The Air Is Still and the Light Is Cool #24

Various, Pop Royale (2011)

This is (ahem) a mixdisc assembled by me. When I was giving a guest lecture at an Arts Criticism class a couple weeks ago, I was caught more off-guard than I expected by the question “What is your taste?” And I gave a lamer-than-optimal answer. Something on the order of:  I’m very eclectic (do everything but childrens’ and straight classical). Have a few styles like trad Celtic and Flamenco vocals that I cannot bear, but that’s me not a judgement on the musics. Lyrics matter to me all the time — dippy words can drag down even excellent playing — but the most outstanding international songs work even if you don’t know the language. I’m more interested in what’s emerging than mulling over or even celebrating the past.

Then, a couple days ago, I ran across this disc, which I’m going to present as a compact incarnation of my taste. With some caveats, of course. In this same year-end sequence I had discs devoted to international and hip-hop, but those are represented here and if I could do a dream radio sequence it would be like this — all the transitions work, whether standouts from fine albums, best tracks on flawed releases, or long shots that nail the bullseye. Only one complaint (“Air Is Still” recommendations get to have one flaw): the last track ends too abruptly.

The final note is that around 2010 is when I felt I was hearing close to all the releases that I needed to hear. That I could stitch together a program like this with confidence. These days, the pens have to be a lot tighter — and I know there’s more things running around outside them.

  1. Poly Styrene, “I Luv Ur Sneakers”
  2. Paul Simon, “The Afterlife”
  3. Bombino. “Tar Hani” (My Love)
  4. Shabazz Palaces, “An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum”
  5. Serengeti, “Long Ears”
  6. Kiran Ahluwalia, “Mustt Mustt”
  7. Steve Cropper/Buddy Miller, “The Slummer the Slum”
  8. Pistol Annies, “Lemon Drop”
  9. Vijay Iyer, “Duality”
  10. Banquet of the Spirits, “Briel”
  11. Tom Waits, “Hell Broke Luce”
  12. Blaqstarr, “Wonder Woman”
  13. Wynton Marsalis/Eric Clapton, “Ice Cream”
  14. The Vivs, “Are You Coming Around?”
  15. James Vincent McMorrow, “Sparrow & the Wolf”
  16. Younger Brother, “Shine”
  17. Battles, “Africastle”
  18. Oneohtrix Point Never, “Andro”

R.I.P.: Nokie Edwards

This fine obit must be supplemented by me noting the Ventures, and Edwards in particular, changed my life in 1964 when my family got its first couch-sized stereo. Happened the installer had brought along The Ventures Play Telstar and The Lonely Bull (1963) to demonstrate the sound of the system. I had never heard speakers so large and never realized how much the detail of sounds could go into the impact of music. You had to have a certain kind of fluid technique and imagination to make pop instrumentals work. Wow. There was a lot more to music than I had realized.

A.E. Van Vogt’s “Discord in Scarlet”

A bit of spooky-sci-fi entertainment for Friday night. This story is a landmark: not only is the writing almost eerie-flawless and the tale an even-more-brilliant extension of the author’s groundbreaking “Black Destroyer,” but it’s the clear originator of the “alien monster on a spaceship” concept that would become Alien decades later.

Also, “Xtl” — they knew how to name aliens back then

PS: I should  clarify: certainly “Black Destroyer” is the first “alien monster on a spaceship” fiction. But the problem is that the Black Destroyer looks like a deadly monster and no matter how sweet-puddy-tat he acted, it seems dubious that the crew would get such a creature on board with them. Xtl is a hidden agent, undetectable until he’s on the ship, and therefore much, much more dangerous.

Kronos Quartet/Laurie Anderson/Trio Da Kali

My “Fresh Air” review. Couple points: I meant to review the Trio Da Kali collaboration when it came out last fall, but life got too complicated for a while. Proved to be a good thing, though, because the Landfall pairing is excellent in a quite different way. The triumph of string groups added to diverse modern music is my theme of the year. Carl Craig’s surprise wonder was my first discovery of the series.

Couple Smiles From the Mixdisc Files

These are vintage mixdiscs I made that held up exactly as well as I remembered.


Not all stompers, but no conventional, lightweight, ye-ye pop, either. Tried to emphasize hard beats or eerie.

  1. Francoise Hardy, “Point”
  2. Jacques Dutronc, “Et Moi, et Moi, et Moi …”
  3. Caralie Clement, “Indecise”
  4. Les Hurlements D’Leo, “La Chambre”
  5. Dominique A, “Antonia”
  6. Francoiz Breut, “Ma Colere”
  7. Autour de Luce, “Les Ciels de Traine”
  8. Mathieu Boogrerts, “LTout a L’air du Toc”
  9. Francoise Hardy, “Le Crabe”
  10. Saint Etienne, “La Poupee Qui Fait Non” (I know, a ringer)
  11. Spookie, “Lettre a France” (ditto)
  12. Francoise Hardy, “Mode D’Emploi?”
  13. Dominique A, “Nous Reviendrons”
  14. Michael Polanareff, “Voyages”
  15. Michael Polnareff, “Ne Dans Un Ice-Cream”
  16. Francoise Hardy, “Fleur de Lune”
  17. Jacques Detronc, “Le Plus Difficile”
  18. Neppu Tokyo Salon, “Tam Tam”



Intended as a relaxing but alert program. Yeah.

1. Jason Moran, “Crepuscule with Nellie”

2. Danilo Perez, “Providencia”

3. Henry Threadgill Zooid, “Extremely Sweet William”

4. Rudesh Mahanthappa & Bunk Green, “Playing with Stones”

5. The Microscopic Septet, “Pannonica”\

6. Mary Halvorson Quintet, “Sea Seizure (No. 19)”

7. Ben Kono, “Castles and Daffodils”

8. Vijay Iyer, “Macaca Please”

9. Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell, “Briga de Namorados”

10. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “For All We Know”






Comment on Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?” (Contains Spoilers)

… which I just finished. It is indeed a lesser work than Fun Home but that was inevitable because the earlier book was an unrepeatable one-shot (not as extreme as “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” but still…). Fun Home includes built-in bombshells and an undeniable finish, plus many years of reflecting on Bechdel’s relationship to her father and his life. Her mother is still very present and ongoing and while there is a tragic death of a person you have come to adore and admire, it is not her mother. I do want to add that I think complaints that the book veers too much into an examination of the thoughts and theories of British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott are hooey — at least as much space is devoted to Virginia Woolf and neither figure buries or derails the narrative.

The other point of gratitude I must make is that Bechdel has convinced me that my mother had as much to do with making me a writer as my father’s respect for art and love of books. (Like Bechdel, I referred to her as “Mother” all the time.) When Mother would indulge me in spinning out fantasy tales whenever we were alone together, she helped me strengthen and enlarge my imagination, my sense of story and narrative and my adventures inside language. It was a tormented day when I realized I wanted to craft dreams I could no longer share with her. But Are You My Mother? helped me understand more of what she gave me.

Flatfish Followup

Sad to say, the best part of the catfish meal was serving a good cause. The fish itself, cooked NOLA style by D, an ace chef in all styles and every time, was an utter bust: tanky, muddy flavor and squish texture. Once again, I think canny catfish have outsmarted humans by being unpalatable.