Fatter, Older

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

Day One

I didn’t vote in the 2012 Presidential election. I had no good ideological reason for doing so. I was just lazy.

I voted yesterday. I was nervous because I felt out of practice. Once it was over, I felt a pride that I didn’t expect. I was confident. There were too many people like me, too few people like my opponent, for my candidate to lose. I felt like I was a part of history. Turns out I was.

The evidence is now coming in. It will be looked at for the next few dozen years, I’d expect. The early indicators suggest that there were, in fact, too many people like me. The difference is that they didn’t vote. People who needed to turn out in order to elect the first woman president of the United States stayed at home. Just like I had.

*****

One suspects the union will survive a Trump presidency. On a rational level, a high-school education gives the understanding that even the most dangerous leader must run through hoops. The benefit of America is the protection of a nation specifically designed to limit power. Even with the single-party homogeneity across its three major branches, America will not disband.

There is greater risk now that the country will move backwards on social, environmental and economic issues. The future of healthcare is uncertain. The progress of same-sex rights will be slowed. Women’s rights to their own bodies will likely come under heavier fire, under harsher restrictions, than before. If this president is to be taken at his word, we will see more oil, less environmental protection and a tax structure that sacrifices the long term for the short.

The office of President is more than just an executive position, however. “President” is an idea. It is the short hand for the people of the nation – and the people of the world – to represent what America is to stand for, what it believes. I asked a family member about this election before Tuesday night’s results started coming in. That family member told me that this election could be characterized as “my worst two choices ever.” Even worse than George McGovern and Richard Nixon in 1972, which they categorized as “singularly uninspiring.”

Before today, I could understand and tolerate the connotative dissonance that not wanting to align oneself with the symbolic responsibility of a president one does not support. Before today, I could understand staying home. I had stayed home before, albeit based on laziness over ideology.

But now I think about what the office of the President says to the world, to its own citizens now. It says that America is a country that does not care about women, about minorities, about immigrants, about LGBTQ individuals, or about refugees. It says that America is a country that cares only about its comfortable, white citizens. It may have always been this way. It has never in my lifetime felt more explicit than it does right now.

This is what we stand for now, even if it is not what you  or I stand for.

*****

Today is the first day. There will be many more after it. Already, people are shaking off their shock and figuring out how to move on with their lives. My heart breaks for the women who thought they were going to see the first female president, who thought that progress was at hand. It breaks for my friends of color, who feel less safe now than they did before. It breaks for the immigrated citizens I have known and will never know, for how they must feel living here now. It breaks for anyone whose existence does not fit into an easy-checked box of preference, who must now worry if what they’ve achieved will be undone.

The numbers suggest that the reason this happened is because people like me stayed home. Trump won the election with roughly 2 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney lost by in 2012. Out there, people like me who did not feel inspired by the candidates, or who thought the worst could never come to pass, or who were just lazy, missed an opportunity.

It is up to each of us to decide what this means after Day One is over. I hope I never forget how sick to my stomach I felt when CNN explained how time was running out in Florida and North Carolina. I hope I never forget how alien and disorienting it felt to see the words “President Trump” on a news paper. I hope I never forget how good it felt to be voter number 6 at my polling place. I hope I never forger this disengaged, distracted feeling I am struggling with. I hope that this really was a change election.

I will never miss another election as long as I live.

Songs on Pinkerton, Ranked

In honor of a 20-year-old record’s newfound Platinum status.

Songs ranked worst to first.

This was not fun.

10) Butterfly

9) Across the Sea
– The chorus remains catchy as hell, but the content has not aged well into our new #problematic reality.

8) Getchoo


7 & 6) Falling For You / Why Bother?
– Pour one out for both of these songs, which make up the raucous, slappy, rock-and-roll bookend of what is an otherwise emotionally exhausting record. If there is a party to be had, it is with these two cuts.

5) No Other One – People forget how good this song is.

4) Tired of Sex

3) Pink Triangle

2) The Good Life

1) El Scorcho – Possibly the best Weezer song.

Tiny Rainbows and the Paths Not Taken

 

a1471207614_10Philadelphia has no shortage of screaming, flexible, third-wave emo bands. Few arrive at that designation through more varied routes than Tiny Rainbows.

It’s self-titled EP, released this past August on Bandcamp and comprised of fleshed-out versions of previously released demos, delivers the Kinsella / Algernon Cadwallader twinkle that has become part and parcel with the city’s alt-emo music.

What makes it compelling are the flavors that come from heavier, more varied places. “Yacov’s Nubian Bling Explosion” starts somewhere expected, before morphing in to a chorus that recalls Converge more than it does anything traditionally emotion. “When in Rome…” marries the post-hardcore of Dance Gavin Dance with the heavy post-rock of Don Caballero, somehow still sounding like something fit for a dorm room. The results are easy to categorize, but Tiny Rainbows use technicality and varied influences to carve out a space that feels unique to them.

Check out the EP on Bandcamp. The band is on Facebook.

Terror

Two things.

1) This is a fantastic reaction to any act of terror at any time. It is hard to not be affected when things like this happen; it is scary, especially as it feels more frequent. In those times, it is advisable to take a stance like this one:

2) Philadelphia fears, ranked:

  1. Hit by a SEPTA bus / trolley
  2. Neighborhood becomes “new Northern Liberties”
  3. Vehicle fire on 76
  4. Mummers parade / Wing Bowl
  5. Subway grate / basement doors collapse while walking on them

Outside Exercises, Ranked in Order of Dickisness

Fitness

Sit-ups, done in the open air the way Adam and Eve did them!

No matter what happens next, don’t walk away from this with believing that you shouldn’t work out outside, in public. Working out outside, in public, can be a wonderful, refreshing, glorious thing. The trick is knowing when working out in public has crossed over the line of “I am a citizen of this place, like you are, enjoying its resources at no expense to you” into the flashy, exciting world of “I am making this public park all about me now, motherfuckers.”

No one but God above can judge you either way, but I’m going to do it anyway. Each activity’s dick ranking is represented via the percentage to the right.

Walking (0%)

Like the song says, this is the only exercise that is universally fine in all its shapes and forms. Mall-walking, power-walking, speed-walking; all good. A person can look silly, but looking silly does not make a person a dick. The only way this even registers as a blip on the radar is if the person in question is walking through a parade or something. Even if that’s the case: it’s still just walking.

Running Alone (2-5%)
Running in a Group (5-18%)

Running alone is basically walking, except even more so. There are some ways in which a runner can be a dick (running on the road, running to close to people when passing), but they are so small as to be mere nits being picked.

Running in a group is a different animal, and one’s rating depends greatly on a many number of factors, including:

  • Number of people in the group
  • Speed at which the group is running
  • Running location
  • What everyone is wearing

Generally speaking, running is fine.

exercise-group-outside-with-balls

No.

Riding a Bike (7% -95%)

This is borderline unpredictable and should probably be its own thing. Just know there is a difference between going for a bike ride, going for a bike ride while wearing one of those Ned Flanders, chest-hair body suits and going for a bike ride like a person on fire, operating under a set of rules that are clandestine and apply only to you. Do your level best to stay away from the third section, you’ll never get higher than 25%.

CrossFit, near a gym (19%)

CrossFit has something of a checkered reputation. Having never done it, it seems a reasonable way for a person to become a more sinewy version of themselves and to have something to talk about on OKCupid dates. Sometimes, CrossFit people will do a circuit that involves flipping a truck tire or whatever outside the confines of the gym. As long as this is happening within a two-block proximity of the central CrossFit nest, it’s acceptable behavior.

Parkour (22%)

Honestly, this has the potential to be higher. Working under the assumption that this James Bond-ass, The Office-ass exercise  aimed at super-fit dorks is intended to be done in an urban environment, one would think that avoiding a tangible impact on the general public is within the confines of the activity. Basically, if your exercise requires you to affect others as little as possible (which, again, is the assumption this number is based on), it can never be all that dickish to practice it. Just try not to break any bones near the public fountain or anything.

Yoga, general (37%)

Alright, full disclosure: I regularly attend yoga in the park and I feel weird about it every time. The entire process feels show-offy; carrying my mat in public, finding a good spot in the ground, smiling politely at the people around me, saying “oooohhhhmmmm” in public. There is not part of it that doesn’t feel a little bit like a performance. Maybe I am not very good at yoga. Extra points are awarded to those who attend the outside yoga and go above and beyond in their poses. You gym class heroes belong in…

benefits-of-outdoor-exercise-video

NO.

Yoga, fancy (50%)

Take your specialty shit indoors where your athleisure wear won’t get stained, you headstand-doing son of a bitch.

CrossFit, not near a gym (68%)

This is why many municipal bike trails have those monkey bars every quarter-mile or so, so that you can get all ripped-fuel away from the regular slobs who just want to eat a sandwich or get from point A to point B in the world without having a fitness cult flaunted in their faces. The gym has ice cold muscle milk, all the outdoors has it people who are annoyed at the free show no one asked for.

Dancing (82%)

Absolutely unacceptable unless you’ve got a hat out in front of you, you’re part of a wedding proposal flash mob from 2012 or you’re shooting a music video.

Push ups in the park I’m just trying to walk through after outdoor yoga (100%)

You have a home. That home has a floor. Fuck you.

 

AJJ’s Compassionate Devil Music

a2344894986_10If AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) wants listeners to come away from its new record, The Bible 2, with any kind of slogan, it’s probably the one that’s plastered across the album’s cover and referenced twice in record’s lyrics (once as a song title and chorus, once as a reprise): No more shame, no more fear, no more dread.

As far as folk-punk sloganeering goes, that’s pretty good stuff. On its face, It’s a far more cheerful message than AJJ has traditionally put out (never mind the fact that there is more than enough evidence to suggest the phraseis less about overcoming adversity and more about turning oneself into the devil).

Throughout its decade-long career, the band has made a living and developed a ravenous fan-base with its poetic, clever and well-observed songs about the depths of shit that people heave upon each other. What brings people back – what brings me back – is how that message of “everything is fucked…” is partnered with a message of “…but we’ve got to keep trying.”

For every “People II: The Reckoning” (sample lyric: “There’s a bad man in everyone, no matter who we are / there’s a rapist and a nazi living in our tiny hears / child pornographers and cannibals and politicians too / there’s someone in your head waiting to fucking strangle you”), there is a “People” (“People are my religion / because I believe in them / people are my enemies and people are my friends / I have faith in my fellow man / and I only hope that he has faith in me”). Even the husband who divorces his wife because she becomes less fuckable after a haircut is someone who is, at their core, worth rooting for. AJJ is a band that looks upon the grossness of humanity, points out the rotten parts, and still hopes for the best.


That bold-faced optimism is best reflected in “White Worms,” my personal standout from The Bible 2. By the band’s lyrical standards, it isn’t really much of a song at all; a narrator sees white worms crawling out of his own dead skin. Where it hits home is in the prechoruses; “If you don’t want to feel the feeling / no one should ever make you feel the feeling / some dumb dick says ‘don’t stop believing’… / don’t don’t stop believing.” This is the message that powers the band, the message that keeps me coming back. Life is too short and too ugly to let anyone tell you how to move through it. If you want to listen to the devil’s music, you should listen to devil’s music.

Beach Slang Covering Japandroids is My Whole Aesthetic Collapsing in on Itself

I don’t know if I’m being trolled or what. There is no greater “I am an aging youth rocker” clarion call than this right here.

The Five Best Pieces of Information from The A.V. Club’s Bear vs Shark Interview

47bf1326e4924ea99f38af880c53983bThe A.V. Club has an interview up with two members of Bear vs Shark, a post-hardcore band that, 12 years running, I have not shut up about. The whole thing is well worth a read if you are at all interested in the motivations behind band reunions, the difficulty of maintaining a low-level genre band and how getting old impacts performance.

However, if you are a very lazy person and unwilling to click a link, here are the five best pieces of information from that interview, in no order, determined by me and presented Buzzfeed style. This music blog is Upworthy now.

1) The Bear vs Shark reunion is a product of social media subterfuge. 

It really came to fruition this year when Marc’s bandmate from his other band, Bars Of Gold, posted a photo of Mike [Muldoon, guitar, bass, keyboards] and Brandon on stage at a Bars Of Gold show, and he posted, “Oh, Bear Vs. Shark reunion confirmed!” And he posted it on Facebook, and it just went crazy.

2) No one has ever correctly listed out the band’s lyrics, because most of the lyrics are just “BLEEEEEEEEHH!” 

I will say that I did have to look up a couple of lines on the various lyric websites, and they were all completely wrong. Completely wrong. I’m like, “What? ‘Like a turtle in a half shell?’ I never said that!” Just really weird shit.

3) Bear vs Shark have got themselves some reach church moms.

AVC: The sixth station where Veronica wipes the face of Jesus is always a great moment.

JG: That part of the show’s going to be off the hook.

MP: It’s crazy, because Brandon actually played Jesus.

JG: Well, he played Jim Caviezel as Jesus.

AVC: Who’s playing Pontius Pilate?

MP: That would be me.

JG: Yeah, that’s clearly Marc. It was like the role was made for him.

MP: My mom’s going to be super proud.

JG: I hope she does not read this interview. She will not talk to you for a little while.

4) Young people will always feel the pressure of even younger people coming up from behind them, while simultaneously judging themselves against a peer standard that may not be fair.

JG: I was just going to say, it’s a lot more liberating now to do it as opposed to back when we were 25 years old. Back then, there was so much pressure associated with it that it really interfered with us and fucked with our minds. At the time, we thought, “Oh, shit, we’re getting so old, and we’ve got to make this a success. People are pushing us to do all these things we don’t want to do, and we’ve got to stay true to our music.” We always had these lofty ideals that I like to think we stuck to most of the time. But it was just so much pressure to do that at the time. All our friends are getting married, settling down, having their fucking 401(k)s and shit. Meanwhile, we’re sleeping on people’s floors, making $300 a month.

5) Bear vs Shark / Bars of Gold singer Marc Paffi seems like a fun guy.

MP: I was just going to say, surprisingly, I’ve already done a show in full hockey gear. One of our earlier shows.

AVC: What was the impetus for that?

MP: There was no reason. There was no physical reason. It was just like, “I should put on a complete hockey outfit, with the shoulders pads and everything, and go out and play this show.” And it was kind of fun, because then you could just fly all over the stage and bounce off walls. I’m not going to do that, so I hope nobody expects that. I’m probably just going to wear shorts and a T-shirt. But maybe a helmet.

Read the whole interview. Bear vs Shark will be playing in your town, maybe. They’re playing in my town, for sure, and I am very excited about it.

R.I.P: The Holy Mess

A months ago, the Holy Mess announced via its Twitter feed that it has broken up. The Philadelphia punk band released two (maybe three, depending who you ask) full-length albums and a handful of EPs and splits. Its last record, Trash Age, came out in April this year.

a2474722469_10As a four-piece, the band cranked out some of the most gleeful drunk-punk Philadelphia has ever seen. Its 2011 self-titled record, a collection of it previous EPs, still sounds electric today. If one wanted to get historic and sentimental about it, the songs bridged the gap between the city’s harmonic punk roots and a new class of Lawrence Arms / Dillinger Four Midwest apostles. Even today, it’s a hooky, blazing collection of songs that suggest a very fun, probably dangerous party is happening somewhere not too far away, if you’re ballsy enough to go join it.

Let me editorialize for a minute here: I have, time and again, found myself out of step with what punk’s masses want, what bands are roped up as great or “next” or whatever. I want to say here that, at the time of its release, listening to The Holy Mess felt like listening to the next great punk band. I was both thrilled and intimidated by them, solely based on the strength of its songs.

I don’t know what happened to the band after this release. I have suspicions; a possibly-partially correct narrative could be strung together. Better to let the band to speak for itself. This note, regarding the band’s first proper full length, Cande Ru Las Degas, tells as much of the story as anyone outside the band’s circle is likely to get.

A not so very interesting story behind this album…

Cande Ru Las Degas is a culmination of four friends writing together, on and off, over the course of 2 years. During this time we lost friends, family, marriages, and almost each other in a van wreck. The subject matter is somewhat terrifying to us because we know what it touches upon. We don’t wanna go back there.

Now don’t get us wrong. There was many a party thrown in, but the overall feeling that lead up to recording this record was one we’d rather forget.

a1886269790_10We packed our shit and headed to Atlas Studios in March of 2012.

Red Scare Industries released this record in August 2012.

Some people loved it.

Some of you hated it.

Cande Ru Las Degas didn’t have much of a push behind it.

Some of you may’ve never heard it.

We stopped getting show offers. We stopped getting label attention. and then, we pretty much stopped.

Rob quit the band.

What you hear on this record is something you may never hear from us again.

The true tarnishing of four brothers that couldn’t find a better way.

The genuine concern of being so close, yet so far….

A blistering outcome of what could happen to your band.

Looking back on some of the press the album got at the time, it’s true that Cande Ru Las Degas wasn’t as well-received as the band’s first collection of songs, though it doesn’t look like it was especially savaged anywhere, either. I can remember that I personally didn’t care for it when it first came out, but that says a lot more about me than it does the band’s work.

Listening to it now, it sounds pretty great. It’s a mournful, deeply sad record. The party is very much over, but the edge remains. “A Song for Tim Browne to Sing” might be the best three minutes and forty five seconds the group has ever put out; the kind of song that could launch a band to alt-punk mainstream success, a la the Gaslight Anthem. We got this one wrong.

a0502069655_10After this, the band didn’t exactly collapse, but it did recede into itself a little bit. Much was made by the band about its decision to go fully DIY on 2014’s excellent Comfort in the Discord. The Holy Mess appeared, at least from the outside, as a group distrustful of new people, of individuals who might be perceived to benefit or recontextualize their work. They were a band that seemed, above all else, determined to operate on its own terms, at its own pace. Comfort in the Discord is a great record; it feels grown up, both fearful and reverent of its own past, more clear-eyed and a little less reckless, no less energetic.

I ultimately have no idea how this band will be remembered locally, nationally or anywhere in between. They were world beaters until they weren’t, then they carried on anyway, thriving in the face of seeming collapse. The Holy Mess is a great punk band.

Names the Strip Club Near My House Has Had at One Time or Another, Ranked

This list may not be comprehensive. Additionally, it remains unclear if management has changed hands at this location each time the name has been change, or if this establishment is just engaged in a near-constant revolving door of branding pivots (for what it is worth, two of the city’s most well known strip clubs have never, to my knowledge, changed their names at all).

What does seem clear is that, even as triple-decker town home mini-mansions, lowest-common denominator bars and high-gimmick restaurants continue to turn the area into Norther Liberties 2: Still Libertin’, this grimy little place’s roots run deeper and stronger.

4) Devil’s Den / House of Sin (present name)*

Chalk this one up to Catholic guilt.

3) Club Ozz (2008-2010)

You’re not in Kansas anymore! You’re underneath the El.

2) Signatures (2014 – 2016)

This one had the best logo: it was the picture of a woman winking, drawn in the style of those 1950s newspaper comics. It looked like it could have doubled as the logo for a hair salon.

1) Gold Club (2010-2014)

I like my gentlemen’s clubs like I like my credit card rewards programs: Solid gold, baby.

*This might not be the club’s actual name, since I only walked past it one time recently. I remember that “sin” or “the devil” was a major theme in the branding (which, if memory serves, was a drawing of a nude lady with bat wings). 

How to Get Hit By a Car

spruce-st-bike-lane1-1024x679Let me be frank about a few things.

First: I break the rules of the road on my bike. I do so often. This usually manifests itself in rolling through stop signs, but I’ve also gone the wrong way down one-way streets in the name of convenience. Sometimes these rules are broken because personal safety depends on it (getting on the sidewalk to get out of the way of a car turning too aggressively, say). Usually it is to save a few minutes.

The “rules of the road” aren’t a natural fit for a bicycle. Those laws were designed with cars in mind. They make clear sense while operating what might as well be speedy land torpedoes. The stakes are clear. In a car, go the wrong way on a one-way street and someone might die. Roll through a stop sign, someone might die. 

A bike, though, is so much smaller, so much more maneuverable than a car. It’s easy to talk oneself into the idea that a different, unwritten set of rules are what really matter. The stakes are instantly lower. It fosters a mindset that says “that law is for cars, but I am not a car, so I am free to do as I please.”

This thinking is, obviously, super fucking dumb. I’ve had friends get doored by parked cars and flip over their handlebars. I’ve had friends get purposely chased and hit while on their bikes. I’ve read horror stories in Spoke and Philadelphia Magazine and countless other urban blogs about the real-world consequences of being a cyclist in the city, to say nothing of being a cyclist who breaks the rules. I should be smarter about the entire enterprise.

I am not smart. Up until a few weeks ago, my thinking on bike accidents was always “well, it’ll be the car’s fault, not mine.”

As if fault or credit in a major accident matters in the slightest.

*****

3531195307_011351522bThe second thing: I was not wearing my helmet at the time of the accident.

Generally speaking, I don’t like wearing a helmet because it looks dorky and makes my head smell bad, but I recognize that those are stupid and arbitrary concerns compared to, you know, brains leaking out of my skull. So I wear my helmet when I ride by bike, but not every time. Like, if I was riding to the ice cream shop near my house, I wouldn’t wear it. When I ride to work, I wear it. Except that I had left my helmet behind on my recent honeymoon.

*****

There are two good ways to get to work from my house. One involves a road with trolley tracks, which are bad news for bike tires. The other is a little longer and has a few more high-traffic intersections, but comes equipped with a designated bike lane along the entire stretch of road.

The entire stretch, that is, except for intersections. So. I am riding my bike to work, stopped at a red light (which is good), not wearing my helmet (which is bad). The light turns green and I enter the intersection.

It is at this point that I am struck by a car.

Were I to defend the person who hit me, I would have some reasonable recourse to explain how this might have happened. The accident occurred around 8 a.m., with me heading west and the car heading east. That means that the sun was likely in their eyes. That probably makes it hard to see a car, let alone a bike.

On the other hand, no one really expects to get hit by a car at 8 a.m. In the morning. In broad daylight. Following the rules.

I saw the car pull into the intersection, the way any aggressive driver would if they were trying to make a left turn into a gap in oncoming traffic. It looked like the kind of tip-toeing anyone has done a thousand times when working without a green arrow. I assumed it was that, until it wasn’t.

By the time I realized I was going to be hit, I had gained too much momentum to not drift into the path of the car, but not enough to power through the intersection and miss the collision. I looked at the car and hoped that the person behind the wheel would realize what was happening and hit their breaks. We made brief eye-contact as we made impact, the person driving the car and I. I know she looked shocked. I assume I looked the same. She hit her breaks, too late.

*****

bicycle-path-philadelphiaIn the long history of people being hit by cars while riding bikes, this accident is a minor one, both in terms of property and personal damage. The bike is fine; my wife and I took it to the bike shop the next day and they fixed the (largely cosmetic) damage within 10 minutes, at no charge to me (there is no camaraderie quite like bike professionals and people hit by cars while riding bikes).

In the moments immediately after the accident, I was a bit shaken up. Even then, hubris remains; I still couldn’t believe that I had actually been hit by a car. There were some aches and soreness, but no cuts, broken bones or bruises. There was no physical evidence that anything had happened at all.

There were headaches and fatigue, though. This lead to the following exchange with my wife:

Her: Everything on the internet says you should see a doctor if your head is hurting you.
Me: I know, I just don’t want to.
Her: I really think you need to go.
Me: (Exasperated) I didn’t even hit my head! I’m feeling better.
Her: You aren’t usually this grumpy with me. WEBMD SAYS MOOD SWINGS ARE A SYMPTOM OF BRAIN DAMAGE!

After some apologies for being a dick and a three-hour trip to the emergency room, I emerged with a CT scan, a clean-looking picture of my brain and the diagnosis of a light concussion. In short: no worse for the ware in any meaningful way.

*****

The driver never got out of the car. After the accident, she slowed down to ask if I was okay, but she never stopped. Even her questions seem in memory less like inquiries of health and more like she was looking for permission to get the fuck out of there. I want to be mad at her. I have every right to be. I can’t muster it. No one ever really knows themselves until they have to make a panicked, pressured choice with no time to think. We are not always heroes, and it is important to remember that.

Lucky 33 Arrives Late, Right on Time

Full disclosure: I know the members of Lucky 33 personally. Even if I didn’t, I feel like I understand them after listening to the band’s first proper EP, Look Mah, We Did It.

Lucky 33’s path to is first proper release has been circuitous one. The Syracuse, NY four-piece prides itself on it’s near-constant live performance schedule. They’ve opened for The Suicide Machines, Anti-Flag, Badfish and Sponge, playing dozens of shows in the Syracuse region in between. Bassist Jared Francisco says that their aggressive live philosophy, coupled with trying corral four guys at different points in their lives, has made recording an EP a challenge.

a1369799935_10“It’s taken us a long time to release anything new,” he says. “We recorded an EP (in 2014-15) that ended up not being something we wanted to release, quality-wise. It didn’t represent us or our sound at all, so it was scrapped.”

A live show philosophy like that means that Lucky 33 is well-known in their circle, but unless you happened to be in the Central or Western New York area, it’d be hard for you to hear them. That might be part of the reason. Look Mah sounds like such a close recreation of the band’s live show. The easy genre classification for Lucky 33 is pop-punk; it’s on the same gruff-yet-catchy wavelength as The Bouncing Souls, The Vandals and Guttermouth.

The record filters these speedy tropes through the veil of a world-worn DIY band trying not exactly to “make” it, but to at least get by. “Excigency” captures the cognitive dissonance of slaving through an unending work-week in order to play one’s passion for free (“I will play and I will sing / for free / for the rest of my life.”). “Caffeine” is a picture of the specific kind of repetition and low-level regret that feels even more crushing when the surroundings never change. These are songs that look starkly and honestly at the plight of being a part-time rock band, bearing witness and offering no answers other than to keep doing it because it’s fun.

0006761461_10The hooks on “Paycheck” and “Roo” are informed by years spent playing live shows and understanding that earworms motivate audiences. Even “Paycheck,” which might be least hopeful song on the record, is wrapped in a power-pop bounce that sneaks bad times in on a Trojan Horse of catchy, bouncy guitars. The way Francisco tells it, this is by design.

“We’ve always considered ourselves a live band,” he says. “The challenge for us was to have a recording that captures our live sound. Eric Pinales of The Bournes drove from Rochester to Syracuse each Sunday to track with us, and he was able to [recreate that live sound] for us.”

In the lead up to recording the EP, members of Lucky 33 built a make-shift recording studio Franciso’s basement. The band found an engineer who was willing to drive three hours round-trip to record them. They cut Look Mah in between disparate work schedules, families and an active live schedule. Lucky 33’s first proper release reflects the band’s never-die attitude; it’s a record that recognizes that this shit is hard, but they’re harder.

You can listen to the EP on Bandcamp. Lucky 33 is on Facebook.

 

Watch this Video for “D.I.Y.” by the Barren Marys and Decide Which Member is the Cutest

The dear sweet punk children from The Barren Marys are in the midst of a video binge unlike anything I’ve seen in quite a while. The group is planning to release new visuals for each song from its 2015 self-titled record each week for the next couple of weeks. The band already released videos for “Uncle Fester” (Punknews exclusive!) and “Peter Criss” (F.O. approved!) and we’re stoked to be premiering the band’s latest video, “D.I.Y.,” right here and now.

I’ve always found lyric videos to be a weird move. Unless someone in the band has nephew majoring in typography or something, they seem like a strange vehicle for putting lyrics out into the world. I much prefer what the Barren Marys do here; it conveys the spirit of the song without spelling everything out, it shows some thought and work has gone into its creation, and exposes the band as only owning, like, three t-shirts each, max.

Check out all the videos here, and listen to The Barren Marys on Bandcamp.

Love Songs: Doing Chores to Afford Second-Hand Alt-Rock Tapes

Hi, this is Love Songs, a feature in which I talk to people about the first song they ever loved. For the inaugural launch of this dumb idea, I talked to John Adams, who is both the bass player for the Rochester, NY punk band Sexy Teenagers and my younger brother. If you’d like to tell me about a song you loved, tweet at me.

Loved Songs: “Down” by 311 and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard either one? Is there a specific memory attached to hearing either one?

I remember “Down” was the first song on a cassette tape mix that (our older brother) Chris made for me. I can’t place the Smashing Pumpkins as specifically, but I first started doing chores to earn my allowance so I could buy the double tape of Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness, ironically, also from Chris.

How old were you when you heard these songs?

Seven, maybe eight.

Do you remember what else was on that mixtape?

A couple of Live songs, maybe “Lakini’s Juice.” Some Pumpkins, Metallica, Sublime. Green Day, I think?

So, what drew you to “Down?”

I liked the pace and speed of the song, and it was also my first real exposure to rap. Many other styles, too, as I bought more 311 CDs when I was young. Plus, the hook is pretty damn catchy.

Do you feel like it influenced your taste in any lasting way?

I suppose so, in that it helped shape the other bands and types of music I would consume in my single-digit years, which would inform the bands I listened to as a tween, and so on. The mix tape it was on probably had a larger overall impact, though.

What kind of chores did you have to do to get the Pumpkins tape?

I had to take out the garbage and recycling as needed, take the cans to and from the curb. I had to buy the tape in sections because Chris charged $2 per tape, which just happened to be my allowance at the time.

 

What a dick.

I remember really liking tape one, being less thrilled by the second. “Bullet” was the favorite, for sure, but the first eight songs really stuck with me as standouts on Melancholy.

What was it about “Bullet” that stuck with you?

It was my first real rock song that I was into. I liked the drums and the guitar. Corrigan’s voice was a favorite of mine for a long time, probably until I entered my Korn / Limp Bizkit era.

Do you feel like either of these songs informed your songwriting?

No, I don’t think so – only in as much as they are part of my musical history. I didn’t start trying my hand at [songwriting] until about five years after [those songs].

How do you feel about “Down” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” now, almost 20 years later?

They still hold up! I would listen to either any time, although it is a little embarrassing on the 311 front.

What is the last song you’ve loved?

I’ve found myself listening to “Worthless Original” from (The Holy Mess’s) Comfort in the Discord and “I See Failure” from (Antarctigo Vespucci’s) Leavin’ La Vida Loca a whole lot recently. I’ll have to get back to on “why” after I think about it some more, because I don’t want to say ‘because I do’ and I haven’t given much thought into the why of liking those songs.

I’m just going to quote you as saying “because I do.”

Fuck.

13047821_10156864004085626_1397438086173763870_oSexy Teenagers released Look What This Cheesecake Has Done to Us in 2014 (thats yours truly on the cover) and had a song appear on this Rochester NY-specific comp that same year. The band is currently writing it’s next album, A Time for Teens, which will probably come out sometime in 2017. The band’s Facebook page is a unique experience, because, while most of what is discussed there is focused on Rochester punk music, every now and then a horny teenager will post “anyone up?” on there. That’s always a treat. 

Rejected Wedding Ceremony Songs

I’m getting married in less than a month. My fiance and I are cutting every conceivable corner to save money, AKA having wedding in which friends and family members are being aggressively leaned on to provide free labor and services. People have been very rad about this intrusion; everyone is quick to offer (and follow through) to pitchin’ on the party. Chief among those offering their services are two friends who graciously offered to play live music during our ceremony.

We’ve picked, and they’ve practiced, the song that my fiance is going to walk down the aisle to. These are the songs we considered and why they were rejected.

“I Found You” by the Alabama Shakes

Why it is a good wedding song: Lyrically on-theme, not too overly romantic, nice to have some goddamn rock music at a wedding.

Why we passed on it: Seems unfair to ask someone to try and sing like Brittany Howard, takes a little too long to get going and this won’t be all that long a ceremony to begin with, my side of the family might mistake the playing of rock music as a sign to start drankin‘.

“I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade

Why it is a good wedding song: My favorite kind of romance, at least as it appears in pop culture, is the desperate kind. There is no love as true as the one that is willing to lie or deceive. I’m on some Lannister shit, apparently.

Why we passed on it: It’s a little too arty, hard to recreate with the stripped-down arrangement we’re looking for, I’ve leaned on this particular song enough already in my life. 

“I’m Always in Love” by Wilco

Why it is a good wedding song: It’s upbeat, which is unusual for the kinds of songs people usually use for this kind of thing, all Wilco songs sound good ripped down to their bones, will appeal to the section of our wedding guests who like IPAs and being in bed by 9:30 p.m.

Why we passed on it: Lyrics like “I’m worried / I’m always in love” are too open to interpretation, subtle themes of infidelity that young lovers usually try to wait until year five to explore.

“Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads

Why it is a good wedding song: It’s about hugs!

Why we passed on it: In the words of my fiance, “this sounds like it was on the soundtrack to every movie I liked from the 90s in college,” which is harsh but fair.

“This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies

Why it is a good wedding song: I totally forgot this was on our list and did not know what this song sounded like until I started playing it just now. This is a very nice song!

Why we passed on it: Probably because it says “little one” in it, which is not the message we’re trying to send to each other, no one is that good at piano in our collective lives.

“My Little Corner of the World” by Yo La Tengo

Why it is a good wedding song: It isn’t over-the-top about love, Yo La Tengo is a great band, it’s easy enough to recreate.

Why we passed on it: We like the song we picked better, we don’t want random people in sweaters wandering over to our wedding uninvited.

“The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” by Liars

Why it is a good wedding song: “I can always be found” is as good a wedding vow as anything else, it is the only song Liars have ever made that might appeal to someone who isn’t consumed with violence / deeply invested in Harry Potter-themed art.

Why we passed on it: We don’t want to have a #weird wedding, my affection for this song comes strongly in connection to a drug experience in college, which is not ideal for a wedding.

“I Do” by Young Jeezy, “International Player’s Anthem” by UGK and Outkast

Why these are good wedding songs: They’re both expressly about getting married.

Why we passed on them: We stink.

 

 

 

Five Songs in the Tone Zone

In honor of Father’s Day, I put together a brief playlist of songs that remind me of my dad. I didn’t get into the memories and motivations behind every one of them. Some things are just for family. 

Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo

As a 30-year-old, I can appreciate the place “Mexican Radio”  must have had in my dad’s life when he first heard it; it has elements of the post-punk, new-wave stuff that I know he liked when he was a young man in law school (in an alternate timeline, the song could have been a Devo, Talking Heads or They Might Be Giants song).

However, what really sticks in my mind about this song is how often my dad would hum or whistle parts of it walking around in the world. My dad is a big whistler, a big fan of mumble-singing to himself as he goes about his day. There are no stats to back this up, but I’d estimate that “Mexican Radio” was among the most-hummed songs in our house, somewhere up there with “Ohio” by the Pretenders and “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.

Long Black Veil – The Chieftains

My dad isn’t much of a singer. Not to say that he has a bad voice or doesn’t like to sing, but he doesn’t indulge in song as often as he does, say, whistle some King Crimson song that pops into his head because he sees a road sign that reminds him of the 70s.

That said, I have a clear memory of him singing this song to my cousin Tamera when she was a newborn. A bunch of us were in the living room of my aunt and uncle’s townhouse, and my dad held my cousin, singing about deadly infidelity to a captive audience. I think my infant cousin liked it, because I remember her falling asleep. I also remember my aunt not being thrilled about all that “best friend’s wife” business.

People Who Died – The Jim Carrol Band

Sometime after Napster landed on our heads, my brother started making mix CDs for my father. “People Who Died” was one of the more obscure tracks my father requested Chris find through the music theft service. It was forever enshrined on “Dad’s Mix 2,” the single greatest mix CD to ever come from the Adams household. My brothers and I played this song for my dad at his 60th birthday a few years back. That felt pretty nice.

Hokus Pokus – Insane Clown Posse

It isn’t hard to determine what music my dad will like (basically, if it sounds like the Rolling Stones or something David Byrne would like, he’ll be interested), but sometimes he latches on to shit that vibrates on a frequency only he understands. When I brought home The Great Melinko on cassette tape in seventh grade, I didn’t expect this novelty murder-clown rap would be an endearing song. And yet, at least five times a year, my dad will play this song, seemingly coming from a sincere place.

Time is a funny thing. 18 years ago, I thought my dad was as cool as it gets for linking this song. I think he’s pretty cool now, too, for liking this song, but it’s been an up-and-down two decades.

Lawyers, Guns and Money – Warren Zevon

This song might actually mean more to me than it does to my dad at this point. This was another law-school-era hit for my parent (natch, the law school kids like the song that is essentially “Send in the Clowns” for lawyers). I like this song a lot because when I hear it, I can almost imagine my parents in their early 20s, drinking $2 beers in a shitty Albany bar, falling in love a little bit at a time. I regret that I never got to meet my parents before my brothers and I ravaged their coolness. This is a little piece of fan fiction I get to have about my own family’s backstory, so that’s cool.

Car Seat Headrest + Twin Pines, Underground Arts, May 22

1) For whatever reason, I don’t think of Teens of Denial as a particularly rocking album when I categorize it in my mind (I do think the album is very good). That said, Car Seat Headrest rocked the fuck out on Sunday at Underground Arts. “Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales,” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” and “Vincent” transferred live in a powerful way I did not expect. There was never a mosh pit, but there was some pretty significant jumping around, which is as good as moshing at a singer-songwriter indie rock show on a Sunday.

2) A word about demographics: the show was sponsored by WXPN, which is a radio station for people who really like Ryan Adams. The crowd skewed younger; I’m 30 and I topped out at the older end of the spectrum. A lot of couples, a lot of women, a lot of younger people filled the room. It’s nice to know that Car Seat Headrest is reaching people in their age group, and it’s also nice when rock shows aren’t a boys club. There might have been 10 people total without glasses.

3) Underground Arts sells 24 oz cans of PBR for $7. I can’t tell if that’s reasonable or dangerous.

4) Underground arts has a main room and a black box. This show as in the main room, but probably should have been in the black box.

5) Opener Twin Pines was a good appetizer for Car Seat Headrest. The band had a vaguely emo, vaguely punk sound that reminded me of a less ambitious Braid. None of their songs have stayed with me, but they put me in a mood to see the headliner, which I suppose is the mark of a good opener.

6) Will Toledo is droll and flat in between songs. He should start a buddy comedy with his touring drummer, who brought an excitement and playfulness to the occasionally deadly-serious songs. This exchange was particuarly funny:

Drummer: “We were in New York yesterday … Now, I know New York is the city of dreams, but what do they call you here?

(crowd shouts out “Brotherly Love)

Toledo (deadpan): “We were here two days ago.”

7) Car Seat Headrest played for about an hour, closing the show with a medley of “Vincent” and “Paranoid Android.” One has to admire the balls it takes to cut one’s own song with one of the best rock songs of the last 30 years. Car Seat Headrest is on that kind of a hot streak.

Silicon Valley Power Rankings, Se. 3 Ep. 4

http://www.hbo.com/data/content/global/videos/embed/data/1441141.html?width=640&height=360

By Jared Adams, Head Television Writer

9 ) Monica Hall

In her moving expression of dedication and loyalty to Richard and company, Monica demonstrated a self-sacrificial spirit that is all but lacking in today’s soulless cutthroat corporate world. As Jared pointed out, she is now a brave bison that attacked the lion and will now be devoured. However, his premonition will not be entirely true, as it appears the rest of the bison herd has escaped. The same may not be true for Monica, as she is for the first time ever in a precarious position.

8) “Action” Jack Barker

Barker is out of the Silicon Valley game for now, but his considerable wealth and influence can never let him see the bottom. While his reemergence next week is unlikely, he will surely be back in the future, which reminds me…

ACTION JACK’S GIFT HORSE BUTTFUCK RISK LEVEL:

Currently set firmly at PUSH-POP.

7) Denpok

The Varys/Littlefinger of Silicon Valley’s world made an incredible recovery this week. After being sequestered in Lot D the D used his zen master methods of influence to re-enter Gavin’s inner circle. Denpok would never take that sitting down. He isn’t sitting this spring.

6) Gavin Belson

OH Y’ALL THOUGHT YOU WASN’T GONNA SEE ME!??!?

Gavin’s move may have ultimately aided his mortal enemies, but he’s back in fighting form on this data compression showdown after conceding defeat for the entire season thus far. Using the hideousness of a bulldog to illustrate where they went wrong, he’s got Hooli back in the game thanks to his acquisition of…

5) Jason and Naveen

These two scheming scheisters have ridden Pied Piper’s coattails in and out of the game since day one. After being canned, they’re back inside Gavin’s Empire and front and center at the proceedings. Even if he doesn’t remember them.

4) Big Head

If we were speaking purely in spiritual terms, Big Head would be at the top of this list. He remains the most fulfilled and at peace of the gang and would still feel that way if he had even a small fraction of his current power. His recent alliance with Erlich is sure to accrue him even more wealth that he doesn’t really care about but surely won’t turn down.

3) The Pied Fiver

Our main players are in the best place they’ve been in the entire season. With their power move successful and Action Jack out of the picture, Richard returns his CTO status, the box is dead and they are clear to develop the platform.

2) Laurie Bream

The empress of this shit. Laurie is a principled yet reasonable unstoppable force and an indispensable asset to Pied Piper’s ascendance. If the Pied Fiver can work within her profit motive mindset, the platform can be worth 1000 x what the box was worth, as Monica and Richard suspect.

and #1 in this week’s power rankings naturally goes to:

1) The Chair

NOT MENTIONED in this week’s rankings!

Jian Yang!

Carla!

Jan the Man!

Gary Irving, Hooli HR

Pete Monahan!

Ron LaFlamme!

Random Thoughts About Chance 3

1) I’ve been thinking about why Surf comes off as cheesy to me and why Coloring Book doesn’t. Surf can sound like the most lavishly-produced episode of School House Rock at times, almost like it was a record made specifically for fifth-graders at an impossibly cool, effortlessly diverse, equally aspirational and fictional middle school.

I think it might be more a product of how inwardly focused the record is. The entire thing is more or less about Chance’s own life and how successful and blessed he’s been, how he’s going to keep trying to spin this shit even when it gets dark. That personal focus makes it less preachy and more celebratory; even if dude is celebrating himself, it sounds like a pretty good party.

2) Andy Greenwald touched on this on the recent episode of the The Watch podcast, but it isn’t all sunny times on Coloring Book. “Summer Friends” is a song about death in Chicago. It’s a thing that comes up a few times on the album, like when Chance talks about cleaning up his block so his kid has a place to play. It isn’t like this record doesn’t live in the modern world, but it does seem apart it. It paints a picture of a universe from Chance’s always-bright eyes. It feels earned and honest, even if it is only one specific, optimistic version. It certainly makes a compelling argument for the joys of religion.

3) That said, I find myself skipping the most outright gospel parts of the record, be it the first half of “How Great,” or the back half of both “Blessings” tracks. Once Chance the Rapper turns into Chance the Singer or Chance the Puncutatior, I’m gone. That both speaks to the quality of the raps themselves, which demand to be heard, and the overblown reaction to the album’s overall gospel sound, an overreaction I am not immune to.

4) My rollout theory: “No Problem” is the rap single, “Juke Jam” is the pop single, “All Night” is the top-40 single.

5) Still love that Chance got Future to appear on this tape. Surprised dude didn’t burst into steam.

6) I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to fuck with this album for it being too positive, too heavy-handed, too church, what have you. I almost wish there was another mixtape coming out that isn’t so focused on God and how great Chance’s life is, one that just allows him to rap, because the motherfucker can rap like nobody’s business. The entire first verse of “Finish Line” is bar after bar of gold (plus a reference to his reformed pill habit, which is another example of the hard times wrapped up in a happy package on this record) and I admit it’d be fun to just hear the dude stunt outrageous.

Ought + Priests + Marge, PhilaMoCa, May 9

I didn’t arrive in time to see Marge because I don’t support the scene.

*****

priests1-1-900x720DC post-punks Priests opened for Protomartyr at Underground Arts in February. In that setting, they were powered by their lead singer, Katie Alice, who sneered and howled her way through a caustic set. At PhilaMOCA on Monday, the band brought a slightly different energy; less combative and violent, but no less provocative and exciting. Chalk it up to the differences between the two headlining bands (Protomaytyr is aggressive, Ought is slyly winsome), or maybe chalk it up to Alice’s sore throat.

A smaller venue allows for more observation; the Pixies-influence in the stabbing, atmospheric guitar lines of G.L. Jaguar, the locked, in-the-pocket drumming of Daniele Daniele, the grounding balance Taylor Mulitz’s bass brings to the songs all snap into focus. Alice is a hell of a frontwoman, even with a frog in her throat. The band seemed to play to the room to a certain extent, as if it knew it wouldn’t draw moshing furor. The head nods and slight movement seemed like enough of a victory. Priests are two-for-two in Philly.

*****

800px-ought_band_press_photo_2015It’s tempting to hang Ought’s appeal on Tim Darcy. The vocalist / guitarists is as compelling in person as he is on record. Live, he’s more willing to play with tweaks in vocal melody, little diversions that are either the product of keeping one’s voice alive for a tour or tweaks one makes when trying to spice up songs played in repetition. He stays near his mic at all times, never falling into guitar hero poses, never doing more than occasionally wagging his finger, like a skinny, long-necked Dikembe Mutombo. His performance is an experiment in negative space.

It’s fun to see how these songs come to exist. The lead riff on “Beautiful Blue Sky” comes from the bass, which is easy to forget when getting lost in the song. Keyboard player Matt May is a consummate utility player – his kit can become a second guitar, feeding back endlessly on the end of “Beautiful Blue Sky,” pivoting to become a broke carnival organ just as quickly to fit “The Weather Song.” The band has a wonderful ability to recreate its songs live almost directly as they appear on the album, which is a more unique skill than it might sound like.

The band leaned heavily on songs from its 2015 record, Sun Coming Down, only playing two songs from “the greatest hits,” as Darcy called them. If there was disappointment in this choice, the crowd didn’t register it. The band closed with “Never Better” then huddling for a moment off-stage. There was a point at which it seemed an encore might happen, should the crowd call for it. Before the chance to make good on that opportunity appeared, the house music came up and the crowd filed out. The spell was broken before it had a chance to work.

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.

Day Two

Before today, I could not name both of the senators in my state. I know them know: Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.

I knew my representative in the House – It’s Bob Brady, a Democrat who fashions himself a problem-solver and peace-maker. Say what you will about him, he spends his time in his district.

I knew my State House of Representatives member (John Taylor, a 30-year incumbent) but not my state Senator. It’s Christine Tartaglione.

My city council representative is Mark Squilla. Mine is the 31st Ward in the city of Philadelphia.

I put these names into a Microsoft Paint file and made them the background of my desktop. I follow them all on Twitter. I have subscribed to their newsletters. I have created Google News alerts for them. I will be keeping up on what they propose, how the vote, who they spend their time with publicly.

I am paying attention now. I can no longer afford not to.