Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Phoebe Gloeckner, Dan Clowes audio interviews

This week's Studio 360 on WNYC has cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner talking about her book A Child's Life and Other Stories being banned by the California Public Library. It's part of a larger show about decency that also features Penn Jillette talking about The Aristocrats, an actor who dubs over bad words in movies and a feature on Christians protesting the BBC's Jerry Springer Opera. Link

Also on WNYC, Leonard Lopate talks to cartoonist Daniel Clowes about his new book Ice Haven. Link

Clowes can also be heard discussing his book with Denny Smithson on KPFA's Cover to Cover. A busy one, that Clowes. Link

[Via FLOG!]

2 Hipinion related albums

Hipinion V: Killfile 'em All

-Various Artists

Board is Life


Two free, internet-only albums released within the last few months. Both related to the infamous(?) music site/message board Hipinion (a site that I post at regularly) in some way. One is uniformly well-recorded, well-played and amazingly boring. The other is ragged, messy and brilliant... but maybe only if you get the joke.

Killfile 'Em All is a compilation of songs created by Hipinion boarders. Its a follow up of sorts to last year's Our Board Could Be Your Life. They've been doing these things every so often since before the site was even called Hipinion and it was still just the formerly "official" message board of Pitchfork Media. Every other year or so, all the wannabes and critics who regularly post manage to stop choking on their own irony long enough to bare their own often flailing stabs at creativity to the harshest audience they know. Once the project is done, criticism is usually kept to a minimum. After all, this is just for fun, maaaan.

Our Board had a handful of surprises but it was not a good album by any measure. It was a ramshackle, mostly lo-fi affair full of half finished ideas for songs that was seemingly sequenced at random. None of that mattered though because it never sounded like it was trying to be anything more than a geeky vanity project. That's the big difference between Our Board... and Killfile - presentation.

The first thing you notice is the number of tracks; Killfile has 12 compared to Our Board's 18. The next thing you notice is the sound. The overall recording quality is much better than the last comp. The performances too, especially of those who contributed to both, are far superior. The compiler didn't just take anything that was submitted this time and it really shows. At this point its only fair to state that I submitted a track for Killfile but it wasn't accepted. After hearing the finished product, though, I have to agree that my little barely-a-song scrap really had no place in the set. Killfile sounds like real album and, as such, wants to be taken seriously. The only thing that's missing is good music.

The type of modern music geek who is obsessive enough to post on a board like Hipinion regularly is easy to caricature. Cranky, arrogant, opinionated... its all really about appearances. Its not so much what you know as what you can convince everyone else you know. Its about being the first to fall in love with something new and, more importantly, the first to get tired of it. Its about championing diversity... as long as "diversity" means "hip hop". So maybe it should come as a surpise that Killfile is such a lilly white, stereotypically "indie" affair but it doesn't. Killfile is the sound of a culturally confused, myopic demographic eating its own tail. In that way its fascinating, like cracking open the chest of some giant, blazer wearing, music blogging, Google branded automaton to get a peek at the machinery inside. Killfile is, quite literally, the sound of a Pitchfork nation.

Most of this is pretty bad. The untitled track by The Morphine Bandits that opens the album is actually kind of interesting until it collapses into standard pop-punk nothingness a couple of minutes in. Karenin's Smile's "Don't Break the Ice" shows that they have made obvious strides as musicians since the last comp. It's just that the chops have come at the cost of any sense of personality. Strictly Pretty Nurses have maybe the best track here simply because they don't try to impress anybody and just bash it out. Kozyra's "In Over My Head" is a pop song composed with the attention to detail of a model railroad enthuisiast, and its about as coma-inducing. At the very least, he finally knows how to place a mic... or hire someone who does

The interesting to good tracks (like the Nurses contribution) can be counted on a few fingers and only make the trash that surrounds them smell that much worse. The Acorn's "Darcy", "Watch Out" by Israeli Chaos and the garbled noodling by Duplo that closes the disc are all worth more than a few listens. Mai performs her cover of the Smiths "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" with the stilted, mannered overzealousness of a girl who has heard the phrase "What a lovely voice you have" a few too many times... but it can't ruin such a great song. Still, her performances of Radiohead's "I Will" (from Our Board...) and Underworld's "Born Slippy" (floating around the internet somewhere) are far better examples of her talents.

That's the generous sum... a few interesting songs that should probably be showcased somewhere else. The rest are just awful (Andrei... stop it). Inept, tuneless, boring (No Andrei, really... stop it) and altogether embarrassing (You too, Magritte). Plans are already underway for another comp. Whatever happened to "Those who can't create, critique"?

Wait, nevermind that last part.

And then there's Board is Life. The seeds of this album were sown in the "30 Songs in 30 Days" thread on Hipinion. As the name implies, It was a thread where boarders tried to write a song a day for a month. A poster named Gonzo posted a few songs written about other boarders and they quickly became the only things that anyone remembered from the thread. Gonzo promised a full album in the same vein but I dont think anybody really believed him. Then it came... and it was glorious.

What we have here is a double-disc, tongue through cheek concept album/opera, played mainly on guitar and keyboard, about the Hipinion board and boarding in general. Really, though, its about the same confused culture that Killfile 'Em All is by. This is an album about wasting your life, about feeling lonely, longing for connection, love, sex and death. Its a work that's so funny and so overflowing with creativity you barely notice how bleak and pathetic it all really is.

It could be argued that the reason this all works so well is that young, message boarding dweebs love nothing more than to talk about themselves. Anyone who takes even a passing glance at Hipinion knows this to be true. But it astounds that such an awfully recorded, seemingly one joke premise can be stretched out for two discs without even one real weak spot. Gonzo is obviously very talented.

Most of these (but not all) are named after and are about particular boarders. Each song is in a different style and every one of them is executed so perfectly and so hilariously that its difficult to single any out. "Val" is funny and insulting. "Schreiber" (about Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber) should probably be added to every college radio playlist ASAP. The reverb-soaked "Lostchild" tells the sad tale of "The loneliest boy in Brooklyn". "Rentboy" sounds about how one would expect a song with that name to sound. "Boardin'! (Original Cast Recording of the Hit Broadway Show)" simply has to be heard to be believed.

Tell you what. Just download the album, start listening to the opening "Board is Death" and see if you don't make it all the way to the closing "Board is Life" in one sitting.

Its obvious that a lot of work went into this but it never sounds labored. It all seems happen in one spontaneous rush. The distorted PC recording is partly to blame for this but also its that while Gonzo obviously spent a lot of time arranging and polishing each of these gems, he approaches the performances with an abandon that's exhilarating. His guitar playing is especially inspired.

But for all its brilliance, Board is Life will probably just sound like a big in-joke to outsiders. I'd like to think otherwise. I'd like to think that people who don't use the word "boarding" regularly would dig this but I might be too biased too see clearly. Still, from where I stand, Board is Life is the most worthwhile thing that Pitchfork and Hipinion have ever been responsible for and one of the best albums I've heard all year.

from "Hipinion V: Killfile 'Em All" -

Strictly Pretty Nurses - "Cecelia Girl" [MP3, 6.5MB, 320kbps]
Mai - "Please (Take 2)" [MP3, 1.8MB, 128kbps]
Andrei - "Dust Off" [MP3, 4.2MB, 192kbps]

from "Board Is Life" by Gonzo -
Gonzo - "Board is Death" [MP3, 4.2MB, 128kbps]
Gonzo - "Schreiber" [MP3, 2.8MB, 128kbps]
Gonzo - "Lostchild" [MP3, 4.1MB, 128kbps]

Download the album Hipinion V: Killfile 'Em All Here
Download Gonzo'z album Board is Life here
Download the 2004 Hipinion comp Our Board Could Be Your Life Here