Minimal house is a genre that's made some artists a comfortable living via the simple philosophy of "give them an inch and they'll take a mile". There's a deeply odd disjuncture between the playful sense of humor on display in, say, Akufen and Ricardo Villalobos's work and the studied High Modernism of the music itself. Nowhere is this bizarre gap more obvious than in the Villalobos & Gillings track "Andruic & Japan" on Villalobos's recent Fabric mix. 12 minutes of unvarying house rhythm overlaid with taiko drumming and random vocalese and occasionally manic mutterings about chicken and sashimi. It's self-consciously experimental in a pop Stockhausen way (it seems evident to me, at least, that it wasn't created in a total bong haze, that there is some kind of intent behind it), but I'm not sure the underlying plan was meant to be deciphered. It all adds up to something, but what it is seems opaque, as if the creators were daring listeners to find meaning where there might be none.
Does anyone actually dance to this? And why? Its appeal seems almost exclusively intellectual, and even then on a fairly abstract plane.
Following on from my earlier post, Citizen 23's "Janie's Got A Black Eye" is another brilliantly catchy snippet of rock and roll, packing social observation, a great (if muddy) post punk guitar solo, and a very catchy hook into a minute and a half. I can't believe it took me so long to pick up the Hyped 2 Death catalog. It's as essential in its way as the Anthology of American Folk Music, and just about as ground-level and vernacular.
Lester Bangs is one of those stars in the rock firmament who should need no introduction; he was a writer too good for his chosen discipline, and single-handedly wrecked an entire generation of music writers who should have stuck to writing boring, just-the-facts-ma'am criticism, instead of reaching for the flashy pyrotechnics and impassioned polemicism that characterized Bangs' best work and that they didn't have a chance in hell of pulling off. A much less well-known fact is that Bangs' passion for rock occasionally boiled over into pulling together musicians and rocking out himself.
Curiously, the only one of Bangs's music projects that most people know about is his live appearance with the J Geils Band, "playing" his typewriter in an all too literal translation of his critical persona into musical terms. But he also made a few records, and on the evidence presented on Hyped 2 Death's Homework #9, he had real talent, if only in choosing bandmates. "Kill Him Again" (by Lester Bangs & Birdland) is a work of offhanded, economical genius, starting with tentatively picked arpeggios before bursting into classic American chiming guitars (contributed by a brother of one of the Ramones), propulsive rhythm, poetically elliptic lyrics, and even a couple concise solos. Its sound is tough to classify, although the music wouldn't have sounded entirely out of place on the Feelies' or Modern Lovers' first albums. It's also insanely catchy, and begs to be replayed over and over.
It alone makes Homework #9 worth picking up, but Chuck Warner has a deeply intuitive sense of what separates an underrated gem from an opaque near-miss, and there's guaranteed to be at least a couple tracks on each of his compilations that will make you wonder where the hell you were the first time these now long-forgotten records were first released.