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Kill Rock Stars, one of my favorite independent labels, has just made a sampler available that features contributions from most of their best-known artists, from Bikini Kill and Bratmobile through Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney all the way up to current bands like Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof and Thao. If you're like me, you probably have quite a few of these songs already. But you are unlikely to have all of them. And, even if you did, hearing the songs together is a powerful experience, one that definitely pumped air into the fading coals of my passion for popular music. Best of all, the collection is free, with no strings attached. Oh, and the label also announced today that they will be putting out Sleater-Kinney co-founder Corin Tucker's first solo album, so the gift to the public comes at a time when long-time devotees of the KRS way have a reason to celebrate. Needless to say, if you discover something you like and have yet to purchase, I heartily recommend that you contact the label directly and do so.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Corpse Pose - Unwound - Kill Rock Stars Best Sampler Ever

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As a result of being tagged by several overlapping memes over on Facebook, I've been thinking a lot about making lists that mean a lot to me, whether they be all-time favorites, current pleasure triggers or simply ones that changed my outlook on music or life to a significant degree.

At some point, I may put together a list I want to share. I might even, horror of horrors, try to get a meme going myself. For now, though, I'm going to start being a bit more voluble when it comes to music, as per the feedback I received from my poll. Because I'm feeling rather inarticulate today, I'll keep this short.

In revisiting much-traveled but slightly overgrown portions of my music collection, I've been paying special attention to those records that I turn to when I need to reinforce a state of mind or -- a more challenging task -- when I need to be transported to a different state of mind. Because we're deep into basketball season, I'm calling these records my "go-to" music, the ones I rely on in the proverbial crunch time.

Like many of you, I've been feeling particularly "crunched" of late, with visions of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars clouding my sight. In other words, I'm finding it therapeutic to go to my "go-to" records right now and also realizing again, as I have long said in jest, that this process of rediscovery is "cheaper than therapy" and pretty darned effective at mood management.

Sometimes an entire album, like The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street or Prince's Around the World in a Day, serves as a "go-to" record for me. Sometimes it's just a song, like Dusty Springfield's "Just a Little Lovin'", Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" or Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up." And sometimes it's just one part of a song, like the opening guitar part to the Sex Pistols' "Holiday in the Sun" flurry of horns in Otis Redding's "Respect".

Although I love all of the song I'm sharing with you today, it's one that I listen to for a specific part, when the vocals return after a few bars of rhythmic emphasis. I'll leave the details a surprise, for those of you who don't know the song or perhaps even the band. You can download the track here. The moment I'm talking about comes at 1:31 in that album version or 1:13 in this faster, yet longer one from The Year Punk Broke, in which it is enhanced by incongruous shots of a happy Euro couple:
I've always liked J. Mascis's lyrics, although they lack the subtlety and sophistication of my favorite sonic wordsmiths. Even when they are self-absorbed or, to be more precise, despite the fact that they almost always come off as self-absorbed, they convey the sort of sincere detachment that aligns with my own way of apprehending the world. And their simplicity, together with the enormous force of the music, gives their most quotable moments special power.

The note on this CD case dates back to one of the first classes I taught as a graduate student. I used to give a presentation on the aesthetics of noise in which I tried to demonstrate, with the help of examples from popular music, how muddying the waters of experience with deliberate distortion can actually give it more impact than tidied-up presentation. I was fumbling towards explaining the sublime, I suppose, although I was most interested in sharing some of my favorite songs as a way of countering the uncomfortable feelings I would have in playing the role of an authority. And I also wanted, as a corollary to that inevitably flawed attempt to abdicate the master's throne, to make my students like me, not as a teacher, but as someone they wouldn't mind spending time with outside the classroom.

I recognize all too well the trouble to which this approach to pedagogy can lead. Hell, I used to critique it in many of my professors. But it is better to acknowledge our tendencies than to pretend that they have been consigned to the landfill of discarded traits. At least I can console myself, in part, with the fact that I was innocently pushing buttons when I first engaged in this sort of sharing. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable playing this song for undergraduates now, after years of teaching students who do seem to think they do everything, including sins of the flesh, for Christ.

I'm also struck, listening to the song in these troubled times, by the degree to which it can be bent to whatever circumstances the listener requires. I used to think it was a relationship song. I imagine that's what J. Mascis intended, since almost all his songs are either relationship songs or "non-relationship" songs. That said, my favorite line seems perfectly suited to sizing up the global financial crisis. Indeed, I have a hard time hearing it as anything other than a prophecy hurled into a present that, despite the pretty wrapping paper in which it arrived, has turned out to be more curse than gift.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Freak Scene - Dinosaur Jr - Bug

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The last two months I have been listening to the songs of my musical coming-of-age, almost all of them falling into the category of soul and R&B. It was the height of the disco era, a troubled time, but one which I remember fondly. It was also the time before Ronald Reagan's landslide victory in the 1980 Presidential election, a transformative moment in American political history but one which depresses me as much now as it depressed me back then.

That's my original 45RPM, purchased back in 1979 from a hole-in-the-wall record store that catered primarily to African-American consumers.

It's been a long time since I felt this way about the United States. It's been a long time since I felt this hopeful, even though we are in the middle of a huge national crisis. With all that has transpired this evening, interestingly, it was John McCain's heartfelt and moving concession speech -- all the more impressive to me for the catcalls he ignored to deliver it -- that confirmed my mood. I gave an impassioned defense of McCain in my classes today, explaining -- without taking an overt political stand, naturally -- that the campaign and the circumstances affecting it had boxed him into corners that concealed his strengths. I'm glad I did that.

Now, though, it's time to celebrate. I went outside a few moments ago and heard some of my neighbors, returning early from a Republican election-night party, say some terrible things about Obama. It made me angry. It reminded me that the road ahead is hard. But it didn't stop me from playing this song, which is the perfect tune, not only for Obama's campaign but for the long-deferred dream of the African-American community he so vigorously inspired. Have a listen. Have hope.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" - McFadden & Whitehead

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I could listen to this song every day for the next forty years. I should listen to it every day for the next forty years. Short of that, though, I'm going to listen to it today.

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Current Location: 85704

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The new Portishead album is great, though I don't agree with Pitchfork reviewer Nate Patrin's assertion that the formula for it equals the band's first two records minus trip-hop. I still hear plenty of the Bristol Sound seething underneath the more diverse sonic foliage. But there's also a nod to the dubstep aesthetic that Joel and I discussed at last month's Experience Music Project conference. Some of the tracks foreground speeded-up beats which, in combination with Beth Gibbons' drawn-out vocal phrasings, give Third a tense feel different from their previous albums. "We Carry On" is the most striking example -- listen for yourself -- as well as being a candidate for the best song I've ever heard that makes me feel like my head is about to explode. To borrow from my own take on Burial, it's like Portishead are forcing us to listen for their past in the spaces vacated by the slow throb for which they were justly celebrated. Release is under erasure.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Portishead, from the other room, masked -- fittingly -- by a fan

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For Walter Benjamin, the aura of a work of art is a function of two qualities: its presence and its cult value. The aura signifies all that is eliminated when “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”Not surprisingly, given the definition of the work of art’s presence as “its unique existence at the place where it happens to be,” the aura is conceptualized in spatial terms as the “unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.”


Interestingly, the etymology of the word "aura" aligns it, not with the senses of sight or hearing -- the senses that the mechanical reproduction of cultural artifacts is meant to satisfy, but with the senses of touch and smell. In Greek, the word meant "breath" or "breeze," precisely the sort of sensations that frustrate our impulse to copy the world. We can do a good job of capturing the sound of a concert and can even, with enough camera coverage, make it paradoxically more visible than it would be to any individual concert-goer. But we haven't come to close to distilling the feeling of being there: the aroma of smoke, liquor and sweat; the bracing contrast between the packed interior of a venue like Plush and the outdoor patio; or even that waft of cotton that drifts through the air every time a T-shirt is plucked from a box and handed over the merch table. That's what missing in the reproduction and must be imperfectly conjured in words that were not there at the show, but come now, as memory reminds us of what we're missing.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Merry Go Round - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Live - 2007-01-09 Plush, Tucson

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The other night, as I cooled off from my bike ride by walking in circles in the cul-de-sac, one great song after another coming up on my digital music player, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that, whatever else is going on, I can still find bliss in my favorite music. Sometimes I just need to close my eyes and listen. This cover of a great New Order song by Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew came to me this morning as a sublime reminder of how easily I can reach a place I want to be through song. Maybe we can meet there.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Age of Consent - Kevin Drew - Fair Game from PRI with Faith Salie

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As I've been telling anyone who will listen for some time, the last Broken Social Scene has been growing on me since it came out two years ago. What at first seemed sprawling and at times perversely diffuse on the record at first now sounds like the proverbial room in the toe that mothers insist on at the shoe store. While band leader Kevin Drew's new semi-solo effort may not be as impressive over the long haul, I'm eager to give it the chance. I sure like this song. His website is pretty great too. I love the crunch and squeal of Alltagsgeräusche, one of the reasons why I now rate the messiness of the last Broken Social Scene record so highly.

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Current Location: 85704

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I'm finally going to concede to popular demand, in the form of some cheery prodding to write more regularly about music, and return to my long ago-abandoned plan to share both songs and my thoughts about them. Since my reluctance to do so previously derived mostly from the pressure I feel to compose something with care, I'll start by declaring that I will be going out of my way not to worry myself into silence.

My musical tastes have been pretty consistent for a long time now. I like a wide variety of material, but tend to follow a crop rotation model when it comes to consuming it. I'll get fixated on an artist or period or genre and play what I have until a laser could play me back, then shift rather abruptly to something else. After that initial interest has lain fallow for awhile, I'll return to it in preparation for another harvest. Late last summer, for example, I couldn't get enough of the Mick Taylor-era Rolling Stones. In the spring I revisited some of my favorite Cure albums.

Right now I want nothing more than to immerse myself in German pop and rock. More specifically, I've fallen back in lust with those early 1970s bands Can, Faust, and Neu!: so-called "Krautrock", in other words. I recently managed to procure a replacement for Faust's IV, which got lost when I leant it to a friend, and have been playing the import edition's bonus disc, absent from the version I used to own, over and over. My favorite song of theirs at the moment, however, hails from the Tapes record:

"J'ai mal aux dents"

Although recognizably "Faustian" -- the stops and starts, the extrinsic noises on the margins of the mix, the tight spiral of repetition -- it rocks in a more American way than most of their work, conjuring just enough of the blues tradition to impart a counter-Germanic warmth. For those of you who are interested in discerning the influences on your favorite indie acts, this song demonstrates how much everyone from Belle and Sebastian to Les Savy Fav owes to the anarchist collective from Wümme. Enjoy.

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Current Location: 85719
Muse: J'ai mal aux dents - Faust - Tapes

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I just commented on a friend's LJ about the impossibly messed-up lyrics to "Brown Sugar." It's hard to remember, at a time when the Stones have come to stand for empty spectacle, that they were once capable of pushing buttons as well as anyone. That's not why I'm writing this, though. I'm writing this because, hearing that song on shuffle play, I had to switch modes so that I could hear the whole album. I'm writing this because the first three songs of Sticky Fingers are about as strong an introduction to an album as I can think of. "Sway" never got much radio airplay, but it's one of my favorite Stones songs and deserving of a listen -- I'm providing it here for your convenience -- with fresh ears. And "Wild Horses" -- is truly sublime. That scene in Gimme Shelter where the band is listening to the song play back in the famous Muscle Shoals studio during their North American tour is easily one of my top-five music videos, even though it was never intended to serve that function. The tip of Keith Richards cowboy boot rocking back and forth, the expression of Mick Jagger's face as he is forced to acknowledge the nakedness of his own performance, Charlie Watts looking into the distance of the Maysles Brothers' camera: it's rock and roll at its finest. Now I'm on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and there's not a bit of letdown. The Doors-like interlude in the middle is superb. If only I had the original Andy Warhol LP cover with the actual zipper. . .

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Current Location: 85721
Mode: geschnüpft
Muse: Wild Horses - The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

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I'm trying to fight off a bug, one exacerbated by the family upheavals of the past two days. And I'm feeling generally out of sorts. But listening to the new Coup album is brightening my mood. In light of the overwhelming nostalgia I've been feeling for my year of living "black" -- I plan to write more on that topic at a later date -- the Dirty Mind-era sound of "Laugh/Love/Fuck" is proving especially welcome. So I'll pass it on, noting that it should not be listened to at work or around children, unless you have headphones on. Bring on the Revolution (and Prince too, for that matter). . .

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Current Location: 85721
Mode: over/under
Muse: Laugh/Love/Fuck - The Coup - Pick A Bigger Weapon

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Well, I've listened to the new Sonic Youth album over fifty times in the past week and it more than holds up to the scrutiny. I'm a huge fan to begin with, so feel free to savor the salsa on that chip of judgment. I'm confident, though, that anyone who likes the band already will be more than satisfied. By shortening the length of their songs, they were able to include a higher percentage of peaks and valleys without losing the density of the space in between. The other quality that sets Rather Ripped apart is that it sometimes sounds like a particular musical period, but in an abstract, self-reflexive way. It's sort of like what Frederic Jameson describes in his account of the film Body Heat's postmodernism. The film isn't set in the past, but it feels that way. This effect works on Rather Ripped. Or it works for me, anyway. The best example is "The Neutral," which runs through a number of periods in rapid succession, including the simulacral 80s that Interpol and The Killers capture so well.

As an added bonus -- note the double-dipping ahead -- two of the tracks, "Jams Run Free" and "Turquoise Boy" come with a Pavement chaser, fashioning a torus knot out of history. When I first heard Slanted and Enchanted on the day of its release back in 1991, my appetite whetted by Simon Reynolds and the Spin feature on promising new bands from the previous winter, I thought, "Sonic Youth + Velvet Underground," an equation that still applies to Stockton's finest, once you sift through all the other influences. Then I saw Pavement open for Sonic Youth at the Warfield, making the similarities between the two bands even more apparent. Later, Kim, John, and I talked to original Pavement drummer Gary Young as he leaned against a chain-link fence in the Tenderloin, just around the corner from the Warfield, after attending a Sonic Youth show. He had already been fired, but didn't know it yet.

At any rate, it makes sense for Sonic Youth to repay the tribute Pavement provided them. But, since they had already done so on Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, the current reference refers to their own referencing of a band that referenced them. It makes my sun-addled head hurt to contemplate. Sure sounds sweet, though. Have a listen to "Jams Run Free" if you want to hear what I mean.

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Current Location: 85721
Mode: pacific, if atlantic
Muse: Turquoise Boy - Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped

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I'm listening to The Notwist's album Neon Golden as I work this evening. Because it has been in my iTunes library since I bought it, I hear songs from it on a pretty regular basis in shuffle mode. But it has been a long time since I listened to the record in its entirety. It's nice to remember how much I adore it and even nicer to be reminded that it's my ideal writing muse. I had the new Sonic Youth album Rather Ripped on auto-repeat for most of the morning and that one, like the band's other albums, is also great to work by. The Notwist is even better, however. Because their music is consistently interesting without ever getting too brash, it makes staying in a productive flow easy. In that regard, they are a lot like Stereolab, another favorite of mine in the music-to-write-by category. I spent a sizeable portion of my dissertation-completing with The Notwist's earlier Shrink playing for hours at a time, while the then-one-year-old Bean played next to me. Ever since, I've felt a debt of gratitude to the band. I haven't listened to Neon Golden with the same intensity before but, as I sit here tonight, I'm feeling that debt grow. I love some of these songs so much that hearing them in sequence is bringing tears to my eyes. It's hard to choose, but I've picked two to share, one that exemplifies the band's softer side and one that shows the use they make of a hip-hop sensibility. I hope that you like them and, if you do, that you will buy the album or go see them in concert, since artists deserve to make money off their work.

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Current Location: 85704
Mode: vectoring
Muse: One with the Freaks - The Notwist - Neon Golden

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It's been awhile since I had a song lodge in the forefront of my consciousness. But I've been listening to the Rocket From the Tombs compilation -- along with its simulacral double of the iPod Shuffle variety -- so much this past week that the beginning of "Life Stinks" has turned into a big puddle of mental honey. And that reminds me. If any of my readers have the collected works of Peter Laughner that the now defunct Tim/Kerr label put out a number of years back, I'd gladly do you a favor to get a copy of it burned and sent my way. It's not available on any of the download sites I know how to frequent. Anyway, the bass line is interrupting my thought process again. I need a drink.

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Current Location: 85704
Mode: licky
Muse: self-evident

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Now that I'm back from my trip and working even harder than before, I'm not going to get to do many fun things aside from the everyday domestic sort. But I can justify seeing shows that pertain to my work. That means that I'll be at The Fall show at Club Congress on Saturday -- a day that happens to be Willie Mays, Sigmund Freud, and Orson Welles's birthday, incidentally -- and at the Art Brut show tonight at Plush.

I imagine that many of my readers have some passing familiarity with The Fall, one of the only acts born of punk's first generation that has managed to remain vital without ever becoming -- or perhaps because they never became -- truly successful in a record-store sense. Together with The Ex, which I wrote about last year for Tikkun and The Mekons, they have managed to demonstrate the virtues of slogging away in spite of indifference. Their music ranges widely and is suffused with an aura of I-don't-care-what-you-want experimentation that perfectly frames the bitter greens of lead Fall guy Mark E. Smith's wordplay. You should go.

But you might have a better time at the Art Brut show. This is the band's first time playing in Tucson. Their album doesn't get released in the States until May 23rd. And they're supposed to put on a great live show. tropicopolitan's account of seeing them at this year's Coachella festival has further amped up my excitement. I know that Islands, the sequel to the Unicorns, is playing tonight at Congress. I'm willing to bet, though, that more bliss will be had at Plush, both because of Art Brut's performance-friendly songs -- Annie Holub's feature in this week's Tucson Weekly gives a nice sense of Art Brut's low-fi charms -- and because Plush is a way better venue for live music these days.

I put Art Brut's debut album on the car stereo a few months back and Skylar took to it immediately. She particularly likes the second track, "My Little Brother," which I'm making available as an advertisement for the show. It's ridiculously simple and fun, fun, fun. You can also download tracks with the band's blessings, if you like. I should point out that the song I've provided should not be regarded as exemplary. The music is typical, but the lyrics are not. Indeed, since Art Brut songs cover everything from erectile dysfunction to David Hockney to the New Musical Express, it would be very difficult to find lyrics that are typical. Suffice it to say that Art Brut keep company with the Arctic Monkeys at the leading edge of neo-punk Brit wit. I like Art Brut better, though, both from a musical and a lyrical standpoint. So you should go to tonight's show too. See you there.

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Current Location: 85704
Mode: "It's making me wait"
Muse: My Little Brother - Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll

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Charlie Bertsch
User: cbertsch
Name: Charlie Bertsch
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ABOUT DE FILE
You're looking at content from my Live Journal, which I have been keeping since 2003. I consider it a personal blog, though it lacks stream-of-consciousness revelations that typify that genre.

That said, if you manage to discern the confessional mode within entries that are superficially tight-lipped, I will reward you handsomely. Or at least pretend to do so.

In addition to reflections, however mediated, on my daily activities, De File features periodic excavations of material from my "files," a revelation sure to disturb anyone who has seen my garage. It's an experiment in integrating past and present, perhaps with a little redemption along the way.

Politics is always on my mind, but rarely explicit here. I’m working on a theory about what personal writing like this does to literary identification and why some people resist its pull so powerfully. But my goal is to make that theory dissolve in my practice, a density in liquid.

You'll note that I have links to blogs not on LiveJournal directly above, as well as assorted websites of note. The blogs I read regularly on LiveJournal itself fall under "FRIENDS" at the top, for those of you unfamiliar with LJ’s workings.

You can write me. I'm "cbertsch" before the circle-a and "comcast.net" after it.
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