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 bolachas.org here, and you can find a few of his other albums courtesy olde Greggers here.

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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.


4 comments:

  1. 2 orders of business.

    First, Linkous's song "Piano Fire" is one of the most wonderful pop-songs I've ever heard. I turn to it now with a new sadness.

    Second, I will agree with Justin after reading his article. We can fight about it later, but he mentions that they were "drinking bourbon too expensive for their own good," which is totally a sign of immaturity and misplaced visions of grandeur. If you're as earnest as they are, you do things like that.

    Actually 3 things, the Liars album is unbelievable.

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  2. Re: point two.
    Yeah, agreed. I understand the metaphor but it still misses the point. They didn't have visions of grandeur, they had visions of vengeance and self-wallowing. Organ Fight was isolated, entirely contained within one ephemeral locale, both physically and emotionally. Whether or not the narrative shifts, every bit embodies the same slice of time/being. Anthemic chord progressions don't equate grandeur, and Mixed Drinks is the first time they've really begun reaching outward and expanding beyond their own internal disposition.

    I need to figure out how to get italics in these comments, it's driving me nuts.

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  3. I disagree man, Organ Fight is them at their most natural, i.e. though some of the songs indicate heaviness they are still undercut by immaturities in their writing, and being brash by buying booze too good for their overall apathy seems to fit in there. But I think they still have a fairly grissly nature based on their satirical undercuttings. Meanwhile I see Mixed Drinks as them completely disheveled and disregarding of their appearance, i.e. melody. If Mixed Drinks has more focused melodies, it is solely because they are backed by an earnest, more focused and genuine emotional state. And even then, they cover those melodies up more than ever. I think "Skip the Youth" is the perfect example of this... and yes, italics are necessary here for two copy chiefs obsessed with AP style

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  4. I disagree with any dichotomy between grissly and disheveled, based on two counts. 1. If anything, grissly is a precursor to disheveled. You can't make a distinction between the two because they're so interrelated. As far as I'm concerned, they mean the same thing, just focused on different body parts. 2. I don't feel like doing too much research, but the comparative prevalence of vulgarities should be evidence enough. If Mixed Drinks is so disheveled, why bother cleaning up their language? Furthermore, tying earnestness to a more focused state seems counterintuitive. I'm not saying Hutchison doesn't mean what he says here, but Organ Fight was much more stream-of-conscious and unreserved; cathartic, if you will. He couldn't be bothered by censorship because he was in such a rush to get things out. The satire involved is no condemnation of sincerity, that's just how some people talk when they get real worked up (or, rather, drunk). Organ Fight came straight from his emotive core, whereas Mixed Drinks is that substance run through a grinder, more self-conscious in its poetry. That is, everything is cleaned up for presentation. Mixed Drinks is the Frightened Rabbit you show to your grandparents. Organ Fight is the Frightened Rabbit who'll watch football and slam whiskey with you.

    But hey, I don't want to take this out of perspective. I admitted these songs are more structured crafts, and I'm not saying I don't think this album is good. But it doesn't have the personality that drew me to Organ Fight, nor the one that will keep me coming back. Organ Fight sounded so familiar because it sounded like it came from a neighboring bar patron, but Mixed Drinks sounds like a band, and it's off-putting in its self-imposed separation between speaker and audience. If they can find a way to merge the developed structures with the direct, pointed thought-speak, we're talking about a different monster entirely. Remember that rabbit in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"?



    Oh, alright, here we go. From "Not Miserable": "Well this is easier now / I've found all the pieces that I lost in the flood;" "And the love that I lost / With all of the shit that came out in the wash / Just a pocket of fluff;" "And I'm not put upon / I'm free from disease, no grays, no liver spots." It's post-wallowing reflection; removed from self-pity, not denying it.

    He's literally saying he's no longer the leper, he's no longer dirty because he's no longer miserable. The proof is in the pudding. But that doesn't mean I'll go back and edit out the bits above where I just repeat myself for no reason.

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