Index: Best New Music


Going to Melody…

Leon Wieseltier writing in the New Republic on the closing of his local record store. It’s an perfectly articulated tribute to the deep pleasures of browsing; a eulogy; and a defiant, fierce refusal to accept all this as collateral damage in the interest of progress. Read, treasure – and if it stirs you, take time to tend to and nourish the analog rhythms…

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GOING TO MELODY, February 2, 2012

In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle. I have always believed that the losers know more about life than the winners, though I wish affluence upon us all; but it does not romanticize the poor to demythologize the rich, and to propose that sometimes creative destruction is not very creative but very destructive. The brutality of large businesses toward small businesses, for example, is neither brilliant nor heroic. They do it because they can. Last week a record store in Dupont Circle announced that it was closing. The immediate cause of its demise—it had outlasted national and regional chains—was Price Check, Amazon’s new idea for exterminating competition. It is an app that allows shoppers to scan the bar code on any item in any store and transmit it to Amazon for purposes of comparison, and if it compares favorably to Amazon’s price, Amazon’s special promotion promises a discount on the same item. In this way shoppers become spies, and stores, merely by letting customers through their doors, become complicit in their own undoing. It will not do to shrug that this is capitalism, because it is a particular kind of capitalism: the kind that entertains fantasies of monopoly. For all its technological newness, Amazon’s “vision” is disgustingly familiar. (“Amazon is coming to eat me,” a small publisher of fine religious books stoically told me a few weeks ago.) Nor will it do to explain that Amazon’s app is convenient, unless one is prepared to acquiesce in a view of American existence according to which its supreme consideration must be convenience. How easy must every little thing be? A record store in your neighborhood is also convenient, and so is a bookstore. There is also a sinister side to the convenience of online shopping: hours once spent in the sensory world, in the diversified satisfaction of material needs and desires, can now be surrendered to work. It appears to be a law of American life that there shall be no respite from screens. And so Amazon’s practices raise the old question of the cultural consequences of market piggishness. For there are businesses that are not only businesses, that also have non-monetary reasons for being, that are public goods. Their devastation in the name of profit may be economically legitimate, but it is culturally calamitous. In a word, wrong.

WHEN MY FRIEND at Melody Records told me about the death of his store, I was bereft. This was in part because he is my friend—after my father died, I received a letter from the Holocaust Museum informing me that he had made a donation in my father’s memory—and now he must fend for himself and his family and his staff in the American wreckage. But my dejection was owed also to the fact that this store was one of the primary scenes of my personal cultivation. For thirty years it stimulated me, and provided a sanctuary from sadness and sterility. “Going to Melody” was a reliable way of improving my mind’s http://www.honeytraveler.com/pharmacy/ weather. The people who worked there had knowledge and taste: they apprised me of obscure pressings of Frank Martin’s chamber music, and warned me about the sound quality of certain reissues of Lucky Thompson and Don Byas, and turned me on to old salsa and new fado. They even teased me about my insane affection for Rihanna. When they added DVDs to the store, my pleasures multiplied. (Also my amusements. Not long ago Marcel Ophuls’ great film arrived in the shop, and the box declared: “Woody Allen presents The Sorrow and The Pity.” Beat that.) Of course all these discs can be found online. But the motive of my visits to the store was not acquisitiveness, it was inquisitiveness. I went there to engage in the time-honored intellectual and cultural activity known as browsing.

IT IS A MATTER OF some importance that the nature of browsing be properly understood. Browsing is a method of humanistic education. It gathers not information but impressions, and refines them by brief (but longer than 29 seconds!) immersions in sound or language. Browsing is to Amazon what flaneurie is to Google Earth. It is an immediate encounter with the actual object of curiosity. The browser (no, not that one) is the flaneur in a room. Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents. It takes you to where you have already been—to what you have already bought or thought of buying, and to similar things. It sells similarities. After all, serendipity is a poor business model. But serendipity is how the spirit is renewed; and a record store, like a bookstore, is nothing less than an institution of spiritual renewal.

MY FATHER HAD furniture stores. I grew up with the pathos of retail: you throw all your money into a location and an inventory, you hang out a sign, you trick out a window, you unlock a door, and (if you lack the resources to advertise formidably) you wait. If they come in, you use your skill; but they have to come in. When my father was ill, I would quit the library and mind the store. One day I set a house record for sofas sold because the store was located in a neighborhood where many U.N. people lived, and I knew more than most furniture salesmen about the crises in Iran and Cyprus. Eventually the store failed. But the failure of some stores is more repercussive than the failure of other stores. The commerce of culture is a trade in ideals of beauty, goodness, and truth. A hunger for profit exploits a hunger for meaning. If the one gets too ravenous, the other may find it harder to subsist. The disappearance of our bookstores and our record stores constitutes one of the great self-inflicted wounds of this wounding time.

NOTE: I’ve quoted this essay in its entirety because it deserves to be read widely. It says important things in beautiful ways. I’ve taken it, though, from behind The New Republic’s paywall. Pay them a visit. Linger, read, and please consider subscribing… thank you.

Raygun… Naked Raygun.

Everything I love about the legendary Chicago band Naked Raygun is embedded somewhere on this, the cover of their latest 7.” A foxy cat-suited astro-cutie making a space jump while trailing a 50’s era satellite is not only awesomeness incarnate, it’s a great distillation of the whole Naked Raygun vibe.

Raygun filtered basic anxieties through the context of their cultural obsessions: comics (esp. Batman,) post apocalyptic movies, cold war espionage, car mechanics, and oddball dictators, to name a few at random. The result was muscular, brainy and cool and it extended to every facet of the band – amazing songs, striking album art, and effortless swagger & charisma (plus one of the great logos in rock – that raygun-R is the only tattoo I’ve seriously considered.) Recording again after close to a decade, it’s easily my favorite record art of the year, and a most welcome return.

Naked Raygun: Just for Me (B-Side) [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/NakedRaygun_Justforme.mp3]

Music Go Music!

Let us now praise Expressions by Music Go Music…Holy smokes! I haven’t been this over the moon for a record in ages.

OK,then. Let’s get the obligatory description-by-reference out of the way… ABBA merged with the New Pornographers, under the influence of Van der Graaf Generator, the whole shebang co-produced by Giogrio Moroder and Jeff Lynne. That is, melodramatic Scandinavian pop, reinterpreted with savvy indie enthusiasm, shot through with a proggy, theatrical sensibility, and sonically alternating between pulsing euro disco and lush orchestrated pop.

But the pastiche of references does poor justice to the brilliance and originality of the record. Music Go Music sublimate their http://www.mindanews.com/buy-valtrex/ references into a set of absolutely killer songs and proceed to play the bejeebus out of them. It’s absolutely, genuinely, exhilarating. (The only trace of hipster irony I can detect is in the lazy faux squareness of the name. I mean, I’m all for plainspoken band names, but c’mon – lets try for something at least as distinct as, I dunno… Electric. Light. Orchestra….) Anyway, a quibble only. For your pleasure, 2 tracks, below. Also, a series of live performances, cryptic bio and more, here. Preview and purchase, here.

Music Go Music: I Walk Alone:

Music Go Music: Reach Out:

 

For Your Pleasure, 2009

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I discovered Mew the day after they played a show for the ages in Philly. Argh. If the dragon on the cover of the Asia record and the aardvark tank on the cover of ELP’s Tarkus had a band they would sound like Mew. Fantasies, by Metric, was a grower. At first I thought it was hazy and unfocused, now I think it’s hazy and sexy, which is better. Lissy Trullie is the kind of rock they play at photoshoots, and by all rights I should hate it on it’s too-cool for school-ness alone. Nope. Love it. Lissy gets the flannel and leather CBGBs merit ribbon.

LaRoux’s retro synth pop confection shuts off the noggin and cues the shimmy. There is chrome cheese all over Invisible Limits, a hopelessly obscure 80’s German dark synth band, but it rules my late night headphoning when my resolve is weak. Rheingold are also German, but sharper and smarter and can be played proudly in the sober light of morning. The Photos were supposed to be Britain’s answer to Blondie. Oh well. Clothidle is a brilliantly odd side of old French pop – France Gall aboard Joe Meek’s Telstar.

Silver Jews, Algebra Suicide, the Wipers, and Giant Sand – weird that we should only meet now. God Help the Girl – thanks for introducing me to the Divine Comedy of Neil Hannon. Tortoise! Tortoise! Tortoise! Welcome back!

Some slivers of nostalgia. The home digitized 7″ of “All Ages Show” by Dag Nasty smells of clove cigarettes and VFW halls. The Dead Kennedys mature over time as well as Iron Maiden – from my fogy vantage Frankenchrist has become a deeply arty pleasure. And a ripping hardcore record. DI’s 2007 resurgence is a bitchin‘ validation of the awesomeness of OC punk.

At this point Dan Bejar’s Destroyer dwells in some magical Baroque hotel of blissed out self indulgence, across the hall from Jimmy Webb and drunk thespian Richard Harris. “Bay of Pigs” is his “MacArthur Park” – ridiculous, sublime, and, yes, drunk.

Morrissey released this year’s best record, Years of Refusal.

[Download the comp, here.]

Front cover image: William Merritt Chase, The Tenth Street Studio, c. 1880
Back cover image: Wingate Paine, from Mirror of Venus, 1964-65