While reading Charles Spencer’s lavishly illustrated biography of Leon Bakst and his design work for the Ballets Russes I came across his arresting manifesto for the vivid power of color. Looking at these intoxicating renderings and drawings the mind boggles at the lushness of the spectacle this must have been. Lush and lost. More on Bakst in an earlier post, here.
I have often noticed that in each colour of the prism there exists a gradation which sometimes expresses frankness and chastity, sometimes sensuality and even bestiality, sometimes pride, sometimes despair. This can be felt and given over to the public by the effect one makes of the various shadings.
That is what I tried to do in Schéhérazade. Against a lugubrious green I put a blue full of despair, paradoxical as it may seem. There are reds which are triumphal and there are reds which assassinate.There is a blue which can be the colour of a St. Madeleine, and there is a blue of a Messalina.
The painter who knows how to make use of this, the director of the orchestra who can with one movement of his baton put all this in motion, without crossing them, who can let flow the thousand tones from the end of his stick, without making a mistake, can draw from the spectator the exact emotion which he wants them to feel.
Omens. It’s hard not to look for omens these days. Last year began black, pulled through the vacuum of Bowie’s passing and slouched, heavy & low, towards November, when Leonard Cohen’s cloak crumpled to the Death Star floor.
But, as Leonard Nimoy reminds us, the cosmic ballet goes on, and this year began bright and blazing. Cherry Glazzer shot across the January sky like a crackling, wildly erratic comet. There are craftier salvos on the delightful Apocalipstick, sure, but “Trash People” is where it’s at — 19 year old Clementine Creevy’s neon ode to wearing old undies, fueled by Ramen, aiming for the stars. My room smelled like an ashtray once too.
Another portent of radness was Roky Erickson’s gobsmacking live performance this September — sitting in utter serenity like a psychedelic Totoro amidst a cyclone of sizzlin’ fuzz. He opened with the one song I dearly hoped to hear — “Sputnik” — a gift echoed in shows by Al Stewart, who kicked off his Year of the Cat retrospective with “Sirens of Titan” and King Crimson, who opened their stunning reprise of seldom heard 70’s material with a full dress parade of “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” Old heads were generous this year, and fierce.
The glammy, psychotronic and exquisitely addled Death Valley Girls opened for Roky and were a total gas.
The continued activity by stalwart members of LA’s 80’s punk heyday continues to be a source of profound pleasure and surprise. TSOL and Dream Syndicate released tremendous records this year, both bracingly modern but rooted in beloved earlier classics like Beneath the Shadows and Days of Wine and Roses. Even by those lights, though, the new record by legendary LA paisley punks the Last is something else entirely — tearing, snarling, breathtakingly melodic, gorgeously arranged, Danger is a full-on, definitive SoCal punk rock classic. (It says something about the obscurity of this achievement that its existence eluded even this super-fan for almost four years; it says something about the stature of this achievement that the record cover is graced with art by Raymond Pettibon.)
I don’t know about you, but my goth fever shows no signs of breaking. This year I was in full swoon for the Sisters of Mercy — proudly 30 years late to this midnight movie. But clearly these dark currents still run deep — one of the most accomplished and moving records I heard this year was the Demonstration by LA’s enigmatic Drab Majesty. Sonically built from readymade darkwave parts, it is a triumph of bracing melodrama and strikingly original songs.
Ladytron’s Helen Marnie’s ongoing project to morph indie electronica into stadium scale dance pop continues to yield irresistible, shimmering, sexy concoctions.
Whiteout Conditions, The New Pornographer’s second exploration of the creative potential of the arrpegiated synthesizer was marred only by the absence of Dan Bejar’s leavening weirdness. With Destroyer’s “In The Morning” here following the stomping “Colosseum,” they are fittingly re-united.
One of the enduring joys of crate digging is stumbling across seminal bands that somehow eluded your attention. Take the masterful Chameleons, for example, who happened to be standing right next to the Psychedelic Furs, Modern English and Bauhaus this whole time.
But then the obscurities can be pretty fucking exhilarating too — like encountering “Worlds in Collision” by Talking Head bassist and ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison. A needle in a haystack find, this throbbing, hypnotic rumble was a beautiful oddity I returned to over and over this year.
Un autocollant sur la couverture du premier album éponyme des Limiñanas en 2010 disait: “Nouvelle musique pop française pour le prochain millénaire”. La pop classique parisienne, la psychologie californienne, le garage / surf rock, Serge Gainsbourg et Ennio Morricone étaient alors les points de référence, et ils le restent sur Malamore. C’est une pièce d’ambiance – haut sur la répétition, fuzz et sitar – et leur plus sombre, plus dense pourtant, qui sonnent bien plus Velvet Underground & Nico que Françoise Hardy.
Total time: 51 minutes. Download the comp here.
[ ALSO, below: I finally re-created and re-posted the first in this series from 2008. It was a corker of a year for music and the mix remains one of my favorites. Check it out here! ]
Comrades! Ugh. This year. But — yet — always — all year long — the weirdest, wonderful things shot through cracks. Blackstars in a black sky — absence has a pull of it’s own. And in this imploding year the void pulled hard, pulling beauty from random trajectories, shining bright —
A resurrected Modern English played the years best show. Embracing their strident, tribal, chanty early sound it was urgent & archival in equal measure. A column on world hardcore I read never led to the submerged sizzle of Barcelona’s Chroma. LA punk legend Alice Bag’s jukebox of received wisdom was pent up & aged for 30 years — every song a shimmy & taken together a shiny suit of armor for bright, headstrong girls everywhere. Angel Olson’s new record was the years most vital — in no way beholden to nostalgia, obscurity, revival, genre, or personal obsessions, not crate dug, not researched, not referenced – just a new, challenging, bracing salvo of ace tunes by a smolderingly gifted woman. Dig, friend, the smudge stick of oddball embroidered heavy boogie of Blood Ceremony & the aching dignity & yearning of the fallen Byrd, Gene Clark. Two unexpected & random reunion records stunned this year / Si Sauvage by Minneapolis’ fauvist sophisticates The Suburbs & SoCal hardcore legends Shattered Faith’s Vol III. The former sports the years best single tune & an gleefully pompous & sexy cover design by Kii Arens. From the latter I feature nothing because no digital form of the record exists. Genius gentlemen! But for LA punk nerds it’s a circa 81 time warp. Aces. Ah! the medicinal power of pure feyness! — swooning power-chorded sashay – teenage swoons unfurled like blazing wings on the roof of a burgundy Camero, lollipop lust, gymnasium passes, Milk n’ Cookies. Ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s translations of Serge Gainsbourg’s songbook provide technicolor details that were once just suggested by his louche croon. And the words are funny & lusty as hell.
Now, about the bookends — David Bowie’s death was the implosion that marked the beginning of the new year. I mourned here, and ruminated on the amazing Blackstar here. I kept coming back, though, to the live unhinged swoon of “Station to Station” from the legendary 1976 Isolar Tour. And Cortez? Well, it came on randomly one wrecked mid-November night, shuddering into focus & this whole aching tide of a song seemed to wash over the years dark closing days. Fade out. You can download the full compilation here.
FIVE HOUSES DOWN
By Christian Wiman
I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
with its oilspill plumage, tools
cauled in oil, the dark
clockwork of disassembled engines
christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
and down the steps into the yard the explosion
of mismatched parts and black scraps
amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
in luck, he would look up stunned,
patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
and saying, Son,
you lookin’ to make some scratch?
All afternoon we’d pile the flatbed high
with stacks of Exxon floormats
mysteriously stencilled with his name,
rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
of rusted fencewire that stained for days
every crease of me, rollicking it all
to the dump where, while he called
every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
he catpicked the avalanche of trash
and fished some always fixable thing
up buy vicodin legally from the depths. Something
about his endless aimless work
was not work, my father said.
Somehow his barklike earthquake curses
were not curses, for he could goddam
a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
but one bad word from me
made his whole being
twang like a nail mis-struck. Aint no call for that,
son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot, knot
from which no man escapes—
prestoed back to plain old rope;
whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
worms like the clutch of mud:
I wanted to live forever
five houses down
in the womanless rooms a woman
sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
It seemed like heaven to me:
beans and weenies from paper plates,
black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.
Outro from the magnificent The Courtesans — The Demi http://nygoodhealth.com Monde in 19th Century Paris by Joanna Richardson
Ocean, 1975 Vija Celmins / drypoint on paper
What we call seeing a thing clearly, is only seeing enough of it to make out what it is; this point of intelligibility varying in distance for different magnitudes and kinds of things, while the appointed quality of mystery remains nearly the same for all. Thus: throwing an open book and an embroidered handkerchief on a lawn, at a distance of a half a mile, we cannot tell which is which: that is the point of mystery for the whole of those things. They are merely white spots of indistinct shape. We approach them, and perceive that one is a book, the other a handkerchief but cannot read the one or trace the embroidery of the other. The mystery has ceased to be in the whole things, and has gone into their details. We go nearer; and can now read the text and trace the embroidery, but cannot see the ﬁbers of the paper or the tread. The mystery has gone into a fourth place, where it must stay until we take a microscope, which will send it into a fifty, sixth, hundredth or thousandth place. —John Ruskin on the picturesque sublime
Juxtaposition by Dave Hickey / 25 Women: ESSAYS ON THEIR ART, 2016 / Univ. of Chicago Press
Shepelavy.com — Part IV, if I might be metal-grand & prog-rock-y about it. Untie the latch, part the canvas, pop your head out from the tent, let’s fire up the old transmitter. Is this thing on? Can you hear me now…
In 2009 I pitched camp on this modest little lagoon online. What began as a portfolio with occasional annotations tumbled into pretty steady blogging for a fat 3 years or so. More & more, however, severe advertising gales would knock out the transmitter for weeks on end. Sundry commitments were pressing. The blog contracted a virulent SQL database corruption. After a few stalled re-ignitions, things round here finally sputtered into silence around the winter of 2014.
Then Spring came, like it does, being Spring. I missed tapping these signals out into the ether, tending & fussing over my little plot of enthusiasms…So, I dusted off the redesign, gathered passels of uncollected old & new work. The code spooled out over the summer & fall.
& this so current salvo of transmissions begins… from this tiny lagoon on the clotted coastline of the interwebs, that I share with beached beatniks, old salts, venerable preps, society matrons, homespun cuties, movie stars & scientists… an endless three-hour cruise. Come aboard —
By now we have been thoroughly disabused of the notion, so heavily advocated by Clement Greenberg, that abstraction was, at last, a pure art “inflated by illegitimate content,” as he claimed in the November 1949 issue of the Partisan Review. Abstraction would therefore be able to cleanse the world of the intellect of any contamination by low-level kitsch. But most of us have since come to understand that kitsch inevitably contaminates every form of human creativity. There is so much heartless and mindless abstract kitsch found on the walls of mansions owned by the rulers of the universe that it is no longer possible to privilege abstraction over any other form of artistic expression. It is therefore meaningless to brand as kitsch only illustration – or comicbook art, or pulp magazine covers. Most of it is, but so is most of contemporary “high” art: the popular arts still have at least certain technical standards that can help us separate the kitsch from the corn.
– Bram Dijkstra
when you punish a person for dreaming his dream
don’t expect him to thank or forgive you
the best ever death metal band out of denton
will in time both outpace and outlive you.
— The Mountain Goats
Simply wonderful illustration by the crushingly deft Tomer Hanuka. Perfectly evocative of the languid coziness of city snowstorms. Also happens to be an uncanny rendering of my old bedroom window overlooking Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It takes a lot to make me miss living in New York City. Well done.