Thursday, December 30, 2010


I filed my Pazz & Jop right before Christmas, but can't recall what wound up on there right now. Instead, I recall what didn't make it there. Where to end, where to begin:

VA: Concentration mix CD
With the demise of his Lovefingers mp3 site, Andrew Hogge goes it one better, putting together this breezy, chilled-out mix that finds middle ground between Italian soundtracks, acid-folk, pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac, French psychedelia, and Balearic house, all of the tracks here Shazam befuddlers.
Dr. Dunks "No P's" (Dolly Parton Edit)
Edward Larry Gordon: Celestial Vibration (reissue)
Virgo 2LP (reissue)

Riley: Grandma's Roadhouse LP (reissue)
Chicken neck and skillet grease country-rock from 1971, dug up by the same feller who found those old Karen Dalton reels and Kris Kristofferson's publishing demos. For my imminent country music residency at the Ace Hotel, this will be in my bag no doubt.
Noveller: Desert Fires
Kreidler: "Impressions D'Afrique"
Malvoeaux: "Targets"

Dadawah: Wadadasow LP
This crucial reissue of an early Ras Michael session kicked off the Dug Out label. All of the singles done so far have varied in terms of the Jamaican spectrum (mighty dancehall, deep Black Ark cuts), but not in quality. Mesmeric, tranced-out drum thunder.
Protect-U: "Double Rainbow"
Motor City Drum Ensemble: Raw Cuts
COS/MES: "Chaosexotica"

Indignant Senility: Plays Wagner
Dark ambient tape project that turns Wagner into GAS, with all the attendant vinyl crackle and analog hiss. For gray mornings and drunken night auditions only.
Anthony Moore/ARP: Freakways
T++: Wireless
Bob Holroyd "African Drug (Four Tet remix)"

Gala Drop: Overcoat Heat/ Sea Power & Change: s/t
Portugal's Tiago came out me from more angles than any other producer of the moment. James Murphy packed his "Motorcycles" track in his DJ bag and even put out his latest single. I myself dropped his earlier single "Coaster" when DJing on Governor's Island as fitting opener for Tiago's band Gala Drop. And as the year ends, I'm listening to his slow-mo EP as Sea Power & Change on repeat.
Efdemin: Chicago
Avey Tare: "Lucky 1"
Welcome Stranger: "Brolene" ("Jolene" edit)

Backwoods: "Blue Moon"
Cost-prohibitive though it may be to convert the yen, the amount of killer nu-disco and house music coming out of Japan right now makes it worth the rate. Mick's "Macho Brother" made my P&J singles list, but I enjoyed Backwoods and COS/MES deeply as well.
Ray Mang feat. Lady Kier: "Bulletproof"
Claremont 56 (beach-house label)
Prins Thomas: s/t

Saturday, December 18, 2010

captain betaheart

My best friend in high school received a cassette from my future best friend in high school, a pink-magenta looking thing with the most grotesque cover imaginable: a man in a top hat topped with a shuttlecock, a fish head pressed against his own face. It had stared out at me before, in the writings of Lester Bangs, on every single one of those "Top __ Albums Ever," but even in listening to Trout Mask Replica, there was simply no path into such wilderness. I didn't get it. Listened to it time and time again, and it was wholly alien, hieroglyphic, off-putting, brusque, obtuse. And when there was a moment of clarity in it, it was strangely...hysterical.

It was the humor of the music that served as portal into the world of Don Van Vliet and Captain Beefheart, of Drumbo and The Magic Band. Lines like: "I run on laser beans"; "I took off my pants 'n felt free/ The breeze blowin' up me 'n up the canyon/ Far as the eye could see"; "A squid eating dough out of a polyethylene bag is fast 'n' bulbous, got me?"; the prank phone call vocals of "The Blimp"; the stoned chit-chat with neighbors at the end of "Hair Pie: Bake 1"; the tape rewinds amid the grunts of "China Pig," through such funny moments, they let me enter into TMR finally.

From there, I became of aware of what made the Captain so revered. That play of words, of images, of outré music (delta blues, free verse and free jazz, feedback), it was that childlike sense of making 'sense' that has stuck with me. With a bit of sugar, the spikes could be digested, too. There's still a rush to be had when the procession of horns finally enters the room on "Hair Pie: Bake 1" or when all the disparate fragments of "Ella Guru" come together via that one looooong drum roll of Drumbo, all cohering into an explosive, cartoonish, wide-eyed chorus.

When I was still in high school, under the spell of Richard Meltzer's insouciant and stoned essays from Gulcher, one of my first writing efforts was about how Trout Mask Replica was the first hip-hop album, citing as evidence the way Arrested Development dressed, the amount of skits embedded in the album, that the music was deemed "phat." In later years, I had the supreme honor of being involved in the putting together of Revenant's Grow Fins box set. Even with the unpacking of mythology, the deflating of said "Blimp" that the book inside revealed (like the atrocious conditions under which TMR was recorded) couldn't help but give me another level of appreciation for what the Captain did, good or ill. And today, I feel similarly to my former-editor Chuck Eddy, who laments in his recent obit, "he barely seems like he's in the music's DNA at all."

Lord knows, he remains in mine though. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band initiated me into such a sound world and --almost twenty years on-- I've been stuck in it ever since. It's not unlike the end of "Old Fart at Play," as once inside this music, all else can be understood: "The old fart inside was now breathin' freely/ From his perfume bottle atomizer air bulb invention/ His excited eyes from within the dark interior glazed/ and watered in appreciation of his thoughtful preparation..."

Never mind that I haven't been able to sit through all four sides of Trout Mask Replica since the end of my pot-smoking days. Or that upon hearing the news this morning of the Captain's departure from God's Golfball, I am reaching for the albums that surround TMR first: the tough garage of Safe as Milk, the maligned psychedelia of Strictly Personal, the soulful, radio-play maneuvering of Clear Spot and bittersweet moments like "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles."

Soon enough, I'll get to the sugar and spikes of "Dirty Blue Gene" and "Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee," the free-jazz farewell of "Light Reflects Off the Oceands of the Moon." And as I move deeper towards those first  memories of my love of music, I'll no doubt turn to gaze into the glassy eyes of that trout mask itself one last time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eden and John's East River String Band

I hung out with Eden Brower and John Heneghan of the East River String Band last week and wrote this piece about them for the Wall Street Journal. Tone-wise, it's one of my favorites, if I do say so myself. Enjoy.

Monday, December 06, 2010

texas jams

A few things items I copped when in visiting Texas:

Level 42: "Something About You" b/w "Coup D'Etat"

Katie Kissoon: "You're My Number One"

ZZ Top: "It's Only Love" 7"

Fatback: "You're My Candy Sweet" b/w "King Tim III"
Widely considered to be the first recorded rap.

Commodores: Movin' On (for "Cebu" alone)

James Gang: Yer Album

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

thanksgiving leftovers

The turkey-eating holiday means a visit to the parents' retirement house, which also means a chance to re-visit the archives (i.e., the small corner of a back closet where the records are kept). There was no room left in my digestive tract, but there was a bit of space in the rollerbag, so I packed up a few old albums I hadn't heard in nearly ten years now:

Beastie Boys: "She's On It" 12"
Ugh, the sight of Ad-Rock's chunky, pale legs (with the sock half-off) and Mike D's hairy-ass legs still makes my stomach queasy.

Stereolab: Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)
Here's hoping the 90s revival brings back a massive re-appraisal of le Groop. Think this is going to spur me to start digging out the myriad seven inches I've tucked away somewheres...

Will Rigby: Sidekick Phenomenon
Bought this from Ira Kaplan when Yo La Tengo played at Tacoland in...1994, was it? The cover of Hank Williams' "Setting the Woods on Fire" is a stone-cold classic.

Sun Ra: Astro Black
Perhaps the most influential musician for me back in my Texas days. A beaming Mr. Ra against a backdrop of black stars makes me smile as well, but I'm crestfallen to realize that skronk has not aged well for me at all. Find myself going to his more percussive, twinkling jazz miniatures more than the sprawling space-noise numbers.

Pink Floyd: Meddle and Atom Heart Mother
Listening to these two albums back-to-back makes me lament bands' inability to realize ambitious epics along the lines of these title tracks, reminding me of my unfulfilled wish that Boards of Canada make a 15-minute track. But in pulling out my copy of AHM, I realized that a snarky Sound Exchange clerk had used the plastic bag for my own private-pressed LP, circling my name and labeling me "local rock star." Guess such frustrations made me into the rock critic that I am today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Been sweet to see the tolerable hivemind side of the internet, as the Alessi Brothers' "Seabird" flew back around on posts and re-posts --courtesy of the LCD Soundsystem/ Hot Chip collaboration-- and folks hopped aboard its back. Or re-boarded the yacht rock yacht they had gotten off of after Michael McDonald did that Grizzly Bear thing. But will the hivemind get to this? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My feature on Sam Amidon ran yesterday at the Wall Street Journal. Have a read. A favorite insight of Amidon's that came up in the article but didn't appear in the piece is this:
When we go and listen to field recordings of folk songs in this day and age, you’re often listening to a recording from the 70s of someone still playing the banjo in Kentucky. By definition, that person is an outsider by that point. If he’s still playing old-time fiddle up in the mountains in the 70s it meant you hadn’t gotten a television, that things had passed you by. you’re still an outlier. The trajectory of field recordings in the 20th century. The ones from the 1920s, the technical quality of playing is really high, everything is enthused, it’s quite professional, almost. Whereas the stuff from later on gets really strange. They’re recording someone in their house and his teeth are falling out, a baby is crying in the background, he forgets half the words…there’s a really eccentric quality to those recordings.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Since I had a dream last night that I was DJing before the Royal Trux reunion show, now's as good a time as any to mention that I wrote the liner notes for the reissue of Thank You, originally released in 1995. Seeing as how much I have enjoyed re-living the pleasures of Drag City's own recent repressing of Cats and Dogs, it was an honor to be able to chat with Jennifer Herrema about that time.

The Trux greatly influenced my post-high school listening habits, for better or ill, and it's a pity to see how Pitchfork recently pulled their loathsome revisionist history to write them out of the 1990s. But my fandom was tested when they pulled through Austin in the early 90s. Rather than get a set of the dreamy/ druggy songs of Cats & Dogs, we were instead subjected to one of the biggest Fuck You  performances ever encountered. Haggerty decided he was John Cale's European Son, scratching up a violin over a drum machine mixed twice as loud, all while Herrema slinked to and fro, singing incoherently and looking like she was liable to murder anyone who gazed upon her.

And then, less than six months on, there was a promo cassette of Thank You making the rounds, the Trux turned into a boogie rock band. It was confusing, to say the least, but it was fun to talk to Jennifer and relive that time with a woman who scared the living shit out of me that night.

Monday, November 15, 2010


All the film world loves the lovers at the Criterion Collection for continually unearthing movie classics, but they've really done humanity a favor with the first domestic release of Nobuhiko Obayashi's WTF masterstroke House in the United States. Language continually fails when it comes to unpacking this one, so I'll just say that the wholly innocuous first three minutes of the film are more egghead-scrambling than the last thirty years of cinema, and that that is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't have Obayashi's commercial work of that era. Not to be missed is this commercial, featuring Charles Bronson and the Japanese Nat King Cole:

Friday, November 05, 2010

wfmu record fair fare

I have successfully avoided record fairs for a dozen years now, after overhearing a conversation with Byron Coley about his sausage diet (wish that was a euphemism for something). But this year, too many friends had tables at the record fair, so I suffered the slings and arrows of hearing grown men cite "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" as excuse for why he can't leave his mother's spare bedroom.

I did find these tracks though:

Monday, November 01, 2010

avey tare interview

In anticipation of his first solo album, one day I went and had lunch with the Animal Collective's Dave Portner a/k/a Avey Tare. We dipped into some fava beans and talked about the events that led up to the album and just how deep his love of the swamp and its critters really goes.

Are crocodiles your spirit animal?

Yeah, maybe. I don’t know much about that. Lately too, Josh and I and my girlfriend have been watching BBC Life specials, and I’ve been into the reptile one. Everybody thinks crocodiles are cold and heartless. Maybe, there’s this story about this guy in South America who raised a crocodile and he goes swimming with it. And they’re holding each other. I think they’re really cool. They were my favorite animals when I was younger. In high school, I was more obsessed with horror movies and I’d tell Brian that I wanted to be torn apart by them, you know, tossed to the gators. But now that I think about it…They are an old species, so they are ancient and anything that’s been around that long has generated and evolved and has some sort of knowledge.
But for the record it’s more about the swamp.

And what do the swamp connotations mean?

Brian and I liked these southern horror films, Eaten Alive, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Something about the swamp, even some place like the New Jersey pine barrens or what have you, appeals to me. When we were touring and were in Arkansas, there was a swamp monster that lived there. It was the Arkansas Bigfoot. Where we recorded in upstate New York, it’s all swampy around there. The Great Northern Swamp. There’s always something really mysterious about swamps to me. They seem impenetrable and no one ever wants to go in them. In movies, there’s always this fear about being lost in the swamp, that you will never find your way out. They’re uncharted. But there’s a beautiful aspect to them as well, as an ecosystem. All sorts of flora grow in them. I studied them back in middle school and dug them.

You keep referencing these older memories. Does the album feel like a culmination of the past for you?

Not in terms of being old. In terms of what’s been happening to me the past few years, it all seems very current. I wanted to focus the album around darker things that have been happening to me. And the swamp motif made it seem easy to tackle darker stuff. The swamp was a good way to invoke a psychological struggle, stepping into the muck. I was having a hard time getting out, or struggling in a very complicated web of things to get through. I guess, starting two years ago, my wife and I started breaking apart. And that was a really rough struggle over the past two years.

Especially when you work so hard to achieve a relationship, to have it be your foundation, only to have it crumble out from under you…

That intermingled with the Animal Collective stuff, being tied up with the success of Merriweather Post Pavilion, the positives intermingled with the negative at the same time. It messed with my mind in terms of what is to be valued. Over the course of this year, recording the album allowed me to have a bit more time to myself.

What took so long to make your first solo album? It seemed like it was imminent a few years back when you did the Fat Cat split.

It was not having a lot of time. It wasn’t a priority. In the time that I’ve been writing these songs, we worked on Merriweather fulltime, ODDSAC, and whenever there was a moment of free time, we had to finish the DVD. I feel like a lot the process for me went hand in hand with ODDSAC. The first track of the film tied into the album and my songwriting process. I was using the same sequencers to make those songs. The first song on the ODDSAC soundtrack was in this style and structure that was very me. It had this darker vibe and the emotions tied into that were what I was aiming for with Down Below
My grandmother died around the same time as that song (2008) and my family was really close and she tied everyone together. It was really monumental, losing her. That affected me a lot. I spent a lot of time in my practice space alone and it was this cavernous basement space, humid and moist and maybe that had something to do with wanting to have this feel permeate the music. And to top it off, my sister was diagnosed with cancer. That happened all at the same time. That was intense too. She’s alright, but she lost an eye and had to undergo serious surgery. I spent a lot of time in the hospital. It was about figuring out how to rebuild my life, what the best thing to do would be.

Did the album help then?

I had to get it out of my system, clear my mind. I do that a lot. I build up a lot of emotions inside of me and work them out through music. I guess I’m better at doing it through music than I am in real life. The record has to do with that struggle as well. The first song is about me being able to better express myself through music than through talking to somebody.

I am in therapy for something similar, struggling to feel your emotions in the present moment, rather than storing them up for art.

I’m not good at communicating certain things and that’s something I have to work on.

Maybe it’s a guy thing?

I get all tangled up and it’s hard for me to bring up things. I don’t want to cause trouble.

There’s a noticeable dubstep influence on the album, which is interesting as to this point, I didn’t think of it as a vehicle for singer-songwriter mode of expression.

Lately, when I pick up an acoustic guitar and try to write a song, it doesn’t flow right, as it did in the middle of the decade. Even on “In the Flowers,” which I wrote on an acoustic guitar but after awhile, I can’t express things in a unique way (with it). I’m sure the time will come when I pick up the guitar and feel it, but the songs started flowing a bit easier using sequencers. For Merriweather, I would play samples and go “Oh, I can write with that.” Dubstep, techno, and house, the more repetitive-ness of that music I wanted to strengthen them and make them more for songwriting. That’s why it took awhile how to figure it out, to be satisfied with them as songs. It can’t just be an electronic loop, that’s not enough of a song for me. I play a lot of keyboards on the record. The first song, I wrote the song before the beat, but it comes from a keyboard line.

That song in particular has a soul influence to it that I wasn’t expecting. Like an old-fashioned belter.

To me, that is a natural way of emoting. That’s something I’ve been working on a long time. When I tried that in the past, or modern ways of emoting that way, like screamo, or when raising the voice comes into the context of modern music, it feels “emo” or “hardcore.” There were a lot of soul singers who screamed their head off and it wasn’t considered “emo” back then.

Were you thinking of Otis Redding with it then?

Totally. Him and Bobby Womack, they had amazing voices. Not that I can there, but it’s something I’d like to work up to. To me, it’s translated more through John Lennon and even Kurt Cobain, they had that emotion and could emote in that way. You can feel what’s going through them.

With a lot of my songs, it’s about taking a number of things that are happening in my life and then combining them and finding a way that’s more picturesque. It’s not just a singer-songwriter. It is honest but it’s not obvious. To me, that makes me uncomfortable. There’s times on Feels, that it’s written with Kristen in mind. I want to make it a little bit more topical. Animal Collective would never make a record this electronic. Maybe MPP feels electronic, but it’s still live drums.

Was it tough not having them to bounce ideas off of?

Definitely. With them things move so much faster. That’s another reason it took so much longer. Because I’ve been doing it so long, I do have a better sense personally of what’s good. Stuff that lingers in my mind that I can hold onto, to me that’s a sign that it’s worth keeping. Ideas that I don’t get a handle on don’t linger. I was so nervous committing to it.

What made you commit?

Finally having a vision for it that it could become, seeing an overall view for Down There.

Is it a psychological direction, Down There?

Yeah (laughs).

In listening to it, it works best at night, and in open space. On headphones, it didn’t have the same effect. It comes across better for me in those conditions.

I imagine it to be a nighttime record. I think people tend to have expectations for stuff, thinking “this artist is going to do this thing.” They try to make weird competitions between Noah and I, but I don’t feel that pressure at all. Ever since we were young, what I do is different from what Noah does, which is what I appreciate. He has this unique sound and I wouldn’t want to do that. I’m not so concerned that it’s going to be this huge thing. It’s personal to me. I don’t want to promote it. People just make things like that up. That’s the weird part of being in Animal Collective. It doesn’t effect the way I approach playing, but it is weird to feel like that.

All the interviews I read of you are about Noah and what the new Animal Collective is going to sound like.

Usually, we’re good about deflecting that. ODDSAC press was about not talking about MPP. It was a collaboration with Danny. People don’t want to get information right. People will ask me about Noah’s record and when it’s coming out. And Noah hasn’t finished his record! People create all this stuff around you.

You mentioned somewhere else that there were ghosts in the record. What is something you would do to achieve that effect?

Subtleties mostly. I always liked weird moments in records. There’s a Silver Jews record, either Starlight Walker or The Natural Bridge --or something like Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd—and that’s not to say that these records were designed for this but all these weird little things happen. But on the Silver Jews’ song, I was listening to it on headphones and I heard someone say “David” in the background and I was alone in my house and I thought someone was there. 
But the idea of random artifacts being in there on purpose and making it sound haunted appealed to me. I do that with samples, mixing them in there really low, to where you wonder if there’s something in there or not. Leaving artifacts, making it feel broken, so that there’s something old, something ghostly there.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

oneida oral history

Fascinating oral history of Oneida recording Each One, Teach One at the turn of the 21st century over at Drowned in Sound. Lots of fine memories, but this tale is truly "wish you were there" style:
I feel like we played somewhere like Chattanooga, where there was almost no one at the bar, and there was a carnival in town. So at the bar were these scrappy old carnies, like scary dudes with one tooth and a wild look in their eyes. Not a ton of people, I’m talking 15 dudes from a carnival [laughs]. And maybe two other people, a bartender, three fans, and the band we were touring with. So we went up there and played this song ["Sheets of Easter"] for 15 minutes, and I think it pissed them off but also made them happy. I remember them stomping around the room thinking we were saying “die, die, die,” these crazy old hillbilly carny men going “die, die, die,” doing Monty Python-style goose-stepping walks around the room.

Friday, October 29, 2010

drone-minimalism explained

Drone-minimalism, as succinctly explained by Keef:
If you're working the right chord, you can hear this other chord going on behind it, which actually you're not playing. It's there. It defies logic. And it's just lying there saying: "Fuck me."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marnie Stern interview

Last week, a feature I wrote on "she-shredders" for the Wall Street Journal, which entailed sitting down with guitarist Marnie Stern to discuss a song like "Female Guitarists Are the New Black" and all the other baggage that comes with the territory. She bid me head to the Upper East Side and meet her at an ale house around the corner from her apartment. As she sipped an iced coffee and smoked Parliaments (careful to flick the butts way out onto the street), she talked about her failures in finding a male guitarist that could nail the parts to her new songs. We chatted about this topic and other things as well:

It was different awhile back for women. There weren’t many women doing it. Or at least, they could feel the currents against them. I never felt that. Thankfully, it’s because of Kill Rock Stars, Sleater-Kinney, that whole Riot Grrrl movement, helped make it possible for me to not think about it. So I never have, which is great, I think. I just wanted to become a good player and see good musicians. Take Ex-Models, I like seeing bands like that and feeling that they were so good. See, bands like Ex-Models, Hella, Lightning Bolt, and seeing them and just going home and practice, practice, practice.

It didn’t seem like a boys club?

No, that’s just good music. You can see wanking up there and it’s just garbage. But when it’s the music itself, the energy…that’s the thing. I only get inspired when it’s good music. I’m trying to make good music. I don’t want to just be good to be good, I want to put it in a song. That’s the whole point. When I see those bands that I love. At the same time, I remember going to see Erase Errata and thinking they were amazing and not thinking they were women up there. I thought they were neat. Of course, whatever gender you are plays a role in how you approach the instrument. But it’s not gender, it’s the person. See, it’s a difficult thing to have someone ask “what’s it like to be a girl playing guitar?” Well, I can’t tell you, I’ve never been a boy. I know how my brain works and what my make-up is.

Who were your models to look up to, as a female?

(Silence for ten seconds) Nancy Wilson of Heart. Kim Gordon. Um…see it’s different though. Debbie Harry. My perception when I was younger was rolled up with image. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between Madonna and Debbie Harry.

I feel like women have to engage with the image in order to have success.

So I’m learning. It’s hard when you start thinking about it in that way to dissect it. I get asked this question constantly. Generally, you can tell when a person is good at their instrument. You can tell a lot by their control and movement. What I think is interesting is that women are very good with coordination. Women are very organized. And part of the technical side of playing is brain organization. A lot of women play classical piano and classical guitar, which is fucking insane. That’s even harder than rock guitar. It’s just not amplified. i get asked why women aren’t doing shreddy stuff. It’s a hard thing to ask me. I don’t ask my girlfriends why they don’t like the shreddy sound. It just sound tacky or not beautiful or boring to them.

Your style evokes “Eruption” or “Thunderstruck,” the most masculine rock imaginable.

It’s so bizarre. I know in theory it’s “masculine,” but because I’m me, it’s not masculine to my ears. It’s just fun. I don’t think of it as masculine. It sounds cool and fun and big. These are all masculine things. Maybe I’m really lucky in the way I was raised. Maybe I’m dumb? I never thought about it. Even when I was in 6th grade and I watched GnR, I just thought it was cool, not masculine. Seeing Patti Smith was the same way. I didn’t think of her as a woman onstage.

In the 90s there’s female bands, bands with female bassists. But the exception never quite became the rule.

I’m sure a lot of it is a response to the trend in music. I can imagine if the trend in music was big 70s or 80s rock, I would be revolted. There are certain aspects of image that women did have to portray that is so absurd and unattractive. For women, the association with that is off-putting.

You have to wear fishnets.

Right. Everything is referential to what you know and listen to and like in your life. I guess that’s called “post-modern.” One person who’s never listened to experimental noise bands can hear this record of mine and think it’s crazy. And people from that world would think it’s really straight-forward. People will only hear Van Halen and not know that I’m referencing these newer bands. When my mom hears the songs, she likes this record a lot more. It’s more catchy, I remember them, she says.

Why is it just your name for the third album?

I like the songs a lot. It felt much more personal to me and I felt like this record was very reflective of who I am as a person, good or bad. Even when I was doing interviews a few months ago, I was just a mess and really forthcoming in interviews. When you start to heal and you look back, you go “woah.” I would like to come out of that little group of “guitar player.” I don’t know if I want to be considered a Joanna Newsom, but someone who is good at their instrument yet transcends it with song. When people listen, they hear a lot of guitar. Zach’s drums are everywhere so it sounds busier than it is.

But Joanna doesn’t arise from a lineage of iconic male harpists.


So, the roots of a song like “Female Guitarists are the New Black”…

That was just “Come on.” It’s just…this constant thing. It puts a lot of pressure on me to be seen as this very good guitar player because when I compare myself to all the guitar players I know, I’m alright, but I am not amazing by any means. I’m just trying to write songs. I want to do interesting stuff but it puts this pressure on me to where I feel like the Emperor’s new clothes. I know that I can play really well but not at the level of…and then it goes back to this whole female thing of how there aren’t that many female musicians to compare it to and that’s why it remains a talking point. This is where the uncomfortable-ness of it comes up. Is it just because I’m a woman that people say I’m a really good guitar player? Because there aren’t that many to compare me to? That bums me out. I would like to be good, period.

It’s like that bit in Mad Men where Freddy compares Peggy to “a dog playing the piano.” There’s a complacency and misperception about women’s capabilities. Both then and now.

It’s great and what am I complaining about? It’s great but it just seems to me to always be the focus. I’m just worried that the songs themselves are…wait a minute. Just for fuck’s sake let’s say I played guitar on the new record but so did someone else. Two guitar players like Deerhoof. Would it get the same kind of scrutiny? What do you think?

I’m sure my writing outlets wouldn’t go for it…


What’s it like on tour? Do you get coddled?

I’ve never been made to feel…that’s not true. Sometimes I’ll get to a venue and the soundguy will say: “Are you acoustic? Do you need a stool?” thinking I’m singer-songwriter. That’s when its funny, like when I do the soundcheck.

Do you still have to prove yourself?

No, but it’s because of who I am as a person, because I’m writing these songs and I’m just trying to show who I am as an individual. When we talk about these other things, where people make these assumptions and then I get pissed and feel I need to be doing more to get other women to play guitar. It’s selfish to say it doesn’t affect me who cares?

What do you think of Rock Camp for Girls?

Of course that’s great. But again, I think it’s great to get any kids to be doing music. I’m also naïve. I can’t imagine that a girl would feel that she couldn’t feel she could pick up an instrument and it would not be alright. I can think of people in the past ten years but even those people are in the underground scene. Kaki King is known as a great female guitar player, but again, the focus is on the female, the novelty of it. Shit! Yeah, you’re right. But what a little cloud I live in. the friends that I have who are creative as writers, painters, I’ve never heard instances for them of gender being an issue.

In pop, female presence is a non-question but hard rock remains off-limits.

But if I see a group of females doing hard rock but not being interesting, I could care less who they were.

Like Lez Zeppelin: it’s Led Zeppelin, but dude it’s chicks! It revels in the novelty of femininity and holds it back.

I’m always looking for something I can use myself, a certain style, a new sound. I’m looking always for an essence to use. It’s almost a job. This is what I do everyday. What we were saying about the macho thing is maybe I have a lot of that in me. Weird guitar shrill sounds good to me. Things that to a lot of people, not just women, that make you want to cover your ears, I really actually enjoy that noise. I don’t know why for me I gravitated towards loving that kind of stuff.

What made the album more personal for you?

The whole thing. All of a sudden…I didn’t have a personal life for a decade. I was just doing music and was pretty guarded. And then all of a sudden I had a personal life and it crashed down on me. A guy I had loved a decade ago committed suicide. Things over a two year period were all disappointing. Major disappointments, heart-crushing blows. I hadn’t expected that. I thought I would wait to date somebody and then when I did, it would all work out. So it came crashing down and it made it’s way in. I was so shocked.

That’s what your art is for, to take that blow.

Of course, so when the mood was reflective and sad, I was adjusting the music to reflect that. I was experimenting with reverb and it gave the album a softer thing. The first two albums are motivational and this is about sorrow and sadness and disappointment, telling myself it’s going to be alright. The part of me that feels embarrassed is the part that feels like I’m a sap, a sucker. Being myself, that opens you up for more.

Why did you pick up the guitar in the first place?

It’s the most bizarre thing. I was working as a proofreader at Columbia House, 12 CDs for a penny. I said I don’t like this, I’m going to do music. My friends and family didn’t understand. I didn’t listen to music really. I don’t understand it. There must have been something, but looking back, there was no impetus. Later I listened to PJ Harvey and weirder people. It was something I thought about but I didn’t was a possibility. You go get a job and get married and live a normal life. “You’re going to throw away your whole life?” Now that I have reviews and a record deal, hell no; That’s huge Mom points. Now she says: “I’m living through you, live your dream.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

polk salad beta

To kick off CMJ 2010, my pal Rotter scored huge and got us in to see the legendary Swamp Fox, Tony Joe White. It is a known quantity that I love the man, so it's always a thrill to see him turn concrete into swamp. In an hour-long set, we got one instance of polk (which the locavores still aren't chomp-chomping on) and three instances of silk stockings in song. Which is three times more than I'll hear all CMJ-long.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shredding the Definition of the Guitar Hero

Today, my first feature for the Wall Street Journal appeared in print and it's about three of my favorite guitarists right now: Marnie Stern, Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, and Sarah Lipstate of Noveller. You can read the piece here. These interviews were enlightening for me, in terms of who inspired them over the years (Nancy Wilson, Kim Gordon, Lydia Lunch respectively) and the sorts of scrutiny (and media attention) they ultimately get for being women. Discussing gender is not very easy for me (white male), so it was a great challenge to strike the right tone in the piece.

Monday, October 18, 2010

last week's jams

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A sampling of drunken exchanges with the DJ

"Hi. Can you plug in my iPhone so that we can hear Leo Sayer's 'I Feel Like Dancing'?"

"Buuut, we're playing a song right this very instant that's about feeling like dancing."


"You remember that Falco song, 'Der Kommissar'?"

"(Pauses in deep contemplation) Yes. I do remember it."


"Can you play Chromeo?"

"We've played nothing but talk box songs for the last hour."

"Yeah, but I'm trying to impress this girl."


"Cool, you about to play that CJ & Co. Devil's Gun record?"

"Fuck yes I am!"


"You know, if you played the Beach Boys right now, everyone in this bar would start singing."

"That's exactly what we don't want."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

dorf on golf channel

I wrote a feature for Resident Advisor about one of New York's most idiosyncratic dance music labels of the moment, Golf Channel. They released that monstrous Mark E edit of Janet Jackson a few years back and have continue to deliver the goods since then. Like this track. But the piece also doubles as a history of New York's sweetest, seediest dance party of the past decade, No Ordinary Monkey.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nine 11 Thesaurus

Nearly a year in the works, the big feature I wrote about Nine 11 Thesaurus, a rap group that springs from an after-school program for disadvantaged youth in Bushwick, ran this week in the Village Voice.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

two lines left...

How to spell New York.

Two lines left out of my recent Esscort Q & A about their new single "Cocaine Blues" at the Voice:

Eugene: The DJ perspective is very important, its where a lot of our tastes have been formed. They may not be the deepest cuts, but you won't find us without a stack of August Darnell, Gino Soccio and Nile Rodgers productions. I guess if you had to round out the Mt. Rushmore of disco producers you might have to put Quincy on there, too.

This song makes me think back to the halcyon days of Cokie's, the notorious Williamsburg cocaine bar. 

Dan: As for Cokie's, my superintendent just broke into my apartment roaring drunk with a half-finished bottle of Jagermeister. (I'm not making this up.) He's muttering something about bags of baby laxative and cheap whiskey. It's a shame Cokie's closed: they could have included it in the amenity brochures for prospective condo buyers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Je T'aime...

Out now is Light in the Attic's handsome and heavy remaster/ reissue of Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg's first collaborative album, often entitled Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus after its controversial softcore single. I was honored to interview Ms. B about it and write the liner notes for it. Buy it here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

jams by andy beta

It's a total thrill and honor to be spinning a few hours' worth of jams for my girl Jess Rotter's art opening on Wednesday evening at the purt-sweet Nightwood pop-up shop in downtown Brooklyn. That there will be heaps of limited vinyl for sale from the folks at Mexican Summer and Sacred Bones, as well as 'zines by the likes of I Heart only adds to the fun. My record bag will include everything from Matthew Young's Traveler's Advisory and Waylon Jennings to Thin Lizzy to Flying Saucer Attack, a spacious mix of dust, denim, and fuzz. And check out these sweet Gene Clark shirts Jess recently made:

Friday, September 17, 2010

heep see

Islaja: Keraaminen Pää
The two times I've happened upon Finnish musician Islaja (in Greenpoint and Beijing, of all places) she's enacted her singular music with a sampler, so it was a bit curious to read Pitchfork's wrongheaded review which presumes that Merja Kokkonen hails from "a stretch of old growth forest...or maybe Middle Earth," lamenting that with her electronics Keraaminen Pää sounds "modern, mechanical, and familiar." Some recent reviews of Finnish music all  dabble in speculation on the country, but considering that Islaja's success comes from outside of her homeland, I can't help but think of her as a wandering musician without territories (see also above locales). Lord knows her music makes few man-made distinctions: dirges, wobbling electronics, that icy vocalization, the throbs and meandering progressions. A song about a werewolf that undergoes such changes itself. That the album was made in Finland, Benin, Berlin, and Hong Kong suggests wide peregrinations as well. Most telling is her sampling of a fellow musical gypsy, Ghédalia Tazartès, which suggests she won't be settling into something familiar (least of all in an enchanted forest) anytime soon.

Noveller: Desert Fires
Brooklyn guitarist Sarah Lisptate sent her new album to me out of the blue. Turns out she also spent time in Austin, Texas before coming up north. And in a way her approach to the guitar I feel a kindred pull (from a decade previous), emphasizing texture and weather-pattern drifts, abstraction above traction. It's telling that Lipstate also does experimental film and since it arrived around the same time as my copy of Michaelangelo Antonioni's stunning modern-life meditation, Red Desert, I conflate the two works. (Also, Red Desert came during the time of the Deephorizon oil spill, giving it even muckier resonance.) Picturing that black sea, the bogs the hue of pus, the slate-ash skies, that deathly green of walls, I hear Noveller's music in Antonioni's color palettes, the suspension of feedback lingers with me as long as those images, too.

Hildur Gudnadóttir: Mount A
Originally a Mum member (also a member of Storsveit Nix Noltes), and originally a limited release under the name "lost in the hildurness," Gudnadottir has her first solo outing cleared again so that it might get a bit more attention. Credited with cello, viola da gamba, gamelan, zither, and more, it's rare to have a female composer represented on the esteemed Touch imprint (but not as rare as it not having the photography of Jon Wozencraft adorn it) and rather than make grand gestures, the album is infused instead with small moments that have taken a few spins to grow. Sawed-string miniatures, neo-classical meditations, shimmering suspended drones, it's been a morning soundtrack for a few weeks now, with expansive closer "You" a highlight.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


JUNIP - Always (Official Video) from City Slang on Vimeo.

As a judge for this year's World Air Guitar Championships, I sat at the judges' table with none other than José Gonzalez, who got up at some point at the halfway point to do his own air guitar theatrics with his band, Junip. I'm barely done unpacking my Moomin mugs yet the Junip video is already done and up.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

TV Guide

In anticipation of the new football season, I was asked to do a little something on facial hair in the NFL for the new issue of TV Guide. Random, I know...

Monday, August 16, 2010

betair guitar

It is with great honor (and a wicked windmilling motion with my tongue wagging out) that I announce that I have been asked to be a judge in the 2010 World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland. Rock!

Small Lives

"The barren desert that I was, I wanted to populate with words; I wanted to weave a veil of writing to hide the hollow sockets of my gaze; I did not succeed; and the stubborn void of the page contaminated the world that it completely evaded."
Pierre Michon Small Lives

Friday, August 13, 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

breath out

And then there's Gary Snyder:

"It is a perfectly simple, ordinary activity to be silent, to pay attention to your own consciousness and your breath, and to temporarily stop listening or looking at things that are coming in from the outside. To let them pass through you as they happen. There's no question that spending time with your own consciousness is instructive. You learn a lot. You can just watch what goes on in your own mind, and some of the beneficial effects are you get bored with some of your own tapes and quit playing them back to yourself." 

breath in

Re-reading a book of interviews with Beat writers and poets, I realized many talk about breath and meditation and how it pertains to the writing practice. Here's Allen Ginsburg lecturing an NYU class in the mid-90s:
"So the basic classical practice is paying attention to the breath leaving the nostril and following the breath until it dissolves, not controlling the breath, just any regular old natural breath that comes along will do. What you are adding is your awareness of the breath rather than any control...When you notice you are thinking, label it thinking and take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts. That is the nature of the mind to think thoughts."

Thursday, August 05, 2010


"What technology really does is make our days seem to move too slowly, the nonstop flicker and flight of all our mechanisms stranding us within what, by contrast, becomes an even more static present. We, in other words, devise the illusion of our own discomfort even as we continue to make life easier. We resist our mechanisms even as we go on inventing them."
Charles Siebert Wickerby

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ocean of Sound

"Imagine the most likely use for the wired city of the future not in cyberpunk or megatripolising world music frameworks then but as a hi-tech campfire, people plugging in to remind themselves of life as it was when they were plugged out, twisting their isolation into something resembling community."
David Toop Ocean of Sound

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Patagonia

"Now I play Chopin. Yes?" and he replaced the bust of Beethoven with one of Chopin. "Do you wish waltzes or mazurkas?"
"I shall play my best favorite. It is the last music Chopin is writing."
And he played the mazurka that Chopin dictated on his deathbed. The wind whistled in the street and the music ghosted from the piano as leaves over a headstone and you could imagine you were in the presence of a genius.

Bruce Chatwin: In Patagonia

Monday, July 12, 2010

bukka beta

I wrote a succinct set of liner notes for the first-ever CD reissue of this Bukka White recording on John Fahey's Takoma imprint, out now. This was recorded by Fahey one afternoon upon tracking Bukka down to his room in Memphis and finding that --after not recording for 30 years-- he could still play those relentless, iron-horse blues as he did in the early 1930s. There's a tactile joy in the man's growl on this one.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Aside from having my lobes re-arranged by the vuvu drones during World Cup matches in Johannesburg, I've also been spending an exorbitant amount of time with this new compilation from Honest Jon's, Shangaan Electro. "Bananas" doesn't quite encapsulate this ludicrous music, but as exhausting/ exhilarating as the comp is, the videos of folks twitching to it is beyond words. A few favorites below:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

washington, bc.

While we will no doubt be veering towards the Rothko exhibit at the National Gallery instead, D.C. is also hosting Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Revisionist American mythmakers to rival that of Rockwell, a fine article by Blake Gopnik in the Washington Post deftly unpacks this pre-packaging of "America" to Americans. He writes: "Even after all these years, high realist pictures never fail to play the magic trick of making us think that because they look so real, they must show things as they are."

That uncanny mindset of our country might be best summed up by this disconcerting quote from Speilberg, also in the piece: "I look back at these paintings as America the way it could have been, the way it someday may again be." So...something that was already delusional we might once again return to? Doesn't that just mean we already are in a state of delusion? While appropo for someone like Lucas, for a man who has seemingly been intent on re-addressing such mythologies with Schindler's List and The Pacific, it sounds off coming from Speilberg.

Rockwell has so whitewashed our psyche that even for my generation, it's hard to imagine a past that doesn't look like those damned pictures. It's become the mindset of political rhetoric as well, a return to a place that never was, even when Rockwell was painting them. Gopnik again:

In the hands of America's Favorite Artist, it stood as a willed repudiation of the new... Rockwell panders, in his very substance of his pictures' making, to his public's fear of change. Rockwell's greatest sin as an artist is simple: His is an art of unending cliché. The reason we so easily "recognize ourselves" in his paintings is because they reflect the standard image we already know. His stories resonate so strongly because they are the stories we've told ourselves a thousand times."