Monday, January 26, 2009 


i contributed again to the next installment of Memories Can't Wait, over at the Art of Noise; this one is about winter. Be warned: I use the word "fucking," and not in the "it's really fucking cold out" sense.

Saturday, January 24, 2009 

"Stop having boring tuna, stop having a boring life"

I love this guy. And God help me, I kind of want one of those.

Thursday, January 22, 2009 

Looking back 2008: Radiohead

(In which Ian mostly avoids writing about any sort of 2008 best-of list in favour of writing up, in no particular order, ten (or so) albums from past years he spent time listening to, thinking about or discovering during 2008. An occasional series, but one which will hopefully be finished over the next few weeks rather than abandoned.)

Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

How come I end up where I started?
How come I end up where I went wrong?
Won't take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out then you cut the string

["15 Step"]

I do not
What it is
I've done wrong


You paint yourself white
And fill up with noise
But there'll be something missing

Now that you've found it
It's gone
Now that you feel it
You don't
You've gone off the rails

So don't get any big ideas
They're not going to happen
You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking

(and, from a bootleg of them playing it live years ago: She stands stark naked and she beckons you to bed / Don't go, you'll only want to come back again)

I'd be crazy not to follow
Follow where you lead
Your eyes
They turn me
Turn me on to phantoms
I follow to the edge of the earth
And fall off
Everybody leaves
If they get the chance
And this is my chance

["Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"]

I'm the next act
Waiting in the wings
I'm an animal
Trapped in your hot car
I am all the days
That you choose to ignore

["All I Need"]

It's on again, off again, on again
Watch me fall
Like dominos
In pretty patterns...

An elephant that's in the room is
Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling

["Faust ARP"]

You are not to blame for
Bittersweet distractor
Dare not speak its name


I don't want to be your friend
I just want to be your lover
No matter how it ends
No matter how it starts...

Throw your keys in the bowl
Kiss your husband goodnight

["House of Cards"]

I never really got there
I just pretended that I had
Words are blunt instruments
Words are sawn off shotguns

Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out

Before you run away from me
Before you're lost between the notes
Just as you take the mic
Just as you dance, dance, dance

A jigsaw falling into place
So there is nothing to explain
You eye each other as you pass
She looks back and you look back
Not just once
and not just twice

["Jigsaw Falling Into Place"]

This is my way of saying goodbye
Because I can't do it face to face


I'm not accusing Thom Yorke or anyone else in Radiohead of anything, but you will never convince me that In Rainbows isn't 'about' adultery.

Previously on looking back 2008:



We ain't born typical

In what I think is probably the last best-of-2008 thing I'm involved in (honest this time!), PopMatters has a massive "slipped discs" feature up today where all of us writers try some special pleading on behalf of albums that didn't make the site's official top 50 list. My blurb for the Kills is here, and the last thing I ever plan to write about Samamidon's All Is Well can be found here, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 

In isolation

I hate to admit it, but this account of living and working in Antarctica makes it sound pretty appealing to me. At least for one year, maybe. It sounds like quite the experience.


I don't really liveblog

me: watching the inauguration?

Theon: aretha franklin is singing a sort of meandering version of my country tis of thee yes

me: yes, i am hearing that too
she seems into ringing

Theon: yeah

me: i haven't missed the speech though, right?
rick warren was better than i feared he would be

Theon: no speech yet no
rick warren was okay except for when he said the 44th transition of power
it was cool when he said MALLLLIA

me: why not the 44th transition thing?

Theon: cause obama's the 44th president
so there have been 43

me: oooh, oath of office!
damn, should have noticed that

Theon: just being a pedant

me: nice that it's stevens

Theon: cbs keeps making pointed comparisons to kennedy

me: i'm watching the AP feed at the chicago tribune
that's funny though
damn, more music

Theon: what the hell yo yo ma is there

me: oooh, yo yo ma, big surprise


me: ugh
just play duel of the fates, guys!
actually, this is kind of nice so far

Theon: yup

me: so is the stylus board going crazy right now?
ah jeeze, "it is a joy to be simple"? really?

Theon: not really i think they're all down their respective halls watching large screens
simplify simplify

me: what the hell is the pianist wearing

Theon: same boutique as aretha's hat

me: hahahaha no kidding
did yo yo ma just wave at the crowd? dude, they're not here for you
PM you standing?

Theon: yo yo ma's great he was on mr. rogers once
hahahah awwwwww

me: man, they're kind of fumbling...

Theon: he fucked up cause he's a secret muslim

me: why is that one shorter than the VP one?

Theon: you know that's a koran in bible covers right

me: oh shiiiiiiiiit
and the speech, here we go!

(then we both shut up, because it was a pretty great speech)

Sunday, January 18, 2009 

More, give me more, give me more

Given that Silent Shout was my favourite record of 2006, it shouldn't be odd that I'd be excited about a side project from the Knife. But one of the friends at the record store played me one of the albums by Karin Dreijer Andersson's first band, Honey Is Cool, and I was pretty underwhelmed. So when I had the chance to listen to her new band(?) Fever Ray I was lukewarm, but after one listen I think this is nearly the equal of Silent Shout. We'll see if it holds up, but I'm pretty excited. The biggest difference seems to be, well, listen to "If I Had a Heart" just above - no Knife song I can think of would let that much tension go unresolved. I kept expecting some beats or some catharsis of some sort. I'm rather happy they just let it dissolve, though. Great video as well.

Friday, January 16, 2009 

A free man

Zack Handlen at the Onion AV Club has written the best piece on the great and now sadly deceased Patrick McGoohan you're going to see. More than just another "R.I.P. and wasn't The Prisoner great?" piece (and it was, it was), it really gets to the heart of what made McGoohan compelling in every role he played.


Take it if it makes you numb

My review of Free Blood's singles comp is up today at PopMatters. There are 25 minutes of some of the most sublime, perfectly accomplished music I've heard in a while on there; then there are 35 minutes of remixes.

Thursday, January 15, 2009 

Looking back 2008: Burial

(In which Ian mostly avoids writing about any sort of 2008 best-of list in favour of writing up, in no particular order, ten (or so) albums from past years he spent time listening to, thinking about or discovering during 2008. An occasional series, but one which will hopefully be finished over the next few weeks rather than abandoned.)

Burial - Untrue (2007)

Burial makes devotional music. But what he's devoted to is, as one his tracks puts it, "Ghost Hardware." If his 2006 debut was the subterranean clank and throb of a dead city, voices tentative and long since vanished (excepting a relatively ill-judged track with vocalist Spaceape), last year's Untrue introduces people back into the mix, albeit in the most spectral of ways. Those haunted/ing empty voices mesh with the post-rave ghosthall ambience extraordinarily well, but the main pleasure in Burial's music is still his beats, which continue to rattle and clash more than they actually keep a beat or make you want to move. Burial beats sound like fists knocking on tin walls, knives being pulled from sheathes, discarded shell casings bouncing on pavement (the latter literally, thanks to samples from Metal Gear Solid). While he's still willing to give his beats and sound environments five minutes to just unfurl and repeat, something you can only get away with when you're this distinctive and viscerally pleasurable, this time Burial's work never succumbs to eye-glazing hypnosis the way the debut occasionally did (a neat and perhaps valuable trick, but not one you want to repeat).

In that environment, these echoing proclamations of love and loss attain a churchly grandeur, but Burial isn't just mourning, he's recreating, maybe even in a grim and limited way improving on the life that's gone by. The sample list for Untrue is impressive and surprising (Christina Aguilera! Silent Hill! India.Arie!) but the way Burial uses those voices is such that none of the reviews I read assumed they were anything more than obscure old rave divas or maybe just friends of the artist. More importantly, there are no real 'voices' in the sense of humanity or agency in Burial's songs - there's never any dialogue, or any sense that the words are directed at anyone who's still there. Aesthetically Burial's made it work for him, but it also means that even his saddest songs sound a bit like the kind of wish fulfillment we engage in when we imagine what the Other might say or feel. It's an interesting question to consider whether these voices are supposed to represent Burial himself or the Other, but in either case the result is the same: the emotional side of Burial's music is concerned almost wholly with projection and while his subject matter is often heartbreak and rejection, a projection of rejection is still less damning, less painful, less risky, than actual rejection.

I'm not accusing Burial of being immature or pathological, mind you - anyone who claims they've never done this is either lying or terminally unreflective. And I'm sure Burial himself is a normal guy with a typical range of interests and pursuits, although his music betrays an almost monastic focus and asceticism. But in addition to the very cogent things written about Burial's music and the life and death of UK dance music genres, there's a personally mournful (or at least backwards-looking) element to his music as well, one that fetishizes the kind of barren landscapes that make this sort of projection possible. You could go very dark with this angle - that Burial's music is cold and solipsistic, that it fantasizes about dead cities and empty streets as places where we can replay in our heads our interpersonal relationships as one-sided conversations where we're the ones who are missed and valued and others can't answer back. But I don't take that tack, and I tend to experience the emotional aspect of Burial's music and use of voices in an oddly doubled way. On the one hand, his 'ghost hardware' is a venue where we can work through our troubles for catharsis and as preparation (not as substitute) for, well, talking to the other person again; simultaneously, it's an admission and celebration of how much we all do tend to live in our own heads. It might not be the most flattering thing to admit, but the entropic, possibly self-serving whispers and echoes of Burial aren't necessarily radically different from the way the passing of time and the subjectivity of memory shapes our experience of emotional moments in our lives.

And so Burial is, as I said, creating hymnals not just to the idea of an Other or to her* remembered/imagined words and actions and feelings, but to the 'ghost hardware' we use as a framework for remembering and for framing those events and interior states in our memory. For a variety of reasons, he's hit upon an atmosphere that suggests nothing less dramatic than a post-cataclysm London as his vehicle for this feeling, but it works (I imagine it helps that both Burial and most of his fans are urban, and lonely). And Burial's music isn't concerned with nostalgia so much as with keeping the flame alive, musically and emotionally, which is one of the reasons why I reject the contention that his music is hermetically sealed and inhuman (although I understand where that argument is coming from). It's key to Burial's emotional power that the devotion and ache in his music is relatively inchoate and more about the process of longing and remembrance than about any given instance of it. That's something we all do, and it's around that complicated issue that Burial's music revolves; Untrue is devotional music for our doubts, our subjectivity, our memories, and the cities and machines and music we use to feel and express these things. It makes perfect sense that the musical golden age Burial has expressed reverence for in interviews was/is precisely a venue in which people gather and move together without much talking - everything else is much more complicated.

*I'm a heterosexual male; replace pronouns as appropriate for yourself, but the point and the emotional gist is the same.




It's just a short one, but my review of the new Dead C album went up at PopMatters yesterday. It's good stuff (the album, not my rather perfunctory review).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 

I don't remember saying

There's a new column up at the estimable blog The Art of Noise, called Memories Can't Wait (title provided by yours truly). It's going to be a regular thing, and I plan to contribute regularly; the initial entry is about new beginnings, and I have a piece in it.

Monday, January 12, 2009 

TV diaspora

So first Marlo Stanfield and Bubbles show up on Heroes, now Bunny Colvin and Brianna Barksdale on NCIS (of all places). Nice to see the cast of The Wire getting some work, but were they having a two-fer sale or what?

Friday, January 09, 2009 

Got live if you want it

There's still the odd 2008-in-review thing popping up here and there, and some of them are even good; I may be biased, as I participated in all five parts, but the PopMatters best and worst of live music from last year was pretty entertaining.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009 


Hey, my first book review - of the 33 1/3 book on the Pogues' Rum, Sodomy & The Lash - went up at PopMatters today and I didn't notice it until now. The new job is keeping me busy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009 

In defence of snark

Adam Sternbergh has written an interesting, compelling and I think necessary counterpoint to David Denby's new book Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation. As someone who is both part of a generation that has definitely embraced snark and also as a person who tends to be snarky, I think Sternbergh has a much better handle on it.

Yes, it can be damaging (as can sarcasm, and I suppose the only difference between snarkiness and sarcasm is that snark can be more straightforward), but it certainly doesn't have to be. It strikes me that to attack snark as a whole is about as sensible as getting mad at, say, flippancy (and I say that as someone who admittedly uses flippancy to avoid more sincere emotions sometimes). Certainly is someone is sarcastic, or snarky, or glib all the time, without regards to context, that's damaging. But this is a real baby-with-the-bathwater situation.

Saturday, January 03, 2009 

I was only dancing

I check in at Daytrotter every so often to see who's doing sessions there, and every so often it's a band I know and like, and some of them wind up having pretty incredible versions of songs. But today, when I saw that Stars Like Fleas had done one, I got disproportionally excited. Theirs was one of the best live shows I have ever seen, and while I haven't listened to the MP3s yet, if they're a tenth as good you should rush out and download them right now. They're free, for pete's sake.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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imathers at gmail dot com

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