Dream Signals in Full Circles

Tristeza’s 2000 album Dream Signals in Full Circles was slammed by Pitchfork (3.5 stars!) for sounding like something that new age record label Windham Hill might release. The review sounds so dated now, very Y2K indie rock derision. Pretty sure we didn’t add the album to the heavy rotation list at the college radio station, but I remember really liking this record. (Some of us have been made Disagreeing With Pitchfork a thing for nigh on two decades!!) I didn’t have anything bad to say about Windham Hill either; my fifth grade teacher had played Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast at the end of almost every school day and I remained quite fond of that album. I cannot exactly recall where we were in the Cycle of Ironic Appreciations back then, but it was probably not safe yet for people trying to make Music Director at a college radio station to admit to that. Nice to be old now.

And if you want to go straight to the new age tap root:

Drawing of Sound

Ambient but melodic, mostly drumless but rhythmic, shimmering, magical. I had never heard this particular Windy & Carl record before today but the algorithm provided. One of my top 3 bands from Michigan, without a doubt. They also run a record store, should you find yourself in Dearborn. My college dream was to get Windy & Carl to score a planetarium show and I haven’t given up on that yet.

Music For a Found Harmonium

In the last post, I mentioned it was an Orb remix of a song I liked when I was young that tipped me over into a full-blown 90s rave revitalist. That would their remix of Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Music For a Found Harmonium. Deep cut.

I was never quite sure why this Penguin Cafe Orchestra hit me as hard as it does. I mean, it’s extremely catchy, sure. But it was so deeply engrained that it caused me to burst into tears when it appeared in Napoleon Dynamite. (Now there’s a movie to revisit after 15 years.) 

As with many of life’s great mysteries, the answer was in a youtube video, waiting to be discovered. A trailer for the 1988 John Hughes’ move She’s Having a Baby, starring Kevin Bacon, apparently only seen on VHS copies of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Like most people of my generation (Generation Jordan Catalano aka Generation Oregon Trail aka Generation Analog Youth Digital Adolescence aka Generation Here’s A Thinkpiece On Why I’m Not A Millenial), I probably watched Ferris Bueller on VHS upwards of… five hundred times? More? And this is a truly brilliant trailer, a masterclass of film editing. I don’t know why anyone would bother with the movie. The entire human drama of trying to become an adult in 90 seconds. More than any other piece of media, this shaped my entire concept of the idea of “growing up.”

PCO was also famously remixed by the departed Avicii, and you know what, I fucking love that too. This is EDM for people who listen to NPR, but here we are. The heart loves what it loves.





The improbable lineup of Lollapalooza 1997 ended each night with a performance from Prodigy, The Orb, and Orbital. Everyone else- Korn, Tool, Tricky, Devo- had to play in the daylight. The evening was reserved for techno. I did not understand this genre then, neither liked nor disliked it, but I stayed at the Nissan Pavilion and tried to figure out what “performing” dance music actually entailed. There were light shows, disco balls, dancing, the white guys on the distant stage were… on the computer? I was tired from a days’ worth of weeping during James’ set and moshing to Tool (like I said, improbably lineup) and too self-conscious to attempt any rave-like undertakings. Eventually we went home long before the final set was over. I barely remembered any of this until a few months ago when I came across an Orb remix of a song I liked when I was small and all of sudden I couldn’t get enough of 90s techno. I look forward to the rave-themed nights at whatever cut-rate retirement home houses me in my dotage. I hope they provide glow sticks and pacifiers; I will finally dance.

opus 37

I turned 37 two days ago. This was the first year I seriously considered starting to lie about my age, really felt my flagrant disregard for adulthood milestones. On the other hand, what am I, some kind of NORMIE?! Shouldn’t I be proud that I have given capitalist production and reproduction the runaround for so long? Maybe that’s going too far. My friend Erik told me on my 29th birthday that I could “pass for a hard-living 24,” so maybe I’m still just a stressed-out 32 in my soul.

The Shape of Things That Never Came

And now we tried to be strong, and carry on
But somehow the party seemed doomed
There was a girl on the floor with the heart beat gone
And death so kills the room

And now we tried to be strong, and carry on
Throw our head back and howl
But the water is warm and the currents are strong
And its time to throw in the towel, little darling



Index Cards Yesterday, Today, and Forever

Though I have all manner of software available to me, I still prefer to keep a set of index cards related to dissertation research. Cards for all the people who I discuss, card for concepts I’m tracing, cards for this and that. It is easier for me to make connections when I’ve got an actual deck of cards I can lay out, play around with, flip through to jog my memory. Japan is a country that still loves stationery (and fax machines), so my usage of index cards seems less of an affectation here than it might in the States. But I was pleased to see that master writer John McPhee, who does use computers, also still relies on index cards.

McPhee gathers every single scrap of reporting on a given project — every interview, description, stray thought and research tidbit — and types all of it into his computer. He studies that data and comes up with organizing categories: themes, set pieces, characters and so on. Each category is assigned a code. To find the structure of a piece, McPhee makes an index card for each of his codes, sets them on a large table and arranges and rearranges the cards until the sequence seems right. Then he works back through his mass of assembled data, labeling each piece with the relevant code. On the computer, a program called “Structur” arranges these scraps into organized batches, and McPhee then works sequentially, batch by batch, converting all of it into prose. (In the old days, McPhee would manually type out his notes, photocopy them, cut up everything with scissors, and sort it all into coded envelopes. His first computer, he says, was “a five-thousand-dollar pair of scissors.”)


Index cards were, of course, critical to the foundation of information science.

Dewey’s wasn’t the only index card-based classification system over the years. The Library of Congress has its own letter-based system. The number-based Universal Decimal Classification, created by Paul Otlet at the turn of the nineteenth century, is a more detailed version of Dewey’s system. It had to be, considering it was created to catalog everything ever published.

Long before the verb “to google,” Otlet and his friend Henri La Fontaine set out to develop their own search engine in Brussels in 1895. They wanted to create the go-to place for everyone to find information on absolutely anything. It would work just like Google does today—you submit a query and get links to relevant sources of information. In the 1895 version, you’d send queries by mail or telegraph and get index cards with bibliographies in return.


“used emo”

At some point, maybe in my late 20s, shopping for records became an activity that was perhaps 15% searching for records I’ve long wanted, 5% hoping to discover something totally new and unknown to me, and 80% indulging in nostalgia triggers. Strangely, I find the most delight in stumbling across 7″s I already own. Somehow seeing a record I’ve long owned  in a record store with a bunch of different neighbors, not in its usual place in my own collection, brings back the strongest memories. And that’s how I experience most of my enthusiasm for subcultural music these days, through memory.

Over the weekend I went into a Disc Union in Tokyo and saw my early life flash before my eyes as I flipped through the “used emo” and “used 90s hardcore” 7″ racks. Two Frodus singles. I attended the record release events for both of them, both at the dearly missed Fairfax VA store Record Convergence.

Universal Order of Armageddon. The Make-Up. Chisel. Own it, own it, own it. Bought it in DC, in Richmond, on a trip to North Carolina. Overwhelmed with how un-hardcore I am now, I went down to the ‘indie’ floor and started flipping. Oh, a Black Tambourine single! This, I do want. It is 38 dollars. I have paid over thirty dollars for singles before, when I had some sort of ebay fever in 2003 and needed every screamo record I could find. Not so feverish these days, so I put the record back. Sorry Black Tambourine, may you plucked up soon by some Japanese indiepop connoisseur.

Pam, the singer of Black Tambourine, is also one-half of the zine Chickfactor. I read Chickfactor religiously in junior high school. I had heard of none of the bands but memorized all their names. Occasionally I mail ordered this or that and listened on my mom’s record player. Singles were only three dollars, plus postage. I got a little older. I got a boyfriend, he had a car. We could drive into Maryland, go to record stores like Vinyl Ink in Silver Spring, where I searched for Chickfactor-esque records, and Yesterday & Today, where I searched for dc hardcore.

Still flipping through “used indie new arrivals.” Ash, a single for their 1994 song “Petrol.” I saw them in October 1995, opening for Babes in Toyland. Also on the bill was a Minneapolis band called Dumpster Juice, who were burly midwest sludge slobs. I recall being kind of grossed out by them, which I think is exactly what they were going for. Then all of sudden comes Ash, who were whip-thin  young Irish pretty boys and extremely pop. I liked them well enough and bought their tape, which had only one song that really struck me, but it struck me enough that I kept the tape in my car and just rewound back and back again to the one song I liked.

Yeah, this is some solid power pop right here.

I’ve just youtube’d Dumpster Juice and they are still at it! I’ve gotten a lot sludgier over the years, I get it now. I guess I have changed since the mid-90s, just a bit.