Blogs

valentine's day comes early, just to make you happy

Yes, I was home on a Saturday night when the new My Bloody Valentine album dropped. I'm in my 30s, that's what people my age do I think. People like me also named their first post-high school cat “Loveless” and contemplated an mbv tattoo, and coveted that iconic red Strat on eBay that turned out to be a fake, and have spent the last 21 years waiting for this day, so I count myself pretty lucky to have been so uncool as to be in my living room tonight so I could rush to my computer to download the album.


I resisted looking online at what people were saying, and decided to just press play and record my thoughts. I consider what follows not to be a review, but to be a 'listening,' a kind of transcription of my experience before too much conversation or contemplation can get in the way. I would like to write another listening after a week or so, and possibly after reading the mountains of writing that will be done about this. But for now, here is what I heard tonight.


The first half of the album is the long lost material, the second half a series of experiments or side-steps. Looped synth drum tracks were always the first and most solid musical element of the band, making a groove over which distortion and vocal color can move. The drums here are higher in the mix than ever before and more heavily reverbed while remaining with core principles of coupling the beats with tambourine and avoiding any kind of crash or percussion-oriented crescendo.


I feel the way about Shield's guitar the way a christian feels about god. To the existing perfection here is added a lot of experimenting with double-tracking, masking and combining instrumental lines to that of the guitar melodies to accentuate certain timbres or give a bit of punch to phrases. Perhaps unfortunately, or historically accurate, the instruments sound synthetic and push the treble heavy mix even higher. MBV was always a teeter band in a woofer era, and this album is no exception. The mix of Bilinda Butcher and Shields's vocals remains similar, although the treatment of the vocals seems less fine grained (I suppose there wasn't hundreds of thousands of pounds to spend this time, unfortunately) and the mix of the album in general suffers from unpolished edges.


The second half of the album is just not coherent, but I suspect that it is the result of Shield's meta-anxiety of influence. Sometimes the only thing to do when one is a perfectionist is to say fuck it and barf out current drafts. Each song distills elements already existing in the band's formula but pushes one element further: "new you" focuses on sun pop, "nothing is" on aggro noise, "wonder 2" on creative incongruity, and "in another way" on organic instrumental hip hop vibe for the head tripper set.


The first half is coherent though the sequencing seems purposefully anti-climatic. It takes a true act of masochism to put "she found now" first, as it is no epic opening, more a mid album soft lull. Are we to think this side C of Loveless? The distortion pattern of this total bliss cocoon recalls "Isn't Anything" while a cleaner channel pulls along a melody for Kevin's voice to follow.



Of the first half, "only tomorrow" and "who sees you" are the 'timeless pieces inspired by the original.' "only tomorrow" is a monster pop jam in want of a lyric in the grand tradition, with a trademark drum flutter opening to an oceanic opening hook and immediate give of vocal luxury. Twenty first-century flourishes appear as expert stitching, exquisite details in the silence spaces, one becoming a sweep that goes into the most anachronistic of all contemporary song elements: a guitar solo. "who sees you" brings out the bends and tambourine lead, but is otherwise a variation on the techniques of "only tomorrow. " "if i am" takes larger melodic leaps than the others and is driven by stadium drums and Bond-ian guitar line. The full drum sound and long pauses between each melodic phrase make for a lot of empty space. After the first iteration of the verse, subsequent verse vocal lines are doubled with odd synths the way Wayne Coyne's voice is often mixed with odd sounds to unsettle the otherwise traditional lines.


"is this and yes" is the transition piece, informed by Messiaen by way of Radiohead (don't front, that's how most of us got there): a wordless monochrome with small points of Medieval drums. The song's framed by those rubbery percussion plucks and moves by shifting tones, with small, subtle dynamics and Butcher's breathy bell tone front and present.


Of the second half, "new you" is the most stereo-friendly listen. It's a straightforward new wave tune akin (blasphemy coming) to U2 in the Zooropa era. Like that album, it is a successful answer to the question of how to use guitar divinity in modest ways. This is unrepentantly sunny, ye ye pop with vocal phrases genuflecting at the Beatles, a bold step away and towards, like "1979" was for Billy Corgan. This song feels destined to be immediately sold off to the highest syncher, although the nostalgic indie rocker in me (who I am sort of fighting aesthetically here) would hope that Shields doesn't do it. This is where I confess that I don't actually know if MBV has licensed their music to anyone, but I have certainly never heard it and as the target market I feel like I would have had it happened. But even as I write this I wonder if it wouldn't be a good thing if more…kids…started liking MBV again. Not that there's a shortage of synthy-shoegazy pop bands at the moment.


"in another way" is all the edges of Shield's experiment bundled together with a drumline sufficiently frenetic to make the mess cohere, more or less. The first thirty seconds twist tones around a rubber boom bap that goes deep field distortion and an uncomfortably thin doubling of Butcher's vocal on guitar. The guitar then takes the lead over unnuanced string synths. A secondary guitar line irks over the top, sounding all the world like something Thurston Moore would have done to support Kim Gordon's choppy delivery when he did that sort of thing ("No more panty line, ine, ine…"). I fear that my sense of parts to wholes is being fucked with here and that I either have to listen to this song louder or further away, which is to say "live," in order to understand it.


"nothing is" takes the lessons of liveness to the studio. Because texture and volume always trumped lyrical intelligibility, the truth of MBV's sound was always in its being rather than meaning. This track is a one riff drum and guitar lock groove straight from the post-Providence noise tradition, or more precisely like latter day Ex Models. The major problem is that the riff itself seems distinctly un-MBV, like the intervals are too close and traditional, and the whole riff is too fast. Again something about it as a recorded work doesn't add up, or maybe the complete crap of my stereo is showing because I am not being given the full feeling of the pulse and repetition that is so obviously the point. Whatever is going on, it needs to be louder for it to go on for me.


"wonder 2" is a low flying drone war over the Stereolab concert that was the '90s. Guitar hooks sound the alarm and the song fights valiantly on. The song just ends with no resolution. We know who won but Kevin doesn't, and that's why we love him and keep listening.


[How is this the last song? I am totally annoyed by the sequencing and immediately rearranged it (okay not immediately, fucking iTunes 11, what a useless pile). A suggested re-sequence for your classic MBV pleasure: only tomorrow / if i am / who sees you / is this and yes / she found now / is this and yes / in another way / wonder 2 / nothing is / new you.]

How to play "This Land Is Your Land" on the acoustic guitar

How to play "This Land Is Your Land" on the acoustic guitar

It's important than every person get over the fear that they suck at music and learn an instrument. The guitar is an obvious choice because it is a cheap, fixed pitch instrument (they have frets) sold in abundance. It sounds full when you play alone and its easy to be mediocre at it, which is all anyone needs to be a happy amateur musician.

Guitars are also portable and acoustic, two useful things because the most important reasons every person should be nominally good at an instrument is that the world needs amateur musicians to liven up parties, sit at campfires, and protest in the streets.

Which is why I am writing this, because I just played guitar in a 99 mile march from Philadelphia to New York City, as part of the Occupy Guitarmy. We walked along local roads playing and sleeping under the stars to celebrate the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie and to reclaim the right to make music in public. To be honest, I was pretty bad at the guitar when I left, but with not much else to do but play and walk for 14 hours a day for seven days, I got decent.

While on the march I was struck by how shy people can be about playing together, and how few people actually know how to pluck the most rudimentary songs out on an instrument. Which felt bad to me because we were playing folk music, after all, which is folk because it's freakin' easy as hell to play and sing so any folks can do it. And by 'folks' I mean, just like Woody Guthrie does, you and me. Anyone.

But something happened along the way: the occupy magic of mutual aid. It was awesome to watch the people who were more experienced teach and lead songs, and foster people to abandon their egos and find their voices. It was great to hear the rag tag group grow into an actual well versed group through practice and good musical leadership. It made me wanna be a better musician just so I could be a good teacher.

I do know enough to share this beginner's how-to with you. If you follow these simple steps I personally guarantee you will be able to play and sing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" in two weeks. What will then shock you is that you will be able to take this knowledge and apply it to 80 percent of the world's guitar-based popular music, including all punk and blues to hair metal ballads and even most things by Neil Young. I'm pretty sure these things are all causally related and for that I thank Woody, and celebrate the guitar as a great thing to learn how to do.


1) Get an acoustic guitar that feels good and doesn't strain your arms or fingers. Look at pictures of how someone holds a guitar and then go to a store and try out 10-15 guitars of different sizes, both on the body (the hollow part) and the neck. Do you not let trifling guitar store jerks talk to you about anything at all. If you are really paranoid, go on a Saturday at 3pm when the store is impossibly busy and just blend in. But really, you should be balls out with your n00b guitar playing self.

So about those guitars. Some necks are wide, which makes it hard for folks with smaller hands to fret them. They have started to make "women's guitars" to accommodate folks with smaller hands, so that should tell you that there is no one universal size that is right for a guitar. They also make 3/4 sized guitars for kids, by which they mean smaller people by which I mean it's totally fine to get on of those. Check the string tuners to make sure they're easy to move. Also, duh don't pay a lot of money and if you can avoid it don't go to Guitar Center because they're owned by Bain Capital and that's a bad
look for an emerging protest singer or for any decent human being.

2) Put light strings on the guitar. Or nylon strings. The thing that will freak you out at first is that your fingers will hurt and be callousing. You can minimize the pain by having the lightest strings on the guitar, or putting nylon strings on the guitar. Don't listen to anyone who tells you this is lame or childish. You are learning, not playing Newport.

2A) Learn to tune. The inter webs has tuners and there are smartphone apps and you can just get a little tuner that clips to the top of your guitar. It's a little meter and you just get the needle in the middle and you're in tune. Otherwise, doing it by ear isn't hard, just keep plucking with your right hand, tuning with your left, and listening to the reference note. Don't play an out of tune guitar, it makes learning harder.

3) The internet's third most common function is to share tips on how to become an awesome guitarist. Among this wealth of information I suggest ignoring everything and only searching for a chart of basic chords. The drawings of chords show how to make the chord on the guitar's six strings low to high (EADGBE) as either left to right or bottom to top. Print these out or bookmark them.

4) Learn five basic chords. E, A, and D first. Once you get really comfortable, add in C and G. Put little star stickers under the spots where your fingers go for one chord and just practice moving your hand away and returning it to the position and strumming. Then do the same thing without the stickers. Then try not to look at the drawings.

4A) If you are having a hard time fretting your instrument because the strings are too high fix it right away. The easiest thing is to loosen all the strings and remove the little white piece of plastic at the bottom end below the sound hole. This piece of plastic is called the saddle. You can remove it easily and then carefully measure how much you want to lower it and color the part you want gone with a marker. Then take some sand paper and sand it down. Once you put it back in place you'll have lower strings. Be careful to not sand it too much!

5) Add the right hand to get sound. There are a couple of ways to do it and none of them are wrong. You can use your thumb to sweep down the strings. You can use the back of your fingernails to to flick down the strings. You can use several of your fingers to pluck specific strings one at a time or together (finger picking is pretty hard, it's not suggested for a first attempt unless you've played some other string instrument and are used to it). You can use a pick, which canbe anything sort of hard and semi--flexible, such as the edge of an old credit card. Cut it to have a small point and to rest nicely between your thumb and first joint of your first finger. Plenty of pix of this on the web, but honestly it will take a while for you to find a way to feel comfortable with this thing.

6) Practice strumming. First just down, then down and up. Tap your foot and do one strum per tap, then two, then three, then four. Try to keep your strumming as even as possible, then change it up by putting an accent on the first of each count. You can do this while you are watching tv or doing something else kind of mindless. It's pretty badass to be sitting on your couch with a guitar in hand kind of spaced out and intermittently strumming. Imagine yrself as Slash and just noodle away the hours.

7) Put the strumming and chords together. Switch chords every eight counts, then every four, then every two. The most important thing is to go slowly enough that you are smooth in your transitions. It actually really, really helps if you kind of sing the name of the chord as you are playing it.

8) You are now ready to learn a song.

"This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie is really easy in terms of chords and strumming. The chorus and verses have the same exact structure so once you learn one you've learned the whole song.You can use the chords G, C, D for the song if you like.

Then teach yourself to play the song without singing. This might look difficult but it's not. The most important thing is to do it slowly without stopping. For the simple version I would suggest two downward strums per beat. That means two times strumming for each time you see an instance of the letter here:

(G) C C C C
G  G G G
D D D D
G G G G
C C C C
G G G G
D D D D
G G G G

9) After you've strummed this until its impossibly boring, add words. Listen to the song a few times and sing along, listening for where the chord changes are on the guitar. Teach yourself a few verses of the lyrics so you know enough of the words by heart. Check out those "alternate" verses about the no trespassing sign and the church steeple. Woody was punk as fuck, as serious as yr life.

And he could he pack a lot of words into a small number of beats. I've made a diagram of basically where the strumming hits the lyrics. The lyrics stretch in the middle and then there are this fast pick ups at the end of a phrase. So you have "from the Redwood" to say really fast, and "waters" is like three beats. It makes the song more fun to sing because the beat and chords are pretty basic.

You see how I put the first three words in parentheses? This is the "pick up" to the first line of the song. If you notice at the last line of the, the lyrics end and there are three beats of lyrical silence. This song is crafted to keep feeding into itself verse after verse by this method, the song's end gives way to the pick up of the next verse. It's like an ourobarias or one of those camp songs that will never end.

G        C    C          C      C
(This land is  )  your   land this land is
G      G         G    G
my    land from cali-
D      D   D       D
form ia to the New York
G     G    G            G
Island,       from the Redwood

C   C       C     C
Forests, to the Gulf Stream

G     G       G    G
Waters
D              D         D             D
This land   was made for you and

G   G   G   G
me

Sing this verse 50 times along with the guitar until everyone in the world hates you and your naive vision of unspoiled commons and your benevolent refusal of all-encompassing private ownership. After 50 times you can move on to the next verse, which you can do 25 times, etc etc. Once you've gotten to the final verse, you have locked the guitar part in solidly and, if there was any chance of it, ceased to be jaded.

10) Okay, now you've learned "This Land Is Your Land" with strumming. You are on your way to protest folk proficiency, which can best be augmented by meeting up with others and sharing songs until you have a small set list and a group of "please don't call us folk" musician buddies.  You might even collect yourselves into a guitarmy, when you to happen upon some injustice or protest against it that needs a musical call out, anthem, elegy, ballad, history lesson, rally cry, or
any other kind of rebel song. Or you might find that you have enough strength to go out alone, just like Woody did.

on media representation of transgender people, with emphasis on the people.

 

Here was a call I saw posted from a Twitter friend:

Here is my letter. I hope you write a letter to the editors too (all emails in link above):

 

Hello to the editorial staff of the Times,

I'm writing, as I'm sure are many, in response to the recent coverage of transgender people in the paper, notably the article, “For Money or Just to Strut, Living Out Loud on a Transgender Stage.”

I am writing because I believe that it is important for reporters to look beyond the low-hanging fruit that would render gender non-conformist people, and especially those who are poor and of color, as cliched or exotic objects of a curious gaze rather than as citizens, human beings, individuals or otherwise fully respectable, autonomous beings. In the article in question, the reporter assumed a noir-ish narrative voice-of-the-gaze rather than as an unbiased journalistic eye. The consequence was to trivialize the interviewees' humanity and render them crude stock characters in the tradition of true crime novels or as spectacular subcultural delinquents in 1970s style-cultural studies.

The article also failed to question the political, economic, and social conditions and interior, personal choices that create the street as the "stage" by which mostly poor transgender people of color can or "must" live. I understand that the template for the series may not allow for such an in-depth, nuanced portrait, but the ethics of journalistic representation should fall towards carefully chosen words and balanced reportage, especially with such historically disenfranchised and still vulnerable people.

The second to last graf, about property values and implication the lives of these folks may be cultural value or entertainment for those who own in the West Village, deserves a closer look as well. In addition to the glib nature of the statement, it stands in opposition to the ongoing struggles that participants in the civic culture of the streets have faced from New York City's so-called "quality of life" policing, which serves the interest of wealthy private property owners to the incredible detriment of New York City's "historically" vibrant street. Certainly a discussion, however brief, of how this affects the quality of summer nights would be a worthy part of your ongoing series.

I encourage you as editors to assign follow up articles and to make a marked effort to report and write features on New York City's large transgender population, not just from a political perspective but from an enlightened cultural perspective as well. Our city is booming with folks from the streets and middle class alike who make amazing music, art, theater, and other culture, and their works deserve media attention not just from hometown papers but as an empathy-inducing reality check in the national spotlight as transpeople continue to be humiliated or dehumanized due to the raging war on women and homosexuality in this country.

I look forward to that coverage!

All the best,
Daphne Carr


PS: I got your contacts from this website: http://wildgender.com/trans-people-allies-demand-change-new-york-times/3116

PPS: This email is shared with you under Creative Commons license CC: BY SA ND. A duplicate of the email will be reproduced at my url, http://funboring.com/themusicissue/

Syndicate content