Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gut Feeling: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong


I am a man who craves satisfaction. Scratch that, I am an overgrown boy unwilling to face manhood who likes music for wimps. And that is why I like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Well, like is taking it a bit too far, considering that I have the same reaction to their music. You see, the thing is, they seem to evolve with my own music tastes. Their eponymous debut came out in 2009 when I was still very much an admirer of the whole twee pop/Sarah Records thing, but I couldn’t help but think that they were just blatantly ripping off a bunch of bands I loved without half the soul. It sounded amazing upon the first few listens, but then it all fell apart when I realized I could just listen to the Field Mice and ignore the Pains of Being Pure at Heart forever.

But it sounded good, and I saw them at SXSW that year and their show was pretty good, but really only served to cement my feelings that they were copping a mess of other bands’ style and that they were too be ignored. Come 2011, they’ve got a new album coming out with a couple of pretty excellent sounding initial singles. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is a pretty solid by the numbers indie-pop jam where “Belong,” ventured into new territory. 90s alternative rock territory. Notably, Smashing Pumpkins turf. I got that feeling that I got the first time I saw the “Tonight, Tonight” video and recalled wearing that ZERO shirt with the star Billy Corgan on the playground in 6th grade and understanding what I wanted to get out of music at a base level. My problem with Belong as an album is that it feels like that base level 6th grader on a playground album. It’s a bunch of fucking around without showing anyone anything NEW. It’s a rehash of a bunch of bands you loved, and at first you will knee-jerk into digging on it because you like the bands being copped, but after three or so listens you will soon realize that you might as well listen to the fucking music this band has put into a blender.

This album’s influences aren’t so much worn on its sleeve as they are splattered on their whole fucking t-shirt. It’s as if they’ve just cracked open the skull of the Cure with an axe and freely let the blood flow over their cheap white poly-cotton blend Hanes tee. Not just the Cure though, despite the fact that Robert Smith has taken up residence inside this album and quietly wishes to be evicted. The Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, live here, and so does Robert Wratten despite the fact that he spent plenty of time inside of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s debut and despite the fact that he probably got his fill on that. Or maybe he likes this band, I don’t know. I hear the Field Mice and I hear true and honest heartbreak and pleas for someone to be let back in and I hear the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and I feel like they’re faking it. And really, that’s what kills me here. It’s not the influences on the sleeves and splatters, it’s how it all sounds so rehearsed and faked through. I can wag my head from side to side to the melodies but three listens in I can tell there’s nothing there and five or six I’m wanting to write a diatribe about how this band needs to find their own fucking sound because Christ this is fucking boring.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are always a band that I want to love. They appeal to my base urges to embrace indie-pop, but upon further listening I realize that their music is shallow in a disgusting sort of way. I don’t think they are bad people, or that they are committing some sort of crime, I don’t think there is anything wrong with them as people. I think they really love music, but I think the problem is that they may love music too much that they can’t disconnect themselves from the people they admire and that makes for some records that really need to be listening to. They are fine records once through, but I could just mash-up to Wish and Darklands and Loveless and Sittin’ Pretty and that jumbled mess would still sound more genuine. Despite the fact that they make it obvious that it is painful, being pure at heart and all, it’s hard to see the heart. Or the purity. Or the pain. And frankly, any one of those three would make this an album worth listening to.

P.S. For the sake of actual criticism despite the ideology of this album, I'll say this: Most of the songs commit the modern rock atrocity of having a decent first minute and repeating that first minute for two more superfluous minutes, play emotional by adding layers of reverb to the vocals that makes them only sound more insincere, and as probably already inferred, try so fucking hard to sound like other songs that its distracting...but mostly only after the whole "repeating the first minute for four minutes" shit. That chorus for "Even in Dreams" would kill me so perfectly if the thing was three goddamn minutes sorter. Goddamnit, I want to like this band so much every time they put out a new record and why the fuck does it have to sound so vacant?

Yes, the distortion and well, most of it for that matter, is cribbed from vintage Smashing Pumpkins songs but this is still the best track on the record. It's a bit overlong, but mixes it up enough to make it compelling in its message (and oft repeated chorus). But why do all the guitars sound like fey little children! There is some righteous distortion at work but the guitars still sound like they'd fall over and curl into a little ball if you breathed on them wrong! In short, where's that Calvin Johnson ethic of being a pussy but still having some balls? Stop giving so much of a fuck, dudes (and dudette)! Maybe some day you can be a band that isn't defined by a gazillion other bands!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Club: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Exciting week! Not only did I finally finish the epic tome that is A Clash of Kings (only to lay into the even MORE epic tome that is A Storm of Swords, oof), but Martin announced that the long awaited fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series is coming out in July! So now if he croaks before the series is done, I'd only have to suffer through two hack jobs constructed from his epic notes. But since I've become a convert (see: Someone who initially hated Martin's prose to someone who kind of likes it a bit now), I wish the newly married Mr. Martin the best of luck in wrapping up this series without A.) Extending it to more books and B.) Writing books that are 2000 pages long. But anyway, here is my imaginary soundtrack for A Clash of Kings, which I think I might have liked more or as much as Game of Thrones because well, it's just so fucking awesome. Even the parts where I was like "Christ this is going on FOREVER," like Arya at Harrenhal, I was still like "OH MY GOD THIS IS SO AWESOME." So yeah, can't really complain. Taking a breather before really starting A Storm of Swords and all its 1200 pages. Oof.

Kurt Vile – “Puppet to the Man”
(for Theon Greyjoy)

When I started reading Clash of Kings, co-worker Jason kept nagging me about what I thought of Theon. I kept saying “I haven’t got there yet,” and when I got there, well, fuck. Theon is one of the most pitiful and pitiable characters I’ve ever read, as well as one of the most cowardly and pathetic. But still, I can’t hate him because I understand his motives. Taken away from his home at 10 to be a ward/hostage at Winterfell, he’s a 20 something without a home and oh so determined to win his father’s favor. The scene where he tries to get his sister into bed (though he doesn’t know it’s his much more favored by his father sister) is crushing, even given Theon’s unsavory talk to the woman. He deserves everything he reaps, despite the fact that the Greyjoy’s motto is WE DO NOT SOW. Watching him deal with the escape of Bran and Rickon from Winterfell was one of the most satisfying parts of the book, and the chapter Martin includes that is played out like he DID find them and plant their heads on pikes over the castle only to find out that he failed (like he always does because he sucks) was immensely satisfying. Well, that and spoiler alert.

Kurt Vile – “Hunchback”
(for Tyrion Lannister)

This is what I played on repeat when Tyrion was leading knights and shit into battle against Stannis and his soldiers at the river. Tyrion is my favorite character in a series FULL of amazingly built characters, and despite my disdain for the almost exclusively sinister House Lannister, Tyrion is the only voice of reason. Even when he’s doing shady shit, his actions are always make sense with his character. He’s learning that he enjoys the sweet taste of leadership but I still think his motives are as simple as he just wants things to return to normalcy. Where he can go about his little life, hide away with his beloved whore Shae and quietly enjoy his days with meat and mead. But well, shit’s fucked up and he does what he has to do to at least try to maintain a sense of order when his brother, sister, and nephew are trying their best to bring the kingdom to ruin. There’s a lot of poignancy in the refrain of “Halfman” that Tyrion so frequently receives, since he’s easily more of a man than any of the testosterone and blood hungry goons that surround him.

Radiohead – “Codex”

Something about this track illustrates Bran’s lonliness at Winterfell. Robb is gone, so he has to be in charge and play the prince when he, like Tyrion, would much rather be living a normal life, particularly one where his back isn’t broken and he can run with his wolf and climb the castle all he wants. There’s nothing particularly thematic about this song, I just remember spending a lot of mornings this past week or two waking up, putting on the just released The King of Limbs while eating oatmeal in an effort to absorb the aforementioned record. I never really did, it still feels kind of slight but this song stuck out and sort of got the mood right for the book so I kept playing it. It’s the sound of those somber moments right before people go into battle or someone important or tragic is killed.

Kanye West – “Power”

Because…well, just because. I still can’t see Kanye West as anything other than a guilty pleasure but there’s some truth in “No one man should have all that power” that I can oh so easily relate to A Clash of Kings. Maybe this is what Stannis Baratheon was listening to on his iPod before getting his ass handed to him at the Battle of Blackwater. Or maybe Robb Stark listens to this when he’s traipsing around the outskirts of Riverrun fucking shit up. Joffrey listens to it when he does something idiotic. Etc. They listen to it like “Born in the USA.” Getting pumped up on the jam, not the contradictory message. Wouldn’t be surprised if this showed up in a trailer for the Game of Thrones TV show. You know there’s an Austin Powers reference in this song? How was this the best album of 2010!

Destroyer – “Notorious Lightning”

Canadians know a thing or two of the North, and maybe that’s why they keep ruling my mental soundtrack for A Song of Ice and Fire. “Bay of Pigs” is still my favorite Destroyer song for the series, but this one is pretty apt too. The refrain of “And someone’s got to fall before someone goes free” is an easy touchstone, what with all the hostages and stuff. There’s just something regal about Destroyer. Even on Your Blues, the MIDI-tinged album from which this song is culled, it straight up sounds like music for kings.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Broadways - Big City EP

The Broadways – Big City EP
Asian Man Records, 1997
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mailorder Record Box, New, Ages Ago
Price: ~$.50

I’ve been listening to a lot of Lawrence Arms lately. Not sure why, but of all the punk bands I loved when I was 18, I love them as much as I did then, maybe more. I just like Chris MacCaughan’s songs more than Brendan Kelly’s this time around, but just a little more. I love their dynamic, etc. So, hence, I love the Broadways, and this was one of those EPs I played religiously when I got political. Effectively, the songs here say this: Why are people fucking destroying the world? It’s not political, so much as why do we need to pollute and cut down trees and destroy everything here. It’s secretly environmentalist, which is now a super political thing. A leftist political thing. Something that the right makes fun of the left for, for hugging trees and wanting to save whales and WHY WHY WHY I don’t get that. They love to complain about how the left is ruining America for their children and their children’s children, who won’t know true values or whatever but what difference is that going to make if you know, we destroy the planet. It’s stupid, and I think the songs here are still potent and vital, with that youthful look at issues that may not be as eloquent as say, a leading ecologist’s opinion but it’s fucking true. Anyway, that’s why I love the Lawrence Arms again. Because they’re smart and silly and they also sing about drinking too much and the simpler things. And they have hooks, good hooks, and this EP is reminding me that I oh so adored the Broadways for the same reasons. Way more primal, but hitting the same spot.

Brighter - Around the World in Eighty Days EP

Brighter – Around the World in Eighty Days EP
Sarah Records, 1989
Acquired Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $12

The second I fell in love with indie-pop, I was obsessed with Sarah Records. I still am, so when this came into Love Garden I ogled it for weeks. Yet I couldn’t find an excuse to blow $12 on a 7”. It just wasn’t St. Christopher’s “You Deserve More Than a Maybe,” my favorite Sarah Records track, trumping even the Field Mice. If that one had been there, I’d have dropped way more than $12 (maybe $25!). Anyway, I went home and listened to these songs on my computer and was like “Fuck, this is really good I should buy it” so I did. And it was worth it, this is an excellent little record that I listen to quite frequently. There’s something about Sarah Records that hits my comfort zone. The sound sort of shared by bands like Brighter, St. Christopher, the Field Mice, the Sea Urchins, and Blueboy. That sad bastard rainy day English college kid sound. The tunes here are excellent. “Inside Out” is a mopester’s dream, fit for dreary everyday life and heartbreak. Brighter don’t quite have the melodic knack of say, any of Robert Wratten’s bands but it’s very good nonetheless, even after I get out of fanboy mode and my heart slows down. In my head, "Things Will Get Better" sounds like "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" if the Smiths didn't have a budget and had to record in a broom closet. Love it. Fact: When Jenny went on a whirlwind tour of the great European cities with a bunch of high school kids, I sincerely begged her to go to Rough Trade records (or any record shops, for that matter) and find me some Sarah Records singles and included it in a chorus to the song I wrote in my sadness of her going to Europe and having to stay in Lawrence.

Bright Coloured Lights - "Open Your Eyes" 7"

Bright Coloured Lights - “Open Your Eyes” 7”
Slumberland, 1992
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.25

Another crown jewel of my 7” collection. Bright Coloured Lights was one of Pam Berry's post-Black Tambourine bands and yeah, this single is pretty incredible. Well, the title track at least. The other two songs are great, but man, “Open Your Eyes” is one of THOSE songs. One of those perfect little pop nuggets that has existed for years and years but no one has ever, ever heard. There are bands now ripping off this sound that were born the year it was recorded. It sounds fresh, and yeah, I know I said no one had ever heard this so how COULD those bands rip this off? Well, uh, er, surely they're all familiar with Black Tambourine (see: The Vivian Girls and the Black Tambourine Revival) and this being an offshoot, led by the outstanding Ms. Berry (who might as well be America's Amelia Fletcher), this is pretty much what heaven sounds like in my brain. Vocals that almost sound fey, but cut through the distortion. There’s something perfect and amazing about that. Oh yeah, and the other songs are pretty rad too. It’s the early 90s underground in the face of grunge. It’s the indie pop Kurt Cobain so adored doing what its always done, soldiering on. Even now, when every other band is allegedly an indie-pop band, it’s a niche that has a nice handful of folks working in the underground to put out the good shit.