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.