Friday, May 25, 2012

Drive Time: Archers of Loaf - Icky Mettle

I hosted a show called “Alternative Flashback” on KJHK and I never even gave a fuck about Archers of Loaf. How did that happen? Gabe Holcomb and Justin Brown would be sad. And Andy Green, who hosted the show after I graduated. All three of those bros for sure had devoured Icky Mettle. I’m sure I had my merits, but I didn’t know enough. Mostly because all I ever knew about college rock came from listening to Gabe and Justin’s “Alternative Flashback” shows the couple years before I got it. And I don’t know where the hell Archers of Loaf ever were in my upbringing. I remember there was this mystical CD-R that played in my weird clock radio when I was a Junior/Senior in high school and it was full of MP3’s I’d snagged from Audiogalaxy and this was the one CD-R that played in the aforementioned weird clock radio and it had “Don’t Stop Now” by Guided by Voices and “Cut Your Hair” by Pavement and “Getchoo” by Weezer and some Archers of Loaf song I can’t even remember but there was a time and a place and somehow Archers of Loaf got left out.

But they seeped in, in little ways. Like the Crooked Fingers song “Sleep All Summer,” which was a mainstay during a nasty breakup. And then Alkaline Trio covered “Web in Front” on one of the very first episodes of the AV Club’s “Undercover” covers series and I was hooked. Not just because Dan Adriano was the perfect person to cover that song, and that it meshed with a skill-set I was familiar with, but because I realized I’d already kinda loved Erich Bachmann to begin with. Icky Mettle was acquired, but more importantly, Crooked Fingers’ latest LP Breaks in the Armor became a stalwart in the car on the iPod at the gym. And then Icky Mettle ended up in the iPod at the gym and about half that album was about just perfect for running.

The way the guitars on "Might" just fucking kill you, that's what I'm talking about. Like right before the chorus, do you know what I'm saying? All that goddamn dissonance! And the song is only two minutes long! Just so much angst embedded in that riffage and chordage! Beautiful to the max god it makes me wanna explode yes!

It’s a weird record. So all over the place despite sounding like a unified whole. Up and down and up and down and up and down. In the car, it’s a fucking perfect drive-to-work record. The concept of the drive-to-work record has always excited me, ever since I was like 16 listened to Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP on cassette on my way to work at AMC Studio 30. That music you listen to before you go make money is extremely important. It’s like getting pumped up before the Olympics or the Super Bowl or some shit. Gotta get your head in the right place. Sometimes NPR just isn’t doing it. Know what I mean?

So Archers of Loaf. So Icky Mettle. So this album is a weird schizophrenic baby, but schizophrenic in the I-am-basically-talking-about-multiple-personalties. It’s up and down forever. Hit then weird jam then hit again. “Web in Front,” “Wrong,” “Might” and “Plumb Line” are some of the purest indie-rock slash pop jams of the era, I’d say. And not just about one goddamn thing! Which is exciting! “Web in Front” plays like one of those amazing 90s era break-up jams and though “Wrong” sorta sound like on eat first it becomes a companion piece to Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker” due to the Chapel Hill connection and the general speak about certain co-workers not, shall we say, working as hard as they should. A universal feeling, I’d say.

Oh yeah it was Aaron Dessner from the Nation and Annie Clark of St. Vincent that did the cover of "Sleep All Summer." Ung. Fuck this song. "I can change for you but babe that doesn't mean I'm gonna be a better man." Who writes like that? Seriously, Eric Bachmann, you win. I quit.

The album’s charm lies in how all-over-the-place it is. It tries to do everything at once and it still sounds like a muddy (I mean that as a compliment), angsty, mid-90s indie rock record. Eric Bachmann’s songwriting has grown and grown over the years to sadly not enough damn acclaim but the hits on this record really hit. “Web in Front,” despite all its mysteries (read: bizarre lyrics) still captures some very precise emotions that I don’t think have been better captured since (see: “And there’s a chance that things will get weird/ Yeah that’s a possibility/ Although I didn’t do anything/ No I didn’t do anything/ All I ever wanted was to be your spine”). Ironically, in another AV Club series (“One Track Mind”) Bachmann played this song and talked about how weird and nonsensical the lyrics were, but he still played it and recognized that it was important. And that’s my favorite kinda songwriting. The kind that doesn’t set out to be profound but stuns the masses regardless.

And back to the beginning. The blurb refers to Alk 3 as "pop-punk kingpins" which seems like a way of softening the blow of the pop-punk tag which isn't really all that bad or shit, even bad at all, when you get down to it. I've gotta funny story about meeting Matt Skiba at the Replay Lounge, so maybe I'm biased. But this cover kills, and I will always rally for Dan Adriano because dammit I think the man's under-appreciated. No one else sings like that. No one! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Psychedelic Furs - Mirror Moves

The Psychedelic Furs – Mirror Moves
Columbia, 1984
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $1.50

“Who is this? Is this the Psychedelic Furs?” Jenny asks.
“Is ‘Pretty in Pink’ on this one?” she asks.
“It’s still good. What year is this?”
“I don’t know?” I say, turning my brain on. There’s this game Joe and I play at work where we look at a really awful, cheesy, corny book (this game is almost exclusively played with business books) and whoever is queried has to guess what year the things was published (usually late 80s/early 90s but sometimes something came out in 2001 and it looks mega old and it’s extra funny/sad thus making the game extra fun). So, I rolled the dice.
“Really?” she asks.
“Um, I dunno let me check.” I scan the worn back cover. “YES! 1984! VICTORY!”
“Good job honey.”
“I KNOW! I AM A FUCKING WIZARD!” I don’t really say that, but I do think it. I think “Goddamn, what a fucking wizard I am!” Because sometimes you can just tell, you know? Like, the timbre of the sax line that runs through the seemingly infinite “Heartbeat” just screams mid-1980s (and screams a bit more subtly through like, all the other songs on the record because this is the 80s after all before the advent of the crunchy-guitar-solo-on-some-beat-up-fender era). There’s a weird association with mid-80s music and me because I was born in 1985 and it’s just plain weird thinking about music that came out when I was born. Like looking at one of those kitschy pamphlets you get at fancy rest stops in the middle west, each one dedicated to a different year and each one laced with ads and newspaper stories to make you go “well I’ll be darned! What a year!” It’s like a time capsule to my birth/infancy/toddlerhood. Even when I was like, 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 and was in a position to remember music from the mid-90s, all I would listen to was the radio, and then only when I was in the car with my parents. So Oldies 95, 101.1 The Fox and 99.7 KY pretty much exclusively until I “discovered” Smashmouth with my best friend when we were in 6th grade (with the bizarrely cool exception of a cassette single of They Might Be Giants’ “Istanbul” that I got at a garage sale three houses down and pretty much tried my hardest to wear out on my little boom box when I was like 11 and, for whatever reason, didn’t really understand the genius of TMBG until I was 24 and working at CD Tradepost and put on their two-disc best of whenever I thought the CEO dude wouldn’t show up and I could spend the morning listening to all that wonderful, weird goodness and every time “Istanbul” came on it warmed my little heart and simultaneously made me wonder how I could have listened to such a goddamn annoying song over and over and over again at such a young age and wondered if it maybe tampered with my tolerance levels because I’m not nearly critical enough to be a music critic, not really. I talk a lot of shit but mostly I’m ok with most stuff that’s even remotely OK). But this is from my pre-infancy. When I was like, a little nubbin of a person in my mama’s belly (HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MA!) Actually, since I’m still qualifying as a Kansan* for another couple of weeks, I was TECHNICALLY a person like, 4000 years ago when God created the garden and all that shit because really, WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE WITH PERSONHOOD. But that is beside the point, and only getting in the way of my deft analysis of The Psychedelic Furs’ Mirror Moves, which I’m avoiding critiquing because it’s a normal, run of the mill, mid-80s new wave record that lacks any really spectacular hits. Sure, “Heaven” is pretty OK, and it’s a clear-cut single, but it’s kind of a hum-drum single if you ask me. A sort of trying-too-hard-to-sound-deep-and-emotional thing. The rest of the album kind of gets lost in a bunch of new technology. Myriad synths, drum machines, and FUCKING SAXOPHONES EVERYWHERE GOOD LORD THIS THING IS LOUSY WITH SAXOPHONES! Or maybe I’m being overly harsh because the cover of this thing is just so obnoxious. This like check-pattern portrait of Richard Butler looking like “You wanna look up my nostrils and measure the parabola of my indifferent frown? Five bucks” is really bothering me. It’s just like, sitting right here while I’m writing and I’m looking like, RIGHT up his nostrils and I remember when I bought this, I bought this the same day I bought Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and put the two albums up side by side and pretended to stage a faux-showdown between the Boss and this effete British dude in a big blue suit. Guess who won that fight? I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t the guy NOT-singing “Pretty in Pink” on this album. That’s probably because “Pretty in Pink” is on Talk Talk Talk which I’ve never listened to but maybe should because It’s probably better than this one, where the band feels comfortable with the success they’ve built having a movie named after one of their songs and they’re content to just try to get on MTV with the blandest new-wave imaginable. Well, maybe not the blandest, but you know, pretty forgettable and well, maybe I just can’t fucking stand it when bands that have actual band names put the fucking singer on the front looking like some pretentious cock and the poor less-fortunate-looking bros get shuffled to the back (and one of the bros is wearing SUNGLASSES, I mean, come ON Richard Butler! COME ON! He could be your brother! I know one of those guys is!).
Seriously, the saxophone NEVER FUCKING ENDS.

*The Wife and I are moving to Minneapolis in a couple of weeks, although I don't think you can take the Kansan out of anyone. There's like, way too much shame involved to let that shit go. And let's just say that most of that shame is built around the fact that Kansas could be so so so so SO cool and has such a fucking rad history and yet chooses to bow to these horrific goons like the Koch Bros funded Sam Brownback. Oof. And sure Minnesota has Michelle Bachmann who is just as crazy, but at least she has Al Franken and a Democrat governor to balance that crazy out.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Drive Time: Pavement - Terror Twilight

Drive Time is a weekly feature in which I absorb an album through my #1 means of music consumption: driving to and from work. The requiremints ATM are that albums be indie rock classics or debatable indie rock classics that I have overlooked despite hosting Alternative Flashback on KJHK. So not really being familiar with these albums should be sort of embarrassing, at least in the early going until I make terms with the fact that I couldn’t listen to every album ever before I turned 23. This is making up for that.

Pavement – Terror Twilight

For me, Pavement is like that dude you really respect and are on a like, we-nod-at-each-other-when-we-see-each-other-on-the-street-but-you’ll-never-be-best-buds-basis. It’s not like you can really divide lovers of mid-90s indie rock into different camps, but I’m openly a Guided by Voices fanatic, and there’s something intangible about GBV that I’m drawn to that I don’t really get from Pavement. It just has to do with the person, not whether or not the music is better or whatever. That doesn’t really exist on this level of criticism and appreciation. I know plenty of people who are just as gaga for Pavement as I am for GBV and we respect each other’s band du jour but our favorites are our favorites.

That said, I think Pavement are fantastic, and while I’ve never been 100% on their discography (see: Wowee Zowee with the exception of “Grounded”), I have a great affinity for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Brighten the Corners. Something about listening to “Fillmore Jive” a couple summers ago and being like “oh my fucking god” really set me straight on Pavement. Those re-issues with all the b-sides, I gotta get into those down the line. I couldn’t get past the first five tracks on Slanted & Enchanted because they were just so fucking great. That EP with “Shoot the Singer” and “Frontwards,” holy fuck. BUT Terror Twilight, the album which this post is about, I’d never ever listened to that album not once in my life until last week. Every Pavement album but this one has been working through my rotation for like 8 years and I’d only ever heard “Spit on a Stranger” and “Carrot Rope.” After spending a week with this bad boy in the car, I think it’s an absolute perfect cap to Pavement. Why not? I mean, “Spit on a Stranger” got covered by that neo-bluegrass (do they call it New-Grass? Is that what it’s called now?) band Nickel Creek and I know that because that album gets played at work sometimes and I’m like “Man this is a fucking great song, is this a Pavement song? This sounds like a Malkmus vocal line.” All the dirty fury and angst is gone by this point, and you just get these gorgeous little numbers like “Major Leagues” and “Ann Don’t Cry” and Stephen Malkmus just being so fucking weird with his songwriting. But even though it’s nonsense, it has feeling you know? Malkmus is a genius at spitting out bullshit and making it sound like sage advice. And I love him for that. And god “Major Leagues” is so good. The more I listen to it the more beautiful it gets. And “Carrot Rope,” goddamn. This sounds like an album made by a band that’s done it all and is content to sail off into the sunset with a rock-fucking-solid discography and a legacy under their belt. There’s no need for them to tarnish it by reforming (reunion shows are OK). I mean, look at “Billie.” The verse to that song sounds like the build up to this amazing perfect pop song and the chorus is just so fucking totally straight out of a totally different song. It kind of ruins it as first, but good god the verse is so fucking perfect perfect perfect. “You’re a hungry matron/ and you are just what I need/ I was tired of the best years of my life” CHORUS THAT SOUNDS LIKE ITS FROM SOME OTHER SONG BECAUSE I AM TOTALLY EXPECTING A CHORUS THAT SUPERSEDES A VERSE BUT THIS IS LIKE THE OPPOSITE WHAT THE FUCK. But you know what? I like that about that song. It’s nice to really love a verse once in a while. Who the fuck loves verses anymore? NO ONE DOES. Choruses get all the attention.

I dig this album. I dig it because it’s concise and it’s a band OK with being done without going out in a total ball of flames. It’s probably the tightest album in Pavement’s whole damn discography, and while it’s maybe not as compelling as Slanted & Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, “Spit on a Stranger,” “You are a Light,” “Major Leagues,” “Carrot Rope,” and “Ann Don’t Cry” could easily find their way onto a Pavement best of and those songs are almost half the album. And the other more-than-half the album is mega-listenable and I’m gonna hope the CDR doesn’t get too scratched up to not-play in my CD player because it’s a great change of pace album. Nice to have on deck. Good for cookouts too, I suppose. It’s amazing that Pavement only released five studio albums when it feels like they have 500 songs.