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Lee Foss: Essential Mix December 9, 2012

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leefossA few words by a guest contributor regarding house rising-star Lee Foss:

Making Essential Mix is a badge, but it sure doesn’t guarantee a good EM – plenty have failed for all too common reasons; lacking direction, flimsy themes, low points, overly experimental fails… and the like.  What’s most startling about Foss’s EM – is everything.  Foss is emblazoned, by the BBC – as being on the forefront of house, and he sure as hell is.  Foss delivers an exegetic exploration of the genre.  He imposes a history lesson – 9 minutes in just for backdrop.  Chicago is where House began, and Foss wants to weave.  The evolution of a city, from the death of perennial high-school baller Ben Wilson in 1984 came forward a humanity worthy of the soulful and midwestern familial ways of Chicago.  Wilson’s neighbor, rapper Common begins the EM – though as a tribute and backdrop, not a part of the actual mix.  It takes a special sort of ego, to impose this sort of wait on an EM.  In fact, one of my complaints about many EM’s of yore is the obligatory warm-up basically devolved into, well, something not good.  Foss delivers – this isn’t self aggrandizing, it’s a story carried out track after track, and the story is called House.  23 minutes in and the DJ breaks in…. blah blah blah BBC… and then says, “Lee Foss is just getting warmed up” and the tiniest chuckle is heard – not at all commonplace for the relatively unbiased BBC, clearly he knew what was coming, because Foss comes back in and turns it the fuck on.  He wraps up he gritty electric acid of Chicago’s streets, tight, spangled.  Foss lays down a mix emblematic of the genre, past and present, and the same of his home city, who he dedicates the mix to along with Ben Wilson.  This is sure to be a classic EM.


Tame Impala / Rudi Zygadlo / Pinback and more October 24, 2012

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1. Tame Impala – “Mind Mischief” – Their new album Lonerism is so good it makes me want to cry. This might just be the best song off the best album of the year. Once again Kevin Parker and crew channel all that was good and holy and pure from the Beatles late-60’s heyday and manage to put their own acid-laced 21st-century kiss on it.

2. Rudi Zygadlo – “Russian Dolls” – Zygadlo’s electronic roots first saw him remixing fellow avant-dubstepper Starkey. From the Glasgow-via-Berlin producer’s recent Tragicomedies album comes this dubstep-indebted pop single. Like most of the album it isn’t easily pigeon-holed and uses its influences sparingly, never straying too far from its luscious rhythmic hook.

3. Pinback – “Glide” / “Diminished” – If you’ve ever listened to Pinback, you’ll know that they don’t use many different ingredients for their indie soup. The magic lies in how they mix them slightly differently with each song. I’ve decided to post 2 songs by this San Diego duo because, as much as I wanted to label their recent album as “more of the same old Pinback” (and it is), they still make really interesting and catchy variations on their theme.

4. Hundred Waters – “Thistle” / “Boreal” – This indie-electro-medieval collective just signed to Skrillex’s OWSLA label. It seems Sonny is branching out. You’ll realize just how far after you hear these ethereal folktronica-high-on-Stereolab selections.

5. Suzanne Kraft – “Crest” – Actually a male, Diego Herrara “crafts” (…) light-stepping disco-house a la Todd Terje or Lindstrom. From this summer’s Horoscope EP, “Crest” hits on a wonderfully airy, almost new-age synth wash overlaid on a classic 70’s groove that he rides for 7 blissful minutes.

6. Factory Floor – “Two Different Ways (Perc Remix)” / “REALLOVE” – UK trio Factory Floor have been grinding out dark alley industrial dance noise for several years now and a debut LP is reported for 2013. This year they released the “Two Different Ways” single on James Murphy’s DFA Records along with a few remixes. Perc’s driving techno remix is sublime, as much Berlin as it is Manchester. The second track is similarly quick-paced but a little more upbeat in its 80s synth loop.

7. XXXY – “Bash” – We can’t leave you without a solid bass music track, though the line between bass and all other things electronic is mostly well-blurred now. UK knob-twiddler Rupert Taylor has had a bevy of EP’s and remixes out since 2010 – here’s a classic house/bass hybrid (as they all are these days) to tide you over until next we meet.

Happy Halloween (don’t go in the basement…)


Midpoint Music Festival – Cincinnati 9/12 September 30, 2012

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One of the main reasons most patrons have for not attending EVERY decent music festival is that the whole endeavor is expensive.  Unless you drive (6hrs to Lollapalooza, for those from our neck of the woods), you’re saddled with a $400 plane ticket right out of the gate.  And if any of you have flown recently, you’re keenly aware of how the airline industry has become quite adept at squeezing every nickel out of you, beginning when you tell them you actually needed to pack more than 2 tee-shirts.

I digress.  I don’t know alot about Cincinnati– I don’t think a lot of northern Ohioans do.  It’s in Ohio, but I feel Cincinnati-ans (Cincinnato-uns?, Cincinnat-ans?) have always viewed themselves apart from the rest of the state.  Maybe it’s because they’re tucked in the southwestern-most corner of Ohio, on the banks of the Ohio River, or that their airport is actually in Kentucky, with whom they share a portion of their skyline.  Maybe it’s because during the Civil War, Cincinnati had difficulty choosing sides, given that it was a stone’s throw from a confederate state. Or perhaps they think they’re extra cool because theirs was the very first pro baseball team (1869), or that they have their own big-ticket Division I school and don’t need Ohio State athletics like the rest of the state.  Or maybe because Lonnie Anderson worked at a local radio station with Venus FlyTrap in the early 80’s…  OR…maybe it’s because

Cincinnati Music Hall

they host the only significant multi-day independent music festival in the region – that’s only a 4-hour drive from my house.

Midpoint was started in 2002 by two members of local bands.  It has since been sold to the city’s free entertainment paper CityBeat (the Cincy equivalent of Cleveland’s Scene).  The fest popped up on this guy’s radar last year because Cut/Copy was headlining.  On the list of “bands I must see”, Cut/Copy are tops (and never seem to make it to the midwest much…), but Grizzly Bear is not far behind, therefore heading south to the Ohio River seemed an easy choice.  It’s held in the heart of the historic Over-The-Rhine district, not long ago known as the most dangerous neighborhood in the US.  This year there were 16 venues, none of which was more than 10 blocks from the other – a model not unlike SXSW.  Shows were held in performance spaces of art centers, corners of bars, and repurposed lofts.  All in all it felt rather intimate and familiar; by the end we didn’t really need the map.

Here We Go Magic

We stayed in the same hotel as many of the organizers and artists (Andrew Bird is much shorter than I’d expected), which was within walking distance of the venues.  We set out on day 1 to catch Here We Go Magic at sunset in newly-renovated Washington Park, at the foot of the magnificent Cincinnati Music Hall.  On tour with and opening for Andrew Bird (curious choice, that), HWGM sounded a little lost on the big stage.  The songs were performed brilliantly and with heart, but the noise they made seemed inadequate amidst the towers of someone else’s stage equipment surrounding them on all sides.  And conspicuously absent were the female members of the group, one having gone onto a solo project (TEEN), also at the festival and encouraged by her former bandmates.  Still, hearing cuts like “Make Up Your Mind” and “Tunnelvision” live were definite treats.

The rest of night 1 was spent dropping in on bands that I though had cool names, as I didn’t have time to research everyone on the bill.  Nights

Laetitia Sadier

turned out to be from Cleveland, but sported a very 90’s Chicago alt sound, channeling their best Siamese Dream.  A side note:  how has it possibly taken me this long to come across a band named Nights?  Next up were hometown stalwarts Filament at the Motr Club, another 90’s throwback, this time in the form of Dinosaur Jr (who, by the way, also played here this weekend).  It should be noted that Motr Club took the prize for most interesting venue.  The main floor’s walls were placarded with 40-50 concert posters, most of them signed:  TV On The Radio, Stereolab, Apples In Stereo, etc.  Apparently the owner, who also is the main booking agent for this festival, has been around the Cincy scene for awhile.  The basement, however, had its own secrets:  5 pinball machines, lots of cozy tables, and a grotto area seemingly carved from one the stone walls under the stairs from which was served draft beer and all manner of Pete Rose paraphernalia – a sacred shrine to a local hero.

By the time I was able to see Laetitia Sadier, the dogs were barking.  As a decades-old fan of Stereolab, I was hoping for even a glimpse of the playfulness and kitsch for which Sadier’s former band was renowned, despite this being a solo album/show/tour for her.  The Contemporary Arts Center basement was cold and uninviting, but the acoustics were perfect.  You could hear a pin drop on the opposite side.  This worked against Sadier as her short pop-inflected songs about the evils of capitalism and bourgeoisie society fell on mostly drunken 20-somethings, especially those uncomfortable seconds between songs in utter silence (it is no coincidence that her new album is titled Silencio, which she sarcastically referenced when addressing the hushed crowd). Her delivery seemed dry and utilitarian especially without the usual studio magic, but for an indie legend like Sadier, it probably didn’t matter too much – now I can say I’ve seen even a portion of Stereolab live.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Night 2 was to be our final night it seemed; life threw yet another curveball.  But Night 2 was also the night we anticipated most.  We sat and enjoyed dusk in the green spaces of Washington Park again, the mood upset by chip-tune music courtesy of You, You’re Awesome, who felt it necessary to fill the sonic void demanded by 15-yr old XBox enthusiasts with ADD with neon Super Mario and Metroid bleeps and blips.  James Wallace and The Naked Light followed with a jam-band style set that seemed inspired, despite its hand-cuffing choice of genre.

If you haven’t heard of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, take this opportunity to familiarize yourself.  New Zealander Ruban Nielson contorts 60’s garage-pop sensibilities with unexpected twists and minor-key sidesteps.  Their show was energetic and a needed boost.  They had played this festival last year but had appeared here (and will for the next month) as the opening act for Grizzly Bear.

I had no idea how muscular Grizzly Bear’s live shows were.  On headphones one can really appreciate the quiet nuances of their albums, as well as when they open up the volume, and their performance here multiplied that by 1000.  The crowd was frenzied for opener “Sleeping Ute” and its stuttering cadence.  This carried into “Speaking In Rounds/Adelma” and “Yet Again”.  They went on to play most of their “hits” from Veckatimest and a wonderful rendition of “gun-shy”.  I guess I hadn’t before realized, but Chris Bear is a extraordinarily savvy drummer.  If you’re familiar with Grizzly Bear, you’ll know that their time signatures often change, sometimes several times within one song.  Watching Bear pound the skins (an older video, but showcasing him), but also know when and how to leave open space, was really impressive.  I feel like he’s an unsung genius of a band that’s chock full of them.  Even bassist Chris Taylor was playing sax and clarinet, in addition to his backing baritone vocal duties.  Co-frontman and band founder Ed Droste had an easy rapport with the crowd.  He took off this sweater mid-set to voyeuristic good-natured cheers, only to reveal a slight figure, then retorted, “wasn’t that anti-climactic?”.  Later he ad libbed falsetto soul lyrics while a faulty bass amplifier was switched out.  Their penultimate song was new epic classic “Sun In Your Eyes”, followed by a bombastic latter-half of “On A Neck, On A Spit”.  It’s not often (for me, a mostly electronic music fan) that I get to experience an expertly crafted instrumental

Grizzly Bear

experience like I saw on this night – it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen all year.  Afterwards, I made a comment that I would consider a live Grizzly Bear show to be on par with the vanguard of contemporary live magic, My Morning Jacket.  I stand by that.

Frankie Rose put on a spirited show as well, going through most of her excellent Interstellar.  Her show at the Know Theater (normally an acting/dance conservatory) was busting at the seams, helped along by her spontaneous

between-song banter.

Apparently the 3-day wristbands were running low in the week leading up to the festival – this was the first time in its 11-year history that this had happened.  I expect this festival’s lineup to only get better as the word gets out that this is a well-run and affordable blast of a weekend.


Teengirl Fantasy/Atoms For Peace/more Grizzly Bear/etc. September 21, 2012

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Like most of you, the last 30% of summer just seems to be when all of those plans and vacation days come together to see the summer off in grand fashion.  The last outdoor parties (in shorts), the last weekend getaways (in shorts), the last week-long dusty camping trips in Nevada, etc.  As a result, I haven’t been able to post much, but trust me, there have been some exciting releases in that time.  Here are a few:

1.  Brooklyn via Oberlin (Ohio) electronic duo Teengirl Fantasy gave us their second full-length release Tracer , this one a bit more polished and hi-fi than 2010’s sultry 7AM.  It also includes a few more guest contributors, most notably indie-weird it-girl Laurel Halo (we’ve dug her vibe before), adding her pristine vocals to “Mist of Time”.

2.  Thom Yorke has been a busy man.  Fresh off an extraordinary world tour with that other band of his, Radiohead, and given his seemingly non-stop curation of The King Of Limbs remixes by bass music muses, it’s a wonder he has time to write still more songs.  Well, he does, and his output with his Atoms For Peace project (that includes Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and everyone’s favorite bass-blasting madman Flea) is coming fast and loose.  Here’s a spectacular single released a few weeks ago that is very reminiscent of Yorke’s solo album The Eraser (as is the cover art).

3.  I believe I’ve said this before, but I’m not a fan of Hot Chip.  They seem too concerned with cerebral tomfoolery than music as a serious medium.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t light my fire.  This is also why Ween and Phish have never agreed with me.  And then I heard this song:

4.  Animal Collective’s new album, Centipede Hz, was released to “mixed” reviews a few weeks ago.  “Mixed” in the sense that this album was the follow-up to one of the greatest albums of the decade (Merriweather Post Pavilion) and it frankly isn’t as good on the whole when you stand them up back to back.  But that in no way means it’s not good; in fact it hides four or five tunes I would even consider great.  Here’s one of my candidates (as with any AC tune, give it time for the VERY unorthodox structure to sink in before you judge):

5.  And I know I’ve posted quite a few Grizzly Bear tracks here in the last several months, but this one must be shared (and if it isn’t obvious, I’ve really connected with this album – easily a top-ten contender so far).  As with the sweeping album closer “Colorado” from 2006 masterpiece Yellow House, the last song on new LP Shields is nothing short of epic.  There are very few songs that I listen to, rapt, with my jaw open.  No one makes music like these guys.

Go forth – till the musical earth.  Tell me what thou hast found.

It’s almost October.  The Walking Dead anyone?


I won Burning Man September 15, 2012

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In the two weeks since our return from the dusty playa (beach-like surface) of Black Rock City, Nevada, I’ve only begun to process the fallout.  I’d ideally wanted to allow my circuitry more time to route and file all of the competing pulses of sight, sound, alkaline grit, and good-natured altruism, but I believe this to be the optimal time to put pixel to paper – no need to shield this piece from the reality of how I feel at this snapshot in time.

To begin, “decompression”, the gradual shifting from one week as a carefree utopian organism back to the stressful grind in

I actually do see our camp in this

pursuit of the American dream, invariably occurs upon returning to the “default” world from such a surreal and wondrous place.  This year’s was blessedly mild.  In fact, there has been only one instance, as night fell on our trusty and familiar porch five hours after touchdown in Ohio, in which I was overcome by emotion, helpless to hold back the tears.  I take comfort in the realization that I’ve learned to respect these moments – I’ve made my peace with this necessity of expression.  And this is just one part of the unspoken personal curriculum for which you unknowingly register once your ticket is purchased.

I can’t be sure if it’s advancing age, the good fortune of a rewarding career, the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to find and marry the love of my life, or the relationships and lessons of four Burns, but my frame of reference has shifted recently.  Gone (mostly) are the concerns and insecurities of youth, of endlessly scaling the ladder of pre-scripted mores, and my archaic definition of what it means to be alive.  I haven’t extensively travelled the world, nor have I recently taken up transcendental meditation or subscribed to religion, but I now see the world through the eyes of someone who is just a little more tested, a little more comfortable in my own skin – despite that skin having been leathered and sand-blasted in Nevada.

This year, my fourth consecutive Burning Man and second with my wife (and likely last for the foreseeable future) was unlike the others.  We camped with a larger organized group, a camp (SHADY!) who’s existence was birthed not unlike our previous group, through someone inviting someone new (“virgin”), who, the next year, invited their own someone new.  The benefit was in that our new cadre of 35 individuals worked toward a common goal:  the comfort and enjoyment of the experience for everyone.  It was this aspect that removed the majority of the stresses of small-camp life (shade, water, ice, music, lace corsets, pasties, etc.) and thus left us more free to explore.  Trust me, this advantage cannot be over-stated.

My wife and I made more gifts this year (55 hand-sewn leather lighter-holder lanyards branded with a Burning Man pic) and as a direct result met more people upon gifting them (let’s face it, everyone can use a lighter out there).  Burning Man is only as meaningful as the creativity of its participants, so getting to meet handfuls of its various denizens is much of its appeal.  As a card-carrying introvert, our gifts (among 1,000,000 other things) thrust me into unfamiliar social situations, both spoken and not.  Since necessity is the mother of invention, I have become adept at creating a new, more extroverted persona to take the reigns as times…necessitate.

And lastly:  the music.  Oh, what music.  Over four years I’ve found that Burning Man isn’t concerned with trumping the previous year’s lineup.  It’s about making bodies move with reckless abandon.  I’ve seen several “big” artists there every year.  Infected Mushroom was not there this year; Ken Jordan from Crystal Method was, again.  As far as I know, Bassnectar was not there this year (first time in a decade?); the usual electro-house/dubsteppers were (MANDY, Mimosa, Emancipator, etc.).  Keep in mind that gifting non-stop music to a populous of 50,000 that came to get down is a difficult business; most of the largest camps spin 24-7 for eight days – that requires a fair amount of skilled personnel, of all styles.  Not all styles are familiar, and some are better than others.

But instead of fighting the power, we joined it.  We’re admittedly a bit fed up with (North American) dubstep and its electro-cheese off-shoots, so I made sure to procure several deep- and tech-house playlists and podcasts to ensure my wife and I garnered appropriate appreciation.  Here is the point where I would normally list what I thought was worth sharing.  Unfortunately, as is the case with every Burn, it’s hard to know exactly when we were somewhere and to whom we were listening.  Uh…sorry?  I do have one for you, however, found in a remote corner of the city (The Couch Prophet camp, to be exact) via a recommendation from some of our new camp-mates.  From Claude VonStroke’s SF label Dirty Birds, I give you Worthy:

And I do know we enjoyed the hell out of Lee Burridge at the Robot Heart art car as the sun came up one night.

But what had been all about the music for me is now something so much more.  It’s as if, once someone hands over their ticket to the gate attendants, they also cancel their membership to the constructs of “civilized” society, and become bound by a new set of rules – that there are none.  A few days ago a friend posted probably the best essay attempting to explain Burning Man I’ve yet come across.  It’s beauty was in how the writer had deftly succumbed to defeat in his attempt at said explanation, and it became somehow more clear as a result.  As do most articles on the subject, he erected the framework and listed the tangibles (vital stats, 10 principles, etc), but I think the quote he used amorphously encompassed his theme:  “Once you are free you are forced to ask who you are”.  This is the reality, if one can call it that, I’ve faced every September since 2009.  And one thing is certain:  I am no longer the virgin who rang that bell four years ago.  And that’s the reason I won Burning Man.



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