Fatter, Older

Still hustle when the sun comes up, crack a 40 when the sun goes down

The Endless Potential of Shaggy-Ass Ultimate Golf

a0013061987_10Ultimate Golf’s ep is certainly a rough-around-the-edges affair; these songs sound like they were recorded in secret, like they band is trying not to wake up their parents upstairs. Look past the shagginess though; here is a four-song collection that boats real potential. The band mixes elements of country rock and 90s indie guitar with an even, downbeat vocal style and plain-stated lyrics that evoke universal themes of loneliness and longing. Songs like “fuck, broken cig” and “fix your spare tire!” flirt with early Modest Mouse, hitting a level of unpredictability that doesn’t come around often.

Being this tossed-off either takes tremendous luck or tremendous skill. Ultimate Golf seems to have the latter. It is entirely possible that the band flames out and never releases another batch of songs. That would be wildly disappointing. If one can stand the lo-fi recording, the reward is a batch of songs that hint at a world of promise.

ep is on Bandcamp. Ultimate Golf is on Facebook.

Jon Kohen’s “Curse the Darkness” Lets Strings Do the Talking

a1475863781_10Praising a singer-songwriter for lyrical brevity is usually about as back-handed as a compliment can get. On Jon Kohen’s 2016 EP, Curse the Darkness, or Create a Light, however, an economy of words is part of the record’s overall appeal.

Kohen matches sparse acoustic sketches with a string quartet, allowing the lilt and flow of the strings to give lift and emotion to what would be otherwise straightforward arrangements. “Dusk” and “A Light,” the EP’s two original pieces, finds Kohen delivering quick pathos in his verses, spacing out his lyrics to give the strings room to serve as the choruses and fill the vocal gaps It makes for beautiful, evocative listening, and it’s refreshing as hell to hear a songwriter use lyrics as a means to serve the emotional mood of the music rather than define it.

Elliott Smith is the obvious inspiration here (the EP’s other song is a cover of “Between the Bars”), but Iron and Wine and Owen are equally apt reference points.

Almost too brief, Curse the Darkness, or Create a Light is a tender, well-measured offering that hints at good things to come. You can hear it on Bandcamp. Jon Kohen is on Facebook.

Hopeless Otis Will Beat Up Your Fears

a2530609735_10Hopeless Otis has always been about positivity in the face of life’s myriad disappointments. That outlook has lead the band to a more focused and creatively fertile place. Dangerfield, the trio’s new album – it’s first full-length in nearly five years – is an improvement on almost every level the group operates on. Musically, lyrically, structurally and thematically, Hopeless Otis have grown into sounding like they band they always hinted they could be; no longer a Latterman-lite, this album finds the group more muscular, more willing to experiment, and all-around tighter.

The fullest encapsulation of this growth is “Don’t Get Tired,” the album’s most encouraging song. Growing from a snapping snare and a Long Island happy-hardcore guitar riff, the song builds to a sing-along chorus that promises exhaustion is a thing of the past. It’s a catchy, lifting, hopeful (heh) song, one that delineates the new Hopeless Otis. They aren’t just putting a positive spin on things anymore, they’re coming hard for the things that might keep you down, fists first (“All these things we’ve been afraid of will learn to be afraid of us.”)

Dangerfield is on Bandcamp. Hopeless Otis is on Facebook.

Songs from the Shoebox

a3047779319_16There’s a new Snails record out. It’s call Songs from the Shoebox. It is a good record. Get down on the good times.

We’re not actually back yet, but we’re coming back soon.

The At The Drive-In Reunion and the World Beneath Your Feet

You ever seen this video?

This is, as near as I can tell using my eyes and unreliable memories of being 22 and my friend Stu passing this lore down, a video of At the Drive In, sometime before the release of 2000’s Relationship of Command, playing a set in a middle school class room. Consider that for a moment as you pursue the announcement that At the Drive-In will be playing shows and making new music in 2016. You could take any number of things from this video.

What strikes me, beyond admiration of the DYI machinations that leads to playing a post-hardcore show in a fucking classroom, is how YOUNG these people are, how NEW these songs must feel to be performed in such a way, how much joy is unfolding. This video is a glimpse of what Being There is like. This is what all rock bands should feel like, regardless of how they sound.

*****

There’s a Drive-By Truckers song you might know, “Let There Be Rock.” It is pretty much a story song. The narrator explains his own relationship with rock music, growing up with it and how it affected his life. “I never saw Leonard Skynard / but I sure saw Molly Hatchet,” it goes, the implication being you do the best with what you have, you make your own myths.

*****

I actually got a chance to see At the Drive-In on their first reunion swing back in 2012. They played Lollapalooza one of the years I went. It was big for me, a dude who got into the band when I was 14 only to have them break up within a few months of me discovering them.* Their set was fine, as far as I can remember. They mostly played Relationship of Command tracks. I felt a little let down, a little underwhelmed, a little swallowed by my own expectations. The blame falls on me, at least in part; I wanted them to be a time machine, to make me 14 again, to bring me There. It only goes one way, and only a fool looks for a chance to Be There on third day of a three-day festival with 10,000 other strangers.

I plan to attend at least one of these At the Drive-In reunion shows. They’re playing a new Ticketmaster venue in Philadelphia I’ve been meaning to check out. It’s within walking distance of my house, and though I haven’t listened to the band in a few years, it’d still be nice to hear those songs at max volume. Only a fool would go in expecting to Be There, to feel like seeing this band perform its Greatest Hits, to realize the band has been away long enough to have Greatest Hits and expect to Be There.

I wonder if there will be moshing at the show.

*****

Sparta is whatever. The Mars Volta is bad.

I saw Sleepercar, Jim Ward’s post-ATDI solo project, open for Rhett Miller in NYC once. He was alright. I think it is good that he forgave Omar and Cedric for being such dicks to him. Either it wasn’t all that serious or the money is too good to hold a grudge.

*****

I’ve never seen At The Drive-In in a middle school, but I’ve seen Chumped at Boot and Saddle and Algernon Cadwallader at The Fire and Bars of Gold at the MoCa and Beach Slang at Mohawk Place and Japanther at Danger Danger House and J. Fox at Kung Fu Necktie and Barren Marys at Sit-and-Spin and Titus Andronicus at The Barbary.

I don’t say these things to brag. I say it because it is important to understand that what’s happening in that video above is still happening out in the world. You might get it at an At the Drive-In show in 2016, but you’ll definitely get it somewhere else.

The thing I’m chasing, the thing that people don’t articulate when they get obsessed with a band and get excited for their reunion, is more than just hearing the songs; it’s the feeling of Being There, of seeing it unfold, in real time, in the movement before it’s gone forever, potentially preserved on a grainy video and uploaded to a server that will someday die, reflecting something you can see and imagine but never really understand, knowing how it felt and how it moved you and sharing it with whoever else was lucky enough to make the trip.

I’m excited to see At the Drive-In, but I’m just as excited to continue to explore the world underneath my feet.

*”Discovering” is probably the wrong word to use here. I saw a video for “One Armed Scissor” on MTV one night when I couldn’t sleep, then read about them in Rolling Stone. I discovered them the way Columbus discovered a country devoid of any people.

The St. Pierre Snake Invasion: Rock in the Age of Splinters

 

bandIn exploring Motorhead this year, I found that Lemmy insisted on classifying his band as “rock n’ roll” above all else; not metal, not punk, just rock n’ roll. I imagine that The St. Pierre Snake Invasion would say the same about its 2015 album, A Hundred Years a Day. The record carries a lot of signifiers that align it to things like metal, punk, hard rock and indie, but none of those classifications really fit on the whole.

Tracks like “When I See a Sycophant Fly” and “Jesus, Mary & Joseph Talbot” package choruses with pitchy screams and heavy-rock guitar that remind me of Green Jelly or Faith No More. Still, one could just as easily hear Big Black in songs like “Thanks But the Answer’s No,” or Queens of the Stone Age in “Sex Dungeons & Dragons,” or Future of the Left in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Workshops.” The great unifier in all this is that A Hundred Years a Day is a rock album; loud, aggressive, increasingly rare.

The band is on Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter.

The Retinas are Here and Nowhere Else

a1505731313_10While 2015’s Wavves collaboration, No Life For Me, was an interesting experiment, it didn’t fully scratch my Cloud Nothing’s itch. In the nearly two years since the band’s last album, Here and Nowhere Else, there’s been no lack of energetic, hook-laden garage rock, but nothing that’s quite had the same lack of attention or inward-looking sulk to make those jams seem effortless.

Enter the Retinas, a Philadelphia rock band whose 2015 ep, Got Smokes, sounds like a more accessible version of Cloud Nothing’s increasingly nihilistic punk. Guitar comes first and fast throughout the whole EP, with leads that echo the vocal melody on “Momma Says” and a bleak little solo on “Replace Myself.” “Ketamind” and “Problem With the World” have the same ear for riffs; the former sounding like a less urgent Marked Men, the latter sounding like something Dinosaur Jr made on its way to “You’re Living All Over Me.” Got Smokes is a must-listen for riff-heads who value a good hook  and aren’t so depressed about the world around them.

The band is on Bandcamp and Facebook.

There is an “I” in Tiem

a0769334933_10It’s a little hard to pin down West Chester emo-outfit Tiem based on its Outmatched EP. The band itself says that the songs are a collection written over the course of two-and-a-half years, and that’s a long time to change and develop your sound. Will it eventually sound like an alt-rock throwback, like  “Friendly has a Grey Area,” or will the folk-y acoustic of “Jim” be the ultimate path? Too early to buy stock either way.

I’ll tell you what I do like about Tiem, though; its brand of emo doesn’t follow the popular path. Rather than take cues from a Kinsella-indebted band or something from the 2003 Summer of Screamo, tracks like “No, Those Aren’t Ruby Slippers” and “Treading Water” split the difference somewhere between Sunny Day Real Estate and Incubus. There’s no telling where Tiem will go, but they’re taking a different road to get there, and that’s fun.

Tiem is on Bandcamp and Facebook.

Sledding With Tigers Wring Real Emotion from a Movie Staring Lola Bunny

a1543031144_10Maybe there is some larger external stimuli that I am unaware of, or maybe it is just because a generation of people who were raised in the shadow of the new internet in the 80s and 90s are just now hitting their personal Age of Irony, but Space Jam has made a cultural comeback. I see TuneSquad and Monstars jerseys at live shows, I hear improve comedy sketches about the it, I listen to podcasts that use it to mine a not-insignificant number of its jokes; for whatever reason, time has not allowed us to forget the story of Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny.

I loved Space Jam as a kid (had myself a Marvin the Martian basketball shirt, a VHS copy and a cassette tape of the soundtrack) and I appreciate what an unlikely piece of pop culture it is as an adult. Neither of these things puts me on the same level as Sledding with Tigers, the cheery-folk-punk group that has released miniature album about the damn thing.

Come On and Slam is best described as a novelization or a companion piece to the film*. It follows the plot of the movie, intercutting it’s songs with dialog and alternating between telling the movie’s story and ruminating on its characters. It’s all kind of silly, but there is a level of pathos that runs throughout. “The Big Game (Movements 1 & 2)” brings a level of drama to the movie’s climax that even the it didn’t have, and “The Ballad of Charles Barkley,” if nothing else, reminds you that Space Jam had an erectile dysfunction joke in it.

It would be easy to be cynical about a record like this; I’ll admit my own first reaction was an eye-roll, because I am a monster who loves nothing. Whatever your feelings about the project’s existence, “Take it From Me, Michael Jordan” should be considered as the a special song it is. Taking the perspective of Jordan telling Bill Murray that he will never be an NBA player, the song moves a one-sentence joke and stretches it into a downright tender meditation on trust and the limits of friendship. Detach the lighthearted inspiration and there is real sadness to lyrics like “I wish I could believe in you / I wish I could believe in anything.” You need not be the most maniacally competitive athlete of all time to feel the sting of those words.

Come on and Slam, along with the rest of Sledding with Tigers’ extensive catalog, is on Bandcamp. The band is also on Facebook.

*I just laughed out loud, referring to Space Jam as a film, like it’s Amistad or something. 

Pinegrove’s Indie Rock Buffet

a1504880604_10 “Indie Rock” has long been a disjointed genre, less a true signifier and more a loose collection of ideals; nothing more than a carnival tent to house an endless squad of sub-genres. The onset of the internet and (I’d argue) the continuing search for identity in the aughts has brought this fragmentation to the extreme. It is no revelation to say that calling something “Indie Rock” in 2015 is to not accurately describe it at all. An indie rock band can sound like this, this or this and in no case is the designation wrong.

The appeal of Pinegrove’s 2015 career retrospective, Everything So Far, is that it puts its arms around this idea, rather than fighting against it. The album’s 21 tracks serve as a kind of buffet menu of all modern indie rock has to offer. There are shades of Americana roots-rock in songs like “Sunday,” blasts of twee folk punk elsewhere on “New Friends,” even callbacks to alternative-emo on tracks like “V” and “&.” A less-focused output would sound like a band was merely trend-hopping, but, anchored by a singular vocal performance and a literary writing style, Pinegrove sounds less like a band trying to catch a wave, more like people with ideas and the capacity to explore them.

You can check out Everything so Far on Bandcamp, where it’s up for a $1 download. The band has a new album coming out in 2016. You can listen to a song from it here (shouts out to James Rettig and Stereogum for nailing the band’s lyrical touchpoints). They’re on Facebook.

Told Slant’s Lonesome Crowded West

toldslant

Taken from sophiesfloorboards.blogspot.com.

Sometimes you like a thing for large cultural reasons, or because it does something different than other art of its type, or it reveals a greater truth about something, or any hundred other English-major reasons to write criticism. Other times, you like something because it reminds you of something else that you like. It’s reductive, but its also honest. My fondness for Told Slant’s Still Water lay in the latter.

If you like edgy,introspective folk music, odds are good you’ll like Still Water. Odds are even greater still if, like me, you have a fondness for a specific kind of Modest Mouse song. The don’t make this kind of song much anymore (they probably backed away from it around Good News for People who Love Bad News), but for a while, Issac Brock and co. would wind off desperate little pop songs about life, loss, marriage and personal need. Think tracks like “Baby Blue Sedan,” “Trailer Trash,” “Novocain Stain” and “Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds” and you’ve got the vine that Told Slant is tapping into. The band matches those same guitar tones, hits those same vocal notes, touches on the same ponderous life questions. It does a number of things very well, but for my money, its real appeal is in scratching and itch that hasn’t been reached since the early 2000s.

Told Slant is on Bandcamp and Facebook. 

Jank Turn Emo on its Ear with “Awkward Pop Songs”

jankYou don’t have to look far to find bands doing Kinsella-endebted twinkly guitar rock, but you’d have to look very hard indeed to find done the way Philadelphia’s Jank is. On its 2014 debut album, Awkward Pop Songs, the band takes that style and, rather than using it as a backdrop for confessional songwriting, layer it with irony, internal references and homages to weed culture. It makes for a compelling bait-and-switch and is refreshing to hear a band’s sound work in opposition to its lyrics.

Of course, you don’t have to be a smug asshole like me to enjoy Awkward Pop Songs. Anyone with a fondness for the emo revival of the 10s will find a lot to love in Jank. “Caitlyn” works as a song in sections, moving from something quiet to an explosion of drums before melting back into a moody grove, only to blow out again at the song’s climax. “Vin Decent,” the song’s most focused track, is a slow-moving piece of stop-rock, while “Spilt to Bill,” besides going to bat for the song’s almost-titular band, proves that for all Jank’s goofing around, they’re the real deal in their arrangements.

Jank is on Bandcamp and Facebook.

Christian Fitness: Angry Pop & You

0003000818_10The name most often applied to the music of Andrew Falkous, be it in Mclusky, Future of the Left or his most recent semi-solo project Christian Fitness, is noise rock. For my money, the images and suggestions that “noise rock” invoke are not a fitting description but, when squinting, the tag makes some kind of sense.

After all, this is a dude who has chosen the heaviness of metal without its specific kind of manic attention to obsessive to technical mastery, the aggression of hardcore without any of it’s subtle optimism or anthem-y qualities. Falkous’ creates cynical little galaxies in which we have already lost, where we must take our refuge in wit and barbs against our captors, knowing that it will not change them or free us. It is hard music, to be sure, but there is always a plan, always an escape hatch.

It might be more fitting to say that Falkous’ music is an experiment in making the most abrasive pop music possible. If you accept that premise, Christian Fitness’ Love Letters in the Age of Steam is a master class in the effort to give catchy music as many spines as possible.

I’ll admit that when I am forced to come up with a comparative difference between Future of the Left and Christian Fitness, I fall short. Falkous has said in interviews that one of the main divergences is live performance; Future of the Left songs are written with live recreation in mind, Christian Fitness songs are not. I understand that conceptually, but since both bands are built around chugging, deeply-heavy riffs and Falkous’ trademark lyrical style (which is basically him telling the listener a very compelling, very funny joke that one laughs at but only he really gets), it can be difficult to draw that line.

No matter. The key to understanding all this is that Falkous wants to make ear worms. He wants you to sing along, to dance, to nod your head; he is just unwilling to make it easy for you. Take, for example, “Who is Iron God:” here is a song in with verses lead by a guitar so dissonant as to sound completely free of tune, only to take flight with a riff and vocal melody that is as catchy as any rock song has been in the last 10 years.

Understanding this, the rest of the record snaps into the place. The experiment of dissonance v pop plays out over the course of the album; its why a straightforward, almost elegant song like “Standard Issue Grief” can exist next to a growing blast of unpleasantness like ‘Middleyurt” and not seem incongruous. It is why a twisted spy anthem like “The Good Sword” can pivot from twisty, paranoid minor chords into a sunny chorus, only to dip below acid clouds a moment later. Love Letters in the Age of Steam is alchemy.

Check it out on Bandcamp.

 

Get Kinda Alright in 2016

kinda alrightThe easiest thing to compare Philadelphia’s Kinda Alright to is Japandroids, largely because both deliver the power of a full group with only two members. While the latter band’s perspective is largely one of trying to hold onto youth while it’s being ripped away, Kinda Ok is very much a celebration of youth in action.

The five-song EP gives weight to the twisty guitar-emo of the day, backed less by alternate tuning and more by obvious talent. Stated more plainly, this shit is a riff party. “Choke,” “Planks” and “Kinda Alright” are all straight-ahead skateboard rockers. “Prayer” plays like a homage to the heroes of Philadelphia’s house show past and “Cosmo” will sound familiar to anyone who fucks with twinkling guitar / vibes music. The lyrics likely make sense only to the band, but the delivery will be familiar to anyone who gets too excited sometimes.

It will be hard to walk away from Kinda Ok without being impressed by both the musicianship and the prowess these two produce in less time than it takes to make pasta. Bands that burn like this aren’t built to last. Here’s hoping Kinda Alright is.

Check the EP out on Bandcamp or Facebook.

 

Crawl Inside Helta Skelta

heltasliderThe 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.

Helta Skelta is on Facebook. Listen to Beyond the Black Stump on Bandcamp.

Tim Allen Iverson Has Already Won

a3212295415_10If 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.

Tim Allen Iverson is on Bandcamp.

The Best Song (Right Now) – Phet Phet’s “Chuck Don’t Spell”

a1509287757_10You 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.

Check out Phet Phet  on Bandcamp.

The Ghosts of Crimson Peak, Ranked in Order of Spookiness

Crimson Peak: One Nate Up

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?)

Pitches for Additional TV Shows Based on Cohen Brothers Movies

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.

There Was a Time We’d Act Like Children: Mike Pace and the Child Actors

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.

You can listen to Best Boy on Bandcamp. Like the band on Facebook.

The Best Song (Right Now) – A Little Time

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.”

On Grantland

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.

Out in the Great Alone by Brian Phillips – This story about the Iditarod remains the gold standard for how web and magazine writing can be merged into something new.

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.

The ‘If I Fought This Rapper, Would I Win?’ Chart by Shea Serrano – The tip of the spear in terms of the site’s off-beat, insightful coverage of the rap world.

Let’s Be Real by Wesley Morris – It is impossible to pick a single article by Wesley Morris. His criticism is a requirement, hands down. Everything he writes is a must-read for me.

The Malice at the Palace by Jonathan Abrams – A vital read for anyone even remotely interested in the NBA.

Wu-Tang, Atomically by Amos Barshad – This piece is remarkable, if only for how it sheds a light on the modern life of the Wu’s lesser members.

The Glorious Plight of the Buffalo Bills by Ben Austen – As a Western New Yorker by birth, this story about how a football team consuming a town hits very close to home.

The End of the Hoop Dream by Jordan Ritter Conn – This story, about a would-be agent and the semi-pro basketball players jumping at a 1-in-a-million shot at a basketball career, is heartbreaking.

This isn’t even close to being all of it. There are hundres of stories by Zach Lowe and Molly Lambert and Katie Baker and Steven Hyden and Chuck Klosterman and Jay Caspian Kang that I will revisit over and over again.

It was a daily read. It was a very good website.

I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Go to Fest

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.

*I mean, I assume it is.

The Courtney’s “Lost Boys” is your Halloween Love Song

I have a somewhat low tolerance for weed-punk.

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.

I Remember How it Ends: Majical Cloudz Excellent New Album

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.

Reviewing Weezer’s Rap History

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.

Life on Mars

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.

The 15 Best Less Than Jake Songs*

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.

Closet Friends’ Excellent “Heroinsomnia” and the Myriad Way I am a Dick

We’ve all got personal failings that haunt us. We work on them, but the work is never done. One of the places I continue to fall down is in judging things on appearance.

When Punktastic tipped* me to “Heroinsomnia,” the debut song from Closet Friends, every opening in my body involuntarily closed.

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.

First impressions are hard to shake. Even after reading about Sadowski’s homelessness and unconventional rise to recording artistry, I couldn’t shake what my eyes and pre-judgement assured me was true.

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.

You can pre-order Closet Friends on Bandcamp.

* I say “tipped,” as if they sent me a communique over the goddamn wire or something. Really, all that happened was I was dicking around on twitter and happened to click on a thing.

Broken Face

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.

Say Hi’s Bleeder’s Digest and the Enduring Vision of Bedroom Pop

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.

The Barren Marys Can’t Lose

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’s Sun Coming Down; The High Water Mark of All Civilization

sun coming downOught 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.

Bandcamp Purchases of the Week: Dogs on Acid, Welter, Playing Dead, But, Pyrite

Supporting the things you like with money is important. I try to buy a few records on Bandcamp every week or so. These are the ones I bought this week

But, Pyrite – Don’t Want to Eat it Dry

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

Playing Dead – Transient

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

Welter – Live at 502 South

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.

What it costs: $5
What I paid for it: $5

Some Realizations While Seeing Bars of Gold at Boot and Saddle Last Week

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.

The band’s last album, Wheels, came out in 2013.

Happy Spring! Get Sad With the Jantones New Single

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.

Get the single on the Jantone’s Bandcamp page, or check out “Coffin Fitting” on the most recent 502 South comp. The Jantones are on Facebook.

10 Minutes of Effective Grind-Rap from Chicken Grease

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.

Watch Me Drip is on Bandcamp.

Scatterbrain, Remnants, Bearchild, Andross

I’m writing the occasional piece for The Art is Not Dead now. My first one is a show review of a Scatterbrain gig I checked out a few weeks back.

Read the whole thing here, and make sure to check out more from The 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.

So, yeah, it’s a lot of that.

Some Assumptions About “To Pimp a Butterfly”

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.

What’s that saying about assumptions?

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.

Still, never forget: assumptions.

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.

A Few Thoughts on Thursday’s Andrew Jackson Jihad Show at Union Transfer

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.

The Original Marta Is Back from the Dead, New Song “Arson Daily” Streaming

Back in 2010, the world made sense.

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.

The Original Marta is on Bandcamp.

Night Trip’s Latest Is a Journy Into My High School Yearbook

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.

Night Trip is available on Bandcamp.

A Few Notes on Cursive’s The Ugly Organ Anniversary Show in Buffalo, NY

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.

7) My family STAY being handsome. Thanks, Buffalo.com.

March’s Dope Shows: The Eternal Splendor Torche, ZZ Tops’s Endless Pursuit of Legs, Etc

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

Big Awesome’s “Birdfeeder” is great.

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

Lookin’ like a pair of Undertakers (the wrestler, not the job).

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

Chumped: feeling it.

3/19 – Andrew Jackson Jihad / The Smith Street Band / Jeff Rosenstock / Chumped

Are you a crusty teenager / an emotional grown up / a sophomore at all girls college / anywhere on the spectrum of the three? This is the show for you. I haven’t heard much of the Smith Street Band, but Chumped’s December 2014 album is a burner, Roenstock’s recent We Cool is remarkably dire, and no one finds the beauty in human misery like Andrew Jackson Jihad. This one is a must-attend.
Union Transfer

3/19 – Pissed Jeans / Amada X / Cheerbleeder

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

Jackie Paper: still paperin’

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.

(I’m just fucking with you, teens. Keep it weird, y’all.)
First Unitarian Church

3/21 – Holy Mess, Wilmington mini fest

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

FIIIIIGGS.

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

The Queers are here.

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

Torche torche, torche torche torche torche torche; torche.

3/27 – Torche, Nothing

TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE

NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING

I’m going to be deaf after this show.
Underground Arts

3/28 – Pennywise, Teenage Bottlerocket

I just started getting into Teenage Bottlerocket, and I was once 14, so this show would scratch two itches at once. Worth it just to see what Pennywise looks likes these days.
The Troc

Hot Track: Dan Deacon’s “When I Was Done Dying”

Image: Gliss Riffer

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer (2015)

Ever since his breakout, Spriderman of the Rings in 2007, the narrative around Dan Deacon has centered on his somewhat indistinguishable musical goals and the elements of twee hyperactivity in his music. This is, after all, the same guy that used pretend cat sounds to anchor one of his earlier blog hits.

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.

Gliss Riffer is out now. 

Record Review: Grooms – Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welter’s “Hit The Bottle” Is About Saving Relationships Through Drinking (Sort of)

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.

Welter is on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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.

This Is What It Looks Like: Swearin’ at the Moca

Some thoughts from Friday’s Swearin‘ show at the Philly Moca:

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.

Twiin is Philly’s Latest Rock Band to Watch

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.

Check ’em on Facebook and Bandcamp.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love Pinkerton.
**So far.

Somebody Found a Chili Pepper in the Candy Dish

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.

I Liked His Old Stuff Better can be purchased here. Kyle Kinane is on Twitter and other Internet.

Everything You Like is Bad, Drake Weariness Edition

It has never been easier at any point in modern history to ignore popular music than it is right now.

Curation has gone insane. The old benchmarks used to determine what is “popular” have been obliterated, and it is difficult to know what the new benchmarks are, let alone what they should be. It is good to come out of whatever k-hole one finds themselves in from time to time and explore what others are listening to, to experience whatever passes as youth mono-culture these days. Below are the top 1- songs in America, as dictated by Spotify, for the week of May 2, 2016.  

We’re still not back yet, by the way.

10) “Me, Myself & I” by G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha

Thoughts: Back before I made an effort to not judge books by their covers, a very sweet friend of mine with questionable musical taste suggested I listen to G-Eazy. “You like rap,” she said, “and this guy is pretty good at rapping. I remember taking one look at the dude and deciding his shit would not be for me. I never could confirm her assertion that he is a good rapper, but I can now: G-Eazy is a bad rapper, and this song is bad. This is some sub-Flobots, sub-Linkin Park, post-Drake, cold trash. I which this song would Mackle less.

Bebe Hexha has an interesting name, so she’s got that going for her. This will either be the start of a long career as a C-list top 40 rapper, or the end of the line for all parties.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? No
On Accident? Maybe. This is the kind of song that the NBA will play as b-roll before jumping to commercial. The playoffs are on right now, and I watch a fair amount of basketball. So, maybe.
Will I be Shitty About it? Hell yes.

9) “7 Years” by Lukas Graham

Thoughts: Part of the appeal of writing about these songs is seeing how far out my tastes have moved from those of the mainstream Spotify user, to see what unites me with people different from myself. Usually when I do this, I’ve heard maybe two or three songs, or at least recognize names from other spots in culture or from word-of-mouth. Lukas Graham has completely blindsided me. I am unaware of him, so I was not prepared for how shitty this song would be.

I struggle to describe this song. It is a piano ballad, but it has the vocal chop and obvious clipping of an EDM track. It has the same structural beats, too – a warped, drop-crest-drop framework that amplifies and blunts pop effectiveness the song hits like an especially obvious hammer. It has both  hip-hop and Americana patios. If we are to believe the narrator of this song, he was told to make friends at 7, started smoking pot and drinking by 11, at which point he was told to get a wife. Then he was 30, and soon will be 60. Who is this song for? Who is told to get a wife at 11? Was this song written in the feudal times?

I plugged my headphones in and heard the embarrassed wailing of a generation of dead children who quoted Green Day and Vitamin C in their yearbooks, heard the groans of the fatally matured who found their grade-school poetry and couldn’t be kind to themselves. There is nothing fertile here, nothing can grow. The house will be built in sand and swallowed by the eroding sea, with only the excuse of youth in an endlessly available world to fall back on.

This is a very bad song.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? I looked, and there was before me a pale horse.
On Accident? Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.
Will I be Shitty About it? They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

8) “Work” by Rihanna and Drake

Thoughts: WORK WORK WORK WORK. WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK. WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK. WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK. This is the best pop song I’ve heard in years. Rihanna has done it again (though, If I were advising her, I’d advocate to ditch the Drake verse because the song don’t need it. That motherfucker’s phoned-in shit is the only part of this song that doesn’t absolutely fucking bang). Especially hot: the last chorus that devolves into true gibberish.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK.
On Accident? YOU SEE ME DO ME DIRT DIRT DIRT DIRT DIRT.
Will I be Shitty About it? DON’T LEAVE ME STUCK HERE IN THE STREETS.

7) “Don’t Let me Down” by the Chainsmokers and Daya

Thoughts: One could be forgiven for thinking that The Chainsmokers were clever and subversive after hearing their first hit, “#Selfie.” “Don’t Let Me Down” suggests that gives them too much credit. This song is fine in the same way all EDM songs are fine. So much so that it feels like one of Sid’s toys from Toy Story: built for functionality from the discarded parts of broken EDM songs, terrifying to behold, ultimately something to be treated with compassion and pity while waiting for the drop.  

Whatever. I’m bummed I have to keep listening to this song for this blog. Blogs are very dumb. I am very dumb for having a blog. I hope things work out for Daya, I guess.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? No
On Accident? No
Will I be Shitty About it? Assuredly. Do not party with me if you can help it. You will have more fun if I am not there.

6) “Needed Me” by Rihanna

Thoughts: At the risk of dissing Rihanna, the most impressive part of this song is DJ Mustard’s attempt to move beyond his “Playskool Bay Area” production, though it might not be especially culturally savvy to move his pallet into an “EDM-by-way-of-Weeknd” lane that might not actually exist anymore.

That said, Rihanna is awesome at this kind of mournful, sexy, damaged-but-determined breakup song. If there’s any artist out there who could get away with never making another album and sustaining a career on a stream of highly-produced singles and non-stop touring, it’s her. Rihanna deep cuts don’t exist, but everything she touches on the radio turns into something to at least be aware of. I don’t know anyone who does basic bitch sexy fuck-ups like her. She’s a treasure, and future generations will appreciate her talents more than we do.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? …Probably not. I’m past the point in my life where I need this kind of dorm-room flagellation.
On Accident? Oh sure, probably.
Will I be Shitty About it? No way.

5) “Pop Style” by Drake and The Throne

Thoughts: Very pleased to find out that “The Throne” is actually Jay Z and Kanye and not some 20-year-old producer from Atlanta.

“Pop Style” is a disappointment because it seems to draw one of rap’s last great Cold Wars to a close; Kanye vs Drake. At this stage in the fight, when both artists are releasing bloated, possibly under-cooked mega-albums with little buildup and maximum fanfare and neither one is really focused on rapping, it’s very telling that this song remains corny as all fuck until West shows up and injects some of his manic life into it. It isn’t even a fight at this point: one of these artists has a verse that is loopy and inventive and funny and flawed but clearly coming from a place of inspiration, and one of  these artists is Drake. 

All that said, it is fun to imagine Jay Z as some kind of intermediary, using his influence to bring both artists to the table then dropping four very-weak bars and getting the fuck out. That’s an image to hang onto, even if this event song is more of a Kanye West leftover than an actual event.  

God, I’m going to have to listen to this Drake album, aren’t I? He is going for a Pablo-esque patchwork thing? This caused me way more questions than it did anything else.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? For sure.
On Accident? Unlikely, because this is such a trifle of a song I can’t imagine coming across it anywhere. Maybe on the rap station, MAYBE.
Will I be Shitty About it? Nah. I love Kanye.

4) “I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)” by Mike Posner

Thoughts: Certain think pieces would have one believe this song represents the end of EDM. I’m in no position to argue, but I do take umbrage with this song’s indictment of the public transportation. “You don’t wanna ride the bus like this” – hey, fuck you, man. I take the bus all the time, the bus is fine. It’s late sometimes and it can be hard to get a seat if you take the 17 or the 23 or whatever, but it covers the city well enough.

This weird honking synth line that makes up the song’s chorus is some tremendously cheezy shit. This is what happens when someone hears “Midnight City” and thinks that the saxophone needs to be less victorious and more ironic. This is actually almost a country song more than it is an EDM song. This second verse is all regrets and old timers. All it needs is a mention of whiskey and a pickup truck.

This song actually might be brilliant, what with it’s deconstruction of DJ fame lifestyles. It’s sloppy and sexless as anything, but those attributes might be intentional. What’s unclear is how much of the credit, if there is any credit to be given, goes to Posner or Seeb. I’ll need to listen to the original.

<Listens to the original>

See, this makes more sense. The Posner original is an honest-to-goodness country song, and it’s pretty great as far as pop country goes. What is unclear still is Seeb’s intention in all this; did he hear this wistful country tune and realized that there was a truth, if not an outright commentary, that could be brought to a different, but equally affected, audience? Did he hear this and think, “Well, ‘Wake me Up‘ was a hit, so I need some peanut butter in my chocolate, plus this already name checks Ibiza, so fuck it?”

I don’t know which is the truth, but since I’ve seen We Are Your Friends and because this is the modern music industry, I’m assuming the latter.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? Strong “fuck no” to the remix. The remix is poison to me now. Fuck you, Seeb. I’d spin the original again.
On Accident? I can’t imagine I do. I avoid the places that play this kind of thing like I avoid rusty nails.
Will I be Shitty About it? I’ll probably just annoy whoever is around with my knowledge of the country song.

3) “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign

Thoughts: Snapping. Space. Vacancy. This beat sounds like a DJ Mustard song that got all the good parts ripped out, which is really saying something, since DJ Mustard songs only have, like, four parts parts. Steel drums are real and here to stay, apparently.

I used to work from home, I did not get very many sexts. Also, I’m a little unclear on the themes of this song. Is this song advocating jacking off at work? I feel like that’s a bad way to get ahead at the office. Furthermore, Fifth Harmony is a girl group, but I feel like they aren’t fully utilizing all five members. This could have been a K Michelle song just as effectively.

I will forever like Ty Dolla $ign for “Paranoid” and “Real Friends,” so I’m glad he’s getting that feature money on this weird pop song. This song is fine.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? I don’t think so. This feels way too cross-over for me.
On Accident? I go to the mall. I’ll probably walk past a Forever 21 at some point.
Will I be Shitty About it? I won’t even remember it.

2) “Panda” by Desiigner

Thoughts: Kanye got the best part of this song by a mile. The entire song is structured as a hook, but only the actual hook part, the “I got broads in Atlanta” part,  is good. The first 30 seconds of this song fucking rule, but then Kanye doesn’t come in and it instantly becomes played out. Shout out to the entire concept of sending a dude $200 for a YouTube beat.

The most offensive part of this Future ripoff is the “YEHYEHYEH” ad-lib (used to great effect here). That’s such a Future-specific noise, so much less forgivable than biting an entire style. Style-biting isn’t new. Ripping ad-libs verbatim is some truly weak shit.

It’s a 50/50 split at Desiigner ever having another hit. He’s in the Kanye shop, which is a good sign, but Cyhi the Prynce was also G.O.O.D and it hasn’t happened for him. Make another song, Desiigner. Put out a mixtape, something. Kanye’s vulturing has always been way more subtle than this. So that’s kinda sad. Panda is fun word to say.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? Yes, but only in the context of “Pt. 2.”
On Accident? I listen to Philly’s pop-rap station in my car, so yes.
Will I be Shitty About it? Not about the first 30 seconds, yes if the song lasts longer than 30 seconds.

1) “One Dance” by Drake, Wizkid and Kyla

Thoughts: A side effect of paying for Spotify is that I rarely buy digital music. I don’t have an iPod anymore, so if I ever do buy something, it’s physical (records for the house, tapes for the car) or a band that I know will appreciate the support (bandcamp). I haven’t heard Views and until that shit is streamed I probably won’t.

Since we’re living in a post “Hotline Bling” world, dance-hall Drake is apparently here to stay. I wonder what cats from Jamaica think about this fake accent shit. I wonder what Rihanna thinks about it. I wonder if Vybz Kartel is in a cell somewhere thinking about how successful his career could have been in America if his accent was just a little easier to understand.

This is the perfect 2016 Drake song because it sounds exactly like a Drake song and nothing like a Drake song. It sounds exactly like “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” It sounds exactly like Rihanna. It’s also barely a fucking song – it’s less than three minutes long. I just finished listening to it and I couldn’t tell you a single word. I wouldn’t even be surprised if there were no words, just weird rhyming couplets and a keyboard.

I’m not going to do the research, but I assume Wizkid made the beat and Kyla is the woman who warbles her way in for a few bars before the song ends. Big day for Wizkid and Kyla, obviously. Let’s hope it works out for them.  This song has 2 million daily plays because everyone who listens to spotify is a 24-year-old personal assistant who lives in Miami and is passionate about nothing.

Will I Ever Listen to This Again on Purpose? I doubt it, but I thought “Hotline Bling” sucked when it came out. This is on the exact same wavelength.
On Accident? Without question.
Will I be Shitty About it? Internally, the way I am with all Drake songs, but getting mad about Drake songs in 2016 is like getting mad about the weather; it’s just going to shorten my life and it won’t change anything.

Bowie

It seems quaint now, but finding ways to copy people’s iTunes libraries was among my favorite pastimes  in 2004*. What I was grabbing didn’t matter nearly as much as the act of grabbing; the goal was to have every song anyone could ever want to listen to stored on my computer, regardless of my own preference. I basically wanted to be an encyclopedia because certain culture I loved suggested it would make me cool. I dreamed that this would not only fulfill me and make me a dynamic, engaging individual, but would lead to having sex with girls who wear glasses. I make no apologies for who I used to be, even if I probably should.

It was through one of these theft sessions that I absorbed a number of “Greatest Hits” records from artists I never cared about; The Eagles, Bob Segar, David Bowie, B.B. King, Run DMC, Steve Miller Band. Were this a certain kind of story, this is the point at which I’d wax about how much I listened to Bowie record, how it opened eyes to a world of records to explore and a generational personality to consider, and how it changed my young life. This isn’t that kind of story, though, and Bowie remains largely unknowable to me, 12 years later. I can probably name 10 of his songs off the top of my head, but not 20. I could probably name three albums, but not five. I have a classic-rock radio understanding of his work, only the broad strokes.

It wasn’t until my The Life Aquatic phase two years later that I even considered Bowie something worth taking my time on. I was aware of him, of course; my mother would reference being in law school and dancing to his music at The Elbo Room, a particularly shitty bar near Albany Law School**, but he held no purchase in my heart until Steve Zissou’s emotional breakdown would play in my door room on a weekly basis. My roommate James, using slightly more sophisticated song theft methods, secured the movie’s soundtrack, including all the Seu Jorge covers of Bowie’s songs. These Portuguese covers of his Ziggy Stardust work became my avenue into Bowie, an avenue I still have not taken.

Like Pharelle told us years ago, no one ever really dies as long as their work remains. For those who have consumed Bowie since the 70s all the way through to his Blackstar album, released days ago, his death might feel like a collapse. To me, however, the guy who still discovers well-known hits through covers and dipshits at karaoke, Bowie’s death acts as a clarion call to get down to the business of listening to his work, understanding what is really lost. My igornance has shielded me from death. I look forward to spending the next years catching up.

Even now, though, I can appreciate Bowie’s impact on the music I’ve loved. Without Bowie, there’s no “All the Young Dudes,” which is probably the best song about young dudes that anyone has written***. Say what you will about the 90s Godzilla remake, but it’s soundtrack exposed a generation of alt-rock radio kids to “Heroes.” I don’t need to know the deep cuts from Diamond Dogs to know that, without Bowie, there wouldn’t be any Yacht, Lady Gaga, Marilyn Mason or Of Montreal. We wouldn’t have the best Queen song, Mick Jagger’s bisexual phase or Flight of the Conchords, either. The man was a titan, both for what he made and how those things shaped the world I’ve come to know. If nothing else, he made my parents dance when they were kids.


 

*2004 Pastimes, ranked

1) Being sad that girls didn’t like me
2) Eating
3) Drinking until I black out
4) Stealing people’s iTunes music
5) Basketball
6) Listening to The Postal Service’s Give Up


** I love trying to recreate this memory in my head, picturing my mother and father in their early 20s, dancing and drinking and courting in the 70s. Something they don’t tell you about getting old is how much fun / how terrible seeing your parents as people can be. They were very cool once, before my brothers and I mucked all that up. Love you, Tony and Ev.


*** Songs about Young Dudes, Ranked

1) All the Young Dudes
2) Losing my Edge
3) Kids Don’t Follow
4) …And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison
5) Hey Ma

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