Friday, December 31, 2004

Revolution Rock

From the always-informative "The Brazilian Muse" I found this short article from The Morning News placing Tropicalia in the context of other Latin American protest music of the 1960s and early 1970s. Some factual errors, I'm told, but the big-picture aspect of the story makes it a nice intro to the subject. There's a section on the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa, for instance; I've only heard one song of hers ("Gracias a mi Vida"), but I'm intrigued enough by that one to want to hear more. Strikes me as a cross between Joan Baez and Cesaria Evora, or something along those lines: big, rich voice, hyper-dramatic. And from what little I know of her life story, there's drama aplenty for her to draw upon. Anybody familiar enough with her work to suggest other places to turn?

PS. Speaking of life stories, the muse of "Brazilian Muse" devotes a recent entry to tracing how Brazilian music entered hers. Boy, can I ever relate to so very many parts of it.

PPS. One line in the Morning News story kind of backfired. Reading the sentence "While Olivia Newton-John’s 'Let Me Be There' wafted over radios throughout the United States, in Chile a U.S.-backed coup toppled Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Popular Unity socialist, and launched Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power," I suddenly found myself straying far from thoughts of Allende and Victor Jara and taking my own personal trip down memory lane. Ah, Olivia... I confess, no matter how many Pere Ubu and Aphex Twin albums you'll find in my album collection, I have a major soft spot for mid70s soft rock. Suddenly I really want to hear ON-J... Pronto! That's not what the author had in mind, I know, but when you mention "Let Me Be There" or "Have You Never Been Mellow," I .... hell, I can't get it out of my head.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Surfin' USA

Rather than actually doing any of the million items on my to-do list last night, I spent a little time trawling some of the MP3 blogs listed at Mangos and Mandolins (see below) in search of music I didn't know I was looking for.

*At M&M itself I found 2 songs by the short-lived but influential Brazilian jazz combo Quarteto Novo. While I enjoyed parts of each, I'm gonna cite these as a case where the blogger's description is more appealing to me than the music itself.

*From Copy, Right?, a bunch of Christmas odds and ends, including … a crazy Luscious Jackson-y version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" (billed as "White Christmas") by a Japanese band called Melt Banana; Sufjan Stevens' lo-fi cover of "O Holy Night" (he's a guy my pal Brian has been talking up); Pond's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (possibly the nicest of this particular batch, though no match for Hugo Largo's angelic version); Coldplay's piano-driven cover of the Pretenders' "2000 Miles" (the original of which may be one of the best modern-day Christmas songs since Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for ..."), and Ivy's faux-vintage version of "Christmastime is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

*From Aurgasm, another little morsel to satisfy my recent Sigur Rós cravings. There's actually quite a bit more here at the moment that I want to sample, including tracks by 4Hero, Carlos Vives, Plaid, and a guy called The Gay Pimp. I really like the writing at this site, as well as the range of music explored. Gotta be checking this one out more regularly.

*From Fluxblog (which, disappointingly but not-so-disappointingly, seems to have nothing to do with Fluxus), a couple of items that, once again, sounded more interesting in words than I actually found them when I heard them: an incomprehsible Kenny Loggins cover/ripoff by a dancehall band called Elephant Man and a new song by The Kills (whose singer, praised by the blogger, sounds just like P. J. Harvey to me). I should probably head back there soon, because there are several Christmas novelties I'd like to check out (including a parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" replacing the various "gold rings" and "lords a-leaping" with advertising soundbites).

FYI, if you want to hear any of the above in the places I've mentioned, you'll need to visit the sites immediately, since they'll all be gone within a few days. Sort of like a Brigadoon of MP3s.

*My last stop of the night was the amazing UbuWeb, which is not a fan-run MP3 site but an online archive of poetry and sound-art from throughout the 20th century, maintained by folks just down the street from me at SUNY Buffalo. I've been on a spoken-word kick in the car lately--I'm in the middle of a 2-disc Howard Zinn lecture, which is only so-so, and the 3-disc Daily Show audio version of America: The Book, which is so smart and funny that I totally understand why the book is so phenomenally popular--so at UbuWeb I picked up clips of Frank O'Hara, Ed Sanders, and Patti Smith. The first two items were historically fascinating, but the Patti performance was easily the most wondrous find of the evening. "The Histories of the Universe" was recorded in 1975, back when she was mainly a poet, and her ongoing project of the day was a rambling spoken/sung composition called "Seven Ways of Going." Now that she's sort of evolved into the elder statesman of punk (while remaining incredibly vital; her live shows these days are beyond compare), it's easy to forget that she was once a giggly but amazingly savvy performer on the East Village poetry scene. Listening to this live recording, you can imagine yourself in the audience of St. Mark's Church in the mid70s, stumbling upon a skinny young woman who is part standup comic, part scholar, part beat poet, part space case, and god knows what else.

And so: my apologies to everyone to whom I owe a holiday card, a press release, an article, or anything else. Sometimes a fella's gotta do what a fella's gotta do.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

New Kid in Town

Thanks to the list of referring websites at the bottom of this page, I just discovered Mangos and Mandolins, a brand-new and tremendously exciting blog which covers "Music from Appalachia to Brazil, with Plenty of Detours." It's only five entries now, but those five discuss Caetano and Tom Ze, both of whom you just know I like, along with two artists I've never heard of Bruce Molksy and the Wayfaring Strangers, both of whom you can be sure I'm gonna check out. The writing is informative and intriguing, and as an added bonus there are MP3s of selected songs (for a limited time only).

Very, very exciting.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


I actually finished reading Tropical Truth a few weeks ago, but it's been sitting here on my desk ever since, to remind me to quote this line, which I came across shortly after Election Day, when one U.S. state after another voted to ban gay marriage:

"It is no accident that homosexuality is under fire from totalitarian states--even those under construction--and from the nostalgia for a time of absolute social control."

It's uncanny how many of Caetano's comments about Brazil under military dictatorship in the late 1960s seem relevant to my own place and time. Oh, and the line just before that one is pretty provocative, too:

"Offering the ideal model for the conflict between the authentic and the dissimulated, but unamenable to being framed in terms of the perversions that imply a crime or denial of someone else's freedom, homosexuality clearly posed the fundamental question concerning human sexuality, and thus the very freedom of the individual."

Okay, I challenge anyone to name a male singer from the States who would devote most of a chapter of his memoir to a theoretical/political analysis of his own bisexuality, particularly in such dense language (at least in translation). Much as I'm looking forward to reading Dylan's Chronicles, I just don't think I'm gonna find anything quite like this there.

Speaking of musicians' memoirs, after I finished Veloso's book I picked up Brother Ray, Ray Charles' autobiography, again (bought it right after he died as research for an article I was writing about him, but only skimmed it at the time). I wanted to finish it before seeing the new movie Ray, but I only made it through about half the book (much of which does not appear in the film, sadly enough) before I ended up at the movie. I know the film is getting rave reviews, but compared to the book, it's a total soap opera; what's so great about Brother Ray is its matter-of-fact tone about sex (god, what a potty mouth that man had!), drugs, racism, blindness, the music business, you name it. It's all interconnected in complex ways that make it seem like a quintessential American story. On top of everything else, co-author David Ritz has done an amazing job of editing what were surely hundreds of hours of interviews into a coherent narrative.

Ever since I saw Jimmy Stewart struggling to find "the sound" in The Glenn Miller Story (which I totally love), I have had this perverse fascination with biopics about musicians who have forged their own musical language, because it's so difficult to show that process onscreen--in real life, it typically takes years, and there's seldom a watershed moment dividing the youthful imitator from the fully mature artist. In that regard, Ray is not so different from Glenn Miller Story: the change happens magically, almost overnight, in this fairly corny way (even if the music being played when it happens is delightful).

On the other hand, another musical biography I watched recently--the documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music--does a really effective job of depicting the inherently uncinematic act of recording music onscreen. You get to see remarkably intimate footage of Dowd working with most of the Atlantic Records roster of the 1950s and 60s(including Brother Ray, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and tons of R&B and jazz acts), Eric Clapton, and then a bunch of mid-70s southern rockers (mucho time devoted to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who don't seem comparable in my own personal scale to the aforementioned, but hey--to each his own). It's well worth checking out.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Carnival Time

Here's some info on a conference on The Arts and Cultural Politics of Carnival sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa, which might be of interest to some of you.

(Thanks for the tip, June.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Every1's a Winner

Every year on around Thanksgiving for the last decade or more, I determine the winners of the Ehmke(e) Awards, my own personal (okay, imaginary) year-in-music review. (Long story behind the parenthetical e; don't feel like sharing it at the moment.) Unlike most best-album honors given out by more legitimate bestowers, mine focus on the listener as much as the producer of the sounds: for me, picking an "album of the year" has more to do with the year I listened to the record than the year it hit stores. (Favorite example: Gram Parsons was my very first Artist of the Year, about two decades after he bit the dust.) I also don't feel compelled to narrow selections down to a single winner. Hell, I just plain don't like awards, period. In a nutshell, the two features of entertainment writing I find most boring are:
1) the annual year-end wrap-up of top ten CDs/movies/whatever, and
2) the annual column where people guess who's going to win the Grammys/Oscars/Emmys/etc. (particularly when they post actual odds, like 20:7, which make no sense to me and only trigger my math anxiety).
But somehow I can't resist the urge to combine these two ultra-boring concepts, albeit on my own terms.

Most years, the Ehmke(e) Awards are a purely hypothetical affair (except in 1997, when my list happened to make its way into The Berkshire Eagle's annual year-end wrap-up for reasons I ... won't go into here, in keeping with tonight's theme of Teasing the Reader). But now that I got me this here blog, I can share the results with ... all five people who read it. The virtual envelopes, please:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Brian Wilson, Smile. Hell, it's the least I can do to acknowledge such a monumental musical achievement and cultural event. And I've said more than enough about the album itself already. I'm just happy to see that it's been making a dent "at retail," as they say, and in the CD players of people around the world, some of whom may not even be obsessive megafans.

SONG OF THE YEAR: Outcast, "Hey Ya." And didn't Missy Elliot have some super-catchy single like "Work It" out this past year, too? It's getting so hard to remember which year is which as I approach my dotage. Anyway, those two top my list, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Caetano Veloso. Another no-brainer, given how much of the music he has written and/or performed that I've surrounded myself with of late, to say nothing of the many happy hours spent reading his memoir.

João Gilberto (Nob Hill [I think], San Francisco, June)
Brian Wilson (Massey Hall, Toronto, October)
Wrote about the first of these here already, and one day I will actually get around to finishing the post I started and abandoned about the latter.

If I were a more ambitious sort, I'd look up past winners and list them here--except I don't think they're all written down anywhere. (Face it: honor is such an ephemeral quality sometimes.) I do recall that the 2003 concert of the year was a three-way tie between Robbie Fulks, Don Lennon (both at Mohawk Place here in Buffalo), and Super Furry Animals (at the Continental in Bflo--but how could I possibly have left Patti Smith's unbelievable 3-hour show at the Sphere out of that list??? Perhaps it was actually in 2002?). D Lennon got artist of the year, and album of the year was a threeway tie between The Postal Service's Give Up, Mr. Lennon's Downtown, and My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves. And I know that past album-of-the-year winners have included Mull Historical Society, The Twilight Singers, and Mark Eitzel. Oh, and Radiohead, but something tells me they don't need the extra sales bump which inevitably follows such a prestigious distinction.

(Y'know, anytime I write stuff like this, I can't help suspecting that I sound exactly like the protagonist of American Psycho, who spends his time between murders reviewing the history of the band Genesis, album by album. Is this not the worst fear of all bloggers?)

Any contests of your own to list here? Be my guest. Believe me, I'd way rather hear about the winner of the Bradley Q. Fakename honors than speculate about the Recording Association of America's next Best New Artist.

Monday, November 29, 2004

They've Got a Lot of Coffee in Brazil

According to this Reuters story, the country of Brazil wants to produce a "TV documentary" (read: infomercial?) promoting the healthlicious joys of drinking coffee.

"The United States already is the world's biggest coffee market but Brazil thinks Americans can drink more," the item reads.

Okay, okay, I'm drinking as fast as I can...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Speaking in Tongues

Spent much of this evening editing a transcript of an interview for work; as part of the necessary distraction process, I found myself at the download section of Sigur Rós's website, which contains a pretty remarkable and rather large collection of mp3s by the band and their various side projects. I'd lost my copy of their wonderful album Ágætis Byrjun for a while and found it again just a few days ago, which sparked a whole new wave of listening. (I never picked up its followup, (), though the site has a few sample tracks that tempt me to hear more.)

As if that weren't distraction enough, the goldmine at SR's online headquarters made me wonder if My Morning Jacket's site might contain a comparable treasure trove. It doesn't, though there are a few songs here and there from most of their albums, and the site has plenty of other features to keep you ... distracted. SR and MMJ, while they're pretty different from each other, also have a lot in common, starting with their generally dreamy, reverb-y sound--which I find enormously appealing. Both groups' lyrics are often difficult or impossible to make out, which bothers me not one bit.

But thinking about the legibility of musical language inspired me to also start assembling candidates for a compilation CD I've long pledged to make for a friend who's intrigued by this whole Brazilian obsession of mine and wants to get his feet wet but can't get past the desire to understand the lyrics. My disc will be called "Brazenglish" and will consist entirely of songs by Brazilian artists (and like-minded offshoots) singing in English. I'll try to remember to post the final songlist here when I'm done. It's sort of a frustrating project, though, because the songs generally don't represent an artist's best work (one notable exception being Marisa Monte's cover of "Pale Blue Eyes," which just might be my favorite of her recordings I've heard so far).

I don't really share my friend's need for complete comprehension. I used to be a big Lyrics Guy in my tormented adolescence many many years ago, when it really seemed like Simon & Garfunkel (for instance) really had something to tell me, but after a certain point that wore off. Might have happened around the time I started seeing friends of mine in bands that were musically really great but lacked a strong lead singer; I kinda wished they'd just go in a purely instrumental direction. (This was a good ten years or so before Tortoise and similar outfits did exactly that.)

These days I guess I feel like vocals are a nice thing for a song to have, but lyrics that I can plainly understand, let alone relate to, don't seem quite so important anymore. (No offense to Iris Dement or Richard Rodgers or anyone else--I still love you all, promise.) The 6 or 7 years I spent working for a singer/songwriter's record label were really what made me turn to wordless music--mostly electronic stuff. I don't mean that as a diss to the artist, more a reflection of my desire to have suitable music to work to--and since my work generally involves language, I have plenty of words in my head already. What I'm looking for is the texture and sheer presence of music.

Which explains why I just spent an evening downloading songs sung either in Icelandic or a madeup variation thereof. Svefn-g-englar, y'all. Everybody join in on the chorus!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Change IS Gonna Come...

Horrible week for U.S. politics. Pretty damn good one for live music in Buffalo, though: Tuesday night the house band for our little cabaret was the Dixieland Grifters, a Bflo-based instrumental outfit whose name pretty much tells you what they play. And it was perfect for the spirit of the evening: started out jazzy and hopeful, then turned dirgelike, and ended up jazz-funeral-style as the entire audience and cast transformed their sadness into one brief, hopeful dance.

Last night, as I've already mentioned, I saw the magnificent Andrew Bird. And then tonight I had the great treat of watching/hearing the Portland (OR)-based quintet 3 Leg Torso accompany David Greenberger (of Duplex Planet fame)in a live performance of their spoken-word-and-music collaboration "Legibly Speaking" (which is also available as a CD. The show took place in a beautiful, old church, which struck me as the perfect context for Greenberger's words, taken from conversations he's conducted with senior citizens over many years: stories and briefer vignettes about love, loneliness, illness, death, and cats. If that sounds sad, I've misled you; the centerpiece of the work is heartbreaking, but the rest is funny and quirky and full of hope.

Which is just what I/we need right now. The only music I've wanted to hear lately has been that which is quiet yet strong, soulful and hopeful. That's Bird, that's 3 Leg Torso, that's Aretha Franklin covering Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." And although I'd slipped a little off the Brazilian bandwagon in the delirium of the last month (because I've had to seek out dozens of songs to use in the show), I've been reaching for Vinicius Cantuaria and Joao Gilberto a lot again in the past 48 hours. There is rage in me along with sadness, and I'm sure some Atari Teenage Riot will hit my turntable/CD player sooner or later, but for now I'm going with soothing over seething.

And you? What sounds are getting you through these dark days? Post a comment and lemme know.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place (if it's the last thing we ever do)

(Had real trouble logging into Blogger earlier today; I can only assume it was thanks to millions of other folks attempting to post their thoughts on the election. Now that I'm on, here's my contribution to that multilogue. For now at least, the thing I can't get out of my head is not music but the fucked-up decision my home nation just made yesterday: to retain its appallingly inept leader for another four goddam years.)

Ohhhhhh shit.
I've spent most of the day either cursing my fellow citizens or weeping--though I refuse to abandon all hope. Picked up Caetano's Tropical Truth and found the following passage, which brought some degree of comfort. Substitute the U.S. for Brazil and Bush for "military dictatorship" and you've got a pretty good description of how I feel at the moment:

We the tropicalistas, unlike so many of our more naive leftist friends, who seemed to believe that the military had come from Mars, had always been determined to face the dictatorship as nothing less than an expression of Brazil. That view increased our suffering, but today it also sustains what seems to be my optimism. I think and act as I do, knowing in my bones the truth of Brazil's potentialities, having entered into a dialogue with Brazil's deepest desires--and I do not conclude that we are a pure, ineluctable failure. I learned then to recognize the forces of regeneration, and even being aware of the proposition's very high risks, I am always inclined to double my wager.

Tonight I saw the phenomenal Andrew Bird at Soundlab in lovely downtown Buffalo. I was wiped out after the end of the five-week run of the cabaret show I've been part of all month, which wrapped up with a marathon election-night production, and I really, truly wouldn't have left my house for anyone but Mr. Bird, whose lush, delightful music seemed the only thing I wanted to hear under the circumstances--the aural equivalent of comfort food. His recent solo records are beautiful, and live he's even more astonishing, playing up to four instruments (simultaneously!) and singing. Hate to compare artists to other artists, but anyone who likes recent Wilco or Radiohead albums or Rufus Wainwright would be well advised to check him out. Trust me: the perfect soundtrack for this frazzled moment in time.

Now that the Cabaret is on hiatus for a while, I hope to post more often here, starting with several entries I started and didn't quite finish over the past month.

On one hand, it seems hard to write about music when my nation appears to be heading straight to hell. But what else can I do? The only thing that gives me hope and help in such dire times is art/music/culture. This stuff keeps me alive.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Smile, though your heart is aching...

Update from May 2006: This is a blog entry I never finished; rediscovered the draft of it just now and decided to finish the sentence I left incomplete and just end it there. This show was such a tremendous experience that I should at least leave some kind of marker here. Even today, two years later, I could still go on and on about it... but I won't. You're spared!

I fully intended to race home after seeing Brian Wilson and his band perform Smile in Toronto and write about the experience here while it was still fresh in my mind, but that didn't quite happen. Now three or four weeks have gone by, and if anything the memory has already transformed itself into the stuff of personal legend.

This wasn't the first time I'd seen the group; they shared a bill with Paul Simon at Darien Lake, one of those corporate amusement park amphitheater deals outside Buffalo, in the summer of 2000, and that one had been such a moving experience (I'd never wept all the way through a concert before) that I doubted the second time around could possibly equal it.

Boy, was I wrong. A big part of the power of the Darien Lake show was simply the thrill of seeing this guy for whom I have so much respect and empathy--an artist who'd finally triumphed over his long history of stage fright, mental illness, and fucked-up band/label politics--who had at long last found the ideal ensemble to play his music with respect and careful craftsmanship in front of an audience that could hear it for what it was. And what a band—one part Wondermints, one part latter-day BB touring types, all of whom sound absolutely amazing. [...]

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Bossa Nova Baby

If you're one of those readers who shares my fondness for those Brazilian rhythms and you're a Western New Yorker, you might wanna get yourself a ticket (as early as possible, since they're practically guaranteed to go fast) to the first weekend of shows in this season's Real Dream Cabaret, the semi-regular improvisational group I'm a part of. On Friday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9, the brand-new group Bossa Womba Loca, fronted by my very dear longtime friend Heather Connor, will be our house band, and they promise to bring the bossa and the samba along with lots of other Latin sounds. (There's a new show, a new band, and a new theme every weekend through the rest of the month; the first theme is "The Fertile Crescent," which doesn't appear to have much to do with bossa... but I'm pretty sure the connection will be clear enough in its dreamlike fashion.)

There: a blatant plug for something I'm involved in. Hope to see you there. And now back to our regularly scheduled adoration of Brian W, Caetano V, and Aphex T.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: The Day After

It's here. It's out. And I've heard it. (As have many, many other people by this point--hopefully enough for a Billboard chart position, since that sort of thing used to matter a great deal to Mr. Wilson.)

I'm not normally big on buying an album or seeing a movie the day it comes out--I can only recall Radiohead's Hail to the Thief as an exception--but after hearing about the great unfinished Smile since high school 25 years ago and wondering what it would sound like, I had to do it this time. Guess the impulse was akin to all my friends who wanted to see Fahrenheit 911 on opening weekend as a political/commercial statement. (Better living through shopping: always a dangerous notion.)

But I digress: on to the album, which is getting only its second playing in my home as I type. And round two is even more powerful than the first listen, now that the initial surprise about song sequence and new lyrics is over and I see how the whole thing flows.

So "Surf's Up" is not the great emotional climax of the album (more like its centerpiece); "Good Vibrations," of all things, is instead. I never really believed that GV belonged here in the first place; that it was simply the most recent single, which industry concerns would stick on the next available album. Sort of like "Sloop John B" in the middle of Pet Sounds: different lyricist (and lyrical style), major interruption of the flow. But lo and behold, it works here, particularly thanks to the reprise of "Our Prayer" immediately before it. (BTW, if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about here, I apologize--and encourage you to race out and get your own copy of Smile. Trust me: if you're interested in any of the genres of music I normally discuss here--Brazilian, experimental, electronic, pop standards, etc.--you'll find something to connect with in the album.)

There's so much here--both in the recording itself, and in this newest chapter of the legend which has built up around it--that I couldn't begin to cover it all in one post. Plus I have to get to work. So I'll just spew a little love and exhiliration and hope to return to the subject later.

Speaking of getting to work, here's an interesting thread on a Smile message board regarding the plight of all those people (like me) who have assembled their own versions of the album from fragments over the years, and particularly those who have never finished theirs. Is the Wilson 2004 version now the last word on the subject, or is there room for further tinkering?

No matter: this "new" album is stunning, well worth the 37-year wait.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: T Minus 1

Tomorrow's the big day for the Smile album. Tried to organize a buying-and-listening party, but it didn't quite work out. Guess I'll pick up a copy at my local indie record store of choice before tomorrow night's rehearsal for my next big performance undertaking and then listen late at night.

By way of a connection between this Beach Boys talk and my current Brazilian fixation, I've been meaning to mention that critics have called attention to Brian Wilson's use of a bossa nova beat in "Busy Doin' Nothin'" and of samba rhythms in "Passing By," both of which can be heard on the Friends+20/20 twofer. Consider it done.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: T minus 5

I've been wanting to take a little break from writing about my current obsession with that crazy Brazilian sound to honor an earlier (and ongoing) musical obsession, probably with a little countdown like this...


But the big day is kind of slipping up on me, and as of now there are only FIVE DAYS TO GO before the most legendary unfinished album in pop music history (no hyperbole there) finally hits record stores around the world.

In a climate where the latest, say, Korn CD gets billed as "highly anticipated" even though the last one came out a year earlier, this is mind-blowing. I've been learning track listings and other nuggets over the last few weeks, and the suspense is nearly unbearable. What will it be like to no longer be able to refer to "the legendary unfinished album" when it's ... finished? Guess we'll find out.

Meanwhile, today's "All Things Considered" segment on Brian Wilson and the album is lengthy and poignant. The page where it's archived also contains links to a bunch of other audio clips, plus photos of the recent recording sessions.

It's all too good to be true.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Room to Smile

There's a really interesting interview with British DJ Gilles Peterson on the September 17 2004 edition of the BBC radio program The World. He's put together a two-disc compilation of his favorite Brazilian music, one disc of oldies and one of new dance music. Lots of audio clips of tracks I'd never heard before, and some interesting perspective, including this (delivered from the vantage point of a highly-paid purveyor of dance music for bored Europeans):

"I just think in Brazil there's obviously as much pain as there is anywhere else in the world, and I think that when there's pain there has to be room to smile. And I think that's usually in places that have a lot of unhappiness that you get some incredibly uplifiting and beautiful poignant music from the heart which has suffered but can make you smile at the end of it."

Monday, August 30, 2004

In the air tonight

Wow, maybe there really is something to that Newsweek article on the omnipresence of Brazil in US pop culture after all (see my August 7 entry for a link): Last night on Six Feet Under, I could swear I heard lots of bossa nova and more recent sounds in the background, and sure enough, a handy section of the show's website reveals that, indeed, Cibelle's "Dia de Yemanja" was prominently featured, along with some stock bossa melodies, always in association with Brenda's annoying/fascinating mom, who is dating Claire's now-entirely-annoying Latino art teacher. (Stop me before I go on about this show, but the parenthetical question I have to ask is this: are the series' creators actively trying to lose viewers this season? What was once a landmark show is now pretty much a soap opera, albeit one whose characters quote Baudrillard from time to time.)

Earlier in the day, I heard an interesting segment on the Latin Grammys during the Sunday edition of All Things Considered which devoted a fair amount of attention to Maria Rita (daughter of Elis Regina), whose debut album is quite lovely. (Ron's 13-word album review: Appealing voice, catchy songs, spare but effective production, and a clever bonus video.)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Foreign Sound, Familiar Songs

Here's a July 2004 interview with Caetano Veloso from the World Music Central site. Nice song-by-song annotations on Caetano's all-American collection.

Oh, and speaking of CV, I've been reading his book Tropical Truth for the last few weeks, and I'm at the chapter on his arrest and imprisonment by the military police. Not only is the episode harrowing in itself (Americans, imagine Bob Dylan being locked up in 1966 ... or Bruce Springsteen in 1988), but Veloso's retelling of it is just amazing. Comes out of nowhere, right after a key passage on his few drug experiences, as this gigantic interruption of his daily life. (He's relentlessly self-deprecating/humble as he describes his ascent to national stardom throughout the book, but you still get the sense that he was a major pop-culture figure--not a politician, but an artist whose work includes political content among other things. I've been trying to think of a parallel from the year 2004, but I can't quite think of one.)

I have much more to say about the book, but not now: time for the Daily Show... Say, maybe John Stewart could serve as an analogy; imagine him being awakened one night and driven to a prison with only a toothbrush, all for making jokes on TV.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

More Arto L, and a little Lenny K

The thing about public radio is this: you get on one show (see July 24 entry below), you get on more. So should it be any surprise that there's a nice -- if short -- profile of Arto Lindsay on All Things Considered for Wednesday, August 11, 2004? Not as detailed as the segment from "The World," but another chance to hear snippets of his latest album if you haven't already.

Oh, and here's a reminder to myself to listen one day to this NPR piece on Lenny Kaye's new book on crooners, which sounds really cool.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

eye - Belle of the ball - 07.29.04

This short but informative interview in Toronto's alternative weekly eye makes me even sadder that I missed Cibelle's recent show in that city.

In other live-appearance news, at least I have the shows by Luciana Souza (Feb. 13) and Guinga (May 7) to look forward to next year, right here in WNY. Both are part of the Albright-Knox's excellent "Art of Jazz" series. I confess I don't know much about either of them beyond their names just yet--and the "jazz" part scares me a little--but I'm open. Guinga wrote a couple of songs on Sergio Mendes' good-points-bad-points Brasileiro album and I could swear I've seen his name on the credits of some others, too. Based on Joe Sixpack's generally infallible album reviews, I'm more excited about Souza. (For one thing, she's set some of the poems of Elizabeth Bishop to music, which is an interesting prospect, at least in theory; I see her latest project is based on Pablo Neruda's poetry.) Both shows are a long way off, but then the series tends to sell out way in advance--so if anyone reading this in the vicinity of Buffalo wants a seat, act soon.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Everyone Loves Brazil

This article from the August 2 Newsweek called "Everyone Loves Brazil" confirms that I am hopelessly trendy. Which is a relief, because several others I've seen from the late 1990s (and this one from 2000 I've already written about) suggested that I was already late to the carnival when it comes to the music and culture of a certain South American country. No matter how you slice it, I'm clearly So Five Minutes Ago. C'est la vie.

Found the Newsweek story through Bruno Pieroni's blog "These are the contents of my head." He's a Brazilian art director living in the American midwest, and his site also contains lots of interesting stuff about the advertising industry in addition to the expatriate stuff that initially drew me in.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

It's a Small World after all...

This lengthy article from Canada's Exclaim! music mag, called "Small World," has got to be the most exhaustive summary of the influence of Brazilian music on North American and British electronic-music deejays, hipsters, and jazzheads that I've ever seen. Beck, Byrne, Black Orpheus, Getz, Stereolab, Arto, and many many others are here (not exactly in chronological order, though), along with a recap of major movements in the music itself (ending with a plug for big-voiced Virginia Rodrigues, whom I just heard for the first time yesterday). Terrific explanation of just what it is I can't get out of my head, for those of you who might be wondering.

What a find: Found this potentially addictive site in advance of tomorrow's Toronto trip. (BTW, skipped Cibelle last Friday for logistical reasons, then Sunday's concert by Daude--which we were planning to see--was cancelled. The upcoming sojourn was originally gonna be for Lollapallooza, until that got shitcanned. Now we're going with friends to check out the "Turner/Whistler/Monet" show at the AGO. Needless to say, I plan to work in at least a few used CD stores while we're at it.)

Back to RecordStoreReview: Over a thousand stores in 34 countries around the world, searchable by genre and rated by actual shoppers. Wish I'd known about this years ago. Almost as much fun as actually shopping. No, wait, nothing is quite that much fun.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Return to Sender, Address Unknown

Boy, do I ever wish I could access this "stream" of the NPR show Afropop Worldwide with the tantalizing theme "Brasilíssimo!"

Interviews, audio clips, and show segments from or about Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, João Gilberto, Tom Ze, the history of samba, Carmen Miranda, Marisa Monte, Naçao Zumbi, and so much more. Absolute gold.

Too bad the site obliges you to register before you can listen, but then won't accept your registration. (Through two different browsers, I've gotten the messsage "enter valid e-mail address" even though I've done that--even entered three different, equally valid addresses.) Moreover, two thirds of the "registration" process is a thinly disguised attempt to collect marketing info about you and your precious NPR demographic. The site looks great, and I'm an occasional listener to/fan of the show itself (or at least I just enjoy pronouncing host Georges Collinet's name the way he does).

My sweetie tells me I might have better luck if I tried registering from a PC instead of a Mac. If that ain't adding insult to injury, I don't know what is.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Turn, Turn, Turn [Fernanda Porto]

I've officially become a cog in the machine.

Not that I wasn't one already, but I just spent an embarrassing amount of time meticulously entering track names, composers, and all that stuff for Fernanda Porto's self-titled debut album in my iTunes and then reported it all to the master CD database at Gracenote. This is probably the first time I've ever possessed an officially released album (other than self-produced demos, CDRs and such) that wasn't already in this super-duper database, and I've been holding on to my copy for weeks hoping that some more ambitious soul would do all that work instead of me. (I guess the fact that it's still only an import has something to do with the omission.) Tonight I could wait no longer.

Actually I kind of like the idea of contributing to this hive-mind reservoir of info, updated (sometimes erroneously) by anyone with the energy to do so: another manifestation of the open-source spirit like the Internet Movie Database and so many other products of the digital age.

But enough about technology. How's the music? Well, there's actually quite a bit of technology on display on the album itself; it's one of the most interesting drum 'n' bass -rooted projects I've heard in a while. Plenty of d&b producers around the world have sampled bossa nova/samba beats and vocalists over the last decade, but when Porto does it, it doesn't feel like mere exoticism. Likewise, there are endless examples of pretty female voices used in electronic dance music, but far fewer cases where the singer herself is the writer, musician, and producer. Porto's bio on her official website reveals that she comes to the genre from a background in experimental music composition-- Xenakis, Stockhausen, and other noisemeisters.

The combo of machine-generated rhythms and more organic melodies on her album works really well, particularly on a track called "Baque Virado," my immediate fave. Porto wrote most of the songs herself, sometimes with collaborators, though there's one Jobim cover: "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você." One particularly interesting cut near the end of the album, "Tempo Pra Tudo," is her setting of a passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. You know the one: "To everything, there is a season..." But this sounds absolutely nothing like the Byrds or Pete Seeger; instead, the song starts with the album's most abrasive synth lines, almost industrial. Porto sings the Bible verses in an insistent, almost angry voice, tempered now and then with a gentler tone. Midway through, a choir enters the mix, and it keeps shifting gears just as the words suggest. "Turn, Turn, Turn," this ain't.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Salt 'n' Pepa

Happened upon a nice little interview with Arto Lindsay on the BBC radio show "The World" earlier this week. Snippets of his new album Salt, tantalizing description of his Carnival collaboration with Matthew Barney, and this very interesting bit from the reporter regarding Lindsay's cultural split between Downtown Manhattan and Brazil:

Some people like to say, "Kiss me I'm Irish." Others might sing, "I'm proud to be an American." But being a citizen of any one country is less important to ... Arto Lindsay.

Arto Lindsay has a hard time with the concept of nationhood. He believes countries that have powerful and iconic identities, the United States, France and Japan for example, spend too much energy, time and money maintaining those identities...

Interesting lens for understanding the political dimension of his music, the lyrics of which never overtly address "political" issues.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Link Alert: Brazilian Film, Tom Zé

If you're one of the, oh, 16 people who have visited this blog in the past, you'll note the new list of links to your right; I'm transferring relevant bookmarks I've accumulated over the last several years. More to come.

In the course of that process, I've rediscovered some interesting odds and ends:
•A page of notes about the history of Brazilian film which appear to be compiled by a sociology professor working on a book and/or course sometime in the late 1990s, as this site directory reveals. Haven't found a home page yet--and, to be blunt, the writing on these pages looks more like that of a student than an instructor, and I don't trust the looks of some of the info. But maybe it's just notes never intended for public viewing--and the film page is packed with interesting tidbits.

•A 1998 review of Tom Zé's Fabrication Defect album packed with biographical info.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Give the drummer some!

Buncha interconected links to pass along:
*Here is a recent broadcast of the WFMU show "Give the Drummer Some" with one set devoted to candomblé and other religious Brazilian folk music; another to songs by Olodum, Joyce, Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moraes and a group I'd never heard of called Farofa Carioca, which then moves into Senegalese hiphop and from there, inexplicably but beautifully, into a suicide ballad by the young Dolly Parton. My kind of radio! (You can listen to the whole thing or individual sets.)

*Checking out the show's DJ Doug Schulkind's site, I came across an essay of his about his obsessive interest in soundtrack music which mirrors some of my own patterns of listenership. Plus, he winds up with a first-person account of the power of the score for McCabe and Mrs. Miller, one of my all-time faves and one of the most original approaches to film music ever.

*Schulkind's supercool links page also led me to this content-packed, gorgeous-looking site paying tribute to the mad genius of dub, Lee "Scratch" Perry. Annotated discography, interviews, song lyrics and soundbites aplenty.

*Another Schulkind-inspired find I haven't actually been able to investigate very fully yet: Paul Sherratt's internet radio show, Global Jukebox. His latest playlist includes Transglobal Underground, Dean Martin, Bob Marley, Slim Whitman, Jim White, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and music from Bahia, Argentina, Scotland, and Japan, among many, many other tasty items. I repeat: My kind of radio!

Monday, July 19, 2004

We are the champions, my friend

A Google search led me to this list of "The Best Artists of the 20th Century"--a deliriously eclectic collection of 466 musicians. A few usual suspects, but mostly some totally off-the-wall choices (random examples of both: Outkast @ 466, Cream @ 420, Squarepusher @374, Slayer @379, Bruce Springsteen @ 311, Roy Acuff @ 221, Fats Waller @ 117, Mongo Santamaria @ 90, Hoagy Carmichael @ 43, Lee "Scratch" Perry @ 7), all presented as if these judgements were handed down from on high. Any slice of the list reveals a crazed poetry of chance juxtaposition:

30. Curtis Mayfield
31. Can
32. Toots & the Maytals
33. Billie Holiday
34. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
35. The Fall
36. Sonny Rollins
37. Ella Fitzgerald
38. Bob Wils & His Texas Playboys

The compiler notes that his--excuse me, THE-- top ten (peaking with Sun Ra, Coltrane, Fela, Tito Puente, and Duke Ellington) consists entirely of men of color, then chastises the ladies for not rising to the occasion during the last hundred years. ("Let's hope that the 21st century will be a different story." And how!) A tip of the hat to Aretha (#25)--better luck next time.

For those tuning in for my main theme here, the Brazilians I've spotted are Tom Ze @ 58, Caetano @ 66 (damn you, Van Morrisson, for being just a hair better!), Vinicius Cantuaria @ 386 (eat dust, Son House and Cat Power). No luck for anyone with "Gilberto" as a first or last name, and no room for Gal C, Milton N, or Tom Jobim. (Beach Boys? Sorry, but a group I've never heard of called Run Westy Run @ 463 is evidently a little more important than you guys. The only Wilsons on this list are Jackie @ 265 and Pickett @ 199.)

If you think I'm gonna make some crack about the compiler having too much time on his hands, guess again. After all, I just spent half an hour checking this out, and another 15 minutes telling yo about it. The ball's in your court now. Surf ... if you dare.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy [Hendrix; THE AMBIENT CENTURY]

Finally watched an A&E "Biography" episode on Jimi Hendrix I taped a while back. The most noteworthy aspect of the show was the narration, which was so deliberately curt that it bordered on avant-garde poetry--basically a series of simple declarative sentences strung together and delivered by the narrator in this weirdly detached tone. Not sure I learned much, but there was some footage I hadn't seen before.

I've never been a huge Hendrix fan, but in retrospect this seems to have something to do with a guy I went to high school with who emulated Jimi and was really obnoxious during a school talent show. It's taken me 25 years to get that image out of my head, and maybe now I can start to appreciate the real guy's actual accomplishments, which are pretty remarkable.

Watching the A&E show made me pick up one of the books I found in a bargain bin in San Francisco--Mark Prendergast's The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Trance—The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age--and look up what the author had to say about Hendrix. (Sadly, there was nothing on the guy from my high school.) Prendergast's premise is pretty clear from its title and subtitle; over the course of 482 pages he constructs a dictionary-style musical history of the 20th century which looks at avant-garde classical, jazz, rock, and dance music more or less equally, paying attention less to song composition than to production technique and overall sound. Some of the individual entries about people you've heard of are a little basic, but it's packed with all these folks who are completely new to me (Jorg Mager, father of German electronic music and inventor of the Partiturophon, anyone?), as well as intriguing juxtapositions of artists. (Where else would you find Donna Summer, Leopold Stokowski, Morton Subotnick, Yma Sumac, Surrealism, and Sun Ra sharing a column of the index?) I don't know anybody else who has attempted such a thing before, and I have a feeling I'll be logging many an hour reading this thing.

Characteristically, Prendergast's section on Hendrix talks more about his work with engineers Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren than about his fellow bandmates. Here's a snippet on the album Are You Experienced: "Hendrix seized on tape manipulation as a way forward in sound--a backing track would be reversed and a lead guitar solo inserted so that when the track was played in the normal direction the guitar would have a much more impactful entry, with rapid decay." And so on.

What I find fascinating about this general approach is that it provides a way to think about music--regardless of genre or social standing--as organized sound. And one of the common threads running through my various interests of the last several years--Brazilian pop, electronic/ambient stuff, and the Beach Boys, to name the most obvious ones--is the huge role that production plays in each of them. (Sadly, while there's plenty on the latter two subjects in the book, there's barely anything on Brazil here beyond a brief mention of Arto Lindsay's albums.)

I know very little about the technology of record production, but I've always been intrigued by it; I remember starting to notice Richard Perry's name on several of the albums I liked in the 1970s (most of which I'd probably find unlistenable or at least unremarkable today). Very few producers are household names: Phil Spector for sure, then who? Mutt Lange, but probably because of his famous wife. For years I've predicted that sooner or later somebody will advance the premise that the producers, not the recording artists, are the true auteurs of pop music-- just as film afficianadoes privilege directors over movie stars. Hasn't happened yet, but mark my words, son: The day will come.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Real Good for Free

Many thanks to my friend Ed for pointing out that Suba collaborator Cibelle will be playing Harbourfront in Toronto on Friday, July 30. With a little more investigation, I've learned that it just gets better and better:the show appears to be free, there's another free one by Daude (whom I only know from a track on the "Brasil2Mil" compilation) on Sunday, Aug. 1, AND it's all part of Harbourfront's Hot & Spicy Food Festival , along with the Brazilian-themed movie "Woman on Top" (also on the 1st), and a ton of other stuff from other Latin American cultures.

Too bad we already have two other Toronto trips planned in the next month. I'm gonna try to check out some of this, but it seems unlikely. If anyone goes, please let me know how it turns out.

BTW, I was planning to provide links for both artists above, but the Six Degrees label site seems to be down, and ever since the All-Music Guide relaunched itself with a visually spiffy new design, it doesn't seem to work very well--which I pray is only a temporary glitch. So you're on your own if you want to learn more about either.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A Day in the Life of Gilberto Gil

Ah, the internet: From this article in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle I saw that Gilberto Gil had been named one of Brazil's official Hans Christian Andersen Goodwill Ambassadors. If you click here, you can watch a somewhat embarrassed Gil accept this highly specific honor, then deliver a brief speech to several delighted Danes in which he recites the English lyrics to his song "Nightingale," which evidently scored him his Ambassadorship.

Exciting, no?

Friday, July 09, 2004

Stray Cat Strut

I'm trying hard to stay on topic here, folks. But when I stumble across the likes of Sheriff Jinky's Police Log Blog, an online journal maintained by a cat, I feel obliged to bring it to your attention whether or not it has anything to do with music of any kind. I promise this will not become a trend, but some things are just too important to pass up.

In the belly of our story [Betacorpo, Sexopuro]

One of my beefs about this whole blogging business is that everybody is so busy writing their own that no one has time to read anyone else's. To counter that impulse, I just tracked down a couple of interesting-looking/sounding blogs via the EatonWeb portal:>>, an American photographer and teacher's record of his travels through Brazil in search of music. Beautifully laid out, with lots o' photos and lush design, but unfortunately the latest entry proclaims that the author has retired the site. (Two years' worth of articulate, informative, politicized, link-heavy writing in the archives, though.)

Sexopuro, which is in Portuguese, is a promotional site (I discovered after some poking around in the English version) for an up-and-coming singer/songwriter named Suely Mesquita. (Given the name of her album, translated as "Pure Sex," and the overall theme of the site, I mistook this for a porn site at first.) The "Sexopuro radio" feature lets you hear several interesting songs of hers, one of which is co-written by Celso Fonseca. If the radio doesn't pop up and start playing when you go to the homepage, try this. Her lyrics, at least in their English translation, are pretty out there, in a good way. (Random sample: "Malicious memory / Hit the bull's eye / In the belly of our story...") For once, pop-up music on a site that isn't deeply annoying: hooray!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

We're s-h-o-pp-i-ng... [SF report #2: consume-o-rama]

I can't imagine a visit to San Francisco without at least one trip to Amoeba Music or Rasputin Records. Don, whose shopping drug of choice is Home Depot rather than used and indie book and record stores, already knows what to expect on these adventures and patiently heads to the nearest coffeeshop after about 20 minutes in one of these joints. At that point, I'm just getting started. Two hours per store is cutting it short. And between the Berkeley and Haight locations of Amoeba—plus the Berkeley Rasputin and several Telegraph Ave. bookstores—we're talking major immersion, the kind you need strength training to endure.

Now, I'm not talking your average walk-in/walk-out shop here. According to a gushing 1998 profile in Rolling Stone, Amoeba stocks over 100,000 new and used CDs and LPs, which doesn't count other media—and in recent years they've added DVDs, just to push people like me over the edge. Factor in in-store concerts, live DJs, and rows and rows of cut-outs, and we're looking at major sensory overload.

Everyone I know who shops at either store employs a strategy similar to mine: pick a single category or genre or artist, pace yourself, and don't try to cover the entire store in one day. (It would be physically impossible, I think.) This time, no surprise, the target areas were the Brazilian and electronic sections, focusing almost exclusively on used stuff, with plenty of time in DVDland as well. Even so, I left each store feeling exhausted, depleted, and hungry for a walk outdoors. (Fortunately, between Golden Gate Park and the UC Berkeley campus, both locations offer ideal opportunities to recharge with sunshine and something resembling fresh air.)

About an hour and a half into my Haight Amoeba experience, I overheard a fellow shopper ask the employee in the World section (each section of the store has its own panel of experts) something about Brazilian music, so naturally I pricked up my ears and eavesdropped. Turns out that in addition to his record store job he "spins" (sorry, I've never been able to employ that term without the quotation marks) Latin sounds of various vintages, including samba, batucada, and "bossa beats," every Saturday at the Make-Out Room (3225 22nd St @ Mission) as DJ Vanka.

Listening in to their conversation didn't really lead me to any hot tips, so later I talked to him myself. Too fried to think of asking for useful buying suggestions, I mainly learned that he shared my mixed feelings about the father of samba soul, Tim Maia (i.e., a few nice tunes and a whole lot of appalling cheese, at least on the compilation I picked up used & cheap before the trip). From that somewhat limited vantage point, I asked for his opinions on three finds from the Used Brazilian section (yes, there really was such a thing, and it was larger than the new Brazilian holdings at most chain stores in Buffalo):

•Vinicius Cantuária, TUCUMÃ (Verve)--he knew the artist, but not that particular disc. [Now that I've heard it several times, I'd recommend it to anybody who wants a taste of recent singer/songwriters in the Veloso mold. The guest appearances by Laurie Anderson, Bill Frisell, Sean Lennon, and Arto Lindsay are an obvious bid to attract hipster Americanos, and the strategy works just fine as far as I'm concerned.]

•Rica Amabis, SAMBADELIC (YBrazil?)--he didn't know the album but recognized a few of the artists; it's unclear whether it's intended as a solo album or a compilation. [Turns out to be a pretty diverse collection of sampled beats, vintage samba soul, and found sounds with electronic dance music and a little hiphop; I really enjoy most of it.]

•BossaCucaNova, REVISITED CLASSICS (Six Degrees)--said he knew and didn't care for this one, which is basically the Slipcue take, too. "But," he added, "for five bucks, you can't go wrong." So I bought it anyway, and didn't go wrong at all. Normally I'm opposed to this sort of thing--take some old bossa nova tunes (or any raw material, for that matter) and spruce it up with some currently trendy electronic beats. (As Slipcue points out, it completely defeats the sublime subtlety of bossa to force a really obvious dance beat on top of it.) But I still enjoy it, partly because the source material is by some 50s vocalists (the Four-Freshmen-style Os Cariocas, for instance) I'd read about in Castro's book but never actually heard. At the end of the disc there are two tracks in their unembellished state so you can compare the originals to the remixes, and six minutes worth of "DJ beats" for your own sampling enjoyment. Plus, in the right mood, the dance mixes are perfectly enjoyable.

One final note from the trip: one of the few actual restaurants anywhere near our hotel happened to be Cafe do Brasil, which, thanks to its $7.95 lunch buffet, seemed a perfect place to sample the cuisine of the country whose culture I've been consuming so voraciously lately. (FYI, in searching for the restaurant's URL to post, I came across this somewhat skimpy list of Brazilian restaurants in SF, LA, Boston, NYC, and Miami, in case you're interested.)

Since we had no ground of comparison for the CDB, it's hard to say whether this was "good" Brazilian food or not, but frankly, neither of us was particularly impressed. (The coffee was excellent, but it's not a good sign when that's your favorite part of a meal.) Here's a thread from the Brazzil site on the search for Brazilian cuisine outside Brazil (and the political implications thereof) in which one writer describes CDB's food as "horrible." I wouldn't go that far by any means, but I also don't think I'd hurry back.

If nothing else, I learned one crucial culinary lesson: seeing a white-ish grain in a container the same size as that of the other entrees and sides, I took a decent sized helping, only to discover it had the texture and flavor of teeny tiny uncooked grits. My introduction to farofa, which (I learned from a restaurant review posted near the door on my way out) Brazilians evidently use as a garnish the way some people sprinke wheat germ on everything. Yum! Just the taste sensation I needed to fuel another long day in the CD bins...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Obstinate Memory

1. Does a ritual count as an obsession? There are certain songs I try to play every year on certain days: John and Yoko's "Listen, the Snow is Falling" (b-side to "Happy Xmas") on the day of the first snowfall, Patti Smith's "Easter" on that particular Sunday, etc. July 4 comes packed with many a song: the Blasters' "Fourth of July" (later covered by X), not one but two by Ani DiFranco (one from early in her career called "4th of July," the other called "Independence Day"), and finally (finally in my little ceremony, at least) the Beach Boys' "Fourth of July." This last one is the only one I managed to play last night, and it's the newest in my personal playlist--I first heard it maybe four years ago as part of the GOOD VIBRATIONS box, and it was unreleased before that came out. It's a wonderful Dennis Wilson song, which means it will come as a total surprise to the many casual listeners who associate the B Boys exclusively with surfboards and fun, fun, fun. I've never quite been able to follow the lyrics all the way through, but the music is slow, mournful, nearly tragic, as if it's a dirge for the nation. (Since it dates from the early 70s, that's shouldn't be a shock. Sure, Mike Love has managed to shape the remaining scraps of band into a Republican supergroup, but their actual history is far more complex than that--in fact, I'd argue that part of their mission from SMILE through the early 80s was constructing an alternative history of America, sunshine, clouds, and all.) Come to think of it, all four of the songs I've listed have their grim side. (Ani's earlier tune is pretty bouncy, but its subject is the one person in the state of Iowa who will talk to her.) Seems fitting, I guess, to mark such the nation's birthday on a somber note along with the fireworks. After all, the older we get, the harder it gets to celebrate our own lives, right? And the more there is to celebrate, too.

2. Inspired by everything I've learned lately about the various military coups in Brazil in the 1960s--which played such a critical role in the careers of Caetano and Gilberto Gil--to say nothing of everyday Brazilians-- I watched CHILE, LA MEMORIA OBSTINADA [CHILE, THE OBSTINATE MEMORY] (1997) not too long ago. I know, I know: different country, different history, but the threads seem clear to me. The documentary doesn't really talk much about the U.S. involvement in the events of September 11 (1973), when Allende was ousted and Pinochet was installed. I had only the vaguest understanding of the story, and was moved by director Patricio Guzman's meditation on national and personal memory. It's really a meta-doc, I guess; his earlier film on the coup d'etat, THE BATTLE OF CHILE, had never been screened in the country, and after a long official chill, few people were willing to talk about what had happened in '73 (and, of course, many current-day high school and college students were born long after the events in the first film, so they were ancient history). Although I haven't seen BATTLE, I could follow the basic thread of the followup pretty easily. I found its straightforwardness sort of refreshing in the wake of zippier docs like SUPERSIZE ME and other school-of-Michael-Moore movies. And the film brought home to me something of the impact of living through a military regime--something which has seemed less and less of a fantasy here in the States for the last couple of years. At the same time, there's the reminder that no regime lasts forever.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

A foreign sound in your ear [RootsWorld, Christgau]

Quick note to point out a short interview with Caetano Veloso on his A FOREIGN SOUND album. But my main intention here is to call your attention to another portion of the site where I found it, namely the Brazilian section of RootsWorld, which as the name suggests is an online roots-music resource. The writing doesn't seem as lively as my imaginary friend Joe Sixpack's over at Slipcue, but it looks informed and informative, and it's nice to be able to get a second opinion on various albums and artists that I haven't seen too many other English-language critics covering. (Added bonus: some reviews come with MP3 samples.)

Truth be told, I'm almost as addicted to intelligent writing about music as I am to the sounds themselves. That may have started with a collection of Robert Christgau's reviews and essays I picked up at a used bookstore sometime in high school when I had no idea who he was, long before his verbal tics kinda started getting on my nerves. Ever since then, I've been able to kill embarrassing numbers of hours reading reviews of albums I'll probably never hear.

Speaking of Christgau, his website is an amazing, fully searchable resource. (Search for keyword "Brazil" and you'll find 50 entries, including plenty about Tom Zé, Caetano, and David Byrne's various Luaka Bop compilations.)

Friday, July 02, 2004

On my radio ["Neo-FM"]

Listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED the other day, I came acrossthis story on a new programming format called "Neo FM". Evidently various stations out west have gotten it into their heads that radio could consist of playing lots of songs, and that the DJs could actually talk about music in an informed way. Radical!

I wish the Neo-FM folks luck. I wish my area had such a station. (Actually, the talk of Buffalo these days is the new format at 107.7--now dubbed "The Lake"--which is heavy on the deep cuts and light on the inane patter. Alas, when I listen for any length of time I suspect they're really shooting for the rock version of easy listening... though it's still more appealing than most of what's on commercial radio around here.)

For the record, I also wish the day would come when stations quit calling themselves things like "The Mountain," "The Lake," "The River," and so on. (If they're going for pastoral, they could at least move on to "The Babbling Brook," "The Forest Primeval," "The Dark Night of the Soul," that sort of thing.)

And since radio is my subject du jour, allow me a shout-out to a nice internet station I discovered a few years ago via iTunes: They take the notion of freeform to its wackiest extreme while still remaining listenable; a random glance at its endlessly refreshing (in both senses of the word) playlist reveals a string quartet, a bit of Don Cherry, an underplayed New Order track, and a little Tiny Tim.

What appeals to me about both and the Neo-FM format is that they make radio a source of adventure and discovery (and, dare I say it, education) rather than audio comfort food.

Got some favorite examples of your own? Why not share them here, in the Comments section?

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Tape from California [SF report #1: J. Gilberto live]

Freshly returned from San Francisco, and here's the promised update on last Friday night's João Gilberto concert at the beautiful Masonic Auditorium high atop Nob Hill. (Guess I'm not the only one out there blogging about the show, as this ecstatic notice indicates.)

The seats I was so worried about turned out not to be so bad at all: full profile, no obstruction, fairly close. The odd angle simply gave me a unique perspective from which to view Gilberto's artistry. It's a shame I don't know shit about guitar technique, because I probably would have learned a lot about his approach this way. As it was, I was mainly able to appreciate what I assume was the set-list--not the usual 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, but a poster-board-sized monstrosity probably better suited to his 72-year-old eyes. (Believe me, I can relate.)

The crowd was pretty much what I expected: a mix of jazz fans, old-school bossa fans in their 50s and 60s, youngish hipsters, and a few transplanted Brazilians. Sadly, lots of them arrived fashionably late (probably to avoid the non-existent opening act), which meant more and more of them would loudly scurry to their seats after every number. From what I'd read, Gilberto is the sort to abandon a show when he's unhappy with the acoustics or pissed about audience behavior, so I was practically expecting either a mass reprimand or a walk-off, but neither was the case. He entered to a standing ovation, took his seat on the bare stage, and played song after song with only the slightest of banter, usually either in Portuguese or in barely intelligible English. About the only thing I was able to make out all night long was something like, "Please wait while I fix guitar," at which point a new one was brought out. About 45 minutes into the show he left the stage--to thunderous applause, of course--and then returned to play what we all assumed was an encore... and then another, and another, and another ... the unending string of which turned into pretty much a second full-length set. Maybe the premature departure was really just a chance for him to stretch his legs? Pee break?

The songs were uniformly gorgeous. Novice that I am, I only recognized the hits--"Desafinado," "Chega de Saudade," and the show-closing "Girl from Ipanema"--but every single number was a treat. (Judging from the lack of recognition applause for all but the biggies, I gather the rest of the crowd was equally unfamiliar with the material.) From the moment he began singing the very first number, in a voice often no louder than a whisper, I "got" exactly what he was all about more clearly than I have from any recording I've heard so far. As I see/hear it, it's all about the challenge of singing softly in a large room--being big and small at the same time. This kind of tension would be impossible to pull off without microphones, and yet there's an amazing sort of one-on-one intimacy in the performance.

Some artists (Dylan, Madonna, Neil Young, Caetano) change one or more aspects of their style several times over the course of their career, and the appeal comes from witnessing the transformations. Others (Leonard Cohen always comes to mind first, but the last several Arto Lindsay albums are another good example) keep doing minor variations on the same theme for decades, and that can be fascinating, too. Gilberto is definitely in the latter category, and given how constant his sound is, particularly when it's produced by just his lone voice and guitar, I expected to lose interest after a while, but in fact the longer he played, the more I came to appreciate that particular texture. His voice has clearly aged over the years, but it's still a joy to listen to. (You can get a good sense of the texture I'm referring to from the 2000 album JOÃO VOZ E VIOLÃO, a copy of which I found at another point during the trip--it's a combo of old and new songs, all performed with just his guitar as accompaniment.)

Don, who entered into this little adventure cold, was more engaged than I would have expected. I don't think he was blown away, but he stayed with the performance the entire time; when João walked offstage the first time, his response was, "That's it?" --which is certainly better than, "Alright! Now we can get the hell outta here!"

One highlight for me was an incredibly charming rendition of Gershwin's "'Swonderful" during that super-encore. His phonetic pronunciation of the only English lyrics of the night gave them a delicacy and vulnerability that made me smile. (Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure he just kept repeating the chorus, dropping all the verses, so it started to feel like a nursery rhyme after a while.) Speaking of merriment, a woman in the row in front of me felt compelled to giggle near the end of each song. I'm not sure why, except that the music was so light and perfect that good-hearted laughter seemed an entirely appropriate response.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Shake Your Moneymaker [AXE BAHIA 97]

I've acquired so much new music lately that I'm facing an enormous backlog of discs I plan to write about here sooner or later. They'll all have to wait while I report that this afternoon I purchased a CD with the single most appalling cover in my collection (aside from a couple of Blowfly albums from the early 1970s, but I'll cut him some slack because he's ... well, Blowfly).

The album in question is called AXÉ BAHIA 97; I bought it used (and cheap) out of growing curiosity about what axé music sounds like. Gringos like me generally associate Brazil with bossa nova, samba, and tropicalia, and that's about it. But the stuff the majority of Brazilians actually listen to these days is apparently axé, and so I felt I had to hear it for myself. (For the record--based on very limited exposure--it's your basic transglobal party music, big and unsubtle and designed with machinelike calculation to get large numbers of intoxicated people dancing when played at top volume. Lots of singalong choruses and synthesized drums and horns. At my most generous I'd say it reminds me of the soca albums I heard sometime in the mid80s, but to be more accurate it just sounds like the disposable "Latin pop" that was supposed to be the next big thing in the wake of Ricky Martin and company. The group that strikes me as most interesting on the first couple of listens is Banda Eva; I was a little disappointed with the Timbalada selection after reading a lot of promising stuff about them.) (On another sidenote, if anyone reading this can recommend some truly enjoyable axé, please post a comment.)

Anyway, the cover: it's two women's bikini-clad butts in close proximity to each other and not much else. (Hell, why depend on mere words? Here, you can see it for yourself.) The back cover is more of the same, only we can make out a little more in the thigh and bosom department and the butts are nudging ever closer. Open the jewel case, and underneath the disc itself the two butts are at last in direct, if awkward, contact with each other. I was really embarassed to approach the counter with this thing; kinda reminded me of the day I had to buy a copy of Playboy for work because of an album review it contained. Even if I were a straight man, I can assure you this is not the kind of image that would float my boat. (Believe me, there are dozens if not hundreds of equivalent packages for gay circuit party mix CDs, and they're just as tacky.)

Just what does any of this have to do with music? Nothing, and everything--because I've always contended that you really can judge a book by its cover, and an album by its graphics; maybe not completely, but it's all about context. Would I have bought an equivalent album of Stateside party music--say, "HOOTERS PRESENTS BOOTY-BOUNCIN' HITS OF '97"? (That's a hypothetical example, but I guess the JOCK JAMS series is the real-life one I'm looking for.) Easy answer: Absolutely not.

I'm sure I'm not the only armchair admirer of Brazilian popular music with selective tastes. (Okay, so I bought AXÉ BAHIA 97, but that was more of a sociological experiment, and one I'm not likely to repeat.) Likewise, I love lots of electronic stuff (Autechre, Aphex Twin, etc) but have very little interest in most of the stuff that actually gets played at raves and clubs these days, and my fondness for country music doesn't really include most of the chart-toppers of the last two or three decades. As for my beloved Beach Boys, the only reason I own a copy of "Kokomo" is that it's on the same boxed set as the previously unreleased SMILE tracks I really wanted.

In other words, I confess I'm one of those people who often feels more comfortable studying pop culture from a safe distance than getting down and dirty with the real thing--like my friend who teaches Cultural Studies courses in Orlando but wouldn't dream of going to Disney World for the fun of it. (Analogy #2: I grew up in Louisiana, and had zero interest in Cajun music until I moved two thousand miles away.) I remember reading a review of Lee Breuer's "Gospel at Colonnus" -- the musical adaptation of the Oedipus story featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama (or was it Mississippi?) -- in which the critic pointed out that 90% of the audience digging the gospel tunes Off Broadway wouldn't be caught dead in a black full-gospel church.

Is this distance such a bad thing? I don't really have a simple answer, or any answer at all for that matter. I don't see any harm in constructing my own highly selective version of Brazilian music (heavy on Caetano, light on the lambada) or electronica (Underworld yes, white-label hit-of-the-moment no) or country (thumbs up for Robbie Fulks, thumbs down for Brooks & Dunn) or whatever. The only real danger is when a student of a given culture convinces him or herself he's a native -- that he sees the whole picture when he's really only looking at the parts he finds the prettiest.

As Arto Lindsay observes in a 2002 interview in THE FADER: "I don't see myself as Brazilian, even though I make Brazilian music. ... If you move to New York, you're a New Yorker in six months. If you move to Brazil, you'll be the gringo even if you live there your entire life."

Monday, June 21, 2004

"Disco e cultura"

From an All Music Guide essay on Brazilian music:

"The inscription 'Disco e cultura' (Records are culture) that appears on many Brazilian albums demonstrates an awareness on the part of Brazilians that their music is an authentic expression of who they are, that it is an uplifting, unifying force. It is at the same time a universal language understood everywhere, enriching all who listen."

Well, I'm never too sure about that "universal language" business (there are too many other factors that shape our taste and openness to individual works of art), but the rest of this strikes me as pretty interesting: the handy little motto, for starters, and the notion that record albums are as legitimate a contribution to culture as, say, books or movies. And there is something to be said for the way that a shared interest in a particular song or genre of music can bring people together.

That's what I like, and what I find frustrating, about Blogger's profile template: you're asked to name your favorite music (among other things), and then you can find out who else out there shares your taste in a given artist or song, which could certainly be a way to build community. But I find it really bothersome to have to isolate certain artists as "favorites." I like a lot of stuff from all over the map, and I don't really expect anybody else to enjoy both 70s-era Beach Boys and truly noisy Aphex Twin songs. And what qualifies as a favorite, anyway? I'm eager to hear from--and learn from--other folks who are fascinated by Brazilian sounds from the 40s through the current day, and that (incredibly broad range of) music is certainly a timely passion of mine, but over the course of my life people like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison (to say nothing of the Clash and Gang of 4) have played a much bigger role. Yet I'm not really that interested in tracking down more Clash fans; I don't think we have that much to say to each other beyond, "Yeah, that song is really good" or "Boy, it was sad when Joe Strummer died."

More to be said on all this when I'm not so sleepy.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

I Can See For Miles and Miles (I hope)

When I promise "musical obsession," I deliver: My partner Don and I are going to San Francisco for Gay Pride next weekend, and thanks to, a very helpful guide to Brazilian music in the Bay Area, I learned that João Gilberto himself is playing the Masonic Auditorium on Friday, June 25. Hooray! This would be exciting enough in itself, but I've spent the last several weeks reading Ruy Castro's history of Bossa Nova and getting an extraordinarily intimate portrait of the artist as a young (eccentric, stoned, slacker) man, so the chance to see him as an old (eccentric, not so stoned) man seemed too fortuitous to pass up. Tickets are not cheap, but not as expensive as I would have expected given the stature of the performer and the size of the city. Well, ours are a tad pricey: by the time I found out about the show, there were no seats left except in the middle-to-upper price range. (I'm embarrassed to say how much that is, but I recently shelled out almost as much for nosebleed seats for -- brace yourself, my hipster reader -- Bette Midler. She's somebody else I should write about here sometime ... but not now. Anyway, I confess it gets easier to pay the big bucks after you've broken your own personal limit the first time.)

Things might not have been so bad had I jumped at the opportunity the minute I saw it, but sticker shock held me back. Don will be entering into this thing with no knowledge whatsoever of the guy, and he's not exactly joining me in this thrill ride through Brazilian culture, so I was skeptical. (I didn't even think of dragging him to see Brian Wilson a few summers back; I'm sure he would have preferred to spend the time having oral surgery.) But it turns out he's open to the experience--and hey, we'll be on vacation, which is all about spending money, right? (His words, not mine.) Meanwhile, I decided to search for a few reviews of recent Gilberto shows to get an idea of what we might be getting into: transcendence, or a guy coasting on his 50-year-old reputation? I found enough evidence of a still-fresh performer to take the plunge. (I also came across a warning about -- my analogy here -- Nina Simone or Van Morrison-level unpredictability/volatility, but that only served to excite me further; the weirdest concert I ever attended was an Al Green show over a decade ago, and while the oddness was underwhelming at the time, it has provided me with great memories and a great story ever since.)

Alas, when I returned 24 hours later to the website where I'd planned to place my order, there were suddenly no tickets at all available. Damn! He who hesitates... Undaunted, I tried another online option, where I did find a pair of tickets -- still in that pricey mid-range, this time labelled something like "partially obstructed; extreme rear view." (Hey, I've seen that porn tape...) By this point, though, I'd completely talked myself into the whole experience, potential fiasco or no. So I clicked the appropriate buttons, fed those credit card numbers into the machine, and one week from tonight I'll be watching a living legend's ass for two hours.

I promise a complete report after the fact. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

And words are all I have ...

Thanks to my pal Richard Wicka for tipping me off to the phenomenon of MP3blogs, which evidently started here. Just now I was listening to Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy sing "Kiss Me (With Your Mouth)," a staple of college radio in the 80s, while reading the blogmeister's thoughts on the song and comments from six readers. Lordy, a new web-craze is born every two minutes, I swear. (I suppose this means mash-ups are So Two Years Ago by now, right? The only thing that saddens me about these quick flareups of creativity is how quickly they get discarded, thus replicating the idea of planned obsolence from consumer culture.)

I don't think I want to go the MP3 route myself at the moment. I enjoy the challenge of trying to convey the sound, or more importantly the appeal, of music with words alone. (God knows how many albums I've picked up thanks to a review by a writer whose taste I trust.) But it is nice to be able to let people know what a given song sounds like, particularly since much of what I intend to write about here is pretty obscure. And something tells me I'll be checking out "FluxBlog" and its many successors quite a bit in the months to come, at least before they're all superseded by some even newer innovation.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cosmic Ray

I can't help thinking Ray Charlespicked a bad time to leave the planet, what with all the hubbub over a certain freshly dead president and all.

Why, just a few hours before I heard the sad news about the Genius of Soul, I was wondering who would play Mother Teresa to Reagan's Princess Di: the unfortunate soul deprived of adequately detailed posthumous tributes in the wake of another, more glamorous, fatality around the same time. (I seem to recall Stanley Kubrick dying too close to somebody else, too, though I don't remember whom now.)

I somehow doubt Ray Charles eulogies will be as plentiful as those for R.R.--even though I must humbly suggest he probably left just as big a mark on the planet in his own (significantly more life-affirming) way. Because all his major work was done before I became aware of him, I never had the chance to encounter it in its freshest state.

Unless you count the first time I saw Bruce Conner's short film "Cosmic Ray" back in college long long ago. The song that formed the soundtrack was so exciting, so catchy ... and it was Ray Charles singing "What'd I Say."

Many years later, about a week after September 11, 2001, I held a performance/media event in my home to give people a chance to express whatever it was they were experiencing in those charged days, and a friend of mine brought a tape of Mr. Charles (that doesn't sound right!) singing "God Bless America" as his contribution. Some of the audience members, already weary of the flag-waving on the streets of the U.S., were annoyed by what they probably felt was yet another instance of mindless nationalist fervor, but to me there's a huge gap between Kate Smith (for instance) singing that particular anthem and Ray Charles. In that gap is a whole version of America that the current Reagan nostalgia trip seems determined to suppress.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


The sole cultural advantage to living in my particular suburb of Buffalo, NY is the ability to pick up CIUT-fm, a freeform station out of Toronto, on my car radio. Like all such stations I've heard, there are some really exciting shows and some not-so-exciting ones. Tonight I caught an interview with DJ and experimental electronic musician "Herbert," a.k.a. Matthew Herbert, a.k.a. Dr. Rockit, a.k.a. lots of other stuff. He sees the sampler as a tool for making music out of literally anything; some of his earliest experiments involved crumpled paper, vegetables, you name it. I'm almost always a sucker for interesting combinations of rhythm and noise (too much of one without the other gets annoying after a while), and I couldn't wait to hear his project -- in the guise of Radio Boy -- called THE MECHANICS OF DESTRUCTION.

All of the sounds on the album are sampled from the detritus of our culture--a trip to Mickey D's on the track "MacDonald's," a pair of blue boxer shorts from the Gap on "Gap," etc. Liner notes on the website discuss the background of each corporation, and coolest of all, the album is distributed for free by download (at TigerSushi, an internet radio station/music store I've totally got to check out in more detail) and by mail.

And the music? So far, three tracks in, I'm loving it; Herbert hits that delicate balance of concept and execution. The idea's great on its own, but the songs are, well, actual songs, not just Cage-y sound collages you'd only want to hear once before moving on.

If this all sounds like Matmos, the duo who devoted an entire album to the sampled sounds of plastic surgery and related medical procedures, the connection is intentional; some of their side projects appear on Herbert's labels, he uses some of the equipment they developed, etc.

I've got eleven more tracks to download sooner or later, but here's your spur-of-the-moment report from the frontlines of a new discovery.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Big Idea

So I'm in this Brazilian Music Phase lately. It's been building up inside of me for, oh, I don't know how long: a compilation here, a label sampler there. An earlier day job of mine had me writing publicity for Arto Lindsay's recent albums, and his immense knowledge of the subject (to say nothing of his own beautiful work) really got me going. Friends have passed along a few albums and individual songs over the years, too. But a couple of months ago I picked up a used copy of Caetano Veloso's PRENDA MINHA live album and something snapped. The stuff of his I'd heard before that point had been so-so -- I liked the late-90s LIVRO album, was mildly appalled by his 80s-era PERSONALIDADE hits compilation. And even PRENDA had some low points, but the high points were so high that I was hooked; within a week I'd acquired two more live records, both of which were even better than "Prenda." (And one which was way worse. Details to follow in another post, if I remember.)

This bout of Caetanomania provoked hours of web searching which led me to Joe Sixpack's "Slipcue Brazilian Music Guide," an amazing resource in terms of album reviews, artist profiles, and other info as filtered through one man's very specific perspective. His writing can be very funny (urging readers not to avoid a certain album because of the singer's hairstyle on the cover, for instance); it's always smart and entertaining and just plain good. And it's addictive: I can spend hours reading reviews of albums I'll likely never hear. (Of the ones I have heard, I tend to agree with his assessments 9 1/2 times out of 10.)

Meanwhile, I've been hitting not just record stores for more discs but my local library, which has a deep, if eccentric, CD catalogue, and eMusic,, eMusic, a pay-download service I subscribe to (took me a while to catch on to their strengths, namely specific indie labels, and now that I've got the hang of it, I'm hooked). Been reading books on the subject, too. Now I'm scarfing up everything from folk music of the 1930s to electronic stuff from just a year ago.

In the process, I thought of starting a blog about Brazilian music, but honestly, I can't imagine shedding more light on any of it than Mr. Sixpack does. (One thing I can do that he doesn't do is encourage readers to post comments/recommendations of their own.)

I still intend to write about the music I'm learning about and listening to right now, but I've decided to broaden the focus here and look at/contemplate/write about the larger notion of musical obsessions in general. After all, the current Brazilian Phase is only the latest in an ongoing series of them over the course of my life: the Beach Boys a few years ago, electronic music a few years before that, old country/western before that, and so on. None of these tastes ever leaves me completely, it just moves to the back burner after a while. The pattern is typically the same from genre to genre: initial introduction, obsessive bingeing, gradual tapering off, incorporation into my daily life, new obsession, return to square one. Which, if you think about it, is not unlike the arc of a romance. (And a similar connection between art and eros is depicted in the titles of Pauline Kael's collected film reviews: I Lost It At the Movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang , etc.)But culture consumption in American culture is never simply about love, it's got to be about money, too, or at least the love of objects and the desire to collect them.

So that's the big idea, at least to start out: me, immersed in one kind of music for the moment, thinking about other immersions and the very idea of immersion/obsession, and wondering if you, dear reader, experience the same. Drop me a line in the comments section if you feel so inclined. Meanwhile, I'll be busy importing Rounder's THIS IS SAMBA! VOLUME 2 into my iTunes library...