A bee at UCI

Not in my garden but that would be good fun. Lovely day down here and my walk around campus turned up a bunch of bees like this one happily pollinating away.

A nice closeup from the garden

Just a quick update here — been very busy, even this past weekend! I suspect this weekend will be when I can catch up properly a bit.

My latest OC Weekly piece on Ladytron is up

So at least there’s that since the EMP notes will have to wait for a final cleanup on the weekend I figure. But anyway, here’s the Ladytron piece, with a sample:

Following this tour, Ladytron will be moving to an even-higher-profile series of gigs. They’re scheduled to open for Depeche Mode’s European shows, an extremely apt combination given both bands’ deft touch with rock noise and industrial-strength beats, not to mention darkly dramatic performances and sonic styles. And much like the members of Depeche have long insisted about their own work, Wu resists classification as a “Goth” band.

“We never sought to be anything like that,” he says. “It’s all been very natural, very organic, over time—the whole ‘scary, creepy’ thing and being talked about as being Gothic maybe has relevance because we’re wearing black and not moving around much onstage. It’s a little impossible to bounce around while playing keyboards!”

Still still recuperating

Kinda, it’s just been understandably busy since I got back and there’s been a few things on my mind. But I just wanted to briefly note Carl Wilson’s kind mention of my notes over on Zoilus, as well as the use of that great shot I got of Matmos getting down on stage.

Tonight — I hope! — I will be finally updating the notes with all appropriate links and/or contact information. Also later should be a link to my latest OC Weekly article and hopefully some sort of overview of recent AMG work. Sleep is in there somewhere as well, I think.

Still recuperating

Happens every year, I go to EMP, have a blast, spend an day to catch up with sleep and all, go home and…still recuperate. (I mean, I’m going to work and all but I’m kinda wiped.)

I’ve received a variety of kind comments about the blogging work for EMP — and a couple of questions! — and I hope I’ve answered many of them. I am still in the process of reviewing my notes and cleaning up some of the technical information (correct spellings, etc.) as well as providing links where appropriate. But I’m already all in for today and I haven’t even completed the Friday notes review yet, so this will take a little time.

In the meantime, then, I encourage you to read Oliver Wang’s excellent summary of his own EMP experience — with plenty of links! — while also noting that the Vince Aletti collection The Disco Files 1973-78 is out now. Pre-ordered my copy a few weeks back, it arrived today and the thing is a total dream from what I can tell.

EMP Pop Conference 2009 — Sunday presentations

Into the final day!

Karl Hagstrom Miller, “On Intimacy, Death, and Tickets to Blur: Listening to Pop Songs about Abortion” — Karl’s thrilled to be here, admits he’s not a PowerPoint guy and away we go. Questions of the body — a woman who has had an abortion is already politicized, awareness of gender politicization is assumed by this audience. Such a woman is never a metaphor. Songs about abortion are plentiful; movement songs are left out of this study in favor of pop tunes. Metal/punk tunes using abortion as horror imagery also left out. Some tunes are crass depictions of male control over women (Ice Cube, Leonard Cohen lyrics quoted). On the polarized sides, first the Seals and Croft song “Unborn Child” — wow that’s some schlocky trash! Like the strings though, lyrics alternately address child and mother (“Stop, turn around!”). Graham Parker’s “You Can’t Be Too Strong” has him talking to the woman carrying his child — blunt images, pretty music (keyboards, guitar). Then there’s the ‘considering abortion but carrying the baby’ songs — more in a bit. Pro-choice songs: movement songs as noted (politics of the movement, male misogyny as something to react against — Consolidated example noted, rather um extreme). Digable Planets “La Femme Fetal” discussed and played, male narrator visits woman pregnant by another man, discusses the politics of the situation in the language of the movement. Self-induced abortions and the deaths of the mothers are also subjects of songs, both in prolife and prochoice songs (Parker again about incompetent doctors). More talk about the politicized split in the sphere, though women’s experiences don’t easily fall into an easy split. Various statistics noted. George W Bush comes up! Texas three step — prolife, Roe shouldn’t fall, talk parental consent laws! Will Saletan on prochoice problems in the eighties after the big coalition (who decides?). In many songs, women and some men do the three step, acknowledging both sides but saying in the middle or be somewhere else — artist can “clear space to acknowledge” this in song. Ani diFranco “Lost Woman Song,” Amanda Palmer “Oasis” (the latter gets the video treatment — wow, amazing! Cheery music, grin instead of tears, laugh instead of cry, tickets to Blur!) Concluding note on songs without the three step coded as prolife and Karl quotes a letter from a woman patient at the clinic he works at. A moving conclusion on regrets and lives not led.

Jody Rosen, “‘Oh, You Kid!’: How Tin Pan Alley Discovered the Cheating Song” — thanks to Eric first! Harry Von Tilzer/Jimmy Lucas song sheet shown, “I Love My Wife But Oh! you Kid!” written 100 years back. There was spooning and cooing but this was the first published Tin Pan Alley comic song on lust, based on a year-older song by Edgar Selden and Melville Gideon “Oh, You Kid!” that was sweetly silly love in contrast. Spring 1909 brings the first “I Love My Wife” by another bunch which sucked but then the better one by Lucas and von Tilzer came out. Clip played — great first verse and the chorus soars, happily about infidelity. “That ‘but’ my dear means you!” Complete contrast to the dolorous ballads and earlier moralism — the flirts are celebrated and even the wife cheats with a butcher! A Progressive Era “O.P.P.”! Massive hit that year apparently though novelty songs didn’t sell that much, but the song inspired many imitations and cultural references and more. Many sheet music covers shown, amazing stuff! “My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” by Irving Berlin! Postcards shown, crazy stuff. Mencken complained about the phrase in 1921, Groucho Marx used it as a catchphrase, The Harvey Girls adaptation from 1946 played. News stories, “Oh You Suffragettes!” etc. Billy Sunday sermon from 1911 quoted but “I Love My Billy Sunday But Oh You Saturday Night” in response. More song sheets and titles shown, minstrelsy. “Everything’s At Home Except Your Wife” played. All this a reaction to older sentimentality and schmaltz though “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” was a parody! And Von Tilzer wrote it as such. “Oh You Kid” often sung in parodic fashion too, clip played. Larger question of how younger generation used and interpreted pop, news and photos shown, especially the shoe photos!

Oliver Wang, “Crash, Burn and Return: Betty Davis‘s Lost Album” — Oliver mentions his love for reissue work and offers thank yous. Talks about Davis’s plans for recording in 1976, her raucous style on stage and general reputation, quotes a lust crazed review from 1974. So why did Is It Love or Desire? take so long to surface? Bogalusa in LA was “swamp territory” said Larry Johnson. Fish out of water musicians for sure. Studio in the Country was a highly respected studio, state of the art. Funk House talked about a bit, her house and touring band since 1974, at a creative peak. Songwriting began with fragments of ideas, Davis visual with music, giving notes via tape recorder for the band to mold into the final versions. Davis used music for personal concerns, this album’s work extremely so, an intimate album. Sultry bedroom songs like “Whorey Angel,” clip played. Embodies self envisioned persona, Fred Mills admittedly nervous at singing! “Stars Starve, You Know” an answer song of sorts, a forthright and angry song about public image and reaction. Clip played, anger straightforward, “you should have been born a man!” Her independence and ambitions left her isolated but she could and did blow off steam. If only it have been released at the time! One more song, “Bottom of the Barrel,” trashes disco thoroughly pre-backlash two years later. Gatemouth Brown guested, etc. Why did the album never come out? Studio in the Country never got paid so held on to the masters, a breakdown in business with Island? Funk House and Davis split after she went to the UK, band went home to North Carolina, disappointed. What if it had come out? Not a leap forward but a refinement, focusing of ideas, could have raised her stature in putting herself forward. She wanted to be taken seriously but also a keen sense of how to use her body and public image vs private restrained self. According to her, high energy music meant high energy performance and image. Whether self conscious or not, its important to see her as part of movements and apart from them, in her own lane, which could explain how she got forgotten. At least the album is back if on the margins. Final clip, a straight ballad, “When Romance Says Goodbye,” nice way to end.

Mark Villegas, “Hitting Abroad: The Global Travels of Joe Bataan‘s ‘Rap-O-Clap-O’” — video of Joe live last year played first, good easy going stuff in San Pedro. Audience gets into it with gusto, “Pinoys in the house!” Joe is of black and Filipino descent, grew up in Spanish Harlem, stuck with missed opportunities because people debated his identity, wanted to codify him and see him one way or another. His industry challenges also result from his willingness to try new forms, thus his biggest hit “Rap-O-Clap-O,” which came out before “Rapper’s Delight!” Big in Europe and South America but not here. Discovered rap via social work in Harlem, talks of early DJs he spoke with and noted there were no records, so why not put it out? He had done music work already but his age meant he was not trusted. Hired Jonzon and Brown to record the song but nobody showed up to record! So he thought about a local DJ, then thought a bit and figured, “I can do this!” He recorded it, got positive reaction from the kids but not the labels who didn’t get it. Were they that out of it? Things started to pick up with others like Sugarhill Gang, so now the labels sought him out. But US stations never played him — Salsoul sold the single and it was a club hit in NYC and a bigger hit in Europe, 3 million records! Changed the lyrics to Spanish for Latin America, and he still gets the royalties! Has hip-hop’s story already been written in stone? Can a Filipino be a forefather of the sound? Mark discusses US influence in the Phillipines and interactions with cultural results. Joe: “I’ve been a Filipino all my life but didn’t know it.” Straddled latinidad and blackness but stuck with greater restrictions in the US, so is the global liminal? Clip played from Italian TV show from 1980, then the real thing, great way to end!

Jason King, “Maxwell‘s Urban Hang Suite: Disconnected Intimacies” — consider the politics in his work. “Fortunate” video played, extremely complicated and suggestive in questions of gaze and image, constantly gliding and cycling camera shots, singing past the video object of affection. Urban Hang Suite discussed and the concept outlined of a single bittersweet evening. The metropolitan black bachelor pad — luxury, haute coutere, solitude and privacy for the public view. Career outlined and then he disappeared after 2001 outside of fits and starts and fan frustration. Drugs? No he claimed he just wanted to grow, started taking to fans via myspace and twitter, says he’ll release stuff but…strange and creepy stuff. Blog entries read while “Whenever Wherever Whatever” plays — oh MAN that’s some Smoove B talk, self critical and not and what the…? Reappears, launches tour, sells out venues, new video in July. His whole career is about broken connection, in contact and yet, missed opportunities, incongruence, reaching toward communion and individuated, classic soul. And that’s how Maxwell treats his fans! Jason’s riff on this is too good to summarize, “a bad Sex and the City script!” Reclaiming the politics of quiet storm, a challenge and augmentation of ambient, where color and women did not exist. Quiet storm too soft, too dull in some ears, so you have to consider how to reclaim it and its intent, to cause rapture and claim attention. It’s not like other neo-soul, Maxwell calls it Caribbean ambient soul. Causes shudders, does differing things with his voice, Sade as role model (Sweetback etc). Learned to sing softly via “the women in his life,” the studied Kate Bush cover. Tyler Perry comes in for a rubbishing, neoconservatism in neo-soul noted and explored in Maxwell’s work in detail. Argument recapitulated for conclusion, separation and fragmentation in his work, the gynocentric Embryo discussed, the blindness of falling in love (thus the “Fortunate” video).

Andy Zax, “Lost in Lost Music: Rediscovering Johnny MathisI Love My Lady” — the opposite of a keynote speech! Clip of the title track played and Andy talks about wanting to do a Chic Organization box set a few years back. Chic felt underappreciated, so time for product! In August 2007 he scrounges the Warner Brothers Vault for tapes — and love the sketchy cataloging! So he scrounges and scrounges. Bring your hand cleaner and check everything because you never know what you might find! Like the Chic/Mathis tapes! A pretty big deal, A GREAT LOST ALBUM! But what does lost mean? A shorthand for a set of interactions, involving availability and knowledge and more. Music removed from the marketplace is another example, out in the world and allowed to disappear. Then there’s undocumented music, mythological music etc. like this unheard album. Clip played, very smooth and lovely, hearing the kick of the bass against Mathis’s voice. Origins of the project detailed, Chic were huge with their work and with others, Mathis was at a career crossroads in turn after years of popularity, had a large audience still and “Too Much Too Little Too Late” promised a new route back to pop. But initial attempts flamed out. So this was a risk — Chic had their process, Mathis his deliberation. Chic had total control of the sound, something to deliver to the artist. In this case, stuff that Mathis “should have been doing.” Recording details offered, less funk and more jazz, like Weather Report but with bright melodic hooks. Sounds like Al Jarreau’s This Time and Steely Dan’s Gaucho (minus the boring stuff!) Fonzie Thorton did guide vocals, a change of pace. Album recorded and ready to go and then… Mathis’s performances are solid but also detached. Rodgers figures that the assembly line approach failed here in the end. Chic continued on but nobody said anything over at Columbia and a best of album came out instead. Who rejected it? Rodgers says that the blame on Mathis management is misplaced, their own track record is solid. Is the album good? Nice but one of those rejuvenation albums like Sinatra’s “Watertown” or the like. Streisand goes rock, Minelli and the Pet Shop Boys etc. Where does that leave us? Sony doesn’t want to release it, Mathis doesn’t mind, the Chic set will have three tracks. Leaks are coming out now, Rodgers would love to see it come out and maybe rerecord bits. Another clip played, “It’s All Right to Love Me,” upbeat and we’re done! Wonderful stuff, some questions asked and a Betty Davis clip played and the conference is done! More thoughts later today!

EMP Pop Conference 2009 — “I declare WAR!”

Well that might be a bit dramatic but that was one of the key phrases (courtesy of Miss Jay Karan) from Matmos’s DJ set, one of the highlights of the performances tonight at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. Various EMP presenters performed tonight and some photos follow, of Franklin Bruno, Sarah Dougher, David Grubbs and the merry men of Matmos: