “N5” – Psychic Paramount and I have something in common, and it’s that we both really like This Heat. Noise Rock works best not when the bands are doing something freakish, or “free,” but when the players figure out a way to tap into exactly what it is they’re trying to express sonically. I mean, in a larger sense this is how music works. But noise rock is in a position of being, potentially, one of the freeist of free genres. The problem is, when the bands actually do play free, they generally suck, because they become more interested in weirdness or sonic novelty for its own sake, and less interest with making music that makes you want to drive a car into a tree. “N5” is a danger to trees everywhere.

Random Axe “Everybody Nobody Somebody” – Black Milk’s other great record of 2011 is Random Axe’s self-titled, a record he made with Guilty Simpson and Sean Price. Although there are some impressive guest stars (including the aforementioned Danny Brown), the record really is at its best when the three are recording on their own (and with all three of them – the solo Guilty Simpson tracks aren’t really up to the strength of the record either).

Real Estate “Wonder Years” – Man, I already used my “because I’m white” joke, didn’t I? Well, Real Estate were another in the long list of bands who made great records without changing fundamentally what they were doing, and Days is a back-to-front joy to listen to, especially on a day that’s a little too sunny, and a little too cold.

Russian Circles “Mladek” – Combining the strengths of the near-metal instrumental band and the story-song, both of which had a high water mark in 2011, “Mladek” is a violent, triumphant, anthemic piece that storms through the door and punches everyone in the room, then takes a breather and does it again. Dimoko and I wrote the story that this song is telling once. We should make it a post.

Raphael Saadiq “Radio” – You know, I do like happy music. I just don’t like much of it. Raphael Saadiq though, man. His records are among the few in the world that actually make we want to dance. Or at least want to want to dance. As it were. We’re having a mild winter here in the state that needs a train, so you can put on “Radio” and dance around and act like it’s still August and that dancing is the only sensible thing to do.

Shabazz Palaces “Swerve…The Reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)” – Another album about which pretty much everything that could be said has already been covered, Black Up was a hugely revelatory release. I hope that there follows in it’s wake a great deal of inspired souls, because I want this to be a thing that continues. Any of the songs on the record would’ve counted (it’s amazingly consistent), but “Swerve…” gets the nod both for its title (which is pretty awesome in that it makes no sense and contains two typographical errors) and the fact that it was the single, which means it was somebody in the process’ favorite. I’m nothing if not agreeable.

Skeletons “Barack Obama Blues” – Another band that tends to hover on the edge of being talked about all the time, it was hard, as a Skeletons fan, to even know that this record had happened (I bet if Ohio had a fucking train, we would’ve known because it would be easier for them to get to us), and it’s a shame, because it’s a wonderful record, and “Barack Obama Blues” is the kind of herky-jerky disjointed multi-part spazzfest that the Skeletons do well, mashing up every subgenre they could possibly like into one delicious dagwood sandwich of jittery indie rock.

Snowman “Hyena” – An exercise in simplicity and Mark E. Smith’s three r’s: repetition repetition repetition. I don’t know anything in particular about Snowman, or about “Hyena,” except that I really like it, and I’m not doing any research, so I apologize. I hope you all can forgive me.

Tape “Mirrors” – From the excellent Benefit for the Recovery in Japan from early in 2011. Tape runs hit-and-miss with me, sometimes making music that was probably a lot more fun to make than it is to listen to, and sometimes exactly hitting the mark and speaking directly to my subconscious. This one, obviously, is the latter, and manages to skip even bringing up images and pictures to just directly coloring the parts of my brain that hear it, like a musical crayon.

Tune-Yards “Gangsta” – 1) I’M NOT CAPITALIZING IT THAT WAY. 2) I have nothing to add to the consensus on Tune-Yards, particularly.

Tyler, the Creator “Yonkers” – I debated, because the real Tyler, the Creator moment of the year was his performance of “Sandwitches” on Jimmy Fallon. This song (from the almost comically overlong and uneven Goblin) wins because it’s every bit as good, and its video was great in a year when great videos weren’t really things that had happened. Tyler’s twitter was often better than his music, and it remains to be seen, as I said above, what kinds of things he’ll go on to do, but as a document of a thing that happened in 2011, “Yonkers” is remarkably effective, and succeeds because of it. It’s instantaneous, short-term music from an impulsive, of-the-moment creator.

Tom Waits “Get Lost” – Man, it sure is nice to hear a Tom Waits record that’s about songs and not just clattering weirdness. This one even approaches being kind of a rock song, which is neat, and is something he hasn’t done for a long time. This was the best record called Get Lost of 2011.

The Weeknd “Initiation” – The Weeknd appeared out of nowhere, blah blah blah anonymity blah blah blah XO blah blah blah friends with Drake blah blah blah sad drugs sad dark drugs sad sex sad. All of those things are completely beside what made The Weeknd so exciting in 2011 to me. He’s far from the first to turn depravity and abuse (of people and of drugs) into the subjects for his songs, but where previously it had been done in overgarish colors, in the Van Gogh expressionist sense, that it’s singing and making it a scary and negative thing, The Weeknd was much more like Lucien Freud, showing an admiration and respect for his own work by savoring every single detail of it. Beach House samples got him a lot of press, as did anonymity, but the best songs from House of Balloons (“Coming Down” and “Wicked Games”) were actually oppressive, lightless horrorshows that showed the way to a man with an enormous talent. Thursday, with the exception of album high-point “The Birds Part 1” increased the pressure, and the painful, gasping airlessness to the point of compression, creating a black hole of downbeat R&B. And Thursday wasn’t as attention grabbing, and people started to know about who he was, and that he was just a kid from Toronto, and it started spelling the end of The Weeknd’s “fad.” “Initiation,” then, is not the song on this list because it’s necessarily better than all of The Weeknd’s other songs, it’s the song on this list because I think it shows, undeniably, what The Weeknd are capable of. An off-kilter, pitch-shifted constantly-modulating nightmare story of a drugged-out kidnapping, “Initiation” turned out to be the back part of a trio of songs from Echoes of Silence, probably the strongest of the three mixtapes, and no less nightmarish in context. Anchored by his incredible voice, “Initiation” is as much a defining statement of a year of tremendous output by an exciting newcomer as it is the centerpiece of a fantastic album.

Wild Flag “Glass Tambourine” – You aren’t listening to these in order, right? After The Weeknd’s painful, misogynist innovation, we have Wild Flag, proving that innovation and excitement don’t always have to come from novelty. Everyone knew who they were, and likely what they were going to do, before they even did it, and even in that environment, they put together a great, inspiring record given nothing more than the elements they were always using.

Yuck “Coconut Bible” – I want to dislike the crop of bands that happened in the early part of the year that were trying to bring back the early-nineties indie sound, primarily because I don’t even like a lot of the bands they’re aping. I haven’t heard all of Yuck’s album, but “Coconut Bible” is almost impossible for me not to like despite itself. Fair play to you people.

On Van Halen

On Van Halen

So, for the first time in thirty years1 Van Halen have made a record with their original and, I shouldn’t even have to say, best lead singer2. My first impulse was to finally get around to writing the second “Who the Fuck Listens to This” on the subject, but then it occurred to me that, like, I the fuck was listening to it, and then I realized that I’m kind-of obsessed with Van Halen.

Oh, I don’t like them. I’ve never bought any of their records. I think when I was young, and they weren’t the force for overplayed, overbaked rock radio nonsense that I would later see them as, I thought they were vaguely cool. The problem, in fact, is that I don’t like them. A number of years ago, some wag for some magazine3 wrote a funny piece reimagining a world in which The Replacements got to be as big as Jesus, and Van Halen were a scrappy, drunken underdog band. It stuck in my brain because it makes perfect sense.

When I talk about things I admire in a rock band (a self-contained vision, a willingness to do new and different things with the elements of which the band is composed, etc.), there isn’t a one that doesn’t also apply to Van Halen. They have a jumping, yowling frontman in the Accepted-Hard-Rock-James-Brown-Mode, they have an appropriately-adventurous guitar player who invented new ways to get sound out of his instrument4, they have, most importantly (for me in a rock-music context , anyway), a virtuosic drummer. They’ve been willing to completely change their sound – adding synthesizers to your rock band in the anti-synth early eighties is a pretty gutsy move, as was replacing one of the most recognizable and…um…frontmaniest frontmen in rock history and then retooling the way you played to accommodate him5.

It’s that second bit that seems, to me, to be an extra-shining example of what I suppose one could call integrity: AC/DC replaced their singer, too, and with a singer in a very different style to boot, but they basically just found a guy who already fit what they were doing. And perhaps a more apt comparison is Genesis, who also replaced a dynamic, show-centering frontman with a kind-of boring guy who looked like a dad and changed around him. But where Genesis under Phil Collins basically just took the most radio-friendly and salable aspects of their band and churned out albums like Amish people churn out butter6 Van Halen became a little more song-oriented, and toned down the theatrics, thereby theoretically making themselves less salable, since the theatrics, when Sammy Hagar joined the band, were the entire point of the band.

They continued through a process of evolution, not unlike, say U2, a band that gets a great deal of hate, but no corresponding lack of critical respect. They changed the way they played their instruments, and the way they interacted with each other as a band, a number of times over the course of a long, long career. And maybe the problem is that they have no followers (nobody since about 1990 has ever wanted to sound like Van Halen, except for that time when Stephen Malkmus played “Eruption” on David Letterman), and maybe the problem is that they’re so famous that people write them off.

Or maybe the problem is that they’re fucking terrible7. They are at some point in the process of the press for releasing their first album with DLR in thirty years or whatever, and the video for “Tattoo” (which is not, against all reason, a cover of The Who’s song, or even Jordin Sparks’) is currently making the rounds and, hey, it sucks on toast. I mean, Eddie Van Halen still plays guitar like that, it’s true. Good for him. And there’s David Lee Roth, dancing around like a drunken uncle. And you know, I listened to it. And I’ll listen to their album when it comes out.

Because I have a problem.

SOME HOUSECLEANING THINGS: dimoko and I have agreed that we both need to post more. I, specifically, need to post about things that aren’t records, and, more pressingly, that aren’t about records that I hate. To that end, my Approved Mix of the Best Things in 2011 will go up sometime in the very near future, and I’ll make some posts outlining what it is I’m trying to do here. I have no idea what dimoko’s intentions are, but I would imagine they involve telling more jokes and ruminating less on Van Halen, because that’s the kind of guy he is.

1or whatever

2 who was also a paramedic for a spell, and therefore knows all of the risks of driving fifty-five. Between him and Mike Watt, we should all be pretty well over speeding as a force for cool.

3 while I’m pretty sure this blog can count its readers without running out of fingers, if you are the person who wrote it and you’re mad at me for not mentioning you, please email me and I’ll fix this sentence to read “in a piece written by _______ that appeared in _______ , which I didn’t know because I was too busy demanding that people put their balls on my face”

4 The fact that each and every one of those sounds is super-annoying notwithstanding.

5 I realize that nobody likes Gary Cherone, but then they did it again!

6 deliciously

7 at the same time, I’m only human: “Panama,” “Running With the Devil,” their covers of “You Really Got Me” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” and a version of “Hot For Teacher” that’s, say, half as long (which probably doesn’t exist), are all valuable contributions to the body of American Music. Can’t nobody take that away from them*

* no I did not forget “Jamie’s Cryin’,” you people are sick.