Archive for June, 2007


Everything Extraordinaire

Pavement “Old To Begin” (Live in Amsterdam, 4/4/1997)

1. In my senior year of high school, I took weekend classes at Pratt. Though Pratt’s campus is located in Brooklyn, the class met at the Puck Building. (People outside of NYC might recognize it as the building that was used for exterior shots of Grace’s office on Will & Grace.) Anyway, I had to commute into Manhattan on MetroNorth, and then take a brief subway ride down to Bleeker Street, and for some reason, I got into the habit of always listening to this particular song while on the subway. (I think it’s because I’d start the album as soon as the train pulled into Grand Central, and I would catch the 6 train right around the time “Date With IKEA” was over.) The first few times it was probably an accident, but it became a ritual, and ten years later I can’t hear the song without thinking about that period when I was so happy and optimistic and the weather was always weirdly perfect.

To provide a bit of context, only six months later, I’d be stuck in a depression that wouldn’t fully lift for two years, but everything in the spring of 1997 was just about right. I can never relate to people who had a hard time in high school — I only have happy memories from that period. I was happy mainly because I felt like my future was bright and wide open, and that certainty made me confident and enthusiastic. When I was in college, I felt disappointed by virtually everyone and everything, my confidence mutated into arrogance, and circumstances made me feel trapped and isolated. The sunny, easygoing music that defined my spring of ’97 — Pavement’s Brighten The Corners, Blur’s self-titled album — gave way to the epic misanthropic angst of the two records I heard the most in the second half of that year — Radiohead’s OK Computer, and Blur’s The Great Escape. (Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out and The Fall’s 458489 A Sides kinda fall halfway between those two extremes, I guess, but I associate them more with the earlier period.)

2. Even after all this time, it still makes me laugh when I think about how easy it can be to mis-hear the title phrase as “Ode To Bacon.” It’s not even very funny! Similarly, I am overly amused by how you can substitute the “we need secrets, we need se-crets-crets-crets” line in “Gold Soundz” for “Ryan Seacrest, Ryan Sea-crest-crest-crest.”

3. I can think of very few lyrics about breaking up with someone that are more mature, kind-hearted, and thoughtful than “time came that we drifted apart to find an unidentical twin.”

4. I’ll always associate Brighten The Corners with being 17, but I think that I’m only just now growing into the “holy cow, dude, I’m a grown-up and so are all of my friends” sentiment of the record. Spiral Stairs throws himself into the trappings of suburban stability, and Stephen Malkmus does his best to search for alternatives, but with his mind set on responsibility. They are both a little bit cynical about their choices and options, but they’re both earnestly trying to figure out who they want to be for the rest of their lives.

(Click here to buy the original studio recording on the Brighten The Corners album from Matador.)

Elsewhere: My review of 1408 is up on The Movie Binge but, ah, it’s not exactly my best work. However, I strongly recommend checking out some other recent posts on the site, most especially Erik Bryan’s hilarious take on Evan Almighty, Meghan Deans’ witty assessment of Lady Chatterley, and Bryan Charles’ very personal account of watching You Kill Me alone on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Also: My new Hit Refresh column is up on the ASAP site with mp3s from the Sea and Cake, Arthur & Yu, and My Teenage Stride.


Slowly Sinking Into Something Black

Kelly Clarkson “One Minute” – I can safely say that when I watched the first season of American Idol, I never considered the possibility that the girl who kept singing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” would eventually embrace stadium rock, much less entertain the notion that she would ditch her penchant for melisma in favor of a sleek, intense style of emoting that is increasingly similar to that of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. I can totally understand why a music industry person with taste as horribly bland as that of Clive Davis would be worried about Kelly Clarkson’s new album My December — she’s taking cues from all sorts of bands who exist on the periphery of the mainstream, and backing away from anything that might go over well on an adult contemporary radio station. That said, it’s a terrifically accessible mainstream rock record, and the best songs transform indie/alt-rock sounds into full-on pop juggernauts. A lot of this type of bombastic pop music is carefully crafted to express or trigger some kind of massive emotion, and the singer doesn’t really have to do much other than go with the flow of the song, but Clarkson consistently invests her material with a potent humanity that can be exceptionally gutting. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Elsewhere: PRI’s Fair Game has a never nice studio session with A Sunny Day In Glasgow available for download as individual mp3s. The live version of the new song “Hugs and Kisses” is especially pretty.


Remember When I Was So Strange And Likeable?

Tegan and Sara “Back In Your Head” – This song is an enormous pile-up of neuroses, but its issues are stacked neat and deliberately, just like the “wall of books” mentioned in the very first line. It’s an internal tug of war: You want intimacy, but it’s terrifying. You love someone, but you push them away, in part because you never let yourself believe that they love you. You want the comfort of familiarity, but things get boring if they never change. You get frozen by indecision even when you know exactly what you want. The song feels light and casual; it fits into the smallest, stillest moments while quietly (almost silently) freaking out. (Click here to pre-order it from Amazon.)


The Palaver Of Solipsists Exploding In My Skull

Of Montreal “Vegan In Furs” – For some reason, the songs that speak to me the most usually make the least amount of literal sense. “For some reason.” I mean, yeah, I kinda know the reasons — I’m responding to a feeling and a sound, and the words fall into place around my experiences. I don’t need every line to be applicable to my life as long as a few have some kind of resonance, even if it’s something inscrutable like “their brains are like porcupines and mine’s a paper ball.” I tried to figure that line out a few months ago and my friend Grant offered this interpretation — “the brain that is spiked by things rather than spiky and/or written on rather than accumulating via impalement” — and though that makes some sense, I’m still not 100% certain why I feel like I’m definitely on Team Paper Ball.

I listen to “Vegan In Furs” all the time, usually at least once per day for the past four months. (It’s the first song on an Of Montreal playlist that I play quite often, and so I always expect “My British Tour Diary” to come on immediately afterwards.) It seems like it might be the theme song for my year thus far. At first, it may have been something from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, but I guess things have been a lot more cheerful and optimistic for me lately than anxious and freaky. And that’s where the song gets very literal — “I’m peaking in so many ways / the gloom is in retreat / the dark epoch is over.” There’s also something very conspiratorial about the lyrics — “we both despise all the academic swine…,” “I know they don’t understand, they don’t get us at all” — and I suppose I need that too, the excitement of feeling like I’m in on something, part of something, with someone, connected, connecting. It feels new to me, and sometimes I forget how much I like new things. (Click here to buy it from Polyvinyl.)


Walking Around In Circles

Siobhan Donaghy “Ghosts” – I wonder if Siobhan Donaghy wrote lyrics for this song. All of the vocals are backmasked so that her voice is pure, wordless melody, but she’s definitely singing something, and I wonder if it was just some random phonetical thing concocted to keep the shape of the tune, or if she’s singing secret words for herself. The song certainly sounds like a secret, anyway. Going on the title, they may have been aiming for something sort of ethereal and spiritual, but to me it feels more like drifting around in a stranger’s head, and being able to pick up on the emotions without being able to read their mind. (Click here to buy it from Amazon UK.)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “That’s A Good Question” – Nervous thumping, brass bumping, synth buzzing, circus thudding. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They make paranoia sound like a such a good time. Hey everybody, let’s go out tonight and get worried! (Click here to buy it from Kill Rock Stars.)

Elsewhere: Matthew Harris is 100% correct about the National and ASAP has a fun interactive feature with Dan Deacon giving a “tour” of his customized soundboard instrument thing.


Hair Architecture

The Brunettes “Her Hairagami Set” – The Brunettes were once a fairly standard indie pop band, but this new single finds them experimenting with a more baroque version of their usual twee sensibility. The lyrics are rather heavy on irony, but the tune sounds deadly serious and the vocals are entirely straight-faced, even when the guy starts crooning on the chorus. As befitting a song about hairagami, the piece is highly stylized, casual yet elaborate, and slightly tacky. (Click here to buy it from Lil Chief Records, but keep in mind a domestic version is being released by Sub Pop in August.)

Elsewhere: My new Hit Refresh column is up on the ASAP site with mp3s from Jandek, Life Without Buildings, and Black Lips.

Also: My review of Eagle Vs. Shark is up on the The Movie Binge. Please please please please please DON’T see that movie. You deserve better in life, no matter who you are.


I Remember The Place And It Was Beautiful

The Dirty Projectors “No More” – I sometimes wonder if you read these posts before hearing the songs and get really disappointed if they aren’t as good as I make them out to be, especially when the writing gets a bit more impressionistic. I’ve bought enough disappointing books and records in my time based on persuasive criticism to know that many times someone’s description of their experience with art is more evocative and interesting than the work itself.

This is also the case for the Dirty Projector’s forthcoming album, which is a virtuoso art-pop record that essentially sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard, but is an attempt on their part to interpret the feeling of Black Flag’s 1981 album Damaged, a record that I respect but do not particularly enjoy. If you’ve never heard that Black Flag record, I can assure you — their song “No More” doesn’t sound much like this one. Or really, anything like it at all. The Dirty Projectors run with the basic theme, but follow their own tangents to create a peculiar blend of rhythm and harmony.

Perhaps this should be something more artists should try. Why mimic your influences when you can express your impression of their art in ways that don’t necessarily have much to do with their methods and process? Surely getting to the core of why the work affected you is more exciting than just crafting a miniature replica of something that feels very profound. (Click here for Dead Oceans’ Dirty Projectors page.)

Ween “Friends” – Why is that whenever dudes are blessed with impressive technical skill and versatility, they usually end up throwing themselves into pastiche or parody? When you’re forced to view all of music as a set of formulas and modular chord changes, does it all just seem easy and silly? “Friends” is Ween’s version of gay disco (specifically Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys), and though it’s amusing the first time through, by the fifth or sixth listen it becomes clear that it’s not only a fantastic song, but that these guys could probably make an entire album of this stuff without really trying too hard. There’s a fondness for the genre that comes through in the song, but also a bit of condescension in its inane lyrics (“a friend’s a friend who knows what being a friend is”) and its relentless cheeriness. (Click here to buy it from Chocodog.)

Elsewhere: I teamed up with Meg Deans and Erik Bryan to review Nancy Drew over at The Movie Binge. I forgot to get into the randomness of that movie’s soundtrack, but Erik commented on it. The weirdest bit is when Spoon’s “The Delicate Place” plays nearly in full for no apparent reason around the halfway point.


So Sweet And Sticky

The White Stripes “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” – Jack White has a lot of big ideas, but I’m starting to get the sense that he’s mainly just concerned with writing songs that are ideally suited for bar jukeboxes. I suppose that lead singles from White Stripes albums must always be heavy thudding riff machines in order to curry favor with what remains of rock radio in the United States, but this number is the obvious smash, the one that will probably do okay if it gets pushed within a few months, but would’ve been HUGE if it came out thirty years ago. The song hits an ideal balance — it’s big and crashing, but tightly composed and full of instantly ingratiating hooks. It feels a bit old and lived-in, but it’s just different enough from previous Stripes songs to seem relatively fresh. The lyrics aren’t all that special, but they are simultaneously gallant and dickish, which is the perfect distillation of White’s public persona. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Chungking “Love Is Here To Stay” – I’m enjoying this song now as much as I can because it seems inevitable that it will be used in some horrible advertisement within the next year. How could it not when it’s got this glossy, glammy hypersexuality and the sort of insistent catchiness that borders on jingle-dom. The most obvious comparison is Goldfrapp, but Chungking are far more eager to be flamboyant than austere and elegant. (Click here to buy it from Amazon UK.)

Elsewhere: Anthony Miccio has some ideas for VH1 reality series.


Just A Palindrome

A Sunny Day In Glasgow @ The Carriage House 6/15/2007
Laughter (Victims) / Our Change Into Rain Is No Change At All (Talkin’ ‘Bout Us) / The Best Summer Ever / Lists, Plans / A Mundane Phone Call To Jack Parsons / Things Only I Can See / C’mon

The Carriage House isn’t a “real” venue. It’s an annex to an industrial building that has been transformed into a makeshift loft apartment despite not being zoned for residential usage. The living room is also a practice space, and the bands on the bill played on the opposite side of the room from a slightly David Fincher-esque kitchen area. If it were not for a large courtyard area just outside, hosting a show like this may have been a bit unworkable, but as it was, people could just hang out outside between sets. The show was $5, you could get a beer for $2, and the audience was uniformly cool and friendly and I wish I’d had the time or opportunity to talk to everyone there. I wish more shows were like this.

Weird, unexpected thing: The first band, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, are an indie pop trio that includes two of my friends, but I didn’t know that either of them were in a band, or that they knew one another. The third band, My Teenage Stride were fun and really got people going, but I’ll come back to them some other time.

A Sunny Day In Glasgow “Lists, Plans” – A Sunny Day In Glasgow are a different band every time that I see them. This time they were missing one of the singing sisters, and had an entirely different rhythm section. They were a little bit sloppy, but the set had a somewhat off-kilter sound to it that echoed the effect of their studio recordings while sounding slightly different. The songs, most especially “Lists, Plans” and “C’mon,” seemed more like dream versions in which the song is there, but the memory of it is incomplete and the elements are exaggerated, conflated, or confused. I remember the bass being very prominent, and Lauren Daniels hitting keyboard samples of her sister’s voice that sounded more like otherworldly noises than harmonies, and that Ben Daniels was playing guitar, but it only occasionally sounded like one. (Click here to buy it from Notenuf.)

Arthur & Yu “There Are Too Many Birds” – I’ll admit that I liked this song right away in part because it’s central guitar parts echo two songs that I love very much — Electrelane’s “Enter Laughing” and …Trail of Dead’s “Source Tags and Codes” — but even if it weren’t for the familiar feeling, it’s hard to imagine this feeling anything other than relaxed and cozy. The song has a laid back pastoral quality, but the band don’t push that angle too hard. It sounds kinda like a mellow Yo La Tengo tune, but without the noise and neuroses. (Click here to buy it from Hardly Art.)

Elsewhere: Drink deep of the Lava juice, my friend. You now have within you the fiery blood and aged spirit of Italian volcanoes, and they will fortify you for the task at hand.


I Really Want To Know About Your Love

Charlotte Hatherley “Love’s Young Dream” – There’s another version of this song on the b-side of “I Want You To Know,” and it’s called “Suspiria.” It has the same verses and melody, but the arrangement is far more mellow, and the chorus is completely different, enough to justify the alternative title. The subject matter is identical in each song — Charlotte is interrogating the female half of an estranged couple (her mom?), trying to suss out details of the time when they were young and in love since she only has a familiarity with the bitter aftermath — but whereas the music of “Suspiria” captures the wistfulness of the outsider looking in, “Love’s Young Dream” evokes the feeling of being trapped between two people who refuse to see eye to eye. The verses are grey and turbulent, and the chorus splits into a strange, sideways harmony that nearly trips over a low, mumbling male vocal on its way to a gorgeous, melancholy climax. There’s a palpable sense of disappointment and frustration in “Love’s Young Dream,” and a sense that the singer is very afraid that she will eventually find herself in the same scenario. (Click here to buy it from Charlotte Hatherley’s official site.)

Elsewhere: My new Hit Refresh column is up on the ASAP site with mp3s from Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and the Exploding Hearts.

©2008 Fluxblog
Site by Ryan Catbird