About Tyler

Geographer who likes comedy and records and probably you.

Another Sonic Sunday (Clips)

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Very Be Careful live in Los Angeles (12/28/19)

Welcome to my new weekly column experiment, Sonic Sunday, where I’ll be posting some items of relevance over the previous week. I thought about posting these on Monday mornings, but Sonic Sunday just sounded better, and I imagine people have more time to browse the web today.

Anyway…

  • BiG MiSTAKE
    Big Mistake (stylized as ‘BiG MiSTAKE’) were a ska/punk/pop/hardcore band from New Britain, CT, active between the mid-80’s and mid-90’s. I was too young to see them play during their heyday, but I recently discovered a website one of their members set up to archive their history as a band. If you’re interested in what may be the single most insane story I’ve read about indie band life before the internet, check out the story behind their single full-length album, i.
  • Very Be Careful
    I spent the holidays in Los Angeles this year, and a close Angeleno friend brought me over to Silverlake to see the local cumbia group Very Be Careful. I could think of fewer experiences more quintessentially “LA.” It gave me hope to see such a party happening in Silverlake, which, on the surface, appears to have completely fallen to the hipsters years ago. VBC have been performing locally since 1997 and touring internationally as often as they could pull it together. You can read more about their history at their website here.
  • IASPM
    Of all the academic organizations I fell into in 2019, IASPM is the greatest. They circulated some new CFPs, one of which was for a conference on Music in the Spanish Civil War. Neat.
  • Brain/Salad Comic
    Popula has emerged as one of my favorite newer opinion sites on the web. Politics aside, they provide cogent analyses that are meant to be read and finished and thought about and discussed. Jef Harmatz wrote a great comic, inspired by Derf’s Trashed (which I include as required reading in my Intro to Environmental Studies course), that breaks down the dilemma every environmentally conscious person goes through when they think about the footprint of their eating habits. Subscription may be required.
  • Vinyl Rants
    If anybody here is interested in such things, I posted some thoughts over on Instagram about recent reissues by The Wedding Present and Paul Westerberg.

Have a great week, and Happy New Year!

The Decade in Music

In case anybody cares…. [deep breath]:

SonicGeography: 10 Favorite Records of the Decade

MY 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE 2010’S

  1. Mrs. Magician – Strange Heaven (2011, Swami)
  2. Turnover – Peripheral Vision (2015, Run for Cover)
  3. Daddy Issues – Deep Dream (2017, Infinity Cat)
  4. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want (2018, Ipecac)
  5. Suede – Night Thoughts (2016, Warner Music UK)
  6. Touché Amoré – Stage Four (2016, Epitaph)
  7. Makthaverskan – II (2015, Run for Cover)
  8. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012, Top Dawg)
  9. Rival Schools – Pedals (2010, Photo Finish)
  10. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (2012, Fool’s Gold)

(And While We’re Here… my REDUX Top Ten Albums of the Century)

  1. Good Luck – Into Lake Griffy (2008, No Idea)
  2. The Twilight Singers – Blackberry Belle (2004, One Little Indian)
  3. Frodus – And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea (2001, Fueled by Ramen)
  4. Blur – Think Tank (2003, EMI)
  5. Mrs. Magician – Strange Heaven (2012, Swami)
  6. Turnover – Peripheral Vision (2015, Run for Cover)
  7. The Ergs! – dorkrockcorkrod (2004, Whoa Oh)
  8. Piebald – We Are the Only Friends That We Have* (2002, Big Wheel Recreation)
  9. Sondre Lerche – Faces Down (2002)
  10. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound* (2008, SideOneDummy)
*This album was released between 2000-2009 but did not appear on my ’25 Albums of the Decade’ list in 2009. I love it now, though.

60 TOP SONGS OF THE DECADE

(Arbitary Rules: One Song per Artist, Nothing from my Top 10 Albums. I linked a bunch of them but I got tired, and I have confidence your collective ability to google.)

  1. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl” (2016)
  2. Robyn – “Dancing on my Own” (2010)
  3. BIG HUGE – “Carnal Pleasure” (2015)
  4. Taylor Swift – “Style” (2014)
  5. Basement – “Crickets Throw Their Voice” (2011)
  6. Ash – “Annabel” (2018)
  7. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Your Type” (2015)
  8. PUP – “DVP” (2016)
  9. The Arcade Fire – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” (2010)
  10. The Smith Street Band – “Ducks Fly Together” (2013)
  11. Future Islands – “Vireo’s Eye” (2010)
  12. Swearin’ – “Just” (2012)
  13. Blur – “Ong Ong” (2015)
  14. Bob Bucko Jr. – “Heavenly Routine” (2015) – top instrumental
  15. Ex-Gold – “I’m a Man” (2014 technically)
  16. The Varsity Weirdos – “No Life on Planet Mars” (2015)
  17. Ex Hex – “Waterfall” (2014)
  18. White Reaper – “Pills” (2014)
  19. Teenage Bottlerocket – “They Call Me Steve” (2015)
  20. Suede – “It Starts and Ends with You” (2013)
  21. Gorillaz – “On Melancholy Hill” (2010)
  22. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg” (2010)
  23. Merchandise – “True Monument” (2014)
  24. Aesop Rock – “Kirby” (2016)
  25. Direct Hit! – “Werewolf Shame” (2012)
  26. Radon – “Headaches and Bullshit” (2017)
  27. Kanye West – “Runaway” (2010)
  28. Foxing – “The Medic” (2013)
  29. Billy Cobb – “1955” (2018)
  30. Smidley – “Power Word Kill” (2017)
  31. ALVVAYS – “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” (2018)
  32. The Gaslight Anthem – “’45” (2012)
  33. Kacey Musgraves – “Space Cowboy” (2018)
  34. Jason Derulo – “Want to Want Me” (2015)
  35. Loud Boyz – “4 the Ladies” (2014)
  36. Nothing – “Blue Line Baby” (2018)
  37. Pinback – “Proceed to Memory” (2012)
  38. Mogwai – “We’re Not Done (End Title)” (2018)
  39. Royal Headache – “High” (2016)
  40. Saves the Day – “Beyond All of Time” (2013)
  41. Alex Cameron – “Candy May” (2017)
  42. FIDLAR – “No Waves” (2013)
  43. Paramore – “Rose Colored Boy” (2017)
  44. Teenage Exorcists – “Love Buzz” (2010)
  45. Danny Brown ft. Purity Ring – “25 Bucks” (2014)
  46. Drug Church – “Tillary” (2018)
  47. Against Me! – “Crash” (2016)
  48. Walter Schriefels – “Open Letter” (2010)
  49. The Rentals – “It’s Time to Come Home” (2015)
  50. Sorority Noise – “No Halo” (2017)
  51. Weezer – “California Kids” (2016)
  52. The Sidekicks – “Everything in Twos” (2014)
  53. AJJ – “Kokopelli Face Tattoo” (2014)
  54. Plow United – “Bright Eyes” (2016)
  55. Cullen Omori – “Cinnamon” (2016)
  56. American Football ft. Hayley Williams – “Uncomfortably Numb” (2019)
  57. Hot Chip – “One Life Stand” (2010)
  58. Tender Defender – “FEFE” (2015)
  59. Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better” (2015)
  60. Post Malone – “Sunflower” (2018)

TEN BEST LIVE PERFORMANCES I SAW THIS DECADE

  1. Davila 666 (Alex’s Bar, Long Beach, 09/09/11)
  2. Lipstick Homicide (Media Club, Vancouver, 07/20/13)
  3. VOIID (The Tote, Melbourne, 7/13/19)
  4. King Kong (The Pilot Light, Knoxville, 11/12/2016)
  5. Merchandise (Ace of Cups, Columbus, 6/7/2013)
  6. Direct Hit! (Surprise Gig, Allston, MA, 4/6/17)
  7. The Dismemberment Plan Weekend (Washington, DC, Jan. 2011)
  8. Mdou Moctar (The Pilot Light, Knoxville, 1/13/19)
  9. Hot Chip (Coachella, April 2013)
  10. Ex Hex (Athens PopFest, May 2018)

THREE FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS

Dan Deacon – ‘True Thrush’ (2012)

Suede – ‘Life is Golden’ (2018)

Julien Baker – ‘Sprained Ankle’ (2015)

 

 

 

The City is an Open Score (Crafting a Sonic Urbanism, Paris 2019)

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Hey, I’m back. I also gave no real indication that I was gone, since finals made that fairly difficult. I’ve also been working on my end-of-decade music lists, which I’ll post here next Monday. A lyric in one of my top 10 records of the decade says, “the city is an empty glass,” but this week’s retrospective says that “the city is an open score.”

Last week, I was privileged to join Theatrum Mundi for their annual Crafting a Sonic Urbanism conference at EHESS (Campus Condorcet) in Aubervilliers (Paris) on Friday. It was exactly what one would want out of a conference: laid-back, collegial, thoughtful, and concluded with a mind-melting talk by Saskia Sassen.

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Saskia Sassen at EHESS (Aubervilliers, France 13.Dec.2019)

At the beginning of my talk, I cited a portion of my 2016 interview with Ian MacKaye where he reflected on Fugazi’s success in France. He said (to paraphrase) that he felt like the French and some other European punks had a certain appreciation for what artists were doing outside of the capitalist paradigm of production, and that finding that appreciation for your efforts was simply a universal human desire. For similar reasons, I appreciated the opportunity to present my research across the pond.

Theatrum Mundi have no qualms about pushing various envelopes, drawing heavily on abstract thought and experimental art to propose new ideas or ways of thinking about landscape. Even if some of it went over my head (especially as a ostensible non-musician), everyone there was eager to learn from one another. I was grateful to be able to join some of the conference family on Thursday for a “Scoring the City” workshop:

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Scoring the City workshop, Porte de la Chapelle (12.Dec.2019)

The main colloquium on Friday ran from 9.30 until 17.00, with Dr. Sassen’s presentation ending the evening at 20.00 (I’m still somewhat on the 24-hour clock). I was introduced to several musical experiments, thought exercises, and moments in sonic political history, among the most notable being Lin Chi-Wei’s Tape Music (Jonathan Packham) and Ella Finer’s discussion of the use of vocal noise at the 1982 Greenham Common protests. It was also my first bilingual conference, including a handful of talks and presentations in French. I wish my French comprehension were better, but it forced me to practice, at least.

While I was in town, I also had the chance to catch up with a pair of my top Capitals of Punk informants (though of course I won’t play favorites). With new things coming for the book and the greater surrounding project in 2020, it was rewarding to hear more stories and approach future collaborations that may actually bring me back to Paris before too long.

I’ve also been fortunate to experience Paris in moments of political upheaval: one was an isolated incident (anti-austerity, Greek solidarity protests in July 2015) and the other was a protracted mass-scale industrial action this past month. Due to the strikes, almost all of the Metro lines were closed or profoundly compromised, and the (limited) buses were rolling sardine cans:

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Still, save for a handful of participants who had difficulty making it into Paris from elsewhere in France (the SNCF was on strike as part of the greater grève), the Sonic Urbanism conference went off without a hitch and I was able to get around the city and Ile-de-France with little incident. I joked with one friend that being an American used to relying on public transit in a variety of cities back home had prepared me for bad public transit. Even on Paris’ worst day, it was still not that bad, comparatively. I did not come across any protests around Les Halles, but I did not spend too much time down around there. The footage from cities like Bordeaux on the news every night was pretty harrowing, though, and it was a welcome change to see protesters presented in a marginally positive (or at least objective) light on a National platform, which is more than can be said for most any 24-hour American news outlet.

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Paris, December 2019

All that being said, and despite how lovely France was in the Holiday Season, I’m grateful to be back in the States. 2019 was an amazing year for me. Cumulatively, I spent over a month of it overseas, and coupled with an affiliation switch and big move, suffice it to say I’m still exhausted as I write this. It’s a good exhausted, however, and I’m eager to relax over the Holidays and return to Central Michigan in 2020 with a head full of steam.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support through this past year! To you and yours, I wish you:

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Mantes-la–Jolie, Île-de-France (December 2019)

 

A Pair of Geography Playlists for your Monday

Happy Monday, and Happy Finals Week (depending on where you are) everyone. I’ve been fortunate to bring some fun subjects into what’s normally a stressful time for students and faculty alike.

My Globalization class (GEO 121) submitted their 4th paper, which required that they pick a song and pick apart its geographical references. My North American regional class (GEO 350) had a group zine semester project, which they are just submitting today. One group, who focused mainly on the American Southeast, did a zine devoted to music and region. Despite their thwarted attempts to burn a mix CD, they were still able to share their playlist with the class, which I’m passing along here.


GEO 121 Musical Geography Paper Class Playlist

  1. King 180 – ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Back Again’
  2. Sufjan Stevens – ‘Oh Detroit, Life Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
  3. Jason Aldean – ‘Crazy Town’
  4. Gordon Lightfoot – ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’
  5. Rise Against – ‘Help is On the Way’
  6. Kid Rock – ‘All Summer Long’
  7. Toto – ‘Africa’
  8. John Denver – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’
  9. The Kinks – ‘Waterloo Sunset’
  10. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’
  11. Nelly – ‘King’s Highway’
  12. The Manao Company – ‘Drop Baby Drop’
  13. Men at Work – ‘Down Under’
  14. Eminem, Royce da 5’9″, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, Trick Trick – ‘Detroit vs. Everybody’
  15. U2 – ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’
  16. Logic – ‘Everybody’
  17. Lynyrd Skynyrd – ‘Sweet Home Alabama’
  18. Ray Charles – ‘Georgia on my Mind’
  19. We are the World 25 for Haiti
  20. The Hold Steady – ‘Confusion in the Marketplace’
  21. Arkells – ‘Michigan Left’
  22. Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett – ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’
  23. Highly Suspect – ‘Serotonia’
  24. The Specials – ‘Ghost Town’
  25. Jason Aldean – “Fly Over States’
  26. Shakira – ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’
  27. The HU – ‘Wolf Totem’
  28. OutKast – ‘ATLiens’
  29. Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Especially in Michigan’
  30. Panic! at the Disco – ‘Vegas Lights’
  31. Kid Rock – ‘Detroit, Michigan’
  32. Drake – ‘Know Yourself’
  33. John Denver – ‘Rocky Mountain High’
  34. Jim Jones ft. Fat Joe – ‘NYC’
  35. ‘Tear Me Down’ from “Hedwig & the Angry Inch”
  36. Tony Bennett – ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’
  37. Jack White – ‘Just One Drink’
  38. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – ‘Empire State of Mind’

GEO 350 Group Project Playlist

  1. OutKast – “Ms. Jackson” (oooooh)
  2. Lil’ Jon – “Snap Yo Fingers”
  3. Wes Montgomery – “West Coast Blues”
  4. Blind Blake – “West Coast Blues”
  5. Blind Willie McTell – “Statesboro Blues”
  6. Mississippi Fred McDowell – “You Gotta Move”
  7. Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places’
  8. Johnny Cash – “Ring of Fire”
  9. Randy Travis – “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  10. Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World”
  11. Nina Simone – “Backlash Blues” (Live at Montreaux 1976)
  12. Nina Simone – “Backlash Blues”
  13. Joe Hertler (CMU alum) & the Rainbow Seekers – “Evening Coffee’
  14. The Velvet Monkeys – “The Creeper”
  15. Scream – “Caffeine Dream”
  16. Fugazi – “Waiting Room”
  17. Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
  18. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Sweet Home Alabama”
  19. The Allman Brothers – “Midnight Rider”

UTK Mic Nite Talk on Symbolic Gentrification (Video)

 

For some reason, I was never notified that the video of my UTK Mic Nite talk last Fall was available online. Because it has been online, for almost a full year. Anyway, here it is, in all its glory. I hope you find it well worth your 7 minutes.

Ben Irving Postcards in Chicago (Part One)

From what I understand, Chicago developed its nickname “The Windy City” from it’s reputation of spurious, silver-tongued politicians ‘blowing wind’ for their constituents, so to speak. Of course, people still largely take the nickname literally, because Chicago is windy, and if you’re there at the right time of year, so, so icey. It’s like sticking your face in a freezer that Frigidaire recalled for being TOO COLD.

For this reason, on top of dozens of others I could list at a moment’s notice, I absolutely love Chicago. Like most of the Midwest, the unforgiving cold keeps the dilettantes away, which is fine. More rare vinyl, delicious Polish food and deep-dish cheesy-tomato pie (they call it “pizza,” which isn’t accurate, but I’ll allow it) for me. Until late last year, I had never been to Chicago during the cold season; I’d visited a few times during the summer, and once for a typically memorable AAG meeting in April 2015.

Until last week, however, I hadn’t gone to Chicago with any of the Ben Irving Postcards. At least, I hadn’t made any excursions to find the places they depicted. Before my train left Union Station to head back to Lansing, I had time to make two stops, which I had planned meticulously to lead me back to the Loop. The first was a stop-off in Uptown and the second was located downtown, tucked right inside the loop track on Wabash Ave.


The Sheridan Plaza Hotel (1942) and Apartments (2019)

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In a few recent cases, I’ve lucked into staging repeat postcard photos miraculously close to the anniversary of the date which Irving mailed them. This was not one of those cases. He mailed this one (above) on the evening of July 13, 1942, commenting that he was “sweating like [he] were in a shower.” That’s rich, considering how my right hand went numb to get this photo. Don’t ever say I don’t make sacrifices for my art.

EPSON MFP image

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Like many of the hotels featured in the Ben Irving archive, the Sheridan transformed into private residences. It shut down as a hotel in 1974 after over 50 years of operation and became private residences by 1983. A decade ago, the Horizon Realty group bought the building for $10 Million and started refurbishing it back to “its Jazz Age luster,” as Chicago Magazine wrote. The Terra Cotta sculptures were cracking and falling off the building over the course of the prior ten years. I can’t find any direct sources on what happened to the residents when the bank foreclosed on it, but it probably wasn’t pretty. Oddly, the Jazz Age Chicago WP site never got around to elegizing the building.

EDIT: I did find this site, which gives a bit more detail into the building’s history and situation as an anchor of sorts in the Uptown district.

Because there isn’t much detailed information on the Hotel (at least, which I’ve been able to find in the limited time I have to write this), I have no idea what those pillar-like objects are on top of the postcard illustration. They don’t look like Terra Cotta designs. Either way, they’re gone today, along with those two gigantic apocryphal flags that the artist probably added, along with their inventive perspective on the building. It does appear that, even in 1942, most of the street-level spaces were commercial enterprises, with an awning leading guests into the hotel on the Wilson Avenue side. The sidewalk is also noticeably bigger (much bigger) in the artistic rendering than in modern reality, though that could also just be artistic license, too. Gone are the light posts and moved are the sidewalk trees (which, granted, were frequently fudged by illustrators to gussy up a street scene for tourist postcards). The second-story window awnings have also gone from a lime green to a navy blue – likely a combination of Horizon Realty’s branding and how it’s just a better color. If you’re looking for a place and can afford about $1,500 per month, they’ve got plenty of openings!

Moving on…


The Empire Room of the Palmer House Hotel (1950/2019)

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Postcard mailed August 1950. Image property of SonicGeography.

Given how vocal I’ve been about the privatization of so many places and spaces featured on antique postcards, it was a welcome relief how open the staff at the Palmer House Hotel keep their crown jewel: the Empire Room.

The Palmer House, being situated right inside the Loop, claims to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in North America. Apparently, the original iteration of the hotel opened on September 26, 1871… and then burned down along with most of the city less than two weeks later. Wow.

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WikiMedia Commons

I walked into the hotel lobby. Maybe it was just poor eye-timing mixed with pessimistic paranoia, but I felt like I got suspicious stares from the hosts in the fancy lobby restaurant. However, after asking a few questions to a concierge around the corner, he told me “oh, the Empire room! Yeah, if there’s nothing going on in there, then you should just be able to walk in, up the stairs on the opposite side of the lobby.”

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I felt a bit of anxiety walking up the steps, almost as if everyone in the lobby momentarily turned to glance at me. I opened the doors, and there it was.

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What a beautiful room. For a brief moment, I felt as if I’d been transported back to 1950, or at least the ending of The Shining.

Here are the postcard image, and 2019 photo juxtaposed:

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The ceiling design, chandeliers, even adornment above the curtains were immaculately maintained. I highly doubt those are the same curtains behind the stage, but they kept the color scheme and general aesthetic the same, too. The obvious changes were as straightforward as they were understandable: the dance floor carpeted over, a higher stage, and the bandstand replaced with a conference table. Also, the 2019 chairs looked comfier than the wartime ones. I have no idea how they got that tuba to levitate back then; I guess WWII was just a strange time.

I realize that the Palmer House postdate (1950) falls outside the time span I advertised on the Instagram (1932-1944), but there are going to be a small handful of outliers. Also, if literally one person cares, I’ll be amazed. Either way, I don’t know why Irving was in Chicago in 1950; all he indicated was that he was going to be there until that Thursday, having mailed the postcard on a Sunday. I had also completely forgotten that the USPS postmarked and shipped stuff on Sundays back then. In fact, this was a few short months after the USPS reduced their deliveries to one per day:

On April 17, 1950, “in the interest of economy,” Postmaster General Jesse M. Donaldson ordered postmasters to limit the number of deliveries in residential sections to one each day. The only change made in business districts in 1950 was that the number of Saturday deliveries would be one fewer than the standard number of weekday deliveries (USPS.com).

Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody! Check back here soon for more high-quality content (by my standards).

Of Course Geography Matters (Nathan Rabin)

There was an instant chemistry between us [strangers at a Phish concert], both because we were fucked up and because we were all from the Midwest. I had once believed that the Internet had rendered geography irrelevant. If you can send ideas and energy out into the world, then why should it matter where you are physically?

That now seems naïve. Of course geography matters. Cities matter. Cities get in your bloodstream. They tell you who you are. They’re in your soul. They define you.

Nathan Rabin, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes. 2013, Scribner.

Really enjoying this book.

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MetroTimes.com