Friday, March 31, 2006
There was a time in college where I was listening to a lot of Tooth & Nail bands, like Slick Shoes, Craig's Brother, Stavesacre and MxPx. I still think highly of these bands (especially the latter two) because they always focused on making good music more than anything else. However, since the label had (and continues to have) openly Christian bands on the label, it was automatically tied to the organized world of Christian music. This is where I had to walk (and continue to walk) on eggshells about when I openly talked about it with people. Why? Because a large number of people who listen to Christian music feel the need to separate the secular from the non-secular. Folks, that's not something I can fall in line with and say it's OK. Music is music to me; it knows no religious denomination, but not everybody believes that.
If a person was to say to me, "I don't listen to secular music," then I feel like asking about how this person feels about wearing clothes made by secular people, eating food prepared by secular people, driving cars made by secular people and so on. Doesn't it sound silly to faction one's own life off because another person's ideas and beliefs? To me it is, but for others, it's a way of life with listening to music.
As a son of a minister (her full title is the Dr. Rev. Gayle Grubbs), religion was never shoved down my throat growing up. There were no fire and brimstone speeches or "rock music is the devil's music" speeches (though there was a concern about heavy metal music's possible impact on me back in high school). For many years, I enjoyed going to a Christian church (Presbyterian, by the way), but I reached a point where I needed to find something else to believe in under my own terms. Since then, I have not attended a regular church service and do not consider myself a full-blown Christian.
I firmly believe that it's important that I have a sense of faith in something deeper than what's tangible. As someone who hadn't believed that for a number of years, I started realizing that things usually do work out (though they rarely work out as I thought they would) or simply pass in time. I think of faith as having hope when there are no tangible signs of things will work out. That's a pretty basic concept to me, so it puzzles me when people who claim to be strongly of a certain faith act all pissed-off and miserable all the time except for when they're in church or at a church-related function. I wonder what's sinking in and what stays on the surface.
So it doesn't come as a surprise to say seeing Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? really struck a chord with me. Just like Hell House did, it stirred up a lot of different emotions. Overall, filmmakers Vickie Hunter and Heather Whinna do a good balancing act of people that are very much involved with Christian music and those that criticize it. The documentary doesn't present the believers or critics in ironic or funny ways; rather, it gives them a chance to speak their minds without coming across as brainwashed fools. There is some attention to the hardcore, black-and-white kinds of Christians, but the rest is a big grey area filled with different viewpoints.
One of my favorite sections looks at how marketable the genre has become. From talking about the Christian rock alternatives to "secular" rock bands to the kinds of merchandise you can buy, a number of homeruns are hit. As someone who is disgusted by a crappy band getting airplay because they're openly Christian, I was glad this was looked at. As someone who resists various techniques of brainwashing via cautions of slippery slopes, I was glad this was looked at. Preying on weak-willed and directionless people is something that religious fanatics go to town on. Seeing some critiques of that act was also a nice touch.
One segment in particular features Dan Sinker from Punk Planet and his critiques of how the whole world of Christian music is set up. If one were to come out as a Christian band, then, as Sinker says, this band agrees with a wide, but particular, range of thought that may or may not be for everyone. Like him, I feel a little suspect about a band that openly waves their faith in people's faces. If a band were to openly come out as a Christian band (whether as a band of Christians or Christians using music as a ministry), you might as well add the line of, "I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified" to the subtext. There is so much good music out there, so I wonder why people put up these large boundaries of perception. If religion is meant to be all inclusive, then why do a number of its followers put up tall fences?
Faith is a personal and private thing for me. Talking about your faith is like talking about your bathing habits. Not everyone bathes the same way, nor do we believe the same way. Of course, people want to come together and share similar beliefs and ideas, but I think it all goes back to a personal relationship with one's self and a higher force. I don't believe there is one ultimate belief that everyone must follow. I know what works for me.
I've been told by others that I am a Christian, but I don't brand myself as one. There are so many influences from other trains of thought that I can't paint myself back into the corner of one train of thought. I can't relate to those that feel they must convert as many people as possible to their train of thought. No matter how hard these people try, I know deep down that the only way a person changes is by his or her decision. Shoving ideas down people's throats who don't agree doesn't lighten up because there is resistance. Quoting scripture may be a good reference point and a way of showing one's knowledge of The Holy Bible, but I can only understand someone when his/her actions and words are put into use outside of a church. Just because you have a "What Would Jesus Do?" sticker on your car doesn't mean you're a safe driver. Just because you went to church on Sunday morning does not mean that it's OK to act like a total jerk to the checkout clerk at the grocery store. I know it's easy to sit back and pretend you have some sort of armor with openly expressing your faith, but it doesn't mean a lick if you can't use it in your own life and in your own ways.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
You know it's interesting when you read Moby Dick, the second time, A-Hab and the whale become good friends.
from Seinfeld, "The Ex-Girlfriend"
I have to admit: I'm usually a slow reader when it comes to books. Certain books, like the last few Harry Potter books and Staring at Sound, have been easy to get through and enjoy but others haven't.
In the last few months, I've tried to read Mat Callahan's The Trouble with Music and Frederic Dannen's Hit Men but found myself incredibly frustrated. The Trouble with Music is a great concept, but it goes a little too deep for me to fully understand the author's points. Centuries of philosophy, sociology and literature are thrown into the mix and while that sounds right up my alley, it all comes across a little too vanilla vague for me. Hit Men focuses on a number of record executives, mob men and the various ways music they put out music on major labels in the '70s and '80s. At times, it's really interesting, but reading about these kinds of people gives me a cold feeling.
Those are only two books that I've had trouble reading in the last six months. What's even more troubling is the two full stacks of books I have yet to read. Why do I have so many left unread? Well, a certain bookstore that I like to go to often sends out 20-40% off coupons every few weeks. Feeling like I can't pass this up, I just go for it.
In the last year, I've picked up/received as a gift Nick Mason's story of Pink Floyd called Inside Out, a book on skateboarding called Scarred for Life, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and Songbook, Stephen King's On Writing, Scott Richter's Slamdek A-Z, a bio on the Clash called Passion is a Fashion, an anthology of death metal/grindcore called Choosing Death, Alex Robinson's latest graphic novel called Tricked, a bio on Elvis Costello called Complicated Shadows, Russell Simmons' Life and Def, Bukowski's Hot Water Music and a book on the Creation called Our Music is Red With Purple Flashes.
And all of these are gonna wait as I finish up We Got the Neutron Bomb and begin Fool the World: an Oral History on a Band Called Pixies. Why? Because I want to read something that I really want to read. Of course I want to read those other books, but the ones that really excite me are the ones that go high in the pecking order.
A major stumbling block with me is that I easily fall asleep while reading. Put me in the den and in that blue recliner and chances are good I'll be asleep for 15-20 minutes after reading a few pages. Maybe reading helps my eyes relax. I don't know. It's not like the material bores me, but reading in general makes me sleepy when I'm in a relaxed position.
However, along with continuing work on Post, I want to read as much as I can this year. I'm not going to try and read 52 books this year like Jason hopes to do, but I want to read as much as I can. I'll keep working on not falling asleep while I read too.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Currently, Fall Out Boy is a very popular band with "the kids" (aka, teenagers called such by people that are not that much older than teenagers). Their songs are poppy and they rock and the band members are cute and funny, especially bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz. Wentz is the star of the band as most interviews feature him, giving much less attention to his bandmates. The deal is, he is hated as much as those that love him. Troll any message board about the band and you'll see. I personally cannot stand all the sad emo looks the guy gives in publicity photos (see here) and all the goofy stage poses he does (see here). All of this only makes me enjoy Fall Out Boy's music even less (which I've always found to have a severe lack of life with its whiny vocals and neutered sound).
Wentz has a label called Decaydance which is an imprint under respected indie, Fueled By Ramen. Decaydance currently has a hit on their hands with A Fever You Can't Sweat Out by Panic! at the Disco. Panic! is similar to Fall Out Boy (long and goofy song titles and a very neutered emo-punk sound), so it comes as no surprise that Panic! is almost as popular as Fall Out Boy these days. So what happens when a respected and legendary hardcore punk band signs to Decaydance? Pure outcry and disbelief by many longtime fans. For me, it was disbelief more than outcry.
Lifetime put out three proper records and a few 7"s in the 1990s. Their second album, Hello Bastards, is often heralded as a genre benchmark because of its distinct blend of melancholy, hardcore punk and pop-punk. This album, along with the Promise Ring's debut album, 30 Degrees Everywhere, really helped put indie Jade Tree on the map. Jade Tree has never been about jumping on trendy bandwagons with what "the kids" want. They have always put out really good indie, punk and post-hardcore that has a wide reach with fans young and old. So, with the announcement yesterday that Lifetime was signing to Decaydance for their next album, I was puzzled and felt I should share this with my friends over at the SOMB.
Mere minutes after I posted the news, I already had two responses essentially asking, "Who's Lifetime?" This is where I had to make a decision: be an elitist snot that feels that if you didn't know who Lifetime was, you're stupid or be a helpful guide and clearly talk about who these guys are. I chose the latter, but there was an initial grumble about being a fan of non-hip stuff in a hip-centric place. Since I chose not to be standoff-ish, I think about why I brought it up in the first place.
The deal is this, people on the message board go on and on about such-and-such indie band that has this awesome album coming out soon. That's totally fine because these people are expressing their love for a band or album with those that may not be aware. I think it's great to talk about the new Cat Power, Band of Horses or Twilight Singers records, yet I feel like adding some of my own raves (whether they're considered hip or not) to the table. Merely talking about Lifetime helps spread the word on them.
As for how I think about Lifetime signing with Decaydance - at its core, a label is a vehicle. While Decaydance is currently a hot label, I'm not 100% sure that it has strong legs. Of course with its ties to Fueled By Ramen, it's on some stable ground. Yet with Panic! at the Disco on Decaydance, the label seems to represent something that's trendy and ephemeral - something Lifetime is not. So I can understand there being some outcry and some puzzlement that Jade Tree, the label that has released/re-released the band's (and various bands featuring Lifetime's members) recorded output until now, isn't releasing their next album. I'm sure the band has their reasons and they may not be willing to explain them all in public at the moment. I don't want to jump down slippery slopes with two middle fingers in the air, but as I said, I'm a little puzzled by the signing. At least this wasn't like when Jawbreaker signed with Geffen in the mid-'90s.
UPDATE: Guitarist Dan Yemin addressed this issue in a MySpace bulletin sent out on Saturday, April 1st. (No, it's not an April Fool's joke). Here's what he said:
Hey everyone, this is Dan Y. and I sing and write the songs for Paint It Black. I also play guitar in Lifetime. As you probably know if you're receiving this, Paint It Black is pretty heavily concerned with political subject matter, and for me personally it's always been important to try to keep my actions and my lifestyle consistent with my beliefs and ideals. A lot of people have been upset by the news that Lifetime has signed to Fueled by Ramen/DecayDance records. From what I can tell, most of the uproar is based on people jumping to conclusions or making inaccurate assumptions. I'm flattered that Lifetime and
Paint It Black are important enough to people that they can get this upset about who puts out our records. I'm also really happy that people care what we believe in and whether or not we're sincere. This is punk rock and those things are important. I totally understand that people feel like they have some ownership of theband and the music because it's played a large part in their lives, and I'm gratified and flattered by that. I'm concerned that some people seem to be
questioning the legitimacy of Paint It Black because of this. I wish I could be punk enough to say that I don't care what people think, but that would be dishonest. I'm more than a little upset over some of the vicious things people have said on message boards. I can honestly say that Lifetime hasn't done anything that I'm ashamed of, but I understand that people have questions, and I'm more than willing to answer them. I want to encourage people to contact me here at our myspace page and feel free to ask whatever questions that you might have about what any of this news means for Lifetime or for Paint It Black. Just be sure to put "Lifetime" in the subject heading.
I'll give you the FAQ to start with, it might make things easier:
1) Fueled By Ramen/DecayDance is neither owned nor funded by a major label, I made sure of that.
2) Our motivation in signing is not to "cash in " or "sell out". We simply wanted the resources to make the record we wanted. I still make more money if I stay home and go to work. We all have day jobs and it will stay that way.
3) No $$$ advance, just a recording budget.
4) No "big name producer" on the recording, just Steve Evetts who recorded "Hello Bastards", "Jersey's Best Dancers", and "Tinnitus", and also all the Kid Dynamite stuff. Although I suppose Steve has become a big name in his own right in the last 8 years. We will be working at the same old studio, TraxEast in NJ.
5) The new stuff is fast melodic HCpunk, like the old stuff.
6) No one will be interfering with our songwriting or recording.
7) When we play something big and ridiculous (Bamboozled) we will attempt to balance with something intimate (Court Tavern, New Brunswick).
thanks for caring. I look forward to answering your questions...-dy
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Sometime later after listening to this Henry Rollins spoken word CD over and over, I finally got to hear what all he was talking about on the first disc. I picked up Black Flag's compilation of unreleased material, Everything Went Black, and felt like I was listening to something from a totally different world. Moreover, a world that came from some dark, torn-up, roach-infested studio back in '79. On its first track, "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie," the drums and vocals sounded so spare, but once the guitars kicked in, it felt like garagey rock & roll kept as simple as possible. This was pretty awesome, but once again, not a life-changing thing.
Months later, my friend Drennan picked up a copy of Black Flag's Damaged in some record store out of town. Since we didn't really know what mailorder was back in those days, we did our best to find stuff with whatever our local record stores had. Since we never saw Damaged at a store in town, this was a major find and as I would soon find out, a really inspiring find.
Since my car had only a cassette tape player in it, I couldn't play CDs, or so I thought. One night, I was driving Drennan home and he happened to have a portable CD player (along with a cassette tape adapter) and his copy of Damaged. Only having time to play "Rise Above" and "Spray Paint," that was enough for me to realize that punk had way more life in than most rock music I heard back then.
Though melodic punk rock (namely, face to face and Bad Religion) would be the stuff that really changed me in the years ahead, slowly being introduced to punk rock was great. My first two years of college were spent listening to a lot of pop-punk, but then I started gravitating towards post-hardcore and other bands that were dubbed emo. Yet as I've found with talking to a number of band members, punk rock was the key that opened a lot of doors elsewhere in the underground realm of music.
I don't listen to fast punk rock that often these days. It's not completely out of my weekly rotation; I've recently realized how great Kid Dynamite's Shorter, Faster, Louder is and how Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is still a landmark album. Once again I'm behind the curve here, but a number of records, regardless of style, take many listens over many years to really sink in with me. It's not like it's intentional - I just have so much that I want to listen to, so not every single one gets full and proper attention when I first get it.
Whenever I hear about people focusing on how many copies a record sold in a week or a business quarter, I have to laugh. Yeah, that's nuts-and-bolts business, but the true, priceless value of music (regardless of how it's seen in any climate) is endless. I'm glad people like Ian MacKaye and Greg Ginn weren't banking on how well Dischord and SST did in a small period of time back in the '80s. I know they aren't these days and I doubt they ever will.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Growing up, I never thought that a show like Batman (starring Adam West) or Super Friends was cheesy. These shows were on the TV and I found something worthwhile in them, so I watched them for hours and hours, day after day. Looking at these shows now, I see a whole bunch of campiness, but I don't think they're rotten. I don't wish to own episodes of them on DVD, but I wouldn't change the channel if they were on. Maybe I associate them with my "innocent" youth so I refuse to let them fall into the realm of dark cynicism. I don't know how or why, but I still get a kick out of hearing the Super Friends narrator saying, "Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice . . . " and seeing convoluted plots get all fixed up in the last minute of an episode.
These superheroes started out in kid-friendly comic books and were incredibly popular. Presenting a story in a black-and-white, good-vs.-evil world with color and square panels, this stuff was insanely easy for a young person to get into. I haven't read a whole lot of these "golden age" comics, but I get the gist that they were made strictly for kids. Somewhere down the line a lot of these characters became incredibly complex and dark (especially in the '80s with Frank Miller's take on Batman and Daredevil). I guess it wasn't until the '80s that comics started to be recognized in a market sense as not just youth fodder. However, plenty of damage had been done before then. Animated cartoons like Super Friends and live action shows like The Incredible Hulk took these complex characters and whittled them down to one-note/one-sided beings. That's perfect for a kid, but not for everyone.
TV is a great time killer; it passes the time but it doesn't fill it. When I was younger, I didn't have a lot of neighborhood friends to play with, so I spent a lot of my free time watching TV and playing with my toys. If I were to try and read Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns then, I think I'd get turned off Batman in general. The Batman that I liked and understood was the one on Super Friends and the one with Adam West. I couldn't understand an anti-hero being heroic.
I think about a variety of things that get watered down for a younger market, especially music. Seeing an album cover like this still makes me groan and roll my eyes, but somewhere in my head, I see this as essentially trying to do the same thing that superhero cartoons did back in the day. Of course I can't help but criticize commercial exploits of a pure thing, but anything that resembles something that could be made into a mainstream and/or kid-friendly commodity is in firing range. This sucks to hear and talk about, but I know that if it weren't for these marketable commodities I probably wouldn't have gotten into them in the first place.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Though the line-up was different from the last show (Todd Harwell from the Numbers Twist/Flickerstick on drums and bassist Jeff "Meaningless" Davis was back on bass), it was still Red Animal War. Harwell did a fantastic job playing the older drum parts precisely and it was good to see Jeff on bass again. Promoting the new compilation of non-LP material, Seven Year War, a number of familiar favorites were played. Hearing these songs and seeing this show made me thankful that Justin and Matt have kept the band going all this time. I look forward to the next show (which I believe is sometime next month).
Earlier in the night was a pleasant surprise with opening band, Moonlight Towers. Playing to essentially me, various members and friends of Red Animal War and the bartenders, Moonlight Towers put on a really inspired set. Every song had an immediate, warm and poppy feel along with a laid-back country vibe. They weren't twangy; rather, they had the kind of jangly melodies that usually grab me right away. I got a copy of their record, Like You Were Never There, and am really impressed by it. A review written by your's truly may very well appear in this publication in a few months.
As I've brought up before, I make no bones about how much a fan I am of Red Animal War. They were the first band that inspired me to go out of my way and help them out however I could. I don't think there are words to describe this feeling, but I think the kind of actions give a better idea as to what it all means. After six years together and witnessing dozens of shows, I rarely get tired of their stuff. Though the band looked like it was done a few times before, they somehow managed to keep it all together. That's the kind of inspiration that doesn't only exist in playing in a band.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
My first encounter with a person like this was back in college. A friend of a mine knew a guy who knew a lot about movies, music and comics, but he also came across as a jerk when he discussed them. For example, he would tell me all about his thoughts and feelings on John Woo's classic Hong Kong films, but he rarely acknowledged my thoughts and opinions on them. When he did, he often shrugged them off and rarely gave me a chance to respond. All of this gave me the feeling that his views were law. Plus, he would brag about what he had (like his copy of the long out-of-print version of The Killer released through Criterion). In his eyes, because my copy of The Killer didn't have a handful of deleted scenes and Woo's student film, I was prime for ridicule. Folks, just writing all of this down makes me wonder if this really happened in elementary school. I never took offense, but at the same time, I wonder what made him be so snobby.
I have a theory that we all have mental holes in our lives. Some holes are small, some are medium and some are really large. How we work with them is different for every person. Some want to fill these holes with money, material possessions, alcohol or drugs in order to cover up core desires like love, support or confidence. How people show or hide these holes tends to get carried over in aspects of their personality.
As much as I blog here about my views on life, I know that not everyone will agree with what I think. I like to hear about differences of opinion, just as long as they're discussed in mature and tactful ways. I've been at the receiving end of a few one-sided conversations to understand how uncomfortable they can be. I enjoy open dialogue because no one person has all the answers.
Friday, March 24, 2006
For example, if someone were to hear Sufjan Stevens' Illinois today and discuss the album with somebody else, chances are good that the question will be posed. The album was a big hit with the indie crowd (especially a large number of MP3 bloggers) last year, topping many people's lists as their favorite album of the year. So, if someone were to realize how great it is now, posted his/her thoughts and feelings on a message board or conveyed them to a friend, the kind of feedback would not be the most open.
In my case, I've been really digging Sleater-Kinney's The Woods as of late. The album leaked onto the Internet early last year and it was released in stores last May. Since I'm still really skeptical of downloading leaked albums via peer-to-peer networks (oftentimes it's a poor-sounding copy and there is a threat of viruses being attached to the files), I hold off for a bit. I kept meaning to hear it last year due to a number of close friends and respected music critics speaking highly of it and liking the small bits I heard of it, but I didn't get the whole album until last month. While I know a number of people that understand my listening pace and interests, if I were to casually bring this up to someone I didn't really know, chances are good I'd be asked, "Where have you been?" My response would be along the lines of, "I've been busy listening to other stuff and I just never got around to listening to it when it first came out."
Why do we expect people to be on the ball at all times? Not everybody "gets" a record all at once, so why do we assume that we do otherwise? Oftentimes, we're too busy digging something else to realize how good it is.
Another case in point for me: as of yesterday, I have a new band to rave about. They're not new (they started out in the late-'80s and broke up a few years ago) and most of their albums can be found for cheap in used stores, but they are incredible. They're called the Afghan Whigs. Yes, I'm way behind the curve on grooving to these guys, but I have many reasons why. Back when their critically-acclaimed Gentlemen was getting a lot of attention in 1993, I was listening to Metallica, Dream Theater, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I wasn't flushed with CD-spending money, didn't have the Internet nor did I have friends that were "in the know" with music. So, I was aware of who the Whigs were and what they kind of sounded like, but it wasn't until now that I've gotten them.
Now listening to the Whigs' last two albums, '96's Black Love and '98's 1965, I fully-realize that this band is incredible. Sure, they rocked like a lot of '90s alternarock bands did, but they brought a lot of other stuff to the table. Fusing rock with throaty R&B and soul and sexually frank lyrics, I understand how different these guys were back in their day. They had some great chances to be huge on a mainstream level, but they never got to that point. Thankfully their records on Sub Pop, Elektra and Columbia are still in print and can be found in almost any used CD store.
With the kind of music the Whigs did, I seriously doubt I could get into a band like this when I was in the shallow end of the pool. Nirvana and Metallica were perfect for me in 1992, but I probably would've dismissed the Whigs' '92 album Congregation because I didn't know any better. In '96, I was so enthralled in the world of Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and face to face's Big Choice to fully understand Black Love. Now in 2006, I realize that I have a number of albums to devour by the Whigs (six proper albums and a whole slew of non-LP material) and a desire to catch up. But you know what? I'll go at my own pace and dig whatever I can and however I can. That's where I've been and that's where I am.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Yes, the plots are incredibly rail-thin, not all of the jokes are funny and the musical breaks are a little distracting. However, there is more to life in these films than just gags and music. A central theme of the Marx Brothers' routines is that of sticking it to uptight authority figures. I think this theme never gets old, especially when it's tarred and feathered by fast jokes and wild gags.
So much of comedy's success or failure comes with delivery. In the Marx Brothers' films, the zingers come at you fast and they rarely slow down. I love seeing Groucho quickly tear apart what someone said and then throwing it throwing it back at him or her. An exchange like, "I don't like this innuendo"/"Well, it's like I always say: Love goes out the door when money comes innuendo" hits a bullseye.
Despite the fact that a lot of their classic movies were made in the '30s, very little has aged about them. Sure, they're in black and white and the music is old school, but there is so much timeless stuff in these films that I doubt they will ever get old. What makes things even more interesting is that films like Horse Feathers, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera came out during the Great Depression. I'm lumping together and summarizing here, but that kind of humor was greatly needed at a time like that. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a time where it wasn't needed nor do I think there will be a time where it won't be needed.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Marty DiBergi: Do you feel that playing rock 'n' roll music keeps you a child? That is, keeps you in a state of arrested development?
Derek Smalls: No. No. No. I feel it's like, it's more like going, going to a, a national park or something. And there's, you know, they preserve the moose. And that's, that's my childhood up there on stage. That moose, you know.
Marty DiBergi: So when you're playing you feel like a preserved moose on stage?
Derek Smalls: Yeah.
There are so many great one-liners in this film, but I'm still trying to understand why this one is sticking out to me as of late. Maybe it's because of the allure of playing rock & roll music; the pseudo-suspended state of adolescence that comes with it. Yet the image of Derek Smalls, complete with a bushy beard, as a preserved moose cracks me up. Joking aside, it makes me wonder what really gets preserved for posterity.
I've long argued that the most endearing aspect of This is Spinal Tap is that, despite all the funny stuff, it's a serious look at being in a band that's in it for the long run. As the "rockumentary" shows, despite internal conflict, misunderstanding record companies, savage critiques, a never-ending string of drummers and so on, Spinal Tap keeps going. Most bands don't last that long, especially goofball metal bands.
Spinal Tap's songs, like "Stonehenge," "Big Bottom" and "Hell Hole," are funny, but not flimsy. Even though they are parodies of late-'70s, early-'80s hair metal, I prefer them because they are meant to be funny. Yet so many "serious" hair metal bands thought they were making really great music. I think that's even funnier, but I can't take them seriously at all.
Looking at old videos of bands like Poison, Cinderella, Bon Jovi and White Lion, I can understand why I enjoyed watching them back in the day. However, they drip with the polished sleaze of '80s hair metal with very little more to offer. Hearing the songs again, I still enjoy a number of them on various different levels, but there are so many others that I can't take seriously. For every "Don't Know What You've Got 'til it's Gone" and "Jump," there are songs like "Talk Dirty to Me" or "Heaven."
For a child of the '80s who would have not understood the Replacements or Husker Du back when they were around, Nirvana was the right band at the right time. Hair metal was long past its prime and Nirvana blew it out of the water. While that's the general meaning, I must admit that I didn't have a complete change of heart once "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit the airwaves. Over the course of hearing the song over and over again, along with their following radio singles (especially "Come As You Are"), I slowly warmed up to Nirvana. Once I "got" them, there was no turning back. This is still true to this day.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Sense Field was introduced to me via two college-looking guys who were in Best Buy one day. Since I usually showed people where popular hit albums were, when I saw two guys talking about Texas is the Reason's Do You Know Who You Are?, I had to talk to them. Somewhere in the conversation, one of the guys suggested Sense Field. He compared them to Sunny Day Real Estate and I was very interested.
During my second semester at TCU, my new friend Jeremy sang praises of the band's Part of the Deal EP. Since we had similar musical interests, I plunked down the eight or whatever bucks it was for the CD even though I hadn't heard a single song off of it. I really liked what I heard despite the fact that I thought Sense Field sounded nothing like SDRE.
Right away, Jon Bunch's voice grabbed me. It wasn't aggressive, but it wasn't wimpy; it was very calming. I later picked up their second proper full length, Building, and enjoyed it even more. Their music went between midtempo and fast post-hardcore, but it wasn't mathy at all. The next few years would find me slowly learning more about these guys.
At the time, the best form of free audio samples on the Internet was the Real Audio format. If you've ever heard Real Audio, you probably know it sounds like you're listening to a song through an aquarium in front of a wall. Yeah, well, that was the standard of the day. Trying to find any of Sense Field's earlier material was hard. I didn't have the kind of options that I have now with iTunes, MP3 blogs, CD-Rs and CD burners.
Just by chance, while I was living in Austin for a summer, I often hung out with my friends who worked at KVRX, UT's radio station. A copy of of Sense Field's self-titled CD (which combined their first two EPs) in their library and I gave it a listen. Though the material was much more stripped-down than their later material, the hook between Bunch's vocals and chiming guitars was there immediately.
The deal about the time period that I was getting into Sense Field (1998-2000), they were taking forever to record a new album. Though the band signed with Warner Bros. in 1997, they still had yet to release a new album (the Part of the Deal EP featured two songs on the forthcoming album). Various setbacks, from taking time off from the band to writing lots of songs to producer problems and replacing their drummer, kept pushing the new LP's release date back over and over again. Though promo copies were sent out to reviewers, the album, dubbed Sense Field first and then later dubbed Under the Radar, the album was never officially released. Sometime in 2001, Warner Bros. let them go from the label.
Luckily, the band had the right to re-record a number of songs that were going to be on their Warner's record. They reworked a couple of tracks (complete with new lyrics) and recorded some more songs. Released as Tonight and Forever in September 2001 on Nettwerk Records, the album was pretty awesome. I still think highly of the record, but trying to find other Sense Field fans was another hard search.
I had the pleasure of interviewing guitarist Chris Evenson for a radio interview around the time of its release and I totally geeked out. I played it on my show and was so proud of the band. Yet trying to find any other fans was only via the Internet. My friend Jeremy thought the new material sounded more like the Goo Goo Dolls than Sense Field of days past. Oh wells.
Jeremy and I had the pleasure of seeing Sense Field play with Hey Mercedes in 2003. I had waited a long time to see these guys play and they fully delivered. I was so into Hey Mercedes' forthcoming Loses Control and Sense Field's newest album, Living Outside, that I just went crazy up at the front of the stage. Both bands rocked hard and I had a blast during both sets. However, once Sense Field was done with their headlining slot, I realized that there was maybe twenty people left in the venue (it was packed when Hey Mercedes played). A few months later, Sense Field broke up.
Bunch would later cut one album with Further Seems Forever: the fantastic, Hide Nothing. Once again, Jeremy and I had the pleasure of seeing them play twice. Now that Further Seems Forever is finished, I have no idea what any of Sense Field's ex-members are doing.
If I wanted to resort to cliches, Sense Field was one of those bands that was ahead of their time. Getting their start on a mostly punk/hardcore label, Revelation Records, they were in the same kind of musical boat as their labelmates, Texas is the Reason: they had a great pop edge that wasn't cheeseball or stupid. They still rock.
Monday, March 20, 2006
"You've Got So Far to Go" by Alkaline Trio
One of my favorite songs from Maybe I'll Catch Fire. Bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano's lyrics about spending time with a special person, complete with filling an ashtray twice and emptying every bottle in the place, are a nice touch. I've always taken it to be a song about a conversation between two close friends in which one of them has a lot to learn about life. I've had a few of these kinds of conversations in the last few months.
"Christmas Time is Here" by Chomsky
This is one of my favorite Christmas songs successfully remade as a Chomsky tune. I especially love the sleighbells.
"Don't Give Up" by Petula Clark
Here's a song that I first heard on a station I used to read traffic for. Along with Gordon Lightfoot's "Beautiful," Don McLean's "Castles in the Air," KAAM introduced me to other wonderful tracks like "Don't Give Up." Like a number of Clark's songs, her lyrics come from the angle of a supporting friend (something I can relate too). Plus, I love this kind of mixing of adult contemporary pop with uptempo rock.
"I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits
I first heard this song on Beavis & Butthead. I wondered which planet this scraggly old man with a raspy voice came from. For years I preferred the Ramones' version of this song, but with my recent fixation with all things Tom Waits, I've grown to really love this version too.
"Helium" by Feeder
Feeder is a generic modern rock band that's also really good. Vocalist/guitarist Grant Nicholas has his way of making really memorable melodies out of a played-out genre. "Helium" is one of the heaviest tracks on Comfort in Sound, the first record they did following the suicide of drummer Jon Lee. This whole album is definitely mournful, but also honest and optimistic.
"Rise" by Public Image Ltd.
Another song I had first heard on Beavis & Butt-head. When John Lydon says, "I could be black/I could be white," Butt-head yelled, "You're white!" It wasn't until I saw The Rules of Attraction in Chicago that I realized how awesome this track is.
"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner
A song I heard so many times back in the '80s and continue to hear in dentist offices. Yes, it's a sappy ballad from a corporate rock band that felt it was a mistake, but this song is still really good.
"Only Lie Worth Telling" by Paul Westerberg
The jury's still out on how I feel about Westerberg's rough-and-tumble material on Vagrant Records, but this is one of favorites of his. It's a soft song with some really savage (but honest) lyrics.
"Song for the Dumped" by Ben Folds Five
A funny little song that softens the blow of rejection. What's even funnier is the alternate version with the lyrics in Japanese. Thankfully it was included on last year's reissue of Whatever and Ever Amen.
"To Be Young" by Ryan Adams
One of my favorite songs from Hearbreaker. Adams seems to ape his influences on this record. On this song, he's aping Rolling Thunder-era Dylan and he does it really well.
"O, I Need All the Love" by Josh Rouse
I song I downloaded from the one and only, Jeff. I have yet to check out the record this comes from because I have yet to fully devour Rouse's other material. He's definitely one of the better solo singer-songwriters out there.
"It's the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M.
A karaoke favorite of your's truly. Surprisingly, it doesn't take any alcohol for me to do this one; I sang it so many times on the back of the band bus that I know it by heart.
"Hungry Wolf" by X
A great example of the power of John Doe and Exene's harmonies. Separately, their voices are total opposites, but combined, they are really special. I get chills when the chorus kicks in.
"Plans" by Bloc Party
As of late, this is a song that I've been playing a lot of in the car. I love the wobbly guitar lines and the stomping drums.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Staring at Sound is DeRogatis' take on the history of the beloved Oklahoma rockers, the Flaming Lips. As someone who has been a casual fan of the band since 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, but was really blown away by the band's story via the The Fearless Freaks documentary, I was very curious to see what all DeRogatis added to the story. At 232 pages, he adds plenty.
Starting from the ground up with the childhoods of original members Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins, a lot of the seeds of how the band has conducted themselves throughout their careers are planted in these first few chapters. Going album by album, every line-up change and every other crucial detail in the band's development, DeRogatis cuts right to the center by not getting all poetic or gushy. DeRogatis has been a fan of the band for a long time and it's apparent on every page, but he's not a cheerleader. Poking holes in the band's Boom Box Experiment shows are just some of them, but he isn't focusing on the negative. He gives a more balanced form of constructive criticism that doesn't tip towards extremes.
I think all great rock bios shed more light on things that the fan didn't know and Staring at Sound is no exception. Information on things like the supposed spiderbite that drummer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd had (as discussed in "The Spirderbite Song") wasn't a spiderbite at all, how the tour with Beck wasn't all smiles and how the band stayed on Warner Bros. for so long really interested me. This was fascinating and it didn't feel like tabloid-ish gossip.
Another by-product of great rock bios is when the reader gets the urge to hear the spotlighted band's music. It had been a few months since I had listened to Clouds Taste Metallic, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, so I figured I'd put them in my CD wallet. This helped keep the band's music on my mind as I read more and more about their story, creating the always cool, multi-level fan experience.
In all, Staring at Sound was what I hoped when I first heard about it. Just like Greg Kot's Wilco:Learning How to Die, DeRogatis gives us curious observers something to really sink our teeth in without having to know the band's music by heart. These kinds of books are great inside looks, but they aren't solely for hardcore fans. There's so much insight and philosophy that comes out of Wayne Coyne's mouth that can inspire so many; even the ones that can't stand his music. It's good to add another piece of that now in the rock bio category.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
As I've described their live show before, I feel like I'm watching waves crash on a beach. There's constant movement, but it's slow; there's a lot of beauty, but it's not all pretty; and it's rather peaceful. Last night was no different, and I think it was the best performance I've seen by them.
Promoting their latest, sixth proper full-length, Peregrine, the Cast dug out a few nuggets from their past too. Tracks from Mare Vitalis and Low Level Owl were the highlights for me, but I really enjoyed the new material too. I was very curious to hear Jr.'s parts on the older material because he replaced an incredibly unique player by the name of Josh "Cobra" Baruth.
Cobra had a style that could be best described as "lead" playing compared to standard, straightforward playing. Instead of playing with simple grooves, Cobra's playing was always a walking, behind-the-beat kind of rhythm. Well, Jr. faithfully duplicated the old parts, but he also gave them some extra flair. He left no dead space and played so well. I couldn't stop watching this.
Opening for the Cast was the one-and-only [daryl] and a relatively new band, Broadcast Sea. [daryl] was its usual good, but I had a hard time hearing everything. Broadcast Sea reminded me of Thursday and At the Drive-In, but they weren't tacky knock-offs.
Despite raining off and on last night, Rubber Gloves was packed (not to maximum capacity, but pretty full). Everybody was into the music and hanging out, leading me to think that this kind of community in post-hardcore is still very alive and well.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Though the Popkins' piece is a rather accurate, consumer-friendly summary of emo, the typos spoil it all for me. I'm not talking a super small typo; I'm talking some major errors. Ian "McKaye"? "Summer Revolution" instead of Revolution Summer? Look, I'm not free of mistakes, typos and errors, but when I see a write-up from a professional, legit source, I wonder how much attention was really paid to the little details. It's not like MacKaye was misspelled once; it's misspelled four times. This reminded me of trying to read Nothing Feels Good and seeing Blake Schwarzenbach's last name misspelled as "Schwartzenbach" over and over again.
I will say this, I agree with certain lines from Popkins' piece: "Originally associated with dense, caustic music and nontraditional song structure (no verse, chorus, verse), emocore stuck with its original definition while indie emo was defined by a more accessible pop sound as heard from bands such as Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids. With accessibility came radio and MTV airplay. Now Emo belonged to the world . . . Emo morphed into anything mopey and marketable." Then there's a bullseye: "These days, 'I’m sad' is the most common definition associated with emo. It’s a lighthouse for kids who feel like outsiders, and an insult tossed out by those who believe themselves stronger."
As far as Sanneh's piece, this is a pretty right-on depiction by comparing mainstream emo to '70s glam rock and '80s cock rock. However, reading about it is incredibly cringe-inducing and sad to see. For a lot of these young bands, it's not about paying dues and growing naturally; it's almost exclusively about looking good, being famous and partying and somewhere in the equation is playing music. While a lot of '70s glam rock holds up well to this day, a lot of the '80s hair metal/cock rock hasn't. As I've said before, I get the feeling that the latter will be the eventual verdict on these young bands.
I will add this, I'm glad Sanneh made mention of Jessica Hopper's article, "Emo: Where The Girls Aren't." Though the article was written and published in 2003, Hopper's observations are still incredibly valid to this day. "Girls in emo songs today do not have names," she wrote. "We are not identified. Our lives, our struggles, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in. We span from coquettish to damned and back again. We leave bruises on boy-hearts, but make no other mark." Lyrics like, "I don't blame you for being you/But you can't blame me for hating it" and "Relax, baby, that's a good girl/You're like my work of art" prove her point to a T. I wonder how many other people realize what's going on here.
Someday, all this emo glitter and glitz won't be new anymore. I don't know how long it will be cool or what exactly it will lead to. I just know deep down that some other bands that sound and look nothing like these clowns will be the policemen that pull the plug on the party, just like Nirvana did in 1991. Here's to the future.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
A couple songs into the set, I noticed a girl in the “crowd” singing along to every word that frontwoman Elizabeth Elmore sang. I thought it was cool to see, but at the same time, who had ever heard of this band? Well, I was in the role of the person singing along Tuesday night as Elmore’s main post-Sarge band, the Reputation, played at Rubber Gloves in Denton.
Following a brief acoustic set by three college-looking indie folks (two guys, one girl, two guitars and one tambourine with no amps or microphones), the Reputation came on. Playing to roughly ten people, they sounded like they were playing to a full house. They tore through a number of my favorite songs (including “Either Coast”) and I bopped my head to the beats and mouthed whatever words I could remember. I had a blast – it felt like my own private set.
Prior to last night, I had never seen the band play live. It felt like a long time coming for me. I had been in touch with Elizabeth for my book via e-mail and phone, ran into her and her bandmates at South By Southwest last year as I stood in line waiting to get into the Doghouse Records showcase and was at a bar across the street from where the band was playing in Chicago when I was there last October. So there was a sense of relief when I got to finally see this mighty band.
Between sets and talking with various members of the band, I kept being reminded of shows from Rubber Gloves’ past. I remember seeing At the Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World play together in ’99, Burning Airlines also in ’99, Red Animal War a couple of times, [daryl] a few times, along with so many other bands. The place has become bigger and better (especially with the addition of a full-fledged bar area a few years ago) with a much cozier vibe (especially with the relatively new brownish-red paint on the walls, along with framed pictures and posters).
All of this served as a reminder of how cool a place like this still exists and how cool the bands can be. Talking with Greg, Steve and Elizabeth from the band, I, like many times before with various bands, never felt I was talking to untouchable rockstars. We talked about our regular lives, music, my book, and in the case of Greg, a couple of mutual friends we have in Chicago. Whenever I try and explain to people why it’s important to be open about this kind of camaraderie between band and audience, I use something like this as an example.
I know I may sound like a broken record about the power of connection between artist and admirer, but I don’t think I can say it enough. This is something that really drew me into deeper territory than just what was on a CD. I have a firm belief that it’s still doing it to newer people even to this day.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
There was a time in college when I bulked up to a hefty 180 pounds. XL t-shirts and 36 inch waist pants was where I was at. With more outdoor activity (ie, walks at least twenty minutes long a few times a week), I was able to shed some pounds. A few years later, I started eating less (maybe because of insanely high levels of anxiety) and was walking/running more, so I dropped even more pounds. I've been able to keep my weight at a steady level (150 or so) ever since and I've been able to wear L-sized shirts with no problem.
I first became aware of all this skinniness when certain band t-shirts I got were L-sized at its largest. There were no XLs in sight, so it wasn't until I lost all this weight that I could actually wear them comfortably. Somewhere down the line, I realized that almost all of the merch makers kept a ceiling on the L-size. Plus, there was the mainstream popularity of wearing tight, vintage-looking clothing. This was all perfect for skin and bones people, but then I also noticed these sizes (and smaller) on people who couldn't fit into these sizes. Still to this day, I say "Huh?"
No matter how much I bulk up or slim down, I need some room in my clothes. Tight-fitting clothes literally rub me the wrong way, so that's a no-go. So I wonder: how can people, regardless of eating habits and exercise, remain so skinny. It's one thing with vegetarians to be skinny, but what about all the meat eaters that are skinny too? I don't think starvation is a key reason as I see them eat average portions of food, from super-healthy to pure junk food. I'm not seeing these people on regular exercise regimens either. So where's all this virtual weight not going?
Of course being skinny has been a desirable goal, regardless of age, but I get the feeling that a lot of these people aren't aiming to be thin. They aren't trying to fit in with an ideal shape, though there are plenty of others that want to be as rail thin as possible. For me, I've always had a little bit of chunk on my body, but as long as I'm active, eat regularly and can fit into my clothes, I'm on the right track. I don't aim to be a string bean, but I don't aim to be an overweight couch potato either.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
In college, there was a Taco Bell very close to home and it wasn't in a super-ghetto part of town. Their drive-thru window was open late, so if I or any of my friends wanted a late-night snack, it was right there. I had long since lost favor for hamburgers, so Taco Bell was a whole new world. Though I mostly had tacos (soft or crunchy, beef or chicken), I would find their bean burritos to be best in years to come. Now I'm to a point where I eat at Taco Bell once every week and almost always get a couple of bean burritos and a seven-layer burrito along with some chips. Though I'm taking full advantage of the Chicken Caesar Grilled Stuft Burrito being temporarily back on the menu, burritos rule my fast food life. Whether they're from Freebird's, Chipotle or Baja Fresh, it's burritos, burritos, burritos. But why burritos of all things? I think it's because of taste and familiarity coming from a comfort zone.
I know fast food isn't the highest quality of food out there, but I'm not really a big fan of going out to restaurants alone. Fast food is convenient and cheap, which is fine with me. I'm not a big fan of take-out food either, so I choose to go to places like Taco Bell during non-peak times. Eating at these places during these times reminds me of my days in college when the cafeteria was almost completely empty. This was a far cry from the kind of meals I had back with my family.
Because of the cost of food and a desire to have some variety in what I eat, I often eat more at home. I rarely cook - not because I'm a bad cook - but because I'm really impatient when it comes to eating by myself. Instead of staring at something for fifteen to twenty minutes, it's nice to heat up a bowl of Campbell's Chunky Soup in three minutes flat.
I grew up in a household where most meals were at home. Of course there were regular, weekly trips to restaurants with my family (almost always a Mexican food place), but most meals were around the dinner table. There's something more intimate about the dinner table that you can't get in a restaurant or a fast food joint. Feeling like you helped make the meal (whether it was putting utensils on the table or stirring a pot) made things feel a little more personal, regardless if the meal was good or not.
I don't mean to bring all this up with a mind stuck in the past. Like a lot of things in this post-education, pre-responsibility-filled adult world that I live in, things seem to go at a faster pace. Yet the world becomes really quiet and slow when it comes to meal time.
Monday, March 13, 2006
While a lot of SxSW is about the wide variety of acts that play and the networking possibilities that come with it, there's always a lot of talk of who's going to be a breakout act that year. The shows that are packed with industry insiders and curious fans almost always guarantee a strong buzz for months to come. Sure, speculations and predictions pass the time, but anything is fair game when an act gets past the initial buzz stage.
Last year, Bloc Party was a hotly-tipped band to see and they actually lived up to their hype. Their debut album, Silent Alarm, is stunning and it sold very well in the US and England. Yet for every act that rises above initial speculation, there is a long trail of never-weres. Darling's article mentions Kasabian, Louis XIV and Kaiser Chiefs while Christensen's mentions Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Propellerheads and Cast. There are quite a few more to add to this list. Hell, there are enough acts to fill a whole book or two. Here are some from my recent memory:
Here was a Greenville, TX-based trio featuring a young vocalist/guitarist named Ben Kweller that signed with Mercury Records for millions of dollars. Though Kweller would go on to have a legitimate solo career, Radish was another grungy guitar rock that seemed perfect for the insanely broad audience aged between 14 and 15 years of age. Their Mercury debut, Restraining Bolt, sold poorly and their follow-up, Sha-Sha, was never released.
Girls Against Boys
Here was a band that already had a number of challenging, but still really good, releases on Touch & Go. When their popularity reached a point where major labels were having a bidding war over them, a lot of eyes were on what they did next. By the time their major label debut, Freak*on*ica, was released in '98, the record barely received any recognition. Luckily, the band kept going and put out another album, You Can't Fight What You Can't See, on Jade Tree in 2002.
Off the heals of a really fine debut album, I Become Small and Go, Creeper Lagoon signed with DreamWorks in 2000. Their '01 album, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday, was an all-out rock record that didn't fare too well with older fans and did not find an audience at all. The band continues today but with a revamped lineup.
The Mooney Suzuki
Here was a band that came with a lot of promise with the modern garage rock wave of 2001. Their album, Electric Sweat, got a lot of good national attention and college radio play. Their major label debut, Alive & Amplified, was universally ignored in 2004 and they vanished. Reportedly, they're currently working on a new album for V2.
This list gets longer every year, yet despite all of this, I wonder what all the hype is about in the first place. Certain aspects of the recording industry are built around gambling, so that makes sense for others, but not to me, a non-gambler. Maybe there is a prestige about knowing about an act months before they were cool to like. In my mind, that leads to never-ending searches with a lot of misses. Yesterday's hype almost always gets down-played in the present. Knowing that, I wonder how stable is it to stake claims in something that isn't concrete in the first place. Maybe fortune tellers should be at SxSW instead of industry insiders.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Despite a number of bands that sound like them, Joy Division has never been, to my knowledge, fully carboned copied. Credit Martin Hannett's mechanical-sounding production, Peter Hook's bass guitar leads, Steven Morris' drum machine-like beats, Bernard Sumner's skeletal, trial-and-error guitar lines and unassuming keyboard lines and Ian Curtis' tense vocals for making Joy Division unique. I have yet to hear another band sound exactly like them, but Editors comes relatively close. But again, why am I listening to something so apparently derivative?
The answer is easy: they have great songs despite all the comparisons. Yes, I can't help but hear "She's Lost Control" when I hear "Blood," "Dead Souls" when I hear "All Sparks" and "Transmission" when I hear "Fingers in Factories," but I think Editors' The Back Room and their b-sides are worth a lot of spins. There is no topping Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures or Closer, but The Back Room is a suprisingly strong effort in these modern post-punk times.
While all of its members add their own strengths, vocalist/guitarist Tom Smith deserves some attention. Compared to Ian Curtis, Smith has much more restraint in his voice and his lyrics aren't all mired in doom and gloom. Lyrics like "If something has to change/then it always does," "All sparks will burn out in the end" and "Blood runs through your veins/that's where our similarity ends" may sound like high school scribblings, but they fit really well with the music.
While I really enjoy Joy Division's music, I find a lot of their material challenging to listen to on a regular basis. I have no problem or feel any challenges with listening to Editors. Maybe this is the exact feeling that record companies want to hear (so they'll sign ten more bands like them), but I can't help it.
Though the band is young, they already have an album's worth of b-sides. Across five singles (and a sixth one forthcoming), I have a hard time finding a royal stinker. Sure, some are demos and remixes, but songs like "Heads in Bags" are great even though they wouldn't fit on The Back Room. Plus, they do a faithful (but cool) cover of Stereolab's "French Disko" on the "Munich" single.
I think the only drawback to these guys is that if you've heard one of their songs, you have a pretty good idea as to what the rest of their material sounds like. I think there's always room for evolution for bands like this, but it's up to the bands to decide if they want to grow out of their boundaries.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
As a sort of a pre-SxSW shindig, Chris from Gorilla vs. Bear had two bands from San Francisco, Birdmonster and Seventeen Evergreen, and Tapes 'n Tapes from Minneapolis play. Aside from hearing an MP3 from Tapes 'n Tapes a few days before, I essentially walked into the show cold. I had a good feeling that I would enjoy the show and thankfully, I was right.
Before I go much further, check out Chris' post and Dodge's post with pictures. If it looks like it was packed to the gills but a lot of fun, you're right.
Tapes 'n Tapes have been on a lot of people's minds and lips as of late, especially because their album, The Loon, received a nice review from Pitchfork Media. While I don't read Pitchfork as closely as I used to, I at least will check out something they rave about. Not to sound like a lemming, but knowing how picky their reviewers are, when something gets a nice write-up, chances are good that it will be worthwhile. I have yet to hear The Loon, but I enjoyed what I heard and saw last night.
I have a really hard time trying to describe these guys' music. Hell, I have a hard time describing Birdmonster's too, but Seventeen Evergreen was easier to describe. Roughly, Seventeen Evergreen had a chilled-out, shoegazer vibe with some keyboards and electronic touches. I didn't think they were bad or boring, but I wasn't really impressed. As far as Birdmonster, they somehow mixed mathy post-hardcore and Americana rock without sounding like a train wreck. Lots of crazy energy, but also twangy and tuneful.
Back to Tapes 'n Tapes, I have to start with their drummer. The late-great Joe Strummer once said "You're only as good as your drummer." How true that is and this really helps Tapes 'n Tapes' case. If you have good tunes and a great drummer, you can't go wrong. So take a really solid drummer (who looked like pint-sized version of Mo Rocca from The Daily Show) with a solid set of scratchy but smooth songs and a really lively onstage presence, you have a little better idea.
As far as sound comparisons, Jason heard some Shins and Pixies. While I agree, they definitely don't sound like carbon copies of those bands. There are plenty of dynamics and a variety of moods, but they don't sound unfocused. These guys aren't for everybody, but for people that are tired of bands that sound like post-punk offspring, I recommend them.
Probably the best aspect of this show was the rather carefree vibe. It reminded me of some of the shows I saw at SxSW last year, but this show didn't involve $12 tickets or long-ass lines waiting to get in. Also, matters helped that the venue was only ten minutes away from home, so that was even better. I'll be skipping out on SxSW this year, but I'm glad I got to see some bands making a pitstop in Dallas before they hit Austin.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING, you must use the song that comes on.
1. How does the world see me?:
"Late" by Ben Folds
2. Will I have a happy life?:
"You’ve Got to Look Inside Yourself" by the Pathways
3. What do my friends really think of me?:
"The Moon is Down" by Explosions in the Sky
4. Do people secretly lust after me?:
"The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" by the New Pornographers
5. How can I make myself happy?:
"Bad Cover Version" by Pulp
6. What should I do with my life?:
"Perfecting Loneliness" by Jets to Brazil
7. Will I ever have children?:
"Hotel Chelsea Nights" by Ryan Adams
8. What is some good advice for me?:
"PDA" by Interpol
9. How will I be remembered?:
"Holding Back the Years" by Simply Red
10. What is my signature dancing song?:
"Bleeding Powers" by Ted Leo
11. What do I think my current theme song is?:
"Not Up to You" by Stereophonics
12. What does everyone else think my current theme song is?:
"Ampersand" by Lifetime
13. What song will play at my funeral?:
"We Are the Sleepyheads" by Belle & Sebastian
14. What type of men/women do you like?:
"Town Called Malice" by the Jam
15. What is my day going to be like?:
"Jack Names the Planets by Ash
16. Will I ever have love again?
"Bad Reputation" (Joan Jett cover) by face to face
Thursday, March 09, 2006
"Ask the Lonely" by Journey
Here's a song that I discovered by just letting the CD play through. I never heard this song on the radio back in the day, but apparently it was a big hit. It's from the Two of a Kind soundtrack, a flick featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John post-Grease. I love the chorus melody and find its "When you're feeling love's unfair/you just ask the lonely" line very relatable.
"Day Two" by Explosions in the Sky
From the long out-of-print EP, The Rescue, this is Explosions in a rather experimental mode. Reportedly the band wrote and recorded eight new pieces in eight days and this came from the second day (hence the title). This features some choral-like vocals and piano - some things I'm curious if the band will ever use again on future recordings.
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by the Police
I've always thought that Sting's vocals were mixed way too low in this song. Great track though, especially the piano hook.
"What's Wrong" by Dennis Wilson
I have to be honest: this was the first time I've heard this song the whole way through. Jeff posted Dennis Wilson's long out-of-print Pacific Ocean Blue record a few months ago and I downloaded it. Pretty good record overall, but this song doesn't really knock me out.
"Beat It" by Michael Jackson
An '80s anthem. Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo still cooks after all these years. I'm still in the dark as to what Michael Jackson is referring to with beating it. Of course there's the standard, locker-room slang for masturbation, but I've always taken "it" to mean avoiding kicking the crap out of each other. At least that's what he does in the video for the song . . .
"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
I credit the Wee Demon for introducing me to the power of this song. She put it on a mix CD for Jason and he played it for me one day in his car. I had heard Ted Leo's acoustic version, but I was really blown away by Clarkson's version. Yes, it's super-polished but there is a lot of life in it too.
"We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister
The first time I heard the name Twisted Sister, it was in Flight of the Navigator. I didn't hear this song until much later, when a local Kingwood band called Black Eyed Roger covered it. Sometime later I heard the original version. The drums sound nice and full and Dee Snider's raspy voice is right on target with the song.
"If the Kids Are United" by Sham 69
An often-quoted punk anthem that I didn't hear until about three years ago. When I hear the band's name, I often think about Henry Rollins' account of hanging out with Sham 69's Jimmy Percy in Get In the Van and Joe Strummer's reference to the band on the live version of "Capitol Radio" found on From Here to Eternity Live.
"Different" by Acceptance
Every week, there is a free download offered by iTunes' Music Store. I saw this one week and figured what the hell, so I downloaded it. This is a very glossy-sounding track (complete with piano and what I think are real strings), but it's not devoid of life. The chorus is pretty catchy. Also, Matt Pinfield from 120 Minutes is the A&R guy for this band. I wonder if he still is. I wonder if they're still on Columbia.
"Twin Falls" by Built to Spill
I heard Ben Folds Five's live version of this song before I heard this version. When I heard this version, I was rather disappointed. Ben Folds Five made this into a really fleshed-out midtempo ballad while Built to Spill kinda races through it. After years of listening to both versions, I have come to really enjoy the original as much as the cover version.
"When I Grow Up" by Garbage
I'm not a huge Garbage fan, but Version 2.0 is a fantastic album that could double as a singles collection. A really simple song that's hard to get out of your head.
"The Fallen" by Franz Ferdinand
I always think this song is called "Walk Among Us" because those three words are said so often. Well, that's not the title and no, it's not a reference to the Misfits album, Walk Among Us. Regardless, this a fun opening track to Franz Ferdinand's under-appreciated second album, You Could Have It So Much Better.
"Do Anything You Want to Do" by Eddie & the Hot Rods
A song I found after sampling a friend's copy of Rhino's No Thanks!: The '70s Punk Rebellion box set. The line, "Tired of doing day jobs/with no thanks for what I do," is something I sometimes feel, but not all the time.
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie
A highlight from a rather dodgy Death Cab record. It's a rather morbid love song, but it's really beautiful at the same time.
"Guess I'm Doing Fine" by Beck
Sea Change is Beck's only record where I can take him seriously. The whole album is really sad, but I don't get all depressed when I hear it. This is one of my favorites from it.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Box office receipts, SoundScan numbers, concert ticket sales and ratings are some of the tools used to measure business in the fields of media. I have no beef with these measurements, however, I have a beef with people that are led to believe that something is of value (or not of value) because it sells/earns a certain amount. Are we really that passive with how we measure apparent worth?
Referring back to Kyle's post about Hawthorne Heights, the projected sales figures for the band's second album, If Only You Were Lonely, were "poised to sell upwards of 200,000 copies its debut week." There was a good chance that the record could have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, but other than the prestige of having a high-charting album, does that really play into the overall importance of the record's relevance? Not to me.
Between the number of people out there versus the ones that actually buy something, the fraction is almost always incredibly lopsided. Yet what's a frequent discussion the day after results are tallied? "Such-and-such did x-amount of business, so I guess it's _______."
Folks, I've seen blockbuster movies and box office bombs, bought platinum-selling albums and albums that have never charted on a Billboard chart, and have seen highly-rated shows and shows that were canceled after a few episodes. I've experienced a lot in between those figures, but I never think about numbers when I'm enjoying something.
Then there are the people that don't watch these highly-rated TV shows, don't buy these hot-selling records and don't see these blockbuster movies on a regular basis. I know these kinds of people very well: I call them Mom and Dad.
My parents rarely watch TV. Though my dad has recently gotten hooked on 24 reruns and my mom enjoys watching HGTV and the Weather Channel, they've never watched hit shows like American Idol, Survivor, Lost or Desperate Housewives. They saw two movies in a movie theater last year (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The number of CDs they buy in a year is less than a handful and with the exception of the Dixie Chicks, none of these CDs are high on the Billboard charts. In business terms, they probably/most definitely would not be a part of a target demographic, but they shouldn't be ignored. Why? Because life doesn't just exist where the money flows.
I don't blame the marketers or the companies - I blame those that ignore what really is out there. Of course business is a driving force in our world, but it's not the only indicator of life. Imagine how limited a view we would have of history if we only thought of it through what was in movies, TV shows, commercials and on the Billboard charts. I get the feeling the number of people that actually believe in these is larger than I think.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
1994-1995: 1994 saw the death of Kurt Cobain and in turn, saw the death of grunge for a lot of people, yet bands like Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Weezer and Pearl Jam kept alternarock going. Green Day and the Offspring hit the airwaves mere months after Cobain's death, thus giving grunge kids a lot of pop-punk to chew on.
1995-1996: Major labels tried to replicate blockbuster pop-punk with a number of other bands (some young and some older), but no one truly breaks out. A large number of Britpop acts (ie, Oasis, Blur and Pulp) make crossovers to the US.
1997-1998: Pop-friendly ska and swing make inroads to commercial acclaim and quickly lose flavor. More Britpop exports have relative success in the US. Electronic music is seen as the next big trend in music, but doesn't really happen (though records like The Fat of the Land by the Prodigy and Dig Your Own Hole by the Chemical Brothers sell a lot of copies). Radiohead releases the landmark album, OK Computer, at a time when a lot of music critics were decrying that guitar rock was dead.
1999-2000: Rap-rock/aggro-rock/nu-metal and teen pop are everywhere.
2001: Bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes show that rock music can still rock without fancy studio trickery.
Of course there was plenty of other stuff going on around these times, but that's probably the most of the simplified look that rock historians will give much attention to. To me, this sucks as someone who really grew attached to rock music during this time.
What's really interesting that while rock critics were moaning that rock music was over in the mainstream, underground bands like the Promise Ring, the Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World were doing really interesting stuff with melody and rhythm. There were plenty of attempts to bring angular guitar rock to the mainstream (ie, Jawbox, Jawbreaker and Shudder to Think in the mid-'90s), but they didn't pan out. However, their major label records still resonate today. Given the reach that major labels had, a lot of people got into these bands who probably would have never heard them before. The numbers weren't blockbuster numbers, but records like For Your Own Special Sweetheart and Dear You are often credited as gateway records for a lot of people I've talked to over the years.
I have a theory that great music is always out there, whether it's new or old. Music on commercial radio or MTV may make you want to give up on music completely if you're looking for something really different, but there's always something else out there. What's frustrating, but worthwhile in the long run, is the search for the kinds of music that impacts you in deeper ways. Even in black holes in music, there can be plenty to marvel at.
Monday, March 06, 2006
As the Wee Demon put it best in her article on Post: The definitive work on the music thus far is a book called Nothing Feels Good by Spin magazine contributing writer Andy Greenwald, an admitted outsider in the scene. While it's not his only reason--or even his main one--for writing Post, Grubbs thinks Greenwald has it all wrong.
I've said before that Nothing Feels Good was the final straw of many final straws. As the article accurately states, I had the idea for Post before I owned/attempted to read Nothing Feels Good the whole way through. Before I came up with the idea, I had read some excerpts that were posted on the Blackball Records message board and had skimmed through a copy at the Virgin Megastore in Grapevine. When I bought a copy for myself (and a few days into writing/researching), I tried to read it. I had to stop about twenty pages in because it made me so mad. I don't know if it was the writing style or how this guy perceived the culture of emo that upset me more, but I couldn't read another page.
I have since tried to read more pages in the book, but I still can't read it the whole way through. There are so many spelling/factual errors that it's not funny (apparently those were his editor's fault) and it's from the angle of an outsider observer looking in at the medium. Greenwald has made no bones about being an outsider to this world, yet people think he is an insider. Without turning this into a pissing contest, I feel I have had enough experience as an insider to warrant my views be documented. I hope people that have been involved much longer than I have will write a book too.
I believe Nothing Feels Good is accurate in portraying the ways that younger people react to the music, embarrassing warts and all. However, Greenwald's overlooking a large cross-section of people that got into the music not just for the angular rhythms and heart-on-sleeve lyrics. These people found a deep sense of philosophy and ways of living their lives through the stories of these bands and labels. There is a long history behind post-hardcore before it became a mainstream commodity called emo; a history that Greenwald spends only about a quarter of his book on.
Along with my attempts to read Nothing Feels Good, bigger motivations came from books that I really like (especially Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City, Greg Kot's Wilco: Learning How to Die) and my experiences in college with being a fan of post-hardcore/emo in a hipster world. Translating my experiences with how the music and philosophy affect my life now (along with the guidance of the previously mentioned books as inspirations) has been the goals ever since March 1st, 2004.
Ever since then, I've checked out Greenwald's website from time to time. He has a second book, a fictional novel, Miss Misery, out now and he recently wrapped up a book signing tour for it. Out of pure curiosity, I looked at his contact info and felt there was a large distance between author and reader because of middlemen. Publicists and agents are a way of being represented, but in my current mindset, I don't see a need for them. I know middlemen are hired to look out for their clients, but they create distance between human beings.
My experiences with middlemen (particularly managers and publicists) haven't been the most enjoyable aspects of tracking down people. I know people's time is precious and they can't sit around and do interviews all day, but still, why are some people seen as untouchable while others aren't? I know these people are trying to weed out charlatans and crooks, but it feels like a zero tolerance way of doing business. This isn't community to me. This isn't punk rock to me. I'm often reminded of a Hot Water Music lyric when I think about this: "'Cause it's business/not people."
Tying this all together, I think it's important to have different views on a similar subject. I don't believe there is one definitive history on rock music, so the more viewpoints the better. Nothing Feels Good and other mainstream views may rub me the wrong way, but they don't mean I should sit back, retire and bitch about the good ol' days. I have a lot ahead of me and I look forward to the ride to come.