Author Archives: Jezy Gray

Review: Lambchop – “Nixon” (2000)

“He’s not even a very good singer.”

It’s easy to forget about Lambchop. I seem to “re-discover” their discography every couple years, and each time I’m struck by how long it’s been since I last dove in. I don’t mean to suggest, by any means, that Lambchop is forgettable, only that there’s something in the low-key Nashville outfit’s sober, calculated methodology that readily lends itself to the background. There’s something about the dependable sturdiness of their catalogue, or maybe the authority of frontman Kurt Wagner’s hushed but confident boom-croon,  that makes its quiet excellence unsurprising.

Nixon always seems to be the record that pulls me back. It’s likely  some combination of the trippy gospel choruses, the dripping wet string arrangements, and the polite touches of Motown brass that color this tidy collection of great-on-their-own songs. Subtle electronic flourishes bubble up from the margins and evaporate through the house like a sweet steam, making room for Wagner’s singular vocals while the band demonstrates that all-too-rare and admirable ability of knowing when to scale back and when to tower over its own landscape.

If you’re looking for an example of a perfectly produced audio recording, this is it. There’s space for everything here. For a band whose shifting membership routinely tops double digits, Nixon never comes close to sounding crowded. This carries over thematically as well, with Wagner’s lyrics touting a breezy, observational quality while simultaneously embodying an unpretentious poetic wisdom. Lines like “The lights outside tonight are far from home / and I’m out drinking in the yard,” in the tradition of the great American domestic minimalists like John Cheever and Raymond Carver, communicate more than the sum of their parts, prompting the listener to color the negative space of its image and help push it toward profundity.

From the opening nostalgic wash of “The Old Gold Shoe,” through the near-neoclassical arrangements of “The Book I Haven’t Read,” one thing’s clear: Lambchop has “Americana” in its crosshairs. This isn’t to imply that the band has determined such an opaque idea as being in need of a good assassination — although it might be in our best cultural interest to retire the term from our musical lexicon entirely — but rather that they’ve determined the idea in desperate need of a thorough re-imagining. And that’s exactly what Nixon does so successfully: it explodes American roots music in the smallest terms possible. It tinkers, prods and pokes at the very idea of it, until the end result leaves us looking simultaneously back at our rich musical history — from R&B to country music, folk and even punk rock (see: “The Butcher Boy”) –while nodding forward at the possibilities of our inheritance.

Jezy

Killin’ It: Neon Indian – “Terminally Chill” and “Deadbeat Summer”

I was recently telling Chris how badly I wish we could take credit for “breaking” Neon Indian in the blogosphere — after all, we were beating the hype drum nearly five months before P4k  inducted “Deadbeat Summer” into the bastion of Best New Music — but alas, we at Silence in Architecture are all too aware of our insignificance in the sea of white noise that is, ahem, “online music criticism.”

Delusions of self importance aside, the truth is that Alan Palomo’s new project (yes, the veil of anonymity has been officially lifted) would have been wildly successful in any capacity. Psychic Chasms, Neon Indian’s debut LP which is due out on Lefse Records in October, is not simply one of the best releases of 2009; it’s the kind of long player that feels comfortable in its own skin while boasting a creative restlessness that rewards frequent, repeated listens.

If you’ve been following the tracks that have been trickling down the wire these past few months, odds are that you — like us — have been helpless in your inability to stop jamming them. If you’re among those unlucky virgin ears, check out these gems below and have a better summer for it.  The dude from Grizzly Bear is daggin’ on it, and we think you should too:

Terminally Chill” (mp3)

Deadbeat Summer” (mp3)

[Neon Indian’s official MySpace page]

[Lefse Records]

Jezy

Video: Das Racist – “Chicken and Meat” (2009)

What’s really good? / What’s really food? / What’s really good?

I’d venture to say that most people who keep up with “the blogs” are already familiar with the Wallpaper remix of this Brooklyn duo’s tribute to fast food ego death. After you’ve recovered from — well, whatever that is — you’d be well advised to check out this equally bizarre cut, “Chicken and Meat,” which finds the ethnically ambiguous duo spittin’ about everything from Hannah Montana to black Republicans:

[Das Racist’s official MySpace page]

Jezy

Trailer: “Whatever Works” (2009)

Let me tell you right off, okay? I’m not a likeable guy.”

Finally, the film we’ve been quietly (or not so quietly) anticipating for the past year — Whatever Works, Woody Allen’s newest flick starring enthusiastically curbed Seinfeld creator Larry David. This marks Woody’s triumphant return to NYC and, from the looks of the trailer, a pretty by-the-numbers return to form:

– First person narration? Check.

– Underage love interest? Check.

– Existential crises? Check.

– Bouncy jazz number? Check.

Aside from Larry’s brief cameos in Radio Days and New York Stories, this marks the first major collaboration between two of my favorite Jews. If someone could have convinced Philip Roth to participate in the writing process, we’d be dealing with the the ultimate trifecta of psychoneurosis.

Jezy

Pavement – “Major Leagues” (1999)

This alternate video was directed by Lance Bangs — whose resume boasts videos for Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea,” GBV’s “Game of Pricks,” and a slew of other greats — and, while keeping with Pavement’s affinity for the absurd, captures the dreamy, pensive nostalgia of this Terror Twilight standout:

Jezy

Black Milk – “Losing Out” (feat. Royce da 5’9″)

Following up the first single (“Give the Drummer Sum“) from 2008’s  phenomenal Tronic —  the cleanest, freshest and most out-of-control rap production of last year — is Black Milk’s newest jam, “Losing Out.”

Aside from being the strongest track on Black’s near-perfect album, it finds the Detroit MC/Producer working with the assaultingly gifted Royce da 5’9″ (see: Elzhi’s “Motown 25“) in one of the most harmonious vocal pairings this side of Madlib and Guilty Simpson:

Jezy

New Music: Death Knelly – “Ruff Demoz”

We are a part of a rhythm nation.”

It’s no great secret that lo-fi is becoming at the end of the decade what dance-punk revivalism was in the early 00’s: it’s ubiquitous, inescapable, and a seemingly free ride to the hyperbole-studded avenues of critical fawnery. No Age’s 2008 snooze parade Nouns, in particular, demonstrated how easily substance can take a backseat to style and still manage to hold the feelers of the blogosphere in an irrepressible  vice grip.

That being said, Ruff Demoz — the first collection proper from SiA-approved, one-man powerhouse Death Knelly — is not that kind of record. On one level, these songs are the “rough demos” they claim to be; still, there’s a sort of rag-tag cohesiveness here that keeps the tracks from feeling less like a haphazard throw-some-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks effort, and more like a collection that — while it may not favor the sort of narrative strategy of A leading to B, then B to C and so on — is irrevocably indebted to the tightly focused vision of its maker.

Considering the tongue-in-cheek didacticism of “White Tigers,” or the lyrical intimacy of “Ladies of the Lake,” Ruff Demoz is a refreshing example of an artist doing something for his medium, rather than following the example of the slew of bratty lo-fi bloghounds whose recording quality is their only discernible claim to relevance. More than charm, which this collection has in strides, it’s got soul.

DK’s Chase Jackson has an impressive knack for mutedly discussing big-top human complications in a surprisingly small amount of room: from the trifecta of love, lust and sexuality  (“Child O’ God”) to the power of narrative and storytelling (“Don’t Shoot Out the Lights”), Ruff Demoz does more than display a remarkably effecient economy of language — it reminds us why we listen to music in the first place.

[Download the album here.]

[Read Silence in Architecture’s interview with Chase Jackson.]

Jezy

“Do You Realize that Oklahoma Is Home to People Other than Toby Keith and Garth Brooks??”

Suck it, Oral Roberts.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives doesn’t have a very impressive track record when it comes to progressive legislation, so it should come as no surprise that they don’t have very good taste in music either. Senate Joint Resolution 24, which would have immortalized the Flaming Lips transcendent Yoshimi cut “Do You Realize??” as the state’s official rock song, was defeated in the House yesterday by a vote of 48 to 39.

Mike Reynolds (R-OKC) took issue with the band’s “reputation for obscene language,” while rep. Corey Holland’s delicate sensibilities were offended by Michael Ivins’ pinko wardrobe.  On a related note, neither Holland nor Reynolds have ever heard rock music.

Luckily, Oklahoma governer Brad Henry (D) plans to sign an executive order next Tuesday honoring the will of his constituents, who voted overwhelmingly for the Lips in an online poll, and officially recognize that everyone you know someday will die:

“The music of the Flaming Lips has earned Grammys, glowing critical acclaim and fans all over the world,” the governor said. “A truly iconic rock n’ roll band, they are proud ambassadors of their home state.

“They were clearly the people’s choice, and I intend to honor that vote.”

[Courtesy of NewsOK.com]

I was born and raised in Oklahoma and, while it may seem insignificant, I truly feel a sense of real victory from a executive measure like this. It’s high time that Oklahoma rightly honor its significant creative voices. Oklahomans — and residents of the South, in general — have a hard enough time battling the stereotype that we’re know-nothing, uncultured rednecks with disdain for the “faggier” elements of society (i.e. the Arts).

The truth is that Oklahoma has given to the world the likes of Ralph Ellison, Woody Guthrie, N. Scott Momaday, Bill Moyers, and — of course — The Lips. These people have respectively made the world a better, stranger and more creative place; we should celebrate that.  Yet, if you were to walk the halls of any given public school during Oklahoma History Month, you’d think the state produced nothing but country singers and cowboys.

While most fellow Okies might not give the proper respect to the merits of Momaday’s House Made of Dawn or Ellison’s Invisible Man as opposed to, say, the staggering idiocy of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” I for one am thrilled to think that symbolic measures are being taken to remind us all that artistry isn’t dead in the South.

Jezy

Video: Dan Deacon & Ensemble live @ The Ft. Worth Modern Art Museum

One thing you can’t call Dan Deacon is boring. That much was made abundantly clear this weekend as he and his “big band” ensemble turned the Ft. Worth Modern’s sculpture garden into a bizarre makeshift playground studded with trippy green skulls, crystal cats and mass foot races. “If he had brought a giant parachute,” a friend of mine noted, “he would have perfectly replicated Kindergarten.”

As succesful as the live-band approach turned out, I’m pretty sure Dan will never be invited back to the Modern. At one point, he organized a crowd-swallowing bastardization of London Bridge which, he stressed, should stretch through the museum itself, past the bathrooms, through the exhibits nearest the sculpture garden, and back out through the other entrance. Needless to say, security put a stop to that. The game stretched out through the garden into what began to resemble Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, but was rightfully not allowed in the doors of the Modern itself. 

The set was airtight and, despite an understandably long set-up process, was executed masterfully. The drummers from highly percussive, noisy post-rockers Teeth Mountain (who, it should be said, were absolutely terrific) helped bring Bromst‘s organic assault full circle into was was a staggering explosion of rhythm and guttural energy.  

It goes without saying that seeing Dan Deacon live is a sort of draining experience: beyond the organized sprinting, “sassy-as-fuck” dance contests and massively executed childrens’ games, just being in the presence of such staggering walls of sound is enough to make anyone feel a bit spent afterward. 

Unfortunately my camera died just as the first band (Denton’s own Fight Bite) took the stage. Luckily for us, it’s 2009: 

“Woof Woof”

“Baltihorse” and “The Crystal Cat”

“Snookered”

“Silence Like the Wind”

Jezy

Word Porn: Sherman Alexie – “Indian Killer” (1996)

Having established his slot in the contemporary American canon with his 1993 collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and the novel Reservation Blues (1995), Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer finds its author at a point during his career in which he can attempt to exercise some of the literary clout his work thus far has earned him. The Alexie of 1996 is allowed the freedom to play with genre without fear of critical pigeonholing, a luxury not afforded to the Alexie of 1993 — or any first-book writer, for that matter. Accordingly, he gives us a hard-boiled crime novel which sets out to   manipulate the line separating the popular from the literary while confronting the host of complications plaguing the relationship between American Indians and Americans of European ancestry.

On paper, Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer sounds exceptionally promising: a deranged serial murderer dubbed “The Indian Killer”  is on the lam in Seattle, scalping white men throughout the city and leaving a calling card of two crossed owl feathers at the scene of each gruesome murder. Such a foundation in the hands of a talent like Alexie suggests that the reader should expect both first-class genre writing as well as thoughtful observations on race relations in America. Unfortunately, what Indian Killer offers in its attempt to deliver such a novel is an uneven balance of genre and insight in which both halves compete in a shouting match with no clear winner.

Ultimately, Indian Killer‘s biggest problems lie with its characters. The novel is populated by static, two-dimensional stand-ins motivated by little save their respective ethnicities. One can’t help but get the feeling that Alexie cares little for and possibly even hates every last character in his novel; and, if their fully-fleshed personhood isn’t respected by Alexie, there is little hope that it will be respected by the reader. This creates a disconnect between the audience and the text which may be desirable in certain post-modern contexts but adds little value to a social novel which depends on its depiction of living, breathing people interacting in complicated ways which the reader can recognize as human.

In one of the novel’s many subplots, the young revolutionary Marie Polatkin repeatedly locks rhetorical horns with a laughable Literature professor whose Native American Lit class Marie finds offensive and fraudulent. Her perpetual, combative corrections regarding ethnic customs satisfies her attempt to find “an emotional outlet in the opportunity to harass a white professor who thought he knew what it meant to be Indian,” (61) but offers the reader very little in regard to truly understanding one of the novel’s most prominent characters.

By denying his central figures this necessary complexity, Alexie reduces them to transparent pawns in his literary experiment. However, this isn’t to say that a novel should be without its static, stock characters. As demonstrated by the “Testimony” chapters of the novel, in which eye witnesses are interrogated regarding the Indian Killer’s brutal murders, this two-dimensional approach to character sketching can be a breezy, effective way to push the crime narrative. The reader doesn’t require that the middle-aged bystander at the casino murder, the severely beaten hitchhiker or grief-stricken mother the young boy kidnapped by the Indian Killer have rich personal histories wrought with complex motivations and detailed voices. These characters exist to tell the reader about gunshots, mysterious screams and broken limbs; they exist to serve the genre.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the function of all the characters in Indian Killer. In the end, one can’t help but feel that Alexie has gone slumming in the paperback thriller aisle in order to bring something interesting back to the shelves of literary fiction; but Alexie’s name alone cannot save Indian Killer from being little more than a flat, thrill-seeking novel whose social resonance is lost in the murky waters of its own pastiche.

Jezy