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

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

Youth In Revolt: Do you like it better as letters or moving pictures?

Sorry for not posting lately. I decided you were getting a bit clingy. I just needed my space. But, now that I feel like you've been ignoring me, I want you back. You look nice, by the way.

The subject du jour is that of Youth In Revolt - Book Vs. Movie, and if you have taken the time to experience both, please grace us with your opinion in the comment box below. But, seeing as I have the floor, I'll proceed with my commentary now.

If my Kevin Bacon connection to Michael Cera were to let him know that I wrote about him, and he does in fact read this very post, let me clarify a few things: I am a fan. I think your( Yes, I am talking directly to you Michael Cera) subtle humor, and what not, is hilarious. I'd even call it laugh out loud funny. And I kid you not; I will go see any movie you are in. For example, I loved Nacho Libre, but that isn't the point. My point is that Cera is the only redeeming quality of the movie, Youth In Revolt. I'll offer a few sentences more about why this is true later.

You know when you read a book and you are like, "Oh Shit yeah!" Well, I kinda had an experience like that with Youth In Revolt. C.D. Payne exceeded my expectations(which is really easy to do - due to globally having low expectations) with this little manic bundle of joy. Wikipedia uses the word "picaresque" to describe the novel, and it is actually quite accurate (Note to self: No need to revise wikipedia entry on Youth In Revolt. Resume editing political views section of Glenn Beck page. Second note: re-check spelling on Fascist).

Youth In Revolt is the collected journals of Nick Twisp. It is 400 and maybe 60-some pages long - just thought you should know that for some reason. But yeah, this book would be hard to translate into a movie. The book is engaging because the reader follows Nick's inner monologue, which is quite devious, lonely, and vulnerable, which I suspect most of our inner thoughts are. If not, I suppose I just said too much about myself :C (is he joking?)

Therein lies the problem with the movie. Because it cannot possibly fit 4?? pages of journals into one movie, the film skips over the touching elements of Nick's life, all the while bastardizing the role of Sheeni, Nick's gf. They chose to portray her as a bitch, which I think is a major affront to Payne's depiction of her character. I am ready to argue this point if there are any takers. Also, the glorious inner monologue was lost, leaving you to simply watch the mundane events that were made brilliant in Nick's journal by his hyperbole and acerbic wit.

So, you might ask, "Why see the movie?" Well, because, it is fun to watch Michael Cera do his thing. He delivers the movie's punch lines well, and his interpretation of Francois Dillinger is really funny. And that is why, dude.

Yeah, that's all.

"I Hate Cynicism" -Conan O'Brien

I'm not going to touch any of the subject matter already blogged to death about the recent NBC Conan fiasco. I'm not even particularly sad because I think Conan will come back and do even greater things. I do want to discuss something he brought up in his final monologue, though, his hatred of cynicism and his Secret-esque advice about having a positive attitude and getting what you want. Here is a link to the full video:


And here's the quote I want to focus on:

All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.

I felt this was a sort of attack on a pocket of his supportive audience that, like me, watched Conan for so many years because we were cynical. Letterman, Leno, they were late night for people who didn't care if their late night laughs had any substance to them. They had big guests and made stupid jokes. Actually, a lot of their material was cynical in a way that made fun of the everyday person, going out on the street to interview people and pull one over on them. Jay's derisive chuckle putting on a show of schadenfreud for an audience who instead of going to bed after the credits roll, might actually watch the following infomercials, credit cards in hand. Conan himself wasn't cynical on the surface, always bubbly and goofy in his demeanor, but his approach to late night has always been a reprieve from the Wal-Mart and Target of late night hosts.

Now to rewind a bit. Let's say Conan hasn't misrepresented himself all these years, maybe I've been wrong in thinking that this is a guy who doesn't mind making fun of television and the stupid horrible things on it (not to mention the stupid horrible things happening in the real world). So let's say Conan doesn't have a cynical cell in his body. It would make perfect sense, what does he have to be cynical about? Since graduating from Harvard he went from Saturday Night Live to the Simpsons to hosting his own show, garnering success wherever he went. I know he's brilliant and I know he had to work hard, but he's also been extremely lucky. Look at his two former writing partners, the equally brilliant Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk. Sure neither of them are starving, but they've been met with constant struggles and failures since their original glory days. Odenkirk, whose Mr. Show basically defined modern sketch comedy, couldn't even get a pilot sold to HBO even with his original partner in tow (David Cross) and even with the success Mr. Show had on the very same channel. So in a way, it would make sense that Conan isn't a cynical person. Amazing things do happen. To some people. They happened to Conan, what about the rest of us? Forgive my cynicism, but we probably won't lead such amazing lives.

Now I understand that cynicism can't lead our every thought without driving us to depression and despair, and I understand that even if our lives don't work out like Conan (i.e. doing what we love and being paid handsomely for it) we can make the best of it. This is a solid, positive message, but it also pays to see the clouds not just for the silver linings. The world will always be polarized into optimists and pessimists, and the cynics will always be needed. In a world without cynicism we wouldn't be able to progress, we would simply be content all the time. We would not have had Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Leonard Cohen, Kurt Cobain, Black Sabbath, punk rock, all these great creative minds and movements whose drive was to push against and to tear down the veil around us all. It does lead somewhere, in those rare glorious instances, cynicism can lead us to the truth. And what's more positive than that?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Non-Hardcore Side of Dischord

OR: Making a Seminal Label's Name Ironic

Luke here, and I want to set punk rock aside for a post. Dischord, founded by Ian MacKaye, is most known for its output of hardcore punk in the late 80s. And I love that stuff. Minor Threat's great, Fugazi's great, blah blah blah. Void is amazing, and if you're into punk and haven't bought a copy of the infamous Faith/Void split, you can get it through Dischord for like 8 bucks on vinyl (with free digital download). But what about the other music Dischord put out? The music that gets written off because maybe it doesn't sound as exciting on first listen, but ultimately influenced how the next 20 years of music would basically play out (hyperbole, yes, but I'm trying to make a point).

Shudder to Think started in the late 80s, and still seem an odd fit for Dischord. They have a sound more akin to later bands like Teenage Fanclub, a sort of smart man's guitar pop with some early signs of grunge. Craig Wedren, the band's leader and vocalist, has a distinctly sweet voice and an obvious background in music composition given away by melodies and harmonies too complex for a garage band. The lyrics temper the sweetness a bit, "Red House" deals with overdoses and their boons and consequences, and more experimental tracks like "Ride That Sexy Horse" bring out a paranoid creepiness that sometimes strains through Wedren's otherwise choirboy-like delivery.

This band acted as a bridge between the gruff violent pop of bands like Hüsker Dü and the more radio-friendly sound that would be taken to the great stages of Lollapalooza by Pearl Jam and others. These strains would later mutate into grunge-influenced pop bands that littered the 90s like Marcy Playground and, more unfortunately, Candlebox. Shudder to Think themselves would eventually sign to a major label and meet semi-success (though most of it critical rather than commercial). Eventually, Wedren would disband STT and focus on a career of composition for TV and film (The State's theme song? Yeah he wrote that.) Oh and he'd later marry the woman from the Cardigans.

Seriously, this band took punk rock to the radio with only a handful of other bands, and they did it without ending up sucking (Evan Dando I'm looking at you).

Shudder to Think - Day Ditty

Shudder to Think - Red House

Seriously listen to the harmonies on "Red House," they're insane. Now these songs exemplify what makes this band sound "so 90s." Lyrically, musically, vocally, they sound like a lot of 90s bands. Trouble with this statement is they did it in the late 80s, setting the benchmark for pretty much everyone who followed after.

Gray Matter were definitely more hardcore than Shudder to Think. Rather than the straight-ahead-no-bullshit hardcore punk though they were early purveyors of the dreaded emotional hardcore label. Moreso than Rites of Spring, I think they nailed the emotional part. And they did it first (granted only by a year).

Partially formed out of the ashes of Iron Cross, a brutish hardcore band that basically broke up because half of their fans were nazis, Gray Matter had a more nuanced sound. While most punk bands used energy and emotion (chiefly anger), Gray Matter channeled their pissed off attitude into more complex songs that made for albums longer than 15 minutes. Simpler was not better for this band, and while hardcore's grease fire was basically burning out, bands like GM, aforementioned Rites of Spring, and other Dischord acts Embrace and One Last Wish were moving into a sound that would last the next couple decades. Gray Matter sort of gets lost in the fray of these bands, considering Rites of Spring and One Last Wish both featured Guy Picciotto and Embrace featured Ian MacKaye, both of whom are much more well known for their work in Fugazi. But in retrospect, Fugazi sounds less like the unexpected punk saviors mantle they've since received than a logical endpoint to a path set by bands like Gray Matter.

Gray Matter - Take it Back

Side note: the rhythm of the verses reminds me of Leonard Cohen's panicked breathless delivery in "Teachers."

Lungfish is an even stranger offshoot of the Dischord tree. First off, I have to thank Andrew for getting me into this band. I still never really listened to them until I saw Dan Higgs, frontman of Lungfish, open solo for The Evens at NYU a couple years back. He was playing banjo, letting loose these bizarre sputterances about the devil and God's outer space origins and everything in between. He would also play the jaw harp like man possessed, speaking through it and spitting great volumes. I immediately picked up as many Lungfish albums as I could the next day.

Lungfish are masters of meditation. Each song is more of a drone, the band locked in an unwavering groove, while their lord of chaos Higgs goes off on whatever plane he's visiting at the time. Dan Higgs, minus the street drugs and generally ignorant/violent demeanor, could and should go down as punk rock's Ol' Dirty Bastard. I mean that as a compliment.

Lungfish unfortunately are a bit of an oddity, not just for Dischord but for music as a whole. First of all, they're from Baltimore. They are the only band signed to Dischord that is not from the D.C. area. Considering Dischord's mission statement, to only release music from their local scenes, this is a bizarre (and wonderful) fluke. Secondly, their influence is not widely heard as are the other bands I've mentioned. Maybe some bands like Les Savy Fav have passively absorbed influence from them (although maybe I'm only thinking that because Tim Harrington looks like a fat Dan Higgs) but for the most part it's very difficult to track Lungfish's DNA through the Musical Gene Pool. It's probably for the best, because what you're left with is a pure core of transcendental music that has since its inception been left undiluted. Here, listen.

Lungfish - Slip of Existence

Lungfish - Sex War

Notice the line "I kill you and you kill me" in that last song. Shakespeare used to use the word "kill" to replace what then would then be the equivalent of "fuck." So Higgs is playing with violence and sex on a Shakespearean and meta level. Pretty smart. I'm pretty smart for catching that though, so let's give credit where credit is due.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Xiu Xiu - Dear God, I Hate Myself

I can't really call this a review, because the album hasn't come out yet, but the new Xiu Xiu leaked and it really sort of brings an endpoint-beginningpoint to the circle of my last 5 years.

I found Xiu Xiu through Fabulous Muscles back in high school. I'd read about them before and had no idea what their sound was or who Jamie Stewart was or any of that. Fabulous Muscles has since been sort of the breakthrough for Xiu Xiu where they started to embrace the idea of being a pop band in spite of themselves. Pop music by people who loved the saccharine-styled mopiness of 80s new wave/popular goth but had no real understanding of how to recreate it. The harsh noise bursts and occasional anguished screams kept it experimental enough, but the melodies and other elements going on under them were what drew me in. I later got into Knife Play, their extremely noise-centric debut but I listened to it maybe half as much.

Fabulous Muscles was a true earmark for this band, brought them tons of new fans and really showed off what they'd been working up toward. Then the next few albums, La Foret and Air Force especially, were good but mostly rehashes of the same material. It sounded like it was trying to be groundbreaking rather than breaking ground. I lost interest. Even though Xiu Xiu in high school had been such a major force in my emotional life (first break-up ever, listened to "I Luv the Valley" a lot like everyone else) and in my musical life (I started to play with sound and lyrics in a way that broke away from what was essentially Bob Dylan and pop-punk influences to really try and craft something people would notice). And while singing pained anthems in my living room while clashing kitchen knives together as if it were a threat to whoever actually listened seemed really important at the time, it just sounds immature now. I realized Xiu Xiu was having the same problems following up Fabulous Muscles. It was just not maturing.

All of a sudden, after I stopped caring, I see a leak over at lucidmedia.blogspot.com for the new Xiu Xiu and best of all, it has a bold whiny title: Dear God, I Hate Myself. Something about the now muscular Jamie Stewart staring you right in the face in stark black and white made me want to hear it. On the cover of Fabulous Muscles he has this very silly pose with a stuffed animal. A joke perhaps about the sadsack vocal delivery, but it rang truer than it needed to.

Now check this out:

He can kick your ass now.

The pain is still there, but the hip-hop font and that glare is telling you that Jamie Stewart is now the gay Henry Rollins. People will get choked out. Now the music itself isn't "tough" or anything, but it is a knock-out (yuk yuk yuk).

The opener, "Gray Death," is like the Pet Shop Boys had a rape baby with Death in June. The depth of the production and songwriting never once shares the shaky stumble of earlier Xiu Xiu, but still drags you caveman-like to all of the twisted places it wants you to experience. While it lacks that brash gusto, it shows that there are more effective ways to get under someone's skin than through simply hacking into it.

Then the sound goes even deeper as Xiu Xiu opts for new lows in volume. On "House Sparrow" the hushed accompaniment makes way for some new highs in Jamie Stewart's dramaqueen intensity. Then it goes into what could arguably be called a "beat." The whole song snakes through the same abrasive flirtations that have always made the band raw and emotional, but held back in a way that finally focuses the violence rather than lets it become the song. Sheer violence just doesn't impress me like it did when I was a raw nerve high school kid who'd never been on anti-depressants yet.

So the circle went like this. It came screaming into existence in high school. I was mad and in agony but I still appreciated beauty and sentimentality. Then Xiu Xiu lost me for a bit by using the very same tricks that made me love them. Now all of a sudden, it's a new decade and Xiu Xiu has accomplished the sound I think they have been trudging towards since their beginning. They have again become an advocating voice in the midst of panic and sadness, however tempered with a practicality that wasn't there before. An impression that maybe nothing is the end, everything is a circle.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January 12, 2001

I love rap. Let me be more specific. I love gangster rap - The rap that talks about selling crack and how hard it was growing up on the streets. There are a lot of amazing lyricists out there and I respect anyone with skills, but when I'm in the mood for rap, I only want to hear about gunplay, selling drugs, ducking the cops, etc. etc. A lot of people argue that it is silly for someone like me(i.e. someone not living the gangster life) to listen to gangster rap because I have nothing in common with the lifestyle but, it is specifically because I don't have anything in common with gangster rap that I love it so much(and I'm already past the stage in my life when I tried identifying with the culture - those who knew me in high school know what I'm talking about). It is with this in mind that I formally submit to you that I will be writing about my love for gangster rap on this blog, and that I hope you enjoy it and come to enjoy their storytelling and clever rhymes as much as I do.

One of the most well known hip hop traditions is battle rapping. Literally field testing your skills against somebody with your ego, your reputation, and in some cases your career on the line. You may have been exposed to this tradition in Eminem's film 8 Mile. More on this subject later.

So what happened 9 years ago today on January 12th, 2001? Roc-A-Fella Records led by Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and Kareem "Biggs"Burke was amassing an army, and were essentially the untouchable label at that point. They had recently signed philly artists Beanie Sigel, Oschino, Omillio Sparks, The Young Gunz (Chris & Neef), Freeway, and Peedi Crakk. They were probably in talks or had already signed The Diplomats which included Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Freekey Zeakey, and Juelz Santana. And they still had the Brooklyn boys who'd been around awhile like Memphis Bleek, and of course Jay-Z.

So, if you were Jay-Z and you knew your label was untouchable, what would you do? Well, I'll tell you what they did. They went to the nearest radio station and got busy bragging about it. And how does one brag about being the best label with the most talented artists? Takeover a major radio show, in this case Funkmaster Flex's Hot 97 evening show, and let everyone destroy the mic. And they did. They completely murdered that show, and from the noticeably giddy squeals from Jay-Z, he knew it. He doesn't even rap that night. And he doesn't have to.

A large portion of casual hip hop fans never get to see major label artists in this raw format. Mostly people hear their watered down singles or whatever R&B song their label made them feature in. A lot of those songs are dumbed down for mass consumption, and you miss their clever lyrics. But this session is proof of their hunger. This is their element, and what I love love love about rap. So, I've uploaded this session to a zip thingy on mediafire because I want you to hear this. Seriously.

Above is a video from the radio station that night. The first artist rapping is Freeway. And that is the reason why I chose this particular video. I want to show you an example of Freeway kicking ass. Because in my opinion he does kick ass. He has an original flow and style and a cool amish beard.

Now I want to talk about what happened later that night.

Remember when I said earlier battling is when you field test your skills? And it is a forum that can either make you or destroy you? Well, later that night, an infamous battle took place between two philadelphia rappers, one of which was Freeway. I know this post is getting long, so let me attempt to be brief. Cassidy, another up and coming philadelphia rapper, met Freeway to duke it out in front of their crews and some home video cameras. It is pretty much consensus that Cassidy brutalized Freeway in this battle, but watch the videos below and decide for yourself.

To be fair to Freeway, I think a few things should be noted. For many people, Freeway's flow was/is too unorthodox to translate into an A cappella situation. Even Freeway at the end says "put a beat on." A comment which later was a source for much ridicule. In an interview he did years later, Freeway spoke about how he had essentially juiced himself at the Hot 97 session, and felt pressure not to repeat himself at the battle later that night. So, it is extremely feasible that he may have been gassed at that point, but as you can see he still put his heart into it, and I think that is commendable. But regardless, Cassidy's performance was crazy. I don't know many rappers who could have walked away victorious against him that night. And it virtually jump started his career. Ok. I'll let you go now. Thanks for sticking through that one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shoegaze is dead, but not.

Shoegaze never was a wildly popular genre. Sure, many people own Loveless, but shoegaze, once referred to as The Scene That Celebrates Itself, never caught on like grunge, anti-folk(you can thank Juno for that), or indie-pop(you can thank the OC for that). You may say, "Ben, I disagree with you. I loved it when The Jesus and Mary Chain got together for the '07 Coachella, and I have been waiting patiently for 19 years for My Bloody Valentine to release their next classic." Well, I would respond, "Cool. You are the exception. Call me. Let's get together and have a beer. Now, look to your right. Ask the stranger next to you what their favorite Nirvana album is. Then ask them what their favorite Slowdive album is. I'm sure they can answer the first question. Now, if they have an answer for the second question, invite them to have a beer with us. Even if they don't have an answer for the second, invite them anyway. I'm sure they are nice if they are talking to a complete stranger about music." But I'm getting distracted. My point is that shoegaze was never as popular as it should have been. Or was it?

I am not about to make an argument that shoegazers were the originators of the use of reverb. However, I'm sure I could make a pretty good argument that they were some of the first to use it excessively, among other things like ethereal vocals and tidal wave distortion. Now let me get to the reason why I said "Or was it?" Most would argue that the Shoegazing scene ended in the early to mid-'90s. However, in the past few years, I have found myself hearing new artists who have been incorporating a "Wall of Sound" production style. Ever hear that phrase before? Shoegaze isn't dead, it has just grown up and merged into modern pop.

I give examples of old and examples of new. Enjoy.

(New'07) Panda Bear - "Comfy In Nautica" Listen for the Wall of sound and reverb drenched ethereal vocals.

(Old '85) The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Taste of Cindy" Listen for the buzzsaw guitar distortion so often employed by the JMC.

(New '07) Liars - "Freak Out" Listen to the similarities to the JMC.

(Old '95) Mojave 3 - "Love Songs on the Radio" Formed from the remains of Slowdive, Mojave 3 are one of the early bands to evolve out of the early scene while incorporating their shoegazing roots.

(New '06) Beach House - "Master of None"

Hope you enjoyed some of the compare and contrasts. I could cite some other popular bands of today that draw from shoegaze style production and sound like Grizzly Bear, specifically on their new album, and Deerhunter as well. But yeah. The Scene That Celebrated Itself is gone, but they left us with an aesthetic legacy so that we may continue to celebrate. At least I will. Oh, and to be continued.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


My last post touched on something that deserves more than just another post to fully explore. Possibly a college course or a book. But let me try anyway. I inadvertently suggested that age is somehow a cause of music that isn't worthwhile or - simply - made fun of "old people." The point I mismade about age isn't really the case.
Let's absolve Stephen Malkmus for starters. I don't want him to stop making music. As Andrew already pointed out, his work with the Jicks is really good. It's good because it suits him as he's aged. He's older, more experienced in this world, his music should reflect that. It doesn't sound weird when he muses on fame and age through the voice of Yul Brenner on his debut's brilliant "Jo Jo's Jacket." He even has a song about basically giving up on the kind of youthfulness Pavement embodied about two lovers mismatched by age ("Jenny and the Ess-Dog"). He sings,

Neither one listens to 'brothers in arms.'/ The ess-dog waits tables and he sold his guitar./ Jenny pledged Kappa and she started pre-law,/ and off came those awful toe rings.

It's a lament for older times in a lot of ways, but it's also a recognition that those times are supposed to go by and be lamented. Lyrically, even on his first album, Malkmus had achieved a philosophy where Pavement had eschewed one for its entire career.
To sum up and move on from Malkmus for a while, it's with this in mind that is sounds so weird to hear him sing "We Dance." That song captures emotions of excitement and nervousness linked to young life*, feelings I'm not at all convinced Malkmus feels anymore (I'm not saying he doesn't feel excitement and nervousness just not in the same manner). So I wish him the best in going forward with his life and continuing to write his solo albums which have all been pretty brilliant.

*But no one will dance with us
In this zany town
Chim-chim-chim-cheerie sing a song of praise
For your elders, they're in the back
Pick out some brazilian nuts for your engagement
Check that expiration date, man,
It's later than you think
You can't enjoy yourself, I can't enjoy myself (lyrics from "We Dance")

Now, some people can sing their old songs and sell it to me still. Leonard Cohen for one. He just recently pulled off a world tour at age 75. That doesn't read as remarkably as it should on a computer screen. At 75, my grandparents had to cut down on playing golf because it was too taxing physically. Golf. You get to ride a cart when you play that. Mr. Cohen was not interested in slowing down though, he instead went globetrotting playing 3 hour-long sets everywhere he went! 3 hours! Most bands need to be on psychotropics and amphetamines for that! Here's what else is impressive. He can still sing "Suzanne" and not once give the impression that he is banking on nostalgia. Watch this:

His eyes still look full of amazement, tension, horror, and elation. The way a young person faced with fleeting love feels. Why is it that he can do this? Well, precisely because while Stephen Malkmus grew up, I don't believe Leonard Cohen ever has. Nor needs to, really. We're talking not only about a great songwriter, poet, Buddhist, etc., we're talking about a man whose conquests in the bedroom have led almost every lyric he's ever written. And we're talking about a man about whom I have heard women in their 20s say they would "still totally do." But most importantly, we're talking about a man that has never been married and views almost all of his romantic encounters with some sense of regret. Now true, he has a daughter, with whom he has a great relationship, but his views of women and relationships has always been firmly rooted in the psyche of a young adventuring man. Like a tragic Peter Pan. While I won't comment on whether or not I think this is good for him (I don't care), it does provide us with an elder songwriter whose oldest songs will never lose their weight and whose words will never ring false. Though I'd be remiss not to point out that his largest audience seems to be happily married middle-aged couples and young depressive loners in equal measure. The implications of that will have to wait for another time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ambient etc.

Hey I'm Andrew. Ben and Luke have already posted, the latter twice even! I need to get on the ball with this shit.

I love ambient music. Lots of people ask, why bother? Isn't it just boring music for new agey dickheads, like that crystal-sporting asshole with the dreads who takes 20 minutes to ring up your shit at Whole Foods, or dudes like Tim Robbins' character in High Fidelity? What's the POINT, Andrew?

Indeed, ambient music is often thought of in the same vein as new age and meditation music. When Brian Eno first conceived of ambient music during a hospital stay in the 70s the idea was to create music to complement and calm various high-stress spaces, resulting in Discreet Music in 1975, followed by his first true ambient album, the landmark Music for Airports (1978). But a progressive crop of artists took ambient to new levels through the 80s, 90s and 00s, drawing it away from the vapid and trite world of new age music and crafting a unique style ranging from delicate and ultra-minimal, to lush and symphonic, to heavy and thunderous. All of it shares a few common elements, notably a general lack of percussion and/or steady rhythmic drive (but not always), sweeping and constant tonalities, and a focus on cyclical chord progressions, but therein lies the beauty - the best ambient music is not a soundtrack to meditation, but a meditation unto itself, drawing you into a place where time hardly exists, and the richness of sound and timbre fully surrounds you and infiltrates your space and your senses, placing you in a state of mindful stasis and formless clarity. Hippy bullshit? Sure, whatever. But let yourself be drawn into The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, or Tim Hecker's masterful and crushing Harmony in Ultraviolet, or the ethereal tones of Windy & Carl's Consciousness, and see if you don't simultaneously feel the haunting insignificance and explosive potential of your own existence. Pretty fucking hardcore if you ask me.

So if you can't tell by now, I love ambient music and I will use a large part of this blog space to discuss the newest and most interesting ambient releases, as well as those riding the line between ambient and pop. I will write about noise and experimental too, and again, the releases that border on accessibility and pop structure. These are the places where music grows, and sometimes, is even reborn. I like those places.

I would like to quickly add that unlike Luke, I absolutely adored the most recent Animal Collective, in fact, it was my favorite release of 2009. It's the album they've been training for since the beginning of the decade, a masterpiece that sounds simple and immediately affecting despite its incredible complexity. I find something new every time even after dozens of listens. It is flawless from start to finish and easily one of the top ten musical achievements of the decade. The more I listen the more I think it could be the very best.

Sorry, just had to get that out there.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pavement - We Will Never Forget

So I still read Pitchfork from time to time. I once applied to write for them, but guess what happened with that? That's right, they offered me the job and my 18 year old self said "nah I'm gonna wait for something a little more substantial, thanks." How cool is that? Pretty cool. For a lie. Anyway, they have this Pavement spotlight up right now which is cool and I guess it would be exciting that they're playing shows again if there were any chance I would be able to see them, but this video they put up of Stephen Malkmus playing "We Dance" at the Pitchfork festival a couple years ago really sort of opened my eyes to some things.

1. Pavement were a young people band. They still are, far as I'm concerned because I got into them when I was in high school after they'd been broken up for like 3 years. I had a teacher who was into them and saw them when they were at their peak back when he was young. So the only common factor between us was that we both got into them when we were about the same age, even though my fandom was after the fact.

2. Old Pavement fans are weird and need to buy new t-shirts. The printing is all faded and it looks like you're into a band called "Pa e t." I get it, you're old. How is teaching community college going?

3. Pavement did not need to reunite; this one is tricky. You would think that I, loving Pavement as I do, would jump at the chance to see them play. It's like a second chance I don't deserve. I missed out, they were long gone before I could even think about going to see them and now they're playing again!? I felt this way about the Pixies though when I saw them at Coachella a few years ago. Halfway through the set I wondered why I wasn't elated. This was like gaining an audience with the king. This was even better actually because the king, we all thought, was dead but now here he was getting his rings kissed left and right. I realized I wasn't that into it because it felt like too little too late. I wasn't at some club with a drink seeing a band that was really doing something new and special. They hadn't even written any new songs. What was the point? I missed out, why not just move on? I've since tried not to create these artificial brushes with legend since it just wouldn't be right.

4. Pavement do not need to have a "best of" collection. Seriously. Who is, as Ben put it, a "casual Pavement fan"? What are they Def Leppard now? People who listen to Pavement listen to every album. Most of us were happy to even buy them twice when every single god damn album got the remaster-plus-bonus-tracks treatment. So now who's the market? We all own two copies of every album. Some of us have 3 if we got them on vinyl. Do you really think there are that many people who just haven't really had the time to listen to this band just because there hasn't yet been a best of?

Now these points were all solidified in about 3 minutes of Stephen Malkmus playing an acoustic guitar with his voice cracking. Maybe he was sick or blew his voice out or something, but he was butchering this song. Not only a Pavement song but one of THE Pavement songs that made me realize I loved this band. And all of a sudden the big sunglasses didn't look cool and neither did the pink polo shirt. The sunglasses made him look old, like a rest home elder with massive shades on, and the pink of the shirt was sucking the color out of his skin making him look gray. Almost cancerous. And the whole display just made me wish Pavement had stayed in the coffin. That way they wouldn't look so dead.

Here is a song to play us out off of the oft-forgot mash-up album of Slanted & Enchanted and Jay-Z's Black Album. I give you my favorite track off "The Slack Album."

DJ N-Wee / Loretta Clarity

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Favorites of un'09

The other day while I was laying the Double Queen Check Mate smack down to this computer (seen here),

I was thinking about what I would write when we started this thing seeing as I've never had a blog before (Not True - see my failed blogspot here http://campfirefriends.blogspot.com/). Best releases of '09s are always fun to read, but to be honest I was pretty bad at keeping up with new releases :C So here are some of my favorites of '09 that weren't released in '09.

1. Orchestre Baka de Gbine - Gati Bongo: Betcha didn't think first on my list would be the sickest album ever straight from the Cameroon Rainforest. Apparently this album was recorded on an Apple Powerbook connected to a car battery and solar panel. So says someone on itunes. Either way you can see how rudimentary their recording set up was in this video. Stick mic stands. Seriously. Anyway, I know African rhythms are extremely en vogue right now i.e. Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, your favorite Animal Collective rip off band, but why doesn't anyone go back to Africa to get their fix?

2. Chet Baker - The Best of Chet Baker Sings. Here was a guy I didn't know about. Chet Baker was a Jazz trumpeter, and occasional signer as well. This album was a collection of the pieces he sang on. Worth it. He has a very smooth voice, and more than likely you have heard his rendition of "My Funny Valentine," but I think the highlight of the album is "I Fall in Love Too Easily." This is a song I can imagine myself putting on a mix for some girl I was trying to impress. I probably have done that. Shout out to the special someone who has that song on a mix I made.

3. The Brianjonestown Massacre - ANYTHING BY THEM. The BJM are one of my favorite bands. Period. Not only is the title of the blog inspired by one of Anton's great quotes, but in my opinion he is a genius of epic proportions. Perhaps many of you will disagree with me on this point, but just listen to any of his albums. He is crazy prolific (no pun intended), and he is just a song writing monster. I leave you this Godzilla of a track "Hyperventilation" to judge for yourself.

Me and Ben and Andrew

Hey. This blog was Ben's idea, he's the guy who (no longer) has long hair in the picture above this post. That's us when we used to play in a drone doom band called Diplomacht back in 2007. I was much fatter then and he was much hairier.

Ben came to me recently and told me he wanted to do a blog about the stuff he and I always talk about: music and movies. I guess books too, really whatever comes to mind. We wanted our friend Andrew to blog with us, too, because he knows more about music than either of us do. So here we are. Why read our blog as opposed to other people's music blogs? Well for starters, I thought the last Animal Collective album sucked. Like who are they all of a sudden, the Beach Boys? Grizzly Bear (who also suck)? Seriously how many blogs have you read that thought that album sucked? I'm willing to wager just this one. Stay tuned and you'll be able to hear all kinds of CRAZY opinions like that.

So what kind of stuff are we going to talk about? Well to start things off I guess I could tell you my favorite albums of 2009 (yeah let's get things started with a cliche):

Cobalt - Gin
Best metal album of 2009 for sure. Literary Black War Metal with vocals from a real-live killing machine (he put in his vocals during a two week leave from his job oppressing people in Iraq for the U.S. Government!!!) The concepts/lyrics are incredible but the music, all a product of one guy who plays all of the instruments, takes you places you didn't even know you wanted to go. On the song "Stomach" he goes into this weird dance-punk drum pattern with the open hi-hat that in the early 90s would have gotten you murdered in the black metal scene. Awesome.

Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard - Em Are I
Jeffrey Lewis has always been a great songwriter, but his albums have always been awash in mediocre songs that distract you from the really great ones. Finally he has an album that is perfect from first track to last.

Bloody Beetroots - Romborama
I have really championed this album all year, and would bring it to pretty much every party I would go to (I'm a dick who likes to change what people are listening to at parties). People would always thank me for it, because it's the god damn best dance album of recent memory. I always thought Justice was a little too monotonous even if the evil thick basslines were there. Bloody Beetroots is like that sound evolved into a total spasmatic menagerie more akin to Mr. Oizo but less cerebral (aka you can get fucked up to it and lose your mind).

Seriously, tell me you don't want to be at that party (throwing up included).

Eels - Hombre Lobo
Any year with an Eels album, it's going to be in my top 5. Dude can't make an album without it being stunning. Some of the saddest lows and some rock and roll stomps that will truly save you from Wolfmother hell.

Kleenex Girl Wonder - Mrs. Equitone
Kleenex Girl Wonder for the COMEBACK! Ponyoak was always one of my favorites and he just bounces back into the world with a for real Kleenex Girl Wonder release (He'd been doing some stuff on and off, but this is the first fully realized album in years). And it's on par with anything else he's done. Plus it's available at his website for extremely cheap and you can stream it for free: http://kgw.me

That's it for now.