Mixmaster, Cut Faster

Several days ago my friend Ray Lehmann called together a mix CD party. Here was my contribution, titled “das Weigelmusik.”

1. “Sheep and Tides” – Michael Nyman

A short instrumental from Nyman’s 1988 soundtrack to Peter Greenaway’s film “Drowning by Numbers.”

2. “The Choice Is Yours” – Black Sheep

Ah, remember when rappers would sample fat-assed jazz bass grooves? This 1991 track is as good or better as anything by A Tribe Called Quest, and wasgiven a little boost of longevity when Fatboy Slim sampled the hook (“You can get with this or you can get with that”) for “Weapon of Choice.”

3. “Real Estate” – Cadence Weapon

The single (whatever that means anymore) from the Canadian rapper’s 2008 album “Afterparty Babies,” his second album of shamelessly nerdy and provincial (literally!) rhymes with just-amelodic-enough clangy samples.

4. “Pity You” – Devo

Snark-pop directed at a loser (“here’s to you, I know you’ve really got a problem”) who would probably be confused by the trampoline synths that infested (in good way) every Mothersbaugh/Casale project of this period.

5. “Why Do the Heathen Rage?” – Guadalcanal Diary

Any GD track’ll do, but this 1985 non-hit is one of their most R.E.M.-y moments, start-stop pop with ENORMOUS DRUMS and fucked-up Rudyard Kipling lyrics.

6. “Big Blue Sun” – Adrian Belew

I can take or leave the “looka-me!” guitar noodling that defines most of the man’s work, but I love love love the Beatles pastiche side of Belew. This is exactly what you’d expect, naive McCartneyish pop about “summer clouds” and “lazy days,” and a signature Belew guitar squeal riding atop the choral hooks.

7. “I Gave My Suitcase Away” – Andy Partridge

The agoraphobic XTC frontman retired with 8 CDs (around nine hours) of unreleased material and demos, from which this lazy (in lyric and in feeling) slice of pop is drawn.

8. “Letter Never Sent” – Trembling Blue Stars

Long-ago music blog hero Glenn MacDonald introduced me to this band, a bunch of twee Brits who write like they’re hiding in the bathroom from the bullies.

9. “Math Wiz” – Luna

Dean Wareham can do no wrong.

10. “Haunted” – The Pogues

Probably one of my favorite songs on the planet, written by Shane McGowan, and later rehabbed by him for a ridiculous duet with Sinead O’Conner, but sung here by the lost Pogue Cait O’Riordan. Arranged here, for the soundtrack of Alex Cox’s “Sid and Nancy,” it is revealed as cracked girl group tribute, a lost Joe Meek production with insane lyrics (“you were so cool, you could have put out Vietnam”) and a singer who barely, barely rises to the occasion, but in doing so makes this version a heartbreaker.

11. “Flower” – Pansy Division

A little offensive fun, a cover of the twisted Liz Phair song by the queens of queercore.

12. “Morgengruss II” – Popol Vuh

Back to instrumentals, and back to the movies. This is the guitar track from “Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes.”

13. “Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled” – Porcupine Tree

Finally, some goddamn prog rock.

14. Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis) – Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
15. It Happens – Primal Scream
16. Counting Out Time – Genesis
17. Sweet Baby James – The Pooh Sticks
18. I Love You (Listen to This) – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
19. Nite Flights – The Walker Brothers
20. I Almost Forgot – Matthew Sweet
21. Don’t Do Anything – Sam Phillips
22. Dream Baby Dream – Suicide
23. Tejbeit – Ethiopian Musicians

Worthwhile daveweigel.com initiative

So: I’m just now finishing one of the busier work weeks in months. 20-odd posts at the Economist. 20-odd posts and two articles at the WIndy. (The features in The Guardian and Reason were written a while back.)

What do I do with this site? It’ll focus mostly on music and media and stuff I like, I think. Over the year I want to do a few lists of that same stuff, as if I were an editor at Vanity Fair or something: lists of the X best that or Y most influential this of the decade. The first one I tooled around with last night was “the musicians of the decade.”

My working list:

T-Bone Burnett
Jack White
The Neptunes: Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo
The Wainwrights: Loudon, Rufus, and Martha
Kanye West
The Elephant 6 Collective
Death Cab for Cutie

What they all have in common, except for LWIII and T-Bone Burnett is that they did the bulk of their work in this decade. What those two guys have in common with the rest is that they produced the defining music of the decade more than once. Here, for example, are songs that Burnett produced, one per project, between 2000 and 2009.

Joseph Arthur – “In the Sun” (2000)
The Soggy Bottom Boys – “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” (2000)
Sam Phillips – “How to Dream” (2001)
Lauren Hill – “Selah” (2002)
Tony Bennett and KD Lang – “What a Wonderful World” (2002)
Mitch and Mickey – “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” (2003)
Alison Krauss – “You Will Be My Ain True Love” (2003)
Sam Phillips – “Reflecting Light” (2004)
Autolux – “Turnstile Blues” (2004)
Cassandra Wilson – “Closer to You” (2006)
T-Bone Burnett – “Earlier Baghdad” (2006)
Brandi Carlisle – “The Story” (2007)
Joe Anderson – “Hey Jude” (2007)
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – “Gone Gone Gone” (2007)
John Mellancamp – “Trouble Land” (2008)
T-Bone Burnett – “Kill Zone” (2008)

He also produced the Walk the Line soundtrack, which I don’t particularly care for, but if you’re willing to consider it, there’s another cultural artifact you can credit him with, along with the album that became the Gilmore Girls soundtrack (one of the decade’s best shows), one of the decade’s instant standards (that would be “In the Sun”), two bizarre experiments of varied quality (the Across the Universe soundtrack and the Plant/Kraus record), and what I think is the best-selling bluegrass album of all time in the O Brother soundtrack.

Obviously I need to spend more time with his stuff, and have the hardest time artistically defending Coldplay, who I saw on the Parachutes tour and was pretty meh’d out by. I’ll be working this from time to time, though.

Hey, remember the 80s?

I bike to work most days and listen to old podcasts; today was the summer episode of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” in which Bob Boilen, Carrie Brownstein, and other assorted Anglos dissected the movies of the 1980s. It was surprisingly glib. Hosts who can pull apart the intricacies of new records and trends with ease (particulary Brownstein calling 2008 “the year of the bearded retreat”) got awfully trite about the 1980s. Synths were boring! Fake drums were icky! “We Built This City” is a pretty bad song, as songs go.

Now–this is their right. They survived the 1980s, and came of age then, and I didn’t. In 20 years perhaps I’ll be unable to appreciate the nuances of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” or “How You Remind Me,” both terrible, terrible songs.

But I didn’t come of age in the 1980s! The decade, for me, has been re-sealed and re-packaged by SPIN, Rolling Stone, VH-1, Mojo, Rhino Records, and other cultural recyclers–I have a colored view of what was good and what wasn’t. I can read the top 10/top 100 lists from every year and see what people were really listening to (ie, Whitney Houston) versus what the critics liked (ie, The Replacements), but it’s too late. I have already been told that Pop Singer X was crap, while College Rock Band Y was mind-blowing, influential, directly responsible for that one song on that one Death Cab record.

My heavily colored view is that… the 1980s were pretty goddamn great. Prog rock mutated into the avant garde of Robert Fripp’s projects and the pop of Phil Collins and Trevor Rabin. Hardcore happened, and happened everywhere. Hip-Hop got awfully close to its peak, as far as the popular stuff goes. (The underground stuff is a different matter, but that’s a cop out.) Most importantly, from the perspective of my record collection, those white college kids who made Nuggets in the 1960s and terrible wank rock in the 1970s made fantastic music in the 1980s–power pop, pop-goth, 60s pastiches, guitar jangle.

Look, kids! Proof!

The best of 2008: the tunes

1. Marnie Stern – This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That

2. TV on the Radio: Dear Science

3. Santogold – Santogold

4. Cadence Weapon – Afterparty Babies

5. Sam Phillips – Don’t Do Anything

6. Brian Eno and David Byrne – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

7. mc chris – mc chris is dead

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus!!! Dig!!!

9. Q-Tip – The Renaissance

10. Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us