The best metal songs are the ones you can build a home in. There is a certain kind of heavy music that allows one to sew themselves inside the carcass of a bear, to wait out the freezing, relentless snow torrents of winter while you hibernate and regain your strength. These songs pummel you, but they do so the way the ocean does on a well-supervised, stormy family vacation. They batter you, force you under, fill your ears and nose with salt and foreign material you cannot survive on, only to wash you up on the shore, laughing, ready to charge back in for another boxing match you cannot hope to win.
“Zulu” is one such song, though it does not share its DNA with traditional goliath-metal. With its part-garage, part-surf guitar tone, crisp drums and almost complete neglect of low end, the centerpiece of Helta Skelta’s 2015 record, Beyond the Black Stump, plays more like a drugged-out death march than it does a fantasy epic. Still, it plods on, all riffs and depression, dragging you along behind it until it breaks into a fury of axe-riffing deliberate snare hits. It’s the sort of song that gets played more than once.
If you name your band Tim Allen Iverson in 2015, you’ve already won half the battle; that’s a name that hits all the zeitgeist points of millennial salivation (and balding older dude salivation, I guess. Go Sixers). That’s marketing.
The Philadelphia band’s EP, This is Going Just OK, sounds every bit like the basement recording that it is and, as such, hints at promise more than it does deliver outright successes. “Honor the Scouts Code” and “Wolfenstein” paint the band as a jv version of Parquet Courts, which isn’t a band place to be on your first release. Besides, with a name like that, there’s no way you can fail.
You could lump Phet Phet in with the rest of Philly’s current emo-revival roster and the shoe would fit, but true believers will hear “Chuck Don’t Spell” for what it really is; dyed-in-the-wool post-hardcore. One can draw a straight line from the Philly three-piece to Pilot to Gunner, Braid, Jawbox or even Rites of Spring. The track blends elements of dissonances with two separate quiet-loud sections to build a sense of almost palpable anxiety. That the song remains a fun listen is either a minor miracle or a sign of good things to come. Until Phet Phet deems it appropriate to release more, we’ll all just have to crawl because we can’t move our feet.
8) Sad Tom Incest Ghost (so dreamy!)
7) Closet Ghost (close the dang door!)
6) Tub Ghost (just bathin’)
5) Floating Mom and Baby Ghost (helpful!)
4) Red Clay Bath Ghost (we all float down here)
3) First Dead Mom Ghost (v goth)
2) Up-From-the-Floor Ghost (no step is safe)
1) No Face, Missing Finger Ghost (where’s your dang finger?)
Blood Simple – Basically Fargo again, but a little more violent and little less twisty. Would run on the CW for 2 seasons.
Miller’s Crossing – Donal Louge double-crosses different criminal and professional institutions in semi-mystical villiages along the Mississippi river. Runs for 5 seasons on AMC.
The Big Lebowski – Bored to Death, but with more nudity. TJ Miller could do it in his Silicon Valley downtime. 3 seasons, HBO, maximum weird hippy nudity.
O Brother, Where art Thou? – This show already exists. It is called Nashville.
No Country for Old Men – Ed Harris reads the newspaper while Sam Rockwell runs from Ron Pearlman, who just murders and murders and murders. Season one ends with Harris discovering that some money is missing. 10 season, True TV.
Inside Llewyn Davis – FX’s Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll gets re-tooled in season 2.
Barton Fink – Aaron Sorkin leads this project about an idealistic play-write who is too damn smart for all this Hollywood claptrap. John Goodman reprises his role as the devil. Lasts 3 episodes on Fox.
A Serious Man – Basically Twister, the TV show. Spike TV makes it a cornerstone. 4 seasons.
Mike Pace has always made music with one foot in the past. His first band, Oxford Collapse, made beautiful rock music for sensitive men acting like brash children; it was music for the 23-year-old at the college party, old enough to know better but still young enough to not care.
While Pace’s new album, Best Boy, maintains that same sense of pleasant nostalgia, it frees him from the punk-touched indie rock of his previous efforts and allows him to stretch his legs with different genre experiments. Folk singer might fit him best; some of Best Boy’s strongest moments come when Pace slows down. “Southern Cordial” is a pleasant, sarcastic strummer that eventually morphs into a Paul Simon song. Album closer “Would You?” and mid-album highlight “Mikinley” further explore the depths of softness, and give Pace a showcase for his semi-abstract, semi-confessional lyrics.
“King of Corona” is Pace’s Billy Joel moment. The piano-lead song finds theatrics heights heretofore unexplored by Pace. It’s interesting, but not the look that suits him best. The early repetitions of “Up the Academy” and “Summer Lawns” make for a welcome introduction into the album, but don’t quite hold as well as other tracks. “Cold Calling” is a straightforward rocker easily lumped into the emo-revival tent, and “Fire Sale” is a rhythmic blast that showcases drummer Matt LeMay’s chops.
Throughout it all, though, is Pace, who continues to have a unique ear for melodies. He takes the basic and gives it just a touch of something unexpected, but obtainable; the way the bass drops to a low note on the bouncing “Up the Academy,” the way he matches the guitar and vocal hooks on “Fire Sale,” adding two more chords than needed to “Would You?,” the callout to famed urban planner Robert Moses on “Southern Cordial.” The record is full of small hallmarks that recall other acts, but make it distinct unto itself.
The best pop-punk songs are deja-vu; you’ve heard them before, except you’ve never heard anything else quite like it. I know that The Marked Men used the same chords that countless other bands have used when they recorded “ A Little Time” off the 2006 album Fix My Brain, but somewhere between the notes on the page and the two minutes of recorded music, something changed drastically.
“A Little Time” isn’t much of song, even at two minutes. More than half of the track is just guitars riffing over one another, melodies and styles changing, one-upping, then changing again. The elements of a song cannot be wistful. They cannot be anything, really, other than make the noise of the name we give them. They don’t feel triumph. They are unaware of the passage of time. But we, the people plugged in on the other end, can. You’ve heard “A Little Time.” You’ve never heard “A Little Time.”
Grantland was home to some of the smartest, goofiest, most informed, most insane writing anywhere on the internet. It made very serious things seem silly, it lent gravity to the absurd. It wrote about sports in a way that appealed to non-sports people. It became a daily destination for thoughtful, entertaining reading. I will miss it greatly.
The NBA season has just started. There are few places outside Tom Ziller’s Good Morning, Let’s Basketball that a person can find well-written, insightful, daily commentary on basketball.
The site made me want to be a better writer. It showed me how to do it. I’m still trying. I’ll miss the guidance.
Spend your Saturday reading some of its best stuff.
The Front Lines of Ferguson by Rembert Brown – Brown, who was more a pop culture writer than anything else on the site, tells a stark, personal story about being at Ferguson, MI in the intimidate days after Michael Brown.
Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck! by Amos Barshad – Barshad’s story about the hardcore kids who made a small fortune selling “Yankees Suck!” shirts at Fenway Park reads like the treatment for the best Martin Scorsese movie never released.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a very specific, very self-centered kind of anxiety. It boils down to this; whenever I am anywhere, I am concerned that the people I am with would be having a better time if I were not there, and that everyone I am with is doing me a favor by letting me be there.
I basically think everyone is cooler than I am. I am afraid of everyone, and everyone can tell.
I feel weird about admitting this, especially since there is plently of evidence to counter what I just said. I would hazard a guess that casual aquantences consider me outgoing. I would further posit that those who know me well would potentially call bullshit on this entire hypothesis. My behavior does not match this apparent unease.
I don’t know how to explain it. My whole attitude on life is basically “fake it until you make it.” I do my best to be engaging, to ask people questions and not be a lame weirdo. Even when I do make a connection, though, I can’t shake the feeling that I have to prove myself to the person I’m talking to, that they can tell I’m a total waste of their time.
This feeling I have, whatever it is, is a big part of why I don’t think I will ever go to Fest, the punk-rock concert for adult alcoholics who should know better.*
I think I would enjoy Fest; everything about the trip is seemingly designed for me. I like living under gross conditions. I like pop punk. I like drinking too much. I’ve been to Florida once, and it seemed fine. I like dive bars. A friend of mine went a few years back and, while trying to explain my hesitiation to him, he rebuked me; “No, dude, this is a place full of people like us.”
When he says “people like us,” he means “adults who have overly-committed themselves to punk music.”
Still, I remain horrified of the idea. Punk music, for as much as I love it, intitimated the shit out of me. Every band is better than mine. Every fan is into more interesting bands than I am. Everyone had different ideas and is more enthusiastically sure of themselves than I am, and I will be ridiculed and mocked if I go.
I am aware this stuff will never actually happen, except I am also 100 certain that it will.
Because it is a genre I just now made up, I should explain what weed-punk is. It can be loosely classified as “music that is either heavy on drone or heavy on twinkling guitars, written by bands that identify as indie or punk.” Most weed-punk really isn’t punk at all; it is the present of guitar-leading indie rock, the culmination of the Weezerization of all rock music in the last two years. It is the sound of the college 90s, reflected back into the present, ripping the emotionally-obviously but light-on-specifics lyrics of the early emo movement. Another, even more generic but more on-point description, might be “music for un-chill pot smokers.”
I’m a beer guy. I like when stuff rocks.
Anyway, this isn’t about rehashing an old Chuck Klosterman essay, this is about the Courtneys.
The Courtneys are a three-piece punk band from Canada, in as much as they sound like the all the good Sonic Youth songs. Their 2013 self-titled album is a tour-de-force of some of my favorite things in music; repetition of simple themes, atmosphere, simple but effective bass, guitar riffs. Eventually, a follow up will come out and it will be great.
In the mean time, I suggest you listen to “Lost Boys,” a single the band put out in 2014, but didn’t make it on to Spotify until this year. It’s a nearly-seven minute long song about falling in love with one of the vampires from the Lost Boys. One one hand, it’s a silly drone rock song about a movie. On the other, it’s a song about the pain of time being so strong that detachment is the only answer.
Majical Cloudz’ latest album, Are You Alone?, is evocative; far more evocative than a record of minimal production and purposefully limited vocal capacity has any right to be. The poorly-named band makes nearly-ambient, almost percussion-free electronic music to get lost in. The record creates a sense of place, even if that place isn’t a specific setting. It isn’t as if this record is about Cleveland or whatever. Rather, it captures a specific mood, and the recreation of those thematic beats allows the listener to place themselves wherever that mood takes them naturally. It’s relaxed, but never boring.
Listening to Are You Alone? takes me back to driving through Greece, New York, on the way home from my high school girlfriend’s house. She lived a few towns over, so by the time we were done watching Haiku Tunnel or whatever, I’d be driving back to my house, across two highways and four or five towns, around midnight. It gave everything a sort of melancholy; I recognized everything, but in this context, with its shadows and its stillness, everything was familiar loneliness, like I was the last person on earth.
That’s the mood this album strikes. It is a record about love and losing love. It is both secure and sad. Its vocals are steady and workmanlike, sending the intended message and nothing else. The music is spacious and sparse, leaving room for one, maybe two elements to play off each other for maximum catharsis. This album sounds like you could make it. It’s the soundtrack to whatever overly-dramatic, but undeniably true, movie plays in your head when nigh comes and you’re and down. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
There’s a new Weezer song out now, “Thank God for Girls.” It is fine. It sounds like an Everything Will Be Alright In the End b-side.
More importantly than how it sounds is how Rivers Cuomo sings it. He jams a lot of words into it. He’s rythmic, playing off the song’s beat. He is, in fact, fucking rapping.
Not rapping well, mind you. This is “Rapture” levels of flow. That said, it is intersting in the context of Cuomo’s long-running fascination with rap music. Consider the following timeline.
2009: Weezer releases Ratitude, which features “Cant’ Stop Party,” a collaboration with Lil Wayne.
The kindest thing that can be said about this song is that it is a less version of “We Are All on Drugs.” On the birght side, this song did give us a middle-of-his-downward-spiral Lil Wayne rapping “okay bitches / it’s Weezer and it’s Weezy,” so that’s fun.
2010: Rivers perfoms “Can’t Stop Partying” with Jermain Dupri, who co-wrote the song.
This might be Dupri’s most culturally revlevant moment since he pulled Jay-Z over for being young and black and wearing his hat too low.
2010: Rivers sings the hook on B.O.B.’s “Magic.”
This song is a fucking JAM.
In terms of quality, “Thank God for Girls” is probably the band’s second-least embarrassing of the band’s forays into hip hop. That said, if you can’t find room in your heart to appreciate Cuomo’s dorky fandom, you probably dropped bricks on frogs as a kid. The dude’s affect and balls-out, completely earnest interest in the genre is one of the things I find most appealing about him. Cuomo behaves the way around rappers that I would were I in his place. He’s open dork shit brings me closer to him. Keep it up, Rivers.
The Martian is the most relentlessly positive film about complete isolation and certain death that I have ever seen*. A movie about a determined astronaut struggling against oppressive, claustrophobic odds for survival is a natural Ridley Scott project. That he’s wrung so much joy of the premise is remarkably out of character for the dude who made Promethius.
The Martian is a fun movie. It is engaging and engrossing. You will be invested in its characters and their struggles, even if their fates are never in question.
For all the saccharine space victory, there is a moment, mid-way though the film, when something goes horribly wrong. Matt Damon’s Mark Watley is defeated by an inevitiable error he could not prevent, and it is crushing, both for the character and for the audience. He soldiers on, fixing the error as best he can. He continues to survive, for a time, but does so with the wind knocked from his sails, flinching and fearful. Damon is wonderful in this small moment, and it contextualizes all the positivity that came before it. Maybe it isn’t a sunny outlook that carries him; maybe it is the mania required to survive the impossible.
The moment passes, things move on, Donald Glover makes a joke. The Martian has many charms, but its brief ugliness is what has stayed with me.
*It is also his second-best film about Space Madness, which is a real issue.
15) A Still-Life Franchise – In With the Out Crowd
I was probably 11 years old when I first heard “History of a Boring Town” on WBER, Rochester’s college-rock radio station. I didn’t really appreciate it now, but having a resource like that was huge for me developing the interests in art that I have now. Being able to hear Camper Von Beethoven and Ben Lee and Blue Clocks Green and the Revolting Cocks and Modest Mouse, while still jamming out to the gut-rock that my brother’s CDs and football practice afforded me … well, let’s just say I probably wouldn’t like Think Lizzy as much otherwise.
14) Mostly Memories – In With the Out Crowd
I loved “History of a Boring Town” the minute I heard it. I was way too young to have nostalgia for anything, but the song’s sense of regret and time’s movement struck me. I liked where I lived just fine, but when I heard that song, I was filled with feelings I didn’t really understand. It made me want to jump around, bang my head, and get the fuck out of the one-horse town I loved when I wasn’t listening to Hello Rockview.
13) The Science of Selling Yourself Short – Anthem
I don’t know for sure when I realized Less Than Jake was my favorite band. I think it was early in high school. I remember that I had caught up on the band’s back catalog, and I can remember being old enough to be both exited, then let down, then excited again when Borders and Boundaries came out.
12) Conviction Notice – GNV FLA
Jesus, Boarders and Boundaries. I was a freshman in high school when that album came out; old enough to have a favorite band, old enough to have a favorite record label, old enough to be excited when I found out the two were working together. I remember being disappointed in the record when it came out. WBER had been playing “Look What Happened” regularly, and I liked that song well enough, but the album’s reduction in horns rubbed me the wrong way.
11) Short Fuse Burning – Anthem
I was further bummed out by Anthem, at least at first. At this point, Less Than Jake was probably not my favorite band anymore. I had a girlfriend, and she liked Moxy Fruvis and Garrison Keillor, so I had less time for pop-punk-ska. I can remember being bummed about Anthem, and thinking it made Borders and Boundaries better in retrospect.
10) The State of Florida – GNV FLA
That’s actually a common theme with my relationship to Less Than Jake. Every new album that would come out, I would be slightly less excited for it, slightly more appreciative of what had come before. I used to sit on the back of the bus with my disc man, spinning Borders and Boundaries on my 45-minute ride home. Those last three tracks especially were like a little dramatic high school morality play for me. “The Last Hour of the Last Day of Work” was my inferiority manifested, “Bigger Picture” was my internal freakouts given true form and “Fraction” was my final defeat. Those last 10 minutes are the most up-beat pity party I’ve ever had.
9) Last Hour of the Last Day of Work – Borders and Boundaries
Even though I was moping around like a teenage dirt bag, that betrays what Less Than Jake has always excelled at; embracing personal failure while remaining a positive outlook. When the band acknowledges that “sometimes you just want to belong / at any loss or any cost,” it is as much an admission of frailty as it is a defiance of it. The band’s best songs are victories, wrapped up as losses. That’s a hell of a skill, and I’m hard-pressed to think of another band that does it as well as they do. They occasionally keep their heads in the past too much, but that’s quite the criticism from the guy who just started the last 20 sentences of his blog about his childhood past with “I.”
8) Automatic – Losing Streak
I was old enough, when Anthem came out, to be happy that the band was getting some mainstream radio play. The alternative station in town would play “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” (WBER, god bless them, would play “Welcome to the New South,” because it’s a ride-or-die station). The band was on MTV. They were still playing Water Street Music Hall, but they’d get better billing at The Warped Tour. I had reached the point in my fandom where I was happy for their success above all else.
7) Scott Farcas Takes it on the Chin – Hello Rockview
I’m being a shitty about Anthem, but its highs are pretty damn high. “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” almost launched a fourth-wave ska movement (at least in Rochester). “Short Fuse Burning” is a slick piece of glam-punk that is about as guitar hero-y as the band ever got. “Welcome to the New South” and “The Ghosts of Me and You” are textbook Less than Jake cocktail of pathos and hope. The album has some scorchers, but the middles are too forgettable, too removed from the hits. I like it a lot, but its the first album I can’t play all the way through.
6) Liquor Store – Pezcore
I’ve wanted some shitty tattoos in my life. Getting “My American Dream is to have it / a little bit better than my parent’s ever had it,” the key line from “National Anthem” might be one of them. I’m almost 30 and I still think about that line I heard when I was 18, so I think maybe it isn’t.
5) National Anthem – B is for B-Side
By the time In With the Out Crowd came out, I Less than Jake was not a key part of my musical life anymore. I don’t have a ton to say about this album beyond this: I wrote a pretty scathing review of this album on my old blog, Left of the Dial. My little brother John sent that review to the band, and one of them wrote back telling me, essentially, to not be such a dick. I am certain I was being a dick, as certain as I am that this album falls well outside the band’s strengths. I’m too old for conversations about selling out, but if you wanted to point to this as a sell out record, it would not be hard to find someone to agree with you.
4) My Very Own Flag – Pezcore
By the time In With the Out Crowd came out, Less than Jake was not a key part of my musical life anymore. I don’t have a ton to say about this album beyond this: I wrote a pretty scathing review of this album on my old blog, Left of the Dial. My little brother John sent that review to the band, and one of them wrote back telling me, essentially, to not be such a dick. I am certain I was being a dick, as certain as I am that this album falls well outside the band’s strengths. I’m too old for conversations about selling out, but if you wanted to point to this as a sell out record, it would not be hard to find someone to agree with you.
3) Rock-n-Roll Pizzeria – Losing Streak
Because I have always been terrible, I didn’t like GNV FLA when it first came out. I thought it was pander to wash the bad taste of In With the Out Crowd out of fans mouths. I don’t learn from my mistakes.
2) Gainsville Rock City – Borders and Boundaries
GNV FLA is just about where I got out with the band. They released a new album, on Fat Wreck again, called See the Light. I’ll listen to it someday. I’ll bet I like it.
1) History of a Boring Town – Hello Rockview
Music being what it is now, I’m certain I’ll never completely stop listening to the band, even if I continue to grow further from it, they way I have from all things I cared about in High School. I will have a child someday and, if that child feels beleaguered, I hope that child finds “History of a Boring Town.” I hope my kid discovers the band’s world, all its songs about things lost, things gains, defeats that feel like victories, sorrows made less painful through companionship; all these big, sustaining issues, boiled down and delivered in a way that is palatable, relateable, for someone going through puberty. Less than Jake tackles adult problems and turns them into songs for kids. That’s beautiful, if not a little tragic.
“History of a Boring Town” still sounds amazing.
*Real quick – These songs measured by selecting the second- and first-best songs off the band’s seven studio albums and the best song off 2004’s B is for B-Side. I didn’t include anything off their other b-sides and comp records, or 2013’s See the Light for that matter, because I haven’t heard them enough to make a judgment. The inclusion of songs from In With the Out Crowd is somewhat dubious, especially because I’d rather listen to the worst songs off the band’s other albums than listen to nearly ANYTHING off that record, but them’s the breaks. I’m a puzzle like that. Also, all lists are meaningless and wrong, especially this one.
At first glance, I didn’t see Sam Sadowski, the singer-songwriter who makes up Closet Friends. I saw a pile of affectations. I saw bandana, beer bottle, cigarette, banjo, school-girl skirt, truck tire. I read “folk-punk” and I flashed back in my own mind to the self-styled Dean Moriartys of the modern day, “riding the rails” to get away from their upper-middle class upbringing. I saw a marketing gimmick.
All of these things make me kind of an asshole, but nothing more so than how striking “Heroninsomnia” actually is. Croaking like Tom Waits, Sadowski tells a small story about mistrust and exhaustion and makes you feel every goddamn word it. It’s only one song, but its an accomplished one, completely free of any savvy or irony. Sadowski doesn’t have to prove herself to me in order for me to see her. She did anyway. This is a sincere song from a seeming sincere artist. I’m excited to hear more.
The last time I went to my dentist, I received three fillings. The time before that, I had my teeth cleaned. I talked (well, mostly listened) little league baseball with the hygienist. The time before that I have no memory of, because it was just about a decade ago. I assume the hygienist told me to floss.
You can justify anything, if you really set you mind to it. Before my recent trips, I had not visited a dentist’s office since I was 20, but if you had asked me to rank my overall dental health, I would have said it was “fair.”
I would have said this, despite the fact that I had broken a molar in the back-right side of my mouth while eating a piece of chicken in the last week of 2010, a molar that eventually numbed to all sensation and turned black in my mouth, a molar that continued to shed enamel and tooth shards every couple of months until all that remains is a glorified fang.
I would have said this, despite chewing food on only one side of my mouth for five years, that I never had any of my three incoming wisdom teeth removed, that I did not floss. At all. For nine years.
I would have said this, despite the fact that the hard-and-fast rule of brushing one’s teeth twice a week was more of a casual guideline in my view, something to be treated the way one treats advice about a golf swing or which conditioner to purchase; this has worked for me, but do whatever feels good.
Because, cosmetically? My smile was all good. It wasn’t like the teeth never got brushed. I still (technically) had all my teeth. Any issues could be explained away. The chip in the front teeth? A charming holdover from childhood. The brown? The mark of a serious, coffee-swilling journalist. The aches when eating ice cream? A reminder from my own body to eat better. Can you tell that my mouth is falling apart by looking at it? Do you smell the decay wafting off me in stink lines like Pepe le Pew? No? Then I’m good.
There’s precedent for this kind of thing in my family. My dad broke a tooth on a Frito chip. My mom’s cousin had all his teeth pulled when he was in his 30s. He’s had dentures ever since. Everyone loves Ronnie.
You can justify anything, if you really set your mind to it.
I’m trying to stop dicking around so much. I still do, but less so. I don’t know if it’s a product of getting engaged, natural maturation or some combination of the two, but I’m really making an effort to not let things just fall apart. I’m trying to get more proactive.
I started a new job this year. It affords me excellent dental insurance. I want to fix the holes in the hole in my head.
I went for the first time about a month ago. After a cleaning and some x-rays, it is estimated that I will need 13 fillings, and to have that one broken crag removed entirely. The dentist literally said to me, before walking me through the treatment outline, “I hope you’ve been saving your money.”
The first two trips didn’t hurt, not right away. There were the usual aches and pains that come with a deep, strong teeth cleaning after a decade of neglect. Honestly, it felt good, like the ache in my gums was a reward for actually taking control of something in my life.
The grand irony of this whole enterprise is that now my teeth hurt more than ever. I‘ve had three fillings, and one of them causes me nothing but headaches. I can feel the tooth in my nose. I know this isn’t how its supposed to feel. I’m going back for my third trip next week, where I am scheduled to have a tooth extracted and to get another three fillings. I plan to have the dentist check out last week’s handiwork, and see what’s what. I’m hopeful he’ll tell me he made a mistake and it can be fixed. I’m fearful that he’ll tell me I need a root canal, less because of the pain and more because of the bill.
Had I done nothing, my mouth would have kept on feeling fine, even if it was rotting from the inside out. Now that I’m on the straight and narrow, it’s a bigger concern for me than it ever was, in ways both expected and otherwise.
Fair or not, sometimes utility is what matters in music appreciation. The answer to the question “how can I use this” can matter more than any artistic vision or grander scheme.
I work in an office all day. I am lucky enough to be permitted to use my headphones while I work. This allows me to listen to whatever the hell I want. However, when it’s time to get down to goddamn business and finish something, my playlist declines sharply. There are only so many records that have the kind of drive and warm repetition that allow me to focus.
Say Hi has been making that kind of record since before Eric Elbogen changed his band’s name from Say Hi to Your Mom. His latest, Bleeders Digest, continues the creative hot streak that Say Hi has been on for the past three years (three albums in three years is nothing to sneeze at).
It’s never a question if Say Hi has a singular director at the helm. Regardless of this new album’s relative quality or not, its mere existence only magnifies what an auteur Elbogen is. Here is a man who has created bedroom pop before “bedroom pop” came and went as a genre signifier, who has done so while cultivating and maintaining a sound that is unique to himself without being esoteric and while finding avenues to explore the boundaries of that genre while still maintaining the center. Put another way; there are many bands that sound like Say Hi, but Say Hi only really sounds like itself.
Taken outside of that context, Bleeder’s Digest is a series of generally good electro-soft-rock hits and misses. The album’s best tracks, “The Grass ins Always Greener,” “Galaxies Will be Born” and “Cobblestones,” are lock-step with the rest of Say Hi’s finest tracks.
The dig against the band remains; the times its small-scale pop structures don’t lock into place outweigh the times that it does. Nothing is an outright failure; many songs sound like interesting misfires (“Volcanoes Erupt”) or thematic narrative experiments (“Creatures of the Night,” “Teeth Only for You”). These songs are lovingly rendered and expertly executed, but they will not change anyone’s mind about the limits of Say Hi.
I’m not sure those limits matter though. What stands out to me, even more than those three songs, is how committed to vision Say Hi has remained over the course of roughly 15 years. Someday, this band will release a triple-disc best-of that will trump anything else like it. In the meantime, the project’s continued strength and willingness to experiment will keep me coming back, if for no other reason than I have deadlines to keep and work to do.
There are anthropological reasons to like the The Barren Marys, assuming you like sussing out influences in the music you listen to like an insane person (strains of New York hardcore, So-Cal skater punk and New Jersey pop-punk run throughout the album’s eight true tracks).
There are personally dubious reasons to dislike it (it recycles two tracks from the band’s 2014 release, The Delran Tapes).
There are completely arbitrary reasons to like it again (the band is offering the record for $6.66 on its Bandcamp page, which is the kind of nerd shit I can get into).
Really though, the reason The Barren Marys stands a step above is because its best songs expand what the band is best at while contextualizing the rest of the album.
From the album art, to the goofball album-closing party track “Uncle Fester,” to the tongue-in-cheek “D.I.Y,” there is more than enough evidence to suggest the band isn’t taking itself too seriously. While that who-gives-a-shit attitude is both central to the band’s charm and its musical choices, it is somewhat undercut by the album’s two best tracks, “Wanna” and “Peter Criss.”
That isn’t to say that these tracks are less fun or more overtly serious than the rest of the record, but their compositions are more obviously mature. The Barren Marys really excel at marrying (ha!) hooky guitar melodies with earworm choruses, both wordless and otherwise, on both of these tracks. They are true punk songs in the sense that they fly in the face of the idea that music needs more than a few simple elements to be special.
In reality, it might be a little high-minded to invoke the spirit of the genre’s primary ideals for what could fairly be considered a fun, hardcore-tinged punk record for beer-drinkers (a gear that the band is very comfortable in on tracks like “Catholic Guilt” and “Philly”). Still, when things really click, both The Barren Marys and the band behind it elevates themselves above well-executed genre writing. Even when it doesn’t, it still works.
Ought is starting to sound like a band that averages one strikingly actualized song per album, then puts the rest of the pieces together around that one breakthrough.
On the band’s 2014 debut, More than Any Other Day, the big idea was the (near) title track, “Today More Than Any Other Day,” a driving sprint toward the eternal fountain of youthful optimism. On its EP later that year, Once More With Feeling, it was “New Calm Pt 2” that pulled attention like a black hole. That song was is of sneering, scathing takedown that is paradoxically specific and opaque enough to be applied to anything. Is it about scene politics? The rejection of sincerity? People taking pictures at rock shows? All targets are accepted, all are destroyed.
Sun Coming Down’s big number is “Big Beautiful Blue Sky.” It is a song that puts the band more in line with The Talking Heads than anything they’ve done before. Forget the vocal similarities and lyrical prowess for a second; one would be hard-pressed to come up with another band that tackles urban paranoia over the course of an entire career with as much pathos and seemingly tossed-off accuracy as Ought does in one seven-minute long song. It is, without question, one of the best songs of the year.
It isn’t fair to compare the band’s two albums, but such things are inevitable. More Than Any Other Day is probably the more complete of the two, but Sun Coming Down‘s highs are much higher. Ought is more willing to experiment with its form on its sophomore release. Tracks like “The Combo” and “Celebration” are diversions into noise-rock and straightforward post-punk that the band didn’t or couldn’t, bother with on its first album. Academically, it doesn’t matter that these tracks don’t work, because it is better for a young band to try and grow than it is for them to rest. That doesn’t make them any easier to listen to.
There are more than enough wonderful moments on Sun Coming Down to recommend it. “Men for Miles” is an assured, angular rocker that also serves as a better-than-average feminist anthem. “Passionate Turn” is the Serge Ibaka of the record; pulling more weight than first glance suggests, weakening the team in its absence. “Never Better” features some of the best lyrical delivery the young band known for its lyrics has put forth to date. These pieces are nice, but they all serve the big idea that Ought strives to reach its arms around once an album. As long as they keep putting their efforts in those heights, the rest is gravy.
Hardcore is ripe for parody. While many of the music’s most vocal proponents for civil rights and protections can be found within the strong arms of the genre, it is also home to some of punk music’s most self-serious, humorless buffoons. Don’t Want to Eat it Dry pokes fun at hardcore’s sanctimony by being entirely about toilet humor and nonsense. But, Pyrtite never balks, never suggests that there is something more serious to be said with its music.
What it costs: Name your price
What I paid for it: $5
It is reductive to compare bands to other bands as a means to describe their sound, but I cannot listen to Transient without thinking of Beach Slang. Playing Dead’s latest EP walks the same line of punk influence mixed with an earnest interest in heyday alternative hooks. It is a collection that wears its weariness openly, and sounds better for it.
What it costs: Name your price
What I paid for it: $5
I am not sure how to measure the success or failure of a live recording. Is the intention to try and capture that special feeling that can occur when seeing a particularly great live performance, to try and package the specific, communal mania that can wash over a group of people at a show? Maybe it is to prove that songs stand up, regardless of the setting; play them live, see if the punches still land. Welter’s collection, recorded in the now defunct Philly DIY basement, punches.
What it costs: Name your price
What I paid for it: $5
Dogs on Acid – Dogs on Acid
I don’t know if Dogs on Acid holds up as an album. It feels less like a complete statement, more like a page of text written to house three or four incredible sentences. There’s value in that,especially when the individual sentences shine so brightly.
Bars of Gold / Lightninging / Timbers – Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia – 8/13/15
If I still lived in South Philadelphia, I would go to Boot and Saddle on Non-Show Evenings: It would give me an opportunity to look at the tattoos of not-unappealing strangers. If I moved to 17th and Federal, I could see myself showing up there three times a month.
Bear vs Shark’s Last Album Came Out About a Decade Ago: I have no idea if anyone going to see Bars of Gold didn’t come through a Bear vs Shark doorway, but with each passing year, the band becomes more and more of an undiscovered treasure (in that we aren’t all tearing our clothes calling for a reunion. Not that I would support a reunion). If conditions were correct, Bear vs Shark would be the La Dispute we deserve (nothing against La Dispute).
Bars of Gold’s Success is not Assured: The last time the band came through Philadelphia, they played at the MoCa. A while back, they played at The Fire. This time, they played on a Thursday night to a 2/3rds full room. They are not promoting a record.
I don’t know if Boot and Saddle is a step up from MoCa. I don’t know if there were more or less people at this show compared to the last one. I don’t know if it being a weeknight matters at all. I don’t know if the promotional cycle is off. I don’t know fuck-all, really; the band’s talent doesn’t seem to be in proportion to its draw in this city.
(Worth mentioning: my band played both The Fire and the MoCa this year, and we ain’t shit.)
The new Bars of Gold Songs Sound Great: They were fast and jittery in that way that only Bars of Gold songs are. I don’t know any other bands doing what they do. In their live iteration, the songs sound more in line with the band’s straightforward rock work (closer to “Heaven’s Got a Heater” than the moodier stuff on Wheels), which is fine by me. The record will tell the other half of the story, if and when it comes out.
Being the Drummer in Bars of Gold Must be Exhausting:Dogg.
Bars of Gold Isn’t For Everyone: My girlfriend and her friend came out to the show. They are both lovely people, but they (or my girlfriend, at least) do not like songs in which the lead singer screams. As such, I cannot assume they got a ton out of Bars of Gold (though my girlfriend tells me that she thought they were fun, which is nice).
Bars of Gold are Incredible: The only word I can think to describe the band’s live show is this: it is kinetic. The songs move, and the players move with them. Live, the recorded work is less cannon, more blueprint. The band’s appendages move, independently of each other, always coming back to whole, just not always at the same time. It is the kind of chaos that takes confidence and comfort with each other. It looks fun as hell.
If one were to judge the new Jantones single,Asleep for Days, on its first few seconds, one might assume the band’s 2015 release is just another pop-pun revival act. Once the vocals on “Asleep For Days” kick in, the picture changes.
While the two-song release’s arrangements are strictly 90s pop-punk, singer Terrell Atrophy snarls and screams for nearly three minutes, taking a sweet, bubblegum progression and wrapping it in a song about drug abuse and depression. The same goes for the single’s b-side, “Something Earthy and Crude,” which sort of sounds like an early Alkaline Trio demo sung by a dude who spent the hours before recording smoking and screaming alone in a closet, completing a two-song release that is both sweet and gritty.
While the recording quality is a step back from the band’s 2014 album, Death… Taxes … Jantones…, the sunny bum out of Alseep for Days is a nice continuation of the Jantones sound.
I don’t know a lot about grindcore or punk-rap. I have occasionally found myself in a sweaty basement, moved by some wall of noise. I have a YMD record that I like. Fatter, Older is not the authority on these genres, and does not claim to be.
That said, there is at least one song on Chicken Grease’s 2015 album, Watch Me Drip, that I can point to and say, even from my novice perspective, is an effective piece of grindcore rap. Clocking in at just over nine-and-a-half minutes, “HEARTBROKEN & DANGEROUS” is not for the faint of the heart. The song is Watch Me Drip’s capstone, and an excellent distillation of 10 songs that came before it.
The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness wordplay, and will likely resonated with fans of any and all #based rap music. I like them more in the context of the pulsating sound collage the work to create. The song is percussive and blunt, but it also has movements, phases, and character to its chaos.
Read the whole thing here, and make sure to check out more fromThe Art is Not Dead. If you’re an asshole, here’s a taste:
This might be a personal thing, but I am always afraid that bands from Long Island are going to beat me up. There is an underlying aggro energy to a lot of music that comes out of that vestigial tail of a place; even when that energy is put toward something positive, it is aggressively positive.
1) I’m a white dude from the suburbs of western New York State. Things could not have been much easier for me in life. It will probably continue to be easy for me, going forward, than it will be for other people, not blessed with the same genetic and socioeconomic gifts.
2) All I can do is assume. I can listen, and I can read, and I try to understand as much as possible, but it will always be someone else’s expertise, distorted by my own perspective and parroted; enthusiastic, but flawed. There are some things I cannot speak on with anything more than guesses. There are some things I should probably not talk about at all.
3) Here is what I think I know, what I’m willing to put to paper, at least: there are people out there who do not think things are fair. There are people who feel they have to make a choice between who they are and what the world wants them to be. There are people who feel that things are stacked against them because they are different. There are people who have to go through personal journeys of self-development and self-loathing that are different and more difficult than anything I’ve had to discover about myself.
I can guess what that is like. I can try to use empathy. I’ll never really know.
What’s that saying about assumptions?
4)To Pimp a Butterfly is a difficult album. It is intended to be. When my brother heard it, his first reaction was “there are no bangers for the club.” I share his reaction, but I’m not sure why I’m surprised. When I first heard Good Kid, M.A.D.D City, I didn’t hear any club hits. I am surprised that “Money Trees” caught on the way that it did, but, with a year of radio play behind me, I can retroactively see how it makes sense. That song had Drake on it, at least.
5) There are no Drake songs on To Pimp a Butterfly. Everything is jazz and g-funk and suffering and horns. The album is framed by a poem, one that is both difficult to understand and as clear as day, depending on how deep one looks for its meaning. The closest thing to a single the album has is represented here by a seeming live recording in which Lamar breaks up a fight. The only other thing that could make a lick of sense outside of context is “Hood Politics,” which is as close to a traditional rap song as this album gets. I doubt I’m going to be hearing that one on Power 99.
6) This album is like homework. It should be. Lamar is trying to put his arms around a lot of issues, all seemingly stemming from the experience of being a successful black person in America; what it means, how it happens, and how it changes a person. If you wanted to be a dick, you could compare the album to The Streets’ The Hardest Way To Make an Easy Living, but that album was specifically about celebrity. Butterfly is about pursuit of success, which is a much more mailable concept, a moving target with a lot more range.
7) This is an album about challenge; it is reflected in its run time, in its production, and in its density. To Pimp a Butterfly is uncompromising. I think it is supposed to be. I think, maybe, the definition of compromise should be reexamined.
8) Earlier this year, Drake Beyonce’d everyone with an uneven release of peak Drake. Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise is something of a surprise from a minor rapper who is reaching for the next level. Earl’s new album is out on Spotify as of Monday. Future has a new tape out. Action Bronson is upon us. Sometime this year, Kanye West is going to release an album.
Right now, none of that feels like it matters. Whatever else, Kendrick Lamar has made every other rap album of the moment irrelevant.
I: I knew I was going to get to the show late, that I would miss the first band. In many ways, it is good that I missed Chumped; I’ve seen the band before, and I know that they’ll be coming back around soon enough. The last time they came to town, Teenage Retirement wasn’t out yet, and there are some cuts on that bad boy I would have loved to hear live.
II: Shout out to Union Transfer for offering a $3.75 can of Coors. That isn’t the best deal in town, but it is a better deal than they have traditionally had.
III: Judging on crowd reaction alone, people don’t seem to be connecting with Jeff Rosenstock solo as much as they did with Bomb the Music Industry!. This makes sense, but it is a shame none the less. I didn’t get around to listening to I Look Like Shit, but I’ve found We Cool? to be a very rewarding record.
IV: That said, Rosenstock will be fine. He’s lost none of the jittery energy that made him so appealing in his earlier project, and he’s still got John playing bass. Those two seem like fun guys.
V: My girlfriend did not like The Smith Street Band. Direct quote – “This is the Ed Sheeran version of whatever genre of music this is.”
VI: The Smith Street band had some equipment problems. An amp broke, then a guitar broke. They got through it, and they seemed happy as all hell to be on tour with AJJ / JR / CHMPD. I’m not familiar with their work, but the reminded me of Restorations. They have some up-tempo songs that really did it for me. Their EP is out now.
VII: A lot of teens and dorks like Andrew Jackson Jihad. Being a former teen and a current dork, I fit right in.
VIII: Few bands are as tight as AJJ are. They played a varied set, spanning (I think) all their albums. A lot of the cuts seemed to come off of Knife Man, but I was happy to hear newer cuts like “Kokopelli Face Tattoo” and “Temple Grandin.” I will forever be jealous of how fun and funny the band can be in the face of songs that are mostly about terrible shit.
IX: The band took a “no stage diving” stance. I’d be happy with more of that.
X: Relevant, I guess.
Philadelphia now holds the record for highest attended AJJ show!! Thank you everyone!!! It was a wonderful night 💗💓💗
Young Northeast America was riding high on the idea of hope and change. National healthcare was coming to save us all from our loose teeth. Montville, NJ enjoyed a prosperity here-before not known. The Orginal Marta was still making their particular blend of emo indie-rock, sounding like a mix of Elliott Smith, Nana Grizol, Built to Spill and a guy who listened to American Football way too much.
Flash forward to today. The Original Marta has uploaded a new song, it’s first since 2011’s Gepetto. The track “Arson Daily (last call)” is an unreleased track from the same era and; while it’s a little more beefy in its guitar tone than the band’s usual twinkling tin, it’s unmistakably The Original Marta. It’s enough to make a guy wish there were some more self-loathing ballads on the way.
Philadelphia’s Night Trip have released a self-titled EP of numerous charms, not the least of which is its embrace of third-wave pop-punk influences.
The band bucks the recent trend of 90s alt-rock recreation, instead making a record that shares DNA with early 2000s power-teen acts like The Starting Line, Piebald and Saves the Day. Tracks like “Cool Enough” and “Toothpick” capture the vulnerability and embarrassing emotional bluntness of the adolescent years, trading yelping screams for more even-voiced pub singing.
Even tracks like “Float” and “The Pact,” which remind of Sidekicks and, of course, Weezer, keep things honest and close as opposed to detached. Wrap all this in melodic guitar leads and the occasional shouted chorus, and it’s Chuck Taylor time all over again. I didn’t think I was ready for the 2000s revival, but if the next wave sounds like Night Trip, I’ll take all I can get.
1) Cursive has hits. I, like many people, count The Ugly Organ as Cursive’s best album. It is the sort of record that can give a person tunnel vision. It can’t be said for sure that everyone else at the show forgot about the band’s varied backlog of hits, but I know I personally forgot how great songs like “Sink to the Beat,” “Dorthy at 40,” “From the Hips” and “Big Bang” are.
2) The Ugly Organ is a dude album. This is an imperfect theory, but here goes: The Ugly Organ is informed, at least in part, by Tim Kasher’s failing marriage. The lyrics on the album often paint the narrator as a self-destructive asshole, hurrying the ruin of a sure-to-be ruined thing. That perspective can be very appealing to a guy of a certain age and predisposition (just ask college Nate). It is something of a masculine album.
This is all by way of saying that there were hella dudes at this show. I’m tempted to say “more than at the average punk show,” but I’m not quite willing to go there.
3) Tim Kasher chews gum while he sings. I don’t know if this is an every night thing or just a one-show thing, but I noticed it and it drove me a little nuts.
4) Ted Stevens, Replsendent. I always think of Kasher when I think of Cursive, but equal credit must go to Ted Stevens, guitar player and backup vocalist. Stevens did a lot of the heavy lifting on some of the bad’s more shouty material, and generally had a bigger presence than I expected. Its been a while since I’d seen the band, and I forgot how much it isn’t a one-man show.
5) “Staying Alive” is a very pretty song. I always knew this, but it was nice to be reminded.
6) Standing in the back is awesome. All respect to the young bulls who get in the mix up front. I’m going to keep loving life standing with the olds and parents in the back.
This is a list of shows happening in Philadelphia during the month of March. All shows are ones I would attend there were no obstacles. I suggest you check some of them out. I have left off shows that are sold out as of March 12, because what good is that to you? Go do something with your life.
Shows marked in red come recommended strongly. You will see me at these shows.
If I missed something cool, get me on twitter @crookednate.
3/12 – Happy Body Slow Brain
More mood rock from one of the many guitarists from Taking Back Sunday. The band put out a single earlier this year and, while it’s not exactly to my taste, this live record suggests that fans of angular punk will find a lot to like here. Plus, it’s at Kung Fu Necktie, which means you can get right up in the band’s shit (not that you should, just that you can). Kung Fu Necktie
3/12 – Big Awesome
Big Awesome’s last full release, the 2012 Birdfeeder EP, was a personal favorite for the way it brought some gruffness and muscle to the Kinsella-esque open C emo world. The band released a single in July 2014 and hopefully is gearing up for some new stuff. They’re the first band on the bill, so show up early. Milhouse
3/14 – Night Windows, Gasoline Heart, Delco Pacers
I don’t know a ton about these bands (Night Windows deal in 90s pop structure and hooky songs about feelings), but I know that if you name your band “Delco Pacers,” you get the nod from me. Gasoline Heart is from NYC and, taking a look at their Bandcamp page, they’re total workhorses. North Star
3/14 – ZZ Top
Who even knew this band still toured? Who even knew this band was still alive? Fun fact: I know there is a ZZ Top song called “Legs,” but I cannot place it right now. I mostly know these dudes for the beards, the songs about ladies with sweet gams or whatever, and from their nearly-constant appearance on Pop-Up Video back in my formative years. This is gonna be rad, I’d guess. Electric Factory
3/16 – Radiator Hospital, Yowler
Don’t sleep on Radiator Hospital. You’re gonna look stupid. Hazel House
3/19 – Andrew Jackson Jihad / The Smith Street Band / Jeff Rosenstock / Chumped
See, this sucks, because if not for that AJJ / Chumped / JE / Smith Street show, this would be the show to beat on the 19th. Pissed Jeans always bring it live. Amanda X might secretly be the best punk band in the city. Cheerbleeder scares the shit out of me in the same way War on Women scares the shit out of me. This is going to be a slugfest. Underground Arts
3/19 – Night Trip
I saw Night Trip earlier this year at Ortlieb’s, and it reminded me of all the good times pop-punk that I got down on in the early 2000s. The band takes its queues from the recent past (you can hear bands like Saves the Day and the Starting Line in their DNA), but throws some aggression and muscle on it (plus, as is required of bands of the time, a touch of Weezer). Dudes just put out a new EP, and it’d be great to hear cuts from it live. Kung Fu Necktie
3/20 – Mumblr, Jackie Paper
Mumblr is very much a band of the moment. I think Jackie Paper could be a band of the next moment. Everybody Hits
3/20 – Spirit of the Beehive (record release show)
Spirit of the Beehive has been every-fucking-where in the last few months. If you haven’t had the thorny pleasure, this might be the time. Great Indoors
3/21 – Defiance, Ohio
Between AJJ and this, March is a pretty great month for folk-punk fans. Plus, this show is at the church, so you know what that means; teens asking you to buy them beer.
It is reductive to say that this is a Holy Mess show, since there are about a dozen bands playing at this thing. Wilmington is developing itself a pretty active scene, and I think you should support it if you can. 1984
3/21 – The FigGs, Radiator Hospital
THE FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGGS (also, please continue to not sleep on Radiator Hospital). Boot and Saddle
3/21 – Thin Lips
DON’T SLEEP ON THIN LIPS, EITHER. MAYBE JUST DON’T SLEEP. Everybody Hits
3/22 -Taking Back Sunday, The Menzingers
This is a funny show, because the real draw for me is the Menzingers. Even if I’m not a fan of Taking Back Sunday, they’re still a proven property that packs a house. The Menzingers aren’t the same scrappy try-hards that they were in 2011, but it still feels great to see some dudes from around here making it big. That said, and I would never suggest you not go to a show, if the Menzingers are ALL you care about here, they’ll probably play around here again as a headliner.
But then you might not hear “Timberwolves at New Jersey.” Your call. Electric Factory
3/23 – Swans
I don’t know a ton about Swans, but I do know that I listened to To Be Kind for the first time last month and it was like sitting inside the skull of a schizophrenic. I think this one might sell out, only because people LOVE Swans. Union Transfer
3/26 – The Queers
Hey, dickslap, don’t be a dildo. Go see the Queers at a small ass bar. Jesus. Kung Fu Necktie
3/26 – Bob’s Burgers Live
I honestly don’t know what this would look like, but I know that if you like comedians like Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, you oughta go to this thing. Bob’s Burgers is a funny little show, equally goofy and heartfelt, and, apparently, a favorite show of poor folks. Tower Theater
3/27 – Seeing Snakes
I played a show at Creep Records the other day, and it was killer. The venue alone makes this show worth it, to say nothing of getting to fuck with Seeing Snakes, who are part of the rising Delaware tide. This’ll be a killer show, I bet. Creep Records
3/27 – The War on Drugs
I hope this band never quits. I don’t go to War on Drugs often, but whenever I check in on their albums, I always find at least three songs I forgot that I love. No one really mixes the hazy psych-rock with the straightforward gut-buster music the way they do. Totally worth going to. Tower Theater
What makes Deacon interesting is how he has grown his sound over time. With Bromst, and the live shows that followed it (they of the 20-person choruses and highly-organized movements), one could hear and see, first hand, Deacon’s shifting aims in his music. He doesn’t want to be a fun-time freak out act for the weird dance set. He wants to compose.
That drive for something more serious can make for compelling music, especially as Deacon has grown in his aspirations while keeping the core of his sound through his growth. That grounded expansion is clear on “When I Was Done Dying,” the standout track from new album, Gliss Riffer.
Still, as compelling as the song’s gradual build and removal of parts is, as lifting as its wordless chorus gets on the back of its alternate ascending and descending melodies, the true appeal is in Deacon’s goofball weirdness. The song’s lyrics, which focus on an abstract journey of reincarnation, perfectly capture Deacon’s hopeful, slanted worldview. Positivity has always been Deacon’s hallmark, even as much as pitch-shifted vocals and 32-bit sound waves have been.
“When I Was Done Dying” is the place where Deacon’s musical tendencies and his vision of the grandiose intersect most completely.
Earlier this year, I listened to New Order’s first five albums for the first time. I had avoided New Order because I did not like Joy Division. I decided I did not like Joy Division when I was 19 years old, which is more or less the worst time to decide to do anything.
Last year, I got into Lower. While I didn’t count their album, Seek Warmer Climbs, among my favorite of the year, I drawn to their music; how it created tension and danger, how it had little interest in symmetry or traditional tunefulness.
Because of those two things, I now find myself exploring the world of post-punk with clear eyes. It has lead to me to Grooms, whose latest release, Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair, might be one of my favorite albums of the year.
You can hear the miles on Ghost Hits: Side B, the latest EP from Philadelphia’s Welter. Their songs carry the same echos of age, experience, regret and acceptance that made bands like Social Distortion so important in their time. The EP’s standout, however, is “Tonight I Hit the Bottle,” an ode to keeping your impulses in control with a touch of the creature that would make Black 47 and the Pouges proud.
I can honestly say that it is the best song about the imminent threat of domestic abuse that I’ve ever heard; you can hear the humor and the harmlessness of the the threat in the vocals, but equally present is the ache.
Editor’s Note: I have a personal relationship with this band. They have supported my own band in any number of different ways. That said, we at the Fatter, Older editorial board stand by this write-up as being impartial and fair. If you disagree, you’re welcome to suck ‘ol bub.
The Institute: There are some bars that are nothing. The are neither good nor bad, memorable or forgettable. They simply exist, opening every day and closing every night, carrying their metaphorical lunch pails to work, punching the metaphorical clock. Some bars are, in essence, way stations; places to get beer or get warm before the next experience.
No one plans to go to the Institute for the whole night. It’s a nice little bar. It has a pub feel, aided by its fireplace. The beer list is competent, though not so special in the face of a city where expansive taps are the norm. It’s prices are reasonable, if a little unremarkable. The food costs as much as it should. It seems like it does well, considering it’s in a part of the city that is high on apartments and low on nightlife. That said, if you’re seeing a show at the Moca, it is an excellent place to kill some time and meet friends before the show. The venue and the bar are down the block from each other.
Attendant: I had never heard Attendant before the show. Listening to the songs after-the-fact, they have a Dinosaur Jr quality that I find quite appealing, but the band’s live show left me cold. Maybe they haven’t played live much, but they seemed uncomfortable in front of a crowd. The set was also sequenced strangely; the first half was all droning and slow, and the set only picked up steam towards the end. Listening to the band’s 2014 EP, Freaking Out, they are something of a mumble-core band, so this all might be in line. It didn’t make for a very interesting performance.
The Goodbye Party:The Goodbye Party are the first new-ish Philadelphia band that isn’t reliving Weezer’s golden age, and that alone made their performance stand out. The band, which features members of Swearin’ and Thin Lips, sounds like a mix between Weight of Air-era Sidekicks and Cease to Begin-era Band of Horses (make your own joke about those two being the same thing on your own time, hippie). The band’s classic rock-inspiration made for a nice palate cleanser between two bands squarely in the 90s.
I’d never heard them before Friday, but I was very attracted to how it arranged its set (opening hard with four or so fast tempo songs, then switching back and forth between sparse ballads and full bodied country-pop) and how it wrote its songs (most songs were only a few minutes long, and had abrupt, exciting endings). The band released its second album last year, and I intend to catch up on it.
Swearin’: Swearin’ was killer, but it made me wonder how well the band has been doing since its debut album. The crowd was invested throughout the show, but the songs that saw the biggest reaction all came from the self-titled. “Crashing” even resulted in some very light moshing, which was unseen up to that point in the evening. Look, Swearin’ is a great band, and they put on a great show on Friday. I’m sure they’re gonna be fine. I just hope the bubble hasn’t burst on them.
I hesitate to say that grunge is making a comeback, but in the face of all the emo-revival currently happening in the cool-punk world, there remains an undercurrent of bands who have taken Nirvana as a primary influence. Lots of buzzing modern bands sound like Pinkerton is the first album that ever mattered*, but concurrent to that are bands like The Orwells, FIDLAR, and the Dispersions; bands playing guitar-led rock that has venom.
Add Twiin to that latter group. The Philadelphia four-piece has only released one song in 2015**, and while “Sleepover” is a fun piece of surfy garage-pop, seeing them live at Connie’s Ric Rac on Thursday night suggests the band has a lot more punch than the single suggests. The band ripped through about seven songs, and each one was more searing than the last, while still maintaining that gritty surf-rock feel that kicked hair-metal out in the early 90s.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that, if you fuck with guitar-lead punk that is more focused on impact than emotion, Twiin is a band to watch.
Because there are few things more tiresome than explaining why a joke is funny, I encourage you to stop reading at the end of the sentence and listen to Kyle Kinane’s most recent stand-up special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better; it is a singular work that makes light of darkness that I have always thought were specific to me alone, and it makes me feel a sense of companionship with my fellow man. It also makes me laugh so hard that people on the bus think something is wrong with me.
If you’re still here, I’d like to tell you about one joke, specifically.
The joke begins as a riff on the idea of “uncovering repressed memories;” it pokes fun at the notion that there is any worth in uncovering what the mind is trying to hide. From there, it moves into an exploration of personal failures before … well, actually, I don’t want to spoil it. What you should really know is that Kinane triumphs by exploring some dark shit, finding the nuance in it, then bringing it all back home by picking up on a thread he left dangling nearly 8 minutes into the joke.
Seriously, you need to listen to this joke. It’ll make you feel better.
The easiest classification for Nathan Earl and Rachel Joy’s debut album, Repose, is country, but the singer-songwriter duo use their pop-folk leanings as a jumping off point for genre experimentation rather than the guiding principal.
Over the course of 10 songs, Repose finds the pair pulling from many influences and seeing which ones stand up to rustic arrangements. Take album closer “Brighter”; the song is a straightforward alt-folk anthem, not out of line with The Civil Wars or Sleepercar, until Earl finishes the song off with aggressive, nearly screamed vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on Thursday record. The change feels organic, even if it doesn’t quite work.
Elsewhere, the Earl and Joy sequence one of their most country tracks (album opener “Father of All Roads”) with one of their most straightforward pop numbers (“Beggar.” one of the album’s highlights). While the willingness to explore musical options might turn off some listeners, it also speaks to the band’s varied aims and abilities. Everything is ably done, even if it doesn’t always make immediate sense.
Still, for all the myriad inspiration, the two sound best sticking to one idea. Title track “Repose,” the easiest to describe, is also the album’s best song. Joy and Earl sing together over a guitar and piano melody that sounds destined to blast out of cars tuned to country rock stations. It’s hard to fault the two of them for wanting to expand, but when Repose finds its focus, it soars.
Repose by Nathan Earl and Rachel Joy comes out on Feb 21. Listen to them on Bandcamp, and follow them on Facebook.
Like much of the “white-people-be-dancin’” world, I enjoyed the assent of Future Islands in 2014. After seeing the band live, I do not need further reason to love the work of Sam Hering and his band of under-emotional side-dudes.
Imagine my joy, then, when I found out about The Snails the other day.
The Snails, as I understand it, are something of a joke side project for a number of rotating Baltimore-based musicians, Hering included. The band has played “less than 10 shows” in its life, and, because its members are cast to the winds, the band is made up of characters like “Sammy Snail,” or whatever.
It’s all very silly, but the groups 2014 EP, “Worth The Wait” plays as much more substantial that the joke would suggest. The EP is a quick burn of Islands / Mister Heavenly-like doo-wop rock, infused with random horns and overlapping keyboards. It’s all loose and relaxed, and sounds like a nice break from being in a very popular band.
I like Ortlieb’s, but the interior looks a bit like the inside of an especially goth coffin*. The bar, which is no wider than a single-car garage, is accented with red velvet hanging from the ceiling. Everything is maroon and vinyl and a little worn with age. I think it gives the place character.
Recently, the bar made some aesthetic and philosophical changes aimed at bringing more willing bands to the venue. The bar, which has traditionally boasted live music every night, has allegedly had some trouble attracting more hip rock** acts due to, in part, the weird side placement of its stage (it’s worth mentioning that Miguel once did a surprise set here, so it’s hard to believe that the bar has that much of an image issue).
It’s unclear how much moving the stage to the back of the bar aided the Danger O’s show Sunday night, but it sure was nice to not watch a band wedged up against the men’s room door the whole time.
Case Race: The show opened up with a set from New Jersey’s Case Race who, judging by their music, probably played as much Crazy Taxi as I did growing up. The band ripped through a half-dozen punk songs that called back to Epitath’s So-Cal heyday, all while whipping the band’s sparce but committed fans into a frenzy.
Something interesting about Case Race; they don’t do too much jumping around. I’ve seen a ton of punk bands. Some have been awkward weirdos who just stand in once place because they don’t know what else to do. Others have jumped all over the stage, as if they spent the hours previous watching Thursday videos on Rugs not Bombs. Case Race was mostly content to stand still, but instead of taking away from the performance, gave the music more impact. When you’re playing collision music, there’s no need to let your body do the talking, I guess. Besides, the crowd was doing enough moving for everyone.***
I hear a lot of bands that sound like Rooney cover bands, I hear a lot of bands that discovered an open C tuning and decided “that’s it,” but it feels rare to hear a band that is aiming for a kind of pop-rock radio middle that doesn’t (might not?) exist anymore. Night Trip would sound right at home next to early 2000s mix tape acts like Cartel or The Get Up Kids. The band has a restraint that I found very appealing, especially live. There’s a tendency in punk to go big, all the time. Rather than focusing on massive nights, Night Trip make music for Frisbee afternoons.
I would have thought all this before the band ripped through a cover of Piebald’s “American Hearts,” which solidified my suspicions that the band likely has some canny pop-punk hits laying in wait. They are allegedly recording some new music soon. I look forward to hearing it.
Danger O’s: Watching these three bands in succession reminded me of Pokemon****. If Case Race is the restless burn of the young, and Night Trip are the settling calm of an adolescent trying to rage, the Danger O’s represent the final form; the most polished and appealing of the night, the band easily moved through over a dozen guitar-pop hits.
Keeping it low on between song chatter, the band played some standouts from it’s 2011 album Play Their Hits, as well as some tunes that I expect will be on the group’s March 2015 release.
The loudest band of the night by far, the band was content to let drums and guitars lead the way. Keeping the vocals in a swirl of reverb and the bass low, the set was all about the kinetic energy of the drums and the at-times overwhelming roar of the dual guitars.
Rather than going for garage-punk energy, however, the band sounded more like a product of the by-gone 90s. The Danger O’s at Ortlieb’s reminded me of someone like Sponge or Better Than Erza; an alt-rock pop machine that would have one big song everyone knows and a million better ones that never got discovered, except by the fanatical.
*Credit to my girlfriend, who got dragged to a punk show on a freezing Sunday, for this joke.
** I’m basing this statement on some second-hand information and discussion with other bands that have played there in the past, so there’s a chance this point is off base. I’m comfortable enough in the position to write the sentence, but don’t take it as absolute fact.
*** I did not expect to get kicked in the thighs at this show. Joke’s on me, I suppose.
Alright, I will say up front that this one is kind of stupid, even for me.
Banana’s demo release, which is currently available for $2 on Bandcamp, is almost too raw to even consider critically. This sounds very much like someone in their bedroom playing around with a bass amp and GarageBand for the first time. It doesn’t get more lo-fi than this.
And yet … Banana fucking rocks.
I know, it’s stupid. Here’s the thing though; you listen to a song like “Die Alone” or “Vitamins” and you can hear the bones, the foundation. of some balls-out riot grrrl music. You can hear shades of The Breeders. Fill these songs out, throw some drums on them, and they’d be on Stereogum within a few weeks.
If Banana ever gets it together, we’re going to hear a shit load more from them. If not, it’s just another bedroom project, and there’s no shame in that, either.
We’re 45 days into 2015. Here are the albums I suggest you catch up on from the last month and a half.
Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife
I’m not sure if it’s the accelerated culture in which we live, or if this album just doesn’t have the staying power that I expected it would, but when I saw this on my list, it felt like this album came out 100 years ago. I don’t think that Rae Sremmurd are going to be the group of the future or anything, but songs like “Unlock the Swag” and “This Could Be Us” are as exciting as anything happening in mainstream radio rap.
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Panda Bear’s third album is a little more accessible than his last, and freed of his wunderkind blog buzz, his pop sensibility are all the more stark and appealing. Grim Reaper is the cloud-pop album I’ve been waiting to not hate for years now.
The Sidekicks – Runners in the Nerved World
The Sidekicks continue their transformation from cowpunks to Weezer disciples on their latest, which is a sharply written album about courage, fear, and being emotional. I couldn’t be prouder of how this band has been developing, and songs like “The Kid Who Broke His Wrist” show that the group can do more than just punch you in the stomach.
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
Keep post-punk weird. Keep post-punk droney. Keep post-punk sounding like New Order.
Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love
I didn’t even realize that I missed Sleater Kinney until I heard No Cities to Love. Not sure if it’s age or time off, but taking a step back from the expansive reach of The Woods and pairing it back to just being a punk band makes Sleater Kinney sound more vital than ever.
Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
Lupe’s most recent album is almost more impressive than it is good. It’s a rapper’s rap album; loaded to the gills with experimental production and seemingly endless bars, it’s the clearest example of Fiasco’s outright rapping abilities since The Cool.
toyGuitar – In This Mess
Between In This Mess, the most recent Legendary Wings album and the first Pujol album, I’ll never need another rural garage-punk record again. Every toyGuitar song is better than the last.
Title Fight – Hyperview
I don’t know a ton about Title Fight, but through osmosis and obersvation of punk Twitter’s reaction to the album, Hyperview is more droning and hazy than the band’s usual output. For me, it scratches the same itch that Yo La Tengo does, and that makes it more than worthy of time.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
I haven’t heard an album this cutting and sarcastic since the heyday of Future of the Left. Father John Misty has made a classic Elton John record and filled it with vitriol for the modern era, and I cannot get enough of it.
McClusky’s “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” is a good love song because it has that title you can fall back on when your significant other eventually says “hey, how are these lyrics about love?”
Andrew WK’s “She is Beautiful” is a good love song because, if you are a man dating a woman, your woman is beautiful. If you are a woman dating a man, you are beautiful. If you are a woman dating a woman, y’all is both beautiful. If you are a man dating a man, guitars are neat. If you are some other configuration … sorry?
Lil Wayne’s “Comfortable” is a good love song because the worst thing one can do in a relationship is take the other person for granted.
Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopealicious” is a good love song because the horns will make you want to have sex with someone, hopefully your significant other.
Converge’s “You Fail Me” is a good love song because you’re fucking this all up.
Lisa Loeb’s “I Do” is a good love song because your baby appreciates the deep cuts.
Bear vs Shark’s “I Fucked Your Dad” is a good love song because I have been looking for a way to tell you this, but I had sex with your dad. Sorry.
Valentine’s Day can be a hard holiday for people without a significant other to show affection to. If one takes A Day Without Love’s Brian Walker at face value, one has to believe that he has never had a valentine. Listening to Songs for the Lonely, it’s believable.
Walker’s first home recording, Songs for the Lonely has the unified voice and specificity of scope of a bedroom project; the man has set out to tell the story of being perpetually alone, and he has achieved it in six heavily reverberated songs.
The EP moves between electric and acoustic guitar, the former occasionally recalling Red House Painters (“No Logic for Love”), while the latter waffles between bedroom confessional and outright mania (“How Do You Talk To Anyone Anymore” is almost Daniel Johnston-like in how is hangs between complaint and suggestion of something darker). While one’s enjoyment of the recording will depend on how much tolerance you have for lower fidelity, there’s never a moment that doesn’t feel real and honest. Walker is a man struggling with love, and that struggle is made obvious.
I’d like to go to Boot and Saddle outside of the context of a punk show someday.
They have a good selection of beers for reasonable prices, but I’ve rarely ever gotten anything besides Coors banquet or Narragansett. I know the place has a food menu, because I once sat at a table and politely told that tables were for diners only (they still let me sit there, which I thought was pretty nice), but I’ve never eaten there. The stage is nice, but I wonder what kind of a hang it is when there aren’t a bunch of shaggy people stumbling around to guitar music. I know that some pretty good rap shows come through there, but all I can think of when I picture it is the venue’s signature rusted boot and knit caps.
Boot and Saddle seems nice, is all. Nicer than, say, “The Fire South,” as it was jokingly called at the Dogs on Acid show on Feb 11.
Quit: I don’t know a ton about Quit, but I suspect that they are poised to blow out within the next couple of years. This write up from Punktastic has some more context for the band, but here’s what I know off the top of my head:
The band is at least partially made up of dudes who are in other bands*; Chris Diehm from 1994! sings and plays guitar, and Tim Jordan from Spirit of the Beehive (more on them in a minute) plays bass.
That said, I caught about five songs of their set and enjoyed what I heard. The band still seems very new, like it hasn’t quite gotten comfortable playing live, but lead singer Diehm puts on a good show, and the band’s music reminds me of the off-kilter emo one might get from Lemuria. A band to watch, for sure.
(Also, quick aside, the lead singer and I wore the same shirt. That was cool.)
Spirit of the Beehive: I caught these dudes and lady when they opened for Joyce Manor at Union Transfer and I was unimpressed. I’m not sure if it was because of the room, their performance, or my internal business, but they left a much bigger impression at Boot and Saddle.
The band three-guitar mid-tempo rock band with its vision firmly in the 90s. I heard shades of Archers of Loaf, Sonic Youth and (of course) Weezer in their set. Some of the best work played really nicely with dissonance; a few songs had a very straightforward pop construction, but threw almost atonal guitar melodies and tones on top of it. It was bracing, but in an appealing way.
The band isn’t the most emotive on stage, but what they lack in showmanship they more than make up for in tightness. I’m not sure I’d call them a punk band, but they’re well on their way to carving a world for themselves.
Dogs on Acid:Big night for Dogs on Acid; first show since being singed to the newly-revived Jade Tree records (announced just earlier that day, in fact), third high-profile show of the week (with a bunch more around town lined up), and in support of a new EP, which they were selling at the door. Hearing the crowd banter with the band, the performance had a homecoming feel to it, as if the crowd was mostly old friends. I can’t confirm that, of course, but that’s how it feels.
I’m not sure what to say about Dogs that I haven’t said about all the other bands. I listen to them and I hear Weezer, at least at it’s core. It might be more accurate to say that I hear a punk-touched power-pop. There are also fragments of the band’s former iterations (Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing); occasionally sparse vocals, playing with instrument space within a song, letting the focus slide from instrument to vocals and back, depending on the track.
The band has clearly been playing out, because they were tight as hell. The blew through their 8 or so song before leaving the stage. If anything is going to hold the band back, it’s that they’re going to leave people wanting more.
* By my count, members of the bands that made up this show lineup accounted for at least a part of all these bands: Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, Kite Party, 1994! and Peter Pianoeater. That would make all these bands supergroups, if punk bands weren’t always breaking up and forming new bands constantly. We’re and incestuous bunch.
If one was going to criticize I’ll Stay Quiet, the 2015 release from New Jersey’s City Shapes, the primary element would likely be a lack of cohesion in the record. To me, that’s the EP’s selling point.
In seven tracks (none running longer than 2 minutes) City Shapes run through all the flavors of en-vouge emo rock, and proves itself able at all the genre’s variants. The record kicks off with “Behind Your Bike,” a piano-heavy rock song that reminds me of the Weezer b-sides from the Alone series. From there, it moves into indie-rock (“Lindy”), post-hardcore (“The Kids in Connecticut” ), strummy Jimmy Eat World-style balladry (“Hermits”) and guitar-peppered, Into It, Over It-sounding emo revival (“What You Deserve”).
While some might get caught up on the economy of the songs or the restlessness of the band’s aims, I’ll Stay Quiet shows that City Shapes is a band capable of anything, once it decides what it wants to do.
There’s an easy weirdness to Sky Dad, the most recent EP from Philadelphia dream-pop act Chad Avery. The song structures are straightforward, but Avery covers everything in a layer of reverb that spreads an echoing warmness to songs like “The Water Temple” and “Spirit Signal,” the one-two punch that makes up the EP’s solid middle section.
The album’s strongest tracks recall Mac Demarco’s Rock and Roll Nightclub and, like that album, traffic in easy-listening, guitar-led soft rock with the hint of an edge, but Avery isn’t tied to his strings. EP-opener “Karate” is closer to traditional dream-pop with its synth core, and the album closer “Our Mother” sounds more like 90s college rock than it does anything else.
These little tweaks on form add to Sky Dad’s appeal. Throughout all adjustments, Avery’s playful guitar lines and distant voice (which is not dissimilar to Panda Bear at times) anchor a pleasant, occasionally spacey 20 minutes of music.
Saturday, Feb 14: First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia*
Sunday, Feb 15: St. Vitus, Brooklyn*
In advance of these shows, we at Fatter, Older are proud to release our exclusive interview with Hurry. It should be noted that all questions and answeres were provided by the band itself, but that makes this no less exclusive.**
I can’t say for certain that “Peter Criss” is absolutely the best song on the Barren Marys’ 2014 self-titled record, but I can say for sure that it is the one that stands out the most.
The brunt of the record recalls both the positive perspective of New York City hardcore in the 90s, as well as the to-the-point spirit of 80s punk groups, but “Peter Criss” finds a different gear by slowing things down and focusing on harmony over impact. Building from a faded-in four-note intro, the song captures the us-against-them inclusion of the best punk songs; it’s wordless chorus is built for singing along, and it’s lyrics extol the virtue of not being an asshole in music (“you took down every single thing / it made me question everything”).
The Barren Marys do a great job of being tough on their record, it makes a moment of softeness all the more meaningful.
My initial goal in writing this was to evaluate all the individual songs that won a Grammy on Sunday night, writing about their worth and my reaction to them. Turns out, I’ve already heard most of them.
Now, this is some weird Grammy postgame from the perspective of a guy who didn’t listen to 90 percent of the music that won. I thought it would be fun. It was not. Enter at your own peril.
I should establish now that my perspective on the Grammys is that they do not matter. It does not speak to my interests or to what I consider important in contemporary music. So maybe don’t listen to anything I say, alright?
Thoughts: I’ve heard this song before, because I am a human being living on earth. I think this song is fine. I’m not sure what to make of this “Darkchild Version” nonsense. I guess it is an alternate mix, but the differences are negligible. It’s more pop-friendly in this form, I guess. Whatever.
Does This Make Sense? This makes sense. This is a huge song. I know that Sam Smith is having a moment, because both my 60-year-old aunt and 16-year-old cousin like him.
Should I Care? I don’t think so. You could make a case for Taylor Swift or Hozier and I wouldn’t fight you, but Smith winning seems right and just to me. I’m interested to see what becomes of Sam Smith. He’s capable of songs that I think are pretty good (“Money on my Mind,” “Latch”), but most of his traction seems to come from more Michael Buble stuff. Good luck out there, Sam.
Should I Care? No. I think it would have been cooler if Haim won this award, but it would have also been disingenuous. I also don’t know who Brandy Clark is.
Record of the Year: Sam Smith, “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)
I don’t know why this is different than song of the year, and I do not care to explore why. This, however, does forever show me that “Stay With Me” is a bigger song than “Fancy,” so that’s neat, I guess.
Best Rap Album: Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP2
Thoughts: The Grammys are racist.
Does This Make Sense? Absolutely.
Should I Care? No, this was the only one that ever stood a chance. Forget that last year was kinda a weak rap year for mainstream stuff, who else was going to win this? Iggy Azalea? Diminishing returns-personified, Wiz Khalifa? Schoolboy Q? Please.
Best Rap Song / Best Rap Performance: Kendrick Lamar, “i”
Thoughts: I love this. Kendrick Lamar drops one song in 2014, and more of the blograp internet deems it “meh.” Months later, the Grammy people couldn’t throw enough rap awards at it. I stand by not thinking that song is all that great, but as a fan of Lamar, I like that he can make a very specific, studid part of the earth move just by showing up.
Does This Make Sense? …Not really. I mean, he did put out a video, and there was some press, but this is a way-advanced single for an album that doesn’t seem to be coming out anytime soon. Drake firebombed the world with songs in 2014, and I assume that visibilty would have mattered more.
Should I Care? Nope, all is as it should be. Bummed that “Bound 2” didn’t win, though.
Also, fuck “Studio” by Schoolboy Q. Good for him for finally finding a radio hit, but that shit was lame.
Best Pop Vocal Album: Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
Thoughts: And the award for “singing good” goes too…
Does This Make Sense? Not a lick. Katy Perry standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a guy who over sings everything, a dude who is basically a very good open mic performer, and a baby. This category is all over the place.
Should I Care? Only because Coldplay’s reign as my generation’s U2 is over.
Best Pop Solo Performance: Pharrell Williams, “Happy”
Thoughts: I feel like some of these categories were made up.
Does This Make Sense? …Yes. I guess. Yes. This was a big song for the first half of the year. I find myself sort of wishing Taylor Swift won for “Shake it Off,” which is a weird thing to come to grasp with, because I didn’t think I had an opinion about Taylor Swift.
Should I Care? For sure not.
Best Pop Duo / Group Performance: A Great Big World / Christian Aguilera, “Say Something.”
Thoughts: This is the first song that I thought I had not heard before this specific exercise. Turns out, I know this song after all. I feel like a sucker for liking this song. The song sounds like what I imagine every episode of Grey’s Anatomy is like.
Does This Make Sense? I guess. This song was the only one not like the others in my mind, so it’s cool that it won.
Should I Care? No, but it would have made me happy to see Juicy J win a Grammy.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Lady Gaga & Tony Bnnett: Cheek to Cheek
I’m going to let Billy Eichner say it all here and move on.
If ur a gay tween with a grandparent who’s still mobile, may I suggest the Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett tour?
Best Country Solo Performance: Carrie Underwood, “Something In the Water”
Thoughts: I’m not going to sit here and act like I know what the pop country world is like, but this shit is an anthem. I think it’s kind of bullshit that this gets the country award, because it’s basically an adult top 40-song with a bango instead of a keyboard, but whatever. This is a pretty good song. Nice work, Underwood.
Naming your album Greatest Hits Decade #1 is some presumptuous shit, though.
Does This Make Sense? For sure. If there was still AIM, this would be some profile / away message fodder for sure.
Should I Care? Keith Urban had a song called “Cop Car” and, while I am not going to listen to it, I am comfortable being outraged at it’s lack of success, sight unseen.
Best Country Duo/Group Performance: The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind”
Thoughts: No shade on this song, this is some country-ass shit. I kind of love it. The slide guitar plays with with the vocal melody really nicely, and the banjo is killer.
Does This Make Sense? For sure.
Should I Care? The losing songs are called “Somethin’ Bad,” “Day Drinking,” “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” and “Raise ’em Up.” It could have been so much worse.
Best Country Song: Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
Thoughts: WHY IS THIS DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER COUNTRY SONG CATEGORY? WHY ARE THE GRAMMYS MAKE UP CATEGORIES JUST TO GIVE MORE PEOPLE AWARDS?
This isn’t a country song. This is an Elton John song, but whatever. The country category might as well be called “music for olds.”
The Grammys are basically grade school soccer.
Does This Make Sense? No, but fuck it.
Should I Care? If I want to make a stink about upholding the integrity of the category, yes. Luckily, I already established that the Grammys are a participation awards ceremony, so it doesn’t matter.
Best Country Album: Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Thoughts: So, I didn’t listen to the whole album, but I did listen to the first song, “Girls,” and, based on that, I am comfortable saying that this album captures what I think of when I think of “country” in a modern pop context.
This album is fine. It sounds like many other albums (I assume). Most music is fine.
Does This Make Sense? Most music is fine.
Should I Care? Most songs are fine.
Best Rock Song: Paramore, “Ain’t It Fun”
Thoughts: I am doubly amazed. Paramour is still a band, and this is what they sound like now. This sounds like J. Giles band or some shit. This is some Phil Collins shit. This song’s guitar / synth / zylaphone / whatever melody is fun. I have no beef with this.
Does This Make Sense? Not a fucking lick.
Should I Care? Look at these rock songs!
“Ain’t It Fun,” Paramore
“Blue Moon,” Beck
“Fever,” The Black Keys
“Gimme Something Good,” Ryan Adams
“Lazaretto,” Jack White
What a shitty category.
Best Rock Performance: Jack White, “Lazaretto”
Thoughts: Jack White is such a chode.
Does This Make Sense? Without a doubt.
Should I Care? Nope.
Best Urban Contemporary Album: Pharrell Williams, G I R L
Thoughts: I’m not trying to be a cool person when I say this: I legitimately forgot this album came out last year. What is Pharelle even doing putting out albums at this point in his career? Dude should make 3 mega-hits a year and call it a lifetime.
Does This Make Sense? Yeah.
Should I Care? I like Jhene Aiko, but that Sail Out album wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, if I’m being honest.
Best R&B Performance: Beyoncé feat. Jay Z, “Drunk in Love”
Thoughts: This song stinks. “Partition” stinks. “7-11” should win all the awards. I give it the Grammy for “song that makes me want to crash my car because it is so fun.”
Does This Make Sense? Yeah, I guess, but it’s some bullshit that Jay Z gets a Grammy for this. Dude has been failing upwards for a decade now.
Should I Care? I don’t want to award Chris Brown for anything, but “New Flame” is the better song.
Best R&B Song: Beyoncé feat. Jay Z, “Drunk in Love”
See above, all apply.
Best R&B Album: Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce
TONI BRAXTON AND BABYFACE PUT OUT AN ALBUM THIS YEAR?
My goodness. This will be made into a play / movie / live festival. If I were a 40 year old women 15 years ago, I would have lost my mind at this news. I’m mostly dissapointed I didn’t hear about this before now.
Does This Make Sense? A concept album about divorce from two 90s rnb singers who no one has thought about in 5 years? Of course this makes sense, what else did you expect to win?
Should I Care? Obviously. I need to put the rest of this on hold to see what this album is all about. To say nothing Black Radio 2, which is another thing I didn’t realized had happened. I really fucked the dog on this year’s RnB songs.
Best Dance Recording: Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne, “Rather Be”
“Brit Baroque-Pop outfit Clean Bandit made a clean getaway with the hearts of listeners on both sides of the pond when they kicked off 2014 with effervescent insta-hit “Rather Be.” Enslisting the more-than-capable pipes of heat-seeking U.K. house-songstress Jess Lynne, the results bring to mind what may have transpired if Joss Stone had gone the way of the Sisters Minogue. We guarantee that when you hear this one on the dancefloor, there’s no place you’d rather be!'”
Best Dance/Electronic Album: Aphex Twin, Syro
WAY TO KEEP IT WEIRD, GRAMMYS.
Best Alternative Music Album: St. Vincent, St. Vincent
This category is funny.
Album of the Year / Best Rock Album: Beck, Morning Phase
Thoughts: I’m weirdly more upset about the best rock win than I am about the album of the year win. When you think of Beck, you think of stuffy white rock critics. The Grammys are the purview of stuffy white rock critics. Beck, for a certain slice of the American world, is the fucking reincarnation of John Lennon. So album of the year makes sense, in a warped way.
Best rock album is harder to swallow. Granted, the field was not strong …
Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams
Beck, Morning Phase
The Black Keys, Turn Blue
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye
U2, Songs of Innocence
… but I don’t know anyone who conciders what Beck does “rock music.” This feels like a misnomer, same way that Glen Campbell song ended up snagging a country award without being a country song.
Does This Make Sense? Not at all. This album disappeared after it came out.
There is a downtrodden, yet warm, feeling that hangs over Musicasette / Magnetic Memory, the 2014 album from Ben Hughes’ Night Windows. Listening to it feels like talking to an old friend going through a tough time; their problems might not be as bad as they think, but they speak with such open conviction that you want the world for them.
Musicasette / Magnetic Memory reminds me of Cheap Girls or the Lemonheads; it is a record built on classic pop structures and understated mid-tempo guitars. Hughes’ delivery is even and steady, muted at times, but he still finds a way to deliver pathos in his tone. The record sounds like a home recording, and as such it favors the vocals, but it also give the release an aestetic harmony that I find very appealing. When Night Windows do pick up the pace, like on album standout “There’s a Friend of Mine,” the results are fantastic. One almost wishes that the band would break out of the middle more often.
That would play against type, however. The true strength of Musicassette / Magnetic Memory is in how it allows for one person’s musings to give way to you own. This is music to walk around to before heading home for dinner.
Before the World Was Big, the debut album from Philadelphia-by-way-of-LA art-punk duo Girlpool, is a study in the benefits and limitations of minimalism. Consisting almost completely of bass, guitar and the vocals of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tavidad, the pair have created an album of quiet ferocity that both suffers and soars as a result of its simplicity.
Stripping the songs down to their most basic elements means that intangibles like composition and delivery have to carry the bulk of the weight, especially in light of the band’s somewhat ambiguous lyrics. The most lyrically straightforward songs, album opening “Ideal World” and the Built to Spill-indebted title track, are also the album’s best. Both songs reveal an apprehension about maturity and growth, with lyrics that match jittery, nervous guitars (Passages like “tranquilize me with/ your ideal world” and “I just miss how it felt standing next to you / wearing matching dresses / before the world was big” could launch a thousand Tumblrs). In moments like these, the space is welcome; it feels less like an absence, more like room to breath.
There are limits to how far this stripped-down approach can be stretched. Girlpool use harmony and layering to give their songs depth, but even with those tools, When the World was Big occasionally feels like whispering incomplete sentences in a pillow fort. Tracks like “Chinatown” and “Dear Nora” feel more like first drafts, not finished songs.
That said, even the incomplete is given life here. Tucker and Tavidad deliver their lyrics with vulnerability, but not fragility. There are teeth here, hidden in the space between the journaling and surface-level naivety. The roaring “Emily” and the steady anxiety of “Cherry Picking” swell atop Tavidad’s rolling bass, giving the two a platform to bear their hearts without coming off as emotional or immature.
Girlpool is working with the bones of something powerful on this release. There is an emotional honestly that redeems even the most partial, most undercooked songs. At its worst, you ache at hearing the missed potential. At it’s best, you can’t understand how anyone needs anything more.