Category Archives: music

Show report: Xenia Rubinos at the Frequency

Xenia Rubinos is a — ok, what is she?  A singer-songwriter-yeller-wreaker-of-havoc who plays an avant-garde version of R&B with a lot of loud, hectic guitar in it.  I’ve been pronouncing her name “Zenya” but she says “Senia.”  She played to about 100 people at the Frequency last Thursday.  She seems to belong in a much bigger place in front of a much bigger crowd, so much so that it feels a little weird to be right there next to her as she does her frankly pretty amazing thing.  Here’s “Cherry Tree,” from her 2013 debut, still her best song by my lights.  It would be most people’s best song.

This, live, was pretty close to the record.  Other songs weren’t.  Live, I thought she and her band sometimes sounded like Fiery Furnaces, which doesn’t come through on the records.  “Pan Y Cafe”, a fun romp on the album

is much more aggro live.  It’s kind of what the Pixies “Spanish songs” would be like if somebody who actually spoke Spanish wrote them.  (She likes the Pixies.)

Maybe I should make a post about the greatest shows I’ve seen in Madison.  This was one of them.  Who else?  Man Man in 2007.  The Breeders in 2009.  Fatty Acids / Sat Nite Duets in 2012.  I’ll have to think about this more thoroughly.


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I got a message for you

“I got a message for you, if I could only remember.  I got a message for you, but you’re gonna have to come and get it.”  Kardyhm Kelly gave me a tape of Zopilote Machine in 1995 and I played nothing but for a month.  “Sinaloan Milk Snake Song” especially.  Nobody but the Mountain Goats ever made do-it-yourself music like this, nobody else ever made it seem so believable that the things it occurred to you to say or sing while you were playing your guitar in your bedroom at home might actually be pop songs.   The breakdown at the end of this!

“I’ve got a heavy coat, it’s filled with rocks and sand, and if I lose it I’ll be coming back one day (I got a message for you).”  I spent a lot of 1993 thinking about the chord progression in the verse of this song.  How does it sound so straight-ahead but also so weird?  Also the “la la la”s (“Sinaloan Milk Snake Song” has these too.)

“Roll me in the greenery, point me at the scenery.  Exploit me in the deanery.  I got a message for you.”

The first of these I ever heard.  Douglas Wolk used to send mixtapes to Elizabeth Wilmer at Math Olympiad training.  This was on one of them.  1987 probably. I hadn’t even started listening to WHFS yet, I had no idea who Robyn Hitchcock was.  It was on those tapes I first heard the Ramones, Marshall Crenshaw, the Mentors (OK, we were in high school, cut us some slack.)

(Update:  Douglas denies ever putting the Mentors on a mixtape, and now that I really think about it, I believe Eric Wepsic was to blame for bringing the Mentors into my life.)

Why is this line so potent?  Why is the message never explicitly presented?  It’s enough — it’s better — that the message only be alluded to, never spoken, never delivered.

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Very Aomby

This song, by Damily, is amazing:

This is tsapiky, a currently dominant style in popular music of southern Madagascar.  There isn’t much tsapiky on Spotify, but what there is is pretty good.  (None of it equals “Very Aomby,” though.)

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Songs: Ramrao Parsatwar, EEK, Dick Diver

A couple of songs I want to remember I like.

“Jaltarang” is an old record by Ramrao Parsatwar.  The jaltarang is a percussion instrument consisting of bowls partially filled with water.  This comes to me via radiooooo, which I heartily recommend.

Something about this instrumental reminds me of EEK’s amazing “Trinity,” — I don’t know what to say about this one except it comes from Egypt and  it sounds kind of like video game music but from a video game too fun to humanly play.

But as you know I mostly listen to square Anglophone guitar-based indie so here’s a gem in that vein, “Waste the Alphabet,” by Dick Diver, like the EEK track a 2015 release.  Vocals a little like John Vanderslice, bass that sounds like Athens, GA in 1982, sort of New Zealandy guitar (this is actually from Australia.)  Hits all my spots.



Dream:  I meet two 9-year-old boys with identical long curly hair.  They’re in a band, the band is called Bugbiter.  They explain to me that most of their songs are about products, and they share their songs via videos they post on Amazon.

I share this dream with you mostly because I think Bugbiter is actually a legitimately good band name.


My Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number is 11

I am pleased to report that I have an Erdös-Bacon-Sabbath number.

My Erdös number is 3; has been for a while, probably always will be.  I wrote a paper with Mike Bennett and Nathan Ng about solutions to A^4 + B^2 = C^p; Mike wrote with Florian Luca; Luca wrote with Erdös.

A while back, I shot a scene for the movie Gifted.  I’m not on the IMDB page yet, but I play against type as “Professor.”  Also in this movie is Octavia Spencer, who was in Beauty Shop (2005) with Kevin Bacon.  So my Bacon number is 2.

That gives me an Erdös-Bacon number of 5; already pretty high on the leaderboard!

Of course it then fell to me to figure out whether I have a Sabbath number.  Here’s the best chain I could make.

I once played guitar on “What Goes On” with my friend Jay Michaelson‘s band, The Swains, at Brownies.

Jay performed with Ezra Lipp “sometime in 2000,” he reports.

Lipp has played with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.

From here we use the Six Degrees of Black Sabbath tool, written by Paul Lamere at EchoNest (now part of the Spotify empire.)

The Black Crowes backed up Jimmy Page at a concert in 1999.

Page played with David Coverdale in Coverdale.Page.

David Coverdale was in Deep Purple with Glenn Hughes of Black Sabbath.

So my Sabbath number is 6, and my Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number is 11.







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Leibniz on music

Leibniz wrote:

Even the pleasures of sense are reducible to intellectual pleasures, known confusedly.  Music charms us, although its beauty consists only in the agreement of numbers and in the counting, which we do not perceive but which the soul nevertheless continues to carry out, of the beats or vibrations of sounding bodies which coincide at certain intervals.

Boy, do I disagree.  Different pleasures are different.

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Farting princess

Not gonna lie, AB is into talking about farts.  She’s 5, she likes farts, that’s how it is.  We have a new thing where she is the “farting princess” and whenever she farts I say

Well done, your farting majesty!”

and if she farts again,

“All the farting kingdom is enjoying your royal fart!”

She also likes “The Monster Mash” so I wrote a fart-centered take on this song which she really enjoys.  Lyrics follow.

Continue reading

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R.E.M. live at the Rockpalast, 2 Oct 1985

Complete show on YouTube.  In case you were wondering what the fuss was about.

Cool song, bro

I was in Barriques and “Bra,” by Cymande came on, and I was like, cool song, cool of Barriques to be playing this song that I’m cool for knowing about, maybe I should go say something to show everyone that I already know this cool song, and then I thought, why do I know about this song anyway? and I remembered that it was because sometime last year it was playing in Barriques and I was like, what is this song, it’s cool? and I Shazammed it.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m probably going to the right coffee shop.  Also, this song is cool.  I’m sort of fascinated by the long instrumental break that starts around 2:50.  It doesn’t seem like very much is happening; why is it so captivating?  I think my confusion on this point has something to do with my lack of understanding of drums.

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