Song of the Week, 5/18/2019

For reasons having to do with the alphabet, I’ve been listening to the band Blancmange this week. They are generally filed under “80s Anachronisms” with other synth/voice duos, but I think they deserve better: All three of their vintage albums — Happy Families (1982), Mange Tout (1984), and Believe You Me (1985) — are magnificent. (A spate of recent reunion albums, some featuring only one member, is another matter.) The sound is High Eighties, to be sure, but one of the best specimens thereof, and the songwriting is both sturdy and imaginative.

This song from Believe You Me is a great example of what Blancmange were capable of. 34 years later — Jesus, is that right? I guess it is — it still sounds pretty great to me.

5/16/2019: Warriors 114, Blazers 111

Happy days are here again.

This is a weird time to be a Warriors fan. Good weird, but weird nonetheless.

Since Kevin Durant went down with a calf injury about a week ago, it’s like someone flipped a switch on a time machine and all of a sudden it’s 2015 again. The illusion is strengthened by the presence of Andrew Bogut, who after apparently dropping off the face of the Earth is not just back on the team, but back in the starting lineup.

Before KD’s injury the Warriors had been winning but sometimes looking vulnerable, dropping two games to the Clippers and two more to the Rockets. What’s worse, throughout this season they had gone through troubling stretches of lassitude, and sometimes even (perish the thought) discord — very off-brand.

But ever since Durant left the floor in the 3rd quarter of a touch-and-go Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, they have looked like the Dubs of old — playing with joy and pace, moving the ball, getting superb performances from role players, the Splash Brothers splashing. After polishing off the Rockets they steamrolled the Blazers in Game 1 and last night overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to take Game 2.

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Warriors 118, Rockets 113

Up to this point I haven’t written a single word on this site about the 2019 NBA playoffs, which says something about how jaded we Warriors fans have become. Our team is now an established power that has gone to the Finals four times in a row and won thrice, no longer the young upstarts who took the league by storm in 2014–15. And there’s no getting around the fact that we are not the giddy virgins we were back then.

But last night’s victory was especially sweet, coming as it did with the W’s short a Kevin Durant (out with a calf strain) and facing a Rockets team whose sole purpose in life is to beat them. That last part is no exaggeration — Houston GM Daryl Morey has gone on record more than once saying that his team was built specifically to match up against the Warriors. And last year they almost pulled it off: If Chris Paul hadn’t missed the last two games with a hamstring pull, or if the Rockets hadn’t suffered a historic cold stretch where they missed 27 straight three-pointers, they might be the defending champions right now.

Might be. Hypotheticals are just that, and you never know what’s going to happen until the ball is tipped and the game is played. After Durant’s injury the buzz was that the Warriors were in trouble, even though they had pulled out Game 5 of their Conference Semis series to take a 3–2 lead. I personally was pretty sanguine about it; with Durant out and Andrew Bogut starting, this was the same lineup that won the title four years ago.

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Song of the Week, 3/24/2019

This week I found myself listening to Biz Markie’s I Need a Haircut and was struck by this song:

I got curious about the source material, which turned out to be a Donovan song called “Get Thy Bearings.” In fact I own the album it’s on, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, but somehow had never really noticed it. I am now ashamed. This has to be Donovan’s funkiest song, with a loose, hypnotic, irresistible groove:

Great find by the Biz, or maybe his DJ and cousin Cool V. A tip of the hat to them, and to Mr. Leitch, who never quite gets the respect he deserves — even from those of us who ought to know better.

Song of the Week, 3/10/2019

As fate would have it it, this song came up on the ol’ bathroom iPod yesterday, the very day that JC turned 77. 52 years after the first VU album, he’s still out there doing his thing — there he is on the Instagram, futzing around in a recording studio. Cale won’t quit as long as he’s vertical, and I for one take comfort in that.

Best Not to Look in There

My reading for the second half of our Morocco trip was Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which seemed like a fairly appropriate pairing. The book is a sort of thinking-man’s Western and parts of Morocco resemble the American Southwest, particularly Arizona and New Mexico. I am less familiar with the even more arid Texas/Mexico region in which Blood Meridian is set, but surely it is not too dissimilar to parts of the Sahara.

McCarthy’s is a much-revered name among modern writers; Harold Bloom, defender of the Western canon, blurbed Blood Meridian as “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer,” while heavy hitter John Banville said that it “reads like a conflation of the Inferno, the Iliad, and Moby-Dick.”

And yes, the man can write. The following passage on page 20 made me sit up straight in my chair: read more…

Shukran Very Much

This post is being written in Casablanca, Morocco, which so far is nothing like you see in the movies. It is a weird combination of breezy beach town and bustling modern city on the go. Yesterday’s itinerary included a visit to the local FedEx, where the workers were super helpful and friendly, which is very Morocco, and then the credit card machine was broken – which is also very Morocco. But all was sorted out and the package is, hopefully, winging its way back to the U.S. even now.

But my subject here today is not travelogue, it is literature. My reading for the first part of the trip was Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, which – despite being written three years after Stranger in a Strange Land – is one of Heinlein’s light entertainments, not one of his philosophical blockbusters. But it is still slyly subversive, not least because it is written from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl (8 in Mars years), over the stenuous objections of Heinlein’s publishers. A female protagonist was unheard of in science fiction in 1953, a good 26 years before Alien. read more…

Song of the Week, 2/16/2019

So I just saw this video for the first time in… hmm… 35 years? Hard to believe it’s been that long since the golden age of MTV, but that’s what the math says.

I never forgot this song, which is a four-minute blast of relentless forward momentum that always gets me hyped. But I had forgotten about the video, which is a perfect visual analog: The camera never stops moving, the people never stop running. Ah, all that youthful energy…. Watching it makes me feel 17 again for a minute. Or four.

Of course after seeing this I had to run out and buy the album, which was not that good. It had one other catchy track and the rest was filler. After that Belfegore disappeared into the crevices of history, never to be seen again.

But they had four glorious minutes, which is enough.

Lincoln in the Sky with Bardo

Congratulate me, I finished two books this week: George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. And though they are very different books, written by very different people in very different places at very different times, I found some commonality.

For one thing, [spoiler alert, spoiler alert] main characters in both die of typhoid. In the event, this was during the week the wife and I were taking pills to prevent that very thing from happening to during our trip to Morocco (which is why I was reading The Sheltering Sky in the first place). In fact mortality is a main theme of both books, though Saunders manages to be somewhat uplifting in the process, while Bowles is pretty grim — in a refined literary way, of course.

And I’d love to share more of my penetrating analysis, but departure time is at hand. Check two off the list, anyway.

Party Like It’s 1994

A tweet from Matador Records today alerted me to the fact that Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released on this day in 1994, making it 25 years old.

At the time, this was an album that took me by surprise. I was one of the few in my peer group who hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid on Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted. In historic perspective Slanted is a great record — I stand corrected on that one — but still I approached Crooked Rain with some skepticism.

It didn’t last long. Crooked Rain is a masterpiece right from its opening seconds, in which a loose, shambling agglomeration of guitar and drum noises starts, stops, starts again, and eventually resolves itself into a towering, monumentally catchy riff. From there it’s off to the races:

And I don’t necessarily want to get into a whole thing about Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain today — it’s one of my all-time favorites, and I don’t have time to do it justice. (You can read good, lengthy takes here and here.) But it’s just the leading edge of a wave of stuff that will be turning 25 this year, including Pulp Fiction, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and a whole bunch of great albums:

  • Laurie Anderson: Bright Red/Tightrope
  • The Beastie Boys: Ill Communication
  • Beck: Mellow Gold
  • Frank Black: Teenager of the Year
  • Cake: Motorcade of Generosity
  • Gang Starr: Hard to Earn
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned
  • Love and Rockets: Hot Trip to Heaven
  • G. Love and Special Sauce: G. Love and Special Sauce
  • Portishead: Dummy
  • The Roots: Do You Want More?!!!??!
  • The Silver Jews: Starlite Walker
  • Soundgarden: Superunknown
  • Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange
  • That Petrol Emotion: Fireproof
  • They Might Be Giants: John Henry
  • Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne
  • Ween: Chocolate and Cheese

Holy hell, that’s a lot of great music for one year, and all over the map too. Anyone who wants to talk trash about the 90s will have me to contend with — you know where to find me.

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