writing about music and movies among other things in hopes of selling ad space in the future or getting a job writing about music and movies among other things

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Maynard James Keenan & Kel

You're welcome. Goodnight.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Luke Grapples with Let's Wrestle

Artist: Let's Wrestle
Album: In the Court of the Wrestling Let's
Label: Merge
Year: 2010

Coming in first place by a long shot for album-title-of-the-year is this young-but-old-souls British band. The album itself, while an enjoyable-enough snark fest with catchy melodies and clever lyrics, unfortunately has catching up to do.

Merge's sticker promises "scuzzy pop genius" on the front of the high-school bad-on-purpose cover of this album. Pop is right on the mark, genius hyperbolic, but the word that sticks out to me is "scuzzy." There is very little that is scuzzy about this band. Even the song "I'm in Love With Destruction," with its chords left ringing and muddy in the bombastic opening, fails to come off as anything but scrubbed clean. Even the voice of singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez, while in the vein of Robert Pollard, sounds more hallowed-halls University chap than drunk hooligan. In "Tanks," though most of it is sung at a holler (much like the rest of the album), the guitar and bass act as a sort of precision instrument with the drums keeping metronomic time. Everything is immaculately placed and not the work of a band who is drunkenly pounding through their songs about love and record collections. Rather, it is the work of a band who has studied being raucous, and has managed to create a worthwhile facsimile of the sound their heroes (presumably Pavement and Half Man Half Biscuit) slammed out in between beers and football matches (respectively).

The single, "We Are the Men You Will Grow to Love," does not sound like a band who is rocking out with great sincerity, warts and all. It is meant to be a blog-bomb-newsfeed-all-your-friends-"liked"-this single. It is self-aware, a tongue-in-cheek mission statement, but all too revealing that this is an indie band who would probably look right at home on the cover of NME. There is very little rawness on display, especially on songs like "Song For Old People," whose sing-along chorus of "doo doo doo" sounds like this may be a group of boys pretty sore that their debut didn't manage to break as big as the Libertines' did.

There are some great tunes here. In "Tanks," while it may not live up to being very genius or scuzzy, its skinny tie precision leads to a very memorably charming pop song. Though a bit cute, lyrics like "Not a fleet of policemen/ or faith or religion could give me the guts to talk to you again" are great moments of the kind of vulnerability that will always make pop enjoyable to people. There are a few other moments this pleasant, though mostly in the first half of the album. Afterwards, some meandering interludes and stabs at far too many facets in a band that seems to only really have the one trick. And lastly, the title track which one would hope could live up to its innate awesomeness. I really hoped the band would try to do their own silly version of King Crimson, a well-thought-out execution of clever, epic, prog-parody pop. Instead I get the rawest, scuzziest jam on the album, something to possibly live up to Merge's high-hopes promotional sticker. Instead, it's the most boring part of the whole thing. The album fizzles out with some kind of Yo La Tengo'd jam to which there seems to be no point. A mission statement of its own, stabbing at epic heights, until finally settling for something mediocre. At least it sounds like they had fun playing it.

Luke reviews the new Menomena

Artist: Menomena
Album: Mines
Label: Barsuk
Year: 2010

The loop software Menomena has used since its inception is an easy element of the band toward which to gravitate for any music writer. It is originally what made them sound so interesting when I first came across a review for their debut. On a recent NPR blurb, the software alone takes up an entire paragraph. And it's taken up one of mine as well, which is interesting because Mines is the first album of theirs' where the last thing I thought about is how they composed and arranged it. How does one of pop's weirdest and most composition-based bands sound when they finally just get together to kick around some riffs? We still may never know, but Mines is a compelling approximation.

With Menomena's second album, Under an Hour (still not off their history yet, sorry), they had recorded music specifically written for a trio of dance pieces. It was interesting, but had the drawback of sounding like what it was: a series of calculated "pieces" by a band whose strength would later prove to be their "songs." With "Taos," the band uses their now-trademark brass punctuations and extensive vocal harmonies in a way that doesn't invade the songspace, but rather enhances Danny Seim's vocals. The main vocal is able to carry cohesively from verse to chorus to bridge while creating an illusion that they're all one single melodic phrase that skitters wildly along one thru-line. The lyric "Now I'm a social pest,/ but not yet willing to put my walls to rest/ till I'm done filling these/ Holes/ I bet I know/ what you like..." for example follows a verse into a chorus within the middle of a sentence. The accomplishment is even more effective because it happens with no pomp whatsoever, quietly existing as an unadorned song writing miracle.

The album is full of these twists on pop theory, and yet none stand out from the songs themselves. They're there if you look for them, an album worth really dissecting if you have a mind to, but ultimately these are big brains more in touch with making a good song. The instrumentation is all top-tier. The rhythmic interplay between the bass and the drums is perfect, the piano is driving and at times gorgeous, the guitar soars over it all crazy and regal at once, but none of them stand out from one another. Everything is to serve the greater good, which in this case means songs that carry you along to various emotional checkpoints of joy and melancholy, which for all their calculated nature still hit hard. These are songs with more emotional heft than usual, songs able to explore and expand not only the limits of musical tradition but of what it is to be a weird complicated human. The sort of sustenance most crave in a band that has so often been described as "pop." In "Tithe," Seims sings in a truly haunted tone about roads that lead nowhere, the rapture, a world in upheaval. All in a constant groove that drives past the melancholy of lines like "Someone retired/ on a percentage/ of the tithe that paved these roads./ They lead to nowhere, but they're still gridlocked made of Solomon's pure gold."

The mash-up here of musical depth as well as raw expression causes one to reminisce on the days when bands like Arcade Fire and TV On the Radio were still members of a "burgeoning" wave of new artists. And yet Menomena has been there with them the whole time. But never quite "there" until now. Ladies and gentlemen, from Portland, Oregon, I'm very pleased to introduce: Menomena.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Luke talks about Austin, TX

I think some day soon I'm going to move to Austin. It's been in my blood my whole life, I feel. The music that has always driven me, as well as the family I love, has always come from Texas, and Austin has always been the epicenter of that energy. I recently wrote about Spoon, who sort of inspired this idea of talking about Austin and Texas in general as a hotbed of important music. So here are some bands I want to follow to the heart of the music I've always loved.

Townes van Zandt has only recently become my Bob Dylan. Dylan once inspired me to use my guitar to not just impress girls but to leave my indelible mark on the world without compromise, but then I discovered Townes. He wrote out of an eternal pain that would never be silenced until his death. But he left a mark of beauty on the world with his songs, that as Steve Earle infamously described outweighed that of Mr. Dylan's. When I listen to Townes I think of the sneers and scoffs from so-called intellectuals when they react to my love of my birthplace of Texas. I think of how misguided and stupid they are. I think of "Rake" and how it defines confessional songwriting for generations a million years from now. Townes is my Hank Williams. Townes is my Bob Dylan. Townes is the father I'll never meet, drunk abusiveness and all.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead:
This band earned acclaim with their album Source Tags & Codes, and then quickly fell into critical damnation with their next two releases. They have always stood firmly as an inspiration for me, however, and with their last release of Century of Self they proved their detractors fools as their epic pop rock structure gave way to a modern opus of discordant rock and roll that showed the world that Muse had no monopoly on Wagnerian-inflected popular music. Their latest track "Isis Unveiled" changed music for the next 10 years even if no one noticed but me.

Butthole Surfers:
These guys are from San Antonio, but are overlooked Texas originals nonetheless. True, Michael Azerrad has already chronicled the importance of this band in his seminal post-punk tome Our Band Could Be Your Life, but the majority of the national public writes this band off as that "band who wrote that song about death in Texas." Well guess what. The Flaming Lips, and all those bands that "play psychedelic music through a modern lens" would not exist without the ever-important late-80s recordings of Butthole Surfers. They created freak culture for the 90s through the 2000s, and the next person that tells me their name is stupid and they only had the one good radio hit in the 90s gets a punch in the jaw. They invented sludge, modern psych, they transcended their hillbilly upbringings and for my money inspired every band worth listening to in our generation. Listen to "John E. Smoke" and if you still think this is a novelty band on par with Weird Al we can part ways right now, Philistine.

I have more bands for you, but this will do for now. Sleep beckons to me, it is a dire mistress and I poetically shall couple with she.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

Luke Reviews the New Spoon Album

Artist: Spoon
Album: Transference
Label: Merge
Year: 2010

I didn't like the last three Spoon albums. At all. I felt like a traitor, watching an Austin band rise to prominence and cursing them in hushed tones. I love the music of Austin, I always will. People from the outlaw capital of the US will always have it tough from the private school elite, and too often have great artists been snubbed simply for being from Texas (i.e. "for being hicks"). Spoon, however, lost what I thought was a really solid edge on their earlier work, 96's Telephono and especially Girls Can Tell. They were always a pop band, I had no problem with that aspect of their work, but they were always coming at it from a garage perspective. They had solid hooks but they made a racket locking into them.

The last three albums sacrificed the punch and focused on the pop, and people were generally thrilled about it, but to me I still think of "I Turn My Camera On" as one of the most monotonous songs of the last decade. So I wasn't thrilled about a new Spoon album coming out. I figured them for more of the same. I am dumb.

The first thing I noticed about Transference is that the production is very hot. Like it sounds like all the instruments are sizzling fat off of meat. There are some very Guided By Voices moments even, certain interludes and vocal passages occasionally sound like they're being done over a telephone only to then punch in at full hi-fi volume with all the meters in the red. The stomp of first single "Written in Reverse" for example is snarling and biting at you the whole way through, with Britt Daniels' howl resonating in you like a starving man breaking down a wall for a plate of raw meat. And this is the single I'm talking about!

On other tracks, the pop sound comes through a bit more, but always with sneering menace. On "Is Love Forever" for example, the guitar could have been stolen from the Strokes in their heyday, but the drums stomp on a seemingly completely different beat from the rest of the song and Daniels' voice is always one step behind. I'm not sure if words can explain it much better than that, but the whole track becomes hallucinatory as it all collides together into one cohesive groove.

Spoon - Is Love Forever

Another standout, my personal favorite track, is "Trouble Comes Running," which starts with the most compression-damaged lo-bit acoustic guitar of all time and then takes off on a drunk gallop. The room hiss, the tinny drums, the overbearing bass, these are elements that hark back to the oldest tricks in the lo-fi garage band's arsenal, and yet with the tight 3-part harmony you realize this is rock and roll tapped directly from the vein of the last decade when rock and roll was truly popular. Bands used to sound pissed off and sexed up all the time back when the Stones and the Who dominated the charts. And they'd still make fat paychecks. Spoon understands, and hopefully they will help others understand, that pop music doesn't need to be watered down. Rock and roll doesn't need to be fabricated.

Spoon - Trouble Comes Running