Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thrill of Discovery: Arctic Monkeys - Part 1

Thrill of discovery is an ongoing feature where I dive headfirst into the discography of a band everyone loves or are popular for some reason that I've never been able to understand based on cursory listens. It is an effort to fill in the gaps of my musical knowledge, which there are very many, and the end result is designed to be "fewer." This go around, it's British post-post-punk popular darlings Arctic Monkeys. It's meant to be a bit of a break from the colossal undertaking that was the Ween discography and the even more massive discography of the next artist, REM, who handily just broke up and it's now the perfect time to figure out why people are all apeshit for them now that they're kaput. But anyway, Arctic Monkeys. I chose them because I always thought they were entirely boring despite only ever hearing chunks of their songs on alt-rock radio. I realized I'd never actually listened to one of their records and that I couldn't even name one of their songs. I recently watched Richard Ayoade's directorial debut, the absolutely wonderful coming-of-age story Submarine which boasts an absolutely appropriate and unreasonably gorgeous five-song soundtrack from Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. Turn's out the guy is quite the songwriter. That coincided with the release of the music video of the title track from Arctic Monkeys latest LP, Suck it and See, and while I thought the video was a beautifully shot load of sexy rubbish, the song was really fucking great. Oh yeah, that's why I watched Submarine that night. Go figure.

Day 1: September 26, 2011
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

“The View From the Afternoon”

Sounds like a mash-up of the best of blur and the lingering dance-punk influence that sadly dwelt in the middle of the 00s. BUT, this song plays off with enough swagger and British enunciation and general funness that makes it not only work, but makes me want to listen to more. It’s pulling the same card as the Strokes, almost the exact same one except barely more British. The guitars are crunchier, the structures more loose, and it works.

“I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”

I can't tell if he's trying to be the Gallagher brothers or not (not really). We have the same guitar, though, so COOL.

What I like about this album (two songs in) is that none of it feels overthought which is really, I think, is one of the many Achilles’ Heels of modern music. Especially mainstream music. Especially mainstream modern rock, the kind of wannabe alternative trash they play on 96.5 the Buzz. Arctic Monkeys sound like Buzz stables. Like they could fit in right next to the Killers or Straylight Run or any of those other mass-produced sounding bands reliant on the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Chorus-Chorus-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus song structure, and naturally they’d stick out as sounding a bit more with it since they don’t beat their songs to death. They know that a good pop song should be right around or just under the three minute mark. Good for them.

“Fake Tales of San Francisco”

This is better than the last song, which I think was the single. The first single. Big single? I don’t really know. Again, fucking dance punk drums that will date this as the years go on but Alex Turner is a good enough writer to carry this band, it seems. Great hooks, fun and clever lyrics, etc. I appreciate concept albums, too. Even if they’re just thematically conceptual like the club scene nature of the songs here, it gets a thumbs up and if it sucks an E for effort.

“Dancing Shoes”

Aaaaand now into the realm of way-too-obvious fan films.

Speaking of dancing, the British obsession with clubbing is so strange to me yet probably not much different from any of the commonplace mating rituals we have here in the States. What’s the equivalent? I mean, they have gigs and stuff there, and yeah we have rave clubs where teenagers do ecstasy and get all sweaty all over each other but it seems like it’s thee thing to do in England to stave off boredom and maybe get laid. Anyway, just realized that this band sounds a lot like a grimier version of Franz Ferdinand.

“Still Take You Home”

You know, at first I was like "Well, this is all just really simplistic and that's fine but still" but you know what, it makes me really happy to see that rock bands can still be popular. Or maybe that's a mainstream thing, but I think Arctic Monkeys have a bit more artfulness than most like the Strokes or something and though that trend is dead and buried, I'll take this over Chillwave any day.

This album already sounds a bit dated. The whole mid 00s is already set in amber and so much of this album is either taking from things that were happening in the earlier 00s or late 70s punk rock. Edgier Blur tones and a less full of themselves Strokes come to mind again, over and over. At least I don’t think they’re a bunch of rich kids. Or at least it doesn’t sound like they’re a bunch of rich kids. Rich kids can be deceptive because lord knows how they love to be perceived as poor because they think it makes them real despite the fact that the only reason their little band has any traction whatsoever is because of the connections they were born with. Back to the old argument of is it great art if it was born with money because poor people without connections are making great albums no one will ever hear or are the albums legit because the opportunity for everything was there forever. It’s a useless argument, totally. And what was I talking about? Oh yeah, “Still Take You Home” sounds like it should be a filler track, if that makes sense. Like the kind of track most bands use for late album padding, except it’s really good. A straight up jam, not super spectacular but good and a grower for certain. Something to latch on to.

Day 2: September 27, 2011

“Mardy Bum”

I think this is the song that works best on the album, but it also serves as a perfect example to what a song needs to be, which is that it needs to be able to be played on an acoustic guitar and a voice and still work. I guess that's not true. Probably a lie, actually. But I've always thought that that the best songs did. Like it needs to work at the very base to work at all or it's just going to collapse and bury whatever family is living inside of it.

God, this sounds like a fucking single, if only because it’s my favorite song on the album so far. But probably because I had to stop listening when this one was almost over and picked up writing by just replaying it. I’ve probably been over this before, but the reason I love short pop songs so much is that it illustrates a knowledge that it’s better to leave a listener wanting more than to run it into the ground by repeating the chorus 8,000,000 times. Oh, I already said that? It bears repeating because modern rock is fucked that way. “Mardy Bum” is just under 3 minutes long and I immediately want to listen to it again once it’s done. I appreciate the craft of it. Sure, it sounds extra-Blur-y, but they’re British and EVERYTHING sounds like Blur over there. Great hook, well written, solid jam.

“From the Ritz to the Rubble”

Shit, this one is really great too. Definitely Finn-y.

Alex Turner’s vocal delivery and songwriting is Arctic Monkeys’ greatest gift. Their music is a more punked up dance-punk meets the Strokes but Turner is onto something. I keep thinking of Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, who also writes songs about kids going to crazy parties, doing too many drugs, trying to get laid, and having massive highs and crushing lows. Turner also doesn’t seem to like to repeat his choruses, making them structural placeholders and expending his energy in telling these fancy clubbing stories in the verses. And that’s the kind of songwriting I love and it stands opposed to all the other goddamn songwriting in modern radio rock music right now. Lyrically, the song appears to be a rote account of not getting let into a club thanks to some Nazi bouncers then going off, getting drunk, having some maybe deep conversations with the girl you made out with and reflecting on that the next morning. Simple stuff making me thing Alex Turner is Craig Finn’s spiritual little brother. He’s not as gifted as Finn is with details and wordplay and well, all around songwriting prowess, but his heart is in the right place.

“A Certain Romance”


OK, I’ve already mentioned the whole three minute pop song rant like 8 times, and “A Certain Romance” is 1.) The first real deviation from that format on this record and 2.) Very obviously the favorite single from this record because 3.) It’s the most solid, certifiable jam. And it’s right at the very end, which I thought was either a ballsy move or wasn’t intended to be on the album but they tacked it on after people loved it so much (or they realized it was such a jam and could sell more records). It’s just a big motherfucking song and it works at its length. It’s not my favorite song on the record, but it’s a nice cap on a debut that I thought was gonna be garbage when it came out all those years ago.

Day 3: September 29, 2011

Who the Fuck Are Arcic Monkeys? EP

This is a glorified single for Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’s lead-off track “A View From the Afternoon.” And though it came out only a few months after the LP, it already feels like a departure. From the soulful haze of “Despair in the Departure Lounge” that really illustrates what this band is capable of if they drop the dance punk beats and the bratty faux-punk delivery. The song sounds like it was recorded in one take at three in the morning and the solo performance makes it all the more lonely. Actually, all of the tracks save the one “A View of From the Afternoon” take Arctic Monkeys in a much more enjoyable direction.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thrill of Discovery: Ween - Conclusion

Day 14: September 22nd, 2011

It’s over. Well, it’s not really over, since Ween is going to be one of those bands I carry under my arm or around my neck or just generally on my ipod or burnt CD-R in my car forever. Ween proves that the experiment worked. If you just barrel into a band’s daunting discography you can come out the other side a fan. I didn’t expect to become a fan, just to understand why other people were. It was easy though. At first it was kind of like staring at that really awful car wreck on the highway that the helicopters are circling over, but by the end it was this fantastic voyage into the evolution of a band over a couple of decades. Watching Ween mature into actual, respectable adult music without really sacrificing any of their inherent Ween-ness was kind of spectacular. I didn’t know I’d find tunes that were you know, actually great and heartfelt and tender and sad. I thought it was gonna be all weird shit for the bros but then there’s stuff like “Stay Forever” and “She’s Your Baby” and “I Don’t Want It” that just bring the fucking house down. Then there’s the way the guitars come in on “Nan” that hit me in the sweet spot every time or the cautionary tale of “Sorry Charlie” that I only realized was about that one guy you know who can never seem to do anything right and you’ve gotta just let go in order to move on with your own life. Or how fucking catchy “Voodoo Lady” is and how that track alone kind of makes Chocolate and Cheese great. The Mollusk still feels like the masterpiece, a perfect album. White Pepper is the one that has my favorite songs. Quebec shattered my heart a little bit in a good way. And I’m relistening to GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, The Pod, and Pure Guava because I think only now am I ready to truly appreciate them without the rubbernecking and the standoffishness that I approached them with in the first place. And now they’re sounding really good. Some tracks are just too fucking weird but listening to “Tender Situation” after hearing some much better live versions, I see the murky beauty and weirdness in the recorded version and it’s fucking wonderful.

The project is done, but there are still pry a hundred b-sides, early recordings, live shows and demos to listen to over the years. That’s a pretty nice thing.

I'mma leave it with a video of these two as a couple of young spring chickens playing one of the most gripping songs in their discography. I can't explain why it's gripping, other than maybe some innuendo, and really, all I know is that this is fucking weird as fuck and genius as shit. And I can't explain that either. It just is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thrill of Discovery: Ween - Part Ten

Day 13: September 9th, 2011

La Cucaracha

8:27 PM

After a nearly two week break from the Ween project, I’ve decided that I have to face the music and listen to their last proper album and wrap this Thrill of Discovery up. It’s a sad thing. I’m reluctant to do it, and while I feel like I’ve just been fucking around, neglecting the blog, the project, etc, I’ve been listening to nothing but Ween lately. Lie. Flat out lie. Don’t know why I said it. I’ve been embroiled in a real, paying music writing assignment that ate up my last week and still isn’t 100% done but fuck it, Ween makes everything better. That’s not even a real excuse, because I’ve had time to do other shit, but it was that sort of assignment where everything went wrong and the only way to cure the anxiety and the stress was to drink and watch TV and, well, listen to the bitchin’ Ween mix I made while I was listening to all the albums. I’ve pared it down to 42 songs and have a ways to go before it fits on a CD, but it’s been easy cutting songs. I just pick the ones Jenny hates and put them on the special “Listen to when Jenny is not here” mix. It’s a graveyard for “Push th’ Little Daisies” and “Sketches of Winkle,” and the like. HOWEVER, despite her early disposition of “Fuck this music, fuck it forever in its stupid fucking face,” I’ve tricked Jenny into liking a few tracks. Pawned my own Stockholm Syndrome onto her, if you will (that sounds like and STD, and in the case of Ween, well, it might as well be). I’ve been very clever about it. She’ll be in the kitchen, I’ll put on the “Ween for Jenny” mix whilst dicking around and she’ll say “Oh what is this, I know this song” and I go, “THIS IS WEEN! The song is called ‘Even if You Don’t’” and she says “This is Ween?” Yep. This is one of the most challenging seductions I’ve ever undertaken. Winning her over and convincing her to marry me was peanuts compared to trying to make her understand why Ween fucking rules. “Stay Forever” and “She’s Your Baby” have been working like charms, but sequencing this mix for her will be the real bitch. Anyway, aside. It’s time to finish this. And really, this isn’t even the last post because I’ve gotta do one last one where I listen to all the live albums I have on the hard drive and all the weird B-sides floating around. There’s still work to be done, but the hard part is over. I became a convert. I came home from the gym, and I sat down and thought “What do I want for dinner? I have THREE different kinds of macaroni and cheese but WHICH ONE IS TONIGHT’S MACARONI AND CHEESE?” and I put on “Nan” to help me decide and I’m probably just having canned ravioli. Ween helps make decisions, or it helps make making decisions easier. Knowing that if I can dive headfirst into the discography of a band I’ve formerly sort of despised and love them on a level that I love my favorite bands, well, I can do anything. Anything but listen to the goddamned 30 minutes version of “LMLYP” I have floating around oh GOD please no.


Ahh, Ween’s foray into gay euro disco! I remember this. I remember when the EP for this track came out years back and I thought, “Maybe this is the time to get into Ween, I am in college after all and I have now smoked pot once so…” and well, I thought this was some colossal bullshit. It’s still not great, but I understand it now. Ween has built their ark on genre-hopping so well, why the hell not have a Ibiza club jam on this album?


Ha, some bro pry thought this was SO COOL. Because bros like American Psycho, right? Great, funny song with an unfortunately stupid fan video.

Ahh, this is more like it. More in the vein of the progress made on Quebec yet still pushing forward into maturity while still staying brown. My favorite thing about listening to all of these albums back to back to back has been charting the personal growth, as people and as songwriters. GodWeenSatan: The Oneness SOUNDS so much like an album made by a couple of teenagers who wanted to fuck around and make a fucking record just cuz, singing about shit they thought was funny or awesome or weird. There are threads from that here, right here in this song and though the t-shirt continues to unravel, that’s not a bad thing, because um, it creates something new? You can make a ball of string out of it and give it to a cat? You can sew it into a new sweater? There was an analogy there and now I’m just thinking about Weezer who I oft confused with Ween before I listened to Weezer in like the 8th grade but that’s beside the point. Anyway, this is the first legitimately great song on this album and I feel more comfortable proceeding.

“My Own Bare Hands”

Can't get over how fuckin' funny this song is. Best on the album I'd say. Love how Deaner's rock n' roll face looks like a takin' a dump face so so so so so much.

Fuck, is this Deaner rockin’ the vox? AND ROCKIN THE SICK SOLO! It must be, this sounds like a Deaner song. One embodying the essence of rock and roll and laced with lines like “She’s gonna be my cock professor/ Studyin’ my dick/ She’s gonna get her masters degree/ In fuckin’ me.” It’s funny. And the thing is, these dick jokes are so much more refined than the ones on the first couple records. There’s a grace to it, even in the brownest of brown lines (“Take a shit on a bitch shit fuck bubbajibba,” what does that even MEAN). I’m mostly kidding, but really, this sounds like classic Ween and I am now starting to warm up to this goddamn record.

“Sweetheart in the Summer”

The cutest song in Ween's catalog.

Awwww. A cute oldies sounding number with nothing disgusting about it! HOW FUCKING ODD!

“Woman and Man”

Nothin' but solos.

This song is long. Like really long, full of bitchin’ guitar solos and bongos and flutes and all sorts of shit. Which is to say if meanders, meanders all over the damn place for ten minutes. This is almost as bad as the 10 minutes of noise on Wilco’s “Less Than You Think” from A Ghost is Born. Tramping into jam band territory for sure on this one.

“Your Party”


Ahh, nothing like closing an album with a Yacht Rock send-up. Features mentions of tri-colored pastas and a fucking legit-sounding sax solo that I read was recorded by a dude who actually plays sax for this shitty stuff in real life! Sadly, it doesn’t feel up to Ween’s standards which usually involve turning a genre on its head and creating something kind of wonderful (or weird or both). Here it plays as straight parody. It’s funny, sure, and not at all unpleasant, but it feels a little phoned in.

In Which Okkervil River Ate Up Two Weeks of My Life

And it was a good thing. I had to face fears and stuff because when the editor asks "Do you want to interview Okkervil River" you can't really say "No, I don't want to talk to one of my favorite bands because it would just create all of this anxiety and let's just not and say we did." It's bad, social anxiety. I've had it forever, or at least since I was a fat kid. I still have that fat kid mentality. That I'm already judged enough, I won't give them any more so I'll just not say anything sort of thing. But of course I had to take it, and got to a point where I had all my questions and was totally ready to talk to Will Sheff (who's songwriting style and stage persona I mimicked when I was playing in bands that played shows and only realized after seeing their excellent show at the Granada last night). And then the interview fell through. Then the rescheduling collided with my unmoving work schedule and since Id already written up the questions, just sent them off for an e-mail interview which was kind of sad but it turned out alright.

You can read that over here at the Pitch.

Last night they played at the Granada and I wrote about that for the Pitch too. It was a great show, although I'm always partial to gigs where the band is forced to play through technical difficulties. It's like breaking the fourth wall. Seeing the nuts and bolts and, most importantly, realizing that the band are just people which is something that, if a show goes smoothly, you forget. Which is a fine thing I suppose, but when things go wrong it makes it kind of special. Especially if a band is as endearing as Okkervil River. Especially when you get to see something akin to this:

So sad when a band has to tell people to stop talking. Almost had to garrote some drunk teenager who kept talking about the Killers. Fortunately, the Granada staff are awesome and prevented this.

In the end, the stress was worth if if only because I finally got around to listening to Okkervil River's latest, I Am Very Far, and it's secured at least a Top 10 end of the year spot (my end of the year lists are very predictable. 1.) Did your favorite band put out an album this year? 2.) Was it good by anyone else's standards but maybe just great by yours via your bias? 3.) Top 10). The stress is always worth it, and doing professional writing makes coming back to this quiet little corner where I don't have to think about sentence structure or professionalism that much sweeter.

Thrill of Discovery: Ween concludes today or tomorrow, followed by a one-off Thrill of Discovery involving Arctic Monkeys (frontman Alex Turner did songs for the soundtrack for the excellent Richard Ayoade bildungsroman Submarine and those songs were so fucking good I figured I should give his band a shot and then write about it because that's the only way I know how to connect to music anymore which is kind of sad) and then onto REM or some other band that people love and adore that I've just never been able to understand. It worked for Ween, it might as well work for anyone.

Best of 2011: Bon Iver - "Beth/Rest"

Bon Iver's latest, self-titled (or is it double-self-titled, who knows!) album has been in the bedroom CD player for about a month and a half. It's sort of the perfect CD to have in your bedroom CD player. It's good for reading to, sleeping to, tender situations, you name it! It's a multi-purpose album, and one of my favorite albums of the year so far if only because I've listened to it like 100 times and I'm still not sick of it. So, a couple of weeks ago I read that the monster closing track "Beth/Rest" was "divisive" amongst critics. Divisive because it's got soft rock sounding keyboards, sax, and guitar solos. And I'm asking these critics who are trashing on this track this: Did you not listen to Destroyer's Kaputt? Homeboy made a whole album based around easy listening and cheesy sax solos and critics loved it and they loved it because it's one of the best albums of the year. So I don't see how "Beth/Rest" is divisive. I don't see how any critic worth his weight in free promo CDs and plus ones would actively single out the last track on an album that is clearly building up to that last track. I guess people didn't like the end of "Lost," so I can see potentially being let down, but only if this track was legitimately bad. Cheesy and corny? Well, sure, but that seems to be the point. To employ those elements and overcome the shittiness of that bygone genre to make something spectacular. It would make more sense to just straight up hate this record than to single out "Beth/Rest." Haters gonna hate, though, and Bon Iver's reached that level of popularity that creates a backlash amongst the snob elite that I really can't understand. It's ok if other people like this, and it's ok if those people are sorority girls or 15 year olds because really, that seems to be the point. Having music that is universally loved be actual good music is a novelty these days and hell, if Arcade Fire or Bon Iver are gonna get all beloved, then isn't that a good thing? Side quest rant aside, there are some mega-hits on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver and it's exactly the kind of departure Justin Vernon needed to make. He can't record albums in the woods forever, you know.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thrill of Discovery: Ween - Part Nine

Day 12 (cont’d): August 28th, 2011

Shinola (Vol. 1)

2:25 PM

“Tastes Good on th’ Bun”

Another solid food-based jam!

For a band that prides itself on having forty or fifty songs per album recording session, this collection of outtakes is surprisingly light. Perhaps it means it’s nothing but the most quality jams. This track sounds like a throwback to simpler times, when Ween threw every vocal effect in the book into the pot and stirred in a bunch of guitar noodling with a big fat distortion and lo-fi haze spoon. This comes from the sessions for The Pod, which makes sense and it was probably too straight-forward a song for that album.

“Big Fat Fuck”


“Big fat fuck/ Feelin’ like a big fat fuck.” MAN, I have TOTALLY been there. It’s a little light, but typically Ween-sounding. Like “Well, of COURSE this is a Ween” song naw mean?


Seems like the sort of song that would thrive in a live setting the way bacteria thrives in a warm, unattended piece of raw meat. Fucking awesome Thin Lizzy aping to the max!

Oh man, a totally fucking groovy track! Like shit, a legitimately great tune! Snuck on this odds-and-sods collection! WAS NOT EXPECTING THAT. Perfect 70s rock vibe sounding like a Thin Lizzy song from hell. Love it.

“Did You See Me?”

Because nothing, fucking NOTHING goes better with Pink Floydy jams than nature in reverse!

Oh man, you can spoon up the Pink Floyd on this one and eat it like chocolate pudding its so thick. Sounds like some typical-ass cast-offs album shit here. A fun little genre exercise that sounds like it’s from The Mollusk sessions but who knows. They’ve always loved Floyd from what I can tell. All the songs on this album are too fucking long, it seems.

“Monique the Freak”

How did they get the guitars to sound that raunchy?!

What is this? A lost Prince track from the early 90s? BECAUSE IT SURE FUCKING SOUNDS LIKE ONE.


Song's practically perfect, buried here at the very end. Genius move.

An awesomely tender Gener jam tacked on right at the end. Usually odds and ends collections are longer than this, but in this case I think the brief (by Ween standards) track list really works. It runs the gamut of Ween’s career up to post-Quebec and there’s weird noisy fucked jams and tender Gener jams and weird Prince homages all that other weird shit in between. Now, if only instead of “Tuesday is pizza day” he said either “Monday is pizza day” or “Wednesday is pizza day” to honor the magnificent pizza deal days at Johnny’s and Rudy’s, respectively, then I’d be touting this as my pizza day jam. Of course, that’s a sort of local thing and I’m sure in Pennsylvania pizza places issue Tuesday pizza specials (or not, maybe it’s just common to consume pizza on Tuesdays because they’re fucked).