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.