The Art of the Mix

Making mixes for people is a grossly underrated medium of expression. I know people who have put more thought into compiling a mix tape than they put in almost anything else they have ever done. My poor wife has gotten more mix tapes than love letters by a ratio of about 30:1. That’s not an exaggeration.

The Art of the Mix website has been around since 1997, gathering people’s mixes and allowing others to comment on them. They’ve got over 10,000 mixes up on the site right now. It’s a great idea. Our own Sab came up with a similar idea a while ago, but didn’t get too far with it. It’s still a great idea. I just uploaded my latest mix to Art of the Mix, and I plan on uploading the rest of them from now. You should too. I wish I had known about this since 1997.

And yes, there is a category for “Break Up” mixes. You can search for them by category and feel relieved that you didn’t know about this site the last time you had your heart broken. But at least you weren’t as sappy as some people, ha ha. Or maybe you were. I hope nobody ever finds the track lists for the mixes I made when I was 18…

Stephen Malkmus: Hanging Out With The Coolest Kid In School

Stephen Malkmus Just Can’t Apply Himself

Stephen Malkmus is one quirky motherfucker.

The quirky charm has always been his calling card, ever since Pavement’s emergence in the early 1990s. His shit-eating grin and know-it-all-ness seeped into ever corner of the band’s music, making him the understood frontman in a group known for its members’ shambling individuality. Pavement made sardonic, witty little songs that never seemed finished, but always had plenty of ideas lying about in the margins. Sometimes, it was as if the band cared little if anyone liked them or not. They were immediately adored.

1992’s Slanted & Enchanted (Matador) was slacker heaven. Flashes of Malkmus brilliance (“Summer Babe,” “Loretta’s Scars”) shared space with abbreviated nonsense that made more than a few people toss the thing in the used bin. But patience would prove to highlight the album and the group’s considerable ability, even if their smart-aleck, winking approach to Indie was at times annoying. Slanted’s momentum and Malkmus’ emerging dreamboat status made Pavement a household name by 1994 and the Matador release of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Er, at least in Indie households. While “Cut Your Hair” was the first song on way too many mix tapes that year, its Orange Whip goodness didn’t translate into mainstream acceptance for the band of hipster doofuses. Which wasn’t surprising. Even though Malkmus was now considered This Year’s Evan Dando, and had obvious and considerable talent, the output was just too damn, well, quirky.

Fast forward to 2000. Pavement had been dissolved since 1999. By this point, everyone knew that Malkmus had pretty much been the id, ego, and super-ego of that group, making his announcement of solo plans all the more exciting for aging Indie Rockers everywhere. Guys who hung up the big glasses and threw out the band T shirts years ago were salivating at the thought of Stephen Malkmus – the Pope of Indie Rock – releasing new material. Because Indie just wasn’t the same anymore. The subdivisions of math rock, stoner rock, slo-core, lo-fi, no-fi, and of course the ever-ambiguous Emo had diluted a formula that had once been so strong with The Force. Back in the Good Old Days (1997), things were just simpler, with less labels, less bands, and less shit to remember about who had released its limited edition clear 7″ on Nowhere Records out of Budapest. Malkmus’ return was almost as good as a Pixies reunion tour.

Recorded in Portland as The Jicks with John Moen (drums) and bassist Joanna Bolme, the long-awaited solo debut from Indie’s golden child was – drum roll, please – quirky. It was also all Malkmus, all the time. Originally rumored to be named Swedish Reggae, Matador released the record as a self-titled affair with Our Kid’s good lookin’ mug plastered all over the cover like some kind of post-Indie Leif Garrett. One was surprised when there were no layouts in Tiger Beat or action-figure tie-ins with Hasbro. Because Stephen Malkmus really is the coolest kid in class. Indie girls love his sunlit hair, ambling frame and earnest vocals. Indie guys envy his offhandedly genius guitar playing and – let’s face it – his status. He’s on top of the Indie world, and he seems to have achieved this effortlessly.

In grade school, there was a kid named John Dubiski. And he had a boom box. It wasn’t your average Radio Shack hack job. Oh no, it was a full-on, Radio Rahib special with all the fixin’s. Of course, John Dubiski was the most popular guy in the schoolyard. Not only did he possess the boom box; his easygoing confidence and utter lack of meanness made him impossible to dislike. At Park Day, when he sat with your group and turned up the radio on his rig, it was like being granted an audience with The Pope of the Fifth Grade. Girls chattered and swooned; the boys stood silent, reveling in his aura. We kissed the ring of cool, to feel a little cooler ourselves.

On Friday night, the John Dubiski of Indie Rock showed off his new ghetto blaster.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks at Metro, 4/5

Upon taking the stage, Malkmus and his incredible hair were instantly recognizable. Launching into “Jennifer And The Ess-Dog,” a driving number from the album that tells the sad story of a Kasey Kasem-like long distance love affair, The Jicks proved adept at propelling songs along in a manner that Pavement didn’t employ enough. While his old band was too often sidetracked into meandering absurdity like Rock and Roll A.D.D. sufferers, the solo material is all meat, no gristle. Gorgeous ballads like “Church on White” showcase Malkmus’ sparkling songwriting talent, while hook-y numbers like “Discretion Grove” and the redundantly titled “Hook” build a sunlit groove. The new Bakersfield Sound? Maybe. Pavement always had a distinctly west-coast vibe, but it was usually shit-canned in favor of off-kilter shenanigans and inside jokes. Malkmus’ solo work is more focused, but it retains that — here we go again – quirkiness that Our Favorite Indie Kid just can’t seem to outgrow. Songs like “Black Book” and “Troubbble” are finely rendered, but with a bleary-eyed laziness that betrays the songwriter’s lethargy. It’s music for sleepyheads.

On stage, Malkmus’ fueled his tunes with fiery, psychedelic guitar work that really amp’d up the material. Mixing with driving percussion and the odd keyboard flourish, there were points during the set where The Jicks were a real Rock and Roll band, and not simply another showcase for Malkmus’ sidelong wit. During an encore that featured covers including CCR’s “Lodi,” the band reached for heights not even suggested on record, and achieved them resoundingly. Playing guitar behind his head, through his legs, and on his back, Stephen Malkmus may have showed his true colors as a (drop the Indie) Rocker. If only his sense of humor would let him do that all the time.

It’s interesting to return to his studio material after watching him onstage. The songs’ joke-y lyrics mix well with the focused arrangements and crystalline production. But despite Matador Records’ attempts at marketing Stephen Malkmus as the alternative Robbie Williams, the actual music will still not appeal to anyone outside of The Indie Universe. Even though his muse has led him far enough away from Pavement’s silliness to create a solid solo effort, it’s not exactly Top 40 material. And the funniest thing about it is that no one (besides maybe the bean counters at Matador) really cares. At 35, Malkmus has made a career out of being a slacker genius. He has conquered the Indie world, with literally hundreds of adoring fans in every club in every city. Those same fans don’t want to see Their Man on TRL; indeed, that would ruin his “Indie Cred,” and then they’d have to move on to Scott Kannberg’s Pavement solo project. And that’s no fun. Malkmus and The Jicks sold out two shows in Chicago. The crowd was a mixture of aging Indie Rockers and young kids hip to the scene. And everyone there was in love with Malkmus’ moves, because he’s the coolest damn kid in Indie. Always was; still is.

The summer after fifth grade, John Dubiski’s family moved, and no one ever saw him again. But we all remembered him and his boom box at Park Day, shuffling along with his bright eyes and easygoing demeanor. And for that period in time, we had John Dubiski, his coolness, and his ghetto blaster all to ourselves. And we felt cooler.

JTL

Hope

“As a pop music critic, I’ve had fun diving into the role of a crank: lonely protector of the true text. It’s a ridiculous role—and it’s amazing how much work it offers.”

—Greil Marcus

“Myth and Misquotation”

The Dustbin of History

Musical Maturity?

Bill Flanagan really must have some juice. Encomia on his novel A&R are provided by Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Peter Buck, and Tom Petty. Someone more cynical than I might say that this constitutes a large portion of the literate throng among the rock community. I’m not saying that.

Flanagan, according to the dust jacket, is senior vp and editorial director of VH1. Evidently, he knows intimately about the business he is telling a tale about. And make no mistake: It is a business.

A&R could be turned into a movie (of the week) in short order, a roman a’ clef always makes for the who-is-it? fascination.. There is the requisite number of interlocking and tangential narrative threads as it follows Jim Cantone, A&R man who, in order to get some bigger coin, leaves behind a smaller label to move to the modestly named WorldWide Music, where his belief in himself—and his music—is sorely tested. There is the head of WorldWide, “Wild Bill” DeGaul, who has done everything with everybody as he has created his musical empire. Musicians Lily Rope and Jerusalem. . . .Sex. Drugs. Travel. Rock and roll. And, oh yes, financial machinations.

OK. So it’s a potboiler.

But Flanagan raises an interesting point. A financial guy takes control of the company and does a reorg of the WorldWide staff. And he says, “I think we have to address the reality that pop music now is R&B. That’s not good or bad, it’s just the truth. . . .I listen to what’s getting played on Top Forty radio, it’s pretty clear that rock and roll is no longer the center of the universe. Rock and pop are moving away from each other. . . Why should pop be a subdivision of rock?”

He goes on to say, “Rock and roll doesn’t have to carry the bottom line anymore.” (Remember: we’re talking business here.) “It doesn’t have to pay for everything else. Let hip-hop take that financial burden and you let rock flourish as an art form. It’s a mature style now, like jazz.”

So I ask all of you: Is this correct? Is pop R&B? Is rock mature? Does it matter?

Six Major Concert Announcements

Ugh! So I get this e-mail today, from the Palace. You know, the “entertainment” company that owns the Palace of Auburn Hills (home of the not-so-entertaining Detroit Pistons) and Pine Knob Music Theater (the one big outdoor music venue in “Detroit” that’s actually a lot closer to Flint) in my former town of Clarkston. Now I signed up on its Web site so that I might get notified of new shows and not miss getting tickets to see Neil Young next time he’s in the area. Ditto The Boss and any other big name acts that I still foolishly spend more than $30 to go see. (Okay, more like “more than $50.”) So today’s e-mail says “Six Major Concert Announcements.” Here, look at it for yourself.

So you looked, didn’t you? All I have to say is $78.25 to see Ozzy, and that’s the only damn show that would be tolerable to sit through. That is, if you were drunk enough. (I will be out of town for Oasis/Black Crowes, so that doesn’t count.)

Oh, and by the way, the DTE Energy Music Theatre isn’t some new venue, it’s just what they’re calling Pine Knob these days. I wonder when Three Dog Night (no word on when their annual performance at the Knob will be) is going to rename itself “Seven Up Three Iams Pet Food Dog La Quinta Inns Night.”

More Weezer mp3s

Karl has posted some more Weezer mp3s on the Weezer Fanclub Online. There are six lo-fi songs from a 1998 show Weezer played as “Goat Punishment,” a Bleach-era Nirvana cover band. If you have a fast internet connection, they’re worth downloading. “Aneurysm” rocks particularly hard if you’re too lazy to get to them all. Warning to audiophiles: the sound quality sucks.

Continuing Education Dept:

Have you ever found yourself at the head of the line for the dancing cage on Soul Train and remembered you never learned how to dance? Well, in addition to providing a forum for crabby music critics, the internet can also be used as an instructional tool. How to Dance Properly uses the advanced technology of the world wide web to give you detailed instructions and animated examples so that you can be doing the “Who’s you’re daddy?” in no time, and never again feel the shame of not being able to groove.

Link from K10K

King Gimp – It’s okay to laugh, he’s funny

I finally got to see HBO’s Academy Award winning documentary, King Gimp, last night. I had been wanting to see this since I nearly fell out of bed laughing when I was watching the Oscars and it won for best short documentary. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about. When they announced the winner, Dan Keplinger, the subject of the film about his lifelong struggle with cerebral palsy, was so happy and excited he convulsed right out of his seat.

You might think I’m an asshole for laughing at this, but I’m not.

I was genuinely filled with joy. I could feel this guy’s happiness. And he’s funny. This same sense of empathy carries over in his art. He has very little control over his hands and arms but he’s got a pretty good handle on his head and neck, so he uses a “head stick” to paint (and to type as well). He says the word “gimp” also means “fighting spirit” and he’s got plenty of it.

He is so cool. He’s funny and he’s smart and he’s tough. And he rules. You’ve got to watch this documentary if you get a chance. And check out his own page.

SIGNAL PATH – Plugging in to the history of headphones

About 20 years ago, there was a late-night show on WLUP (“The Loop”) in Chicago called ‘Headphones Only.’ Predictably, each episode promised to take you, the listener, on sound-filled journey featuring the sites, sounds, and vibes of albums that were “meant for headphones.” Curiously, 90% of the music programming on ‘Headphones Only’ featured songs already in the Loop’s daily dosage of AOR rawk n roll. You know: plenty of the ‘Floyd, Grand Illusion-era Styx, and ELO…or was it ELP? Doesn’t matter. The point is that ‘Headphones Only’ never really lived up to its self-professed hype. Sure, plenty of 70s rock opuses featured studio hijinks meant to ensure headphone heaven for the listener. But even if you had the really bitchin’ Jensens, the squelch and pop of the FM band was going to limit your aural pleasure. So rather than revealing the sub-channel, multi-tracked intricacies of, say, BB Steel’s On The Edge, ‘Headphones Only’ played out like an aging rock jock’s sonic reefer fantasy. “Dude, I think I can see the inside of my mouth, man…”

‘Headphones Only’ has long since left the radio dial. And headphone use itself has left the home completely, in favor of mobile use. While your pale-skinned audiophile friend probably swears by his $850 Sennheisers, the majority of us are happy with the unobtrusive in-ear units that accompany most portable music sources. Because they don’t envelope your ear in a collapsing-star sort of way, these headphones tend to let in the external sounds and general undercurrent of train announcements, traffic, and idle chatter that is the soundtrack of life in the city. Inevitably, this background noise affects the sound of the music from your headphones. There are different ways of solving this public headphone dilemna. One option is to purchase a Discman that features volume levels in the deafening range. To drown out nuisances like horns, trucks in reverse, or yapping friends, one needs only to turn it up and tear off the knob. For some reason this option is the first choice of club kids, Samhain fans, the unwashed, and lovers of Salsa music.

I stumbled across another solution while listening to Kid Loco on my headphones.

A French producer/studio tinkerer who specializes in downtempo beats and esoteric post-party chill music, Kid Loco’s music is seemingly stuck between multiple worlds. While his DJ skills create a subtle groove, his contribution to the DJ-Kicks Series from Studio K7 takes things to a new level, incorporating a melange of international flavors on top of traditionally chill beats. After a brief introduction with the obligatory Cypress Hill sample, the deep drones of a tabla drum drop in behind a scratchy female vocal loop. Walking down a busy street in Chicago’s Loop, I added to this backbeat the grinding, banging sounds from the construction site across the way, as well as a grumbling diesel bus engine and the high-pitched moan of the newspaper vendor. At first, it was a bit odd to have all of this going on. Especially because, when listening to Kid Loco in a subdued, indoor environment, the album seems almost ambient at times. But there’s just enough urban groove in the beats he chooses that the pounding and yelling of city life seems like a real-time remix.

It’s true that not every record, when listened to on a mobile CD system, will be effected so positively by the noise of the city. I can’t see Nick Drake adding the rumble of a tractor trailer truck to his quiet folk music, “just to get that city vibe.” But in a way, albums like Kid Loco’s DJ-Kicks set are just as suited to headphone use as the high-concept AOR studio albums whose sonic operas ruled the airwaves each Wednesday night during ‘Headphones Only.’

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.