Gibbs and expectations

If you know me, you know I'm down with Freddie Gibbs. This past Saturday he put on one of Memorial Union Terrace's most memorable shows, if only because he so defiantly paraded the very things the 5 Elements of Hip Hop diversity festival and MU Terrace were set out to destroy—drugs, sex, "f@#$ the police" chants.

It was kind of liberating in some ways, but one thing at the show that did bother me was his very vocal homophobia. He repeatedly mentioned the strict enforcement on "No gay shit in the Freddie Gibbs show," among other "no homo" taunts.

We've taken to crowning him the next gangster-rap icon, the most likely to write the next "Changes," or whatever 2Pac mantle you want someone to take—and many of Gibbs' insights into the streets makes him seem worthy of this title. He has the chops to attract ears and the wisdom to open eyes. We want people to listen to Gibbs because—when it comes to poverty, gang activity, what have you—he has some genuinely productive things to say. But what happens when we appoint someone as a spokesperson and they don't say what we want them to? You can't hate a tiger for wanting to fight, and I suppose nor can you hate a hood rapper for having some less-than-ideal values.

I suppose it's partially our own fault. We excuse his criminal activity because we can sympathize, and maybe some of us feel semi responsible. He steals money because The System has put him at a greater disadvantage and he needs to get his income some way or another. He smokes weed because it provides him the catharsis from his oppressive lifestyle that we've reinforced in such a closed capitalist system. He fornicates with copious ladies because, well, he's Freddie Gibbs and there's nobody who's going to tell him no. But he doesn't approve of gay people? We had no hand in that.

After writing through that, though, I guess there's still a further paradox that even that thought process yields the hypocrisy of deciding when a subject is black-and-white and when it's got a lot of gray matter. Either way, we're trying to project our own values onto someone who we're asking to shoulder more responsibility than ourselves. Maybe he isn't as enlightened as we set him up to be, and maybe that's enough to turn some people off.


And from where I'm sitting, this is just one of two fronts he's yet to prove himself on—Gibbs lacks a truly signature style other than amorphous. He can spit any flow and fit any beat. He's the five-tool emcee who can do anything and everything, but what happens more often than not is he flexes too much without lifting any weight, if you follow the metaphor. He can change his flow, he can wrap it any which way, but he eludes any identifiable trait other than the trait of elasticity. He doesn't belong to any established geographic field of rap, which makes it even harder. In all likelihood, he needs to recreate midwestern backpack rap (is that even what you call College Dropout?) to fit his modes.

That said, Gibbs' amorphousness has a ways to go before reaching ambiguity, and he still sounds fresh as ever over this new slow, southern joint:



Final verdict: I don't care if he's our spokesperson or not—he just needs to make up his mind and keep rapping.

Camera pop

Matt & Kim need to coordinate this stuff better. Their previous record, Grand, came out in January; they got naked in the winter; and now they drop this decidedly summer romp just when everyone's gearing up for autumn (link to The Fader's stream). But it's, like, whatever.

The brass-infused hook is pretty hot, and this is easily the most involved Matt & Kim beat we've heard yet. I tend to lose interest in the lazy chorus (since when do Matt & Kim let things swell up like that and abandon so much latent energy?), but I can appreciate the sentiment. Life is short, don't get stuck in the moment so long that it becomes the past—inspirational, right? That's how I know they don't blame me for turning it off in favor of this new No Age leak all the time.



After last year's Losing Feeling EP, we got a sense the two-some might abandon their signature ethereal noise-punk for a more deliberate, pop-minded approach—but this new record is a lot more even-handed than Losing Feeling. They take their hand at capturing the same atmospheric nut-flexing without all the esoteric prodding; and they end up with a whole bunch of sweet pop songs in spite of it all. Of course, sweet pop songs don't always translate too well, and Everything In Between tends to lose traction. At times it almost sounds cute, and it's almost like a regression to '90s pop-punk predecessors. It's got the crunch we need from No Age, but not the stadiums of piercing hooks that Nouns delivered in bushels.

Their dilemma seems contagious, though. Nobunny's new joint, First Blood, is a strong statement and stark transition from the gutter-pop leather on Love Visions. It's more rockabilly, maybe, and invokes more twangy punk a la Spider Bags than the direct Ramones allusions he'd done earlier. It's a more open palette, and in the long run it may be for the best. But right now it just doesn't sound like as much fun—and that's all Nobunny is supposed to be about.

Beach sports

There's a new Beach House song, but this one sounds, uh, different. "White Moon" is not as lush or as majestic as anything on Teen Dream. It's more of a run-of-the-mill pop song—more practical, even. It sounds like it was recorded on a cheaper keyboard with a cheaper drum machine with a half-asleep vocalist. It's all smaller, more intimate, and yet it doesn't feel as intensely personal as Teen Dream. Whatever, it's still good. (via The Fader or via Pitchfork or via Beach House or via Sub Pop or whatever)
Beach House - White Moon (Itunes Session) by subpop

I guess what strikes me most about it is how out of place it sounds for summer. Teen Dream is an excellent autumn album, but it carries over especially well to the summer. "White Moon," though, doesn't sound at all like anything I would want to play at a cookout.

That's where these guys come in. Husband-wife duo Tennis play the kind of boat music I can get behind. It's gentler and less pretentious than Vampire Weekend, and I joke to myself (every bit as lame as it sounds) that they're the anti-VW. Their name is a reference to the husband's days playing that stuffy sport in college—a self-referential joke.



They've been around for quite a while now, but let's just throw this in the "Kyle's an idiot for ignoring them for so long" pile and pretend like we've been hearing this all summer.



***

And just in case anyone was suspicious about Ted Leo—once the man, always the man.

Chillwave shmillwave

In all honesty, I'm not sure what we're supposed to be taking from chillwave music. I know I like it because it sounds enchanting in a gloomy way. The chillwave I like most lets me wallow around—not so much in pity or misery, rather in a sense of exploration for the sake of not sitting still all the time. Ironically, I take most chillwave while sitting down.

And in all honesty, I don't know what that means for my consumption of chillwave. Take, for instance, Small Black, who's debut EP I gobble up whole and hard. They're probably not the best chillwave band in the world—hello, Neon Indian—but they seem like the one best suited to my conception of it as an exercise in monotonous relocation.



Their new single, "Photojournalist" from their forthcoming debut LP, sounds like all the other Small Black songs, but the vocals are more reverbed, more slippery. They sound like Washed Out—which is cool, but not as cool as if they'd still just sounded like Small Black. And when he sings "Rise up again / Rise up again like a ghost" it sounds more like a precursor than the chorus they've dressed it up to be. Chillwave is an exercise in monotony, but all too often it's an exercise in frustration as well. The chorus is a launching point, and the only thing that separates those things from cliffs is a strong motor. "Photojournalist" grooves alright, and if New Chain was filled with songs exactly like this I'd probably be just fine with it. But it only bolsters the argument that chillwave is too pretentious for its own survival. Sometimes pretentiousness just means you know more than everyone else—but if that's the case then someone needs to go to the head of the class and prove it.


But we can take solace in bands like P.S. I Love You, who are finally making the dots and lines to chillwave more pronounced. P.S. I Love You is a stupid name for a band, but a good band, you see. Their song from last year's split 7" with Diamond Rings was a seemless re-capturing of what made Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary so comfortably enriching. Matter of fact, I've already blogged about it.



Earlier this month we got two new songs from them, and neither recreate the same immediacy of "Facelove." "2012" starts out appealing enough, with that slick pick-work on the guitar, and it carries it throughout. My one concern about P.S. I Love You (other than the fact that their name sucks so much) is that they don't have enough ideas to sustain the dynamic nature their songs demand. But that's not really a problem here, and it seems "2012" sounds better each new listen.

"Butterflies and Boners" has the opposite deal going on. It starts out slow and lurching—I might even call it fluttering if that guitar wasn't so heavy. It ends up picking up with a pretty rad breakdown, led by that fluttering guitar finally finding a direction and doing what ultimately sounds more like fluttering anyway. Maybe the title has it backwards.



Either way, they're both pretty sweet, and especially interesting because of the lines we can draw between them and chillwave. They're muffled and not particularly thrilled to be getting in our ears, but they show how that can manifest in a more angular sound that accredits Wolf Parade (or, shit, Pixies and Guided by Voices) more than the Beach Boys. It doesn't hide itself behind such dense reverb, and it's not too pretentious for catharsis. If the whole point of chillwave is the unwillingness to get out of bed—and I could be wrong about this; I don't think I do enough drugs to really know—then it's about time someone cook themselves some goddamn breakfast, lest we all starve.

Secret Cities

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, but, as is the case with most ideas, I forgot about it. But now I'm here some three weeks later and I'm still listening to Pink Graffiti.

Pink Graffiti is the debut album from Fargo, North Dakota's Secret Cities. It combines orchestral bombast (think Arcade Fire's "Intervention") with soft intimacy that immediately evokes the Microphones (in my mind, at least).

The thing about Pink Graffiti that grabs me most, though, is how much texture and geography they infuse into such soft-spoken medleys. For most people, I assume, Fargo may as well be the entire northern crust of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains; and Pink Graffiti feels like it covers that same distance. And when it's on, it matches the filthy honesty of such barren land. But when it's off, it tries to shy away in a sonic niche that doesn't lend many roofs to hide under.



Secret Cities are a young group, though, and it shows. The church-choir chorus on "Slacker" sounds too Hallmark-y, like it was ripped straight from the church scene in "Home Alone" (visually, at least—I know they weren't singing this song). I think what bothers me most about it is not the sympathetic predictability of the melody, rather the unsettling dichotomy between the message and the presentation. Pink Graffiti is about a lot of things (remember, sprawling geography), but mostly it covers raw, exposed wounds. It's abandoned and clawing its way out, and the religious imagery they evoke seems like a scapegoat. Confronting problems on our own is what we're here for, and it feels like we're getting rick-rolled when we're deferred to a robed choir.

Yet, there's a point in "Pink Graffiti pt. 2" when the church-choir hums along only to set the stage for the icy, direct chorus. The ascending lead sounds desperate, tarred and remote; and I think that's the whole point of this album. The sprawled arrangements and sloping arcs are all very interesting, but that kind of brutal honesty is what an album like Pink Graffiti thrives on.



Like I said, Pink Graffiti is an awesome debut (it's stuck around for over a month, remember); and those spineless confessionals are few. But they are enough to stall the pace on a record that depends so much on its ability to carry.

Indeed, much of this album sounds like it was strummed out to act as a vehicle for conversation on a late summer night. We're all among friends, and it sounds like they've got some pretty major issues eating at their skin—and in North Dakota, who doesn't? So if we're not talking about baseball, they'd better stop pussy-footing around.

Sing yr strings out

I generally have a problem with people saying inanimate objects sing. Wrong instrument, you know? And I think that's what makes it so hard for me to really appreciate post-rock. All those major breaks of suspended chorale resonate with me the same way the WNBA does. Know your role.

There's something different about Fang Island, though. Maybe it's that they actually have vocals every once in a while—but most of their songs don't. A big part of it is probably that their songs are not nearly as drawn-out or doggedly ethereal as actual post-rock bands. Fang Island play songs that sound like Andrew W.K. covering Animal Collective—arresting pop with great haste and intensity. It's just, they do most of it with their instruments, and when they do sing, it's usually in the form of group chants that drag along their guitars.



Their record, this year's self-titled debut, can drag on at times, and sometimes it lacks in fruitful ideas. But last night at the Memorial Union Terrace, their set was packed with jams, and stayed fresh—likely due to sheer force of will. They were loud, and they were awesome. For the last song of their set, they covered Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby." Maybe it's because so much of my youth was spent watching music videos on MTV, or maybe because it was such a perfectly executed dichotomy of an impossibly heavy band playing such a soft, breezy song; but one way or another it gave me overwhelming insight into what exactly people mean when they humanize guitars. "Do do doop, dum"—those guitars sang it.

Magic fossils

One album I've been giving a fair amount of attention over the last month is the Magic Kids debut, Memphis. Magic Kids shared that split 7" with Smith Westerns last year, but the commercial-grade twee that "Superball" did so well hardly captures what matters about Magic Kids: They're twee-ish alright, but there's a glossy shimmer to it that re-captures what I'm about to coin '70s chatterbox pop—it's all centered around an endless dialogue that never actually happens.



Perfect example: "Daydream Believer." It's head-in-the-clouds infatuation brought down to earth only through pop melodies. I like to think of Magic Kids as the Monkees to Smith Westerns' Beatles for basically that reason. On the surface both of their intentions are good; but while Magic Kids dream big and outwardly, Smith Westerns hardly muster the courage to think. Magic Kids buy new wardrobes for the dance; Smith Westerns buy 40s and talk about what girls they would have danced with had they not gotten so loaded. It's probably more rewarding to root for Magic Kids. I can relate better to Smith Westerns. Bingo bango.



You know what else I find myself revisiting just about every week is that self-titled Beach Fossils release. Nothing about it is spectacular—hardly any of it is even noteworthy. But its pop sensibilities are so fundamental and exact that it's usually the most natural choice to hear whenever I have a break.

Pitchfork.tv did a pretty sweet feature on this one time when they let Beach Fossils play their office party, and you can stream that whole thing on the pitchfork.tv site. I've embedded (probably) my favorite below:



They remind me quite a bit of the Drums, only they're not as eccentric (that is, gratingly poppy—more my speed) and their album is better (that is, more consistent). It's a lot more self-deprecating too, which I guess is part of it being more my speed. They get a lot of lushness out of how minimalist their instrumentation is, though, and I'm down with that.

Hello ladies

I've been down with Puro Instinct since back when they were called Pearl Harbor—how's that for some indie-cred chest-bumpin'. Puro Instinct is a stupid name, and it reminds me of those bi-lingual billboards that're poppin' up in big cities these days. It must be some study in assimilation; if you can't beat 'em, convince 'em to join your corner. And Puro Instinct are the kind of assimilation that'll put chillwave on the CW, or whatever channel "Gilmore Girls" is on these days.



I don't mean to sound too harsh, because I do dig it pretty hard. You can stream their whole EP on their bandcamp page, and it sounds good—sounds like the EP of theirs I downloaded when they had a different name. That guy got a mention on the "Lady Pop" mixtape, so you know it's good.

But we should still acknowledge it for what it is: an overmatched stab at Warpaint (who immediately followed the Peal Harbor track on "Lady Pop"). If Puro Instinct are about to be on "Gilmore Girls," Warpaint are fightin'-fit for... ugh, uh, the type of drama I would watch. I need to watch more TV.



Just learned on their Wiki page that Warpaint were formed on Valentine's Day 2004—which is rad because it's my birthday and also means they embody some sort of date or anti-date ethos. I think it adds something to the slippery anti-tension they create.

I've never watched it, but my guess is "True Blood" would air Warpaint. Not during killing scenes, though.

The Suburbs

Listen here: If you're going to try to make some grand statement at me, you need to do one of two things: 1. Tell me something I don't know; or 2. Tell me something I already knew, but more eloquently than I've heard it. Just make it the most creative, engrossing story I've heard, that's all.

So The Suburbs, the new album from the Arcade Fire—and which the BBC have claimed might be better than OK Computer—is about aging and modernity. I've read a thing or two about that. I don't think I needed to read The Suburbs.

To be fair: Lead track "The Suburbs" rules—I just didn't need to hear 14 less interesting ways of saying the same thing afterward. The track I left out is "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," because that song rules, too.



The stuttering guitar line on "Modern Man" and the fist-pumping start-stops on "City With No Children" sound like the most obvious Springsteen allusions in their catalog, and the wasted youth/backs-against-the-wall/no-restraints ethos are all the same. But whenever they show glimpses of a crescendo into the kind of wide-open chorus they threw down on so perfectly on Funeral, they throw up their hands in defeat. Probably wouldn't have sounded as good as "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" anyways.


I enjoy the echoing "The Suburbs (continued)," but I can't help but feeling like we've gotten back to the start without actually having gone anywhere. We drove in a big circle and saw a bunch of the same—not unlike a suburb. My biggest problem is that I can't tell how meta-aware they meant it to be.


The Suburbs tries really hard to be black and white. They mention "sides" over and over, as if there's a clear line between corporate and private in gentrification. And maybe that's what bothers me most about The Suburbs: how linear it is. Maybe it's a comment on the linear path to depression suburban life can create, but you're lying to yourself if you think suburbs are the only pure form of evil. Before there was "Bowling Alone" there was "The Jungle"—modernity has been a problem since we acknowledged it as a reference point, and we've been hearing this same story just as long.

So what do I think of The Suburbs? I think it's too long and too obvious. I'd rather read "Revolutionary Road" again instead.

Welcoming friends

The Internet just got a whole lot bigger. There's been a recurring theme in most of my quasi-insightful long-form posts (i.e. the ones you never read) in that just about all of them originated from some nugget of insightful napalm from my main man Anthony Cefali. Well, now Anthony's got his own blog called Things Mistaken for Dinosaurs, and will assuredly do everything in his power to make my own humble site (even more) obsolete.

Especially refreshing was this take on ephemerality and Titus Andronicus lyrics. Anthony frames it through Interpol, but it may as well have been myself writing about the Strokes, or probably any other one of you and your first favorite band that first let you down (for many I would guess Weezer). At some levels, they're all doomed. No band can grow without ostracizing a number of old followers because we latch onto the early recordings so dearly. The more we invest in a band, the more the band transcends music and becomes an experience, an emotion. By definition, then, the band can become one of two things: abandoned or stuck. If they move on to a new sound and disconnect from the ephemeral emotion in search of another, we lose interest. If they continue to evoke the same emotion, they're not making progress. Think Art Brut.

Maybe it's something about cyclical history—the higher the highs the lower the lows; the more we invest the more we have to lose. But I think there's also a fair amount of personal growth attached. The reason Art Brut's stagnancy doesn't bore us to death is because we're only attached to the point that we attach to our own irony. We connect with a lot of Eddie Argos' ideas, but they rarely teach us anything about ourselves. It's selfish, really: When a band gives us a glimpse into our inner psyches, we have a hard time following them elsewhere.

But then there are times like Titus Andronicus when it just so happens that we're all going to the exact same place at the exact same time.

Jaill

Jaill get bonus points for being from Milwaukee. I feel obligated to put that in the open because I get that feeling that if you drive in any direction long enough you're bound to run into another band exactly like them. They play up-tempo, feel-good rock 'n' roll and add little-to-no flair to their margarita-brand pop-rock.

Jaill don't do much to sweep you away. They do away with the bells and whistles of contemporary dance-pop, and clean up the lo-fi aesthetic of garage-rock bouncers like Harlem. Even their 9-to-5 workmanlike diligence distinguishes them from maybe their closest contemporary, the brazenly poppy slackers Let's Wrestle. Jaill are, for lack of a better expression, Milwaukee rock—always overshadowed by its neighbor (Chicago), but not without its own understated attractions. Milwaukee lacks much of the hustle and bustle or any dominant "scene" of bigger cities, but it captures the essence of a metropolis with rural familiarity. Likewise, Jaill capture the essence of danceable pop-rock without any discernible shtick. They don't care about standing out or making a scene, they just want to boogie. And this rad video for their song "The Stroller" proves that, above all else, everyone likes to boogie. I mean everyone.


Jaill - The Stroller from Sub Pop Records on Vimeo.

Menomena - Mines

If you had asked me in 2007 who I thought the next biggest band in the world was going to be, I invariably would have answered Menomena. I was pretty disappointed by Neon Bible, but Friend and Foe showed glimpses of the same transcendent musical glaciers that made Funeral so mesmerizing. Nothing Menomena did ever seemed all that cutting-edge, it just sounded unique. They had a chemistry on songs like "Wet and Rusting," "Wierd" and "The Pelican" that made them out to be a formidable pop trio, but the profundity of "Evil Bee" made them seem like a jam-band derivative—more organized, more tightly packaged and most of all more exciting. The bari-sax cameo toward the end takes the song's vast landscape and drops an epic mountain directly in the center, as if we needed a more impressive effort to verify its existence.



And here we are three years later, and Menomena still hasn't blown up. Their follow-up to Friend and Foe, Mines, captures a lot of the hefty pop hooks that put my high school mind aflutter; but the closest they come to another chill-enducing euphoria is "Tithe," which sounds less organic and perhaps thrives on context. Each song is almost over-tidy the way they think through each hook and process every melody so as to rid the album of any raw meat.

Mines is good—very good, in fact. It's a pop album with virtually no holes, a plateau of healthy terrain that's safe to eat. But I always listened to Menomena to hear mountains, the loose imperfections that would snag my earbuds on their way by just because they knew they could.

Facelove

This song came out a while ago (January), but as part of the revisionist listening I've been doing the past few days I was reminded that I should've posted it a while ago. 

The song, "Facelove" by PS I Love You, was featured on a split 7" with the pitch-perfect pop jam "All Yr Songs" by Diamond Rings that was sold out long before I ever got around to it. It's not hard to figure out why.


"Facelove" reminds me of everything I wish Handsome Furs had become. It's more dynamic, more tepid and more full. Whereas Handsome Furs lock themselves into dizzying arcs and barrel through solitary lines of dart-like guitarwork, "Facelove" is more cognizant of its surroundings, more accommodating to the song's comforting scenery. Their debut LP comes out October 5 on Paper Bag Records.

Losing ground on Los Campesinos

Sometimes I wish I would just write about sports. Everything is so orderly and laid-out in front of you. Stats, standings and heroic come-back narratives just waiting to be hyperbolized. We all look at the same game, the same stat sheets, but sports writers get to form the narrative of how—the causal mechanisms of life's sociopolitical phenomena manifest in inter-human contest. Geeze, just writing about writing about sports gets me excited. But those kinds of causal implications are near impossible to discern in music unless we bunker up with the artists in the studio—we don't know what happened, and guessing blindly only gets us in trouble.

Of course, music isn't all bad, and there are surely more songs and albums released in a given week than there are sporting contests I'm interested in. But I can't help but find myself searching for something with a similar bottom line, something objective. If a band does poorly, I want to write about it as if it's a loss. And even so, I want that loss to mean something, like an upset or something that somehow re-aligns social hierarchy and confuses human mores. Most of us get attached to bands much like we do athletes, and that creates the kind of zero-sum outcomes that peddle sports writing. But the problem is, everyone's conception of "zero," in this case, is different. What is a failure to me may be a mid-level exception to someone else. What may be a disappointment to me may be a predictably poor performance to someone else. What's worse—what may be a miserable collapse to me may be a triumphant conquest to someone else. There is no hard evidence for us to build from. And that's inherent in an artform with no established way to discern winners and losers.

But sometimes things happen outside of albums or songs that do lend themselves to a clear feeling of loss. And that's what I'm beginning to feel about Los Campesinos!. We can trace the entire saga back to an exchange of blog posts: the first from Ollie, the second bearing the hashtag of the entirety of LC!.

It all seems amicable enough, each side remorseful of Ollie's departure. But there has to be some moving part we're not getting—some causal mechanism. It's altogether likely that someone has gotten ill and required him to leave, or perhaps Ollie was finally offered a contract with the Food Network. But they haven't stopped touring, and there are two bits of info that might mean more than we're letting on.

The title of Ollie's post, "Dry route to Devon, so great, like heaven, I think that we are losing a way," is, of course, a lyric to the Pavement song "Westie Can Drum," in which the lyrics of Ollie's title conclude with, "Westie, he cannot drum."

LC! have stretched themselves musically with each record, and their latest, this year's Romance is Boring, reached an apex of instrumental flourishes and breaks—a few of which bordered on inane and grating, no doubt. They no longer carried the same kids-running-through-the-fountain abandon, and instead conveyed far more garishness than they'd allowed in the past. It was almost as if, instead of stumbling upon their subtle genius, they were swinging for the fences from the start, less coy than poised. And at some points they did mash some taters, but at others they were their own worst enemies—too serious to be taken seriously. But I gave them credit for stepping up to the plate—writing directly about themselves instead of hiding behind metaphors forever—until they dropped this.

Part of LC!'s biggest appeal was that none of them were qualified for success, and that's why they were all perfect for each other. But the "Princess Version" would be laughably overwrought and trite if my wilting heart didn't stifle my chuckles. And I'm even more afraid that this whole mess is systematic of their shift from tongue-in-cheek affability to teetering grandeur. What I'm saying is, the "Princess Version" might be the kind of thing an unprofessional drummer (read: Ollie) might not have been able to execute—thus the switch in personnel. That said, it's a one-off on the Internet that I'm probably blowing out of proportion (and Ollie's no slouch on drums in his own right). Like I said, there's no causal relationship in music blogging. But while I'm loathe to drag around my once-favorite band like this, empirical evidence is beginning to pile up against them. I feel like I'm beginning to see an objective loss carried out in real time. And it's making me think sports writing wouldn't be all that fun after all.

I want to make a claim about band purity and how "selling out" no longer implies gentrification, but I'm not sure I even know what that means in this case. After all, it was when Gareth stopped cluttering his personal messages with pop culture metaphors that the band would have started to lose sight of themselves—personal clarity yielding mass confusion. Yet, when it's all said and done, there's something very refreshing about this video. Makes me nostalgic for a time when profundity was still in subtleties, and nuances didn't necessarily mean exposing an ugly underbelly; for a time when LC! didn't need to swing for the fences to hit a home run. (That might have been overkill.)


AZ lingers

I was gone for a while, but now I'm back. That's really all there is to it. I promised myself I'd follow up on Arizona's SB1070, especially concerning the Sound Strike; and things finally seem to have grown to somewhat of a boiling temp. And the results are not far from what I imagined.

First, Charlie Levy, who is apparently a pretty big-time concert promoter in Phoenix, wrote an open letter discussing the real-world consequences of the strike. Go figure—concert promoters, venues, kids are all suffering fromt heir absence; the government—not so much. Although the boycott is aimed to trigger a response from lawmakers, Levy explains that in reality, "Artists are harming the very people and places that foster free speech and the open exchange of ideas that serve to counter the closed-mindedness recently displayed by the new law." I found the following passage particularly poignant to his cause: "The people responsible for SB 1070 don't want you here. They don't want your voices heard."


Of course, that's a tough pill to swallow. Conor Oberst, who's one of the major proponents of the strike, replied with a letter of his own. Unfortunately (predictably), he seems to stumble over himself in a few parts. Most notably, at one time he writes, "Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State;" but then later in the same paragraph adds, "It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks."

Oberst reasons that this strike will ostensibly fuel communication and awareness for their cause, which should then impact the state's economy on a much grander scale; but empirically this seems like incredibly faulty logic.

First of all, the best way to start conversations is to, well, start them. By boycotting the state, they're effectively boycotting the conversation. They're taking an admittedly symbolic stance and leaving all the legwork to those who already feel like they're under a bus. Sound Strike is essentially engaging in a game of Chicken with the Arizona government; only Arizona already affirmed their stance, and the "Artists" are refusing to engage head-on. In other words, they're shying away from the issue.

Second, a common reference point for Sound Strike is the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Levy's letter turns it upside its head.
What if otherwise outspoken and inspirational activists like Martin Luther King Jr. had turned their backs on the state of Alabama and its citizens because they didn't agree with the discriminatory practices of its government during the critical years of the civil-rights movement? What would have happened if they had chosen to boycott Alabama rather than speak out, organize and effect change?
And that's the big difference: Whereas Montgomery was pointed, organized and compensated, Sound Strike is ambiguous, chaotic and zero-sum. Montgomery's public transportation depended on funding provided by blacks, and so by cutting off that funding MLK & Co. struck a weak spot in the government's economic well-being. Non-discriminatory bus drivers still received their salaries and the leaders were organized enough to offer alternative rides to and from work—it was only the government who ever felt the economic impact. But Sound Strike attacks a state, not a government. As Levy explained, the economic effects are felt at the lowest levels first—and the lowest levels are the ones ostensibly benefitting from this strike.

It's truly perplexing and confounding if you take all Sound Strike's lip service at face value. Compare this "crime against humanity" or "injustice to humans" to other unwarranted acts of aggression. The Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, Darfur, HIV/AIDS—all of them have galvanized artistic output and support, all targeted at the root of the problem.

How hard would it be to organize a festival with the hundreds of bands already committed to the cause and donate all royalties to an organization to appeal the legislation? Too easy, apparently. But—and now I'm talking to Levy—if there's one thing I learned from watching movies in middle school: If you book them, they will come.

Arizona's mixed messages

One of the formative scenes in "No Country For Old Men" comes right at the beginning. While walking around with a rifle, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) runs into a drug deal gone amok. Mexican bodies litter the dirt, laid waste after an ostensible skirmish over a truck full of cocaine. While he abandons the truck, the last survivor—"el ultimo hombre," so to speak—asks that he close the door, so as to protect him from "lobos." However, Moss reassures him: "There ain't no lobos."

There still aren't.

The three-time Grammy Award winning Tex Mex outfit from eastern LA, Los Lobos, are cancelling their scheduled Arizona appearance in order to boycott SB 1070.

I already explained my position on this—you're not boycotting the government as much as you are the ones who actually need help—and I'd assumed a group like Los Lobos would be most ready to lift an arm of action on the issue. Everyone in Los Lobos is American, but American in the same way those being discriminated against are American. I thought if anyone would be willing to stand alongside—and not removed from—their Arizona brethren, it would have been a crew like Los Lobos. And maybe, say, Ozomatli will still invade AZ and push for change, but more and more bands are hopping on the bandwagon by banding together—on the outside looking in.

Unlike athletes, musicians generally are paid to share their thoughts. An athletic boycott would theoretically hold weight because a sport's entertainment and economic bump are the only true platforms they have. We take sports at face value. Home runs and slam dunks are bipartisan, strikeouts and three-pointers demand no effect beyond the scoreboard. Some fans are upset when LeBron doesn't speak out against genocide in Darfur, some people chastise MJ for his "Republicans buy shoes too" ethos; but realistically that is what we should expect from them. Whatever political platform they have to speak from is one they have to construct themselves. They don't get drafted or sign endorsements for their political ideals, but they're risking losing it all if they become offensively vocal about any of it. And "offensive" in this case is defined by the corporate heads who sign their checks, not the popular conception of justice we hope they embody.

And that's how musicians are distinct. We give musicians microphones so they can speak. Musicians are a different kind of entertainer because they are capable of speaking partisan messages through notes of neutrality. How many future Republicans bought American Idiot? It was guy-liner pop-punk that made tweens from all corners drop their self respect to join some vague, abstract opponent. And Green Day didn't have to tell the millions of fans who bought the album that "tyranny" meant the Bush Administration, but they all responded anyway.

Because in nature, the door never matters, unless a gang of wolves is going to walk in. And in music, the message never matters, except for when it matters more than anything at all.

This just happened

I never invested much in the indie vs. mainstream debate because I don't know anything about what anybody in the real world listens to. I know Vampire Weekend sells pretty well, I know people generally get excited about James Mercer stuff, but I have no idea how deep popular opinion digs.

Apparently they dig decently deep. LCD Soundsystem's new album, the spectacular This is Happening, hit #10 on the Billboard Album Chart this week. Cool, huh! Hipster Runoff already asked all the hypotheticals about what this means for LCD Soundsystem as an indie outfit, but my alarm went off at this quote from an MTV news article about the list:

The final debut in the top 10, at #10, is the second effort from indie-dance punks LCD Soundsystem,This Is Happening, which moved 31,000 copies.
(italics added)
This is most definitely not their second effort.

I'm not sure what this says about LCD Soundsystem's acceptance to the mainstream or if it only speaks to MTV's understanding of indie, nor am I really all that interested. I just want to know what it takes to be a copy chief at a joint like that.

AZ boycott, bullet points

Lots going on today. I'm going to tackle this as lazily as possible. 



  • I've been trying to track some sort of music-based response to this Arizona immigration reform, but it's a whole different world over there. Pitchfork posted a short article today on Rage Against the Machine's Zack De La Rocha's organizing efforts, and he seems convinced that he and others—Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Conor Oberst, etc.—are taking on the role of Rosa Parks. He wants the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but I don't know if I see this going the way he wants. I've already mentioned the discrepancy as represented by two canadian acts, and the more this develops the more I see things the same way as Pink Eyes. Arizona's government gets little-to-no benefit from touring bands, and even De La Rocha seemed to admit that Montgomery-level action will arise only through sufficient levels of public discontent. Bands can boycott, but the relative gains of putting rust on an already bleak economy versus the relative loss of abandoning fans is no contest. Unless a boycott can sufficiently cripple a government, it's plagued by poor aim. Gig promoters and venues will lose their livelihoods long before the government ever feels the effects. By definition, boycott is an inaction, and that's the opposite of what Arizona needs right now. I'll follow this up better once more shit hits the fan, but so long as the movement is confined to petitions I don't see much moving or shaking. Unless they air a telethon. Arizona doesn't care about Mexican people.

  • One of my favorite jams of the year—and straight-up masher of April's Like a Hole in the Head mixtape— is getting a proper 7" release from gorillavs.bear's exceptional Forest Family records. "I Was Thinking..." adds an abrasive punch to a lot of the shimmering guitars that have been floating around lately. Where most of the blissful summer songs coming out are too waxed-down to gain traction, "I Was Thinking..." rips up the road and drags you as far as it can in its five-minute runtime. The B-Side, "Our Scenery," is a more humbled affair, but engrossing nonetheless. They do a lot to try to cover themselves up, but the result is best received in the wide open, pasted with heat. Thus far, it is exactly what Summer 2010 has sounded like. You can listen to both of the songs here, and you can (should) order the vinyl here.


  • I try my best not to talk about movies. I like them, I just know nothing about them. But I did write a blurb in anticipation of "The Lottery" at the Wisconsin Film Festival. The documentary was a chilling portrayal of what exactly "less fortunate" can mean, and what kinds of obstacles our institutions face. It's more than just a matter of money, it's an outright paradigmatic failure that cheapens the educations—and thus the futures—of America's less fortunate. But here I go talking about movies. My write-up is (probably) nowhere to be found online, but Pitchfork did just mention it today because the soundtrack was written and performed by TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Gerald A. Smith. It's about what you would expect from them—delicate plucks from heart-wrought strings—and it's not exactly timely, but the documentary's website has some interesting asides that you can see here.

  • Freddie Gibbs has a new song up at The Fader.

MCC - Teenage Fanclub

When I was in middle school I listened to a lot of Nirvana. They were so angry and righteous and catchy, and I was pretty sure it was the intensity that drew me in. Kurt Cobain's maniacal lyrics and thrashing howls: That's what I was all about. In-your-face, non-stop aggression and hostility; that was the kind of raw emotive force that drove insightful music. Or at least that's what I thought.

Toward the height of my Nirvana-listening I got a copy of Cobain's collected journal. In it, alongside early lyrics sheets, notes of loathe and drawings of idealized equipment; Cobain would list albums with no real title or explicit purpose. I couldn't tell whether they were wishlists or collections of favorites, but most of them made a lot of sense: the Melvins, Pixies, Vaselines, etc. And then, thrown in as if they were another logical touchstone was the one name I didn't recognize: Teenage Fanclub. Ironically, olde Greggors was real into Teenage Fanclub. I grabbed Bandwagonesque from him and it recontextualized my entire comprehension of music.



"The Concept" tackles the same issues of instability and abandonment that drove Cobain to the edge; but "The Concept" was just so poetic, so self-assured and so calm. I was never an overly aggressive person, but I thought harsh aggressivity was the only direct route to raw, intensive think-songs. But all of a sudden, Teenage Fanclub had made bands like the Eels and Grandaddy make sense in the grander scheme of things. They had created the same connection without the vulgarity or shield of hatred. It was like the Great Awakening in my dome, but I still spent the next two years listening to Rancid anyways.




And this is all still prevalent today, too. The "Less Than Zero" disaffected and unwanted sagas of bands like Girls (my DC review of which has vanished, wtf) have overrun much of indie music's lyrical content. Part of it is the hipster tendency to pay a lot of money to look and feel really miserable, but some of it rouses some interesting socioeconomic/nature-vs.-nurture consequences.

This idea of "legitimate disenchantment" within a relatively pleasant atmosphere is sticky for several reasons, but for whatever reason I keep checking my head against the poem "Nikki-Rosa" by Nikki Giovanni. She mentions how much it would pain her for white people to examine her past because they would "talk about [her] hard childhood / and never understand that / all the while [she] was quite happy." The more we pass judgment the more we're ascribing our own lives on another. So while Christopher Owens (Girls) may live with an extremely wealthy family in San Francisco, his disposition depends less on his socioeconomic status than his internal conflicts spawned by a traumatic childhood. And that currency of comfort is what I think Bandwagonesque is all about. Well, that and the misery and bluntness of fate.



All told, though, the opaqueness of fate might be the most resonant theme I get out of Bandwagonesque, I just decided not to write about it as much because it's not quite as prevalent today—which is what I'd assumed people cared more about. Rather, Bandwagonesque, "Is This Music?" especially, sounds better tailored for a John Hughes or young John Cusack revelatory sequence than anything in today's cinema. I guess I don't know what that says about its chances in the court of PC readers, but I like it quite a bit so screw off.

Awkward silences

I don't really know how to say this, but I've got a new gig. For better or worse, I will be working indefinitely as the "Madison Indie Music Examiner" over here.

Of course, that shouldn't supplant anything worthwhile over on this end. If anything, this means I'll spend less time bogging down ye olde Pop Curmudgeon with useless updates on Madison news, and more time talking about stuff that applies outside this college town. Hopefully this is more refreshing than burdensome.

For the most part I'll try to balance between the two and keep this site updated when I think something over there is especially worthwhile, like this post on Voxtrot's farewell tour.

What I'm trying to say is, I hope we can still be friends and that this personal schism does not translate to a friendship divided.

Now go read this interview between Milwaukee's own Kings Go Forth and NBA hoops blog Free Darko. There's something in it for everyone, I promise. The only thing better is this.

May Playlist - Destruction

We're already a week into summer, and this playlist is long overdue. It's a bit rough around the edges, but that's what happens when you try to cram too many good things into one small box.

This month's playlist is titled Destruction, but that's only sort of accurate. There are themes of chaos and destruction throughout, but at their hearts these are mostly pop songs. And pop songs served well with a hot day and a grill, no less.

I should also take this moment to say that Destruction hosts one of the few pop songs I consider to be perfect. At some point I might compile a list of every song I think of as perfect, but for now just enjoy "He Gets Me So Hard" by Boyracer. There is as much nostalgia wrapped around that statement as anything, so feel free to disagree. On the whole, though, these collective joints should serve well at just about any outdoor summer get-together.

I don't know for sure what Gregg thinks of "He Gets Me So Hard," but I do know he keeps track of so-called perfect songs, and I also know that a lot of music on Destruction came directly from his blog. So hey, thanks Gregg!

Download and tracklisting are after the jump.

Bang Pop

Free Energy's debut is undoubtedly a case of lightning in a bottle. Stuck on Nothing is, in one word, bold, but it somehow gets away with it because of the band's cheeky playfulness. They sound like Rivers Cuomo was in Thin Lizzy, which creates the most perfect blend of defiant high school giddiness I've ever known. The video for their new single, "Bang Pop," hypes that aspect. And while I wish it was a little more "Breakfast Club" dancing and a little less "Porky's" bubblegum, it's close enough to "Detroit Rock City's" stoner escapism for me to deal.

Eh, who am I kidding, this video is perfect.


Bang Pop

FREE ENERGY | MySpace Music Videos

MCC - Lifter Puller

New No. 2 Todd Stevens and I went head-to-head over the new Hold Steady album, Heaven is Whenever, but you can't see it yet because there's nothing there (Update: link fixed here). But one thing we all can agree on is that this isn't the same crew we met in 2004.

I think a big part of Craig Finn's appeal is his ability to sound so close without sacrificing any of his world-wide perspective. On their first three albums, the Hold Steady were just trying to be each of our favorite bands; they became the biggest band by default. But Lifter Puller don't sound like they're trying to be my favorite band, they sound like they're trying to be their own favorite band. Finn's incisive lyrics are still pointed, but he doesn't dress them up in fables the way Separation Sunday's narrative does.

Finn's lyrics have always been pretty intimate and insightful, but whereas the Hold Steady's usually trying to teach us a lesson, Lifter Puller's just laying their cards on the table. Here, he's just recanting stories; and even moreso than most Hold Steady joints, on Lifter Puller he sounds the most convincingly like a guy who just walked up to you at a bar to talk. He's fighting for an audience and fighting for volume. "Well, ok, I guess I'll just pick it up right after the breakdown."



Lifter Puller sound like a talent-show band, but not necessarily a high school one. They're sloppy and loose like a band assembled and producing music in an abbreviated time, but they carry themselves with a swagger that makes it seem like there's money on the line. They want people to like them, but they can't help but indulge themselves because this is just a one-off joint.

Level Upped - Julian Lynch

Fellow Madison resident Julian Lynch popped up on Pitchfork today with a phat old "Best New Music" tag and the kind of track review that generally precedes even bigger things. The song, "Just Enough," reminds me of the drony, distorted elements of early No Age, but all cleaned up and ready for dinner. Also, like they were recorded by an ethnomusicology grad student. Like all of his songs, it imbues the kind of frigid assertiveness that imposes a lot of airy-yet-heavy concepts without stepping on your toes.

The song's album, Mare, comes out later this year, but you can see him perform at Madison's Gates of Heaven (which also has a website here, but talks a lot more about god and a lot less about rock) this Monday, May 17, alongside openers Austin Hays, Yellow Ostrich and Cedarwell.

This is the second Madison-based group to receive high mention from Pitchfork in the last year, and fellow BNM-er Zola Jesus is playing the Project Lodge June 26. Just thought I'd mention.

Sleigh Bells - Treats

In an interview with ABC News, Derek Miller spoke of Sleigh Bells as just one drawn-out hardcore breakdown, but that's really selling his group short. I've already written about singer Alexis Krauss as a Madonna descendent, and those wiggly pop sensibilities are what make Sleigh Bells the phenomenon they are. The brick-to-the-face songcrafts are the complement, not the focus. 

And really that's what's most disappointing about Treats—Sleigh Bells have so much to work with, but they've instilled so little of their own creativity that it's all stiff-in-the-hips head-scratching and very few moments of footloose clarity. I count maybe four (five if you count "Kids" as a song separate from "Crown on the Ground") fully fleshed-out songs here; the rest are linear sprawls that trip all over themselves on their way to the punch bowl. 





Their partnership with M.I.A. made a lot of sense amid the hype, and especially with "Rill Rill" floating around the Internet—Sleigh Bells are best when they're force-feeding testicular fortitude to gentle pop. They should be making us care about something we don't, bringing the ugly date to the dance to make us realize how cool she really is. But instead they show up to the Treats formal with two left feet.





It's Gibbs' ghetto, we're all just living in it

I can't imagine anyone reading this blog would still be unfamiliar with Freddie Gibbs, and this video for his debut LP's new single, "The Ghetto," has already been floating around the Internet for a while. But I just got e-mailed this high quality, unedited version of it for the express purpose of sharing it. I've got a whole boatload of thoughts about Gibbs, but I'm holding my breath until Str8 Killa No Filla validates or negates them all.

Scope the video below the jump. And correct me if I'm wrong, but there is absolutely no rapper operating at Freddie Gibbs' level right now.


MCC - Clem Snide

This is a bit later than usual because I had two finals Monday morning and I didn't feel like doing other stuff, but the whole ordeal did get me thinking about what music helps me study. Everyone listens to smooth, atmospheric escapists like Sigur Ros or even Explosions in the Sky (I think?); but for me, studying goes best with the kind of music that'd get caught in your teeth if you didn't carry dental floss.

Your Favorite Music is an awfully presumptuous name for an album, especially one with such limited universal appeal. But I like to think that's the idea. To me, Your Favorite Music is all about autonomy. Each song's unflinching perspective sounds far too secure for the timid narrative it's sharing. Everything is so pointed, directed. And that's why I imagine it to say, "I can't write anything everyone will like, so I may as well write something one person will love." And that's the point of anyone's favorite music, really. "Favorite" does not denote cultural relevance or appeal—that's what "greatest" is for—but instead allows wiggle room for where "great" can become "best." It's all relative, and nobody is really supposed to take it all that seriously. Except for when it applies to him- or herself. And whether it's the cultural ambiguity or suburban monotony, Your Favorite Music, more often than not, applies to me.



On the eponymous track, singer Eef Barzelay shakes out, "Your favorite music / well it just makes you sad," which opens a whole pandora's box. Is your favorite music indicative of your inborn disposition, or is your inborn disposition indicative of your taste in music? If your favorite band is the National, am I allowed to assume that you are a mopey person? If you are often mopey, am I allowed to assume your favorite band is the National? I'm not going to get into this now.



Songs like "I Love the Unknown" and "Loneliness Finds Her Own Way" are the infectious pop numbers that will draw listeners to Your Favorite Music, but in that role they serve only to distract listeners from the body as a whole. Because in entirety, Your Favorite Music is a pretty intimate confessional of suburban irrelevance. Suburban neighborhoods are the result of baby boomers trying to move into a community, and had I been born 30 years earlier I could see myself drawn to the same house. But now that I've grown up in a suburban neighborhood, I feel I'm still looking for the same thing my parents were; and Clem Snide make me think I'm not alone. I'm looking for a more ideological suburbania, one that melds urban appeal and excitement with the comfort of suburban community. But for anyone, that's the same thing as a favorite. Something that entices interest while still remaining relevant to concerns of comfort (that comfort often manifested in nostalgia, at least so far as music is concerned). Something that allows you to be yourself while still pushing that entity to become more. It makes the notion of a comfort zone all the more nebulous so that it follows you toward a new, more difficult arena.



Maybe the most poignant moment on Your Favorite Music is "Messiah Complex Blues." Barzelay lays out the foundation from the start: "I wouldn't die for your sins / 'Cause what if you lose; I win." And it's that very same zero-sum perspective that drives much of my personal political position. The higher you are, the lower you're kicking someone else. And when we create community, that reality often gets muted. Communities restrain our ability to distinguish ourselves for superiority, but they also establish a bystander effect that blocks our ability to rectify inferiority problems. But the way the lyric is posed is a self-deprecating ode to coming out on bottom simply so as not to feel guilty for coming out on top.

To this day, Your Favorite Music is the only Clem Snide album I've ever listened to. I've had Ghost of Fashion on my iPod since high school, but I can never bear to click on it. Your Favorite Music is such a perfect concoction of suburban humility and disenchantment that I couldn't possibly leave it. At its base, "I Love the Unknown" is the perfect theme for suburban abandonment. Your Favorite Music's formulaic predictability and rehearsed routines offer the same securities as a boot camp, and the bus-wandering protagonist of its songs fulfills our desires for abandonment. We want to create something foreign, but with which we still feel at ease. And as much as I've already heard the story before, Clem Snide's droll perspective is the same cautiously eager retreat I leave home with. And when push comes to shove, that's what comprises my own favorite music.

Anti- Progress

Why doesn't anyone write songs like this anymore?


I'm not talking about the boyish high-school frankness or pounding power chords—those are still pretty commonplace. What I'm talking about is the devolving song structure and song-as-vehicle commitment to thematic constructs. Everyone tinkers with time signatures and keys, but nobody really delves into recreating the parameters.

For some reason I keep going back to a piece Anthony Cefali wrote in the Cardinal's farewell issue this week—and not just because it's brilliant. In it, he explains how our environmental landscape has shifted to where Mother Nature is now entirely under our control—though that's not to say entirely helpless, to which we can attribute the reflexive nature of climate change—and so we're required to draw an entirely new system to view nature and environmentalism. We can't think of nature as naturally occurring, because it only occurs as we allow it. Likewise, music is pretty well under man's thumb by now, so in a way it's time to recreate its wheel, or at least how we roll it.

I know "Popular" isn't incredibly novel, but the way Nada Surf bridge Big Black's speak/yell verses and Weezer's punchy choruses without ever merging the two is still an exciting proposition. Everyone's always trying to find middle ground, but the disorder created by oppositional components forced into the same test tube is often a lot more forgiving, and certainly more refreshing than dischordant feedback. In all reality, "Popular" is likely one of Nada Surf's weaker songs; yet, to this day it's the only one I bother to go back to.

Conceptually, it's pretty close to mash-ups. But whereas mash-up artists spread their limbs across several genres like they're playing Twister on turntables, I'm looking for something more like hop-scotch.

The point is, every time we list influences and chart contemporaries, we're connecting dots; and at this point in history there isn't much area for a new sound to fall that doesn't sit between existing pillars. But I'm interested to see what would happen if bands stopped falling somewhere in between, and started taking and stealing existing tools at face value for their own purpose. Utilitarian garbage pickers. Something that can spread its scope across several touchstones, yet allowing each to exist only insofar as they exist within themselves. The whole point of this is creating a body of dissonance by employing individually clear components. It's the anti-synergy, but in a deliberately ADD kind of way.

Where sports and music collide

The Cardinal ran the Top 10 television shows of the decade the past two days. I wrote something about the best show of the decade, "The Wire" (which somehow came in at No. 3), and you can read it, along with the rest of the top five, right here.


But anyways, there's been a lot of talk on the Internet about athletes taking an active stance on SB1070. The Suns are finally starting to take shape against it (even going so far as to purposely don the "Los Suns" jerseys in tonight's game), and the Diamondbacks are doing a lot of talking, even if Russell Pearce & Co. will call their bluff.

It's the same kind of issue that came up in the Beijing Games and whether or not athletes should speak out against Darfur. Nobody did, really, and who knows whether it would have made any difference. Regardless, musicians don't run into the same problem of silence.

Most notably, Pink Eyes—you know, the big frontman from Fucked Up—and Stars are calling for action, whatever that may mean.

According to Pink Eyes, the best course of action is to flood Arizona with activism and protest, uniting the youth against the government and the bill. According to Stars, we should let their economy suffer and make the government play with the cards they dealt themselves. Nobody has yet to lobby for stoning town hall, but the point is that musicians are taking up arms, and this time it's not a devastating natural disaster or cut-and-dry human rights issue (well, actually, yes it is; but regardless).

I'm open to excusing athletes on this kind of thing—unlike musicians, they don't live or die with what they have to say, so who am I to force that upon them. But Fucked Up and Stars are pretty meek voices in the grand scheme of things (they're Canadian, after all), and politically minded musicians could easily be tossed aside as "Just Bono being Bono," or whomever it may be. It's not that I think musicians shouldn't speak up, and they can certainly affect a large impact on their own; but rousing a generally uninterested voice to call for change is probably the void-filler we need.

Unless P. Diddy and Jamie Foxx throw something together.

Monday Culture Club - Superchunk

Superchunk is either the second or the third best band of the '90s, depending on how you feel about Pablo Honey. At one time or another they were a staple in college rock—when that was an actual thing—but nowadays they're relative unknowns. I guess that much could be assumed by the purpose of this Culture Club business. Regardless


Here's to Shutting Up is a gentle rock record, but it's not necessarily a gentle-rock record. More than anything, it captures the quaint, comfortable nicety of '90s college rock. Superchunk is a bonafide rock band, but by 2001 they had already written rock records. On Shutting Up they were ready to pull back on the reigns and expose their underbelly.

It's an eloquent moment in flux, without ever out-and-out declaring itself as such. It's too unassuming to be a dissertation; it's merely a snapshot that lets you draw your own conclusions and apply your own dialogue. And that's what gives it such universal appeal—it is what you make it, and it means exactly what you want it to mean. All the while, they encase it in soothing pop that lets you swallow a rigid, thorny capsule called life with ease. Nothing is ever as static as we think it is; and as many teen-angst records there are that either punch awkward transitions in the balls or mope and cry about them, here's one that just tries to coexist without feeling too emasculated.


Maybe there isn't much of an argument for Superchunk over Radiohead; but I still find myself listening to Here's to Shutting Up far more often than OK Computer. While Radiohead solved the riddle of musical landmarks with mechanical precision, Superchunk imprinted an open forum and left it up to the listener to have his/her say. Maybe that's another way of saying it's bland, unaccomplished, generic or lacking in artistic integrity; but if something so bad can sound this good, it must be doing something right. Or maybe pop music isn't as tough as we thought.

Odds 'n' Ends

Hey gang! I've got a preview for the Los Campesinos! show up in the Cardinal today, including an interview with their bassist, Ellen. It's not too, too long, and you can read all of it here.

Believe it or not, there are still tickets available. Which wouldn't be so unbelievable if the show the night before it hadn't sold out. Turns out, I also went to that show, and I wrote about it here. One part of the show that particularly struck me, and one I mention in the post, is that Sleigh Bells frontwoman Alexis Krauss might be a better template for the next Madonna than the commonly held working definition of Lady Gaga. Think about it and get back to me.

But tonight's Los Campesinos! show isn't the only big bill headed through Wisconsin this weekend. Daytrotter's third installment of the Barnstormer Tour hits Lake Geneva and Milwaukee Thursday and Friday, this time towing Ra Ra Riot, Delta Spirit and Free Energy, among others, along for the ride. I'm not stupid enough to question Daytrotter's taste in music, but I am a bit perturbed by their calendar. How can they in good faith call a tour a "Barnstormer" tour if one of its stops is in Milwaukee's Turner Hall. I'm not saying Daytrotter is selling out, I'm just saying. DIY isn't really DIY if the Y has a built-in marketing machine like Turner Hall's. Sure, the trio of Milwaukee venues—Turner, Pabst and Riverside—have really taken to booking big names in indie music; but—and correct me if I'm wrong about this—the point of a so-called Barnstormer Tour is that sometimes a "big" name isn't the same as an important one. Or, if it is, that "big" name can manage without a "big" showcase.