Thursday, April 3, 2008

I Need a Freak:
a medley of new and old, weird jams

Topics Covered:
A tangential, symbolic pseudo-explanation of a complex scientific principle I don't even fully comprehend,

Yes, that is GZA and no, "Come Do Me" will not be featured here.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy tends to increase in an isolated system. "What exactly is entropy?" you ask (very reasonably.) Honestly, I'm not qualified to give a detailed answer, but my understanding is improving. Until recently I had always equated it with dynamism and chaos, but strictly speaking it's more of a state of disorganization. Though an increase in entropy will yield spontaneous changes, it ultimately amounts to an aimless, torpid mass. It shouldn't be defined as "randomness" exactly since it's actually the most statistically probable state of matter. In fact, organized systems like, say, the human body or the earth's ecosystem, are practically miraculous in that the likelihood of their emerging from whatever event set the universe in motion was almost nonexistent, and yet here they are, functioning pretty well considering the circumstances.

Is this what lies at the root of our attraction for the new and the strange, our awe at the sheer improbability of their existence? Maybe subconsciously we interpret fresh, original art work is a sign that we are successfully staving off the flood of entropy, that things will continue to work out as long as we can invent and adapt. We don't just want freaks, we need them to ease our existential angst.

Or maybe they're just really good at entertaining. In any case, here are some songs which have been making me feel revitalized lately:


"I Need a Freak" - Sexual Harrassment
So much about Sexual Harrassment as a band remains mysterious to me. Who were they? Why did they only make one, 6-song record? Did they intentionally misspell "harassment"? Their sound is comparatively easier to nail down. The overall result is similar to vintage Prince except somehow even stranger and more indulgent, perhaps partially from the lack of context. This track in particular has a lot going on. The contrast between its subject matter and its super-serious, almost urgent delivery is kind of off-putting in a good way, like a perverted political manifesto. Also, is it just me or does that repeated synth line sound suspiciously like "My Humps"? I'm on to you, Fergie.


"Shhhy" - Food for Animals
Their new album, Belly, is definitely worth your time. It's an inexplicably consistent synthesis of disjointed electronic noise and straightforward, political rap. I won't even bother with further description since this track is an absolute banger and pretty much speaks for itself. However, in the spirit of stereotypical music journalism hyperbole, allow me to posit a hypothesis: this could very well be the future of hip-hop.


"Sorairo no Kureyon" - Happy End
I found out about this band from Neojaponisme's article on Rolling Stone Japan's list of the top 100 Japanese Rock albums. Kazemachi Roman, the album this track comes from, was #1 and even though my understanding of the lyrics is very limited (according to Wikipedia it's a concept album about Tokyo after the 1964 Summer Olympics) it's easy to see on a purely aesthetic level why this would have such a broad appeal. It takes all the established tropes of the various folk-related genres and does them very well. I particularly enjoy "Sky-Colored Crayon" because it's just so much fun to hear such a stereotypical country song (a style with such strong associations with a particular region of a particular nation) sung in Japanese. The melody sounds dead-on like Neil Young. It even has yodeling! I don't know whether to chalk it up to cultural imperialism, postmodern appropriation, or the universal appeal of melancholy slide-guitar.


"Beautiful Rebel" - Jeremy Jay
Something about Jeremy Jay's sing-talking, guitar-strumming style reminds me of Lou Reed, but with less disillusionment. The riff on this track sounds especially glam-rock, though there's an innocent quality in Jay's voice which subverts that genre's pervasive sense of artifice and ironic detachment. Even when what he's saying doesn't really make much sense, he says it with such conviction you really start to buy into the total, surreal vision.


"Quality Crayon Wax OK" - Essential Logic
Lara Logic was a founding member of X-Ray Spex, one of my favorite punk bands. She dropped out before they had recorded a full album, but she played saxophone on "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" which is an accomplishment by itself. If you're a fan of Germ Free Adolescents, listening to Beat Rhythm News is like spotting an old acquaintance from high school on the street, but then getting closer and realizing it's actually just a stranger: simultaneously nostalgic and jarring. There's enough of a similarity that it seems familiar, but more rigorous scrutiny reveals a much more subdued, experimental sound.

This is what comes up on a Google image search
when you type in "Water Curses"

"Street Flash" - Animal Collective
Though Avey Tare contributed a really lovely song to the recently released Living Bridge compilation and Panda Bear's newest solo album has garnered a lot of well-deserved praise, for me nothing can compare to their work as a group. There's always so much going on in their music and yet somehow it never devolves into cacophony or mindless gimmickry. This is one of my favorite bands so it's hard for me to be objective, but I think the forthcoming Water Curses EP is some of their best material yet, album or otherwise. It surprised me to hear that these are actually B-sides from Strawberry Jam. Electronic beats are dominant in the mix, sure to remind some of those giant typewriter sounds at the end of "Derek, but the overall mood is definitely very laid back since 3 of the 4 songs are of the long, expansive variety. This one for example is just about a guy who goes out for a walk to get his mind off the troubles of the day, but it sounds more like an epic, introspective journey.


"No More Workhorse Blues" - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
To conclude this post, here's one of my favorite music video of all time for the retooled version of "No More Workhorse Blues". Apparently it was directed by Harmony Korine and typical of his oeuvre there's an overload of cultural signifiers (race, gender, class), but no real clue as to what they're supposed to mean. I think it's one of those things you either really connect to on a visceral, almost sublinguistic level or dismiss entirely. In the former case it's pretty much impossible to explain the narrative you've constructed from his fragments without sounding like a pretentious douche (as I'm sure I've demonstrated here.) On the plus side, nobody gets AIDS and there's that great Dave Berman backing vocal at the end to haunt your dreams.

Stay weird, y'all.

P.S. If you've happened across this blog and you have some work you'd like to recommend (even your own) as worthy of investigation drop me an email or comment. Obviously, I'm always happy to check out new things.