Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's comin' on Christmas. They're cuttin' down trees...

You know, it's sad when you wake up alone on Christmas morning wishing you'd joined your friends for an early-a.m. Waffle House breakfast ambush, despite how your random upper respiratory tract infection-snacking has been impacting your body image, simply because you need to hear the half-toothed waitresses (waitressi?) call you "honey" and feign affection.

Truth be told it's not like I can spend the money-I can't. Seriously, three dollars for hash browns? You must be mistaking me for a pre-recession Russ. A Russ unconcerned with where his next paycheck's coming from (if from anywhere indeed). But I guess in a fashion akin to that used-up literary throwback of Holden Caulfield paying the hooker to talk to him (or not paying, really), I'd be willing to throw down for something warm, tasty, filling and greasy as hell if it's accompanied by a side-helping of someone pretending to care that, this Christmas, the only friend I really have is Joni Fucking Mitchell.

It's not like I listen to that much folk music in general, or much Joni Mitchell in particular, but Blue is an album that is intricately, almost synaesthetically, linked, for me, to winter. I had long conversations with that album cover yesterday, the first day of this year that I've actually listened to it straight through. Blue is the epitome of the sad, mournful holiday album, despite the fact that it affects a certain sort of almost-embarrassingly humble folky groove a little way through (see: "Carey"). Even the more upbeat moments, like "All I Want", mask a serious longing.

"I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling
Its the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be"

This album is, I guess, this year, the Christmas present to myself to cap off a year where everything has changed. But then, it's the same present I give myself every year about this time. I always talk about Blue as a use-once-and-destroy album, and maybe what I mean is that, as opposed to being a throw-away album, it's the sort of record that I can only listen to during this time of the year. When there's no family to reach out to, no tree no lights nothing really? There's this record. This is the record that starts playing inside my head when the box of useless junk my mother sent to my work address because it's the only way she knows how to get in touch with me anymore arrives, and I have to bite my nails to the quick (which, these days, given how withered and brittle I've left my cuticles, doesn't take much) before finally deciding to open the package-boxed, of course, in a left-over industrial-sized box of napkins no doubt acquired from her job as a waitress or hostess at a cafeteria-style restaurant somewhere...I wouldn't know. I can't tell you the last time we've spoken.

Blue is too much red wine and a headache, it's cinnamon-scented coffee and waking up in the throws of a fever and peppermint tea and it's really the only way I know to spend the winter: me and this record. I don't actually own a copy of it for more than two or three months out of the year-there's no point for me, honestly. It's like wearing a wool sweater in the summer, or baking gingerbread cookies at Easter, or vacuuming to celebrate a birthday. Blue, for me, any time other than the long stretch of gray lonely that is the winter months , is completely anachronistic.

I understand why "River" gets cherry-picked for everyone's holiday compilations (though I don't understand how it ends up on, like, the Starbuxxx Super Merry Mega Happy Save Now Sale-A-Thon-For-Christ Compilation 8!!!!!, it's such a suicide song), but really the entirety of Blue is about a year ending, making resolutions, and longing for that which can't be had-which, frankly, is my schema for Christmas. Even the songs that should be totally dismissible, like "This Flight Tonight", come with forlorn gems in the middle:

"Sometimes I think love is just mythical
Up there's a heaven
Down there's a town
Blackness everywhere and little lights shine
Oh, blackness, blackness dragging me down
Come on light the candle in this poor heart of mine"

Anyway. I shouldn't still be sitting here, in my pajamas, with the Disney Parade or whatever the hell the network stations are showing on Christmas for families to have on in the background while they squeal with glee and smile over tea as presents are unwrapped and good will and joy and cheer and all that crap is spread around, on mute, choosing instead to have Joni sing to me about how she's so hard to handle because she's selfish and she's sad. There's a lukewarm Southern Christmas Wonderland outside, of closed shops and damp puddles and temperatures akin to early fall.

This is what I know of Christmas.

"Just before our love got lost you said
'I am as constant as a northern star'
And I said, 'Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar'"

Joni Mitchell never lies.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 in music (for me)

As usual, with anything I could potentially be involved with, my Top Albums Of 2008 list is, well, a little late. And....this isn't even it. I still have superlatives, and books, and things of that nature, to add. But I try to, in times like this, remember the old saying about eating an sucks. Entirely. And you shouldn't do it.

Russ's Top Catorce Albums of 2008
(why catorce? because, years ago, it was good enough for Bono, and that's still good enough for me)

1) Deerhunter, Microcastle/Weird Era Cont
Proustian meditation on southern small-town ennui, stasis, and the pains of being the world’s most pure-at-heart blogrock superstar. I had no idea these kids were capable of making an album this beautiful, this brilliant and this weird and out-right stunning…ever.

2) Kanye West, 808s And Heartbreak
God, when have I not been talking about this album lately? Even IF you divorce the ego from the music, you still get a stunning, stark, risk-taking album from a modern rap maverick. Leave what you know about Kanye in place, though, and you get something even more-the knowledge that this, what should have been a bedroom album catharsis about his breakup with his fiancée and the death of his mother (that he blames on her following his own love of excess and the trappings of fame), is publicly consumable.

3)Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree
Eschewing the glittery electro-stomp that they’d built their names and bank accounts on, this year Goldfrapp went wry, sincere and pastoral-ambient. I will admit to having listened to this album and nothing but this album for like a month as soon as I figured out the lyrics to “A&E”.

4)Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Say what the hell you want about Weezy: boy is off his freaking rocker in all the right ways. Everyone looks for comparisons to justify their love for Lil Wayne, and mine is simple enough: Kool Keith. Wayne is the second coming of the multi-personality-laden, utterly unhinged and just-not-caring Keith.

5) Leila, Blood Looms and Blooms
Another early 2008 favorite, Leila’s “Blood, Looms and Blooms” is like a night-time visit to a moon-lit wax museum: child-like, haunting, and frightening.

6)School of 7 Bells, Alpinisms

This is what I think I wanted the High Places record to be: less ambience, more epic, world-music-informed emotive drone passages.

7)Portishead, Third
Jesus Christ who saw this one coming? The band that invented the salon-rock triphop genre suddenly returned from a length hiatus with…this. A stunning, bleak landscape of harsh sounds balances with Beth Gibbons’ unmistakably beautiful and fragile voice.

8)Lykke Li, Youth Novels
This album fell of my radar later in 2008, but early in the year I was all about this oddball Swede-pop chanteuse, so much so that to NOT have this on my tops of 08 would be utterly turning my back on the first half of the year.

9) Tie for nine: Now, Now Every Children, Cars/Atlas Sound, Let The Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel

Now, Now Every Children is a band that busted up into my listening habits, literally, a month before making this list. Their debut full-length, though, is so damn good that it shot up into the top ten-full of epic, sprawling and heartfelt songs like a more ramshackle Arcade Fire.

Atlas Sound is the flip-side of the coin from Bradford Cox, frontman of Deerhunter. Atlas Sound is his ambient/experimental project, which, at first listened, sounded like coins loose in an echo chamber to me. Played back-to-front with the new Deerhunter, though, Let the Blind sounds less like self-important electronic noodling and more like creepy, brain-infecting variations on the music from Twin Peaks.

10)TI, Paper Trail
OHMYGOD what an album. Every single song on this record bangs, both lyrically and beat-wise, and I have no doubt it’s because he did exactly what he said he would never do again-actually wrote his lyrics down. From the utterly cheesy (“Whatever You Like”) to the instantly pummeling (“Swagga Like Us”), this was the southern rap throw-down T.I. has been threatening to make.

11)Amanda Palmer, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
It’s not often in my older years that I can say an album “saved my life”. In middle and high school, I used to think various singer-songwriter records were keeping me from slitting my wrists (granted, I never tried, and even if I had I would have cut across the vein as opposed to with, and, I mean, probably would have had some stupid stitches and been bullied worse upon returning to school), but it’s not an experience that happens to me much anymore. Amanda Palmer’s solo record saved me this year, and really that’s all I need to say.

12)Magnetic Fields, Distortion

It doesn’t matter how much distortion you bury Stephin Merritt’s tongue-in-cheek, brilliant lyrics under, they still come through…though, for my taste, I PREFER the pounds upon pounds of Jesus and Mary Chain-homage fuzz that Distortion saw the ‘Fields warping their pop tunes in.

13) REM, Accelerate

God, in an ideal world I would have liked this album SO MUCH MORE. Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up, Reveal-they all were within the top five albums of the year for me when they each came out.

(We won’t discuss Around The Sun.)

It’s not that Accelerate is a BAD record-far from it. But, in the band’s attempt to reclaim the meat-and-potatoes rock fans that basically haven’t given a crap in years, they eschewed the playful experimentation that made earlier (and, granted, less popular) albums so much fun. That said, there’s still some classic R.E.M. here-the whole album, in fact. I just wish it wasn’t so straight-forward.

14) Tie for Catorce: Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons Paint That Shit Gold/Vampire Weekend, S/T
Slug from Atmosphere is my emo bro. Seriously-there’s no one in modern music who can lay out a verse about being done wrong by a woman and have me empathize so closely. I didn’t give it the proper listen upon release, but When Life held strong through the end of the year.

Vampire Weekend? Oh come on I can’t even pretend to be able to justify this.

Most. Rushed. Year-End. List. I've. Ever. Compiled. But I hold to it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A tweeter who twits?

Shocking, stunning, fasci-freaking-nating news:

I have joined the cult of twitter. I am now one of those twitterers who twitters via tweets.

Which, following the vernacular pattern, makes me a twat.

Color me late to the damn party, but showing up with my own liquor (half of it already open and consumed).