Monday, February 21, 2011

Gut Feeling: Yuck - Yuck

Yuck – Yuck

My comfort zone is actually quite small. In reality, I hate most music. I appreciate almost all music, for all its merits and all that, but the music I actually willingly listen to in my free time is safe. It's music with guitars, almost exclusively of an indie rock/alternative rock variety. It's what I enjoy, so I don't deny that despite the guilt I feel for never listening to hip hop or dance music or electronica. There's music critic world and there's the world I live in, which is soundtracked by distortion and sweet guitar riffs and fuzzy vocals. And that's why I love Yuck's eponymous debut. It's a cluttered mess of hooks and chord progressions and vocal lines and guitar tones borrowed from my favorite bands, and on that alone I can't really fault Yuck for anything. Yo La Tengo is pretty prevalent, notably in the perfectly timed female vocal harmonies. Eric's Trip is present in the construction of this record, which mimics “Love Tara”'s FAST DISTORTION PUNKY HOOKY JAM followed by PENSIVE SLOW BURN GORGEOUS SAD TRACK repeat for 12 songs aesthetic. Guided by Voices shows up in a coupled of guitar lines and hooks, Sebadoh is everpresent in the recording style, and the Breeders, the Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth (on every song, naturally), and on and on and on. And I love it because I love that music.

And then I think of newer bands that Yuck are influenced by. They kind of sound like what I wish Broken Social Scene sounded like. They have a lot of the same favorite chords, except while BSS always kind of sounds nice, but boring, Yuck has a vitality that I can't quite explain. I waffle between feeling like they shouldn't sound vital because their sound is mostly a cobbling together of a bunch of other bands' sounds, but I think their sound is vital because it's bringing to the forefront a sound that has been largely forgotten and dismissed. It sounds like the bands I love, so I love it. Basically, that's my MO. The slow burners though, that's what kills me. “Shook Down” is a minor masterpiece, with a riff that reminds me of a certain pensive GBV track I can't remember, but the chorus with its gorgeous harmonies and it's familiar hook lures me in, and then that perfectly placed distorted breakdown takes it over the top. It's all the simple, raw, and yes, vital energy that Yuck distills into an excellent LP.

And yet, it's still uneven, but in the best way. The way “Love Tara” is uneven. It's distracting but in the way that you're never quite complacent. I feel like Yuck are in the same game as Girls, where they're crafting these songs that sound so familiar but they're also carving out their own sound within that. The outro on “Shook Down” could easily come from Christopher Owens & co, but at the same time, it's a little too dirty. A little too crusty, less pop majesty. A little bit too...Sebadoh. And then another awesome upbeat track happens and “Suicide Policeman” hits me in the stomach like an Elliot Smith song and this is where the lyrics happen. Understated for sure, but the perfect kind of understated. Not self-important or overly literate (despite my adoration of both the aforementioned lyrical sytlings), but like the recording quality, raw and to the point. “If you conjure up a fear/ Make it loud so I can hear the tambourine” is one of my favorite lines in recent memory.

At some point, later on in the album, someone actually DROPS the goddamned tambourine midsong, and it feels like they SHOULD have re-recorded but didn't because that was the real thing that kept the song real. That's really my only gripe with the album. That point where someone drops the tambourine. I feel like that's what makes something real, that in-studio fuck up that is overshadowed by the greatness of a certain song. Like the sound of Jeff Mangum getting out of a chair at the end of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea or Kim Deal fucking up the lyrics in “Huffer.” But it IS charming, and that's what this album has that makes it potent. It would be easily written off as a tribute to 90s alt rock, but the band members are too determined to make the best songs they can with the time they have. And THAT is what makes this a great record. Despite all the influences, Yuck's spirit and attitude makes this a great record. A lovable record. A record worth listening to because it sounds real and the hooks are excellent even if they come from here and there. “Georgia” sounds like three or four songs I've heard, but it also sounds like a song by a band called Yuck. It's a terrible band name, because there's nothing disgusting or yucky about Yuck, they deserve an iconic, excellent band name, but I'm not one to be picky. The slow burn sad jams are the best slow burn sad jams I've heard in a long, long time. “Suck” destroys me in all ways, and I had to analyze that destruction. It sounds like a song I've heard before. It hits a spot that's been hit before by another song. But it's got a spirit to it that feels naked and RAW RAW RAW, god there needs to be another word for raw. From the heart? I don't know. I've been spending a lot of time detoxing from being a music critic and just appreciating the things I like because of the way they make me feel, and this album makes me feel equal parts awesome and miserable, and that's an awesome thing. It feels like a journey, a quest, a trip. It's good stuff, and though they don't have an immediately recognizable spark of originality, I think Yuck prove that the sum of your influences most often sounds totally awesome.

P.S. While looking for cover art for this album, I found out that Yuck are from FUCKING ENGLAND. And they do America Alternative Rock so perfectly, I'm kind of ashamed of my compatriots for not appreciating their rich history! Way to go Yuck, I know I hate your band name and think you should have a way classier band name but your hooks and chords and riffs > current American indie rock bands.

P.S.S. "Sunday" sounds Kiwi-esque in the best possible way, how do you do it Yuck? It's not the Clean, it's not the Chills, but you're like the new wave of Flying Nun that's not even from New Zealand goddamnit I just love your hooks you bastards.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Club: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

2011 was and is to be the year I read Tolkien. Last year my nose was spent buried in the annals of science fiction, but there were certain books who brought in an element of fantasy that I have to admit, I quite adored. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a good example, one that cracked open my mind and let flow in a genre I always scoffed at. Why? Because of the dragons. I thought dragons were so stupid. Dragons and orcs and trolls and all of that crap. Lame. But last year, I did a little turnaround. I started playing this computer game called the Battle For Wesnoth which is all about all that orc-y stuff I hated and got REALLY into it. Then Jenny and I watched the Lord of the Rings series together and though I thought it was OK the first time, I was totally into it this most recent time around. Earlier this year I read the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and well, I think that was the perfect set-up for Tolkien.

Why? Because I think Tolkien will be a joy after reading Martin. At least based on my experience reading The Hobbit, which was quite a joyous experience. Unlike Martin, Tolkien injects passion into his prose. Don’t get me wrong, I think Martin is writing a great story full of great, complex characters but the prose has always been the part that makes me reticent to tackle the series 100%. Tolkien on the other hand, well, it’s just so damned spirited I can’t help but love it. The way he persistently breaks down the wall and lets you know that he’s telling you a story, I thought I’d get annoyed with that but I always thought it worked so perfectly with the lighthearted tone of the novel. And though the book was lighthearted, it never felt slight. There was so much adventure, so many harrowing escapes, and so many fierce battles. But still, the book never ceased to be a rollicking good time. I’m sure the Lord of the Rings novels take on a more serious tone, but even so, what I’ve got out of Tolkien so far is that they’re at least not going to be stiff.

Hence, the soundtrack I’ve concocted for The Hobbit is one of carefree, summertime larking about, and when I think of carefree summertime larking about I think of the Kinks, for whatever reason, notably “The Village Green Preservation Society.” Music that is light, but not slight in the least. I felt like the Kinks would produce a nice bonding moment between Bilbo and Gandalf and the Dwarves (note: I THOUGHT about putting a song by the band the Dwarves on the list, but there is nothing remotely sleazy about The Hobbit so I had to pass). It’s also very British, just like The Hobbit.

And then there’s some American music. Songs I pull out for road trips, songs that capture that sense of charted or uncharted adventure in some great push west (or north, or south, or east).

The Kinks “The Village Green Preservation Society”

As I mentioned before, in my head Bilbo and the Dwarves love the Kinks, and this was the sort of theme song I had running through my head as they tramped out of Hobbitton into the Misty Mountains. I know Led Zeppelin are known for their penchant for Tolkien, to the point where they wrote songs about Lord of the Rings, but yeah, I never got a lighthearted sense of adventure from Led Zeppelin ever.

The Kinks – “Strangers”

Wes Anderson used this song so perfectly in his film The Darjeeling Limited. In fact, I’d never listened to the Kinks’ Lola Versus the Powerman and the Money-go-round until I saw the trailer for that movie and realized that the Kinks were much more than their transvestite anthem “Lola.” “Strangers” is a perfect road song for people who are kind of disconnected from each other. It’s lovely and sad and the line “This love of life makes me weak at the knees” ties into the tone of this book like a neat little ribbon.

Beulah – “A Good Man is Easy to Kill”/ “Ballad of a Lonely Argonaut”

I imagine this is what the younger dwarves, Fili and Kili, would put on to piss off Thorin and Balin and all them. “It’s modern music, guys!” they might say. I listened to a lot of Beulah when I was working at CD Tradepost a year ago, until the day someone bought the Coast is Never Clear, which was a very sad day. It’s a perfect road trip album, full of all the energy you need to stave off being at your travelling companion’s throat. “Ballad of a Lonely Argonaut” is the same way, and one I used religiously on my trip to California in 2005. I remember finding this on the person we were staying with’s iPod, putting it on and running and jumping into a pool. It was a wonderful feeling.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – “Parallel or Together?”

Another great track from another great road trip album. Ted Leo’s The Tyranny of Distance is always the first CD I burn when I’m going on extended vacation. I don’t even know WHY. Maybe it’s the propulsive drums or something, something that illustrates travelling.

Silver Jews – “Random Rules”

Again, another classic American road trip album: American Water. At turns somber, at turns joyous, it’s a perfect mix of the feelings of taking a trip. “Random Rules” is weathered, which is when you think about it, a strange way to start off an album. It’s got that feeling of going 500 miles and just wanting to get to the hotel, but you just keep trucking on until you get there because well, there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s a lot of that in The Hobbit, except there are no rest stops, or McDonalds, just starvation and peril.