Sunday, May 31, 2009

Introducing the Flaws Mix CD Mixer.

A post I recently read on another blog got me to thinking about mixtapes. Now, for those who don’t know me, one thing you need to understand: I love mixes. Yeah, I know, who doesn’t, right? But no. You don’t understand. I LOVE mixes.

In 2006 I undertook an ambitious project I dubbed the Mix CD Odyssey of 2006. It was kind of a social experiment in which I tried to use mixes to bring disparate groups of friends together. The idea was as follows: I would make a CD every week for a year. I had recruited a distribution list of 25 or so friends to whom I would give copies of this CD. I would then post the tracklisting of each disc via various social networking outlets as well as on my own (now-defunct) website, and encourage people to discuss, ask each other questions, interact. The social aspect of the experiment was pretty much a failure, as no real discussion between the subscribers ever seemed to spark and comments were limited to praise for my song selection or sequencing. Still, though, the comments were very appreciated and encouraging, and I had a hell of a lot of fun making the CDs until the bottom fell out – which it was always bound to do. (Another thing you may not know about me if you do not know me well: I have a long history of undertaking fantastically ambitious projects with the best of intentions, becoming overwhelmed, and completely abandoning them). 52 mixes in a year is a lot of work, not to mention the cost of making and mailing 25 copies. I made it about 46 weeks before I completely threw in the towel, although after week 30 or so they started to reach fewer and fewer of my subscriber. If any of those people are reading this now, I’m sorry. I intended to do a similar project this year, except doing the mixes monthly instead of weekly. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the project never got off the ground at all. Apologies again for anyone who expected to get in on that project.

This was originally supposed to be a post explaining the various reasons why I have such a love for mixes, but I think that rather than telling you, perhaps I should show you. Action is always more fun than intellectualization, yes? I agree. And so, I formally invite you to take part in the inaugural round of the Flaws Mixtape Mixer.  Simply put, let’s trade mixes.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. None of this making a single mix that I send out to everybody; each of you who take part in this will be receiving your own personalized mix, even if I don’t know you. If you’d like to take part, simply write me something. It can be as short as a sentence or as long as a short story. It can be anything. A sentence you just read in a book. An account of the happiest, or unhappiest, day of your life. A description of your first kiss. A recounting of your most vivid nightmare. Your biggest fear. A secret. A story you wrote. A story somebody else wrote. Or send me a photograph. Or anything else. I will use whatever you send me as a jumping-off point; it will be the inspiration for your mix. I will send you some inspiration to use for my mix. Maybe at some point we can branch this out more, and get complete strangers to make personalized mixes for each other. It’s always about the communication. Making that connection across time and distance and odds.

Also, I'm flexible. While I tend to work with CD-R just because of convenience, I can also do cassette if you want to do an old-school thing. Just let me know in your e-mail.

I know I’ve been flaky with these mix things lately, but seriously, let’s make this happen.

Kindly e-mail me at its.flaws at to take part in this.

This post was composed to the tune of The National by The National.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paint the Black Hole Blacker: St. Vincent, 2009.05.21

St. Vincent/Pattern Is Movement
First Unitarian Church
Philadelphia, PA

I was first exposed to the music of Annie Clark in early 2007, months before her debut album as St. Vincent, Marry Me, suddenly and unexpectedly stole countless indie rock hearts (mine included). She was opening for John Vanderslice on a tour preparing for the release of his Emerald City album. Going into the show, all I knew about her was that she had previously played with both Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree, and that she was apparently some kind of guitar prodigy. When she took the stage, I was intrigued by her nimble fretwork, her use of effects pedals to create layers of texture from a single electric guitar, her steady rhythm-keeping by way of a pedal-operated kick drum sample,  and her idiosyncratic songwriting style. Of course, although I would like to downplay this, the fact that she was unbelievably gorgeous did not hurt matters. By the end of her set, when she played a self-assured version of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days,” I had fallen completely in love. I immediately purchased her tour EP (happily featuring the aforementioned Jackson Browne cover) and decided to make it a point to see her every time she came to town.

I missed her every time she came to town.

In April 2008, I got my first taste of what her live show sounded like when augmented with a full band when she played the PLUG awards in NYC, playing a brief two-song set comprising “Now, Now” and “Your Lips are Red.” Where before her performance had been marked with precision, complexity, and a graceful patience, there was now an air of danger, recklessness, and ferocity. I was very excited to see a full set by St. Vincent the band.

Once again, I missed them every time they came to town.

Chris from Pattern is Movement

To cut  long story short (too late), the release of Actor, the second St. Vincent album, quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year so far, and when the band’s tour stopped at the First Unitarian basement in Philadelphia, I made damn sure I was there. Local heroes Pattern Is Movement opened; I had seen them once before, ironically, opening for North Carolina band The Physics of Meaning, which is the main gig of Daniel Hart, who also plays violin and guitar in St. Vincent. Pattern Is Movement is a 2-piece band – drums and keyboards – marked by gentle vocals that reach into the upper register of the vocalist’s range and odd time signatures with unpredictable and seemingly random changes. They kind of sound like a less aggro Dismemberment Plan, perhaps. Daniel Hart came out and played violin with them for a song or two – though, oddly, I didn’t remember them being a two-piece last time I saw them. My impression of them, however, was exactly the same as it had been the last time I saw them: although it was pretty music and definitely was a refreshing change from your standard “indie rock” band, I found that they had sort of worn out their welcome with me after about 20-25 minutes. Their set lasted for nearly 50 minutes this particular night, which was just far too long to hold my interest. The highlight was a D’Angelo cover.

I was excited to see the array of instruments being set up for St. Vincent’s set – clarinet! Saxophone! Flute! Fender Jaguar! (Seriously, does EVERY band have a Jaguar these days?) Plus the typical drums, bass, and keyboards, as well as Annie’s two guitars and trademark double microphone stand. From the opening salvo of “The Strangers” and “Save Me From What I Want” – also the first two songs on Actor – the band made it clear that although they were perfectly capable of recreating the textures and layers of the studio recording on stage, they were not interested in stopping there. The mannered, structured, orchestrated noise that ever so politely bruises the lush studio arrangement on records becomes an entirely different beast on the concert stage – there is a disquieting, threatening quality to the guitar outbursts here, a palpable physical violence in both Ms. Clark’s guitar playing and her occasional vocal outbursts (such as during the performance of single “Actor Out of Work,” which on record relies on a building tension that never resolves itself into an explosion – in performance at the Church, Clark suddenly shrieked “I think I’M FUCKING MAD!” so loudly, it ended up being the only moment of the main set that caused my recording to clip, and genuinely startled me at the time).

It was a long show – at 74 minutes, it was definitely much longer than I would have expected from an artist with two albums to her name, neither one particularly long – but it was well paced and never once felt boring or like it was dragging. The setlist was, as one would expect, heavy on the excellent Actor material, but almost to a fault – although Annie promised to mix in Marry Me material and make it a “greatest hits show,” the band only played three songs from the debut, and had already played two of those by the time she made that promise. And of course, the nostalgia lover in me would have loved to have heard her perform “These Days” either in addition to or even instead of her delicate solo reading of “Oh My God.” But these are all minor criticisms. Annie Clark has assembled a fantastic group of musicians to flesh out her arrangements, and they seem to share a hive mind of sorts. Impossibly tight and precise, the musicianship combined with Ms. Clark’s vibrant personality, witty humor, and uniquely subtle yet intense stage presence make for a compelling and entertaining live show that everyone should experience given the chance. I will definitely be in the crowd the next time Ms. Clark and crew pass through.


The Strangers
Save Me From What I Want
Now, Now
Actor Out of Work
Marry Me
Oh My God
The Bed
Laughing With a Mouth of Blood
Black Rainbow
Just the Same But Brand New
The Party
Your Lips Are Red 

More photos can be found at my Flickr account.