And while I’m thinking of it, my appearance in an Abu Dhabi newspaper

No, really. It was an article on the Grammys. Had almost forgotten I did this — thanks, Stephen Dalton! (Friendly dude.)

The bit I’m in:

During its first 40 years, the Academy failed to acknowledge milestone recordings by Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley and other legends. Instead, they favoured light entertainers and family-friendly crooners, many now long forgotten. The fabled Motown label won just one Grammy during its entire 1960s heyday. Major musical movements such as hip-hop and grunge took years to register on the NARAS radar.

“It’s no surprise that there’s a certain tendency towards middle-of-the-road consensus,” says Ned Raggett, an LA-based music critic, author and blogger. “A lot of it boils down to the age of the voters combined with a desire to seem somehow reasonably of its time but unable to fully come to grips with it. Ultimately I think it’s a human tendency to stick with the tried and true, and I certainly can’t rule myself out from that.”

My latest OC Weekly article on Robedoor

Great band, Robedoor. Looking forward to the show next week; in the meantime, here’s my article on them. A selection:

When it comes to performance, some acts carry on as if the audience isn’t there—consider Miles Davis and his notorious instances of facing away from the crowds who flocked to his shows—or disappear fully into their staging. LA experimentalists Robedoor went a step further. Two years ago at the Bottling Smoke festival, they played in the middle of a club floor inside what appeared to be a tent.

“We were always hugely bored by watching dudes twiddle knobs in front of big speakers,” says guitarist/vocalist Britt Brown. “So early on, we decided we might as well amplify the ‘non-spectacle’ aspect of drone music into total visual murk and mystery. For the first two to three years, we nearly always performed in our Stonehenge amplifier arrangement with a dark tarp draped over it all. We liked the energy it gave to the proceedings inside, even more ritualistic and cult-y and cut off from the world—and the fact that spectators were spared having to stare at two dudes crouched on the ground touching FX pedals and volume knobs.”

So there was this speech tonight

And a rebuttal and all that. But there’s no need to talk about that right this second, really.

Still, I am starting to feel a little more ready to poke my nose back into a little more regular political reflection, at least openly through the blog. I’ve had a couple of posts back in January but most everything since then has been on the level of general comments over at Balloon Juice and a couple of other spots, or private conversations. That’s all I felt I had to contribute at the time, really — a further stepping away from the obsessive tracking and all that, partially so I could concentrate on work, partially because I felt I just needed a little space in my head on the subject.

I’m pretty sure I muttered something about this before, but if not — I think part of the reason why I was so pleased with the election in November was the sense that while there will always be surprises and potential mistakes, I got the sense that Obama was deliberative rather than impulsive, an important thing. It’s not that impulse is always bad, nor deliberateness always good — still, I’d rather have someone deliberative in the role of president, whether as tone-setter or as decision-maker.

It is of course important to note that so much of what we ‘see’ in the role of the person in the presidency is a very mere perception, shaped in a mass media setting (and Twitter and YouTube and all that ARE mass media, they just aren’t always given the term that is deserved). For me to claim that Obama is deliberate is false; rather, my sense is that he is, a combination of distanced observation and recognition of a cultivated image. In combination with a variety of stances and beliefs that resonated with me far beyond anything McCain and crew could offer, little surprise that I was content enough with his victory. The proof would ultimately be in the pudding.

And so far? Well there’s all sorts of metaphors and comparisons being offered out there, positive and negative and whatever, but personally I think just all boils down to this for me — he still seems incredibly deliberate after a month in the job, and he plays for a very long game. This thrills some, frightens others (the paranoid of course assume he’s out to destroy the country, but the paranoid always assume someone’s out to destroy the country, and I’m tired of their willful disconnection — not so much from reality as from hope, since they run solely on fear).

What playing for the long game means for me is this, though — thinking about overall goals, testing out ideas, refining processes, acknowledging mistakes, getting called out by both friends and enemies as a way to see those mistakes and to fix them, sometimes getting overtaken by events, sometimes being totally able to dictate them. Furthermore, it’s one thing to play a long game just to win for oneself — it’s another play to win to benefit all, even if one doesn’t reap the full benefits.

Now, some people, I’ve noticed, take the measure of these kind of comments and assume that somehow this means a certain worshipful faith in Obama, like he is an instant solution just by existing. Nonsense, of course — I can’t speak for others, but I’m not into kowtowing. I just want the dude to do the job he was elected to do, and to speak about it frankly and clearly. Generalities are fine enough in certain contexts, specifics will be needed at other points, and realizing that of course it’s not just him but all those who work for him, I expect those people to provide those specifics too.

And so the speech and the rebuttal? A deliberate president faced off against a dullard governor. Is it any wonder that right now — allowing for the fact that perfection is impossible — I’m pretty content?

Roll on, whatever is next. Not ‘bring it on’ — roll on. It will be dealt with deliberately, and we’ll be the better for it. Political Blogger Alliance

Some happy news to pass on about Carl Wilson

It already made the rounds that the other night at a certain big awards ceremony James Franco mentioned reading Carl’s excellent entry in the 33 1/3 series on Celine Dion. Well, somebody noticed somewhere because Carl just updated his Facebook status about fifteen minutes back:

Carl Wilson is almost scared to say it aloud, but Carl’s friends might want to watch the Colbert Report on Wed, March 4.

Amazing! And well deserved, of course. 🙂 His excellent blog Zoilus is always worth checking out.

(A slight bit of shameless piggybacking on my part to note something I keep forgetting to mention — my own proposal for the series has made the shortlist, but that is of course no guarantee at all of making the final cut. Very flattering to have made it this far, though!)

Vapor trails in a late February morning

The switch to Daylight Savings will actually prevent shots like these for a little while but that’s why I’m snapping them now as I can.

Soon after this I snapped two others around campus for a bit of a dawn triptych, kinda:

Sun hitting Aldrich Hall

Godray action


(And no, not a McLaughlin Group reference.)

This seems to be a day for talking about music for me, but there’s a good reason for it thanks to one of my all time favorite ever groups Depeche Mode spending yesterday announcing tour dates and details about their new album Sounds of the Universe and then today premiering their new single “Wrong” via a German award show appearance — and god bless the Internet since this means we can all see it at once, and more importantly, hear it:

Lord, what a band. More importantly to my ears, this is the first lead single in quite this strident vein in a long time from them, and the arrangement feels very Black Celebration, rewired and reworked. The August shows now seem too far away…

Not a list of 15 albums but still something

If you’ve been on Facebook at all you’ve been part of the whole ’25 random things’/’15 core albums’/etc. wave that’s been going around for a couple of months, either as a writer or as someone tagged in someone else’s notes. That latter situation has been the case with me now for a while and I’ll admit, it’s been a little awkward for me. I’d received one or two private notes along the lines of ‘hey but I really want to see what albums you’d list’ and, sure, it’s flattering.

But as I mentioned in my end-of-year ballot essay submitted to the Village Voice, I’m just not really in a list-making mood at all anymore. There is something of the sense of overall willful rejection about my belief, a casting-off of something constricting that at one point I would have participated with full gusto in, if not anticipated. At the same time, I’d already long established certain key touchstones in my musical life and talked about them here and there — this post, one of the first I made on the blog, quotes a post from the Usenet days which I think serves as a good a chart of where I ended up as anything else without necessarily being a full explication of where I’m at these days. (For instance, thanks in large part to good folks like John D. and Dan raving about his work, I’m finally dipping my toe into Mahler more thoroughly than I had before — even though I had the CDs sitting around for about two years. Long story.)

Still — and maybe thinking about Rickey’s passing and how he was a generous and constant commentator on the music he loved and loved sharing has something to do with it — there’s something about marking standards that can be of use, at least in self-articulation and consideration. So, unordered but with brief explanations, what’s here is not a list of the most important albums in my life or the most essential necessarily but rather some of a number of albums that I could describe as fallbacks — something I put on where I need to hear something, anything, but I’m not sure what.

By default, these are albums as comfort food — they don’t challenge or surprise and as such they have run the risk of simply filling up time between silences and new listens and whatever else may happen. The temptation to use them as crutches has to be fought against — but I would never reject them, not now and not after so many years.

Lull, Cold Summer

I have a slight advantage here in that I’ve already spoken about this album in detail, but that was ten years ago as part of the 136 list — here’s my entry, which I’m going to reread only after writing a bit here. While not the only Lull album, and only one of heaven knows how many albums Mick Harris has created over time, this is the one that I think most fully signposted my love of ambient drone as such, something less of a template for where the form would go as it was a personal sense of it honing in on and extending my own necessity for the form — I can’t not listen to things like this, if you like. But unlike the volcanic impact of MBV and “Soon,” this is something that came to the fore quietly, one of many things picked up in 1994 or so as part of a wash of albums tagged as ‘ambient’ or ‘isolationist’ or what have you.

This, however, was the one that stuck with me, that I found myself always going back, very often for the simple reasons alluded to above — “I need something, I don’t want or need it to be too intrusive, what shall it be?” A functional music, then, something I could put on for an hour and twenty minutes that would always comfortably be there filling up the room while I typed or read or thought. As a self-conscious antithesis to so much of what Harris had done up until he started working under the label, and as an antithesis to so much of what had gotten me into music to start with — pop hook immediacy, the impact of a lyrical hook, the visual charisma of a performer — it holds, I think, much more of a sway over me than I might fully admit.

(And now in rereading my 136 entry there, I smile at the various stylistic quirks, as ever, but sympathize with the tone and intent of that person ten years back, whoever he was.)

The Cure, Faith

Interesting, really. I’m honestly not sure if this is the album I listened to most often by them or not. It’s actually been something of a while since I gave it a proper listen. But more than anything else by them, and more than anything else by almost any other artist, this was the album I used to fall asleep.

Which sounds strange, almost insulting, but isn’t meant to be. Without turning this into a lengthy discussion of Cure history, Faith occupies an unusual sonic place for the band that they’ve never quite returned to — only their third album, and almost the complete opposite of the one that followed it, the fill-most-every-corner-with-ugly/beautiful-sound Pornography, Faith relies in starkness and understatement, suggesting rather than imposing. Its most concrete impact might in the words and images Robert Smith puts forward, but even in settings where they receive a focused clarity they sound frozen in distant spotlights. The one great exception to this, thanks to its brittle, trebly edge, is “Doubt,” but I always thought it interesting that this was the one song the band never performed live at the time — it throws the rest of the album into sharp relief.

And that rest of the album is a perfect nighttime listen — for a while there I would throw it on repeat and just let it play at subliminal volume throughout the night. Few albums have such a sense of immediate presence at near-inaudible levels; on a technical level it’s a credit to the band and their producer/engineer at the time, Mike Hedges. It provides a tactile connection, acts as an illustration of the dictum that less can be more — the drums still strong, almost shocking, the bass a blunt undertow, the guitar a suggestive wraith.

Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth

I’m a little amused here to find out that what I had to say about this album two years ago when the fancy reissue of it came out has gone down the memory hole — for some reason the links to it in the OC Weekly archive persistently go to my review for the Kurt Cobain documentary film soundtrack About a Son instead. But perhaps that’s appropriate, to give some fresh thoughts about this remarkable one-off of an album (setting aside the recentish reunion, at least).

One thing I remember saying about Colossal Youth is how it seems to change upon relistening, each time — at some points it is a complete inversion of rock as macho explosion of energy, instead a quiet, minimal collection of observational songs led by a cheap rhythm machine and guitars meant to recall knitting, as one of the Moxham brothers recalled it. At other points, everything seems to have a fierce, unbearable tension — so tightly wound it could in fact rip open but never once does.

Calling Colossal Youth indie-pop or post-punk or whatever doesn’t merely show up the limitations of genre names, it shunts this remarkable record to the side far too firmly, a commercial success in the UK upon release, something that constantly rewards a relisten just for its delicacy of details, for its embrace of the hook and the melody and the beat, for its belief and the band’s belief in the power of observing and reflecting on the mundane.

Other albums could be named but these were the three that most immediately leapt to mind. In looking at them as a group there’s a certain uniformity that suggests built-in predispositions, or biases — all UK outfits, all relatively ‘unsplashy’ for lack of a better term, rockcentric or rock-derived (even the Lull almost certainly wouldn’t be what it is without Mick Harris’s extreme metal background). It certainly isn’t illustrative of everything I enjoy — heck, last night at a small get-together at my place I wasn’t doing much but playing Rhino’s Disco Box constantly, for instance.

But they’re all a big part of me now, and they’re always there if I just find myself wanting to hear something, anything. This, in the end, is enough.

RIP Rickey Wright

Casual readers of my blog might know my mentions of ILX every so often without knowing what it is — it’s a longtime web-board, coming up on nine years now, which I’ve been on from the start, and where a number of people have joined the community over the years. It’s been around long enough that there have been marriages and births — but, just as inevitably, some passings as well.

Tonight, another sad milestone, one that has affected the board deeply as you can see from this thread. After his stroke last week, Seattle’s Rickey Wright passed on earlier today. [EDIT: Numerous tributes have since appeared. A brief article from his hometown paper is here, a brief post on Idolator from Dan Gibson is here and one at Blurt from Fred Mills is here. Mutual friend and former editor at the Seattle Weekly Michelangelo Matos has a wonderful post on him here, which is linked by Eric Grandy at The Stranger with his own thoughts, while Jason Cherkis at the Washington City Paper has also posted a remembrance and links to Rickey’s work there, along with a follow-up post quoting his former editor there, Nicole Arthur. The Seattle Times has posted a thoughtful remembrance, with quotes from many friends and family. Above all else, another friend of his has posted a remarkable and very, very moving remembrance — I urge you to read that before continuing with anything else I have to say.]

I will not claim to be one of Rickey’s closest friends or acquaintances, though I don’t say this either out of false modesty or to sound like I’m minimizing my grief right now; rather, he was one of the many people who I got to know over time via the board and, eventually, had the chance to meet. This was in large part due to his location — Seattle is a city I’ve had the chance to get know quite a bit over this past decade thanks to my good friend Mackro moving there in 2000, while the EMP Pop Conferences each year further drew musically-minded types together, as it will again this April. As part of the ILX crew in Seattle, it was fairly inevitable we would meet, as we did a few years back and kept doing every year when the conference occured.

Posting regularly and most recently on ILX under the memorable handle “If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up,” Rickey was a steady, memorable and reliable voice on the board on many things musical and otherwise, a general enthusiast about life. His blog contained further thoughts and observations, and at EMP meetups and post-conference parties we often randomly chatted about many things. He was most well known in general for his music writing in a number of spots, including Amazon, where he was a music editor for a long stretch, the Village Voice, the Miami Herald, USA Today, Blender, Seattle Weekly, Harp and more besides. You can find some of his Harp pieces here, numerous Seattle Weekly pieces here and I’m sure there’s much more out there that can be recommended — links to favorite pieces of his are encouraged, please send them along.

Rickey was, simply, a solid guy — one of those friendly people it was easy to chat about regarding anything, friendly, kind, enthusiastic, informed. “Approachable” sounds a strange way to sum up a person but I think that describes him — I don’t ever recall seeing him in a down mood, though like all of us I’m sure he had his moments, and again I don’t pretend to know everything about him. But it will be heartbreaking to realize more over time that he won’t be posting on ILX again, and that I won’t have a chance to say hello to him in two months’ time. Life provides these random heartbreaks because it is life’s nature; nonetheless, it is very cruel.

Still, I find it pleasurable to know that what proved to be his final blog post earlier this month — a quote from Obama headlined, simply, “I love my president” — was one of happiness and pride, and that his friends and family were there for him and thinking about him these last few days before the end. It is a simple but good way to be remembered, one of many.

A memorial page, which includes information about services and celebrations of his life, has been set up on Facebook.
Please join us.

Rickey Wright, scholar and gent.

Rest well.

Posted in Life. Tags: . 2 Comments »

A new OC Weekly piece from me — on Dear and the Headlights

Not a bad little band, and fun to talk with — an excerpt:

“Have some fun, clap, holler, get down!”

On some days, that’s hard advice to handle—even without all the looming weirdness in the world right about now, the cold weather snap that finally hit the desert of Phoenix may well have calmed down some of the area’s cheerier hearts. But Robert Cissell, of that city’s Dear and the Headlights, isn’t one of the ones suffering.

“There are so many bands these days that are so consumed by the idea of coolness and image that they forget about what it’s all about,” he writes via e-mail. “It’s about art and community; it’s about getting an entire room to work together on a moment rather than five dudes being a spectacle.

“When we get to let loose and have fun with our fans, it’s a party, not a play. It’s nice to be able to take our mind off the stresses of life and, together with a crowd of people, just let loose, even if its only for the 45 minutes or hour that we’re playing. People can escape from everything and just come together with music.”

Lahanorizo (or a variant of same)

Figuring out what to do with cabbage is always a bit of a chore for me — nothing wrong with cabbage, I just want to try and do something a little different with it each time. A random google scrounge turned up this Greek recipe — enjoyed it very much, though I’m willing to bet this is far from a traditional version as such. (I’m not sure if they use red cabbage, to start with, while I was lacking tomatoes and had to use some tomato paste instead.) That said, this was quite tasty, and I’ve got some left over for tomorrow to eat with a salad and some bread.

The recipe as quoted on the page follows below:


1 Medium Cabbage
2-3 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion Finely Chopped
2-3 Pinch Parsley To Taste
1-2 Pinch Pepper To Taste
3/4 Cup Rice
2-3 Pinch Salt To Taste
2 Large Tomatoes Finely Chopped
1 1/4 Cup Water


* Chop the cabbage finely.
* On low heat, fry the onion just until transparent.
* Add the cabbage and cook until wilted.
* Add the tomatoes and water.
* When it starts to boil, add the rice, parsley, salt and pepper.
* Simmer until very little liquid remains, approx. 20 minutes.
* May serve with sliced lemon.