COLUMNS

  • Music

    Yoko Ono/IMA

    I have always thought Yoko Ono the only thing interesting about the Beatles. While this is probably not the sanest way to begin, it is at least uncompromising, a mode that has long been one of Ono’s greatest virtues and lessons. On Rising (Capitol), her first new album in over a decade (though close on the heels of her astounding Rykodisc retrospective, Onobox), Ono continues not to compromise and so continues to make songs (noises, chants, whispers, conversations, cries) that combine the matter-of-fact thrusts of Conceptual art with the libidinal cerebrations of rock ’n’ roll. Rising ranges

    Read more
  • Music

    the Raincoats

    Somewhere out there on an emblematic night, a crew-cut singer sets the pace for a mosh-pit hoe-down with a hurried “1-2-3-4!” In the current punk revival, loud fast rules; the rudimentary hardcore of the past has just become better produced, more tuneful, easier to chew—like bubblegum.

    But the crude, cathartic pleasures of the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Black Flag were always only one aspect of Janus-faced punk. Kurt Cobain understood this, on the day he went in search of the Raincoats’ tough-to-find first album, setting off a chain of events that caused the London band to reunite. Cobain cherished

    Read more
  • Music

    Brand New Blues

    TRYING TO EXPLAIN WHY the music created at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in the early to mid ’50s became rock ‘n’ roll’s sacred dirt, legendary producer/hillbilly esthete Jim Dickinson once suggested the source was: “A bunch of crazy rednecks playing nigger music.” Bluntly reductive, yeah, but also river deep. By “crazy rednecks,” Dickinson was mimicking the conventional response to those poor, rural, white boys in Memphis who recorded at Sun—they had to be a little touched in the head to transgress the racial tracks, even in the name of a good beat. And by “nigger music,” he was talking the blues,

    Read more
  • Music

    Dominique A.

    IN 1992, THE INDIE French label Lithium launched its third record, the debut album by a young singer from Nantes named Dominique A., to a sudden, unexpected succès fou. La Fossette (The dimple), a low-fi, tremulous, and disquieting homemade CD, was filled with melancholic little tunes tapped out on a Yamaha keyboard and a Caslo VL Tone, accompanied by the occasional electric-guitar riff. The album’s relation to the French tradition of singer-songwriters was like that of turpentine to varnish: Dominique A.’s peculiar combination of sentimentality and acidity is reminiscent of Beck’s flaunting of

    Read more
  • Music

    Jenny Toomey

    “LICORICE IS CANDY, but it’s not too sweet candy,“ says Dan Littleton, a guitar player in Liquorice. That aptly describes the music that comes out of Littleton and Jenny Toomey, his partner, music that sounds like Joni Mitchell filtered through a ’90s sensibility: acoustic guitar and sweet, meandering vocals underscored by an in-charge, unflustered attitude that only rarely cracks to show an iota of vulnerability. On “2nd Most Beautiful Girl” Toomey shows her take-no-shit side: “The second most beautiful girl in the world says she’s worried about me/the choices that I’m making, they just aren’t

    Read more
  • Music

    the Graying of Rock ’n' Roll

    IN SEPTEMBER, Forbes published its hit list of “Top 40 Big Money Entertainers”—one guide to what’s really important in the music industry. Of the top five, three were group partnerships that, arguably, have done no work of value since the mid ’70s: at number five, the Eagles (1995 earnings of $43 million); at number four, the Rolling Stones ($71 million); at number three, yes, with the tag line “Guess Who’s Back” and a fetching pic from 1964, the Beatles ($100 million). Building on 1994’s internationally successful Live at the BBC compilation, all parties involved in item three have since gone

    Read more
  • Music

    Charles Long and Stereolab

    WITHIN MINUTES OF TAKING A SEAT at Bubblegum Station, 1995, I enjoy a little epiphany. The centerpiece of “The Amorphous Body Study Center,” a collaboration between sculptor Charles Long and soundscaper Stereolab, Bubblegum Station is an enormous mound of plasticine that the viewer is invited to mold and mark. I’m hacking off some pink stuff with one of the scalpels helpfully provided, and this guy gingerly sits at the next stool and starts grinning shyly at me. I take off the headphones (through which Stereolab’s soundtrack is piped) and the guy asks, “Are you the artist?” I should have said

    Read more
  • Music

    Rappers' Redux

    HIP-HOP’S RELENTLESS modernity is currently in doubt. It’s not that the fierce competition to reinvent rap year by year has weakened any—viz. the recent emergence of Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Jeru the Damaja as claimants to the East Coast title of leaders of the Now School. But the art of representing true hip-hop is no longer the only game in town. A wave of reminiscing has flooded the house with Old School memorabilia, and back-in-the-day yearnings are the flavor of the moment.

    The most visible symptoms of this backward-looking mood are the reunion of crews like the Treacherous Three and the

    Read more
  • Music

    the Palace Brothers

    I FLEW TO NASHVILLE. It rained a lot in my hotel room. The room filled with rain as a lung fills with air. The rain looked like sweat on the body I hired to dance before me, which shimmied with a twang and left the way a river is said to crest. On my bed, I prayed, paced between the coils, and sang “No Man Is an Island” to myself as the waters rose, a song for which I know neither words nor tune. It was a tuneless singing I did as it rained in my room in Nashville, and I rewrote War and Peace between the storms.

    Streets in Nashville were desolate, storefronts downtown desolate. Desolation seemed

    Read more
  • Music

    Drag City

    THE CHICAGO INDEPENDENT RECORD-LABEL Drag City has two major claims to fame: 1) it discovered critics’ darlings Pavement and Royal Trux, only to weather the inevitable cannibalization of those bands by bigger labels (Matador and Virgin respectively); 2) much as Sub Pop was considered the home of grunge, Drag City is known as a hotbed of lo-fi, the kind of cheaply recorded sound that dates back to the Velvet Underground and was revived by Beat Happening in the mid ’80s. Technically, “lo-fi” refers to the process of recording songs on inexpensive four-tracks, like Liz Phair did before she signed

    Read more
  • Music

    the Remix Generation

    DANCE MUSIC HAS BEEN associated with young people and with youth culture throughout modern times. Dance music gets you through your teens, 20s, and beyond, and through the working week. Intrinsically hedonistic, it is closely tied to the body and to sexuality. Dance music brings people together across all social barriers. Sometimes it also constitutes barriers of its own, including some, excluding others. It is going-out-late-afterwork music, weekend-in-the-city music, and its themes are simple and direct—love, loss, lust, dancing. As Sheryl Lee Ralph sings on her 1994 dance-floor remix of her

    Read more
  • Music

    Pavement

    Chaque époque rêve la suivante . . . consciousness or unconsciousness cannot simply depict it as a dream, but responds to it in equal measure with desire and fear.

    —Theodor Adorno, letter to Walter Benjamin, 1935, in Aesthetics and Politics

    Out on tour with Smashing Pumpkins/Nature kids, they don’t have a function/I don’t get what they mean/And I could really give a fuck./Stone Temple Pilots, they’re elegant bachelors/They’re foxy to me/are they foxy to you. . . .

    —Pavement, “Range Life,” on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, 1994

    THE ERA IN QUESTION IS MERELY a moment after all—1994, months after

    Read more