How to Listen to the Mountain Goats

A BRIEF INTRO

Any one person’s origin story is complex and shrouded in mystery by the annals of time, but the most agreed-upon history is this: in the late 80s, John Darnielle was in his early 20s and was working as a psychiatric nurse at a state-run youth mental hospital in Claremont, California. It was around this time that he began getting more serious about his musical education. He had studied piano in his younger years, so he had an appreciation for classical music. He was also a modern nineties man with an appreciation for pop music. As a kid growing up during the disco era (he was born in 1967), he escaped into hard drugs and pop/dance music, so the dance-pop phenomenon of the nineties seemed natural to him. Influenced by his young hip personality and, ostensibly, patients at the hospital, he began exploring reggae, grunge and metal musics around this time, which inspired him to want to write his own music. In 1991 at the age of 24, he picked up a guitar and started learning chords out of a chord book. Too poor to buy his own chord book, he would carry his guitar downtown every morning to a local music venue. He used a chord book he found at the club, strumming chords slowly and quietly in the corner while the staff worked around him. Soon, he memorized a G chord, a D chord, an E minor chord, and an A chord and thus he had all the tools he needed for his multi-decade musical career.

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MAJOR THEMES IN MOUNTAIN GOATS MUSIC

1. Unhealthy relationships. This comes out in many of the songs, but is most salient in the story of The Alpha Couple. This is a couple that John wrote like a hundred songs about. They are not real (allegedly), but their story can be traced from beginning to end through the years, culminating with the album Tallahassee (2002), which was a concept album entirely about the couple. With John’s help, fans have confirmed some chronology of the story. Songs are often identifiable by the word “Alpha” in the title.

2. Place/location. Going to X (“Going To Alaska”). John has written several dozen songs about going to various places for various reasons, usually to escape, but also about feeling connected to a sense of place. See: the map of every place mentioned in a Mountain Goats song. He frequently writes about places that are not particularly considered in the popular canon to be romantic. Like the entire album about Texas, or the one about Sweden, or the one about the Iowa/Illinois border.

3. Religion. John can quote the bible very well, and can talk your ear off about Christian contemporary music (don’t bring up Amy Grant around him unless you have an extra half hour to spare). John is a self-proclaimed atheist (this changes frequently in interviews) but loves the church and the idea of religion. He writes mostly about Christianity and Satanism, but others have been mentioned to a lesser extent.

4. Drugs. John was a (self-proclaimed) meth addict during his adolecence. He was an alcoholic at an early age (apparently). He was homeless in his late teens and early 20s due to his drug use (according to interviews) and had many addict friends (according to him). He has been clean for decades (it would appear) but remembers vividly his experiences as a drug user (I’m guessing) and writes about it frequently (this is obvious).

5. Mental illness. This probably comes from his time as a psychiatric nurse. He writes a lot of songs about people in desperate situations.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING ORDER

Tallahassee is the best place to start.
The Sunset Tree is a great second place. This is his biggest “hit” album.
Transcendental Youth is maybe the most accessible album to people who like pop music.
All Hail West Texas is my favorite album, and was where I started.

From here, it’s up to you. I recommend listening to full albums before you listen to EPs. To get into the old stuff, listen to the compilation albums (Protein Source of the Future, Bitter Melon Farm, Ghana), then move onto original full albums: Nothing For Juice, Full Force Galesburg, and Sweden are the most accessible old albums IMO but figure it out for yourself. You give a man a fish, etc. The best thing to do is dive in around 2002 and jump around until you find a sound you like. Then you can just go chronological. There’s something good for everyone somewhere along the line.

Now for the complete discography. I have included rarities obtained illicitly and radio recordings that have little meaning to the general public, in order to provide the most complete discography guide possible.

PHASE 1: THE PANASONIC BOOMBOX YEARS

John was recording on a panasonic boombox with a broken condenser, and occasionally also recording on an old panasonic tape recorder or directly into his Casio keyboard. During this era, John frequently recorded and performed with his friend and bassist Rachel Ware. After he signed a deal with Ajax in 1993, he stopped self-releasing and had professional editors and masterers. He would send boxes of home-recorded cassettes to his label and the producers there would cut them into EPs and LP-length cassettes.

  • Taboo VI – The Homecoming (1991) – SEMI-RARE
    According to John, he had been playing guitar for four months when he bought a tape recorder so he could record himself in his dormitory (the nursing staff lived on premises at the hospital) playing guitar. He had made several cassettes and would play the tapes for friends at parties. ALLEGEDLY: a friend asked to borrow one of the tapes, and John let him leave with a copy of that tape. That friend was a marketing assistant at Shrimper Records and gave a copy to his boss, who agreed to release the record. John Darnielle found himself very quickly pressured into releasing this cassette, and he has stated it was released without his consent. Very few if any copies exist, but a digital rip has propogated through Mountain Goats hardcores over the years. John has released a few statements about this album. The gist of it is: he stands by it, but asks people to consider it as existing outside of the Mountain Goats canon.
  • Songs For Petronius EP (1992)
    First official cassette release. He at this time was accompanying himself on a Casio keyboard using stock beats and short loops.
  • Chile De Arbol EP (1993)
    A short one-side cassette.
  • The Hound Chronicles (1993)
    First full-length cassette release.
  • Transmissions to Horace (1993)
  • Hot Garden Stomp (1993)
  • Taking the Dative (1994)
  • Why You All So Theif? (Split) (1994)
  • Beautiful Rat Sunset EP (1994)
  • Philyra EP (1994)
  • Yam, the King of Crops (1994)
  • Zopilote Machine (1994)
    JD’s first release on Ajax, a legit record label. This is a huge shift in his songwriting because he can now request money for equipment and pay advances for taking time off work to write and record. He still follows his standard songwriting method of writing and recording album takes in the same day, many times only playing the song once or twice through before recording it. This is his first CD/vinyl release. “Going To Georgia” from this album is a classic fan favorite.
  • Songs For Peter Hughes EP (1995)
    Written for his friend and collaborator Peter Hughes, who would be the Mountain Goats bassist and backing harmonizer beginning in 1995 until the end of the foreseeable future.
  • Songs About Fire EP (1995)
  • Orange Raja, Blood Royal (Split) (1995)
  • Sweden (1995)
  • Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg (1995)
    An abandoned LP album written ostensibly as a companion to Sweden. The mastering was never finished properly (the only copy floating around was mastered at 1.5x speed, and despite attempts by fans to manually slow it down and remaster it, the album is completely disowned and disavowed by JD).
  • Nine Black Poppies EP (1995)
  • Jack And Faye (1996)
  • Nothing For Juice (1996)
    Absolutely beautiful album. Very experimental sounds happening here. “Going To Reykjavik” is a highlight for me.
  • Tropical Depression (1997)
    I want to point out that in six years we have gone from strumming chords from a book in the back of a bar to 12 albums, 7 EPs, and two splits. Homeboy is prolific.

PHASE 2: THE TRANSITIONARY PERIOD

John moved to Iowa, married a woman he met in an online Mountain Goats fan forum, became a vegan, adjusted to married life, and experimented with major life decisions and suicidal ideation. At this time he’s working at a grain elevator near Ames, Iowa. His style is starting to mature here, starting to slow down and mellow out as he transitions into a studio setting.

  • Full Force Galesburg (1997)
    Written in Ames while he was depressed and alone. A classic gem.
  • New Asian Cinema EP (1998)
  • Isopanisad Radio Hour (1998)
  • 1999 Compilations – aka the Great Goat Studio Revolution, wherein JD simultaneously releases three greatest hits records a mere seven years into his career as a way to signal his transition out of the lo-fi sphere.
    • Bitter Melon Farm
    • Ghana
      “Golden Boy” is a previously unreleased fan favorite. People shout out at shows for John to play this song—it’s more annoying than “Free Bird” because 1) he isn’t going to play it, and 2) it visibly pisses him off. There are publicly documented instances of him being pissed about a request for this song, and one youtube video of him granting the request after a long lecture about how much he hates people who request this song.
    • Protein Source of the Future…NOW!
  • Coroner’s Gambit (2000)
    First studio-recorded album. (!!!)
  • Oh Juhu Beach EP (2001) – TOO RARE FOR WORDS
    Literally like four physical copies exist.
  • Devil in the Shortwave EP (2002)
    “Yoga” and “Commandante” are fan favorites.
  • Jam Eater Blues EP (2002)
  • All Hail West Texas (2002)
    The last hoorah for his panasonic days, after which the panasonic pooped out and John moved permanently into a studio. This signals the end of a major era in the Mountain Goats’ career. AHWT is a concept album about a group of people living in Texas whose lives are loosely interconnected. In 2015 this album was re-mastered and re-released on CD and vinyl with new songs. I still haven’t stopped crying.

CIVILIZATION PHAZE III: IN WHICH JOHN DARNIELLE IS A SERIOUS MUSICIAN

By this point, JD has quit his job as a nurse to pursue music full-time. He’s also begun writing (like, words not music) professionally. He starts with essays and poems on the internet (still available at lastplanetojakarta.com), then jumps head first into Twitter, eventually landing deals writing books and professional columns in magazines. The Goats sign with 4AD, a major international record label. To celebrate his commitment, John brings Peter Hughes (of Songs for Peter Hughes fame) and Jon Wurster (of Superchunk fame) on as full time band members and begins thinking about things like string arrangements and studio mixes. Around this time, John moves to Durham, NC where he still resides.

  • See America Right EP (2002)
    Prelude to Tallahassee. John is on a major record label now, so he’s playing the game the way it has to be played. Most record releases on 4AD are preceded by a hypable EP and/or a couple singles.
  • Tallahassee (2002)
    This album is all about the Alpha Couple. It’s a concept album that summarizes and outlines their whole story from start to finish, and makes subtle references to old songs if you read close. He has said that no songs released after this album are about the couple.
  • Palmcorder Yajna EP (2003)
    First single from the new album.
  • Letter From Belgium EP (2004)
    Second single.
  • We Shall All be Healed (2004)
    An (allegedly) autobiographical album about the time he spent as a homeless drug addict in California and Oregon. John claims no songs/albums written before this one are autobiographical. He says that he felt okay writing these songs because all of the people he’s writing about are dead now (#yikes).
  • Dilaudid EP (2005)
    John is now working on another autobiographical album about his childhood and the first single is an anxiety-inducing song about a surgical grade painkiller. Oh boy.
  • Come, Come to the Sunset Tree (2005)
    John releases a couple of albums like this, a companion album containing outtakes, cuts, and demo versions from the co-released album. This one is the companion to The Sunset Tree.
  • The Sunset Tree (2005)
    An autobiographical album about his abusive stepfather and his troubled childhood and adolesence. The premise is that he is back visiting his hometown and he begins to sift through his memories. At the end of the album it’s revealed that his stepfather is dead, and presumably he’s in town for the funeral. JD thanks his stepfather in the liner notes, saying the album would be impossible without him (#yikes). “This Year” is one of the biggest fan favorites, a live staple. “Up The Wolves” is another popular one that has some wider listenership. “Lion’s Teeth” has been described by JD as a “revenge fantasy”
  • Babylon Springs EP (2006)
  • Get Lonely (2006)
    The only thing John has said about this album is that he wrote it during “a very difficult time in [his] life.” It’s very depressing.
  • Daytrotter Session @ SXSW (2007)
  • Daytrotter Sessions (2008)
  • Satanic Messiah EP (2008)
  • Black Pear Tree EP (Split) (2008)
  • Heretic Pride (2008)
    So many songs written in C major!!!!! JD is writing happier, calmer music—but fear not! He finds a way to slip a knife in between your ribs and twist, as he is wont to do. This album features a lot of the classic Goats themes with a bit more poetry and emotional distance. “San Bernadino” is a sweet song about the birth of a child. JD has gone on record as saying that when he wrote this, he had a very naïve view of what childbirth would be like. He says that the real thing is “bloodier and louder”. JD has adamantly stating that “Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room” is not about rape, even though it sounds like it is.
  • Moon Colony Bloodbath (Split) (2009)
  • Life of the World in Flux (2009)
    Outtakes, cuts, and demos of the next album.
  • Life of the World to Come (2009)
    All about the bible. Tells stories of people going through tough times who are looking toward the bible for support. John has claimed that this album is reflective of the darkest period of his life.
  • All Survivor’s Pack (2011)
    Outtakes, cuts, and demos of the next album.
  • All Eternals Deck (2011)
    Starting to openly dabble in the occult. John Darnielle’s first son, Roman, is born a couple months after this is released. According to him, life as a father brings him joy and happiness. You see a major shift in his music at this point, because it has much more perspective and hope, even when dealing with sad subjects.

PHASE IV: JOHN DARNIELLE IS STILL A SERIOUS MUSICIAN AND ALSO A SERIOUS AUTHOR AND A WEIRD TWITTER MEGASTAR WHO IS NOT POET LAUREATE

John is now signed to Merge Records, which is a major record label. He is now an international recording artist. John’s music has transcended into the amorphous realm of weird grad student music and also music for emo teens who are wise beyond their years and also instagram-famous college students who smoke weed and have multiple mandala tapestries hanging in the home they share with a shroom dealer and also music for people who read John Green books (tag yourself). The crowds at shows are a meeting of many cultures who all want to sing “I HOPE WE ALL DIE” in unison with 250 strangers. I see John Green at an Indianapolis Mountain Goats concert and give him a fist bump. I drive ten hours to see the Mountain Goats in Kansas City and I steal a cigarette from Peter Hughes (I don’t smoke). I cry onto John Darnielle at a merch table in Nashville. Obama is elected for a second term. The world is changing rapidly and our boy is dealing with it the only way he knows how: Twitter and concept albums.

  • Steal Smoked Fish EP (2012)
    A preview featuring a great song cut from the next album.
  • Transcendental Youth (2012)
    An album about Satanism, naturally. The Goats enlist brass arrangements from the Matthew E. White brass quartet and tours with them for this album. Anyway, I wrote a 10,000+ word essay going through this album song by song and John has read it (apparently).
  • Blood Capsules EP (2015)
  • Beat the Champ (2015)
    A concept album about wrestling. This one needs time to grow on you, and it has lots of wresting lingo that you will need to look up (lots of articles exist to help people with this album). Sonically, it’s the most subtle and sophisticated ones they’ve ever done. John Darnielle’s second son, Moses, was born shortly before the release of this album. At a live show once, John looked at me in the eyes during “Animal Mask” and said the line “they won’t see you, not until you want them to” and I cried.
  • Goths (2017)
    No pitch correction. No comped vocals. No guitars. No future. No hope.

VIDEOS

Interview & performance from 1995
Full concert at the Swedish American Hall
“No Children” for Gothamist
NPR Tiny Desk Concert
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
“Cry For Judas” music video
“You Were Cool” at the Newport Folk Festival 2013
City Winery
WTF with Marc Maron interview

v a p o r w a v e

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Let’s talk about Vaporwave.

This is an art movement—digital graphics, poetry, music, and video production style—in its entirety born on and borne by the internet. It emerged from webforums like tumblr and aesthetic art movements conjoined with very millennial views on nostalgia and consumerism in the age of information, an age when all of everything is at our fingertips. Vaporwave takes a political and emotional stance on these topics and confronts it with political and emotional art.

The style is characterized by a fascination with consumerism (especially malls and mass consumerism), an 80s-esque starry-eyed view of technology that is now obsolete, Japanese writing, neon signs, the city of Miami, the background music of malls and elevators, suicidal ideation, the feeling of being purposeless and anonymous in a massive generation, concepts of decadence and luxury from the 80s, 80s pop, greek statues and aesthetic, early versions of the Windows OS (pre-ME), 80s/90s computers, virtual reality, VHS artifacts, weed, and glitch art.

See the Further Reading section at the bottom of this post for more info.

Vaporwave has become a bit of a cult with active forums, facebook groups, and IRC channels dedicated to uniting people who connect to this music. Many of these people are nostalgic old punkers from the 80s, or disaffected millennials. This music hits home for people I think because it’s rooted in philosophy and nostalgia—two of the things that are very unique and intensely personal to an individual. On the venn diagram of people who enjoy memes, anti-capitalist sympathizers, and those in possession of the musical patience necessary to process new musical movements, vaporwave lies in the minuscule center. This is necessarily small, and a genre like this is only possible because of the access granted to it by the internet.

But how does something like this come to be in a larger cultural context?

After the deregulation of the advertising industry under Reagan in 1983, the ban on advertising in children’s programming was lifted. Likewise, merchandisers were also now allowed to make consumer products based on children’s shows. 1983 saw the cancellation of many popular (but ultimately unprofitable) education-based television shows for children (think: Schoolhouse Rock!) and the premiere of many merchandisable television shows and movies, creating an explosive consumer demand for toys, action figures, and branded merchandise based on television programs. These practices grew more and more predatory, infiltrating all aspects of a child’s visual media experience (magazines, television, etc). The dawning of the age of television caused the so-called “atari crash” of 1983-85, when the video game industry nearly collapsed due to the shift in young consumer interest FROM video games and TO television. After years of depression, the video game industry stepped up their game and began producing games with stories not unlike the stories children would watch on television, leading to a major shift in focus for the video game industry that lasted until the smartphone boom of the late 00’s. Video game companies also made partnerships with television brands, releasing branded video games. The competition for the attention of middle-class children was so intense that it drove innovation not only in media, but in technology. As computer chips shrank, science fiction because science reality and transported children into a living fiction that escalated their connection to the consumer market. This ran amok until it was scaled back with the Children’s Television Act of 1990, which put back some of the regulations on advertising in children’s media. While the CTA did effectively scale back advertising, the culture of the preteenage experience had already been permanently changed. Advertising to children was still happening, the toy industry went global and raked in billion-dollar profit margins year after year, and a whole new generation was reared with consumerism engrained into their cultural experience.

Children’s media is almost entirely designed with the goal of educating the child. Usually this education happens subtly through moral teachings (Spongebob, Scooby Doo), storytelling (Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, Clarissa Explains It All), problem-solving (Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues), and modeling of appropriate behavior (Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street). By relying on media to teach the child these lessons, the child is less dependent on the parent and the parent is free to pursue their own activities while the child is watching television. Many parents trust children’s media to aid them in raising their child. Many parents allow their kids to watch a lot of television. Those kids are in turn exposed insidiously to consumerist propoganda and subliminal messaging (not in a conspiracy sort of way, but the whole point of advertising is to work a product into your brain’s subconscious so that you don’t even realize the advertising is really affecting your behavior or thoughts, right?). Kids who have watched television AT ALL since 1983 have been exposed to this. Thus, it should be no surprise that when those kids grow up, some of them will realize the truth of this. It should follow then, also as no surprise, that some of those people would use these tools (video game music, pop music, advertising, logos, and the oft-capitalized ideals of wealth, prosperity, and leisure) and to create art and music that acts as commentary on these things, and to achieve a sociocultural criticism they wish to make. It should be no surprise at all that art is being made from these things. Vaporwave is the philosophical treatise of the millennial generation. The tools of vaporwave—consumerist icons and imagery—is part of the cultural currency of this generation of artists. Every vaporwave artist and fan shares the common experience of resenting the manipulation of their ideal of prosperity for profit by a capitalist market.

I know less about Japanese cultural history but it’s my understanding that they have a similar story, and that many Japanese philosophers and psychologists of the Gen-X and Millennial generation believe they as a society are a casualty of rampant consumerism and unregulated advertising. I think there’s a natural connection between Japan and the US for this reason, and thus vaporwave’s fascination with Japan fits right in to the issues underlying the genre.

I hope this helps you understand the genre. Please enjoy the links below to learn more and start some listening. It’s great background music, and it’s enjoyable even if you don’t go very deep with it.

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Further Reading:
Vaporwave: a Brief History
The Vaporwave Wiki
Vaporwave Essentials: U L T R A edition

Knoxville

mountain_goats-33An auspicious morning — sunny, calm, warm — turned into a grey afternoon as our planned departure time came and went. We were still scrambling to get out of town when the rain started, but our spirits were high enough to keep things going. Tennessee was a foreign land to Annie, and I’d never been to Knoxville before. We were breaking up the freshly-settled fall semester routine with a debt trip to Knoxville, TN.

This all came out of a destitute beginning to the fall semester. I spent the last penny of my summer job money on gasoline to get back home, with one month before I’d get a paycheck from my next job. I lived on freeze-dried trail meals and peanut butter packets I’d snagged from my summer job and when my car gasoline ran out, I rode my bike wherever I needed to go. When someone stole my credit card info mid-September and tried to spend $3.86 at a gas station in Louisville, they overdrafted and I had to borrow four dollars from a friend to get my bank account out of the red. I was eating free dinners at the community kitchen a couple times per week and when I couldn’t make it because of work or school, I didn’t eat.

When I woke up one morning to find my new roommate, Annie, had written “$110 for bills” on our whiteboard, my heart dropped into my stomach. There was nothing for me to give her but promises. I offered to pay Annie’s way for a weekend trip to Tennessee instead of paying her for my share of the utilities, and she was open to the idea (thank god). My paycheck deposited into my account on a Friday morning. I filled up my gas tank, bought us lunch, and we took off for Knoxville in the rain that same afternoon.

We made bad time through Louisville — construction is the bane of the road traveller. The rain broke as we broke free from the city traffic, and we soared over the rolling leafy hills of northwestern Kentucky. Light fog was settled in the valleys on either side of the highway and rivers coursed with fresh brown water. Bourbon County offered giant, pelting rain drops propelled through the air on gusts that felt like a hurricane. The hazard blinkers went on and we moved tensely past pulled-over cars occupied by people with more sense and more time. The plan was to get to a concert at 8pm in downtown Knoxville. I’d bought tickets in the Starbucks drive through back in Indiana, and I wasn’t about to lose that investment. We’d built a couple hours into our schedule for food and exploration, but between construction and weather we were slowly losing that time.

It always takes longer to get somewhere when you’re on a tight schedule.

Night fell with still an hour to go, but our spirits were high. Annie slept while I listened to an NPR station that was fading in as we approached Knoxville. We’d long-exhausted the classic time-passing methods of talking and singing along with old music. We started off discussing travel and family and boys, and before long we’d fixed American politics and expressed deeply hidden hopes and dreams. Road trips work this kind of magic if you’re willing to let it.

We arrived in Knoxville in time to run into the venue—accidentally leaving our phones charging in the car—and catch the last couple songs in the opening band’s set. Some laid back Eagles-esque country rock from dudes with long hair wearing chacos beneath their flooded chinos. The main act came on (the Mountain Goats, of course) and we cried ourselves silly, living and dying with each line.

My generation lives in a wormhole of perception, of movie moments and snappable sights that put up a wall between us and our own memories. Our technology has made us extremely self-aware, sometimes cripplingly so, to the point of dissociation. Travel is a benign inoculant to this tendency; being confronted with the nature of humanity outside the “hustle” changes one’s mind, changes one’s priorities and biases. The simple act of experiencing something, of being with one’s self or simply enjoying the company of another person, is so novel and stark. I wonder how much my own sensibility is subject to this bias, and in typical self-aware fashion, question my own enjoyment of each moment.

The concert was great. Music has the ability to transport a person just as much as a jet, just as far and with just the same psychological benefits. Experiencing it with Annie grew us and grew our friendship, as much as eight hours in a vehicle did.

We crashed at the home of some couchsurfers who were out of town, and left early in the morning. We slowly meandered through Kentucky on our way back, stopping at coffee shops and exploring desolate downtowns in the foothills of the Appalachians, talking about the future and about America, the great unfinished symphony of humanity.

It was a movie moment, and I enjoyed it.

Last Week’s Music

I’m bringing back this classic series. Not because of popular demand, because HAH!, NO ONE READS THIS BLOG, but because I feel like doing it again.

Here is what I listened to last week.

Halsey – Badlands (2015)vfavjr

Halsey has been around for a while, making the rounds on tumblr every few months for her endearing teen-girl-in-her-bedroom sound and a winning softgrunge selfie aesthetic. She’s recently garnered lots of attention for being “discovered” on Soundcloud and following the suburbs-to-stagelights Lorde Trajectory while still keeping her Insta game hella real. I say all this to emphasize that she didn’t come out of left field. Her theme has been pretty consistent for almost two years now.

So if Halsey has had all this time to refine her sound and carve out her own niche, how does Badlands sound so familiar? Halsey obviously has good taste in her influences, but this album never manages to make it to a place where it progresses the paradigms laid out for her by her idols. Instead, it stagnates in the zone of imitation and ends up coming off as cheap–a trap many young artists fall into, especially on their first albums.

Badlands isn’t bad, really, how could it be? Halsey draws (in a very savvy way) on some of the most innovative young female popstars today: Lorde (see: “Strange Love” and compare to Lorde’s “Tennis Court”), Taylor Swift (see: “New Americana” and “Colors, Pts. I and II”) sans the perfectly manicured image, and enough of a Lana Del Rey touch to make her seem deep, but not enough to make her dangerous. The highlight of the album is the song “Ghost”, which first appeared as a demo on Halsey’s Soundcloud in 2012. The hand of record company execs is a lot less heavy in this track, and feels much more authentic than something like “Castle” or “Strange Love”, which both feature the hopeful popstar demanding more cred than she’s yet earned.

The whole blend should be thrilling to me, as someone who loves each of these artists tremendously, but something just feels…off. It hits the uncanny valley of pop music where it’s not close enough to the influences to be imitation, but not unique enough to be innovation. Halsey chose this sound for a reason, though; there’s something going on in this area of pop and there’s lots of room for progress and derivation, but this album doesn’t get it quite right, and Badlands will likely and unfortunately fade into the background noise that accompanies any musical paradigm shift.

Last Week’s Music

Here’s a joke: remember when I said that “Last Week’s Music” was back? Hahahaha! Then didn’t post for three weeks!???? HAHAHAH!

Well, it’s no secret that this is ~my blog~ and I will post as I see fit, but I really was hoping to post more. I’ve been failing to use Blog as an outlet, and I MISS USING BLOG AS AN OUTLET and I miss writing here, and I have nine essays currently in various stages of assembly sitting in my Blog folder, I’ve just been so distracted that I’ve failed to actually finish. I’ve got a lot going on, what with 16 credit hours, massive life changes, and fruitful creative ventures. Blogging is falling out of my periphery, but for the best reasons! I’m developing as a human-american. I have healthy outlets! Healthy relationships! Who needs a blog anymore!

That all said, let’s get on to Last Week’s Music.

Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams (2012)homepage_large.ff174002

I discovered Lord Huron through my colleague/friend/brother Maz, who is admirably beautiful in most life-related areas. So when I saw Lord Huron popping up in his Spotify feed I decided to give them a listen, and I got just about exactly what I expected from a band I found on Maz’s Spotify feed.

When Ben Schneider conceptualized Lord Huron in 2010, the idea was to produce music about a closer connection to earth and nature. He reverted creatively back to cowboy times, to times when humans were fearless and big-spirited and sepia, when outlaws were idolized in a kind of secret esteem. The album works perfectly on that level, piling on lines about freedom and brotherhood and the wonders of the frontier. The first track opens up with the big picture: “oh there’s a river that winds on forever / i’m gonna see where it leads / oh there’s a mountain that no man has mounted / i’m gonna stand on the peak”. Even the PR surrounding the album is eerily, beautifully out-of-place: the blurry, grainy photos feature Schneider & Co. in cowboy attire in various states of rebellion—playing guitar, standing on hills, handcuffed and on their knees next to a train track. It all adds to the undeniable artistry of the album. It’s more than music, it’s like Huron has branded outlaw freedom for the modern era.

The amazing thing about this album is that it manages to maintain its message of frontier-like freedom and it’s cowboy-outlaw mystique all while remaining modern. The sound is not at all time-appropriate to the era they are romanticizing, and in fact feels right at home in the cinematic alt-rock era of Arcade Fire. It manages to work in a few more worldly aspects than AF, and has a more organic feel than something like The Suburbs, and seems to flow much more naturally from the band than most of Arcade Fire’s music (no disrespect). In all, this album is right up my alley, not only for its message, but for the intricate way that Schneider & Co. has woven their message into the very nature of their music. They manage to explicitly encourage you to be free over an energizing beat and chamber vocals that shift you and make your heart pound with excitement and pure uncut joy. I realize that Lonesome Dreams may not be for everyone, but I definitely think the technical achievement here earns them a decent amount of respect.

Texas Is The Reason – Do You Know Who You Are? (1996/2013)texas_is_the_reason_do_you_know_who_you_are

Texas Is The Reason is one of those super-influential bands that everyone in my music scene in high school and early-college talked about that I just never got around to actually listening to. These were the days when 90s emo was just barely out of style and The Pirate Bay had not yet come into existence. This was a black-hole time of music when my only exposure was to whatever I could find on the radio and on MySpace. I have a seemingly endless list of bands like Texas Is The Reason and their contemporaries who I am slowly making my way through.

I’m glad I stumbled onto this album, though. It’s beautiful, and lyrically and musically comparable to Save The Day’s Through Being Cool*. The songs all follow a basic prototype: concise lyrics over long, heavy, melodic guitar progressions. Lyrically, it’s basic teenage-angst stuff. Frustration with girls, anxiety about adulthood, escapism, and so on. I feel like if I had discovered this album when I was younger, that it would have been seminal and important for me. Now, it feels like an emotional relic for me. I’m so disconnected from this part of my life right now that I have problems connecting to this album, and the feelings it instills in me make me uncomfortable. It makes me feel young and confused and anxious—it brings me right back.

This is an amazing album, and melodically it is extremely advanced for the genre and era. I think I need a little bit more distance between me and this era of my life, however, before I can fully appreciate it for what it is.

* I guess since Saves The Day was my first big 90s emo band, I compare every 90s emo band I hear to one of their albums, which is an admittedly unfair metric. Nevertheless, when listening to this album I oft drew comparisons.

That’s all I have for now. One of these days I’m finally going to publish the essay about Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty that I’ve been toying around with for the past few weeks. Something on the horizon…

Last Week’s Music

Sometimes I listen to music and write about it. Mostly I write about music that’s new to me. Sometimes I write about music I’ve heard before. Sometimes I write about that ancient song, the whispered hymn emanating from the heavens, coming to me and only me, overwhelming me with its sadness as old as time, forcing me to my knees as I cry out, unheard over the ethereal chorus while pedestrian masses amble past me en route to their dull jobs, their dull classes, their dull dinners with their dull loved ones, their dull lives. But most of the time it’s music from my to-do list. This is one of those times.

O bassist, my bassist.
O bassist, my bassist.

Peter Peter Hughes – Fangio (2010)

Juan Manuel Fangio is a legendary Formula 1 driver who was active in the 1950s. He won the World Championship of Drivers five times and still holds the highest win percentage in the history of F1 (46% of the races he entered). Hailing from Argentina, Fangio was also a folk hero to his countrymen as political tensions began to rise in the early roots of the Dirty War and the military coup of the Perón leadership. Fangio refused to comment on the Argentinian Dirty War, always feigning disinterest in politics or ignorance to the situation. This act has upset a lot of people, especially Argentinians who looked to him as a hero—the Dirty War was one of the darkest times of Argentinian history—15-30,000 people died/disappeared in what appears to be a US-led battle against Soviet influence in South America. Fangio died in 1995, never having acknowledged the war.

This album is an alternate history that reads “one part DC comics, one part Tom Clancy Novel, and one part Marxist revolutionary tract,” according to PPH himself. Jean Manual Fangio is NOT ACTUALLY DEAD or indifferent to the Dirty War, but was subjected to some sort of Borgesian spatiotemporal displacement and has since “gone underground as a sort of international rogue agent, beholden to nobody and determined to clear his conscience by evening the score: against the CIA, against the cartels, against every agent of oppression that conspired to terrorize and exploit the people of Latin America over the last half century.”

The description alone reads like gold tablets from the heavenly father himself, the most perfect word brought forth from the heavens to fulfill that which my soul has seeked in its whole life. I was really excited to sink my teef into this album (wellllllllll…actually it’s a two-track 7″ and an LP but they’re meant to pair) after I heard about it last winter, but didn’t get around to it until last week.

My first reaction to the opening number, a vast cinematic six-minuter, was pure joy. It came off as something like a cross between Year Zero, a Muse album opening track, and a post-industrial resurrection of New Order. The song  introduces the basic premise of the album’s storyline: “I struck a sinner’s bargain / late one summer night / not to be a hero / but for the chance to make things right”, with the most climactic bit of narration coming with the triumphant cry of “I’m more than an assassin / and I’m not a hired gun / I’m Operational Detachment Juan Manuel Fangio / I’m a special force of one.”

The rest of the songs span a wide range of experimental musical styles—sing-along, movie score, a seeming Trent Reznor/Madonna collab. Meanwhile, our hero Fangio’s story progresses though assassination missions, womanizing, kidnapping, escape, and a painful emotional breakdown at the warlike mortality rates of mid-century automobile racing (complete w/ parallels to the ongoing war in his homecountry).

The last song is probably the most motivated. Dissatisfied with his vengeance-fueled mission, Fangio reflects on himself and the root of his motivation. He replays internal footage of his experiences, scenes from his childhood, the pain of waiting for the feeling of redemption that never comes after each kill, the addiction-like chase for the high of justice that never seems to satisfy his cravings. Where did this need come from, the need inside of him to make things right? Where was this throughout the rest of his life? He is a foreign body to himself; he is a broken man, lost to himself, a blurred personality.

In the last verse of the album, he comes to the conclusion that:

I was courageous, a hero on the track
and off it I was not
I watched my countrymen
sent off to their deaths
and I never said a word
instead I used my celebrity and my fame
and I hid behind my name as a shield
a fucking shield
when it should have been a sword
when it should have been a sword

This, to me, is indistinguishable from PPH’s own criticism of Fangio, though this conclusion is consistent with Fangio’s emotional development over the course of the album. In the end, Fangio fails at his mission of redemption and comes to a conclusion we can all relate to: it’s too late. His chance has passed. The past is gone and he is powerless to rewrite it. Oddly enough, in this realization, PPH has sort of cleared and redeemed Fangio in the listener’s world, implanting righteous intention into him and citing fear, regret, ontological stagnation, and cosmic paralyzation as the root of his failure to condemn the War. Perhaps this story is little more than a justification tale by someone who is clearly quite the Fangio fanboy, or perhaps PPH is just defending a figure who he sympathizes with, a man thrown into fame, a man unprepared for the demands of the life that comes with fame. Perhaps justice really is served in the end, and Fangio can rest peacefully in his grave.

(Note: the Fangio tag on Peter Hughes’ blog was an invaluable resource for this review.)

I made an album.

ShiftingWeatherPatterns

Dear everyone,

I made an album called Shifting Weather Patterns. It is here. Here it is. It’s available only on digital download from my Dropbox because I’m so completely professional and on my I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T shit hustlin’. Also I didn’t record it the right way to release it on Bandcamp (and more than that, screw Bandcamp for requiring FLAC files!!!) so this is how it is.

It’s available here. Thanks to all!!