Sunday, March 25, 2007

American Appalling

I was browsing through Dog Eared Books the other day when I came across a calendar entitled "American Appalling". It is a culture jam of the provocative American Apparel ads that seem to be popping up everywhere as of late. Instead of featuring scantily-clad hotties, the creators of the calendar took pictures of goofy looking people that dress awful and, in one hilarious photo, have mustard slathered all over their face. The point of the project is to dispel the socially conscious image that American Apparel has built up around itself and draw attention to the fact that the company is using sex to sell their clothing just like some of the unethical brands they are trying to distance themselves from.

I can see why some people consider their ads to be tasteless as well as sexist. American Apparel advertisements represent the latest update of the fashion industry status quo; the celebration of sex appeal and good looking people. For many of the young, socially aware consumers that make up American Apparel's demographic this represents a step backwards. Aren't we supposed to be changing paradigms instead of supporting the same old shit?

I'm not a fan of American Apparel advertisements because I consider them to be a highly unoriginal attempt at parody (I agree with the American Appalling project on this point). From a business standpoint though, they make perfect sense. The sex appeal and hipster posturing of the ads do a good job at grabbing the attention of the less critical members within Generation Y. As a result, these people end up buying products from a retailer that creates jobs within the US while seeking to maintain decent labor standards.

Does the end justify the means here? Leave me some comments.

Oh, and here's the American Appalling website.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Menomena- "Friend or Foe"- The latest album from the Portland, OR based trio is... well, pretty damn good. They manage to cover a lot of ground with this effort, moving through different styles with ease. A delicate piano loop floats in and out of the mix while glockenspiels twinkle in the background during "Wet And Rusting", a track that displays the band's softer side. The pounding drums that course throughout "Weird" show that the group is adept at laying down some heavy grooves. The disc falters when the vocals become too histrionic but thankfully this only happens on a few songs. This is the kind of indie rock that I like- adventurous, mildly psychedelic, and well produced. The cover art and booklet are extremely well done so you may want to pick this one up at your local record store.

Deerhunter- "Cryptogram"- This band has been causing quite a stir lately with their insane live shows and wild sound. Deerhunter plays noisy, fuzzy, psychedelic rock that bears some definite similarities to shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine. I was a little underwhelmed by this album to be honest. I enjoyed the ambient tracks but I found many of the rock-oriented, vocal songs to be pretty aggravating. For example, "Spring Hall Convert" starts off with some ethereal singing and nice guitar work but then quickly builds into this repetitive wall of sound that goes nowhere. I get the feeling that I would like these guys a lot better in a live setting.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Noise Pop!

It's that wonderful time of year again when a host of dope-ass bands descend upon San Francisco, making the citizens of this fair city even more spoiled than they already are.

Here are a few recommendations:

Tapes N' Tapes, Har Mar Superstar, and Extra Action Marching Band at Mezzanine 2/27.

Ok so I only like Tapes N' Tapes but this show is free and looks like a good time (I plan on getting there way early in order to get in). It's the opening night party so it'll probably be all crazy and super-hipstered out. There will also be art from Shepard Fairey and a video installation from Dubbo at this show. Tapes N' Tapes are pretty good; they were kind of over-hyped by the music press so they received a harsh backlash but I really like their latest album, The Loon. It's well crafted indie rock that stays fresh with each listen.

Lyrics Born and The Coup at The Fillmore 3/1.

These groups have two of the best live shows in contemporary hip-hop today. If you like classic, funk-influenced hip-hop then I urge you to check this show out... you won't be disappointed.

Annuals at Cafe Du Nord 3/2.

Annuals play indie pop songs that have a distinct experimental bent to them. They aren't afraid to throw in electronics and I hear that the talented sextet put on a great live show. Don't miss this.

To see a full schedule of Noise Pop events, check out the website.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Out and About: Club/Concert Reviews

I haven't done any reviews of this sort on the blog so... here goes:

Carl Craig and Lindstrom (live) at Mezzanine.

I had a lot of fun at this show. The turnout was excellent and the club had a good, energetic vibe the whole night. Lindstrom came on first and did a laptop set of originial material with live keyboards. The talented Norwegian has created quite a buzz during the past couple of years with his updated take on the Giorgio Moroder "space disco" sound. If you're wondering what that sounds like you can listen to a lot of his tracks on Beatport. His set was decent; he played most of his best songs and created some interesting sound effects but I feel like he let many of the songs drag out for too long, which negatively impacted the energy on the dancefloor. The crowd wanted to go crazy but he kinda just teased everybody instead.

Detroit Techno pioneer Carl Craig came on next and proceeded to tear the roof off the place, making the crowd whoop and holler until the end. Mr. Craig played a nice mixture of his own work with other artists, blending it all together cleanly. He leaned more towards melodic tracks, which I really enjoyed because a lot of tech DJ's seem intent on keeping things hard and banging these days. This guy has been in the game for a long time and really understands how to work a dancefloor properly.

All in all, it was a good night out and I feel like I got my money's worth. My only complaint is that Mezzanine's sound system is in dire need of an upgrade. It only sounds good when you stand in certain spots and for electronic music this isn't a positive because you miss out on a lot of critical frequencies.

Cougar at 12 Galaxies

Cougar is a talented post-rock band hailing from Madison, Wisconsin. Their completely instrumental and melodic style is inspired by bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake- not surprising given that Tortoise drummer John McEntire produced Cougar's new album. Despite similarities to the aforementioned groups, Cougar has managed to develop a distinct sound of their own. I managed to catch Cougar at the dumpy, yet lovable, 12 Galaxies in the heart of the Mission. The crowd was pretty sparse due to the unfortunate fact that it was a Monday but those who made it out were treated to an excellent performance. The drummer started things off with a wash of cymbals interspersed with effects from their electronic musician. After this, the guitar players began their classical-influenced assault. I love the sound of their guitars, it's probably the first thing that will catch many people's interest. Their bass player was solid but didn't figure into the overall picture as strongly as the guitars or the drums. I liked how they utilized electronic sounds; they were never cheesy and actually added a lot to the performance. Their drummer is amazing, he laid down some extremely complex rhythms without overpowering the rest of the band.

I'm glad that post-rock is still alive and kicking as a genre. Many people think it begins and ends with Tortoise but I definitely feel there's room for some new ideas on the scene. I enjoy instrumental music and bands like Cougar manage to develop a strong voice without having a vocalist.

Check out Cougar's new album, Law. You can find it on itunes, emusic, or at most record stores.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

America's New King Of Crops

Marijuana is officially America's biggest cash crop according to a recent study authored by John Gettman, a prominent marijuana public policy activist. The current market value of pot grown inside the U.S., estimated at over $35 billion, exceeds that of the top 3 legal crops: corn, soybeans, and hay. Marijuana production has increased tenfold in the past 25 years despite fierce oppostion from law enforcement agencies. California is responsible for more than a third of the cannabis harvest, with an estimated production valued at $13.8 billion. Pot activists have used these statistics to highlight the commerical viability of the plant as well the ineffectiveness of the "War on Drugs".

Our economy would receive a significant boost if pot were legalized and taken off the black market. State governments could regulate and tax it, using the money to fund schools and infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, our federal government seems intent on escalating a costly, and deeply flawed campaign against "illegal drug use". Marijuana is a far less harmful drug than many legal drugs on the market today like alcohol, tobacco, ADD Medication such as Adderall and Ritalin(legalized speed for children), and anti-anxiety pills like Xanax and Valium. All of the drugs I have just listed have an extremely high potential for abuse, and tobacco and alcohol have cost our health care system millions of dollars. Nobody has ever died from a marijuana overdose and there have been many well documented medicinal benefits from occasional use.

When I look at the War on Drugs and the current debacle in Iraq, I can't help but see some disturbing parallels. In both situations, our government has displayed an alarming resistance to using logic and factual evidence to make sensible policy decisions. Instead, U.S. policy makers choose to funnel obscene amounts of taxpayer money into funding crusades that they have no hope of ever winning. The Iraq War and the War on Drugs have been abject failures, and I believe it is time for our leaders to reassess their broken policies and stop wasting our money.

Prohibition has been historically ineffective; just look at the results of the ban on alcohol during the 1920's. Our government realized then that they were spending too much money on trying to ban a substance that was simply too popular and widely distributed. The same is true for marijuana today. The public's attitude towards pot has softened in recent years, especially in California. The San Francisco Police Department recently made busting pot users one of their lowest priorities, essentially making cannabis all but legal. A few years ago, members of the city government were even considering purchasing land within San Francisco County to be used for marijuana cultivation. Santa Cruz attempted to legalize pot a few years back but the federal government immediately intervened and stopped the process. Do policymakers that reside 3,000 miles away really have a clear picture of what is good for Californians? Probably not.

I am a strong suppporter for the legalization of marijuana. I don't believe that making it available for legal consumption would degrade or harm our society and I highly doubt we would see a spike in usage. Many people try pot and don't like it. Most adults who smoke pot are intelligent, hard working members of our society who don't deserve to be treated like criminals. There are far more pressing problems facing our federal government right now; global warming, terrorists, globalization, health care, etc. Why are they wasting our money on a drug policy that has been proven over and over again to be ineffective?

Monday, January 15, 2007


I've been noticing that minimal techno is steadily gaining popularity with the dance crowd in San Francisco. Techno has long been lurking in the shadows of House-saturated San Francisco and I'm glad to see a new sound win some acceptance with the locals. I went to the last Kontrol party at the End-Up and it was jam packed and crackin'. The Kontrol guys made a smart decision in moving the monthly party to the End-Up; the sound system is excellent and there is more room to accommodate the growing minimal scene. Nikola Baytala ripped it up last week, this guy always brings a lot of energy to the dancefloor and clearly has a lot of passion for what he does. Matthew Dear played a solid set of his own material with Ableton Live although he lost the crowd a little bit during the second half of his set.

It's nice to see some other crews bring in some quality overseas talent. Beatdr_p recently brought out Pheek from Montreal in November, and are throwing events featuring Miskate and Butane in February. Butane made some dope records last year and Miskate is a great DJ... these events are not to be missed. There's also a new techno weekly at 111 Minna appropriately named "Fukwerk". Minimal is a great sound, I find that a lot of people who normally wouldn't be into dance music can groove to this music. I urge all of you to check out the next Kontrol party and the Beatdr_p events.


P.S. Check out my minimal mix at the bottom of the page.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Tidal Energy

There is an abundant source of renewable energy beneath the Golden Gate Bridge that could theoretically generate enough electricity to power the whole city of San Francisco. Last year there was much discussion about the possiblity of harnessing the power of the tides that flow in and out of the bay in order to provide power to the City. One company estimates that those waters could generate 1,000 MW, which would be more than enough to satisfy San Francisco's power needs.

How exactly is tidal energy possible? Tidal power is achieved by capturing the energy contained in moving water mass. Two types of tidal energy can be extracted: kinetic energy of currents between ebbing and surging tides and potential energy from the difference in heigh between high and low tides. One method of extracting this energy is by constructing a barrage and creating a tidal lagoon. The barrage traps a water level inside the basin. Head is created when the water level outside of the basin or lagoon changes relative to the water level inside. The head is used to drive turbines. In any design this leads to a decrease of tidal range inside the basin or lagoon, implying a reduced transfer of water between the basin and the sea. This reduced transfer of water accounts for the energy produced by the scheme. The largest such installation has been working on the Rance river (France) since 1967 with an installed (peak) power of 240 MW, and an annual production of 600 million kWh (about 68 MW average power).

Tidal power has an efficiency rating of about 80%, which compares favorably to other renewable energy sources like solar power. However, this is one drawback to using tidal power; it doesn't produce energy 24 hours a day. As the tidal cycle is based on the period of rotation of the Moon (24.8 hours) and the demand for electricity is based on the period of rotation of the earth (24 hours), the energy production cycle will not always be in phase with the demand cycle. Another potential problem is that bulidng power turbines or dams beneath the water sometimes causes damage to the marine habitat.

Despite these drawbacks, I feel that tidal power is an exciting possibility that should be further explored. The San Francisco Bay is considered by many energy specialists to be one of the best sources of tidal energy in the world. The main problem that faces a project like this is one that usually hampers any effort to pursue alternative energy... a lack of funds. The city government of San Francisco is hesitant to provide funding to a project like this due to concerns of cost overruns and construction management issues. Private companies, such as Hydroventuri, have expressed interest but have so far been unable to come up with the necessary money.

It is unfortunate that private and public leaders cannot work together to reach a solution for getting this project up and running. A little bit of government spending could go a long way in stimulating some progress here but the issue has been tossed off to the side. I think our leaders should take some chances and start considering ways to fund this project. We have excellent source of renewable energy right at our fingertips and it is time to start using it to provide a cleaner future for our society.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jonathan Weiner

Jonathan Weiner is a Brooklyn based artist who's been creating some great pieces as of late. His work always has a great mix of colors and the facial expressions on his characters always manage to convey a lot of emotion. I like the semi-cartoony look of his drawings and the dreamlike quality. Fecal Face has an interesting interview with him on their site.

Also, check out his website.

Music 2006: My Half-Assed Overview

"So what kind of music do you like?" "Um... well you know... a little bit of everything." If that sounds like the start of many conversations you've had this year about music, you're definitely not alone. It is fairly hard not to have eclectic tastes these days (although many people manage to pull this off) because of the abundancy of cheap (and free) download sites on the Internet and the ever-present file sharing services. As a result of all this, the market for music has splintered into many different pieces, with an increasing amount of artist opting to distribute their work themselves over the Internet.

There are definitely some genres that are more popular that others. In San Francisco, most young music fans are either into hip-hop, indie rock, or a combination of the two. In the hip-hop world, Hyphy was all the rage this year (at least in the Bay Area), but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get it. The beats are too cheesy for my tastes, and I can't relate to any of the lyrics.

Hipsters multiplied like rabbits this year and so did indie bands.

Electronic music remained in the ghetto this year, although some electro groups like the Knife and Junior Boys managed to achieve some cross-over success. Minimal house was huge this year... over in Europe. However, there is a burgeoning scene here in San Francisco. The monthly Kontrol parties brought in some great artists like Modeselektor, Akfuen, and Isolee. The Burning Man dance scene is poppin'. There are a lot of cheesy breaks DJ's around right now, but there are a few artists that are absolutely killing it. Tipper, The Glitch Mob, Bill Bless, Kraddy, and Ooah The Mad Turntablist all put out some excellent work this year. Glitch breaks is a sound to look for in 2007.

I'm obviously over-simplifying things here, but to accurately cover all of the new developments in music this year would require at least a ten page paper, time I don't have. I thought 2006 was a great year for music. Many music critics have called it a "lean year"... but when don't they say that? Anyways, here are ten albums I really liked this year.

1. Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds
2. Vorpal- Digressions
3. Owusu & Hannibal- Living With Owusu & Hannibal
4. Orla Wren- Buttefly Wings Make
5. Califone- Roots and Crowns
6. Hot Chip- The Warning
7. Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
8. Clark- Body Riddle
9. Bonnie Prince Billy- The Letting Go
10. My My- Songs For The Gentle

Albums I've Been Diggin'...

Vorpal- Digressions

Vorpal is an electronic music artist that lives in Montreal. I stumbled across this album when I was shopping on the emusic website a few weeks ago. I have never heard of him before and this is his debut album. This is pretty amazing stuff; I like nearly every track off this album, which is a rarity for me these days. It all flows together nicely and he touches on a few different styles of electronic music from skittering, hyperspeed drum and bass (similar to Aphex Twin and Squarepusher), to downtempo grooves with live drums. He infuses melody into a few tracks like Jessica In The Sky With Diamonds, which has a nice piano line that floats softly over the aggressive drums. His tracks tend to take a lot of twists and turns and, unlike a lot of electronic artists, manages not to stick with just one loop for a whole song. Check this guy out if you're in the mood to hear something different and challenging.

Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds

If you can get past the questionable title, this is an awesome album. Final Fantasy is the brainchild of Owen Pallet, a musician who serves as a touring member for the Arcade Fire and the Hidden Cameras. He goes in quite a different direction here, these songs are basically classical music pieces infused with a modern rock aesthetic. The instrumentation is excellent and the songs are extremely well structured. He sings with real passion and his lyrics are clever and funny. Mr. Pallet is an amazing talent and I highly recommend this album.

Superthriller- #1

Superthriller is a fun, dance-rock/electronic group from the UK. They sound a little like Prince mixed up with the weird humor of Ween. I like a lot of the grooves on this album and the singer doesn't have a whiny, annoying voice like a lot of other singers in current dance-rock bands. The album is pretty varied, there are several acoustic interludes and the whole project flows well. Some of the songs made me laugh pretty hard like "Idiot" where the singer complains about handicapped people who act like assholes ("just because you've only got one leg, don't mean you have to be an idiot"). Good stuff.

You can find all these albums on eMusic. It's a pretty cool website, for ten bucks a month you get 40 downloads, and for 5 bucks you can add another ten downloads. There's lots of excellent indie rock, hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music on the site and their library keeps getting bigger.

Tiffany Bozic

I LOVE Tiffany Bozic's work. Her compositions have an organic, flowing quality to them and are quite psychedelic. Surrealism for the 21st century.

"Rockism" And Electronic Music

I was leafing through a SPIN magazine the other week and I came across an article written by Douglas Wolk entitled "Thinking About Rockism" (you can read the article here). I found it to be a fascinating article mainly because it put a name on an bias that I have noticed in popular music criticism for many years.

The following definition is from wikipedia:

"The term "Rockism" is an ideology of popular music criticism, originating in the British music press in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The fundamental tenet of rockism is that some forms of popular music, and some musical artists, are more authentic than others. More specifically, authentic popular music fits the rock and roll paradigm; it is made using the basic rock instrumentation of guitars, bass guitars and drums, and fits the structures of a rock and roll song". You can read the rest of the article here.

The debate over rockism has been raging within music geek circles for quite some time now. It is a somewhat confusing discussion because the term has also been applied to broader social contexts outside of the music sphere. Many critics have framed the debate in terms of race: the heterosexual white male "rockists" on one side and minority and homosexual "anti-rockists" on the other. Some music historians cite the vicious disco backlash of the late 70's and early 80's as an example of the white male "establishment" trying to stamp out a scene and a style of music that they didn't agree with.

While I don't equate disliking certain types of music with being a racist, I do think there is validity in some of the arguments put forth by proponents of the rockism theory. The main part of the theory that I agree with is the assertion that many popular music critics tend to review albums based on the criteria they would use to review a rock album. This is obvious when you read reviews or opinions on electronic music.

Many American music critics and fans are quick to discredit modern electronic music, particularly genres that emerged out of the rave scene like drum and bass, techno, house, breaks, trance, etc. Electronic music, dance or experimental, has never been able to gain a solid foothold in America despite being widely accepted in other parts of the world. One of the reasons for this is because most American critics refuse to validate the electronic music on its own terms. It is always unfairly compared to rock or is considered to be a bastard child of hip-hop and turntablism. The experience of going to an electronic music show is very different than going to see a rock band perform. Judging a performance or an album by a DJ or a producer using the criteria you would use to rate a band is lazy and uninformed.

There are a lot of talented artists making some amazing electronic music these days. It is unfortunate that many of them are unable to gain acceptance and recognition in America. Once people are introduced to quality electronic music on a more consistent basis, I think the public's perception of the genre will change.

We need more fesitvals like these in our country:
Sonar Festival
The Melt Festival
Norberg Festival

Digital DJ's

You may have been dancing at a club recently and noticed that the DJ was using CD's and a Laptop instead of vinyl. What was once taboo has now become commonplace in many clubs around the world. The popularity (and cheapness) of digital files have pushed more and more DJ's into the digital realm. Software programs like Traktor, Serato Scratch, and Ableton Live allow DJ's to do away with lugging around heavy record bags and also open up a host of creative options for those looking to make an artistic statement with their sets. With Ableton Live ( the program I use), you can create loops in real time, add effects, and layer several different tracks all at once. The program keeps the tempo locked, allowing for more control over cutting up tracks, setting EQ parameters, and adding in live instrumentation or scratching. You don't use turntables in Ableton, everything is controlled through the program. Serato Scratch emulates a traditional vinyl setup, the program comes with two specially encoded pieces of vinyl that allow users to manipulate the digital files with a turntable. Sound quality isn't a problem in either of the programs if you use Wav files instead of MP3's.

There are many DJ's who believe that using anything besides vinyl records consitutes "fake" DJing and are openly hostile to those who choose to play with digital formats. Critics point out that some of the programs (Traktor and Ableton) auto-beatmatch tracks, a feature they feel takes away a lot of the skill involved in playing a good DJ set. Many DJ's simply love the tactile feel of manipulating a vinyl record and are uncomfortable moving on to a more cerebral set up like Ableton Live. Others love the "warm" sound of vinyl and insist that nothing sounds better.

I have decided to cross the digital divide and couldn't be happier. Vinyl is expensive, a pain in the ass to store, and limiting. I respect people that still use it, but am getting annoyed by trash-talking purists who refuse to accept or try out new ways of doing things. Using Ableton Live has allowed me to get much more creative with my mixing and I can focus more programming a good set and playing good music... which is what really matters on a dancefloor.

Check out some of these programs:

Serato Scratch
Traktor DJ

Jeff Soto

Here's another artist I found on Fecal Face. He started writing graffiti when he was 15 and you can see the influences from that in his latest work here (look at the way the thought bubbles are drawn). I like this guy's work; it's clean, psychedelic/surreal, and holds my attention.

Check out his website.

Concept Art

A friend of mine who goes to Expression College over in Emeryville recently turned me onto a very cool digital art website called Concept Art. If you're into science fiction art or anime, this website will keep you occupied for a while. Concept Art also offers excellent opportunities for artists to display their, network, and even sort through job listings. It is a really well organized website with some amazing work... I urge all of you to give it a look.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

2 New DJ Mixes From... Me

Here are two new mixes from Xander (me). The first mix, Minimize, is a collection of minimal house tracks and the second mix, All Glitched Out, is a glitch breaks mix similar in style to Tipper. I hope you enjoy them both.


1. Phil Parnell- Do Your Living In The Night
2. Herbert- Leave Me Now
3. Liebe Ist Cool- Regenbogen
4. Marc Romboy- The Alchemist
5. Stratos- Hole In A Red Nose
6. Marc Houle- Black Jack 13
7. Format B- Knarzer Roller
8. Daso- Daybreak (Jona Remix)
9. Sleeper Thief- Full Of You
10. Bobby Peru- Erotic Discourse
11. Robag Wruhme- Hugendubel
12. Pink Elln & Bucci- Mavis 350
13. Morgan Geist- Chinatown
14. Liebe Ist Cool- Fur Dich

Download here

All Glitched Out

1. Si Begg- Trigger
2. Dicrylium- Nu DBX
3. Synapse- Mid-Range Trauma
4. Ed Chamberlain- Sky Face
5. Volsoc- Jrumn
6. Bass Kittens- Beside
7. Ed Chamberlain- Cakey Boots
8. Volsoc- Try To Save Your Song
9. Bass Kittens vs. Single Cell Orchestra- Easy Money
10. Jason Sparks- Gangsters (Si Begg Remix)
11. Rauschwerk- Electronic Unit Plug

Download here