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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

We're goners Scoob!

You know that line, "Don't sweat the small stuff?" Well, I didn't understand this in college because what other people thought was "small stuff" was "big stuff" to me. Worrying about grades, getting to class on time and not studying enough were just some of my worries that induced panic-filled freakouts. Then I had the post-college, "Now what do I do?" blues that almost everybody has. They don't teach you how to deal with this stuff in school, so I had no idea on how to handle most of this (hence, more panic-filled doubt now with feeling utterly worthless). When I would ask an older person about what to do, I'd hear tired cliches that I couldn't fully understand. Sure, water may slide off of a duck's back, but I didn't think that a duck would enjoy getting unintentionally wet. Anyway, relief from all these old school, simplistic and hindsight-filled phrases came in the form of a Scooby-Doo episode.

I watched Scooby-Doo for years as it was one of my favorite cartoons (along with almost everything else Hanna-Barbera had out there) in my youth. I still enjoyed watching those old, pre-Scrappy-Doo episodes on Cartoon Network as I would spend hours worrying about various "small" things in my post-college life. One day, while watching an episode that I had seen many times before, my roommate at the time made an observation along the lines of, "You ever notice that whenever Shaggy and Scooby think they're 'goners,' things work out?" If you've never seen an episode, the "We're goners!" line (along with whining and crying) would often occur in the climax of the episode, right as the trap that the gang set up to catch the masked villain wouldn't work. When they did catch the bad guy, Shag and Scoob would have this look of, "Well that wasn't so bad." Putting things together, a pile of bricks metaphorically hit me with this revelation: when we think our lives are all over because things didn't work out the way we planned, stuff works out (and usually, for the better in the long run). Yes, that's a big 'DUH!' of a life lesson but understanding it this way blew me away.

I've thought about this revelation ever since then and it still affects me today. I've expanded this thought with other things in life. Can a dollar bill kill us? Can a word or a sentence kill us? The answer is "no" on both but we often treat money and words as life and death matters. Maybe this is my young, wide-eyed view on things, but since a piece of currency nor a collection of words (or just one word) doesn't cause us to combust, I seriously reconsider how much worrying we put into stuff.

And all this came from a show where people thought it was just a bunch of stoners solving mysteries.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Miami, New Orleans, London, Belfast and Berlin

I was born in New Orleans in 1979. In my time there (which lasted until summer of '87), there were a few threats of hurricanes but nothing incredibly harmful came of them. Just watching the TV yesterday, you could say it was inevitable that a bad hurricane would hit the town, but I don't think anybody really lives to see such devastation.

New Orleans is a classy town filled with lots of history, so seeing it flooded out was very sad. I haven't heard about what all was safe and what was destroyed, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about some irreplaceable things that were lost.

Now I don't know how badly damaged it was, but the most memorable place that sticks out in my mind is Cafe Du Monde, best known for its beignets and coffee. I remember it very well from my formative years as a resident and a little better in later years as a visitor. Sure, you can have beignets and milk at home but the kind of atmosphere you have there is unique. When I saw this quote from the Cafe Du Monde website (courtesy of Kev): "The Original Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. The Cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It closes only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans," I found it comforting. They know they will be back in business even in the face of a hurricane. Granted, it will be longer than a day before they will be back open.

I haven't been to New Orleans in about ten years so I don't know what all changed in that time. My childhood memories have not diminished and I know eventually the town will get back to its normal (or depending on how you see it, abnormal) self.

Monday, August 29, 2005

H2O Go!

"My friends look out for me like family" - from H2O's "5 Yr. Plan"

"I was thinking about the good ol' times/and all the people who helped me survive/and who the hell knows where I'd be without the branches of a family tree" - from H2O's "Family Tree"

While I haven't really kept up with H2O in the last few years (I don't even know what label they're on now), their impact on me is still felt. Here's the story:

Back in the late-'90s, I thought hardcore-tinged punk rock was synonymous with tough guy machismo. If you weren't ready to throw down in a mosh pit, it was best to stay away. I didn't hear much about brotherhood in this music; I heard shout-along slogans about being straight edge and how much life sucked. In other words, I thought all hardcore was a voice of frustration, not a voice of hope.

I was introduced to H2O via a short-lived show on MTV called Indie Outing, which showcased up-and-coming acts on indie labels. What struck me about the band was that despite their tough-guy image (musclebound guys with arms filled with tattoos), they were singing about the importance of friendship. This was hardcore too? This was great and I could relate to this. The band, especially singer Toby Morse, was very sincere (he still is). I picked up both their self-titled debut album and Thicker Than Water and proceeded to play them frequently for the next few months (and returning to them in the next few years). Eventually I got burned out on H2O following the release of their 2001 album, Go!, due to my dwindling interest in pop-punk.

As I think about the ideas that have stayed with me through the years, I keep going back to what Toby was singing about all those years ago. The attitude that you can have your own ideals and get along with people that don't match your's is really cool. I learned that you could be sincere, be honest with your feelings and not be cheesy. This was a little foreign with a lot of hardcore and punk back in my day.

So much of the hardcore that I saw was an uncompromising, "believe this or else," creed with strict beliefs on things like not drinking, not smoking and not fooling around. Seeing people flip out if someone wasn't straight edge or vegan or whatever else puzzled me: what does any of this have to do with the music? This was more like a violent cult filled with intimidation. This didn't seem like it was based on harmony.

H2O wasn't violence-inducing moshcore where you had to display your beliefs with X's drawn by a Magic Marker pen on your hands or with patches loosely sewn on your clothes. Talking about how important your friends were to you knew no boundary with race, age, scene or upbringing. This was what punk rock and hardcore meant to me and what it still means to me.

Friday, August 26, 2005

More about that book title . . .

I touched on the book's title in an earlier post, but I only really touched on the main title, Post, and not the second part, An Anthology of American Post-Hardcore/Whatever-You-Call-It-Core 1985-2005. Here's a breakdown of the second part:

An Anthology of
My book is not meant to be the only history of this genre, hence the 'an' and not a 'the' in the title. Maybe it's because of reading a lot of articles by this guy that I truly believe that there is no such thing as one historical account of things in the past. I'm not speaking for everyone involved; I'm seeing it through my own eyes, my own experiences and my research and relating them to what I feel is pertinent to talk about in the long run. Think of it as my view with a lot of other views but not law.

American Post-Hardcore/Whatever-You-Call-It-Core
This genre has many names: emo, spazz and math rock are just some of them. Since my book is more about the ideas of Do It Yourself that sprouted out of the '80s in the US and spread through the '90s, I feel it's best to leave out the dreaded 'e' word from the title. 'Post-hardcore' is a better and broader word to use. It doesn't sound cheesy and it's way more representative of where these bands and labels were coming from. The focus is on thinking for yourself, not crying your eyes out. 'Whatever-You-Call-It-Core' is thrown in there to show the open-ended interpretation of what the genre means. There are people that think Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Weezer, Braid and Rites of Spring should all belong in the same sentence together. I disagree. Singing about your frustrations with people (friends, family, lovers) and longing for simpler times is nothing new. The Four Tops sang about this stuff; so did Roy Orbison and so did Air Supply. The list is endless and it knows no one genre or time in history.

1985-2005
1985 is essentially the starting year due to the so-called Revolution Summer in Washington DC. Bands like Rites of Spring, Embrace and Dag Nasty had something different with their interpretation of punk and hardcore. They weren't the only bands doing this but their influence was monumental in the coming years. I think 2005 is a good stopping point at twenty years: a whole generation (or two) has passed.

I know a lot of books on rock music have titles inspired by song lyrics, song titles or album titles, but I choose to stay away from that. I don't feel like it's really my title if it's from another title. Believe you me, I had considered titles like History I Don't Believe (from Jawbox's "Mirrorful"), Forever Got Shorter (from the Braid song of the same name) and No Division (from the Hot Water Music album of the same name) but I felt Post was the best all-emcompassing title.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

About that cover photo . . .

If you've checked out Mission Label's press release for Post, you've seen the book's cover photo. If you're curious as to who that is or where that came from, there's a story behind it.

In early 2000, I went to a show in Denton at a renovated car garage called Green Means Go! I showed up early to see the first band play and that first band was Red Animal War. I had heard a couple of their songs online beforehand and had walked in right as they were finishing a set at the Door a few weeks before. I liked what I heard but I wanted to hear and see more. I made sure that I didn't miss the show at GMG! and I was glad that I came out early. Why? Because their set changed my life.

I had always heard of people that dropped everything to help a band out but I didn't understand this until I saw Red Animal War play. Here was a band of guys that looked intense (on and off stage), played intensively and rocked hard. Their songs were jarring and angular but there was this amazing melodicism too. This wasn't wimpy emo, jazzy spazzcore or noodily math rock; this was a bridge between those extremes. Justin (singer/guitarist) was especially charged that night and I felt I should take a few pictures of what I was seeing. I had my camera on me because I planned to take some pictures of the second band, [daryl], but Red Animal War stole their thunder. I ended up taking three pictures of Red Animal War and the one that will be on my cover is the last one that I took.

There is something to be said about Justin's facial expressions and the fact that he's not singing directly into the mic. What this picture says to me is just do what you want to do, whether or not people are listening. Sounds like a simple concept, but when you see it strikes you in a violent but beautiful way, it's unique. I felt drawn to these guys and wanted to help them out in any way I could.

Following the show (which was shut down prematurely by the fire marshal), I approached Justin and Jeff about possibly being on my radio show on KTCU. Turns out, Jeff was a fan of KTCU and Justin recognized me from a show few months earlier (Burning Airlines/Faraquet at Rubber Gloves). From that night on, I had Red Animal War on my radio show twice, saw them play live countless times and have kept in close touch with Justin. Whenever I see him, he's always asking about the book and I'm always happy to tell him what's the latest word.

I know it's a little hard to translate to others how a band or a record can change your life because it's more on feelings than words, but I think we all have those moments. Since I took the picture, owned the rights to it, got Justin's OK and felt the picture said something that was all-encompassing about the book's themes, that's why it's on the cover.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You're a few years overdue . . .

. . . for a book update, so here we go:

As of late, I've been working almost exclusively on the Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World chapters. I interviewed former Get Up Kids drummer Ryan Pope on Monday and the conversation went really well. We touched on a lot of things that I've always wondered about the band. Now I'm trying to think of what else I could ask his brother, Rob, when I interview him. I'm sure I will leave no stone unturned.

The spot in the Jimmy Eat World chapter that I'm currently on is just after they signed with Capitol Records and were about to record Static Prevails. These were some different times back in 1995/96 and I hope that comes across. Due to the fact that Christie Front Drive is often talked about but never really described in other places, I figured the Jimmy Eat World chapter was the best place to bring them up.

Along those lines, I feel it's safe to come out and say that each chapter is not completely focused on the band/label it's named after. Case in point, the Get Up Kids chapter contains some substantial coverage on Vagrant Records, Weezer and Dashboard Confessional in addition to the story of the GUKs. So, here's a little chapter rundown (with rough synopses too):

A Starting Point - this is for setting up ideas that will be explored throughout the book just like a normal intro chapter would, but it's not like a 30-second intro on a rap album.
Dischord Records, Washington DC - devoted to the influential label that had an effect on all of the following chapters, with spotlights on bands like Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty and Embrace, the '90s alternative rock explosion and Fugazi. Though this is still in the outline phase, probably the biggest part of the whole chapter is Ian MacKaye's ideas and philosophies.
Jawbox, Washington DC - spotlighting the first Dischord band that went to a major label along with some coverage on Shudder to Think, DeSoto Records and radio station, WHFS.
Jawbreaker, San Francisco, CA - spotlights the "pop with a distortion pedal" trio along with touching on the pop-punk boom in the mid-'90s.
Sunny Day Real Estate, Seattle, WA - sheds more light on the Seattle-based band that was just a melancholy rock band on Sub Pop that was later pegged as emo godfathers. Also profiles Sub Pop, Mineral and Pedro the Lion.
Braid, Champaign, IL - first profiled band from the Midwest that toured like crazy and produced an incredible number of recordings in only six years. Also profiles Elizabeth Elmore and Polyvinyl Records.
The Promise Ring, Milwaukee, WI - another Midwest-based band that toured like crazy and generated some interest from major labels. Also covers Cap'n Jazz, Jade Tree, graphic design and Epitaph Records.
Hot Water Music, Gainesville, FL - technically, the flow of the chapters would be offset by talking about this band, but they are too important to leave out. This chapter is still in the outline stage, but I plan on to touch on Avail and No Idea Records too.
The Get Up Kids, Olathe, KS - showcases a band that tasted some mainstream exposure, but never really got any more. A pivotal, turning point chapter. Also spotlights late-90s wide meaning of hardcore, Vagrant Records, Weezer and Dashboard Confessional.
At the Drive-In, El Paso, TX - sheds more light on the band that almost became as important as Nirvana was in the early 1990s (in the mainstream's mind). Touches on OffTime Records and the desire for real rock in the mainstream circa the late-1990s/early-2000s.
Jimmy Eat World, Mesa, AZ - focuses on the band that experienced mainstream visibility, a platinum record and retained credibility all along the way. Also touches on Christie Front Drive, Deep Elm Records and the younger audience that embraced the mainstream identity of emo.
Pause - an epilogue touching on the good and the bad of emo being a mainstream identity.

This is all subject to change, but this is the outline I've been working on since March 2004. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"ork-pop"

I am not knocking people who call bands like Architecture in Helsinki, Head of Femur and the Polyphonic Spree "ork-pop" (a shortened nickname for "orchestral pop" bands - these are bands that utilize horns, strings, and pianos, in addition to drums and guitars, in a rock setting) here, but something about the sound of that nickname puzzles me. I keep thinking of orcs, the name of Sauron's goblin minions found in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Orcs and pop music? Orcs epitomize evil and ugliness, not good and happiness.

Yeah, I'm stretching things here, but when you are a big fan of both orchestral pop (read yesterday's post on Petula Clark) and the Lord of the Rings books and movies, I feel torn on what to call this style of music. How about orchestral-pop? The name fits well with the sound of the word, "orchestral." If this is pop-rock music played with a wide assortment of classical instruments, shouldn't its nickname be closer to the word, "orchestral" than "orc"?

Then there is the spelling of "ork-pop" that makes me think about another thing related to The Lord of the Rings: Saruman's army of uruks. Saruman harvested his uruks from the earth, thus making his own version of orcs. Seeing the word, "ork," I keep thinking that a minion of Saruman and a minion of Sauron got together and created a child.

Now I don't want to sound like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but this is an example of the kind of confusion I have with labels. I wonder what it would be like if some orcs formed a band and did Petula Clark covers.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Petula Clark Appreciation

I have a new CD in my collection that I'm going absolutely ga-ga over. No, it's not some post-hardcore band from the mid-'90s, an orchestral pop band from Canada or a punk band. It's The Ultimate Petula Clark. Yes, Petula Clark, the woman behind such hits as "Downtown," "My Love" and "I Know a Place," is getting more time in my CD player than others.

I don't know if it's because of hearing songs like "Don't Give Up" and "I Know a Place" on the radio, the Seinfeld episode in which George tries to decode a boss's assignment based on the lyrics to "Downtown," or going to the Smoke and the Lollipop Shoppe get-togethers that have kept Ms. Clark's music around me, but all of these have been factors. Having all the great tracks on one digitally remastered CD is a joy and it makes me think about why I like them so much.

Essentially the material found on The Ultimate Petula Clark is energized, wall of sound rock with an orchestra. Definitely not the kind of Top 40 you hear these days but it's a great snapshot of the way things used to be. After hearing Clark's version of "You're the One," I think her version is as good as the Vogues version. There is something so sweet about her voice and the words that are coming out of her mouth. Credit must go to Terry Hatch, producer and co-songwriter on many of her hits, for the golden sounds (I wonder what else this guy did).

I don't know if you could credit Petula Clark's music as an influence on today's orchestral pop (sometimes called, "ork-pop") bands like the Polyphonic Spree, Head of Femur and Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, but I find this stuff as relevant today.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Be Good to Yourself

For the last few weeks, I've perused MelodicRock.com thanks to this post. The one feature I keep coming back to is the one that has new interviews with the members of Journey. While I'm in no rush to pick up Journey's new record, Generations, it's cool to read interviews where the band members are taken seriously. Yes, I'm very well aware that I'm talking about Journey, the prototype for corporate rock in the 1970s/1980s, but as I've said before, I still love this band's music.

Even though I often rock out to their Greatest Hits and their last studio album, Arrival, I don't know too much about the band's history (other than what their Behind the Music showed). I did not know that the bassist on the Raised on Radio tour was Randy Jackson of American Idol fame. Yes, the guy who says "Dawg" was in Journey. What else I don't know about this band, I'm sure I'll find out in some tell-all biography some day.

Reading MelodicRock.com reminds me of my days as a music fan obsessed with technical virtuousity. I'm not bashing those days and I'm not bashing those that like that kind of stuff, but I just find a lot of other kinds of rock (underground, over-ground and unavoidable) a little more relatable. I never had the patience to learn guitar solos; I was (and still am) a power chord and funky chord guitarist with no liquid fingers. Yes, there were years in high school when I fancied crazy drum solos but as I brought up yesterday, drum solos are not the best if you want to compliment the song. I gotta respect the people that respect that though.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

In Defense of Drums

Kev chimes in with a handful of musician jokes so I had to add some of the jokes I've heard about my musical instrument of choice. Here are a few:

What do you call a guy that hangs out with musicians?
A drummer.

What's the last thing a drummer says before he leaves a band?
"Hey guys, let's try a song that I wrote."

How do you get a drummer off your porch?
Give him the $12 for the pizza.

What do you call a drummer that just broke up with his girlfriend?
Homeless.

I know, "har har har." I've heard these jokes for years and think they're pretty funny too. However, the perception that a drummer is a loser/non-musician is a misnomer. There are/were plenty of smart people behind the skins that treat the beating of drums and cymbals as musical instruments. They think of drums as single-note bells; each drum and cymbal represent a different note. It's up to the one holding the sticks to make the notes work.

I think drums work best when they compliment and energize the song. Drummers like John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Jimmy Chamberlin and Dave Grohl had their own personalities in their playing, but I don't think they were overplaying. As the line goes, they played for the song. Yes, there was overplaying in spots (worst offense, "Moby Dick"), but most of the time, there was enough space for the guitars, vocals and whatever else. That's the role that I use in my playing.

I've been asked to play simpler, ala Meg White from the White Stripes, and I just refuse. It's too simple and to be honest, I'd get too bored playing one simple, thudding beat over and over again. The beats and fills must augment everything else while keeping a steady beat.

I don't know, maybe there's some drummer joke in all of this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Since You Went Away/I've Been Hanging Around

Does anybody remember a time in the late-'80s/early-'90s when techno-pop groups teamed up with popular female singers that had been out of the spotlight for a while? I'm talking about the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield on "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" and the KLF with Tammy Wynette on "Justified and Ancient" as prime examples. These are great tracks but I wonder, were these pairings made in order to make these singers hip to a younger generation? Obviously they worked for me, but what about the people that grew up on "Son of a Preacherman" or "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"?

I didn't grow up on a lot of rock 'n' roll oldies or country music, so the chances of me being exposed to those ladies' voices was very slim. I'm sure there was quite a bit of eye-rolling by longtime fans but if the track is great and still holds up, how can this be a problem?

Until a few years ago, I only really knew Shirley Bassey through her rendition of "Goldfinger." When I heard her version of the Doors' "Light My Fire" remixed by Kenny Dope, I was stunned by 1) how strong her voice is 2) the funkified drums-guitar-bass breakdowns courtesy of Mr. Dope that were added to the original's orchestral twirls. From that moment on, I became a big fan of Ms. Bassey.

We tend to speculate that the pairing of a star from the pre-MTV age with the modern age will yield bad results (like Carly Simon guesting on a Janet Jackson track that sampled "You're So Vain"), but if techno-pop can serve the original artist's strengths, I don't think there is any harm. However, if you take a great track like Petula Clark's "Downtown" and make it into a monotonous, big-beat, disco track, there should be considerable outrage. I'm a huge fan of Clark's orchestral-pop (especially "Don't Give Up," "My Love" and "Downtown"), so to hear the big, warm sounds of the original be replaced by cold, thudding, processed beats and melodies, I draw the line. Sure, those beats may make you dance in a club, but something is just not there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ever Revolving, Never Evolving

Reading this article about Fenix TX reforming brought back all sorts of memories of my time around Houston-based pop-punk. I came into pop-punk a little late the game in the late-90s (high school was ending, college was starting) after I was a Green Day and face to face fan for a few years. Fenix TX (originally named Riverfenix), 30footFALL and Middlefinger were some of the more popular Houston-based bands at the time. Now that I know what the Fenix TX guys are up to, I wonder what some of those other bands are up to.

Believe it or not, but I never saw 30footFALL play a show in Houston. They played packed shows at Fitzgerald's all the time, but I never got around to seeing them. The first (and only) time I saw them was in Dallas at Trees back in 1998. They put out a record on Nitro (Ever Revolving, Never Evolving) and toured with the Offspring, but other than that, that was the last I heard of them.

I saw Riverfenix and Middlefinger play live only once (both times were on the second stage at Buzzfest) and I was impressed (then again, I was under the spell of all things pop-punk at the time). As time has worn on, I've realized that a lot of silly pop-punk doesn't age well. Whenever I think of a lot of Houston-based pop-punk back in those days, I think of it as generic, watered-down Fat Wreck-styled goofiness. I think this is kind of sad.

Maybe it was my limited exposure to what was really out there back in the day, but I can only think of those as representing Houston pop-punk. I got so sick of sloppy and fast pop-punk after a few years that when bands on Drive-Thru started making the rounds, I pretty much checked out of that style. I still dig out my Strung Out, Green Day, face to face and various other records from time to time, but I rarely pull out a lot of that other stuff. Sure, this was what "the kids" wanted back in the day, but where are "the kids" now? I say they're listening to other stuff that isn't confined to crunchy power chords, galloping drumbeats, toilet humor and snotty vocals.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The 10+ Minute Epic

I don't usually listen to songs that are ten or more minutes long. I think songs usually say everything in five minutes, tops. There are plenty of exceptions but I think there is a big difference between Wilco's "Less Than You Think" and Television's "Marquee Moon".

In the case of Wilco's "Less Than You Think," there is a sound collage of low hums that comes in after few minutes and it never lets up after fifteen minutes. There is no payoff for the time you spend waiting for something to happen. There is no big ending a la the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" (not that all long songs need one), but I after a few minutes of constant humming and buzzing, I just think, "Why bother? I'll just skip to the next track."

In the case of Television's "Marquee Moon," if the song was anything shorter than eleven minutes, I would feel short-changed. If you've ever heard the song, you know the song just keeps building and building and it all leads to a climactic end. Yes, there are extended guitar solos but they aren't about stretching the song out. Every part of the song is strong and complimentary, so if the song was edited down to a standard, verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus, I would want more.

Here's a curveball: Jimmy Eat World's "Goodbye Sky Harbor," the sixteen-minute track that ends Clarity. The song's outro essentially begins a couple of minutes into it and it just keeps going. Layers of guitars, backing vocals, keyboards, bells and electronic effects fade in and fade out, but the song kind of enters a trance. I think the whole outro is cool but I really like how the band plays the song live: they revert to the main riff but with distortion and end it at the five-minute mark.

My point is that most songs need to be done in a managable time. Sometimes artists are testing their listeners' patience by going on for well past the enjoyable mark. I don't mean to pick on Wilco here: the same album that contains "Less Than You Think" (A Ghost is Born) also has "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," an incredible ten-minute, Krautrock-meets-Television rocker. All I'm saying is this: some songs work as epics and some just don't at epic length.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ride the Cliche

We hear cliches everyday but we rarely stop and wonder where they come from. For me, I try to avoid the cliches that I don't know what they really mean. Of course, the meanings are open to interpretation but there usually is a consensus. To try and find out their origins/meanings, I often turn to this site.

GoEnglish.com doesn't have every cliche I've wondered about ("oil and water" and "let it roll off your back like water on a duck" are just some of them), but it has plenty. I know a lot of this is "duh" for a lot of people, but for someone that wants to know specifics about these phrases, I seek clarity from more sources.

"Between a rock and a hard place" is one of those phrases I never really understood until recently. I kept having this visual of being stuck between rock formations on a beach and not having a way to get out. A rock is a hard place so what makes it sound like there is a difference between a rock and a hard place? I just say, "I'm stuck and don't know what to do" instead.

Then there is the one about having a "chip on your shoulder." After reading GoEnglish's explanation of it (To start a fight, men used to put chips of wood on their shoulder and challenge others to "try to knock it off"), I still don't understand. When was the last time you saw somebody with a piece of wood on his/her shoulder, egging people on to knock it off? I always thought that having a chip on your shoulder meant that you had a wound that never fully healed (or not at all) and you were still bitter about what caused that wound.

My point is this: if I don't understand a colloquialism, I try not to say it. There are just one too many phrases that come from a different time and approach. I'm not about to jump on someone's case if he/she uses one, but don't expect me to talk about setting bridges on fire, mixing oil with water or analyzing the the shades of greeness of someone else's grass.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hard Times Are In Fashion

Koufax released their third proper LP, Hard Times Are In Fashion, on Tuesday. If you've followed these guys since the beginning, you know they have yet to make a record with one consistent line-up. Essentially a duo consisting of guitarist/vocalist Robert Suchan and keyboardist Jared Rosenberg, they've had a few drummers, bassists and even once had a second keyboardist. Now as a five-piece with Ben Force on second guitar, Rob Pope on bass and Ryan Pope on drums, and despite all the shifting line-ups, Koufax has made yet another solid record.

For such a guitar/keyboard-heavy band, I think it's cool that Hard Times Are In Fashion features some pedal steel guitar on a few tracks. Now don't take that to mean that Koufax has gone into hokey country territory. This is some of the same good stuff they've done since their debut LP, It Had to Do With Love, but with some new touches.

Suchan's lyrics often touch on relationships, whether they're on friends or girlfriends or wives, and while that's still in tact on Hard Times, there are quite a few observations on the post-9/11 times. "This is the age of no feeling," Suchan declares on the lead-off track, "Why Bother At All?" I know apathy is always around, but I think it's even more prevalent these days. Plus, with the rather less-than-sympathetic views of the US in spots all over the world and Koufax's tendency of touring in certain foreign spots, it comes as no surprise that this is brought up in the lyrics. Being treated like you're a problem because you're from the US provides a rather fresh take on what it means to be an American these days. With so much hoot and hollerin' about who's "anti-American" or not, Suchan isn't getting on his high horse; he's just telling his side.

As a fan of Koufax, I'm glad that the band has stretched out, aren't resting on tired laurels but aren't doing something radically different. Who knows what they'll cook up next . . .

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Oral History

Along with reading four other books, I'm in the middle of reading Saturday Night Live's oral history, Live From New York. The book is a monster at 656 pages, but after reading the newest Harry Potter book (at 652 pages) in one week, I realized I could eventually finish Live from New York in a timely fashion.

Back when old SNL reruns (as in, from '75-'80) were on cable, I couldn't get enough of stuff like the Coneheads, the wild-n-crazy guys, Jaws making door-to-door visits, cheeseburger cheeseburger and Nick the Lounge Singer. Since I haven't seen an old rerun in years, I'm in the dark with some of the relatively obscure sketches/actors that are brought up. Sometimes topics change from paragraph to paragraph and I get lost. Thankfully co-authors James Miller and Tom Shales add some commentary here and there to help tie things together. With certain other oral histories, there isn't enough commentary or no commentary at all.

Probably the biggest offender of this "no commentary" presentation is Please Kill Me, the oral history of punk. I know a few things about the music of New York Dolls, the Stooges, the Ramones and the Velvet Underground, but I don't know very much about the individual band members' lives. I believe the approach with PKM was to talk about the people's lives and supposedly the music comes out. Well, that approach works if you know tons of personal info about these bands and their music, but with no commentary tying certain bits together, I get a little lost. I often feel like I'm overhearing a conversation, not feeling like I'm being spoken to.

Now I don't want to sound like I need my hand held on this stuff, but when you the reader don't feel a connection, you have to wonder. Tackling a huge subject like the history of SNL or punk is a huge undertaking so I think oral histories are the way to go. But some light-shedding is needed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bring Back Fugazi?

From time to time, I receive random "friend requests" on MySpace. Usually it's some band that I don't know who is trying to build up their friends list. While I haven't done this myself, I believe these bands find possible "friends" by searching via musical preferences and pick any/all persons that fit their criteria. Since I want people on my friends list to be people I actually know (or may know through another friend), I usually click 'deny' with these kinds of requests. Well, yesterday I received a friend request from Bring Back Fugazi. Technically, this profile isn't a band or a random person, this profile is set up to, in the words of the mission statement:

The purpose of this is for people to express their complete dissapointment [sic] and devastation during this interim period (which may or may not be permanent) in which Fugazi doesn't exist. For those of us who know, when you see a band like Fugazi they have the potential to degrade almost every other show going experience to negligible (including The Evens, which is of course not a substitute, and was not intended to be). So post your comments, explain how you want them back, how you NEED them at least one more time.

OK, as much as we would like to think we're stockholders with a band because we're fans, we're not. As much as we think that we're raising "awareness," this is not a good move. This is more annoying than good. Ian MacKaye has stated many times about why Fugazi is on hiatus: they're taking care of family members (young and old) and there is a desire to do other things (musical and otherwise). He has never said that Fugazi was finished and I doubt that the band will ever be finished as long as Guy, Ian, Brendan and Joe are alive. They may not be playing together any time soon but when the band's ties are stronger than musical interests, this throws people for a loop.

I'm not holding my breath for a Fugazi "reunion," but if I ever want to hear/view them, I turn to my records/movies collection. Now that Dischord has been remastering their back catalog, I enjoy Fugazi's stuff even more because I can hear more than the previous CD versions. There's something really cool about hearing all the sounds on a remastered version rather than some of them. Dischord is honoring their releases with remastering and I think it's great.

When you play in a band, you never know how long you're going to be together. If you have songs that you want to commit to tape, do your best to represent them when you record them. Whether you like them or not, when you record them and put them out, you are preserving your material for the future. Yes, I hear the "duh" factor too with that last statement but when I see something like Bring Back Fugazi, I don't think I can say it enough.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sunday Double Header

Due to severe boredom, rainy skies and no kickball, yesterday became a movie double header of Bananas and Danger: Diabolik. I gotta say, I enjoyed both of them, but for very different reasons.

I've only seen a few of Woody Allen's "classic" movies: Manhattan, Annie Hall and Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask. Great stuff, but Allen has done so many movies that you have a hard time keeping up if you're a casual fan. Bananas is more of a slapstick satire than a dramatic comedy but it still has a heart. I want to see more of these kinds of Allen flicks. Looks like I'll be bumping up Play it Again, Sam and Sleeper on my Netflix queue . . .

Like a lot of people, I was first exposed to Danger: Diabolik through the Beastie Boys' "Body Movin'" video. When I saw the film on Mystery Science 3000, I thought it was a really terrible movie that looked really good. The sets are really cool but the acting was really ham-handed and campy. Well, I don't think my opinion has changed since yesterday's viewing, but I found more things to appreciate. Bava's direction is very cool with his use of wild colors and crazy angles. Combined with Ennio Morricone's score, these things are advantages. Probably the biggest distraction is the film's looping: the words you hear are rarely in sync with the actors' lips. So add that to very little character development and the over-the-top acting, you have a great B-movie.

Some of the next movies on my list are Slacker, Waking Life and Catching the Friedmans. Hopefully I'll have something to do next weekend and not feel like watching movies is my only alternate.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Something extra . . .

Here's some satire for today:

Album Still Not Good Even After Repackaging
BAKERSFIELD - Despite selling 300,000 copies upon its initial release in 2003, Emerson's Blood's Time is a Devastating Burden is still not a good record, critics say.

Even with its recent reissue with five bonus tracks and a bonus DVD, Time still "reeks of cheesy, meathead riffs and childish lyrics," according to Big Time pop music critic, Bob White. "You still can't get the past the fact that this record was created for mass consumption by a younger audience and this same audience quickly dismissed it once a fresher band came along."

The members of Emerson's Blood, who are currently working on their "most intense and heaviest record to date," according to the band's publicist, hoped that the reissuing of Time would be a treat for longtime fans and introduce new fans too. However, longtime fan Bill Gershon feels shortchanged by this. "I bought the record the day it came out back in 2003 and now I have to pay for it again just so I can have the bonus tracks? Sorry, but I think I could live without hearing the demo version of 'Chariots Burn Crosses' ever again."

White wonders if an album like Time is worth getting the reissue treatment. "We're not talking about a poor-sounding, lauded record from the '60s getting digitally redone," he says. "We're talking about an album filled with moronic moshcore that doesn't need state-of-the-art enchancement. No matter how shiny you make it, a dud is a dud."

Emerson's Blood's label, Phoenix Records, offered no comment.

Kidz Bop

Daniel has a great article on a disease that has plagued parents now for a few years: Kidz Bop.

In the dictionary of my mind, here's what I pull up with 'Kidz Bop':
noun. blog fodder.
1) CD compilation series that features remakes of popular tunes of the day featuring adults and children singing together. 2) Reportedly each volume sells a lot of copies, thus giving off the notion that there is an audience that wants more volumes. 3) Induces eye-rolling with people of all ages, including children.

My guess is that these compilations are put together to appeal to both parents and kids or just kids. My feeling is that there is a great misunderstanding here: when you have out-of-tune young kids singing about very adult-oriented things (from frank sexual innuendo to transcendentalism), you really have to wonder if these kids are being taken for a ride. Hear me out: I think music should be for anybody, but rehasing it isn't best in the long run.

Just like how remakes of timeless movies don't hold up, hearing wimpy retreads of Top 40 songs on Kidz Bop is a test of patience. Thinking about this stuff makes me get out my Carpenter's greatest hits collection and put on "Sing." The track, featuring the warm sounds of Karen Carpenter's voice, Richard Carpenter's orchestration and a choir of young children, still brings a smile to my face. Its lyrics are simple and universal: "sing/sing a song/sing out loud" and so on. Whether or not you like the song, it still holds up.

I know this stuff isn't rocket science or cutting edge music, but when people are convinced that repackaging defanged versions of songs is good, you're sadly mistaken. Yeah, I know I'm out of my element here because I'm not a parent and I "just don't understand what kids are into these days." Well, there are parts of me that still think like a kid and I notice a lot of recurring patterns in all sorts of generations. Just like how I don't pull out my Chipmunks records to hear their version of "Jessie's Girl," I doubt kids will be jonesing to the Kidz Bop version of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" when they get older. Sure, Kidz Bop may be an introduction to future music hounds, but I think there are better introductions to the power of music out there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lookout!

A number of music news sites (like Punknews.org and Pitchfork) reported yesterday about the current, uncertain future of Lookout! Records. The Cliff's Notes version is that Green Day, like Screeching Weasel and Avail, pulled their Lookout! back catalog and the label laid off six of their nine employees. Now I know all is fair and unfair in business, but the timing of this really sucks. Here's why:

Lookout! was synonymous with bubblegum pop-punk in 1990s. They released classics by Screeching Weasel, Green Day and The Mr. T Experience but as the decade faded away, Lookout! slowly reinvented itself. When they added Ted Leo/Pharmacists, they gained one of the most vital and important bands in music (not just in punk music) today. I know it's a cliche to call Leo "the Man," but I can't think of anyone else currently making music that is as politically-minded, inspiring and humble as Leo.

Anyway, Lookout! added some great bands to their roster over the years, like the Reputation, Troubled Hubble and Hockey Night. These bands definitely rock but what makes them even better is that they aren't easy to pigeonhole. Too many labels sign bands that are only for "the kids" (translation: 14-18-year-olds with money to burn) that are easy to pigeonhole and market them to death. So it's refreshing when labels put out good bands that sell records to a wide variety of people; not just "the kids."

Now I don't want to be jumping to conclusions and think that Lookout! is dead in the water. Other labels have been through way worse, so you never know. I just hope that Lookout! hangs in there.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Obligatory Sufjan Stevens Post

A few weeks ago, I couldn't avoid an MP3 blog or a music news site without seeing something about Sufjan Stevens and/or his new album, Come On Feel the Illinoise. Well, I finally got around to listening to it last night.

Folks, I'm very impressed with what I heard, even after one listen. The word I keep using to describe Illinoise is that it's very pretty. "Pretty" can mean a lot, but in this case, I mean it as there is a lot of orchestration, warm melodies and zero bombast. It's a record brimming with colors: acoustic guitars, keyboards and flutes are just some of them. Plus, the songs flow well together. They're different from one another but they don't jump all over the place.

And this was all from one listen.

I look forward to more listens of Come on the Feel the Illinoise, but I figure now is a good time to talk about some of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm
. . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Worlds Apart
Troubled Hubble, Making Beds in a Burning House
Youth Group, Skeleton Jar
Paint It Black, Paradise
Doves, Some Cities
Koufax, Hard Times Are In Fashion
Bob Mould, Body of Song
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Cold Roses

And this is just the stuff that has been released this year. Expect this year's year-end favorites to be even longer than last year's.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Button Down

After years of wearing band t-shirts all the time, I decided to make a wardrobe change earlier this year.

I still wear my Sparta, Grade, Slowride, Josh Rouse, No Motiv and face to face shirts but I felt that I should try out other kinds of shirts. So, after a few trips to Ross and Kohl's, I've found some new designs that fit my personality: button-down shirts with pseudo-Hawaiian and other offbeat designs.

When I say "pseudo-Hawaiian," I mean a design pattern that doesn't stick out in a tacky way. I don't like 'hot' colors so I'm a little choosy on that end. With designs, less is more with me. I'd rather have a black shirt with two black widows crawling up cobwebs than a hot red shirt with fifty Cadillacs and surfboards. A particular design I'd love to find is one with a couple of flames, bowling balls and bowling pins. I'm on the hunt . . .

I can't pinpoint one person to my inspiration for such shirts. I could say my landlord Jayson, my old roommate Chad, James Hetfield in the Some Kind of Monster documentary or almost all of the surfers interviewed in Riding Giants all had a part. I don't know, but I like wearing these more than t-shirts.

I don't know why a lot of band t-shirts these days only come in Large as the biggest size. Until I dropped 25 lbs, I couldn't wear a Large. Now that I can wear them, I don't wear them all the time. I'm not trying to cover up a gut or anything, but I need some room to breathe between my shirt and my skin.

The department stores will be crammed this weekend because of tax-free weekend. I better hop to it to find that bowling shirt . . .

Monday, August 01, 2005

Besides

I don't know how they pan out, but b-sides collections often work well on their own as stand-alone releases. Not "proper" albums, per se; rather, they're enjoyable collections of orphaned songs. Listening to Belle & Sebastian's Push Barman to Open Old Wounds over the weekend was a great reminder of this.

For a lot of bands, b-sides are quickly written, quickly recorded and tacked onto a single to help sell it. In all fairness, b-sides often give bands a little more room to stretch out with songs that normally wouldn't fit their mold or style. Sometimes these songs are relegated to b-side status because there were stronger tracks and they would disrupt the flow of the album. Then there are bands that have so many songs written and recorded that they don't know what to do with them all. Because of these factors, an alternate album (or albums) is created.

Case in point, the singles from Idlewild's previous album, The Remote Part, featured a number of original songs, a few choice covers and a couple of live tracks as b-sides. All of the tracks are strong (especially, the originals, "All This Information" and "The Nothing I Know") and when you arrange the songs together onto one disc, you have a pretty solid album. The b-sides are not as strong as the songs that ended up on The Remote Part, but they shouldn't be thought of as forgettable afterthoughts.

Some artists take the easy way out with b-sides by using remixes and live tracks instead of new tracks. Some remixes are interesting (see the bonus remix disc on the Doves' b-sides record, Lost Sides) but they are oftentimes a test of a listener's patience. Live tracks tend to be note-for-note rehashing and not the best performance of a previously-released studio track.

One of my favorite b-sides collection is Sugar's Besides (still love that title). Taking non-album songs, alternate versions of previously-released songs along with some smokin' live tracks (especially their version of the Who's "Armenia City in the Sky"), this may be my favorite overall Sugar record. Their proper albums were a little short and very safe. At 17 tracks, there is plenty to marvel at and enjoy.

In the example of Belle & Sebastian, they released a number of non-album singles, complete with non-album b-sides, while they were on Jeepster/Matador Records. Plenty of worthwhile tunes were found on the a-sides and b-sides, like "Legal Man," "Belle and Sebastian," and "Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It," but they wouldn't fit very well on a proper album. Combining them onto a 2-CD set as Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, you realize how strong this band is even when they're doing non-album material.

I have friends (especially Mark) that collect every single a band/artist releases in order to have everything. For me, I often wait to find a b-side on an MP3 blog or on a reissue. I have yet to go through all the bonus tracks on the Elvis Costello reissues on Rhino. I'm still trying to dig deep on the album tracks.

People speculate that the use of b-sides on a single will eventually fade away as downloading singles is now the way to buy singles. Well, as long as there are compilations, bonus tracks are needed on foreign versions of albums, there will be no limits for us curious completists.