Going Home Again
Is it inevitable that the hometown we once found tedious and banal turns into a fascinating cultural crossroads and storehouse of buried youthful memories?
Superb times were had in Annandale, VA while DC required too much energy and would have limited my wine drinking significantly. On this visit, I was floored by the traffic around my parental homebase and also fascinated by the proliferation of Asian-oriented malls, restaurants and services. There's a cool discount store called Samurai near where we saw "Sideways" (easily the best movie of 2004 in case you were wondering.) We took my parents out for Korean food, though my bro and I actually thought it was a Japanese restaurant that we had visited three years ago. Whatever, it kicked everyone's ass. I can't remember the name of the place, (Sambo, 6669 Little River Turnpike) but it was amazing and will surely become a go-to spot for entertaining visitors to the NoVa. There is also lots of Pho in the area, including a new place that is decorated in bright yellow inside and features little flat-screen TVs for each booth. The new face of Pho, I suppose.

I'm finally straightening out my Annandale history here, which I've mainly mined for Revolutionary War ghost stories over the years.


When they talk about the second city, perhaps this is what they mean. Are all Chicago landlords just completely insane? Our handyman has been given the task this morning of removing all the vintage woodwork in the front hallways of our building. Do landlords sit around thinking of ways to spend money on projects that will actually reduce the value of their buildings? It's completely senseless. And on top of that, the heat in the building seems to be off, so I've got to get the hell out of here.

Also I just got an email with the following text from a PR person. "ATTENTION ALL FEMALES!!! the XXXXXXXX. would like to give 12 lucky females the opportunity to meet, greet, and lounge with LUDACRIS at a private location in Chicago TONIGHT for one night only!!"

Are you kidding me?

Just called landlord, they're actually going to clean up the woodwork and put it back.

Biff Bang Pow
So I'm about to hit the sack when I hear the Make-Up coming through my digital cable. Starz is using the "Pow to the People" as a theme song of some kind. Weird. Throwing a party has the unintended consequence of making the apartment life-affirmingly clean and comfortable just in time for the Chicago season where one leaves the house and heat as little as possible. It was so cold today that it scared me.
I'm in the market for a job once again and feeling really good about it. The next few weeks are going to be incredibly busy. More to come on that later. I've been foggy but not quite hungover all day so I'm hesistant to write anything of substance. I did however discover that the pre-fab modern dwelling scene is really taking off. There's lots of info on it at fabprefab.com. Oh, here comes the yawning again. To anyone who made it over last night for drinks and snacks, I salute you.


First Slint, now..
Gang of Four reform! They are touring the UK in January and then coming over here.
The original line-up of Jon King (vocals), Andy Gill (guitar and vocals), Dave Allen (bass) and Hugo Burnham (drums) are making the scene. I saw Go4 in 1990 with the La's and the Violent Femmes, but it was not even close to the original dudes. If I remember there was a gorgeous black woman in a metallic mini-skirt playing da bass or maybe it was Sara Lee. I'm going home and spinning me some SOLID GOLD and ENTERTAINMENT!
Unexplainable Productivity Increase
Every now and then I turn into a machine for getting things done, and I seem to be in that mode right now. I just go and go until I get tired and cranky, have amazing sleep and then start again. I'm juggling a zillion projects right now and sort of loving it. I'm actually hoping to do some more recording when my season of live gigs settles down, three shows in the next three and a half weeks with a vacation in there as well.

Listeningwise, the M83 album coming out on Mute is awesome from what I auditioned last night in the automobile. Internetwise, I'm catching up on all the Dimebag eulogies out there. I always was impressed by Pantera, though I can't say I know their recordings well.

Have you heard about the rat brain? I guess they taught this collection of brain cells to control a flight simulator, though I have yet to confirm. Civilization is doomed. Between that and the dioxin Ukrainian leader poisoning story, this is one fucked-up news month. On the Ukrainian question, I'm actually wondering how the blossoming democracy will affect the locals in my Chicago hood. Orange ribbons are tied around alot of the trees and parking signs in a show of support for the Liberals in Ukraine, so will any of these folks who have built a miniature nation in the middle of Chicago go back for any length of time? My neighborhood has Ukrainian churches, cafes, a huge bank, real estate companies, even its own modern art museum, who needs Kiev, right? Or will the younger folk sell off the brownstones and move back to the old world with loads of western cash? Better yet, rent the places out and move home and live like royalty in the Crimea?


This is a work in progress, I decided to exclude reissues and compilations and just go for the solid rock action. Am I missing anything of quality?

Top Ten Albums of 2004
Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic)
Devendra Banhart “Nino Rojo” (Young God)
Animal Collective “Sung Tongs” (FatCat)
Ghost “Hypnotic Underworld” (Drag City)
Blonde Redhead “Misery is a Butterfly” (4AD)
Paul Weller “Studio 150” (V2)
Holly Golightly “Slowly But Surely” (Damaged Goods)
Van Hunt “Van Hunt” (Capitol)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus” (Anti)
CocoRosie “La Maison de Mon Reve” (Touch & Go)

Close but not quite…
The Futureheads (Sire)
TV On the Radio “Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes” (Touch & Go)

Things I need to listen to again because people won’t shut up about them.
Nellie McKay “Get Away from Me”
Ghostface Killah
Fiery Furnaces both albums
Air “Talkie Walkie" (Astralwerks)
Loretta Lynn
Phoenix “Alphabetical”
Wilco “A Ghost Is Born”

Mild disappointments but still kinda good
The Libertines s/t
Rufus Wainwright “Want One”
PJ Harvey “Uh Huh Her”

I’m not sure what all the fuss is about, can you tell me?
The Killers
The Secret Machines
The Cooper Temple Clause
Radio 4
Airwaves Dream
We perpetually listen to Chicago NPR affiliate WBEZ in my apartment, on my aging VW's radio and today at work via the inter-web-net. In general I really dig the programming, it's a bit more lively than the NPR you get in DC, which is wonkish, aimed at a classical music listening staunchly, stuffily liberal Northwest DC residents (though we did have Derrick
McGinty for a while). WBEZ does however go off the rails quite often, it gets kinda kooky. Odyssey with Gretchen Helfrich often has really hilariously amorphous topics and usually only features academics who sound as if they've been locked away in the basement of the library since the Carter adminstration. The discussions rarely go anywhere, it's an intellectual circus with a shortage of disagreement. The music reviews on NPR almost always suck. Today, this guy was blathering on cheerily about the Bob Dylan book like someone who's never actually reviewed a book but just really loves Dylan. I would have rather just read the book jacket. Earlier, Dan Sinker from Punk Planet was on 848, which was kind of interesting though I haven't picked up PP in years to be honest. You can listen to WBEZ online.


Who's Got the Real Old School?
I'm still trying to make sense of the Grandmaster Flash/Biz Markie gig last night. It was utter madness, a great time overall but honestly the DJing was a bit hard to take. All three Djs were spinning on those CD-scratch turntables, no vinyl in sight, and while the beat matching and track flipping was masterful, I heard less than 30 seconds of anything I hadn't heard before and sometimes only 30 seconds of the tracks selected. We're talking Michael Jackson, Billy Squire, Soul 2 Soul plus all the urban current hits. There was absolutely no sense of adventure or discovery. The opening DJ pulled off a ramped up version of the Doobies "What a Fool Believes" that caught me off guard in a good way. And you're thinking... so what if they played hits, you danced all night, right? Well I should have been dancing when the first DJ was on because Grandmaster Flash specializes in stopping every couple minutes and giving an oral history lesson. GMF factoid: Hip-hop was in fact invented in 1971. Explanation: none. And after a nice long intro with lots of build-up about old-school and what have you, GMF unfurls his first track.... and it is... hold your breath... PHIL COLLINS?! Way to impress the south-siders GMF! On the plus side, the crowd was really diverse, the show was free and the break-dancing was really solid. This one guy, something Daze from the T&A crew was just amazing, pulling off these really detailed poses in the middle of springing handstands like he was breathing. Biz Markie was doing spins while he was switching from deck to deck when I left the club.


Listening Station
I'm now enjoying a new view from the place called day job desk. The office move has turned out to be beneficial in numerous ways. Do you realize that companies just give everything away when they move? They pay these salvage people to come in and haul away tens of thousands of dollars worth of furniture and no one bats an eye. I now have both the Hancock and a small chunk of the Marina City towers in my view rather than the snaking El and the back of the Merchandise Mart that were in my view for several years off and on.

Um, yeah so anyway, somehow a weekend that involved going to Texas roadhouse themed bar turned out to be really fun. Selling off some junk CDs netted me some good solid new stuff, the Soul Jazz "Sound of Philadelphia" comp, another Hugh Masekala LP and an original pressing of The Damned's "Music For Pleasure." The latter is a fine record, much more like the Who than I remembered it, and it's been getting lots of spins around my place. Also in heavy rotation is the most recent disc from Holly Golightly, "Slowly But Surely" (Damaged Goods). The last time I saw Holly play it was a drunken, kinda lame show but she's outdone herself with this album. I'm undecided on Ely Guerra, the really photogenic Mexican singer who went to Evergreen State College. She somehow manages to sound like Sade and PJ Harvey in the same song, kind of a funky world beat Polly Jean. Is that a good thing? Well, in a way, yeah, I think this might be more interesting listening than "Uh Huh Her" even if it is "werld" music. I've also come to realize that I need "Shake Sauvage" (Crippled Dick) on vinyl, it's simply the best compilation record I own, track it down if at all possible and tell me where it can be had.


Lying about Jesus
There's a new film coming out called "With God On Our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right," in which the filmmakers reveal that Bush's conversion to being born-again actually came from a talk with really nutty evangelical Arthur Blessitt, not from a walk on the beach with friend of Presidents Billy Graham as Bush has claimed. That means, that Bush has consistently lied about how he "came to Jesus." The doc will be showing on the Sundance channel soon.
Month of Lists
Upon scanning some music writer blogs last month, I noticed a few year-end best-of lists. What kind of nerd writes a best-of list in November? Come on. That's silly, right? I'm doing at least two of those lists for publication, but I want to hear a few things I missed before I lay it down. In the meantime, in the interest of what's hot and what's not, I'm checking out the somewhat shocking (to me at least), top 100 sellers at Insound for 2004. There's a high "what the f*ck?" factor.


This Space for Rent
It's becoming clear to anyone paying attention to mainstream culture that advertising and editorial content are merging into one, so I'm probably stating the obvious here, perhaps not. But I often find that discussions of the economics of the music business are real shallow, falling into the well-known indie-versus-major or art-versus-commerce rut. It's become obvious to me over the years, that outside of jazz, there are probably very few musicians that don't consider the commercial end of their art, whether it be conscious or not. Some of the things I've actually heard songwriters talk about out loud in regards to their audience would simply shock you, but I'll save that for another time.

Remember years ago, it was oddly thrilling or annoying to hear the Flaming Lips on 90210 or whatever, the crunch of the underground sound breaking the surface crust of the above ground big money world was unusual. Now, the cycle is so accelerated that bands are being broken by TV rather than the largely musically irrelevant MTV and often without building any fanbase at all. While MTV turned its back on pop-punk, indie and emo genres (okay, they're on M2 now in a steady stream of Jimmy Eat World soundalikes), the young-people-oriented series on television have filled the marketing niche. Flip the channels and you can hear The Futureheads on Gilmore Girls, The Walkmen on The OC, someone kinda good or Shuggie Otis on Six Feet Under and on and on. Death Cab for Cutie were "broken" as they say with a lot of TV exposure, though I tend to think that two years of non-stop hype probably had something to do with it. Movies don't seem so relevant but take commercials... that Jet song pretty much made a band huge that would have been a post-Strokes record label write-off otherwise. I was sucked into the air intakes of that Jet album before the iPod commercial hit I'm not embarrassed to say. But this is what is not being said in articles talking about bands signing to majors left and right. They're doing it, in a large part, for the marketing synergy, getting pushed on TV, radio, etc. in advertorial form, in the background of teen dramas, on and on. The songwriters especially stand to make much more if a band's songs are licensed for TV ads, than he/she will get doing a regular amount of touring. Record sales are weak all-around this decade as I understand it (numbers anyone?) but the ad industry is slowly bouncing back and throwing more green around. While many of the big advertisers are conservatively sticking to hitting the baby boomer who prefers his Led Zep, Stones, Seger there are plenty that are going with obscure hip sounds turned fashionable (famously the VW ads with Nick Drake's "Pink Moon") or the ironic ("Eye of the Tiger" with the actualy Survivor miming). Advertising (and the infectious ad mentality) is ubiquitous and as editorial and advertising and promotion have all mixed in magazines that even serious music fans read (see The Fader, Vice) there's probably almost no unspoilt ground if you are one to consider it so. It's a grey world, this world of rock. None of this is really as new as it appears. The latest trend is big labels paying outright and legally for radio airtime for entire albums. Payola never really went away, it just got used to promote lousier and lousier music. I can't confirm, but I'm fairly sure that the rock revolution of Chuck Berry and the Beatles wouldn't have happened without payola. My point, if there is one, is that when considering a rising popularity of band, or when noticing what sells and what doesn't, the marketing aspect of music has become a key part of the story. How the hell do people decide what to buy? Of course, people are not always so easily manipulated and there are surprise hits every year, as well as artists that build their followings through hard work, making great records and so on or having a classy name to start with (Bebel Gilberto anyone?). Whether you like it or not, almost everybody is doing it, and I don't think it's half bad considering the state of rock radio for bands to explore other avenues for exposing your music and get paid in the process. In these days of rising expectations for success following hype and diminishing actual sales, it's really more about making it last rather than making it big.

I've heard things I like on the WB, as scary as that sounds. The idea of someone buying the soundtrack to a TV show is totally bizarre to me, but you can bet the truly mediocre Dandy Warhols (who seem to land on a lot of these) are not complaining. But considered another way, look at the track listings for the TV show comps mentioned above, if it were a radio station, would you listen? Heck ya. Am I buying the CD? No way dude. Let's see what's on cable.