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by PC Muñoz

18 Oct 2009

The stellar 2003 Dolly Parton tribute album, Just Because I’m a Woman, features a fine batch of rock and country flavored arrangements of Dolly Parton songs performed by Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, and Melissa Etheridge, amongst others. It’s a great, highly listenable set, but as flavorful as it is, nothing in it quite prepares the listener for Meshell Ndegeocello’s penultimate track—an elastic-funk re-imagination of Parton’s party-ready hit “Two Doors Down”. Beat-centric, atmospheric, and half-rapped, Ndegeocello’s re-working of the Parton classic is not only sly and musically imaginative, it’s also an apt embodiment of Ndegeocello’s overall approach: bold, adventurous, defiantly singular, and funky as hell.

I’m convinced that if Meshell Ndegeocello’s work and persona weren’t so thoroughly infused with a hip-hop spirit, it would be much easier for music-heads to locate her as part of the same continuum as Bob Dylan, Prince, Neil Young, and other quirky pop maverick-geniuses known for bravely and consistently paving their own path in the industry. As an (often) bald, (always) black bi-sexual female bassist who raps as much as she sings, writes deeply and confrontationally about race and sex (amongst other things), and mashes-up genres with every project, Ndegeocello’s mere presence on the scene (let alone the gestalt of her work) presents a taxonomical problem to solve for a large segment of music lovers, and an even trickier problem for those specifically on the lookout for singer-songwriters who may be the rightful heirs to the rock royalty named above. Part of the difficulty for some of these folks, of course, is the fact that killer grooves and textured rhythm parts (which are treasured elements in funk and hip-hop, while sometimes mere arrangement considerations in other genres), no matter how intricately conceived and executed, are still often not considered components of “great songwriting”, although they are, perhaps hypocritically, definitely understood as potential building blocks of “great records”. Hence, someone like Jeff Tweedy, who I like and respect quite a bit, is generally considered to be one of the handful of Gen X songwriters who deserves a place in the pantheon of great, adventurous artists, while Ndegeocello, who has traversed much more diverse ground, including a fairly straightforward guitar-based singer-songwriter album (1999’s gorgeous Bitter), is often in danger of being considered a high-profile cult artist.

I recommend the aforementioned Bitter as a starting point for folks who want to get familiar with Ndegeocello’s music. Soulful, affecting, and beautifully produced by the abundantly gifted Craig Street, it’s a warm introduction to Ndegocello’s music, and a wonderful way to first encounter her enticing and intimate vocal style.  It also includes one of her patented unique covers, Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love”. From there, you can have lots of fun jumping around to prior or subsequent releases, each one an adventure.

What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
“Soft and Wet” by Prince. It just sounded angelic, the way his vocals were layered, and it made me want to dance. It’s still the song and the album that made me say, “That’s what I’m gonna do.”

Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
Doyle Bramhall II. When he sings a song, his heart is just on the stage. He transports me. He’s an incredible songwriter and a ridiculous guitarist. He’s also just a nice person.

Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
Probably most. Film for sure. I love Fassbinder. I have a lyric on the new record that goes “fear eats the soul”, which is from a title of one of his films.

Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
Other. It’s a transmission.

Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
“Love Dog” by TV on the Radio. They give me hope.

On Meshell Ndegocello’s newest release, Devil’s Halo, she continues her tradition of curve-ball covers, this time with an undulating, super-sexy version of “Love You Down”, the ‘80s R&B hit originally performed by Ready for the World. Because the songs she covers can sometimes be nearly unrecognizable in her renderings, it’s tempting to call her arrangements “complete deconstructions”, but I think a more accurate term would be “creative distillations”: she gets to the heart of each piece and retains what’s needed (whether it’s a musical component or not), and proceeds from there to build a new version. In her hands, “Love You Down” is completely transformed.

Ndegeocello was definitely my adopted spiritual patron saint when I was working on my version of Pixies’ “I Bleed” (which featured Oakland’s mighty funk-soul queen, FEMI) for American Laundromat Records’ Pixies tribute album, Dig for Fire. That record featured tracks by the Rosebuds, They Might Be Giants, and other indie-rock stalwarts. Knowing that I would be the only non-indie-rocker on the project, and hearing stories about the ferocity of Pixies fans regarding covers of the group’s material, was a little daunting at first, but I took inspiration in the implicit attitude of Ndegeocello’s Parton cover—- the message I took from it was to wear my stylistic difference loud and proud.

In addition to the “Love You Down” cover, there’s also a bunch of cool new original material on Devil’s Halo. Visit meshell.com for information on the new album, discography, tour dates and more.

by Thomas Hauner

18 Oct 2009

The artist, songwriter, musician, and overall celebrated tortured genius Daniel Johnston performed a capricious set Wednesday night at the Highline Ballroom in New York City.  While his severe bi-polar condition and episodes have mythologized his persona and recordings they have also erected a dubious boundary within is work, one between mind and reality, good and evil.  One thing, however, remains painfully clear:  Mr. Johnston’s songs are haunting vignettes of concentrated emotion, providing mainstream fans, as well as artists, a continuous well of authentic sentimentality, often replete with humor.  Though Mr. Johnston frequently cites the humor overshadowing his music (and favorites like “Speeding Motorcycle” easily conveyed this at the Highline) many songs are hesitantly, and uncomfortably, comic, especially after seeing Mr. Johnston’s demons delineated in the acclaimed 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.  Wednesday he shared a recent dream:  “I had a dream last night this guy was sentenced to death for attempted suicide.  And that guy was me!  And I’m sitting in the back of the courtroom saying ‘No, no, no, you got the wrong guy!’”  The resounding laughter presented the obvious question if people were laughing at or with Mr. Johnston.  Either way people screamed his name and cheered wildly during his solo set, even while singing sympathetic lines like “I love you all but I hate myself.”  Opening band the Capitol Years (Weezer-harmonizing indie pop) then joined Johnston for his second set, accompanying him on both his own numbers, like “Fake Records of Rock and Roll” and “True Love Will Find You in the End” from his latest Is and Always Was, as well as some poignant Beatles covers, “I’m So Tired” and “Day in the Life.”  Often times his brother Dick played along on acoustic guitar as Mr. Johnston’s uncontrollably fidgety hands gave up on guitar and also inadvertently unplugged his mic several times, which also prompted wild cheers of encouragement (“You don’t need that thing Daniel!”)  Daniel’s own ambitions were always to be a famous artist, but what cost that imposes on his own condition is, at best, difficult to measure and unsettling to endure.  Throughout the set his hands tremored and social anxiety loomed.  Hopefully his parents and brother can successfully enshrine his body of work so that ultimately they aren’t undermined, or glorified, as a result of his accompanying condition.

by Sachyn Mital

18 Oct 2009

What if I told you that Tegan & Sara, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party and Jónsi of Sigur Rós were all on the same album?  What if I said it was a techno album?  Tiësto—often ranked the world’s #1 DJ—has a new album, the aptly titled Kaleidoscope, packed with myriad indie-crossover collaborations.

On a very late Wednesday night, Tiësto put on an excellent, just-over-two-hour long, show for a sold out crowd at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory.  Fueling people with his apparent inexhaustible energy, Tiësto crafted his mixes front and center but danced along at every chance he could.  Throughout the set his beats were enhanced by blinding strobe lights and large LCD displays covering the front of his mixing consoles and the back of the stage, incorporating kaleidoscopic shapes, emblems and logos as well as visual segments of the new album’s vocal collaborators.

The crowd could not be blamed for anticipating some massive trance anthems and dance-floor smashes considering that Tiësto has four artist albums and countless remix credits.  So after being herded into the venue from a line nearly the length of the block, people jammed into every inch possible; some pushed precariously close to the edge of the balcony and some, unlike any of the club shows I’ve seen, even crowd-surfed.

The first song I caught was a bit of Metric’s Emily Haines singing “Knock You Out” before Tiësto played “Century” featuring Scottish producer Calvin Harris, whose statement to “get your hands in the air” was quickly realized by the crowd.  The catchy Quin sisters track, “Feel It in my Bones,” had them singing while disembodied green heads twirled around before sweeping off the LCD screens.  During “Traffic,” the screens flashed numerous city names rapidly before stopping on Philadelphia and alternating with a command to “MAKE SOME NOISE.”  That really set the crowd off.

“Traffic” began as an intense streak of songs with one standing out:  “Love Comes Again”, an older collaboration with producer and vocalist BT, gave the crowd the opportunity to sing the encouraging lyrics when Tiësto dropped out the music.  Unexpectedly, he continued into “He’s a Pirate”, a remix of the epic-sounding Pirates of the Carribean movie score, before going into his trance-reworking of Barber’s classic and dark “Adaggio for Strings.”  Its climactic strings over pulsating beats again threw the crowd into a timed frenzy.

Approaching the venue’s cut-off time, Tiësto took a moment to thank the amazing crowd and encourage them to go even more crazy.  But instead came the low point of the night: he played the cheesy Zombie Nation song that I will never appreciate.  It was a minor blemish in an otherwise energetic finale of a strong show.

Closing the two hour session, Tiësto tossed his headphones into the teeming dance floor before leaving the stage.  The profusely sweaty, skeptical crowd chanted for him to return but soon after the house lights came on and people began streaming out into the chilly night, broken down that the show ended so quickly but reassuring themselves that Tiësto would come again.

Tracklist: (from tiestotracklists dot net)
  01: Tiesto feat Jonsi – Kaleidoscope
  02: Tiesto - Flight 643 (Laidback Luke Edit)
  03: Tiesto & Sneaky Sound System - I Will Be Here (Tiesto Remix)
  04: Jose Nunez, MYNC, Harry \\\‘Choo Choo\\\’ Romero - Boogers (Avicii\\\‘s Dumb Dumb Remix)
  05: Sander van Doorn – Ninety
  06: Tiesto feat C.C Sheffield - Escape Me (Extended Mix)
  07: Tiesto feat Emily Haines - Knock You Out (Remix ID Unknown)
  08: Tiesto feat Calvin Harris – Century
  09: Deadmau5 – Strobe
  10: Tiesto feat Priscilla Ahn - I Am Strong
  11: Tiesto feat Carry Brothers - Here On Earth
  12: Tiesto - Always Near (Extended Mix)
  13: Tiesto feat Tegan & Sara - Feel It In My Bones
  14: Editors - Papillon (Tiesto Remix)
  15: Tiesto - Louder Than Boom (Original Mix)
  16: (ID Unknown)
  17: Tiesto - Traffic (DJ Montana 12\\\” Edit)
  18: Tiesto feat BT - Love Comes Again (Original Mix)
  19: Tiesto - He\\\‘s A Pirate
  20: Tiesto - Adagio For Strings
  21: (ID Unknown)
  22: Ben Nicky - Special Moment (Original Mix)
  23: Nenes & Pascal Feliz – Platinum (Tech Mix)
  24: Boys Noize & Erol Alkan – Waves
  25: Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400 (Laidback Luke Edit)
  26: Tiesto - Surrounded By Light

by PopMatters Staff

18 Oct 2009

Doveman
The Conformist
(Brassland)
Releasing: 20 October

Former PopMatters scribe Thomas Bartlett, better known as Doveman, has a new record coming out this week. His mellow and delicate pop is always a delight.

SONG LIST
01 Breathing Out
02 Best Thing
03 Memorize
04 Hurricane
05 Aftermath
06 From Silence
07 Cat Awoke
08 Angel’s Share
09 Burgundy Stain
10 Tigers
11 Castles

Doveman
“Angel’s Share” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

17 Oct 2009

Christopher Shea linked to this post at the Awl, in which Tom Scocca threw up all over Mark Greif’s earnest look in n+1 at sexual freedom as a way out of capitalism’s confinements. Greif writes,

“Sex without consequences” becomes the metaphor for cooperative exchange without gain or loss. For basing life on the things that are free. For the anticapitalist experience par excellence.

Scocca’s retort to this sort of sentiment: “What is this CUDDLE-PUDDLE BULLSHIT?”

Though Scocca is taking a deliberately obtuse and unsympathetic tack to squeeze out a few laughs at Greif’s expense, this is a fair question. Greif is polemicizing about “repressive sentimentalism” but puts forward his own sort of sentimentalized absolute—sex for pleasure. (What David Brent celebrates as Free Love on the Free Love Freeway.) Greif’s interpretation of domination as repression ignores Foucault’s arguments about the political uses of pleasure. I’m tempted to call this move repressive tolerance, though that doesn’t quite fit. Actually, Greif is arguing that gay-marriage rights are a form of repressive tolerance, masking the underlying domestic system of oppression. Power, however, can work through permissions as well as through prohibitions in the sexual sphere as well. One can end up in the trap of competing to see who can become the most liberated, a competition that suits consumerism—which aids this pursuit with a variety of lifestyle accouterments—just fine.

Greif’s take on free love is grounded in an essentialized version of libido:

Yet you have to stick with sex, as a utopian—even when you’re not a particularly lubricious person yourself.
You have to defend sex because we still have no better model than the actual, concrete sexual relation for a deep intuitive process opposed to domination. We have no better model for a bodily process that, fundamentally, is free and universal. It does not produce (there is no experiential remainder but pleasure) nor consume. It is cooperative (within the relation of the lovers) and, in that relation, seems to forbid competition. It makes you love people, and accept the look and difference of their bodies.

The amount of qualifications Greif has already had to put in that proposition is a clue that it’s pretty dubious. I’m reluctant to agree that a sexual relation is “a deep intuitive process.” It seems more a labile, tentatively constructed thing, highly normative as opposed to instinctual. I’m totally with Greif that marriage supports patriarchal arrangements regardless of the gender of those marrying, and that a radical restructuring of society would require a drastic reordering of domesticity. (Laura Kipnis makes a similar argument in Against Love.) But free-love utopianism feels like a short-circuiting of the sort of theorizing necessary to address the problem, which is ultimately one of who performs the socially necessary emotion work. Sex is great and all, but it is not the only “authentic” form of pleasure. To regard sexual relations as directly given to our consciousness is to submit to a fantasy about sex’s pure spontaneity, the final destination in the quest for an unmediated private and personal relation, independent of society.

But sexual desire is far from “universal” in its expression. The sexual relation is not necessarily economic in nature, but that doesn’t it mean it pre-exists economic relations or is capable of purifying them or that it is automatically egalitarian. Sex doesn’t inherently make you “love people.” That claim reimports the sentimental cant about love that he began by wanting to banish. Also, “Sex without consequences” is not really possible because all actions have consequences. Ruling out one particular set of consequences does not mean there are none at all. It seems morally foolish to posit as the ideal the ability to act without consequences—not to go all existential, but that makes for a freedom that is inherently meaningless. Acting in the world is the self’s pursuit of responsibility, but advocating the pursuit of pleasure “without consequences” as model behavior seems like a wish to abdicate it in the search for oblivion.

It seems to me Greif is more on the right track when he talks about the seductiveness of the existing system of marriage:

Domination depends rather on the beauty of sex with consequences, the pleasure of sex with consequences, to guarantee commitment to the family-centered fold. Women’s straight desire and wish for love and pleasure is the thing that’s supposed to seduce women back into the system of inequality—a beautiful inequality mentally structured by childbearing and the determination of your life course by the consequences of desire. It is beautiful, in its way; as oriental despotism was beautiful, too. You must give something up to leave the system—or else the system is revealed as naked and weak. Thus feminism always needs to be pictured publicly as sexless, man-hating, or just manless—not to mention babyless—or it would become appealing. (Indeed, baby love may furnish the greater lifetime erotic satisfaction for straight women, on the traditional system.) If desire fails to pull people back into patriarchy, patriarchy’s arsenal is diminished.

Yes. It seems that feminism needs to reach a point where it need not be deliberately “represented” at all—a point at which it so thoroughly saturates our values that the fact that someone is a “feminist” wouldn’t jump out at us. In other words, it needs to cease to be an identity and simply be a practice.

Chris Dillow linked to a paper that takes an entirely different approach to marriage.

I’m intrigued by this new paper on the economics of marriage by Gilles Saint-Paul.
He begins from the premise that the gains from marriage arise from innate biological differences between men and women - that men can have loads of children, but don‘t know which ones are theirs, whilst women cannot. Given this, marriage is a potentially mutually beneficial trade. Men get to know which children are theirs, which is utility-enhancing if they care about the human capital of their offspring. And women get someone to help (if only financially) with child-raising.

This, in Dillow’s interpretation, means that “repression of women’s sexuality operates to the benefit of second-rate men. If women were free to shag around, they’d only go with the best men and ignore lower-quality ones. Repression and marriage thus give second-rate blokes a chance.” When women pursue “sex without consequences,” by this reasoning, they curtail the possibility for sexual liberation for those average men who won’t find willing partners. That sounds a lot like the “nice guy syndrome.” Here’s a definition from the Urban Dictionary:

A annoying mental condition in which a heterosexual man concocts oversimplified ideas why women aren’t flocking to him in droves. Typically this male will whine and complain about how women never want to date him because he is “too nice” or that he is average in appearance. He often targets a woman who is already in a relationship; misrepresenting his intentions of wanting to be her friend and having the expectation that he is owed more than friendship because he is such a good listener. He is prone to brooding over this and passive aggressive behavior.
He is too stupid to realize the reason women don’t find him attractive is because he feels sorry for himself; he concludes that women like to be treated like shit.

 
As Greif notes, Houellebecq’s novels are about this problem—free love becomes institutionalized, yet “nice guys” find themselves under more pressure than ever to use prostitutes in order to get in on the action. Maybe Greif in his essay is trying to find a way to circumvent nice guyism without giving way to Tucker Max-ism, intellectualizing what is easily reduced to an alpha-male evolutionary premise in order to redeem it, dignify it, preserve it as “hopeful.” But as anyone who has seen the preview for Tucker Max’s movie knows, there is no hope for humanity.

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