Friday, November 29, 2013

The Replacements - Tim

The Replacements – Tim
Sire, 1985
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $4
It’s hard to remember that I spent the last year and a half living in Minneapolis. As a younger man, Minneapolis was this mythical sort of place: An unearthed gem of the Midwest with a secret power. Somehow, this seemingly barren tundra had produced Prince, the Replacements, Husker Du, Dillinger Four, and a slew of other bands I loved and respected. We went to see Guided by Voices at First Avenue in the fall of 2010 and I was sold. A year and a half later we moved and it was absolutely necessary. Even though we moved back, living somewhere outside of Kansas was immensely important to my wellbeing. It’s strange how quickly it has become this displaced part of my life, because I had a great time in the Twin Cities. KC is fine, but it’s not as connected. Even though I hated our apartment (mostly due to our shitty neighbors on all but one front in our fourplex) our location in South Minneapolis was close to EVERYTHING. Never have I eaten better in my life (assuming better means stuffing my face with the best bar food you’re likely to find anywhere. Jucy Lucy’s > All Burgers Ever) and never have I tasted finer local brews. Indeed and Surly are sorely missed. Putting on Tim three months after leaving Minneapolis is bringing up a backwash of weird nostalgia. When Jenny worked at the Wedge, I used to bike up there and go grocery shopping. I’d hop off the Midtown Greenway at Bryant because riding on Lyndale was an absolute deathwish (it must be known, Minneapolis has the absolute worst, most obscenely atrocious drivers I have ever encountered. The people are largely rude too, but most of that can be attributed to typical Scandinavian standoffishness and while I met some real fucking shitheads, I met plenty of exceedingly fine and gracious folks). I didn’t know it, but every time I rode up Bryant to the Wedge I was riding past the Stinson house from the Let it Be cover. I loved how Minneapolis worshipped its musical heritage, and that I could drive in any direction and come across something referenced in Hold Steady/Lifter Puller song. Minneapolis is great because people have it good and they love their city. People thought I was insane for moving there, and I tried to constantly let them know how good they had it. Jucy Lucys and musical heritage and a hundred new microbreweries are not things one should take for granted.

Tim is effectively the Replacements’ high water mark, if only because it is smack dab in the middle of a discography with a distinct rise and a distinct decline. Its predecessor, Let it Be, has all the raw energy that made them lovable and its follow up, Pleased to Meet Me, highlighted how well the once grimy and ramshackle Replacements could clean up and make an album that was both shooting for the mainstream while simultaneously spitting on the ideals of mainstream music in general. While both of those albums are great and have some of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard, Tim just has more hits. “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial,” “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Here Comes a Regular,” “Hold My Life.” Forget it, “Bastards of Young” on its own would be enough to tout this as the Replacements most complete album. That song, every time, every single time. You know what I mean? When a song so thoroughly gets it and turns you into a puddle every single time no matter how many times you’ve played it in the car in the headphones or on the stereo at top volume. Never was a band so successful at not giving a fuck about what anyone thought. No matter how uneven their albums were, they were great albums because the disjointed vision was precisely what made the Replacements so much fun. The lore of their shows going from mindbogglingly great to embarrassingly bad (often in the span of an hour) is all part of their grab bag aesthetic. Here is your Book of Genesis for grunge and alt-country and any modern genre you care about. Of course, you already love this album and I’m preaching to the choir, but give it another spin anyway because you’d have to try pretty goddamn hard to wear this record out.

"Bastards of Young"

"Here Comes a Regular"

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kleenex Girl Wonder - Exotic Nitwits Keep Exotic Pets

Kleenex Girl Wonder – Exotic Nitwits Keep Exotic Pets EP
Mugcake, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $5
This is the debut EP from one of the great unsung indie pop bands of the 90s. Granted, I’m particularly partial to KGW because their 20+ song albums, lo-fi aesthetics, and complete willingness to be batshit weird gives them a Guided By Voices kid brother vibe that, naturally, I fucking love. Maybe it’s the Midwest (KGW was born in suburban Chicago, more specifically the hilariously named burb Downers Grove) that does strange things to young rock n’ roll men. Though this EP does not contain the soaring ramshackle pop gems of their 1999 masterwork Ponyoak and perhaps strays too far onto the GBV spectrum to the point where most of the slow acoustic songs make me thing the needle accidentally skipped onto Alien Lanes, I appreciate the weirdness. And besides, this album came out the same year as Alien Lanes, so it’s hard to call Exotic Nitwits derivative. Quite the contrary! I’d say KGW’s playfulness and knack for making music that is both mega-lofi and tuneful, and while this release is about as shambling as shambling gets, it’s still promising enough to forecast Kleenex Girl Wonder’s bright and wonderful future (even though they didn’t achieve much commercial exposure, Graham Smith & Co should know in their hearts that they are fucking awesome).  

Fun Fact: Kleenex Girl Wonder put out a new album this year! It’s called Let it Buffer, I’m listening to it on Spotify right now and it’s great and it’s comforting to know this band is still kicking around (and churning out some pretty gnarly power pop to boot).

I couldn't find any of the tracks from this record on the webs, so here's "Five Guitars" from Ponyoak, which you should definitely track down and give a spin.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lemuria - Get Better

Lemuria – Get Better
Asian Man Records, 2007
Acquired: Mississippi Records, Used, 2013
Price: $4
Another rock solid find from Mississippi Records (have I mentioned that if you’re ever in Portland DEAR SWEET JESUS GO TO THAT RECORD STORE ALL OF THE HYPE IS TRUE!!!!!!!). Everything’s coming up Lemuria, apparently, because I now own all of their albums on Vinyl after falling in love with the band just a few months ago. Excluding their split with Kind of Like Spitting, Get Better is Lemuria’s first proper LP and it’s fucking wonderful. It’s more raw than Pebble or The Distance is So Big, but the most enchanting thing about this band has been watching them (pun inititially unintended but now fully intended) get better album after album. The songs here are more fully realized than those on Your Living Room’s All Over Me and Sheena Ozzella’s vocals are less chirpy and more soulful. The vocal interplay between Ozzella and songwriter/drummer Alex Kerns clicks a lot better here than on that aforementioned split. It’s just dreamy hearing a band come into their own. The fact that it’s on Asian Man Records, a record label that dominated my punk rock years, makes me dizzy with delight. It’s a fitting label for Lemuria’s idiosyncratic brand of pop-punk. It’s barely pop-punk though. Outside of some big power chords and heartmeltingly great hooks, Lemuria have apparently been hard to pigeon hole from the outset. The songs are both blissfully poppy, sobering, inventive and almost deceptive in their emotional resonance. The way these tracks sneak up on you and stick with you is a testament to how fucking good this Buffalo, NY trio was from the start and I’m almost scared to see how good their follow up to The Distance is So Big is gonna be considering that that album is almost definitely vying for the title of my favorite album of 2013. Get Better is prophetic in every sense.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Gut Feeling: Deafheaven - Sunbather

Deafheaven – Sunbather
Deathwish, 2013
Deafheaven’s sophomore effort Sunbather is effectively metal for people who don’t like metal. Or think they don’t like metal. People who have been scared off by the abrasive vocals, blast beats, and church burnings. While the “metal for people who don’t like metal” might sound a bit insulting, the way Deafheaven have manufactured an album that seamlessly blends shoegaze, post rock, and black metal is one of the most exciting things I heard in 2013. I’m not a metal guy. I’m a pop kid at heart, but lately I’ve been getting bored and have been very interested in pushing my boundaries. Thanks to Mount Eerie’s black metal inspired Wind’s Poem and Liturgy’s “transcendental black metal” masterpiece Aesthetica, metal has ceased to be scary and untouchable. It’s dark and abrasive, but through all of the walls of huge guitars and the piercing screams there is a strange, satisfying peace that washes over me when I listen to music that sounds like it is aiming to destroy me. It’s almost meditative, spiritual, and while I’m sure there are some dyed in the wool metal heads who hate Sunbather, it’s hard to deny how beautiful this record is. The guitars swell with layers of reverb, the drums pound into your chest, and though George Clarke’s vocals are unintelligible, they possess a profound conviction. The lyrics sheet reads often reads like straight-up black metal (“Hindered by sober restlessness/ Submitting to the amber crutch/ The theme in my aching prose”) but the real poetry is in the guitars. The ten-minute title track is a great example of everything this album has to offer. Pummeling wall-of-sound guitars interspersed with blissful, shoegazey interludes all floating in a sea of music so violently loud it shuts down the senses and leaves just pure experience. God that sounds pretentious. Experience. It’s an album that is fully felt. I think here’s always going to be a sort of pretension to this kind of music though, because it’s obviously the point. This stuff goes where no pop song can go. I’m amazed that despite all the screaming, despite how exhausting it is to listen to Sunbather in its entirety (the album does a great job of guiding you through this gorgeously colored wasteland by offering little, beautiful piano and acoustic instrumental breaks here and there), it is an album I find myself craving. It’s one of the only albums this year that has caused me to drop everything I was doing to simply sit and listen and enjoy, and that sort of power is something both rare and admirable beyond measure.  

Sunbather, in its entirety. Absolutely worth at least one hour of your life. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kittywinder - "Wishing Well" 7"

Kittywinder – “Wishing Well”
Zero Hour, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $.50
There is a time and a place for (mostly) all-girl indie pop, and that time is right now and that place is in my ears. I would have also accepted “All the goddamn time” for the first part of that answer. Kittywinder have the sweet melodies of Tiger Trap but they’ve got a hefty dose of Sleater-Kinney’s snarl to temper the cuteness factor. “Wishing Well” is a pretty damn good, by the books mid 90s riot grrrl pop track, but it’s the b-side “Narrow Canal” that makes me really love this 7”. “Narrow Canal” has spoken verses that, a chatty punk chorus and a whole lot of sexual innuendos involving a big boat and a narrow canal and whether said boat can fit in said narrow canal. It’s funny and bratty, with its tongue digging into the side of its cheek. I like that they could have put another catchy track on the b-side but went full weirdness instead (in my head, I keep saying “‘Narrow Canal’ is like ‘Liar’ by Rollins Band for feminists”). According to Allmusic, the group hailed from New Hampshire and were initially named Motorpussy, which is TOTALLY fitting. Sadly, the group fell victim to the post-grunge fallout and disbanded shortly after the collapse of their label Zero Hour. But not before releasing a full length, 1996’s Livres des Monstres, which I do declare I’d like to hear. This 7” comes on beautiful translucent vinyl which is very aesthetically pleasing.

Check out the obscenely 90s video for "Wishing Well" right here. (The video is the last of four incredibly 90s post-grunge (is 1994 post-grunge or is it still technically grunge? Though I was alive during that time period, I was too busy listening to Oldies 95 and being 9 years old) videos and there's something about these poor quality/quick cuts/bands doing goofy stuff videos that makes me nostalgic for a time when music videos had character, goddamnit!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kicking Giant - "She's Real" 7"

Kicking Giant – “She’s Real” 7”
K Records, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
This is an awesome little grungy indie pop 7” from the halcyon days of K Recs. This Olympia, WA duo totally kill it on the lead track, “She’s Real,” with a blend of jangly guitars and no-budget Phil Spector girl group sound (the track fades out with a refrain of the words “be my baby” and features prominently features that track’s famous drum beat. It’s pretty, though. With a great little hook that cuts through the absolute amateurness of the track (which is also, coincidentally, one of Kicking Giant’s greatest strengths and ultimately the whole point of twee, punk, and any genre worth a damn: That pretty much any goddamn person on the planet is capable of writing a catchy little three minute song). “Funny Face” is another nice slice of melancholic pop and the second b-side “Dubious” is a surprisingly upbeat slice of garagey indie pop with crunchy, poorly tuned guitars, clumsy drums, a sweet little hook and charm to spare.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lemuria/Kind of Like Spitting - Your Living Room's All Over Me

Lemuria/Kind of Like Spitting – Your Living Room’s All Over Me
Art of the Underground, 2006
Acquired: Mississippi Records, Used, 2013
Price: $4
Everything happens for a reason. Or something like that. While I’m no diehard fatalist, I am often infinitely creep out by the way the universe thrusts things into my hands. Though the time I spent at Portland’s tiny yet absolutely brilliant Mississippi Records was brief, I managed to find about five awesome records. This Lemuria/Kind of Like Spitting split is something I’ve been trying to track down since I first got into Kind of Like Spitting about five years ago. I couldn’t find a download of it anywhere. I recently recommitted myself to Kind of Like Spitting and Lemuria’s latest LP The Distance is so Big totally blew me away. So finally acquiring this split fees a bit uncanny.

It’s odd hearing Lemuria’s early stuff. If I hadn’t heard The Distance is so Big, I’d still get down on these six tracks, but I’ve got a different appreciation at work given that I know how this band is going to morph into one of the most compelling indie rock bands of the present. There’s a lot more pop punk elements (mostly heaps of power chords), and Sheena Ozzella’s vocals are extremely raw and borderline chirpy, but the off kilter song structures are present in an amoebic state and it is apparent that the germ of this band, the little core of their being, has always been a wonderful listen. Though Lemuria’s lyrics often have a heaviness about them, it’s so obvious that this band is having a whole hell of a lot of fun making something old new again.

Though this split features the dawn of Lemuria, it consequently features the twilight of Kind of Like Spitting. Not to say that Ben Barnett’s songs here are bad, more like I’m just bummed he basically quit making music after 2006’s The Thrill of the Hunt. The songs here are of the refined, emo-leaning variety that populated the late Kind of Like Spitting albums and removed from the quieter, more lo-fi bent of his earlier stuff. “Why I Smoke Mad Weed” and “Afraid of Crushes” are standout representations of Barnett’s latter day work which incorporated his distinct guitar work and pained vocals with affecting tales of misery. Kind of Like Spitting make the most of their five songs on this split and it’s a nice surprise from a band that never really made a cohesive album. I love that I thought “You I Seek” sounded a whole hell of a lot like the Thermals only to check the liner notes and IT IS BASICALLY A FUCKING THERMALS SONG! Awesome. So awesome.

Lemuria - "Hours"

Kind of Like Spitting - "Why I Smoke Mad Weed"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Death Cab For Cutie - "Soul Meets Body" 7"

Death Cab For Cutie – “Soul Meets Body” 7”
Atlantic, 2005
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1.50
I’ve got a special place in my heart for Death Cab For Cutie’s major label debut. Though Plans was nowhere near as cohesive as Transatlanticism, which is now proving to be the bands high watermark, Plans had a lot more joy in it. And a way better lead single (does everyone hate “The Sound of Settling” as much as me or is that just me?). “Soul Meets Body” isn’t a great song either, it’s just that much better than the goddamn “Sound of Settling.” I feel like there was a big inside joke amongst my small group of friends where we would just launch into that Bah BAH bit from the chorus and all cringe. “Soul Meets Body” is only way better by comparison. “Crooked Teeth” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan” are both little masterieces and “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” despite all its sentimentalism and present and future relegation to high school mixtapes (What do the kids do now when they like each other? Spotify playlists?), is still a totally fucking beautiful song. “Soul Meets Body” is safe. It is the easiest distillation of the bands talents into one, massively appealing and bland nugget for the buying public. There’s nothing really nothing about it other than the fact that it’s wholly inoffensive and perfectly boring. The b-side, “Jealousy Rides With Me,” is another snoozy track that ambles through it’s nice melody and arrangement with absolutely no stakes. It’s bizarre to realize that Death Cab For Cutie has been Popular for ten years, and that Plans is eight years old. It’s also bizarre to realize how little my opinion has changed about this band, this album and this song.

"Soul Meets Body"

"Jealousy Rides With Me"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gut Feeling: Richard Buckner - Surrounded

Richard Buckner – Surrounded
Merge, 2013
On the surface, these songs feel like hushed acoustic ballads plucked out by a solitary man recorded at some sanctuary a hundred miles from the nearest living human. Buckner’s soft yet subtly gravely vocals are what alt-country and modern Americana sound like when I think about the platonic ideals of those genres. Mostly because Buckner’s songs “Blue and Wonder,” “Surprise, AZ,” and “Lil Wallet Picture” opened my ears to the twangier side of reality. And yet as lonely as Buckner’s music feels, my favorite aspect of Surrounded is Tucker Martine’s production, which deftly accentuates Buckner’s austere songs in a way that feels organic and unobtrusive. Martine’s ability to make everything he touches shine a little brighter without being is what makes Buckner’s tenth album in his nearly twenty year his best. Like so many mournful-guy-and-a-guitar albums, Surrounded is an album built for driving down the highway late at night. Even though it’s not actually a mournful-guy-and-a-guitar album. Though Buckner’s finger picked acoustic is the primary supplement to his vocals, Surrounded’s landscape is laced with a variety of keyboards, synthesizers, seamlessly layered backing vocals, and a number of instruments that feel like favorites from Martine’s work with the Decemberists. It sounds like a lot, but there is a tremendous amount of restraint. Every song feels like it has its own flavor, which for a singer-songwriter album is no mean feat. Surrounded displays two different kinds of excellent craftsmanship, and I can only hope this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Buckner and Martine.

"When You Tell Me How It Is"



Friday, November 8, 2013

Gut Feeling: Mixtapes - Ordinary Silence

Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence
No Sleep, 2013
Pop punk and maturity are two ideas you rarely see in the same sentence. And yet, here you have Cincinatti, Ohio’s Mixtapes who took everything that is great about pop punk (simple structures, monumental hooks, power chords galore, general cleverness), stripped the genre of its brattiness (ok, maybe not all the brattiness) and released a pop punk album for grown ups. OK, it’s not like this is adult swim here, because if I was sixteen years old again I would be devouring this with the same voracity as I have been these past six months. Six months! And I’ve written zip about Ordinary Silence, which is absolutely a top 10 record in my personal rotation this year.

The hooks here are fucking phenomenal. I really have no words to adequately describe the catchiness of the choruses of “Like Glass” and “Cheapness.” These are songs I blast in the car, air drum and sing along to at the top of my lungs. This is an album I never would have sought out had it not been recommended (thanks, Mr. Nick Spacek, once again your taste is finer tuned than a million Pitchforks). This is an album I snagged on a whim and just never stopped listening to it. Unconsciously I realized where my musical comfort zones lie. There’s been a sort of Come to Jesus moment brewing for a few years. Pop punk was always near and dear to my heart because bands like Blink-182 and New Found Glory broke me out of the Limp Bizkit and Korn cage I’d built around myself and from there I moved on to better stuff. But power chords still rule my heart.

Mixtapes just do everything so effectively. The way the boy-girl vocals play tag team for the majority of the album is great, but when Ryan Rockwell and Maura Weaver’s vocals collide they blend into sort of soul satisfying harmonies that turn your bones to butter. I mean, just look at this band! They’re just like you! Or anyone! When pop punk broke out with the likes of the aforementioned Blink-182 it opened a Pandora’s Box that unleashed the Fall Out Boys of the world that transformed the genre into the hair metal of the 00s. It’s refreshing to hear a style of music I love without all the image bullshit attached (closing track “Be the Speak that You Change About” addresses this a little bit with lines like “Most of these bands would sell their souls/ For a four star review and a sold out show/ An opening spot on tour for some washed up band/ I don’t think I care anymore”). These are just good old fashioned obscenely catchy songs about the everyday minutiae we all know. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this album’s depth every time I put it on, but it’s always a welcome surprise (“Swirling” and “A List of Things I Can’t Handle” notably have that effortlessly applied emotional resonance the Arcade Fire wish they still had). Ordinary Silence is one of the few albums on my iPod that I take to the gym and it’s one of the only CDs in my car. People like to rag on pop punk or treat it as a guilty pleasure but goddamnit, this album has so much joy packed into its song that I’m not even really bothered that the whole thing is about three or four songs too long (because the songs I’d cut are still good). Good for Mixtapes to remember that there is an importance in being earnest.

"Like Glass"


Thursday, November 7, 2013

June of 44 - "Southeast of Boston" 7"

June of 44 – “Southeast of Boston” 7”
Quarterstick, 1999
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1
A couple years ago, I dove headfirst into Spiderland. Slint was always one of those bands that resided on a pedestal in my little college rock world, and that album smashed open a whole new side of my musical palate. Post-rock and math rock were added to the genres I understood and appreciated when I’d previously scoffed at their lack of vocals, the angular guitar patterns, and the odd time signatures (scratch that, I don’t know the first thing about time signatures, only that odd ones play a part in math rock and I mostly just pretend I know the difference between 5/4 and 9/16 or whatever). With Slint came a slew of bands cut from that same angular cloth: Rodan, the For Carnation, Rex, and notably, June of 44 whose LP Engine Takes to Water sort of took up the mantle after I’d played Spiderland to death. I loved the murky complexity of the music. It was a polar opposite of the indie pop I had been voraciously consuming for the two years prior. “Southeast of Boston” is culled from the group’s final album Anahata and is a quiet, pensive little number that stands in stark contrast with the b-side: a propulsive live version of Four Great Points’ “Dexterity of Luck.” It’s a nice contrast that illustrates two sides of one of the great unsung indie bands of the 90s.

"Southeast of Boston"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gut Feeling: Deveykus - Pillar Without Mercy

Deveykus – Pillar Without Mercy
Tzadik, 2013
Though the first words you’ll see if you Google Deveykus are “Hasidic Doom Metal,” don’t get the impression that this band is a gimmick. I’ve spent the last six months or so slowly easing my feet into the waters of metal and Deveykus has been a fun little detour from the path of darkness. Before you get the impression that this is real metally metal, I should note that Pillar Without Mercy has as much in common with avant-garde jazz as it does metal. Instead of having some longhaired dude in corpse paint barking guttural declarations of the antichrist into a microphone, Deveykus let the trombone do the singing. This is basically the album where every trombonist in every high school marching band should be raising his or her fists in triumph because finally, someone has made an album that showcases the awesome power of the instrument. The melodies that blare over the huge, gloomy guitars in traditional Hasidic wordless melodies meant to be sung repeatedly until spiritual transcendence is reached. The potential for gimmickry is on the page but Pillar of Mercy annihilates that with the very first horn blast on the aptly titled opening track “Wordless Ecstasy.” The album is hypnotic, beautiful, and feels like a genuine exploration of culture without any of the hokey drawbacks oft found on albums that strive to combine the elements of modern music with the sounds of exotic countries, religions, or tribal rituals. Pillar Without Mercy works because it kicks ass. Just straight up kicks ass. It’s a whole lot of fun, wholly mesmerizing and while vast stretches of the songs are built on the repetitions of the wordless melodies, this album never gets boring. It often feels as if the tracks are expressing both violence and transcendence at once, and there is something incredibly satisfying about the pairing of dissonant, bludgeoning guitars paired with these ancient sounding melodies. It’s music from an alien world that is somehow, by some miracle, rooted in a pocket of humanity that exists on the planet Earth (note: on the topic of Earth, the band Earth is an obvious spiritual forefather of Deveykus methodical metal). Though Pillar Without Mercy’s nearly hour long run time is absolutely exhausting, it provides the good sort of exhaustion of having experienced something truly original.

"Contraction of Infinite Light"

Pillar of Mercy live in all of its intense glory

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Abe Vigoda - "Throwing Shade" 7"

Abe Vigoda – “Throwing Shade” 7”
PPM, 2010
Acquired: Crossroads Music, Used, 2013
Price: $2
In my head, Abe Vigoda is a neo-punk band that came up with No Age in LA in the late 00s. The trouble is, I’m having the hardest time remembering what they sounded like on their breakout album Skeleton. I remember liking it a bunch, and seeing them live a couple of times, but the sonics are absent. I know for sure they sound like a totally different band on “Throwing Shade,” the lead single from their Skeleton follow up Crush. I never heard that one because it was released in my “I am never listening to new music ever again goddamnit!” phase, which lasted for the tw years immediately after I graduated college (an effect of working at a college radio station for three years and living, breathing, sleeping, drinking, absorbing by osmosis every hot new album that showed up in the mail every Monday). The one thing I vaguely remember about Abe Vigoda was their angular, chiming guitars wrapped around spastic punk structures but filtered through layers of reverb. “Throwing Shade” is a straight up dance track jam packed with New Order synthesizers (and structure, for that matter) with a heaping scoop of dark wave drizzled over the top. The guitars still chime like the used to, but just a little, and just barely. While the song is technically fine, it’s boring and way too derivative of New Order and the rest of the 1980s new wave/post punk ilk to leave any lasting effect. B-side “Vivid” is firmly mapped on the post punk spectrum of that period, and suffers the same ill effects as “Throwing Shade” in that it abandons all of the interesting stuff the band was doing in favor of singing songs that have already been sung a thousand times before.  

"Throwing Shade"


Monday, November 4, 2013

Gut Feeling: Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM
Domino, 2013

A couple years back I decided that I would listen to Arctic Monkeys. When they drunkenly stumbled onto the alt rock radio landscape in the 2006, I paid absolutely no mind. I heard no singles, I only knew that out of nowhere they had be come THEE hot shit in the way nebulous British rock bands become for three seconds before being passed up for the next big thing. And then front man Alex Turner recorded five songs for the soundtrack of the film Submarine and my heart melted right onto the floor. Clearly, I had misjudged a band I had never heard. A day after hearing Turner’s Submarine songs, Arctic Monkeys released the video for “Suck it and See” and I watched it because I was assured that their singer was a particularly excellent songwriter. And then I was hooked. The video is a flashy, NSFW shot to look like it’s old film stock whatever, but the song is pure satisfaction. After that, I invested in the band’s discography and did a whole write-up for the Thrill of Discovery feature of this blog. Arctic Monkeys became my go to workout music and while I couldn’t make it all the way through their albums (Favourite Worst Nightmare in particular, which I still believe has only one good song (albeit the most tremendouslycatchy song in AM’s catalog)) I cobbled together fifteen songs into a playlist and those songs are still what I wish all mainstream striving alternative rock music would sound like. Arctic Monkeys taught me that it is OK to be slick and fame seeking if the songwriting is excellent. Even if they never made a complete album, the singles were good enough for me to give the band a free pass forever.

I’m not surprised that Arctic Monkeys’ monogrammed new album AM is the most cohesive work the group has managed to date. It’s a fascinating affair that had me turned off almost instantly the second I saw the cheesy/sleazy cover for the “R U Mine?” single. A total misjudgment on my part, considering that this record is built to be sleazy. Classically sleazy. Rolling Stones sleazy. AM is admirably sleazy and showcases just how finely Alex Turner’s songwriting has become over the last seven years. The whole affair feels built to be played with the lights dimmed low (guest contributor Josh Homme called it a “really cool, after-midnight record” which yep, yep it is). Gone is the brattiness of the first couple records. Welcome to everything Arctic Monkeys have been trying to hammer out since Humbug: A hypersuccessful band making great, mature pop music. The questioning singles—“R U Mine?,” “Do I Wanna Know?,” “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?—are obvious, but blend in so well with AM’s moody atmosphere. It’s amazing how firmly this album gets its hooks into you despite being so low key. Just that little riff that runs through opener “Do I Wanna Know?” is enough to suck you in, but the way Turner spins a serpentine vocal line around his mouthful lyrics really highlights Arctic Monkey’s best assets. Sure, it’s very much rooted in a very basic rock n’ roll, but the way the band deftly navigates the nostalgia complexes of a music fan’s brain while still making intelligently designed tunes is a feat. Especially when rock is basically agreed to be dead in the ground. The songs feel built to hold up in huge arenas just as well as they hold up in dimly lit, 300 capacity smoke filled rock clubs.

Lead-off single “R U Mine?” is about as rockin’ and classic Arctic Monkeys as AM gets. The rest is a lush, sultry mix of mid to down tempo numbers that ambles along. Leave it to Alex Turner to call one of the slowest, crooniest tracks on the record “No. 1 Party Anthem.” While the album is about two songs too long (the faux rocker “I Want it All” is a throwaway and “Mad Sounds” is a really, really great track that would be a perfectly serviceable b-side only because it causes the middle of the album to sag a little bit), but there’s nothing like Suck it and See’s insufferable cock rock number “Brick by Brick” that torpedoes the album’s overall quality. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I don’t even feel dirty about liking Arctic Monkeys and yet I approached AM with a guilty pleasure attitude (which is a stupid fucking attitude to approach anything with). Is it overkill to say that Arctic Monkeys are the modern day’s answer to the Rolling Stones? I feel like that’s the sort of grandiose statement that would cause people to throw a fit, but it feels like Arctic Monkeys fit that mold. Good, old fashioned, sexually charged rock n’ roll music that’s fuckin’ smart and fuckin’ good. It’s never not nice to see a band grow and evolve and get better album after album, but it feels extra nice to see a band with millions of listeners in a perpetual spotlight keep making albums for themselves.

"Do I Wanna Know?"

"No. 1 Party Anthem"


Friday, November 1, 2013

Gut Feeling: Los Campesinos! - No Blues

Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Wichita, 2013
While I don’t know what it’s actually like to watch a child grow up before your eyes (although, in about four-and-a-half months I’ll strat down that road), I can only imagine it’s something akin to watching Los Campesinos! grow into one of the best bands in the world over the last six years. I don’t even know if that claim is hyperbole. I feel like it might be hyperbole, but I can’t remember the last time I loved a band this much. Waiting for No Blues to drop was like waiting for Christmas morning. Like real Christmas morning when you’re ten years old and you wake up at 3:30 AM and can’t get back to sleep so you stay up watching terrible infomercials until 8 which is the unofficial reasonable time to wake up your parents. The last time I anticipated an album this violently was 2003 (See: High School, Alkaline Trio’s Good Mourning). It’s a tricky thing, waiting with baited breath for an album you are absolutely assured will be outstanding. Anything less would crush my heart. It’s a dangerous way to feel about a band. Considering you can chart Los Campesinos!’s growth over their last four albums, my Nate Silver-esque analysis led me to believe this one would be great. And I wasn’t wrong. The scary thing is that No Blues not only met my expectations, but pulled off things I wasn’t even expecting period.

After the gloominess of Hello Sadness (still one of my favorite break-up albums and favorite Los Campesinos! album to date), Los Camp return to the unadulterated twee pop of their debut EPs and filter it through every trick they’ve learned in their brief career. The one-two punch of the first two tracks—“For Flotsam” and “What Death Leaves Behind Me”—is about the giddiest music you’re going to hear all year. Packed with lush synthesizers, Gareth Campesinos’ trademark tongue-in-cheek misery, and the prettiest music and the hookiest hooks LC! have tossed together to date. Those tracks are so satisfying it’s unreal. The way this band throws so many elements into the mix and somehow makes the cacophony sound like the most controlled, organized thing ever is a miracle. That skill has always been impressive, but in the face of losing the lion’s share of its founding members over the last couple of years, it’s especially miraculous that LC! sound better than ever.

While No Blues has some of the brightest, most upbeat Los Campesinos! tracks since Hold On Now, Youngster (“Avocado, Baby” is about as pure as indie-pop gets these days, it’s so fucking good and catchy I want to fucking scream every time it pops into my headphones. Just listen the guitar riff that plays through that, goddamnit, so subtle but so good), it’s the morose moments that round No Blues into LC!s purest artifact. “Glue Me” has the line “I’ll be gloomy til they glue me in the arms of she who loves me” which is both funny and, with the sad guitars and strings swaying in the background, one of the most moving moments on the record. Watching (or listening, I suppose) to this band mature has been one of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever had as a music lover. Year after year, Los Campesinos! keep making records that are severely fun, meaningful, and built out of pure fucking joy, and these records make my life a bit better than it would be without them. It is an incredibly sentimental notion, but I’m incredibly sentimental about LC! and I will probably weep big crocodile tears whenever they break up.

What I talk about when I talk about Los Campesinos. That’s how I feel when I write up one of my favorite working bands. As soon as the album finds its way into my car stereo and stays there for two months, my drive time is spent thinking up what I could eventually say when I inevitably review it. I’ve been doing this since Los Campesinos! released their debut EP in 2007. I usually think of the band in terms of trajectory but today, in the car as I was driving around listening to Los Camp’s as expected great fifth album, I realized trajectory isn’t right. Trajectory seems to imply a downturn and Los Campesinos! keep getting better with age. 

"What Death Leaves Behind Me"

"Avocado, Baby"

Or fuck it, just listen to the whole album. If you're not hooked by those ethereal backing vox then I don't know what makes you happy and I'm sorry you cannot know joy.