Concert Announcement - Let's Wrestle

I've been looking for an excuse to talk about these guys for a while now, but their album technically came out in Europe last year and I was too late for it to be relevant. Or so I thought. But now we've got confirmation that the rascally group of post-Libertines rawkers Let's Wrestle are coming to our fair city April 16, for to perform at that grimy hole in the wall affectionately referred to as the Annex.

As I just said, Let's Wrestle play some wily post-Libertines punk, which normally I'm not too keen on (It's so played-out and boring!). But their debut, In the Court of Wrestling Let's [sic], hasn't gotten old and it's been about two weeks now.

In his lower register, lead singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez bounces between Angus Andrew (Liars) and Bob Pollard (Guided by Voices), but his upper register is what ultimately separates Let's Wrestle from other post-Libertines wankers. They carry the kind of swagger that makes their personalized MySpace URL (letsfuckingwrestle) more approachable and endearing than concealing any sort of tongue-in-cheek humor. In that regard, they're what Arctic Monkeys were on their debut, the kind of dudes who would just as soon break a pool cue over your head as buy you a beer.

"We Are the Men You'll Grow to Love Soon" probably isn't their best song, but it is their catchiest, and it's the best song I could find a proper video for. So here it is.

March Mixtape - Rogue

I know, I know, it's a bit late. I was actually working on this one for a while, trying to find a suitable concoction for a trapeze-artist soundtrack. Instead I came up with this, the Rogue Mixtape. The soundtrack to doing sweet stuff like stealth missions and car explosions and fights with crowbars and pipes.

I had actually abandoned it altogether and even went so far as to get started on a different one for the month, until I saw "The White Ribbon." The unrelenting tension throughout served as my template, but instead of a front-to-back on-edge thriller of a mix, this one eventually takes off. Also, the "Nun's Litany" resolution is sort of a tongue-in-cheek roll-credits moment that probably only makes sense after watching the film, if ever at all.

It has a lot of cinematic qualities for me, and when I listen I subconsciously synthesize a narrative to go along with it. I'm not going to tell you what the narrative is, though, because I'd much rather you tell me the narrative you see/hear. It'll be awesome!

Liars - "No Barrier Fun"
Caribou - "Odessa"
Yeasayer - "The Children"
HEALTH - "Die Slow"
No Age - "Teen Creeps"
Queens of the Stone Age - "Feel Good Hit of the Summer"
Clinic - "Pet Eunuch"
At the Drive-In - "Metronome Arthritis"
The Walkmen - "Wake Up"
The Mountain Goats - "Lion's Teeth"
The Magnetic Fields - "The Nun's Litany"

Snatch yr copy here.
(Update: Link stolen per the law)

Growing pains and Lady Gaga

It's kind of embarrassing for me to admit that it took so long for me to get into Joanna Newsom. I'd like to think I'm above being weeded out by such petty nuances as vocals, but when I hear someone belting out lyrics in the key of cat claws-on-chalkboards, I tend to turn the opposite direction. And it's for that reason that I waited so long to grab her latest, the three-disc opus Have One on Me.

But more important than my ability to digest certain vocal chords is the nature behind these growing pains themselves. Newsom struggled to peddle what was ostensibly a less-than-accessible masterpiece in Y's, but Europe's best-selling hooligans Arctic Monkeys showed their awkward maturation phase by recording an underdeveloped LP that still reached a top-5 chart position in eight different countries. There's clearly something that fills some people's puberty with acne, braces and squeaky voices while others suffer through little more than a big nose and wiry frames.

A recent article at Pitchfork (which I briefly touched on here) paired J Newsom with Lady Gaga because of the two's penchants for dividing fans of seemingly similar dispositions. But in reality that's probably a more superficial distinction than it seems. And while I still hold that Parenthetical Girls form a convincing fulcrum between nearly all contradicting norms (modern and classic, pretentious and apprehensive, approachable and shielded, grandiose and subtle, palatable and putrid), making them the midpoint between the two accentuates the misguided attribution. By drawing the line from Newsom to Gaga we're losing sight of the roots behind the style and gestures. Eccentricities are not all born equal.

Newsom's true counterpoint is probably Regina Spektor, who is less divisive than either of the others, but who takes on Newsom's same posture. The difference is that, while Newsom experiences growing pains by stretching the boundaries of soft-spoken Margaret Atwood-centric pop, Spektor parks her piano squat beneath the foliage canopy. So while Spektor fans debate whether she's written songs worth hearing, Newsom demands conversations of whether or not she has yet synthesized pop music, whether she's transcended the boundaries and supplanted the genre to another phase of Being outside folk music's three-ring circus. Of course, that doesn't negate any significance Spektor might have; and actually that's where Arctic Monkeys re-enter the fold. Their first album took off because it was such a complete entity, taking full advantage of all their resources—not least of all being their youthful cunning. But when their third album fell short it didn't demand much conversation. They wrote a new kind of song and it didn't pan out as well. But the point behind that is that they were never fording new waters; they were reducing, reusing and recycling conventions to fit their own aesthetic, and that's why it didn't matter as much. We've seen it all before, just assembled in a different manner. And that's what happens when a genre settles down. There's no such thing as a noble effort because everything is confined inside the same tent. Their new direction was only "new" in a relative sense. And while certain bands who fail to put it together at first still gain acclaim (the most immediate recent examples being We Were Promised Jetpacks, Local Natives and Hockey), it's for their potential to evoke a nostalgic masterpiece, not because we think they'll reinvent the wheel. But those groups demand more skeptical standards placed upon them because, in reality, they're not doing anything new and don't deserve the same credence as an artist knocking down proverbial walls (a la Newsom).

When MGMT are good, it's because they've married David Bowie and nu wave. When they're bad, it's because they've missed Bowie's point. Nothing about it concerns their ability to create anything new or even write a catchy song. You can listen until your ears bleed and argue until you're red in the face, but nothing MGMT has done has broken any boundaries or synthesized anything new. They made pop songs with established pop conventions. If you want to draw a story from their priviledged upbringing, draw it from the ease with which they could obtain Bowie records, not their disenchanted perspectives on life. On the other hand is Diamond Rings. He inhabits the same canopy, but he's in the periphery, lunging through the same walls Bowie stretched, while MGMT take center stage; and that's how we know we can expect more from his debut than anything MGMT will ever do (and that's why a flat Congratulations should be no surprise). Sporting a tattered neckline is better than screwing around in an oversized t-shirt.

But what's especially bothersome is how pompous these people wear these oversized t-shirts—and even moreso, how tight-fitting these same shirts can get. Add Vampire Weekend to MGMT and we get the same phenomenon. These bands are in control of their own craft only as far as they are masters of others' already-established crafts. MGMT's handle on Bowie always seemed suspect, and the relatively flat Congratulations is the proof. Vampire Weekend'sunsubstantiated zeal falls flat for the same reasons. Songs like "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel" (and, hell, "I Stand Corrected," even "Walcott" if you twist my arm about it) are a double-edged sword in that they pick and choose so perfectly from their influences that the oversized t-shirt starts to resemble a natural fit, not to mention when bands' egos start to resemble the part. That's when critics crown their asses, only to get burnt when it turns out they're merely hermit crabs inhabiting and reaping the benefits from someone else's shell.

And I guess that's what brings us back to Gaga. At a New Year's Eve party a friend tried to convert me (I should clarify: I disdain Lady Gaga) by explaining Gaga as Andy Warhol 2.0. She allegedly got her Ph.D in modern art, and she's exploiting every facet of it to assume maximum acclaim. And that's a valid point insofar as her fashion sense re-applies many of Warhol's tenets. She wears outlandish pieces that often integrate popular culture into her dress, and where it doesn't we can still call it modern art because we have to assume that she (as a musician and therefore an expressive artist) intends more meaning be derived than Dadaism would necessitate. If she's not stretching our conceptions of product placement she's at least stretching our norms of typical posture and behavior. But the problem is that she's trying to advance a very multilateral persona in a very unilateral way. And that's what makes the delineation between Newsom and Gaga clear: They're both divisive, but for opposite reasons.

We've already seen Bjork wear Gaga-like outfits (or, rather, Gaga wear Bjork-like outfits), but we've also seen Bjork write existential songs that inhabit a realm of thought that matches her realm of dress.

Gaga is eccentric too, but only insofar as her persona allows. And that's the real issue: Her processed beats and heard-it-all-before lyrics don't match her outlandish fashion. Musically speaking, she's little more than an updated Christina Aguilera, fitted especially for some conception of a new age of female. But that new age of female doesn't wear Diet Coke bottles in its hair or attach burning cigarettes to its sunglasses. At its core, each Gaga song still plays on the same old memes—girl power and the escapist freedoms that come with it—which only ostensibly warrant such behavior. Girls have the freedom to do whatever they want and get away with it, sure, I get it; but artists don't have the capacity to do whatever they want and get away with it. What makes an artist an artist is the ability to either instill meaning in objects or to attribute objects to meaning; that is, do whatever they want with meaning. By dressing up teen pop in feathers and boas Gaga's just adding confounding layers to a simplistic notion. She uses a lot of wrapping to cover up a minimal gift. In other words, she's overstating her own significance, which is a mortal sin in artistry as far as I'm concerned.

And really that's my biggest problem with Gaga. Although you'll rarely hear me admit to it, her songs are just fine. They're not exactly my cup of tea, but I understand the appeal. They're club thumpers, booty shakers in their purest sense. But from my standpoint the baggage that comes with them discredits any sonic achievements. She bastardizes modern art and makes a generation of priviledged girls think they understand what is in fact a very esoteric art beneath the surface. And maybe I'm (more than likely) giving Warhol more credit than he deserves, but at least his swagger had a purpose and vision. Modern art isn't Coke bottles and face paint, it's Coke bottles and face paint presented in a fashion to critique some societal thorn. And don't think Gaga is saying something over my head: If she was, her songs wouldn't be such cookie-cutter bubblegum. She takes the aesthetic and divorces it from the meaning behind modern art, which in no way, shape or form makes me want to rock out.

Perhaps a better explanation for Gaga's credibility as an artist was posited at the same NYE party: She's stitched together the Google Ads formula and tailored it to Top 40 music. This much I can follow. She does things that attract attention and she writes club thumpers. Well I don't care much about club thumpers, and an inventive ad campaign still doesn't lend legitimacy to an empty art form. So while I can appreciate an impressive campaign when I see one, from an artist's standpoint (which is all I've bothered to concern myself with), we're back to square one.

So really, then, the best claim to credibility Gaga has is the third and final idea proposed at the NYE party, by a man far less musically inclined than most others in the conversation. He's a politics buff who's worked on campaigns nation-wide, so it makes sense that he'd be the one to crack the code. Because, you see, Gaga's appeal has nothing to do with music at all. I've already admitted she writes club thumpers, but that doesn't explain why she's garnered such a hip underground following. In reality, the reason she's important and the reason us dudes should listen up is simply because, as he so eloquently framed it, "As soon as you put her on the stereo girls get naked." Point taken. I'd like to see Joanna Newsom do that.

Getting personal

Something unique about indie culture is the way it brought music into our homes. I'm talking about the Internet, but I'm also talking about familiarity of artists. Countless indie bands have embraced the Internet as a format of releasing music, sure, but countless more have embraced the Internet as a forum to meet with and connect with their fans. What's more, these artists seem to be just like us. They don't have heroic rags-to-riches tales about dealing drugs, nor do they brush their teeth with oysters (except maybe Vamp Weekend). But as indie music gets stretched and a personal connection with a band or artist is no longer very novel, and a forum for communication with artists is as oversaturated as the music medium itself, others are going the way of the dodo—novelty through sheer anonymity.

Remember when jj wasn't just some duo with a keyboard and guitar? They were an enigma, a cloaked entity from overseas that produced one of the more expansive of comfort albums in jj n* 2. But what happened between then and now is that they took the cloak off. They performed at SXSW and released a very mediocre follow-up. With or without their mysterious persona, jj n* 2 was an irrefutable success, so we can't necessarily blame their exposure for their lack of a better album. But it was surprising to see them follow up such an exhaustive debut so quickly, and it predictably fell far short of its predecessor.

You can point to a few things for this. It would be implausible to say that since they've unveiled themselves they feel personally responsible and had to abide by our time frame, not theirs, and thus rushed through their second LP. Even less plausible would be to say we fabricated substance where jj lost some in their cloaking, and now that we're more familiar we see there wasn't much in it to begin with. More likely, they just exhausted all their ideas on their first try. But what matters is not that they became better or worse, what matters is that, once the screws came loose and we got to see the inner workings ourselves, we got to see the art for what it was, not just what we expected it to be.

A great lyricist often leaves lines open for interpretation. It's a balance between emoting a message while leaving it open for interpretation on the other end. Just about all art forms act in the same way. Bands like the Knife (and, hell, Hollywood Undead and Slipknot) go so far as to wear masks to de-personalize their art—it's a product of ideas, not a product of a person, and thus the product can be communal so long as the ideas can be shared. But the more and more these anonymous artists pop up, the more we have to take a more analytic lens to them. Maybe it's just the cynic in me, but at some point these cloaked messages are no longer communal thoughts but Xeroxed beats left nameless in the company fridge. We can all stick our fork in them, but they're nothing but cold turkey and mustard.

The Fader dropped this new joint called "Seaww"–which isn't a word—by some group called oOoOO—which also isn't a word. But it's an atmospheric joint that sounds ripped from an extraterrestrial b-movie, which is a good thing. It's the kind of song that would keep me interested in a nameless, faceless group, even if not altogether winning me over yet. Which is the normal trajectory for these groups of anonymity. Case in point: iamamiwhoami.

Some nameless, faceless female figure started popping up on YouTube a couple months ago, and everyone started freaking out over the high-def visual effects and entrancing synth bass. The videos were littered with existential allusions and esoteric clues that promised a moment of musical enlightenment—a music nerd's equivalent to "Lost." The whole world was going to explode with this underground act who was going to redefine musical expression. And then the full-length video came out and it was crap. All the clues led to a quaint cabin, a piano and a really weak song. The imagery of dogs, the screenshots of goats, the strawberries, the numbers, none of them were substantive, and now nobody's listening anymore. There very well may be another video installment left in the plan that will clear up all our foggy ideas, but the point is we've already ridden it out as long as we feel obligated to. We got invested in the marketing scheme, but the song's failure means we won't get invested in the band. She's distanced herself just for the sake of distancing herself, and left us no reason to bridge the gap on our own. We just carry on with the Internet's endless cycle.

And that's really all I'm trying to say. This dada-ist music is a dime a dozen, and any eight-year-old can put it together on a Casio keyboard. It's when dada-ism forges a connection between the art and the person that it creates a lasting impression and gives a band staying power. The nameless, faceless route is a high risk/high reward venture, a zero-sum game in both musical success and artistic legitimacy. The whole conversation reminds me of a quote in Gil Scott-Heron's latest album, I'm New Here, in which he says, "I met a woman in a bar and told her I was hard to get to know, but damn near impossible to forget."

Speaking of songwriters

I distinctly remember when I downloaded of Montreal's Daytrotter session my freshman year, and now three years later I'm experiencing a bout of deja vu. It's a sparse acoustic joint (is that redundant with Daytrotter?) that lays a few of Kevin Barnes' songs bare. Barnes' voice quivers and breaks at certain points, and the whole performance adds a humanizing element to of Montreal's overgrown, overblown aesthetic. Of Montreal cloak themselves in majesticism and exaggerated materialism; but underneath it all Barnes is a heck of a songwriter, and this session is a good reminder of that. You can get it all for free from Daytrotter's site here.

Meanwhile, the Hold Steady have released the first track from their forthcoming Heaven is Whenever, entitled "Hurricane J." At first blush it's the same Hold Steady—romping guitars carrying anthemic shouts—but it seems more distant than older Craig Finn lyrics. Finn acts as a mentor to this character, Jessie. And even though he's ultimately trying to date her (for half the song, at least), he's judgmental of her decisions and takes on a more preacher-like role. Honestly though, it doesn't really matter. Finn's always been an enlightened observer of a lyricist, and if there's one person around today who can pull off a preacher role it's him. What's more troublesome is how much the song sounds like something off of Boys and Girls in America. Finn claimed this album would sound different than the last two, and especially now that mustachioed Franz Nicolay is off the team we were right to assume a noticeable left-turn would be in order. Boys and Girls was one of their best, don't get me wrong. But if there's one thing Stay Positive taught us it's that they can't do it again. You can scope the track over at P4K here.

We are the champions

Get a load of this: Kevin and my podcasts are now award winning! Which is saying something considering how often we abandon it to do other stuff like watch sports and sit around and get drunk. Off the top of my head, I can't actually remember what award it was that we got, but it was probably the most awesome one. It had something to do with media in the state, I think. Regardless, the new one's up; and while it hasn't won any awards yet, there's no telling what sorts of accolades are on the way for another half hour of senseless ramblings about month-old movies and poop jokes.

And in the spirit of talking about movies that hardly matter, get a load of this: It looks like that Hollywood meathead "Avatar" is coming back for seconds. Turns out, I guess they just left all the plot on the production floor. *Ba-dum chk*

And Michael Jackson's estate sold some exclusive goods. I'm linking to it because it's relevant and they're about to drop some fresh MJ stuff, but also because the AV Club cursed in it.

I have every intention of writing a follow-up to a recent "Slate" article about the twilight of indie and how it relates to the twilight of the baby boomers, but I'ma save that for tomorrow.

Chirpin' in yr lobes - 3.16.10

This morning's issue of The Daily Cardinal features two music pieces definitely worth checking out. First off, Anthony Cefali's exhaustive review of Liars' new joint, Sisterworld, succinctly outlines what makes it one of the year's most surprising outings. As he says, "There is a hurt sexuality to the album, twisted around the arbitrary nature of human interactions and given voice by Sisterworld's morose sing-a-long choruses and guitars that float like a body down a stream." It's amazing how tense the album is, how on-edge they are from start to finish. It's the closest so-called "punk rock" has ever been to cinematic, if only because their foreboding sense of horror is so pervasive. It's less visual than visceral, though, and I guess that's the point. The most impactful horror films keep us on the edge of our seats in inquisitive fear, and this is the first album I can think of that elicits the same reaction.

On another note altogether, Justin Stephani's column this week focuses on the state of the singer-songwriter. I'd like to think I had a bit of a hand in some of this (the entire premise revolves around The Tallest Man on Earth, who you may remember as one of my favorite acts around), but regardless he gets to the root of some of the same issues brought up in Nitsuh Adebe's column I linked to yesterday. That is, what does "pop star" mean anymore anyways? It's a common quandry in the veins of ye olde Pop Curmudgeon's dome, and I'll probably try my own crack at it at some other juncture.

Love gone lost

I've been putting off this post for a few days now. But, alas, I cannot put it off any longer. I'm breaking things off.

I've never really been able to distinguish the actress from the person all too well because it seemed like there was so much that bled through between the two. Her wry, cynical wit seemed so organic; to borrow from Paul Rudd in "Role Models," it seemed like she was someone who hated all the same things I hated. But now it's pretty apparent that she can't distinguish between the two anymore either. To figure out what I'm talking about, scope this new video from her music joint with a very dapper, Robert Downey Jr.-looking M. Ward:

What bothers me is how campy it is. Believe me, I can enjoy campy, but it makes her usual persona seem forced, even trite. The updated, innocent Britney Spears allusion aligns itself pretty clearly with what we've come to appreciate her as, but her dance routines come off as overly contrived. For the first time, she's removed herself from her role by making it a blatant performance. Things aren't natural, they're scripted. Her personality is divorced from her persona, at least insofar as her acting is purposive, deliberate. And so when she meanders around a bit as if her mind is all aflutter while walking away from the camera at the end, she's doing so consciously. Each hop and skip is meticulously scripted to reinforce an image that thrived on its unscripted appearance. Her natural allure of innocent, even unintentional irreverence is no longer innocent nor unintentional. I don't know, maybe she's being a little too expressive, and maybe that's where I'm having a problem. But it's not as if she's merely overacting. She's abusing her role to manipulate her reception.

Musically speaking, this track is about what we should expect from She & Him. It doesn't sound as much like she recorded her vocals in a kitchen, but Ward's composition is sharp as always and they don't lose much by amping up the production. But that's mostly a testament to Ward's music. However bright a well-produced She & Him track may be, the fact that she sounds removed from the kitchen does take away some of the familiarity. It's the same problem she has with her acting in the video. She blurs the line between the actress and the person to the point where here—in a musical outing that should include exclusively the person—she's implanted seeds of the actress. Put simply, it's a song (and a person) we can appreciate, but probably not one we can fall in love with.

And yes, I did just write an entire break-up post about Zooey Deschanel without using her name once. That's what heartbroken means.

Extended vacation, again

Kevin and I might get fired from this podcast joint if we miss another week. And hell, with the NCAA tournament coming up this weekend, there's no telling when we'll find time to do the next one. But the three of you out there who actually follow that can thank us later for not wasting your time I guess.

But I thought I'd share something here from Pitchfork, because it's not like anyone actually reads that website without being pointed there anyways. But there's a new column/weekly feature by Nitsuh Abebe in which he looks to analyze our music conversations. Adebe's one of the better writers over there, and it seems like a good idea to have some sort of meta-analysis for those of us who care about this sort of thing—it looks to be a pretty similar idea to this here Pop Curmudgeon; and who knows, maybe this pseudo-competition will prompt me to write more frequently and more insightfully. This time around he takes a look at two of pop music's more divisive females: Joanna Newsom and Lady Gaga. Turns out, I'm not crazy about either. But he does raise a few interesting points about what we expect from our indie acts, and pop music writ large. We label any sort of attempt at cross-over appeal as selling out, and anytime a big-time pop act tries to do something at a more intimate level we cast them off as misdirected posers trying to infiltrate a niche that, honestly, is no longer all that organic. But I was especially excited about his Parenthetical Girls shoutout, and I think they can serve as a useful fulcrum for the indie/mainstream right angle. They carry a mainstream-level bravado and grandeur with an indie candidness and self-deprecative jauntiness.

He makes the point that we expect some sort of humility from indie acts, and when they try to do something they get really excited about we just sort of kick them back down to street level. I'm probably pretty guilty of this myself, but I think there's still a standard that needs to be enforced in order to distinguish the gravy from the mud. The argument screams Vampire Weekend, and I'll argue that VW's pompousness is only part of their problem. Compare them to Colin Meloy: When the Decemberists were putting out joints like Picaresque and Castaways and Cutouts, not all that many people cared whether or not Meloy was a prick; but now that their songs are drawn-out and boring it's an issue. And I guess it's somewhat confounded in that both of these groups' pretense is grounded in thinking they're more innovative than they actually are, but that's probably symptomatic of what's really going on. The fact that they act so ignorant to their source material indicates some sort of rift between us and them: We're smarter than they are, so why do they act like they're smarter than us? I don't want to say bands owe us something for us having listened, but I think we do have to expect some sort of reciprocity. If they can't give us innovation or ingenuity, at least give us something to like.

majer failer

It's never an excuse to simply call it a "long week," but that's what I'm going to try to pass off. But things are looking up. I have no midterms next week, which means I can make more promises of plentiful posts only to apologize for coming short later on.

There's not a whole lot going on around town this weekend. Well, there is, but if you're someone who would be interested (and also reading this blog), you've probably heard of them already. And, frankly, I'm late for Will Rante's surprise birthday party.

But I did write a review of Titus Andronicus' laughably awesome new album for the Cardinal this week, but I can't in good faith link you to it. To make a long story short, there are some parts of it I don't entirely agree with; and I wrote it. But I will take a moment to reflect on Jacqueline O'Reilly's work on the headline. At first I couldn't put the pieces together: "Remember the Titus (Andronicus)" is too matter-of-fact not to have a pop culture reference behind it, but I didn't immediately catch the "Remember the Titans" allusion. Of course, "Remember the Titans" is the thrilling saga of a high school football team thrust into a position of segregation on the field (and also Disney's best movie, srsly), which is an incredibly apt example of Civil War-related issues impacting modernity ("modernity" of course being relative in this instance), as we see how the lines on the field get blurred to become metonymic of the lines in society. In fact, "Remember the Titans" might be The Monitor's closest contemporary in that regard. And I have no reason not to assume Jacqueline put exactly this much thought into the process as well.

But anyways, off I go.

Appreciating Pavement

This will be quick and unorganized because I'm in the middle of a whole lot of studying.

I'm trying not to get into the habit of being that prick who's always complaining about other people's articles, but you have to expect something like this when you try to pay homage to a band like Pavement without having much of a clue what you're talking about. Here's the piece, and here's my response:

"Paper Radio," as it's called, is the weekly playlist compiled by some guy I've never met before over at the Herald. It's a stupid concept alright, but there's no question this guy's better at it than the last one. The latest installment is a Pavement-based script trying "to see where Pavement came from, what they've been up to and who they've inspired." Right on.

I'll forgive the mention of Pavement's reunion running alongside a modern lo-fi revival (were they really the source of that? unlikely) and their end to animosity (they never actually broke up, they just went on hiatus; it's pretty well documented that Malkmus was the only one ever opposed to a reunion, and it was mostly just so he could feel out his solo jaunt a little longer).

Lou Reed as an influence is pretty straightforward (even if a bit of a scapegoat, but whatever), but I'm not sure I'm on board with his assertion that Malkmus is a poor singer (for proof see "Jenny and the Ess Dog" off Malkmus' self-titled joint). The point of Malkmus isn't that he's a poor singer (again, I disagree with that anyways, but for what it's worth there are probably just as many songs you could point to where he comes off sharp or flat), but that he never cared much for singing (or trying not to sound sharp or flat). It seemed like a hassle. He was too cool to be singing. That's where Reed really comes in: They were both too cool. That also sounds amateurish. Whatever, next song.

I'm not sure how often Pavement gets called "the most British American band," nor am I sure how often Echo & the Bunnymen get called E & the Bs. I understand the idea, though, and it's true. And even though it is pretty lazy saying Pavement sounds like a band they've covered on record, it's still an apt comparison. The only part that doesn't make sense is the bit about the Cure and Interpol. Fact is, Interpol would not need a time machine to collaborate with a band that has released two albums since Interpol's first. But even if the point of it was that Interpol would be collaborating with an in-their-prime Cure, why wouldn't they just collaborate with Joy Division, who were still releasing albums when the Cure recorded "Boys Don't Cry"? Joy Division's a better touchstone anyways (they actually were an influence, not just some band that kinda/sorta sounded like Pavement and followed five years afterward).

I won't get too into the Spiral Stairs and SM & the Jicks appearances on this list. Go figure, two principal songwriters in Pavement went on to write songs that sounded like Pavement after the group split. For a band that more or less spearheaded indie music and had their hands in 80-90% of all indie music over the last decade-plus, this list of Pavement followers is pretty sad.

The Spoon bit, though the only follower mentioned worth mentioning, is the one that really bolls me over. Spoon is a direct descendant of Pavement, sure, but I don't buy all this minimalism garbage. Pavement wasn't all that minimalist, and while they flexed a bit of the studio-sounds-on-wax schtick Spoon has since mastered, it was nothing Pixies hadn't done before. Instrumentally, Spoon is a stripped-down Pavement, but there are other things at play. What makes Pavement so paramount to Spoon is in the vocals. Britt Daniel draws the same loose portraits in the same off-handed breeziness with the same deftness that Malkmus perfected.

Arguably Pavement's biggest influence on rock is an aesthetic and paradigmatic one. Pavement showed that punk rock didn't need to be aggressive or drug-induced. There's a semi-famous dialogue in which, during one of Pavement's first shows opening for some punk group (I want to say Black Flag, but don't quote me on that), Malkmus was literally shaken after seeing a band member mix some substance into his drink. The dialogue goes on to where Malkmus admits it was probably just some sort of cough medicine or pain killer, but the point is that he was writing Slanted & Enchanted while still incredibly naive of punk culture. And the naivety is what allowed pioneers like Belle and Sebastian to wear sweaters and still be accepted so universally. Pavement was beloved by even the most thuggish bikers, but they'd show up to shows wearing NBA fleeces. The yardstick wasn't based on some metric of roguishness applied to pins on a jacket or studs on a shoulder anymore, but on the head that's atop those shoulders. Pavement drew the line between pop and punk without ostracizing either because they didn't sacrifice either, and that opened the door between the two. I could go on another tangent about the role of post-punk in this whole dynamic, but frankly I don't have the time right now. The point is, that gateway is littered with a lot of highs and lows in pop music, but the glue that cements it in place is Pavement.

And please don't ever refer to them as "the Pavers."

Sad news and semi-constructive discourse

I'm afraid I return bearing bad news. Mark Linkous, better known to most as Sparklehorse, killed himself yesterday. His music has always been pretty brooding and he's been reportedly in and out of severe depression and drug addiction for years, but that doesn't make this any less unfortunate. You can get a tailor-made mixtape of some of his highlights courtesy here, and you can find a few of his other albums courtesy olde Greggers here.


But I can't bring myself to brood all day, especially when there's legitimately constructive music talk to be had. My former boss, esteemed coworker and Daily Cardinal world-beater Justin Stephani wrote a pretty interesting review of the new Frightened Rabbit album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks over here, but he presents a few ideas I'm not sure I'm on board with.

For starters, in the first paragraph he posits that, "Gone are the days of the Scottish group sitting in a bar drinking bourbon too expensive for their own good... They are now drowning themselves in a bottle of cheap whiskey," but that seems semi-counterintuitive. The type of alcohol should be swapped, at least to adhere to their discography's trajectory.

Mixed Drinks is Frightened Rabbit all dressed up. It's no coincidence they're not cursing as much as they used to, because their act is becoming over-rehearsed and it's confounding their schtick. Part of the reason Frightened Rabbit was so endearing on their earlier material was because it was so off-the-cuff and messy. Lead singer Scott Hutchison was too fervent with his confessionals to articulate them without a bunch of F-bombs littered about. We could relate to Hutchison's anguish because it was so familiar; the imagery of a man pouring his entrails into a pint glass was too real not to be affecting. But Mixed Drinks loses that element at the cleaners.

It's rare to criticize a band for trying too hard, and I could be misguided. Sure, maybe these songs are more economical, maybe they are better-structured crafts; but the bottom line is, why should I listen to them? If I want structured, composed rock 'n' roll I can listen to British Sea Power or Tokyo Police Club. But if I want the pent-up disgust of a surly Scot, I'll listen to "Head Rolls Off" or "Modern Leper." If I want the kind of vulnerability a drunken Scot only shows through the dregs of his whiskey, I'll listen to "Poke" or "Who'd You Kill Now?". And Mixed Drinks fails to contribute to this area. Rarely if ever will I opt to hear sober, rehearsed, distilled drama strained through soap-opera guitarwork.

As Justin points out, there are a lot more allusions to and imagery of escape, usually fleeing for the sea. But Organ Fight was so powerful for the opposite reason. There was no running involved. It was just a bunch of dudes huddled around a bar complaining about stuff. Mixed Drinks is a solitary effort, vocalist Scott Hutchison running away from his problems. And forgive me for stereotyping, but it negates the Scottish model of confrontational drunkards, counter to the raw display of personality that pervaded Organ Fight and made Frightened Rabbit worth fussing about in the first place.

So I suppose I agree with Justin that Frightened Rabbit are on their way up, making craters with their anthemic triumphs; but for the time being I'm just fine sitting down.

On my way out, in bullet-point format

I promised myself I'd never turn this into a link dump, but I've got a lot to say and none of it original to me. I'll be out of town all weekend partaking in the legendary Chiditarod. For bookkeeping purposes, olde Gregg—responsible for that sweet skirts blog I mentioned—was a key cog in the perpetual winning machine, Corporate Dalliances, and the riveting story of their takeover is here. But when I come back expect to hear my thoughts on why Conor Oberst became such a chump and why his saga more or less ruined modern folk for a minute or three.

But anyway. First and foremost, be sure to check out Andrew Dambeck's new soul mixtape. Maybe not his most immediately accessible, but the readers of this blog should be far past that type of thing by now.

Secondly, least I forget the major goings-on in Madison while I'm away this weekend. Zola Jesus has been getting some major back-scratching from the folks at Pitchfork lately, not to mention the inclusion of her last LP on Gareth Campesinos!' own best-of-year list, in which he says, "I don't even know what to say about this. Nika Roza is an incredible talent. I'm dying to see what she comes up with next." Well, she's also from Madison and younger than myself, and the goth singer is hosting the release party for her Stridulent EP at the Project Lodge at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday. I don't much get into goth pop all that much, but I'm still terribly jealous of everyone who gets to go to this.

Also, I have e-mail confirmation that the support for Los Campesinos! at the Majestic is none other than the group responsible for The Daily Cardinal's #1 album of 2009, Cymbals Eat Guitars. And while I can't necessarily defend its placement as the best album of the year, I can certainly attest that it was my favorite, and it legitimately did garner the votes to vault it over Dirty Projectors without any hint of foul play. I saw CEG with the Depreciation Guild and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at the Stage Door last Summer and, among other things, their singer is real, real sweaty. Also, they were real, real good. Oh, and I've got an interview with Ellen Campesinos! on Monday, in case you were wondering. I was hoping they'd give me Harriet, but whatever.

The Hold Steady is announced for Summerfest, which is cool.

And last but most certainly not least, the latest wave of bands performing at the Pitchfork Music Festival was announced today and it damn near killed me. In no particular order, Broken Social Scene, Titus Andronicus, Freddie Gibbs, the Smith Westerns and Girls were all added to the Pavement-loaded bill, among several others. Three-day passes are long gone, but you can still pick up single-day passes here. But I have a feeling if it took you this long to get tickets to see Pavement we won't be hanging out much anyways.

Oh, and for those of you who were concerned: I slayed that social movements midterm.

Soul Mixxx 9

Booty Shaker Deluxe Andrew Dambeck has unveiled the ninth installment of his venerable soul mixtape series, and it's a bruiser. He describes this one as having "everything from latin boogaloo to modern soul boogie," and while I have a feeling those words are made up, they're pretty good descriptors of what you're getting into. Especially the latin aspect, which was somewhat foreign to me in regards to soul music, but it's a refreshing change of pace.

Dambeck puts these out monthly and I'll do my best to post them here in constant rotation with my own monthly mixes. One thing to keep in mind: These are all thrown down onto one track, ripped from vinyl. It can get exhausting, sure, but I wouldn't put it here if it wasn't rewarding as all hell.

Git yr boogie on here and pay yr respects by hiring him for yr next party. This guy doesn't mess around.

Nü Tracks — Crystal Antlers

"Little Sister" was a song by Queens of the Stone Age on Lullabies to Paralyze, which marked the first point at which you can stop caring about Queens of the Stone Age. "Little Sister" is good and all, but it lost the grit and tenacity that shone through Homme's earlier compositions.

So then I give a big WTF to Crystal Antlers, who just released two new tracks on their website in anticipation of their upcoming album. One of the two is named "Little Sister," and it's a drastic departure from their gritty and tenacious styles of yore ("yore" being, you know, less than three years ago). Crystal Antlers were one of the most violent bands around, and played one of the most frenetic sets I've ever seen anyone play to 25 people at six in the evening on a Tuesday. But I think it was obvious their melodies lost a lot of people in their ferocity (like I said, no more than 25 people for a show that cost $5 and included free pizza), and if this is the kind of shift they have to do every now and then to make a living then I can deal with it. After all, these guys literally funded their music by working as chimney sweeps, and it's nice to see less residual ash caked in their instruments.

The keyboardist from the Mars Volta was a major player on their first album, Tentacles, and it was pretty apparent. They were neighbors in California, I guess, and he produced the album, I think (no time for fact checking). The fluttering keys and aimless guitar sprawls beat you over the head with Mars Volta influence, but the point was that everything beat you over the head.

They still suspend chords in space, but it's less of a forced, quasi-art affair this time, invoking more Band of Horses or Shins than Mars Volta, to their credit. A band so hell-bent on tearing shit up needs to calm down every once in a while so as not to run straight through a record without accomplishing any goals. But they're still too garish to capture Band of Horses' poignancy or fragility, and if their new album is comprised of nothing but songs like this, I'm going to be very, very disappointed.

And just saying: This photo on The Fader shows a picture with a woman not previously in the band. I'm not one to point fingers, but I am noticing a common denominator.

Tallest website on earth

For a while now I've been meaning to mention something about olde Gregg's new website, but I was waiting for an appropriate time to do so. And what better time than a new Tallest Man on Earth album leak?

TMOE, stage name for Kristian Mattson, is an essential grab for near everyone. He's the closest thing we have these days to an early-years Dylan, but his sharp, hoarse Swedish drawl and hit-the-deck finger-picking set him apart as a troubadour all his own. Lyrically, his profundity is in his subtlety, relying more on imagery and symbolism to weave the narratives Dylan often accomplished through dialogue or more conventional, linear storytelling.

For whatever reason, The Wild Hunt, follow-up to 2008's staggering Shallow Graves, sounds more like Dylan to me, and somehow that's a detraction. But detracting from brilliance still registers remarkableness (what an awful word, I'm sorry), and I've a strong feeling The Wild Hunt is a grower. Mattson's an onion, you see. Looks solid, but many layers underneath.

I should also clarify one thing: I met Mattson last summer and he's remarkably shorter than his name might suggest. If I had to take a gander, I'd guess somewhere near 5'6'' with boots on. Regardless, he was genuinely one of the nicest, most humble people I've met, and he sounds great on vinyl. Not sayin', just sayin'.

Of course, this isn't the only post on Skirts (same link as above), and it's definitely worth keeping up on his daily recommendations. Full disclosure: Gregg is my older brother. But he is also responsible for a large chunk of my musical taste, and to this point he's proven his taste in music to be just as reliable. So add it to your RSS feed before it gets taken down by the law.

And for good measure, here's a video of TMOE on KEXP playing "I Won't Be Found," which gives a decent idea of what his finger-picking's all about.

Video killed the radio star

I think I might be late on this, but whatever. If a band wants me to be on top of things they'll write good music. Which I suppose is the perpetual quandry related to Ok Go. They're known for sweet videos, and their latest (embedded below) is no different. Of course, I have a problem with the video at roughly 2:40 when the sledgehammer smashes their old (linked to above) video. The treadmill video is the band's only notable accomplishment (yes, I am discarding "Get Over It"), and the imagery involved in the smashing shows a sort of demolition, a re-invention, which of course is the exact opposite thing they're doing here. The song, like "Here it Goes Again," is boring and relies solely on the viral campaign of its visual accompaniment (I actually had to search YouTube for "Ok Go Treadmill Video," just to illustrate the irrelevance of the music itself).

From the start we know the punchline: They're already plastered in dry paint, so we know that at some point they're getting blasted. The story of the video, then, is the means. Ok Go show some humility by including at the end of the video a shot with the group of people who are ostensibly responsible for the elaborate construction, but at the same time the band is discrediting themselves. Or, rather, they're exposing themselves. Like I said, the song isn't the draw here, and by including the video's makers (even if the band lent some insight to design ideas) it's like they're passing the torch to the ones who really matter. They get blasted with paint, but I can't help but think of the paint as egg, and the people who deserve the credit are cheering while the band has to wipe the egg from their faces.

But it also introduces a few thoughts on the relevance of music videos. "Video killed the radio star" is a radically outdated concept, and the medium of videos themselves show little promise beyond ephemeral marketing schemes (Ok Go ostensibly the masters of said campaign). More and more bands are including videos on enhanced versions of their CDs, but those too are becoming outdated. In the end a band's meddle is always proven or disproven relative to musical performance. Perhaps the Buggles' insight should be modernized to "Video saved the radio bust... for a minute or two." The title of the song, "This Too Shall Pass," is eerily self-aware. But I suppose, so long as they know what they're up against...

From underneath a pile of trubble

I've never actually gotten myself on any sort of regular posting schedule, so I don't feel obligated to apologize for the recent lack of posts. Nor do I feel obligated to post much the rest of the week while I try to dig myself from underneath all this homework I've been putting off for so long. Rest assured it's not that I've nothing to say, it just so happens I have a lot more to say about the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, at least until Thursday afternoon.

But, another week another podcast, and—though only loosely related to the contents of this blog—this week Kevin and I tackle the plight of popular films trying to retain perpetual relevance. "Back to the Future," "Boondock Saints," "Office Space," "Fight Club," even "Avatar" (briefly), we cover 'em all.

Being March 1, we're officially past the Record Production Month challenge. I spent the last month watching basketball and celebrating my birthday, but hopefully other people were more productive. I'm going to take some time to digest them, but expect a breakdown of some of the contest's more important contributions next week. Per usual, if you (yup, any of the three of you) happened to participate in the contest, please be sure to forward your product my way. I promise I'll be cordial. We can swap banana bread recipes if you'd like.

And I'd be remiss not to mention Pavement's reunion tour's kickoff yesterday. You can keep up with the band's progress via fan-submitted setlists, audio, video and photos on this exhaustive, meticulously organized fan-site. Those are the kinds of things that re-affirm my geekdom.