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March 8, 2002

++ Ten Reasons To Get Up Today

++ I knew I should've stayed in bed today. By 10 a.m. I'd managed to piss off an editor, alienate a musician, and inadvertently violate the confidence of a good friend. By noon I learned that I'd missed a deadline. And by 3:30 p.m., having all but finished my column for the week, I found out that the album I was writing about wasn't due out for three months, making my detailed meditation on it damn near irrelevant for the time being.

As a means of digging myself out of this pit of fiasco, frustration and vague annoyance, then, I present a list of 10 reasons not to bitch and moan.

++ 1. Antipop Consortium, Arrhythmia (Warp): Possibly the best record of the year so far, and certainly the kick in the pants that hip-hop, even indie hip-hop, has needed for so long. Don't get me wrong: Def Jux is turning out some brilliant, left-field gear, but APC is hardly even hip-hop as we know it. No boom-bip, few choruses, barely any anthems at all. Instead you get Beans, Priest and M. Sayyid's mercurial flow over Earl Blaize's mind-bending productions, from sludgy bleep tracks to no-wave, disco-not-disco revivalism.

++ 2. Req, Sketchbook (Warp): The man behind Skint's unlikeliest albums ever is back at long last with an album that's just as great. His debut, One (1997), was hip-hop done so lo-fi there was no wonder it flew below just about everyone's radar; it had more in common with the bedroom industrialists of the cassette underground than it did with the platinum extravaganzas of Fatboy Slim. This one goes lighter on the tape hiss, but the mood's just as subtle, with dripping water, rippling hand drums and bowed gongs alternating with spacious drum breaks that sound held together with masking tape. His recent collaboration with UK MC Kid Acne, Rap Traffic (Invisible Spies), ain't half bad either.

++ 3. Boards of Canada, Geogaddi (Warp): I'm swimming in it.

++ 4. Herbert, Around the House (Soundslike) and Herbert, Secondhand Sounds — Remixes (Peacefrog): Herbert fans rejoice. Peacefrog has just released a double-CD collection of Matthew Herbert's finest remixes, including work for Motorbass, Dimbiman, Two Banks of Four, Louie Austen, Blaze, Moloko, and Serge Gainsbourg, among others. The vinyl edition apparently consists of two separate triple-packs, and will contain four exclusive tracks not on the CD — including Herbert's mix of Björk's "Pagan Poetry," which is pretty much all the convincing I need right there. Then in May, !K7 re-releases Herbert's brilliant Around the House, first released in 1998 on his own label Soundslike.

++ 5. Pan*American, The River Made No Sound (Kranky): Labradford's Mark Nelson returns with his third album, and it's far and away his best work yet. Shades of Arvo Pärt and Morton Feldman flutter about the faintly lit corners of his arching ceilings; his arrangements of piano, guitar and crackling electronics sound like sunlight sliding slowly across a wall as the afternoon fades.

++ 6. Cinematic Orchestra, "All That You Give" (Ninja Tune): Far from the frenetic blur of 1999's Motion, "All That You Are" is as simple — and as solid — as an anchor. Under the weight of Fontella Bass' forlorn vocal, it descends steadily into the inky depths, and your heart sinks with it.

++ 7. New Flesh, Understanding (Big Dada): Wild and pummeling, the UK's New Flesh help British hip-hop break old habits and move into new rhythmic territory. Heavily ragga-influenced, their jagged riddims have more than a little in common with South London hyperdub — and if you speed up the instrumental to 45, it mixes perfectly with the dread bass two-step of Horsepower Productions.

++ 8. Haruki Murakami, "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" (Vintage): I've just finished reading my fourth Murakami novel, and this one might be his most fantastical yet (although I still prefer "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"). A solitary data shuffler gets wrapped up in shadowy corporate espionage involving underground beasties, unicorn skulls and a walled city from which there is no escape — and where your shadow is cut away from you upon entering. A meditation on the chasm at the core of consciousness, and once you leap, there's no floor to the abyss.

++ 9. Philip Gourevitch, "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" (Picador): In 1995, Gourevitch traveled to Rwanda with a desire to understand what happens to a country after a genocide. The resulting book is a masterpiece, not only of journalism and storytelling, but of political theory and ethical thought. This book should be required reading for every citizen of a superpower.

++ 10. The Grammys' Nielsen ratings: The Grammys Awards reportedly tanked this year, drawing their second-lowest viewership ever. Which is something of a shame, if only because it means that so many people missed out on National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' president Michael Greene's condescending speech, "The Insidious Virus of Illegal Music Downloading," in which he implicitly parroted the now-standard industry line that major-label sales are down because little Johnny is downloading Metallica MP3s instead of buying CDs. More skeptical critics have wondered if perhaps the reason CD sales are down might have more to do with the generally miserable state of the economy or — just maybe — the downright atrocious state of major-label product these days. The latter might also suggest a reason that people were tuning out the Grammys in record numbers: after all, if no one cares about the music, no one's going to care who gets awarded for it.

If the NARAS/RIAA line of argument is correct, though, there's only one conclusion: illegal file-sharing is killing the Grammys. You, there, with the MP3s: for shame.


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