I’m going to continue to largely ignore my Mountain Goats listen-time every week because mostly I just listen to All Hail West Texas on repeat while huddled under my desk crying, and that’s an album review I may never be drunk enough to write, and it might get old/embarrassing if you see that sort of thing every week. Suffice to say that I’ve recently wrapped my hands around some rarities from the Mountain Goats collection that some of the fiercest collectors would make a pretty dire effort to relieve me of, but out of artistic respect I won’t share any of that material besides to say that even the stuff John Darnielle finds embarassingly bad is damn fantastic and everything I’ve heard is just more testament to the cold hard fact that JD is one of the best writers of our time.
So that took up most of my week music-wise, but I did manage to get some new-to-me music in.
Elliott Smith – XO (1998)
Don’t judge me for this1, but I heard this album for the first time this past week. I will fight to the death anyone who says Elliott Smith isn’t one of the best artists since Nick Drake, and I’ve felt that way after only being familiar with Either/Or and New Moon. Both of these are great albums but XO is obviously on another level even from Either/Or which was and still is a game changer.
The album opens with (“Sweet Adeline”) Smith’s trademark soft, deep guitar and airy vocals and it would be a fantastic genius-level song just on its own like that until the band comes it and elevates it to another level that I can’t even comprehend. The soft song trend continues with the second track (and throughout the album for many of the songs) until we meet the third track (“Waltz #2 (XO)”) and delivered a swift beating to the heart & soul, made even worse when you come to understand that the song was likely written about his mother.
Elliott’s genius with this song is multi-level, some of which I need to pray much harder to ever come to understand, but begins with the choice of setting it up in the structure of a waltz—rigid, grand, the only possible way to deliver the most personal and heartbreaking of thoughts, as if the only thing compelling his reluctant body to continue to disgorge is the time signature, the beat, the human compulsion to keep time. His delivery mirrors that sentiment; his voice is more soft and timid than normal, his frown more or less audible through the speakers. I want to point out a few specific things that for your sake I’ll keep very pointed:
- “she appears composed / and she is, i suppose” is a great line and A+ on the double meaning there, ES.
- “you’re no good you’re no good you’re no good” (!!!)
- “i’m so glad that my memory’s remote / ’cause I’m going just fine hour to hour, note to note” I can’t even bring myself to imagine what the narrator went through, Jesus Christ…
- “still going strong / XO, Mom / it’s okay, it’s alright, nothing’s wrong” This line makes me want to throw up it’s so freaking sad.
- “leave me alone / in the place where I make no mistakes / in the place where I have what it takes” Again, I can’t even imagine the depth of this guy’s torment.
The rest of the album carries on as expected. “Bled White” is a disarmingly upbeat song reminiscing about his childhood in Texas and the beginnings of his substance abuse, a song even more haunting given the circumstances of his death and final few years/months.”Waltz #1″ is a very beautiful piano song about regret with just some of the most beautiful string work. The album ends strongly, but not as strong as it starts, though the final song is eerie and haunting and leaves us such lyrics as “I waited for a bus to separate the both of us / And take me off far away from you” and “you painted pictures of a Never-Never Land / And I could’ve gone to that place / But I didn’t understand”.
I’ve always regretted that I wasn’t more into Elliott Smith, because Either/Or is such a great album and his music is just gut-wrenching and fantastic. This album exceeded my high expectations and probably comes in as my favorite Smith album now.
And yes, I’m making that call for all acts with “Smith” in the title.
Mixtapes – Even on the Worst Nights (2012)
With this album, Mixtapes has put together a very important and fantastic collection of melodic-pop-punk2 songs (14 of which are under 3 minutes!!!!!) about suburban urgency and being a t33n and having relationships and living in the Midwest. It evokes long drives through frozen farmland (“I play the same three songs on an hour long drive / And I sing along every time”, “We get so cynical in December / But I don’t care, I still love the winter”) with astuteness that can only come from someone who lived through at least 18 of them. They also paint fantastic pictures of relationships both romantic and lovingly platonic backdropped by the frenetic apathy (take a shot every time they say something about being bored) and escapism of being underage in a small town that you love in spite of itself, and did I mention that most of the songs are under 3 minutes? They even get in some explicit disses to Bon Iver (PRONOUNCING IT BAHN-EYE-VER, EXACTLY AS IT SHOULD BE PRONOUNCED) and AP Magazine and the pop-punk scene and shouts to The Ergs and Superchunk.
This is a very strong album musically and lyrically (“Golden Something” might rate the highest), but I want to give a special shout-out to a few specific lyrics:
- “I’m Wearing the Device (Bridge, Water)” for delivering this torpedo missile of a line: “I’ve spent these last few years on the fence about who I am / And I’ll probably go through it again, and that’s just who I am”.
- “Even on the Worst Nights” for “I passed out on your couch for a little while / And realized half my life has been in denial” and “I think this place looks better in the rearview” (!!!) and “even on the worst nights / it tends to be alright”.
- “Mt. Hope” for “We’re all passing out for about an hour / To give the world a chance to get its shit together” and also for the closing line of the album: “I’m getting better every day / And if I survived, then you can too”.
Perhaps it’s just my perspective as a post-teen young adult going through her “coping with her teens phase” (a bit prematurely, yeah?) but this album hits me super hard. From the second song this album got to the core of my sense of self and had a ridiculous amount of relevancy to my life and to my identity as an everteen (credit to Pilot for that one though). Then again, this is the same reaction I have to most melo-pop-punk, which is totally okay. At any rate, I like this album, I like this band, and I love the dynamic between the lead male and lead lady singer. Consider this an official petition for more lady singers in melo-pop-punk bands.
Baroness – Red Album (2007)
My friend Matt is one of the most kvlt metal guys I know in terms of depth of knowledge and taste3, and of late he has made a fine effort to get me into the genre of metal, which I enjoy but find altogether daunting and I would not delve into it were it not for the guidance of a very knowledgable friend such as Matt.
I’ve listened to a lot of metal in my time, of various levels of kvlt, but Red Album is probably one of the most accessible I’ve encountered to the casual metal-listener or the curious individual. On this album, “Rays of Pinion” is just a gorgeous introductory song, and a gorgeous prog-metal song in general. The album is a pretty solidly good sludge/prog-metal deal, but it’s elevated to greatness status by the fantastic acoustic piece “Cockroach En Fleur”, which showcases some of the fantastic musicianship that is only displayed by metal bands (or, even musicians in general) of a particularly respectable caliber.
I think this is a great album for someone curious about metal, though I don’t think it’s particularly standout from other metal stuff, it’s certainly good and a great achievement and I’ve called on it a few times since first giving it a spin. I was particularly impressed with the untitled hidden track, which sounded nothing like metal at all, but was very enjoyable and cute.
Clearly this band has musical chops. Their single “Trojans” is an insta-hit on the alt-music market and is almost formulaic in its enjoyability, and the acoustic version that appears on this EP is but another indication of this band’s creative ability on a technical level.
But they’re formulaic. They win zero points for originality. They are background music for an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (which is ridiculously still on the air). There is nothing at all that stands out about them and their songs are nothing more than pleasant, forgettable, interchangable alt-rock prototypes that do very little for the their musical talent. This band has a lot of potential but has not found their voice, and like many bands sold into the eternal business of opening for mildly popular alt-pop acts (A.G. recently announced a tour opening for Imagine Dragons), I doubt they will actually reach a level where they can overcome their insufferably contrived schtick. But they have the technical skill to be great and I wish them luck in earnest.
1. Besides the fact that judging someone for their ignorance to a piece of art is patently Not Cool, besides the fact that judging someone in the privacy of their own blog is patently Diskish, besides the fact that engaging at all in musical (or any kind of) haughtiness is patently Lame and not only will I be genuinely hurt by your haughtiness but the Lord on high will bring you down. Of course I don’t really expect anyone to engage in haughtiness on this blog but my anxiety precludes me from presenting myself free of protection.
2. I’m not going to give any more lectures about genre labeling but for my own purposes I break up punk music much more than any genre besides met4l just because there are distinct genres of punk (also not going to talk about “punk” as a genre) that require very different types of ears.
So it looks like we’re going to traipse down this rabbit hole anyway so let’s do it merrily, shall we?
- I’m not going to define punk
- POP-PUNK is anything from Dear Landlord to Masked Intruder to (arguably) some of Superchunk’s stuff to Paramore to NOFX to (arguably!) Hellogoodbye, but I think this genre is best illustrated by the variety in Saves The Day’s catalogue.
- MELODIC-POP-PUNK is a very specific genre populated by Paramore, Mixtapes, Blink-182, (arguably) Green Day, The Rocket Summer, Los Campesinos!, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Boys Like Girls, The Almost, and so on. It’s usually a lot more focused on one or two lead vocalists who actually sing as opposed to a situation where the whole band is and singing or the lead singer is sort of growl-screaming. Not to delegitimize growl-screaming, which rules super hard, I’m just categorizing here.
- as distinct from MELOPUNK which is a genre that I’m not too familiar with—though not out of any specific opposition to it but more out of just pure missing the genre for age reasons—but is the home of such bands as Titus Andronicus, Fidlar, (arguably) Thee Oh See’s, but be wary of the fuzzy line between late 80s punk (think Bikini Kill) and melopunk, the major difference between them being that melopunk sounds a lot like late 80s punk but was written after 1999.
There we have it then.
3. The most kvlt metal guy I know went by the name of Michael. He exists almost as a fairy tale in my mind; along with his shadow/BFF and bandmate in the Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of West Chicago. Michael was my Chemistry lab partner in Junior-year low-track Chemistry (I struggled with authority) and he was the type of kid to show up to school high or drunk (or both) and he would often scream or mutter “hail satan” when the opportunity presented itself. He had two shirts and both of them were Slayer shirts and that’s all he ever wore to school when he did bother to show up. He was very intelligent and troubled and I had the maddest crush on him but I never saw him again after that year.