For a little bit there, in the late 90s and early 00s, I really thought dance music was going to take off, going to transcend its XTC-popping, glowstick-swinging roots. And of course that happened, but in (for me, anyway) the worst way possible. Now *everyone* listens to dance music – and that's great! But I feel like most of what comes out today is just screechy, slurry noise that passes off as "hip", or else it's Top 40 high fructose corn syrup.
Of course, a few brave souls are still making great electronic music in the right-now (Boards of Canada!), but it's hard not to get cynical. It seems like the loud and vulgar always crowds out the understated and beautiful. But nothing, nothing can detract from the joy and wonder of the late 90s and early 00s.
Take Private (2002), one of my all-time favorite albums, by speedometer., the stage name of Jun Takayama. Private is, as far as Yours Truly is concerned, a masterpiece of dance/electronica. Therefore it's all the more heartbreaking that it's so utterly obscure. I can't even recall how I came across Private; I think I heard one of the tracks on soma.fm while lettering Rex Mundi at 3 in the morning, and I took a chance on the full album. The chance paid off, in droves.
What can I say about speedometer.'s sound? Sure, it's downtempo, chill out, space jazz, whatever – but none of those descriptors even come close to capturing the beauty of the music. So here's Nightboat from Alaska, the first track from the album. I love the mysterious, shimmering timbre of the melody, the skittery jazz percussion, the rubbery Angelo Badalamenti bass, and the saxophone.
Private Roots, the second track, is my favorite, and the fact that it only has 15 views on YouTube is a sickening crime. Yoshie Nakano, the vocalist on this piece, deserves like ten Grammys. Downtempo dance tends to feature a lot of soulful, jazzy female vocals, but the vocalists don't always have the chops. Well, Nakano has chops. You can't fake passion and intensity like hers.
The entire album is perfect, one of the rare cases where you can listen from beginning to end without skipping a track. It's available on iTunes, wedged in somewhere between the Justin Bieber remixes feat. Nelly and singles from The Voice™. If you happen to be lucky enough to live near a small record store that specializes in electronica/dance, they might have it, too, but I dunno. Like I said, this album never got the attention it deserved.
I somehow hunted down speedometer.'s earlier album, ...Or Not, and there are a few fleeting moments of brilliance in it that are fully realized in Private. Checking speedometer's Web site, I can see he released a bunch of albums after Private, but I have no way of knowing how to get them in a way that financially compensates Jun Takayama. Which is sad, but at least he's still making music. That, by itself, makes me happy.
Okay. I'm going to go listen to Slayer now.
"Gee! It's been a while since I posted an update!"
Whenever I see the above sentence (or words to that effect) as the opening statement of a blog post, I know it's only a matter of time before the entire site goes dark. But I'm gonna buck the trend. While it has been some time since I last posted, I have a very good excuse: the birth of my son. Isaac Edgar Nelson entered the world on July 15th at 4:29 in the morning.
The birth was extremely difficult – about two months ago my wife developed "Cholestasis of the Liver", a weird, rare disease the eggheads in the white coats know next to nothing about, save for the fact that it dramatically increases the likelihood of stillbirth (!). It also made my wife's hands and feet unbearably itchy, and no medication would help. That was the worst part for her.
We were almost relieved when we learned the docs wanted to induce labor three weeks early, but after 72 grueling hours of hormones and IV drips and pills and machines that go "ping!!", we finally decided to opt for a Caesarian.
And it was the right choice. Our little boy scored a perfect 10 on his "Apgar" assessment after birth (next stop: double 800s on the SATs!). He, his mom and his pop are all safely back home, and everything is rainbows and lemon drops.
I cannot even begin to express the fullness of my gratitude to the staff of Coolly-Dickinson Hospital here in Northampton, Mass. Everyone – doctors, midwives, custodians, nurses – was absolutely wonderful throughout the entire process. I literally don't know what we would have done without them.
For all the details on the birth, as it happened in "real-time", check out my Twitter feed, @arvidthetwit. Yes, this is a shameful attempt on my part to expand my Twitter followers. Thanks for falling for it.
A friend of mine sent me a great article, "Uncomfortable Questions: Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job?". It perfectly captures the "I'm just stating facts here" lunacy of 9-11 conspiracy theories. The best part is the shameless plug for the author's "book" and for Jar-Jar Bink's campaign for the Imperial Senate at the very end. I don't think most 9-11-was-an-inside-job theorists are actively dishonest, but it doesn't even matter when they're after your money.
It only goes to show how disparate facts and inconsistencies can be used to construct a version of history that actually seems plausible, at least, until you start thinking critically. The truth is, reality is always a little messy. There are always going to "questions", lots of them. I mean, are we to believe Franklin Roosevelt allowed Pearl Harbor to happen? There are people who actually think that!
Anyone who's read Zero Killer (all six of you) knows I'm not the world's biggest fan of the second Bush administration. So I'm not apologizing for any of the things that happened as a result of 9-11.
But I like to think I'm something of a black belt in conspiracy theories. They're so much fun, a kind of living science fiction. And having delved into the subject pretty deeply, I'm here to say they are all, indeed, fiction. The few exceptions are very obvious and very well documented, like the attempt of the Ku Klux Klan to infiltrate the US federal government in the 1920s. Aside from those glaring instances... garbage.
For whatever reason, conspiracy theories have changed from a provenance of the far right to the far left since World War II. In the early 20th Century, "the Jews" were a popular bête noire – they still are. Hell, Hitler made a career off of that one. The Bahá'í Faith is the subject of lots of conspiracy theories in Iran; it's often denounced as an evil plot by, you guessed it, those scary Jews. But nowadays it's more about spooky militarists assassinating presidents from grassy knolls and planting thermite bombs in skyscrapers.
But I don't think conspiracy theories are popular because people are stupid. It's sort of the opposite, in fact. We humans are so clever, we can convince ourselves of anything. It's our pesky neocortex, the "highest" part of the brain, that does us in. Denying evolution, or global warming, 9-11, the Kennedy assassination, Jesus had kids... if you're determined to believe something crazy, your higher brain is actually going to aid you in your lunacy. After all, making connections is what intelligence is all about. That's what the neocortex is hardwired to do.
So in some ways, I guess I admire conspiracy theorists, for their intellectual... creativity. It's just a shame all that mental horsepower isn't being used more productively, because I absolutely agree with the 9-11ers on one thing: there are a whole lot of problems with the world.