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Friday, December 29, 2006

Nobody Likes You

A preview of Marc Spitz's latest book, Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times and Music of Green Day, appeared in Alternative Press a few months ago. I liked what I read, especially the nice long quote from none other than Bryan Jones of Horace Pinker. Just based on these excerpts, I was really looking forward to the book. Besides, this is an official biography where the band members, along with a number of key people, were interviewed directly. So why do I feel like Nobody Likes You is an excerpt from another, much longer, yet-to-released, biography for Green Day?

Nobody Likes You is very well researched. At 190 pages, there are no glaring topics not mentioned. I loved how the whole Gilman Street area mindset/sell-out backlash is discussed with prime quotes from Fat Mike and Jello Biafra. This section was probably the most thorough analysis of what selling out meant to the area and it's well put. However, once the band members' beginnings, the band's formation and Dookie are discussed, the three main albums before American Idiot are merely touched on. As a fan of Nimrod (their best album in my opinion), I wasn't so pleased to see it be made light of as a mere transitional record.

By the time that American Idiot is discussed, I felt like skimming through this part. The deal is, this is where the book unceremoniously ends. American Idiot is a fine album, but its themes and time of release seem more important than the actual songs. Yes, there is some really biting commentary on post-9/11 America in these songs, but do I really want to read multiple pages about how this "matters" to a populist mindset? Nope.

All this said, Nobody Likes You is a very good read. It's written by a fan who cares about the band. It's gripping and it doesn't really slow down until the end. Yet it feels like a lot of the band's life between '95 and '03 is just exposition. I argue that those times are really important and should be more dug into. How did these guys adjust to being fathers and rock stars at the same time? How were the relationships between their friends and family change after the band became famous? How were they grounded even when they had millions in the bank? Why did they start acting like this super-serious rock band shortly after American Idiot came out? What's with all the eyeliner and all-black look? These questions are just the beginning. Here's to hoping for a future 300-400 page biography on the band.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

iTunes Shuffle 12.28.06

"(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" by the Soft Boys
I remember when my friend Goose told me to drop everything and buy the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight. He called it "Eric Music" as it mixed punk rock with garage rock and jangle-pop (some of my favorite styles of music). I had him burn me a copy as I wanted to be 100% sure. He was totally right. "Anglepoise Lamp" is not on Moonlight, but it has everything on it that makes the Soft Boys the greats they are.

"Champagne from a Paper Cup" by Death Cab for Cutie
This version is from the You Can Play These Songs With Chords compilation. Ben Gibbard sounds more like Doug Martsch than Ben Gibbard here. That said, this is a nice little short song from the band's early days (an era I'm slowly rediscovering).

"Kingpin" by Wilco
Bluesy country from Wilco's transformation album, Being There. Though the band doesn't play a lot of material from this era now, this song has been played quite a bit in the last few years. Wilco has been on a streak of slowing migrating into different styles with each passing album. Their forthcoming album may be an ornate All Things Must Pass-like album, but I'm not sure.

"Frank's Wild Years" by Tom Waits
Its intro reminds me of The Ladies Man sketch on SNL. However, the tale of Frank burning his apartment is everything but funny.

"Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners
I've heard some nice cover versions of this song over the years (including Save Ferris and the City on Film), but the original still ranks the highest with me. I guess it's because of the violin, piano and banjo.

"(I'm) Stranded" by the Saints
This is the song played during the Desert Island Jukebox pick every week on Sound Opinions. I like it, but I have yet to find it as praiseworthy as I've seen it elsewhere.

"Nowhere Again" by Secret Machines
One of my favorite songs from the band's debut album, Now Here is Nowhere. It's a pretty damn catchy tune from this former Dallas-based trio.

"Monkey" by Counting Crows
I've met a few people who don't claim to be Counting Crows fans but they love their second album, Recovering the Satellites. Count me in as one of those people. While I dig some of their songs on other albums, this one is the most consistent. Plus, "Monkey" mentions Ben Folds in the lyrics. I believe this was the first time I ever heard of Mr. Ben and it certainly wasn't the last.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Deathly

It's official: book seven will be called:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now, how about that rumored 07.07.07 release date?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rain

Time for another poem. This time, if Bukowski wrote about today's weather in Dallas:

Rain

rain
it reigns over everything i want to do
it sums up my mood
but i see some clearing

the rain brought some cold
yet there is no ice
no panic
no fear
just some skids at a stoplight

i want some more clearing
before i walk outside
do the drunks care about the weather?
i guess i'm an exception

winter is supposed to start tomorrow
but it feels like fall just started
halloween felt like yesterday
hell, last year's christmas party felt like yesterday

time goes too fast
in a weekly routine

my shopping is done
i cross my fingers for no return trips
even if it totally clears
i've had enough shopping for a year

i'm too old to play in the leaves
i'm too aware of the mud on the ground
i think i'll enjoy the ground when it goes back to dirt
maybe i'll have something else to complain about

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

You Could Be Born Again

I've always had a soft spot for sunny, almost-whimsical pop music from the Sixties. It's why I get a smile on my face when I hear "Windy" by the Association or the Friends of Distinction's version of "Grazing in the Grass." It's what drew me into LOST's second season opener with the use of Mama Cass's "Make Your Own Kind of Music." There's no "rock" element here; it's just warm and sugary melodies with horns, pianos and layers of vocal harmonies.

I first heard of the Free Design's existence via Stereolab's song of the same name. I heard accolades about their material over the years, but I never heard any of it until yesterday. Sound Opinions features a super-obscure Christmas track, "Shepherds & Wisemen," on this week's show. I played the track about three or four times before I cast my net out for some of their material. Good friend Mark supplied me with the Kites Are Fun compilation, but I'd like to hear more.

If I were to start with a comparison, I'd go back to where I first heard of the group's name. Stereolab has always had some bouncy little pop numbers mixed in with their hypnotic driving numbers. If you want to hear where they got those pop influences, look no further than the Free Design.

I get the feeling the Free Design (and similar-sounding groups) were initially pegged as saccharine pop. Everything sounds clean and sparkling ala Sergio Mendes and Burt Bacharach. Yet the melodies still hold up after all these years. Then I start thinking about what I consider modern pop blah and wonder: will stuff like Hannah Montana and Black Eyed Peas be considered pop perfection in 2021? I honestly hope not. I could be wrong though. Imagine some MP3 blogger praising "My Humps" as one of the greatest songs ever. Now that's scary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update from J. Robbins

J. posted a message on his website over the weekend following up on last week's news release:

12.13.06

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. Partly, I haven’t had the time or energy, but mostly it just didn’t feel appropriate to write about a family crisis on my music/work/vanity website. This is the place where I indulge inconsequential musings about music or politics, throw down Top Ten lists and propound my love of whomever I am lucky to be working with at any given time ... but things have definitely changed around here and especially since Kim and Bill put up their page for our son Cal, I figure it’s time I said something about what’s been happening.

Above all, I want to say THANK YOU - though words barely seem adequate - to Kim, Bill, Margaret Morgan and friends in the UK, and to everyone who has donated anything or even just sent a message of support. Janet and I feel more than ever that we are part of a real community, irrespective of geography but sharing a powerful bond through music and common ideals, and for that we are truly thankful. We have been moved to tears by the kindness of friends, and of total strangers, responding to Cal’s plight. And we are thankful for the messages we've received from other parents of kids with SMA.

I also wanted to give some more specific details about what we’ve been going through.

Callum was born Jan 27, 2006, and for the first few months of his life, we had no clue anything was wrong. We remarked on his “mellowness,” the fact that he didn’t seem interested in his legs or feet, and that he seemed to really hate being on his tummy, but he was really sociable, an early babbler, and obviously bright from an early age. Even our pediatrican thought Cal was just developing in his own way. He was, and is, simply a wonderful kid. But when he had passed his 6-month pediatric appointment and still didn’t sit up or even shimmy, and started having trouble holding his head up, we got more worried and went back to our doctor, only to find that something was indeed very wrong. We were told he had a severe lack of muscle tone, a total absence of reflexes, and the official diagnosis of SMA Type 1, confirmed by bloodwork, came fairly quickly thereafter.

We are lucky to live within walking distance of Johns Hopkins hospital, where Dr. Thomas Crawford has been studying SMA almost exclusively for 18 years. We were referred to him and he has been Cal’s doctor (along with our regular pediatrician) since the diagnosis. And he has been great. But when someone on the cutting edge of 21st century medicine tells you there is little or nothing that can be done, it does have a harder impact than hearing it from your family doctor.

We are encouraged by Dr. Crawford’s perception that - at least for now - Cal is in very good shape for a kid with his diagnosis. It is not uncommon for an infant with Type 1 SMA to already have severely impeded breathing and/or digestion, but Cal’s respiration and digestion seem really normal and healthy - he has a really strong voice and great appetite, and for his condition, fairly good head control. As an almost-11-month old with the physical aptitude of a healthy 2-or-3-month-old, in some ways maybe he is ahead of the game.

But our brief from the world of conventional medicine is simply to do as much physical therapy with him as we can (not because it will make for functional gains, but rather to keep his muscles from wasting and thereby keep him as healthy as possible), and do everything we can to keep him from getting sick, because thanks to his weakened chest muscles, his lungs will probably not develop fully, he will be at greater risk of a simple cold turning into something more serious, and an opportunistic infection is most likely to be his downfall.

As Dr. Crawford said to us, the most perverse thing about SMA is that no two cases are alike, so there is no predicting the course of Cal’s illness. It could be stable for the rest of his life, or it could worsen - slowly, or quickly, to what degree, all pretty much unknowns. SMA Type 1 is so often a fatal condition, but there’s just no telling what’s actually coming for Cal, except that actual improvements are not to be expected.We are working overtime to explore our options outside the traditional thinking. Since October, Cal has been getting regular physical therapy, along with cranial sacral therapy which has done a lot to alleviate the physical effects of being immobile, and we have even gone outside the US (and the influence of the FDA) for one inconclusive) form of treatment.

We are working with another neurologist who has used detoxification programs to treat and even cure autistic children, to explore the possibility that dietary allergies and environmental factors may have an effect on Cal’s condition.

At 11 months, Cal is too young to be an active participant in clinical trials, and we are not generally the greatest fans of pharmaceuticals, but we are also looking into some drug-based treatments that we may be able to try outside of a formal clinical trial setting.Most promising: two days ago we returned from a 2-week trip to a unique physical therapy practice in Mississippi with a very special approach to neuromuscular disorders, which gave us a lot of hope for a way forward. After 2 weeks there, we have seen Cal get some muscle tone where he previously had none, a contracture in his right leg has straightened out, he is definitely inhabiting his body more than before, and he has even made progress toward rolling over for the first time since before the onset of SMA. We have a lot of faith in what we experienced in Mississippi and the donations from Kim & Bill’s page will enable us to return there and make it a continuing part of Cal’s care.

We are getting some great advice and logistical support from the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Maryland Infants and Toddlers program, but we still don’t know just how far our insurance will go for the more conventional expenses that are coming up, things like adaptive equipment (including wheelchairs and the associated corrective surgery) and assisted breathing machinery ... meanwhile the alternative stuff is 100% up to us, so for Kim and Bill, and Janet’s family and friends in the UK, to reach out to people on our behalf, and for people to have responded as they have, is nothing less than a blessing and it’s hard to find the language adequate to express the depth of our gratitude.

I do want to conclude by saying that, after the initial shock and sadness, having come somewhat to grips with the state of things (the “new normal”), day-to-day life right now is not always all that dramatic. I now realize how often, when we deal with disabled people, even despite our best intentions, we see the disability more than the person, and just how awful that really is. Day-to-day, with things stable as they are right now, Janet and I are reveling in this time with our son, and when we look at him, we don't see "our stricken baby," but rather a beautiful kid, with incredible positive energy and such a strong character that often it's been like he is the one getting us through it, not vice versa. He has started talking for real, babbling a lot but also saying some specific words and being even more communicative and funny ... the point being, though we know the road ahead is going to be different and sometimes a lot more difficult, Janet and I are still experiencing the joys of being the
parents of a wonderful little boy, and it’s amazing.

To everyone who is helping in any way, even with a thought of support, we send all our gratitude and love.

J., Janet & Cal

Friday, December 15, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 - Part IV: A New Hope

Now to unveil my top favorites of 2006. Not all of these records came out this year, but I've never quite understood why records of the year have to be records that came out that year. With the exception of the bottom three listed -- which denote my favorite favorite albums of the year -- there really is no ranking.

Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Reviewing the How Strange, Innocence reissue for Punk Planet, I realized that Explosions in the Sky is not some Mogwai/Godspeed toss-off. After listening to all of their recorded material (including the Rescue EP and some bootlegs), I kept coming back to The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. Way more hopeful and brighter compared to their other material, these five tracks are pretty damn amazing.

Converge, You Fail Me and No Heroes
You Fail Me was played many times in my car this year. Brutal and spastic yet incredibly thought-out, the record kept blowing my mind. When No Heroes arrived in October, I thought this record towered above You Fail Me. Way more in-your-face and punishing, No Heroes is still blowing my head off.

the pAper chAse, Now You Are One of Us
Nobody else sounds like the pAper chAse. The idea of twisted chords and beats with bits from obscure horror flicks may sound like something for the Hot Topic goth crowd. Yet the band doesn't pander to anyone. This won't have you dancing in your seat, but it's pretty damn head-turning (in a good way).

Sparta, Threes
The Mars Volta may get more love from the press, but Sparta's music keeps evolving in a good way. Threes feels much different than their previous albums. It's darker, but not so dark that it's morbid and lifeless. It's a bit more toned-down, but that doesn't diminish its power.

Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
A sweet little record that's worth a lot of listens. The Life Pursuit is more amped up than their earlier work, but that doesn't put a damper on things. I know people who feel that If You're Feeling Sinister is the only album worth having. I argue that if you're a B&S fan, you can't have just one or two records.

TV On the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
I wasn't expecting this record to really grab me, but it did. Chris kept playing "I Was a Lover" when I would see him DJ, so I became very curious about the whole record. I never thought I could get into something that made me think of Prince and My Bloody Valentine.

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
"Neeeeeeeeeeko," as some of my friends slowly say. Her voice has that kind of effect on people and it really hit me this year. Since her approach to her solo material is different from her work with the New Pornographers, I often forgot that she's that golden voice on songs like "Letter From An Occupant." Fox Confessor melds folk, country and gospel into something so special that even non-fans of those genres can enjoy it.

Killswitch Engage, As Daylight Dies
Not as groundbreaking as their previous albums, but As Daylight Dies is another worthwhile addition to the band's canon. The riffs are more involved and meatier, but so are the warm melodies.

Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops
I couldn't really sink my teeth into Secret Machines' debut, Now Here is Nowhere. Too much building with very little payoff. Ten Silver Drops has plenty of payoffs. A step-up sonically from their debut, but a major step-up in the songwriting, the record holds my attention over the 45 minute runtime.

Blackpool Lights, This Town's Disaster
Former Get Up Kids member Jim Suptic really steps up on his new band's debut album. Owing a lot of its sound to Sire-era Replacements and Reprise-era Paul Westerberg, these eleven songs make me want to sing along over and over again.

Cursive, Happy Hollow
The big one. Tim Kasher is on a streak and I hope this praise won't jinx it. Happy Hollow is a solid record with a defined beginning, middle and end. There's a story told in the lyrics, but it's not some story where graphic novels, 13-minute self-important videos, storybooks or bonus tracks are needed. Happy Hollow seems like the logical next step from The Ugly Organ, but it's not The Ugly Organ Part II. It's a tuneful satire that doesn't get stale.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 - Part III

Sometime in January of this year, I had a craving for Pantera's music. I hadn't really listened to these guys since high school, but when I heard them again, I didn't feel like I was in a timewarp. Receiving a copy of the band's "greatest hits" collection, I was struck by how incredible this music still was. I've always held fellow bands like Metallica close to me, but I never thought 2006 would be a year I would really get into a few newer metal bands.

I've thought all year long about why I feel drawn to this kind of music. Depending on the band, stuff like crunching power chords, noodly riffs, shouting/singing vocals and busy drumming don't seem stupid. They actually feel pretty inspiring. Again, this depends on the band.

A few metal bands have blown my mind this year and here's the list

Killswitch Engage
I've posted so much about these guys this year, so I'll keep it short. This is some tuneful and tasteful metal that's also crushing. Alive or Just Breathing, The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies received plenty of spins in my stereo this year.

Converge
Not necessarily metal, but not necessarily hardcore, Converge is well, Converge. A number of their songs may sound like spazzy gibberish at first, but they have a lot more going on than meets the eye. I listened to You Fail Me quite a bit this year, along with Jane Doe, but their '06 album, No Heroes, blew me away big time.

All That Remains
I've only heard a couple of All That Remains' songs, but I've really dug them. Their '06, The Fall of Ideals, features a lot more melody compared to their older material. More in the vein of Swedish death metal, ATR has a nice flair of nice melodies over blast beats.

DragonForce
Yes, this music is rather goofy (opera-like vocals, a handful of guitar solos in every song, etc.), but taken in small doses, this isn't bad. Looking past all the excess, these are some pretty tuneful (there's that word again) songs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

68

When you interview people for a book or documentary, you can't help but get close to them. In my time of writing and researching my book, I've become close to a number of people I've interviewed. This is not so I can take advantage of them and exploit their "dirt"; this is because I relate to who they are and what they are about. Plus, I'm a big fan of what they've done (be it playing music, releasing albums or writing about music). So it was pretty heartbreaking to get the news about J. Robbins's son, Callum.

10-month-old Callum was born with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA affects the brain's ability to communicate with the voluntary muscles that are used for activities such as crawling, walking, breathing, and swallowing. The prognosis is very grim: even if he lives past his second birthday (which a large percentage of children with this don't make it to), he'll never be able to walk.

The cost of treatment is very expensive and it is not known how much of J.'s insurance will cover this. So, former Jawbox members Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot set up a PayPal account for donations. Within hours of the news, MySpace bulletins about it appeared, along with news releases on Punknews.org, the AV Club and Pitchfork. A benefit concert is even being discussed. For me, I had to step back and be blown away.

Seeing people come out of the woodwork to help this cause has been pretty overwhelming. Former bandmates of J.'s, former members of bands J. has recorded and others have passed the word along. This is not some guy who plays tunes that some people like. There's a lot more to him than the notes he plays and the bands he records.

In my case, J.'s always been supportive and encouraging for the book. So I was pretty devastated when I heard the news. I know life isn't fair, but it hurts when something so unfair happens to gracious and kind people. It's been very difficult to get my head around this. I hope this spreading of the word will do a lot of good. I get the feeling that it already has.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 Part II

Today's list consists of "catalog artists" (aka, artists that have been around for years). Coincidentally, all of the following released new material this year. Yet it was mostly older material that really rocked my brain off.

Tom Waits
Until October 2005, I thought Tom Waits was The Guy With Nearly-Unlistenable Songs That Somehow Wrote The Very-Listenable, "Downtown Train". Being introduced to his gentler material (like "Take It With Me," "Tom Traubert's Blues" and "Ol' '55"), I realized there was more to this guy.

With the acquisition of Used Songs, a collection of his material on Asylum, I dug even more. Reading Innocent When You Dream, reading the Complete Idiot's Guide on Jefito and seeing Big Time, his "unlistenable" stuff became pretty listenable. Now I'm at a point where I want to have almost every album of his. While I await some nice record company to remaster and reissue his back-catalog, I look forward to hearing Orphans, the new 3-disc compilation of unreleased and new material.

Feeder
Feeder has been around for ten years. Though more popular across the pond, some of their songs have been used in commercials and TV shows on the WB (back before it became the CW). Thanks to used record stores around town, I found almost all of their back catalog for cheap. No, these guys aren't trailblazing, but they rock with a melodic tinge that I can't get enough of. And they don't come across as wimpy either.

Scott Walker
A few months before I heard the It's Raining Today compilation, I had the urge to hear some really rich orchestral pop. I don't know exactly why, but I did. Being introduced to Scott Walker's solo material via a couple of nice write-ups on the 'net and hearing It's Raining Today, I had to have some of this for myself. Opting out of picking up the single-disc Boy Child compilation, I jumped in the deep end with the 5-disc In 5 Easy Pieces. I'm still sifting through all of this, but I'm glad I picked it up. If I had picked up Boy Child, I would have wanted more.

Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth was a band that always eluded me. I've known about them since 7th grade and I've slowly warmed up to them (fifteen years after the fact). I've had Dirty, Murray Street and Sonic Nurse for a while, along with burned copies of Washing Machine, EVOL and Daydream Nation, but something just didn't sink in. Listening to Dirty's "Sugar Kane" and Sonic Nurse's "Peace Attack" over and over this year, I finally got these guys.

2006 saw the band release another stellar album, Rather Ripped, in addition to a compilation of non-LP and unreleased material called The Destroyed Room. They have so much material to process and I'm just beginning. For now, it's Rather Ripped and the Goo reissue that I'm digging. I'll get to stuff like A Thousand Leaves and Sister eventually. Maybe by then Daydream Nation will get its long-overdue reissue.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 Part I

2006 was indeed a great year with music. I'm working up to my absolute favorites of year, but before then, here are some records I really enjoyed in 2006 that were released in 2005.

Against Me!, Searching for a Former Clarity
Searching for a Former Clarity came out in fall of 2005. I was curious to hear the album when it was released, but I heard all sorts of drastically mixed reviews. Some said this was a great step forward. Some said the demos were better. Others felt the band could never top their debut, Reinventing Axl Rose.

Fate stepped in by receiving the record to review for Punk Planet. I wasn't sure what to think of it based on my first few listens, so I kept listening to it again and again. I reached a point where I couldn't stop listening to the album (well after I had written and sent off my positive review). Why could I not stop listening? Well, the band has its own blend of harsh punk rock with pop-punk and folk (and they do it very well). Other bands do the whole folk with punk rock beats and it comes across as a novelty to me. Not these guys.

Gang of Four, Return the Gift
The idea of this record sounded awful: the reunited, original line-up re-recorded songs from their first few albums in conjunction with a worldwide tour. So many bands re-record older material and it just doesn't work. The charm is usually gone due to several factors (age, studio polish, etc.). Gang of Four proved this wrong, but that doesn't mean the coast is clear for everyone else.

Return the Gift sounds fantastic. The big-beat drums are way more pronounced, as are the vocals and guitar. Bassist Dave Allen puts his stamp of thwack on a number of great songs originally done after he left the band (like "To Hell With Poverty"). All this said, Return the Gift doesn't totally top the original recordings, but it makes the case that the reunion was not some walked-through, phoned-in, cash-in.

Modern Life is War, Witness
Modern Life is War play a kind of hardcore that is harsh, but not so harsh that it's an all-out assault on your ears. This is a fine album even though it's nine songs played in under 27 minutes. These guys don't muck around; they get in and they get out. I thank my editor at Punk Planet for introducing them to me (via his interview with singer Jeff Eaton that ran earlier this year).

Nightmare of You, Nightmare of You
Credit goes to Torr Leonard for spreading the good word on these guys. Consisting of members from the Movielife and Rival Schools, NOY go for something broader than what seems to easy. Yes, lead singer Brandon Reilly wears eyeliner and has a slightly melodramatic approach to singing. But that doesn't mean that the band's music is only for the teen goth vampire crowd. Nightmare of You is really poppy rock with hooks galore. Though there are parts that are a little too sugary for me, I can't help but hum along.

Editors, The Back Room
Released in England in 2005 and released stateside in 2006, The Back Room is a pretty fine debut. Driven by the singles "Munich," "Bullets" and "Blood," Editors do something right. Yet calling them a commercially-friendly mix of Joy Division and Interpol is very misleading. Yes, these songs sound dark, but they are incredibly warm and hopeful at the same. I don't know how a band can do this so well, but they do it.

Figurines, Skeleton
Released in Europe in 2005, but released here in 2006, Skeleton is a peppy little gem. The comparisons to certain bands that have put out records on Up Records really begins and ends in the vocals department. Songs like "The Wonder" and "Other Plans" really rocked my mind this year.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
A record I heard plenty of kudos for last year, I got this record in late-'05. So I didn't have any time to review it '05's wrap-up. I didn't think this big, dense record would be the band's final bow, but it was.

Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
I loved Transatlanticism, but I didn't like Plans very much. I listened to it a few times and brushed it aside. Seeing the Directions DVD this year, I realized what I was missing. Plans is something you have to sit back and enjoy.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sister I'm a Poet

A few days ago, Jen posted a link that imagined Poems That Were Considered and Rejected Before 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Was Established as "The Official American Christmas Poem." Poems from Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Alan Poe were imagined and I thought the results were funny. Feeling inspired, I decided to chime in with a poem I thought Charles Bukowski would write:

sleigh ride

even in winter
my ears bleed
i never wanted to see that broad again
but i did

i paid too much for too little
in return
i ask why
why so much for a sleigh ride

no jingle
no jangle
just cold air breezing through my clothes

i think about why i gave the bottle up
just for a night to be with her
and her damn little ride
then i remembered

the smell of that perfume
that laugh
that lipstick
it was all there

but the cold brought me back
back to where i was before she called

i just can't hear that jing-jing-jingling


I don't fancy myself a poet; I was just doing what I thought old Hank might have said. I've only read one of his books (Hot Water Music, a collection of short stories), seen the Born Into This documentary and have read a couple of his poems. Frankly, I thought I was writing a total Bukowski rip-off and nothing more. I was expecting somebody else to come along and do something like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by John Cheever or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Richard Wilbur. Tee-hee, ha-ha, right?

So it was surprising when Jason asked me if this was a real Bukowski poem. Jason's really into poetry (he once had his own poetry magazine) and has a number of books of poems all throughout our house. He said he liked it regardless of who wrote it and I was very flattered. He suggested I submit it somewhere. The cynic in me felt like saying no and just make light of the whole thing, but another part of me wants that cynic to shut up. This other part wants to try doing some poetry (in addition to all the other writing I do).

So I ask you, the reader of this non-poetry blog portal, would you care to occasionally see original poems on here?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Mall Punk News Stories of 2006

No matter how absurd mall punk can be, I can't really turn away from reading about it. I figure one must arm him/herself with as much information for the most amount of ammo. Some of these bands I like, but a number of them I don't like at all. I've found trying to read about a band I really like requires digging around stories about bands that I don't care about. So, here's a short little list of news stories I found fascinating (in good, bad or both ways) in 2006.

Top Mall Punk News Stories of 2006

Hawthorne Heights vs. Victory Records
2006 started off with some very shady attempts by the label to get the band's second album, If Only You Were Lonely, atop the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. The plan backfired and the record debuted "only" at number 2. In August, a bombshell was dropped: the band was suing to get off the label. The label counter-sued and things are still up in the air. I'm still not a fan of HH's music, but what they did was incredibly brave and commendable.

Panic! At the Disco vs. Brent Wilson
The band first said the bassist quit the band, then word got out that he didn't. He filed a lawsuit and things are still pending. Lawsuit or no lawsuit, would this band of mimes and Goth pirates just go away?

Lifetime signs with Decaydance Records
One of the most revered post-hardcore bands of the Nineties signs with one of the most hated mall-punk labels of today. Guitarist Dan Yemin responds with extensive reasons why and an open call for fans to e-mail thoughts, concerns and questions to him. By the end of the year, a two-song 7" came out and it sounds a lot like the classic Lifetime (and in a good way). As a sidenote: one-time bassist Linda Kay was charged with possessing human remains.

Escape the Fate loses vocalist before their debut album arrives
Las Vegas five-piece (who long for the days of sleazy excess last seen with bands like Motley Crue) part ways with vocalist Ronnie Radke before their debut album arrives. Only a few weeks prior, the vocalist made bold claims about this record: "I don't want to come off like an asshole, but we're gonna be that change in music. I have a vision. I want people to have fun, put their fists in the air. We're getting recognized in every city. It's gonna happen. Watch. I'm not jokin'. We're gonna be the biggest thing. So huge. I know it."

My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade
Giving numerous straight-faced interviews about how this is a concept album on death, I wondered when they would start laughing about it. That has yet to come. That's the problem with a number of these bands: they're taking total shtick and trying to be incredibly serious about it. Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way (at least to me).

CRACKED listed the album as one of the Five Most Unintentionally Funny Albums of 2006. "Epics are either really fun or kickass," wrote Dustin Glick, "you can either be funny and flamboyant like Queen or surly and awesome like Lynard Skynard. But you can't shop at Hot Topic and cry about your daddy."

Angels and Airwaves
Amid mudslinging from his former bandmates in blink-182, Tom DeLonge aimed for the sky with Angels and Airwaves' We Don't Need to Whisper. Hoping to revisit the heights of the Cure, Pink Floyd and U2, the album reminded me more of A Flock of Seagulls. A Flock is Seagulls is not bad, but definitely not something of the caliber of the Cure, Pink Floyd or U2. DeLonge shot himself in the foot by hyping the album to absurd depths months before the album dropped. By the end of the year, he appeared on Larry King Live for a surprisingly coherent interview.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Student Bodies quotes of 2006

I make no secret about how much I love Student Bodies (read my review here). Every year, there are a number of quotes from the movie that stick in my head. Simply, this is really smart, deadpan humor that hasn't become stale. Here's this year's list:

Top 10 Student Bodies Quotes for 2006:

10. "Talking? During horsehead bookends?"

9. "Why do they always run away from me? It's the galoshes. They're a dead giveaway. Why do I wear them? It isn't even raining!"

8. "Hasn't there been enough senseless killing? Let's have a murder that makes sense!"

7. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Sahara Tahoe. It's showtime!"

6. "I can never stop thinking about it. Funerals get me hot."

5. "I'll get it. I'm farthest from the phone."

4. "Please, don't be so formal. Call me Daddy."

3. "How do you feel about sex?"
"Sex?"
"Did I mispronounce it?"

2. "Look at those two sneaking off."
"Well, maybe they have to go to the bathroom or something."

1. "And if I see one more horror film, I'll throw up. What makes them think that the American public wants to watch such stupid trash?"
"You're right dear, now hurry up or we'll miss The Dukes of Hazzard."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Translation

Yesterday, Chris got some flak for posting his top albums of 2006 without any commentary on them. He felt he would be repeating a lot of the stuff he already wrote about them earlier in the year. So he just kept it to a list. After kicking an idea around with him, I decided to post the following tongue-in-cheek item in the comments section:

gorilla vs. bear's Top 10 of 2006 . . . as translated by Eric Grubbs

10. Hot Chip, The Warning
--Here's a band that rocked my face off even though they don't use the standard instruments that rock most faces off. Layers of keyboards, vocals and drumbeats go places. And when I mean places, they're not some swanky clubs that play house music.

9. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House
--Not to be confused with Austin's Golden Bear, Grizzly Bear reminds me of Jim O'Rourke's best solo material. This is laid-back, atmospheric, folky pop that doesn't put you to sleep.

8. Beach House, Beach House
--This duo's recent performance at the Amsterdam Bar blew the roof off. The deal is, there is no roof where the bands play, but whatever. This is some pretty, chamber-like stuff. Yes, this is another mellow record on my Top 10, but it's great.

7. Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming
--Let's get the Bowie comparison out of the way: yeah, the guy sings like mid-70s Bowie, but not in a tacky way. The scope of this record is like a twee pop record, but it doesn't feel like a twee pop record.

6. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
--Furthering the puzzlement of fellow bloggers like The Berg and Eric of Theme Park Experience about the hipness of gangsta rap, this is a straight-up gem. His flow is still right on target and his lyrics are totally raw. Enough rappers talk about their chains, rims and false teeth; Ghostface tells it how all great gangsta rap tells it: it's the CNN of the ghetto.

5. Love Is All, Nine Times That Same Song
--You want some poppy rock that sounds alive? Here you go. Love is All feature some spectacular female vocals and really catchy guitar along with some tasty bells and whistles.

4. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury
--The record everybody has been waiting for, except for those who haven't or don't understand what's so great about these guys or gangsta rap in general. Not to be confused with the Coup, this is some more smart rap that blasts out of your speakers and opens your mind. Using non-traditional beats (like coins, steel drums, banging on steel walls) makes this even more appealing.

3. Joanna Newsom, Ys
--She's done it again! Joanna is my homegirl with a record that Joni Mitchell, Bjork and Fiona Apple would kill to make. Yes, this record could be considered an EP at only five songs, but these fifty-five minutes will hold you tight and knock your socks off.

2. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
--Denton band drops the Flaming Lips vibe for something that America and Fleetwood Mac did in the Seventies. With a one-two punch of "Roscoe" and "Bandits," this is a stellar little record of quiet beauty.

1. The Knife, Silent Shout
--This record sounds like it came out in 1986. This is all electronic with vintage sounds from dance music's past. It's a head-trip and it's my jam out of all the jams I heard this year. Don't ask me why, but it just jams my mind.

Hear me out: other than Midlake's albums, I had not really heard any of the aforementioned records. I pulled up the iTunes music store, listened to some sound clips and wrote what I wrote. It was fun to gauge what somebody else might think about these records, especially records that I don't really "get." Some people got the joke and some didn't. I don't mean to piss on a hipster mentality, but it was a little fun doing something like Geoff would do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Top Ten Quotes

Time for some fun with year-end lists. I'll get to my favorite records of the year (you can read about ten of them in the new issue of Punk Planet), but for the time being, let me share some quotes I gathered from interviews this year.



Top Ten Quotes I Heard This Year During Book Interviews:

10. "I don't feel like I've changed the reasoning that I'm doing any of this shit. You're playing a show for the people that are inside the room, not the people who didn't bother to show up. You're putting out a record for the people who dig it."

-- Chris Wollard

9. "His singing gave me the courage to sing like a girl."

-- Jeremy Enigk on Shudder to Think's Craig Wedren

8. "When you're talking about rock -- and this goes for any type of rock -- if it isn't a little bit dangerous and it doesn't piss off the parents a little bit, it's questionable and suspect. That's just a safe assumption to me."

-- John Congleton

7. "That whole section was blank. I was like, 'Dude, you can't have this instrumental section. You gotta have something there. And we gotta have some back and forth or something like.' And then Chuck goes, 'How about, "Live your heart and never follow"'? I was like, 'Great.'"

-- Walter Schreifels, on recording Hot Water Music's "It's Hard to Know"

6. "To me, it always seemed like gang violence. And I think that whole gang mentality is something I just could not relate to. I can understand how some kind of misdirected person is gonna come to that and that's gonna be their kind of ad-hoc family. I don't know – I was screwed up in different ways. I looked for my family values elsewhere in hardcore."

-- Aaron Burgess, on straight edge

5. "Every generation's older people are convinced that they were the last [that] did anything worthwhile and that none of the kids are taking up the torch like they did, and it's just a load of shit. People just love to complain."

-- Kyle Ryan

4. "I think [with] punk rock, you have to be young. It's an inheritantly young thing because with age, you become a realist. I don't know how much I would want to pine over the kind of romantic subtitles that Blake was pining over on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy."

-- Trevor Kelley

3. "If you wanna know why so much bad music is popular, well look at the demographic of the people that buy all the records, it's all babysitting money. Somebody who's fourteen/fifteen year-old, no offense to these people, they're valid human beings, but they have not had a lot of life experience."

-- John Congleton

2. "The more we talked about breaking up, the more bearable the tour became."

-- Chris Wollard, on Hot Water Music's first break-up.

1. "The truth takes time to tell."

-- William Goldsmith

Friday, December 01, 2006

Through the Fire and Flames

Credit goes to the folks at Punknews.org for pointing this out: CRACKED's Five Most Unintentionally Funny Albums of 2006. Albums by My Chemical Romance, the Mars Volta and Jibbs are listed, but the one that I find very appealing (even with all the silliness) is DragonForce's Inhuman Rampage. A video for "Through the Fire and Flames" is included and I've watched this video a handful of times. I gotta say, I like this song.

Yes, these guys have an Iron Maiden meets Swedish metal vibe. Yes, these guys sing about pain, burning, darkness, freedom, flames and fighting over and over again on the album. Yes, there are about seven guitar solos in "Through the Fire and Flames" alone. Yes, this is pure guitar wankery, but damn, this stuff is tuneful (to my ears at least).

A few months ago, a friend of mine who came up through the same post-hardcore/emo/pop-punk stuff that I did, was so excited to see DragonForce play live. As a matter of fact, he changed his MySpace username to say that he was seeing these guys. This was the same person that sang praises of the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden-like 3 Inches of Blood last year. I asked him if he seriously liked this stuff and he said yes. Slowly, I've understood why.

Make no mistake, I'm well aware that this stuff is insanely goofy, but it's not like this stuff is Overkill or Warrant. I know I could never play songs like these on guitar or drums, but I'm OK with that. This kind of tuneful speed metal isn't that far removed from the blazing pop-punk of Strung Out, a band I have loved for almost ten years now. As long as the material is tuneful (including the solos), that's fine by me.

Did I ever think I would praise stuff like this? Absolutely not. It's not as dense as something like Tom Waits, Scott Walker or the Beach Boys, but this stuff is no joke for me