23 December 2002

before i wrap up for the year, i leave you with a christmas mix i made that focuses on original xmas songs penned after 1958. that year serves as ground zero as it saw the release of "run rudolph run" by chuck berry, a ground zero unto himself, which announced rock's entry into the holiday fray.
1. chipmunks with david seville, "the chipmunk song"
2. stevie wonder, "what christmas means to me"
3. saint etienne, 'i was born on christmas day"
4. elton john, "step into christmas"
5. bing crosby & david bowie, "little drummer boy/peace on earth"
6. waitresses, "christmas wrapping"
7. beach boys, "little saint nick"
8. britney spears, "my only wish (this year)"
9. pogues ft. kirsty maccoll, "fairytale of new york"
10. john prine, "christmas in prison"
11. charles brown, "please come home for christmas"
12. james brown, "sweet little baby boy"
13. stevie wonder, "someday at christmas"
14. ramones, "merry christmas (i don't want to fight tonight)"
15. chuck berry, "run rudolph run"
16. low, "just like christmas"
17. darlene love, "christmas (baby, please come home)"
18. wham!, "last christmas"
19. donny hathaway, "this christmas"
20. vince guaraldi trio, "linus and lucy"
21. burt bacharach, "the bell that couldn't jingle"
22. james brown, "go power at christmas time"
23. clarence carter, "back door santa"
24. run-dmc, "christmas in hollis"
25. slade, "merry xmas everybody"

happy holidays!
apologies to those of you who were hotly anticipating the number one single on saturday. that very morning, i slammed my right index finger in my car door and thus had a harder time than usual writing. then again, if you visit this site often enough to be looking forward to such a thing, you probably also have a good idea of what that pick would be. and so...

1. andrew w.k., "party hard"
i was watching one of the episodes of vh1's i love the 80s and under discussion was the key-tar, that very 80s combination of guitar and keyboard. dave mustaine came on, dismissed it (obviously), but he also dismissed the ideas of keyboards in rock, which is a fairly common attitude unfortunately, and one that negates the influence of little richard, johnnie johnson, and jerry lee lewis, to name only a few, on the history of rock 'n' roll. andrew w.k. isn't of the same mind -- to say the least -- and it's one of a handful of the reasons why he is maligned. however, andrew w.k. is rock 'n' roll, in a way that no other band or artist today can lay claim to. "party hard" is "tutti frutti" and "let's spend the night together" and "louie louie" and "blitzkrieg bop"; not "a day in the life" or ok computer or even "you know you're right." its appeal, in true nuggets fashion, lies in its ability to make you forget you have a brain for 3:04; its creed: "life is to be lived and not thought about," and also: "pleasure is never guilty." "meaning," as far as awk is concerned, is not found within poetic couplets but in the immediacy of sound: the electric surge that coarses through your veins, the sudden rush of blood to yr skull. he's wagner, penniman, and steinman wrapped up in one: volume, grandiosity, absurdity. he speaks in CAPS LOCK. he smashed his face with a brick because...well, why the hell not? he's elvis in high tops, our stupid messiah, and unlike the beatles or velvets, he's not why people form bands: he's why we listen to music.

20 December 2002

2. eminem, "lose yourself"
i didn't want to put "lose yourself" this high but eminem was implacable; that he's not in the top spot is only because he was shouted down by the artist at number one. "lose yourself" is inexorable and obstreperous; people who didn't like eminem up to this point -- my nephews, for two -- are caught up in it, and that's in no small part due to the use of rock dynamics. when i first heard it, i mistakenly lumped it in with "cleanin' out my closet" and it wasn't until i saw 8 mile that it finally set in and made sense. one of eminem's rare gifts is that he brings real-life people into his rhymes -- his mother, his ex-wife, his daughter -- and makes them interesting if only be association. (even benzino.) with "lose yourself," he draws the audience in, regardless of age or race, and refuses to let them go. greil marcus has called it a career-defining hit. it's amazing that, with all of the huge, epochal hits eminem has behind him, marcus could make such a claim; and it seems ridiculous that he could compare it to "like a rolling stone" or "gimme shelter." but most amazing of all though is that he's right on all accounts.

19 December 2002

3. missy elliott, "work it"
musically, "work it" (and under construction) offer big, honking nods to the old school. this is, of course, a new development since missy and timbaland have always seemed to be forward-thinkers. as i think someone else may have said, we expect missy singles to create new subgenres of music, but here instead she and tim are content to revitalize the old school and introduce not just the sound (cf. "grindin'" and its updating of schoolly d.) but the look and the culture. in a war-torn, materialistic hip-hop world, missy is bringing it stylistically and sonically back to the simpler days. missy herself has always been a throwback, particularly to the pre-rakim days of rap when rhymes were rarely metaphorical (or metaphysical) or political. at the beginning of her career, she was maligned by purists for lines like "beep beep who got the keys to the jeep," much the way an andrew w.k., himself redolent of an earlier time (and i don't mean the 80s), catches flak in a post-kurt cobain world. for his part, timbaland foregos the role of traditional hip-hop producer (a.k.a. beat-maker) to instead play the gil evans to her miles, the nelson riddle to her sinatra. the track is propulsive and in a state of perpetual motion, but it always allows missy to speak, to sing, to just plain bug-out. missy and tim press rewind, take it back one time, and get us to do the same.

18 December 2002

4. bruce springsteen, "the rising"
the most classic(al) evocation of the springsteen legend since..."badlands," i'd say, and it's due in large part to the e street band who sound mythic themselves here. quiet verse, chorus with thrumming bass, drum fill, full band on second verse, chorus, la la las, guitar solo, bridge, quiet extended verse, slow build, full band on chorus, la la las. like "the scientist," it sounds overly calculated on paper but that's because max weinberg's drums and bruce's wailing guitar don't translate well to paper and ink. that "the rising"is about a 9/11 rescue worker is no longer news, but what still surprises me is how the bridge -- with the "faces gone black" and "eyes burning bright" -- still affects me so. like many songs within his catalog, "the rising" is a celebration of a life even as it was written in the shadow of death. it's a reminder that the best way to honor those who died that day is to live unafraid; that despite the events of that tragic morning, it's still no sin to be glad you're alive.

17 December 2002

5. conway, "lisa's got hives"
it's arguable that the worst tracks on the recent tlc and missy albums were the treacly tributes to left eye. when intimate relationships are involved, sadness is the first reaction to a death. as fans, though, without the sense of personal loss, i think we tend to want a celebration of that lost life. the best thing that could be done is to find a way to release this commercially, a la "freak like me." it represents lisa at her best (the hives, too) -- vibrant and excited. what's more, it flat-out rocks; as mike pointed out, it's the only rap-rock that has ever sounded fully convincing, and the only bootleg i've heard that surpasses the originals that comprise it. i don't think i'm misstating the case to say that the interest in bootlegs has waned. a few more numbers like this -- where the artist is not trying to be snarky or cheeky or, worse, obvious, but strictly attempting to entertain -- should reverse that trend.
attention must be paid. i really need to apologize for not linking to the church of me before today. it is maintained by ilxor don marcello carlin, and if you're familiar with him i don't need to tell you that it is absolutely required reading. right now, he's working on his favorite films of the year (which i really can't do until i see the two towers, about schmidt, gangs of new york, and the hours), compilations, and he does me a great service by reviewing the new common record, electric circus (verdict: i must buy it.) so go there now; don't waste your time here!

16 December 2002

6. coldplay, "the scientist"
science: aside from one other number released this year -- on its way in this here countdown -- "the scientist" is the most meticulously crafted single of the year. the pieces are carefully measured and combined with cold precision: spare piano, melody, chorus, spare piano, full band, melody, chorus, break, wordless falsetto, coda, music drops out, voice. magic: despite its calculated origin, it works. it is reducible; it can be dissected and its parts analyzed, but its essence escapes the eye and entangles the heart. i shouldn't like this and yet it strikes the same chords as peak u2; it has the same ability to make me feel blithely blissful. some things science just can't explain.
as you may know, the way vh1 has been filling the gaps between commercials has been dubious at best. the rerun show reruns? all access: booty call -- an analysis of the asses of pop-stars? one meaningless awards show after another?but the most treacly, unbearable "show" they've attempted to foist upon an indifferent public to date has to be jen loves ben. it's like j-lo's "dear ben"...only extended into an HOUR-LONG TELEVISION SHOW. i ask you: how bad could liza's reality show have really been? i mean, really?

15 December 2002

7. streets, "weak become heroes"
in walker percy's novel, the moviegoer, binx bolling performs what he calls "repetitions," evocations of past events. he'll go to a film he saw ten years ago and, in the darkness of an empty theater, reflect on how his life has changed since then. mike skinner does the same thing, only his memory is stirred by hearing a certain song, he becomes mesmerized by piano notes. and with good reason: this might be the most pristine keyboard sound i've ever heard on a record; a coruscating gold. he notes that his life has had its ups and downs but the song remains the same. memory fades, but the same piano loops over and over and over...

14 December 2002

8. electric six ft. jack white, "danger! high voltage!"
jack white may want to rethink his group's dynamic because he sounds really great with a bassline, even if that bassline may lead the listener into singing, "you and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals..." or maybe it's just me. best disco-metal single since "i was made for lovin' you."

13 December 2002

9. hives, "hate to say i told you so"
after the 1,000th listen, one starts to think that these guys are too intelligent to be making this music. not that higher aims are more admirable necessarily, but that it's really too studied to work as well as it should. sure, iggy's bright but in a brilliant beast kinda way, not in the snarky, wink-wink howlin' pelle fashion. it is difficult to interface with both this song and this band unless you try to obviate the need to by shouting along and, in which case, are the words you're shouting registering? and doesn't it seem a bit wrong? i'm left with the impression that behind the histrionics they're rather hollow, intentionally so, like a bunch of stuffed matching suits. but, oh, that riff. best walking song of the year.

12 December 2002

10. kylie minogue, "come into my world (fischerspooner remix)"
an argument could be made -- rather easily -- for the inclusion of "can't get you out of my head," but i was walking around, going "la la la, la la la laaa la, la la la, la la la laaa la" some months before that single broke into the billboard hot 100 in january 2002. besides, i've had enough of kylie and her hooks having their way with me; now, i'd rather listen to someone get their hooks in her...and who would've figured that she and fischerspooner would hit it off so well? (perhaps she held mssrs. fischer and spooner rapt with stories of what the 80s were really like.) what made "can't get you out of my head" was kylie, her kittenish sexuality and her appearance in the video. by contrast, "come into my world" works not because of her physical presence or any of her attributes, but simply because it is kylie and that fischerspooner have taken her vocals and have inserted behind her a throbbing bassline. they press a button and she pants out of sexual exhaustion, and once they feel she's had enough, they digitally manipulate her into perpetual orgasm. like early duran duran videos, a fischerspooner touchstone, it is pure male fantasy but also aural ecstasy.

11 December 2002

11. clipse, "grindin'"
what "grindin'" does, more than any other record i've heard this year, including andrew w.k., is make me acutely aware of just how white i am.
thomas has begun his top 50 of the year. and given the fact that he compiled one of my favorite singles of the 90s lists, i'm very interested in seeing how it all turns out.

now, in shitty lists news, spin has named its tops for the year...and it's like it's 2001 all over again! in a year most notable for julian injuring his knee and missing a lot of gigs, the strokes were named band of the year. yes, it's all very last year but, oh, it continues. spin's promo copy must've gotten mislaid or lost under a pile of strokes press releases because white blood cells (rel. jul. 3, 2001) is their album of the year. maybe they just didn't get around to buying it until it was re-released with a bonus dvd. no, if that were the case, is this it would've taken top prize. for single of the year, they manage to avoid the anachronisms, but bad taste is far trickier to elude. one had a 66.67% chance of picking a good eminem single, and yet spin still somehow managed to choose "cleaning out my closet" as the year's best. well, maybe next year "lose yourself" or "without me" will be honored...unless white blood cells is still eligible.

10 December 2002

12. space cowboy, "die 4 u"
now herre's a summer hit that translates well to the winter months. prince's sentiment is, of course, warm but the sound, particularly that subtle synth french horn, was frigid; space cowboy only emphasizes that aspect with the antiquated synths he employs: one can actually hear the dust in between the notes, redolent of drafty attics. i think i made the link between prince and electro elsewhere -- the romantic fatalism, the electronics, all of the female singers sounding like wendy & lisa at the opening of "computer blue." it is ultimately they who are the most successful inheritors of his legacy. space cowboy even one-ups the master by realizing that the repetition of the bridge only makes the song better. true, the use of dynamics -- not to mention the truncation of the title (space cowboy apparently has no interest in self-sacrifice) -- lessens the message but these electro-types really don't mean it; it's all ironic, right? or do they?
from yesterday's times, my obituary.

09 December 2002

i saw adaptation earlier today. and once i've organized my thoughts, i'll likely say something about it. what i can say with certainty right now is that it contains the best deconstructionist joke i've ever heard.
13. yeah yeah yeahs, "bang"
"machine" was officially a single; "bang" is just the first track on their debut ep. and it doesn't even serve as the title of the ep. someone, please, assist me here; let me know the legality -- and not the discretion -- of such a move. why would i place myself in such a moral quandary when "machine" is so readily available and easy on the conscience? like "hot in herre," "bang" is another triumph of personality, this time for karen o., that siouxsie sioux in debbie harry's clothes. as she delivers the lines, "bang bang bang, the bigger, the better" over the break, she elevates herself quite knowingly to the status of greatest phone sex operator ever. and it sounds like "cold sweat" without the sexual angst (and bassline!) she dismisses a lover coolly -- "as a fuck, son, you suck" -- and, like tweet, proves that sisters are indeed doing it for themselves.
re: the good mr. finney's comments: a) it's not number 2 because it's my list. actually, i think i'm way too much of a synesthete to enjoy a warm weather song in the winter. or just chalk it up to hemispheric differences. b) we're both wrong. i wouldn't say it's generic because the beat isn't insistent enough and the keyboard aren't chirpy. i also disagree with myself: it's not mediocre. how about uncharacteristically muted? i'm not sure how the process usually goes, but i get the sense that the neptunes make the beat and the artist writes a song. "hot in herre" strikes me as opposite; the beat was made-to-order because i can't think of another neptunes production where the keybs are so humid (cf. kool & the gang's "too hot.") unlike, say, "pass the courvoisier," "hot in herre" isn't about pharrell -- it's a platform for the artist. now, with so much personality to burn, when will nelly release his double album?

08 December 2002

14. nelly, "hot in herre"
fact: "hot in herre" is a lot more fun when listened to with a group than by one's self.
fact: there wasn't a more quotable single released this year. for example: "i was like, 'good gracious ass is bodacious'"; "me and the rest of my heathens"; "get on up on the dancefloor, give that man what he askin' for"; "cos i feel like bustin' loose and i feel like touchin' you"; "'girl, i think my butt gettin' big'"; "unless you gon' do it"; et. al.
fact: nelly says, "i've got a friend with a pole in the basement," not, "i've got a friend with a phone in the basement." it really makes a lot more sense that way.
fact: "hot in herre" is a rather mediocre neptunes production and, similar to missy's "work it," it represents a triumph of the artist's considerable personality.
fact: it's fucking cold in her(r)e; reason why this doesn't make the top 10.
best piece of sports commentary in many a moon. from larry merchant on hbo, critiquing jameel mccline's reluctance to hit wladimir klitschko in their wbo heavyweight title fight last night:
"mccline acts as if attacking klitschko was like attacking russia in winter."

07 December 2002

15. flaming lips, "do you realize??"
on paper, "do you realize??" is a preposterous conceit; i don't think that even bono in a room full of aids-stricken orphans feels this empathetic. listening to it, however, is an altogether different experience. when wayne coyne sings, "do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" i sit and listen and say, "you know, i didn't realize that"; such is the feeling of revelation. appeals to the part of me that watches the wizard of oz and is held captive by childlike awe; and not the part that comments on how, even in her films, gay men were inexorably drawn to judy garland. "do you realize??" is the lips' latest attempt at crossbreeding "over the rainbow" and "what a wonderful world"-- both of which they've covered -- with puppy dogs and sunshine. it's also their most effective, and affecting.

06 December 2002

16. rapture, "house of jealous lovers"
2002: the year the punks remembered how to dance, and it was dfa who jogged their memories. (technically 2001, i guess, but let's hear it for zeitgeist-defining re-releases!)
why this isn't higher: apparently the punks have forgotten how to edit judiciously; brevity formerly being one of their strong points. which is a too-clever way of saying: it doesn't justify its length.

05 December 2002

17. n.o.r.e. ft. pharrell, "nothin'"
listening to "nothin'" with its female vocals an ostensible snatch from the smurfs' theme song, i'm reminded of biggie rhyming over a gay anthem on "mo' money mo problems." unlike the falsetto on "grindin'," this juxtaposition of the menacing and the innocent isn't chilling: "nothin'" is confrontational where "grindin'" is nonchalant, and there's something more elementally frightening about someone who whistles as he decides how to do you harm. still, you can dance to "nothin'."

also: the neptunes foray into eastern music illuminates the difference between them and timbaland: tim is about the means; the neptunes are about the sound (particularly the melody).
can anyone let me know if the new shania twain album is any good? what little i've sampled seems encouraging; i want to know if i should put it on my christmas list.
overheard from the t.v., an ad for the new rob schneider vehicle, the hot chick:
"from some of the guys who brought you deuce bigelow and the animal..."

are there people out there with worse track records and yet are allowed to continue making films? i mean, sure, tomcats and sorority boys are really bad, but at least i can take comfort in knowing that "some of the guys" who perpetrated those films will be refused work from now on. (right?)

and! "some of the guys"? does this mean it's going to be better...or worse? did they lose the dead weight or did the one with sense -- and a conscience -- opt-out?

04 December 2002

18. tweet, "oops (oh my)"
so why are female masturbation songs so damn sexy when distaff versions are so damn desperate? is this a "why do you guys like watching two chix make out?"-type question: guys find it ineffably appealing and females won't betray their sex and say otherwise? is it because the female orgasm is a mystery? or is it because female masturbation songs typically sound like this -- spiked with orgasmic sounds and sighs, icy cool like a breath freshener commercial, totally in control as if it were her choice -- and male masturbation songs sound like...i dunno, any band whose members wear tight t-shirts and wear countenances that are frequently fraught with guilt and despair. the ladies aren't saying, and that's okay, as long as they keep singing.
the adams family were on the family feud today but that was only the third most amazing thing about today's show. second was the fact that richard "please don't call me 'al'" karn didn't riff on the name. most impressive, in a runaway: one of the questions put to a hundred people was "name ways someone from a foreign country can prove their patriotism." both families were stumped. they got the top two answers: fly a flag and learn the language. the rest, in order: vote, listen to springsteen, and buy american. forget gallup or eagleton, family feud has their finger on the pulse of america like no else out there. immigrants, illegal and otherwise, take note -- and fear!

03 December 2002

19. queens of the stone age, "no one knows"
(note to self: like band more; masculinity at stake.) i never thought i'd call qotsa "jaunty" but here we are. backing vocals, polite drum fills, and josh homme's falsetto all combine to make my head bob side-to-side in the same effeminate fashion actuated by "walking on sunshine." then, the dam breaks, and the flood pours forth: the chorus grabs one by the testicles (or the vulva, depending) and you're left trying to decide whether you want to play air drums or air guitar. since you can't pogo and play the drums, my decision is made for me. "a day in life" by those pussies the beatles occupies the break and things go a little prog before we're led back to beginning. once again i coo along with josh, grin, bob my head, and hope that no one's been watching me.

02 December 2002

nas pegged as sell-out by entertainment weekly. (italics denote shock; are not grammatical.)
also, i'm going to begin a countdown of my twenty favorite singles from this year. one should appear daily. oh, and look at that! there's number 20.
20. busta rhymes ft. p. diddy & pharrell, "pass the courvoisier, pt. ii"
the beatles went from "she loves you" to "strawberry fields forever" in four years; hip-hop has gone from sipping on gin and juice to passing the courvoisier in nine: clearly, refinement has been a long time coming. not only is the booze more expensive, but so is the production help. i don't think i'd mind a pharrell solo album if he played the foil to established artists a la timbaland, but his ego is so big now -- talk about "his" music -- that i doubt it'd be possible. diddy's made a living talking over other peoples' records and his performance here is the best use of a diddy in a supporting role since "all about the benjamin." for his part, busta does the "rawr rawr" bit that we've loved for years now. and as the drinks are passed and the hoes assessed, a mariachi band continues to play -- forcefully but with a minimum of exertion.
heigh-ho, yours truly here. apologize for the absence: thanksgiving brought visiting relatives and parties and dinners. beyond that, i also had some school work to. you probably won't read about narrative technique in bleak house and daniel deronda, and you probably won't read about an essay on war and my grandfather, but here it is anyway.