Someone Else’s Train
Not a bridge, but a chasm: New York’s post-punk stepchildren split two generations of rock fans like a nightclub Vietnam. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who’s 44, recently said he was “bumming out” while listening to the Rapture, and if jaded veterans who remember New York’s last fiscal crisis tend to dismiss the Strokes and their underlings as imitative and inferior, parental scorn won’t stop today’s creatively dressed young people from adoring and even, tentatively, dancing a bit.
Moving only to swig from a bottle of Jameson’s, James Murphy fronts LCD Soundsystem like a recording engineer—which he is. The guitarless five-piece surrounds his wobbly, arch rants with percussive clatter, and an occasional nag-nag-nag Cabaret Voltaire synth-punk riff. “Losing My Edge,” one of the year’s best singles, adds great, rising dynamics, a clear theme, and, blessedly, humor, as Murphy emulates a name-dropping Baron Münchausen of hipster cool. The new song “Give It Up,” which (knowingly?) takes a lyric from Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” has as much edge as a marble.
At 1 a.m., the Rapture fill a smoky Bowery with atonal funk and chemistry-class charisma. And if the cowbell-featuring quartet sound like an amalgam of every band in a 1981 issue of Trouser Press, their monstrous rhythm section hides a multitude of sins: singer-guitarist Luke Jenner’s excessive esteem for the vocal stylings of the Cure, history’s most tuneless ballad, or the way “Echoes” (knowingly?) grave-robs Public Image’s “Careering.”
Played midset, the jubilant, shouting “House of Jealous Lovers” sounds even more like the indie single of the year. But fans of one-hitters Medium Medium may ask, Do they have another? The best ’81 bands had songs, lyrics, and singers. “See, I just don’t care about songs, lyrics, or singers,” a 21-year-old in a Members Only jacket told me before the show. And there’s your generation gap. —Rob Tannenbaum
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 . . .
For all its drinking, dancing, and sexy collisions, New Year’s Eve has a feeling of forced revelry, of melancholy masquerading as bonhomie. Especially recently—the catastrophes predicted for Y2K seem quaint as we strive to divine what’s coming in 2K3. Radio DJ Peter Bochan finesses this dilemma every December 31 at 11 p.m. (WBAI, 99.5 FM) with Short Cuts, an hour-long sonic doppelgänger of the year gone by. Beginning with music (from monster hits to obscure indies tossed over his transom), he layers in broadcast news, movie dialogue, political speak, vintage radio, and vox populi.
The ’01 segue was, of course, elegiac—though every Short Cuts includes an obit section, with sound bites on the passing of the (in)famous—and Bochan considered calling an end to his annual wrap-up. (He started three decades ago, when, pissed off by Nixon’s 1972 landslide, he spliced presidential speeches with soap jingles and TV clips—an ominous collage foreshadowing Tricky Dick’s political evisceration.) But what keeps Bochan going, and fuels his weekly All Mixed Up gig (Saturdays, 5 to 7 p.m.), is his search for “that shiver thing that happens in songs.” He tries to intensify it through juxtaposition, hoping to “hook different people who wouldn’t necessarily listen” to songs outside their normal tastes.
In Short Cut Through 2001, Bochan leavened survivor accounts of escaping the World Trade Center (and of a bewildered office worker letting his mother know he was alive), with the Blind Boys of Alabama’s hopeful, gravelly “Amazing Grace,” sung, improbably, to “House of the Rising Sun.” This enhanced, contradictory hymn lowers to a murmur for a clip of that brief, shining moment when Giuliani dropped his usual sneering combativeness and worked to calm and unite a stricken city.
As the American Century is ground down by the millennial wheel, the half-lives of our diversions and obsessions keep getting shorter, and so Bochan works hard to “only connect.” Hacking through the slag heaps of information surrounding us all, he mines those sublime nuggets of noise that embody the emotions of another year lost to history. —R.C. Baker
Mary Hansen, 1966-2002
When my wife wants me to buck up and find the good in a bad situation, she flashes a toothy smile, adopts an Australian accent, and says, “There’s lovely noodles on the balcony.” That’s what Mary Hansen of Stereolab said to me in 1996 when my band showed up for our first-ever gig in London and found we were playing a goddamn restaurant. On the afternoon of December 9, Hansen was struck and killed by a vehicle while riding her bicycle on City Road in London. She was 36. The second female voice in Stereolab, Hansen joined in 1992 and added her churchy falsetto to 11 albums, including the recent ABC Music: The Radio One Sessions. Hansen was responsible for carrying out much of Stereolab’s central sonic strategy: the la-la-la‘s and chew-bac-ca‘s that float above so many songs. She appeared on recordings by Mouse on Mars, Tortoise, High Llamas, and Brokeback, and released a solo 7-inch as the Horizontalist. In an almost unbearable synchronicity, her face appeared on an album for the first time the day after her death—on the cover of Common’s Electric Circus. There, touching Common’s bald head at 11 o’clock, is Head #39: Mary Hansen, pictured with her eyes closed.
Hansen was the bubble in Stereolab’s soda, the one who smiled onstage, the one who made a long, boring day in the studio feel giddy and short. In a world of monosyllabic “geniuses” and haughty record geeks, Hansen was a hilarious, lightening presence. We know the world is going to hell in handbasket, and even the good bits feel unlovely right now. Mary came from, and will be buried in, Maryborough, Queensland, home of the Maryborough Sugar Museum and the Mary River. —Sasha Frere-Jones