Whisper

a soft summer afternoon,
hot sun behind the flowers,
hand in hand
with you. with wild thoughts
we lie in our hysteria
saying “do you remember?”
you tell me not to
move an inch.
suppressing smiles,
we stare straight.
the only sound that
breaks the silence
is the dull flap
of a bird flying above.

in the shade at last
—your voice hotter
than the wind—
sharing words, we smile
under the wisteria.
my mind paints it
in this way
on those occasions
when happiness sees fit
to come my way.
when we think back, i’d like to think
we smile. for worse or better,
if we’d decided not to leave,
if we’d stayed forever.
we know, we know, we know.

Last Week’s Music

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.

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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

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.

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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.

atlas-genius-through-the-glassAtlas Genius – Through The Glass EP (2012)

There has been some hype lately about this band and their forthcoming album When It Was Now, so I decided to give their single Spotify showing a listen.

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 downOf 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.

Last Week’s Music

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately.
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Fidlar – Fidlar (2013)

I don’t know anything about this band. I followed a link from Pilot’s blog, which I always do because Pilot has much better taste in pretty much everything than I, but after spending a few days with this album I can definitively say that it is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time.

I’m not going to argue with myself about the definition of “punk music” because I have literally zero will to climb the dead and/or dying tree of genre specificity, but  for my personal purposes (and you are welcome to go fuck yourself if this brings me judgement in your heart or mind) I am calling this punk music and I’m removing the shame of that.

This is one of the best punk albums I’ve heard in a long time, save Local Business (of course).

This is a great golden age (IMO) style punk album with short, straightforward, screamy songs reminiscent of Jawbreaker, Bikini Kill (if BK were bored asshole skateboard post-teen boys), Black Flag (eerily so at times), etc., with a strong infusion of modern young/broke/bored/high apathy. On this album we have such lyrical scream-along gems as “I DRINK CHEAP BEER SO WHAT FUCK YOU” and “WAKE! BAKE! SKATE! AH!” and “AND I’M SO FUCKING CHEAP AND I’M SO FUCKING BROKE AND I DON’T HAVE A JOB AND I DON’T HAVE A HOME”. It comes replete with “AHHAHAAA”s and “WOOAHOH”s and even has a song about US soldiers and the middle east conflict (!!!).

The highlight here was “Gimmie Something”, which was the lyrically weakest but musically strongest song on the album. “5 To 9” is another hilarious/awesome song and oh my god I love this album.

Can I also just say that the hidden track at the end of “Cocaine” kind of killed me because “I don’t know what to do / it kinda sucks being twenty-two”.

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Cœur de pirate – Blonde (2011)

I don’t know anything about this band. I followed a link from Kevin‘s blog, which I always do because Kevin has much better taste in pretty much everything than I.

I struggled with this music at first, not just because I don’t speak French, but because I didn’t find it all that compelling beyond the vague allure of a foreign language and the general objective beauty of the French/Québécois language.

As I spent time with it, however, I was able to begin picking out words and phrases from my very limited French vocabulary and make some sense of what I was hearing, even if I wasn’t able to string any of it together. The album grew on me. Nevertheless, the album did not become much more compelling. A lot of the music is simply affected with cuteness and the gimmicky commercialism that’s begun to creep into folk-pop. I can’t even resign it to good background music for homework/reading/making out, because it’s too compelling for simple atmosphere-setting—more so than someone like Tino Rossi, whose vocal performance is has less surface-level emotion than Cœur de pirate’s (though don’t get me wrong, if you concentrate on a Tino Rossi song you will feeeeeel it). It’s emotive and beautiful enough to be distracting, but not compelling enough for me to want concentrate on it. Say what you will about that assessment.

I particularly enjoyed “Adieu”, “Golden Baby” and “Ava”, and the clear standout song was “Place de la République” (which has a really nice music video). Also I’m very impressed with this video of her performing “Adieu” and “Place de a République” for Woods & Wires.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmsSvsvkDGE]

Girlsgenertion2ndjapanalbum

Girls’ Generation – GIRLS’ GENERATION II ~Girls & Peace~ (2012)

I consider myself a fan of Girl’s Generation (henceforth referred to as SNSD, the Korean abbreviation of their name). “Gee” is one of the better k-pop songs I’ve heard. The Gee EP was great, although I admit that’s the only Korean album I’ve heard by them. I do have honest intention to peruse their Korean work, but SNSD’s Japanese albums (this one, as well as their landmark 2011 Japan debut album Girl’s Generation, not to be confused with their 2007 Koren debut album Girl’s Generation).

Claiming ignorance, I’m not going to remark on the state of k/j-pop, and I’ll claim ignorance as well to avoid remarking on the blatant objectification of these ladies (by themselves?) and the general portrayal of gender in Korean and/or Japanese pop culture.

All of that said, this album was a pretty pathetic to their explosive 2011 j-pop debut. The girls try to go a little bigger, darker, and sexier on this album. Not like Justin Bieber a la Believe, but more like Michael Jackson in Bad or maybe, tenuously, Destiny’s Child in Survivor. The songs felt like contrived rejects from mid-00s pop-hop production houses, which…actually is probably not too far off from the truth (see “RunDevilRun” by SNSD and “Run Devil Run” by Ke$ha). “FLOWER POWER” is the clear standout song, a very SNSD-esque ensamble pop performance, although even this suffers from the scrapbook syndrome that afflicts medium-market pop producers that draw from american production studios—there are two songs here, pasted together rather lazily, but somehow it works and the song is catchy and the girls pull it off on pure talent.

That’s not enough to save “I’m a Diamond” which sounds like an eerie cross between “4 Minutes” by Madonna and high school fight song out of Drumline (like, the Nick Cannon movie). “Oh!” would make an excellent Dance Dance Revolution song, “Not Alone” is a pretty classic ballad, but the rest of the songs are rife with annoying pop music tropes that americans have been tired with since Jordin Sparks used them (guys guys guys GUYS GUYS Jordin Sparks was on American Idol SEVEN YEARS AGO?!?). Not to pile on the criticism but the constant switching between English and what I’m 60% sure is Japanese is sort of mentally strenuous and immediately takes it out of the realm of unobtrusive study music.

I don’t think this album is worth giving a listen to. Honestly, just bide your time until their TBA English-language album that should come out later this year, and perhaps give a listen to their new Korean-language album, though I heard it described as “urban” and ever since then I’ve been putting it off.

Here’s to the next one, ladies!!

More the Mountain Goats Poetry

I’m now providing poems from yet another contest on the the Mountain Goats forums. The requirement here was “strictly haiku”. I chose to write all of my entries about Jeff and Cyrus, the characters introduced in the lead song of Darnielle’s seminal classic All Hail West Texas. Listen carefully:

At a later and sadder point in time I will post a very long essay regarding my feelings about All Hail West Texas, but for now I will provide the haikus as they are. Enjoy.

1.

Cyrus — Denton is
provincial. I await your
return. Your friend, Jeff.

2.

Cyrus — Keep reading,
tongue your medications, and
just stay alive. — Jeff

3.

The letter read: “Jeff,
I’m not really sure that we
would have made it. – C”

4.

“Oh, when you return…
The rage of hell will rain down
over west Texas…”

5.

When I saw my friend
after all that time we both
frowned and wailed “HAIL SATAN”

6.

Speeding in the heat,
windows open, ears bleeding
home, home, home again.

7.

Everything changes.
Even fugitive warlords
have families somewhere…

8.

and dreams leave our minds
like crippled cats, limping slow,
casting sad eyes back.

9.

but destiny is
woven into our being.
and it’s day will come…

10.

My child is born now,
and life in Texas is rich.
I named him Cyrus.

11.

I’ll encourage him
to dream twice as big as us.
I’ll hold him to it.

12.

I wish I knew what
happened to the life we used
to know. I miss you.

13.

love fills empty space
but my body is made of
all of my regrets

14.

The postcards don’t come.
But I still drive to Austin
and cry the whole way.

On Dinu Lipatti’s Bones

I entered a contest in good faith on the the Mountain Goats forums for the purpose of

  1. engaging in friendly wishes of death to all other entrants
  2. finding new sources of unhealthy jealousy of the talent of others
  3. putting myself on a deadline to write
  4. maybe winning a cool prize!

The only rule was: write a poem about the Mountain Goats.

the Mountain Goats are my favorite band. Consult my last.fm on any day, play with the filters, and watch the Mountain Goats’ meteoric rise1 toward the top of my most-listened-to artists. Of course I’ve written pages upon pages on the work of John Darnielle, the MEANING of the songs/albums/turns of phrase, and of course I had thoughts, feelings, opinions, “whatever” about the Mountain Goats, but I’d never tried to write poetry about the Goats.

I consider John Darnielle to be a poet of the highest regard, and likely one of the best lyricists in the history of english-spoken music, and what a coincidence that we are all alive to witness it!, et cetera. Writing poetry about poetry is something I always felt was silly. I find it pretentious and arrogant when poets write poems that specifically respond to other poems in such a way that the response does not stand alone but must be read alongside the other poem, but the poem makes no specific reference to which poem they’re responding to—you’re expected to be so cultured that you just know. It makes me feel put down, and it’s very unbecoming of a poet.

Sure. I understand that poems very frequently talk to one another. But the finest poetry stands alone from the work it draws on and can function without it. I’m referring to only a small sect of amateur poetry that I primarily encounter on the internet and from 200-300-level poetry students and also asshole jerkfaces.

The point I’m getting to is that I didn’t want to write poems about the Mountain Goats because I felt that most such poetry would fit into the category of pretent. This contest provided me with an opportunity to bypass all of these criteria, as everyone that this poem would be meant for would already be exactly familiar with my references. So I proceeded to pore through my brain to make a connection to any song, and settled on one called “Dinu Lipatti’s Bones” from the 2005 magnum opus The Sunset Tree.

The song is about when John was young and spent the summer in a room with his girlfriend, and didn’t see any of their friends, and everyone wondered what had happened to them, and they dyed each other’s hair black and looked like twins. But even without that specific explanation, the song is clearly rife with codependency. Take a look.

We stank of hair dye and ammonia.
We sealed ourselves away from view.
You were looking at the void and seldom blinking.
The best that I could do was to train my eyes on you.

We scaled the hidden hills beneath the surface,
Scraped our fingers bloody on the stones.
And built a little house that we could live in
Out of Dinu Lipatti’s bones.

We kept our friends at bay all summer long.
Treated the days as though they’d kill us if they could.
Wringing out the hours like blood drenched bed sheets
To keep winter time at bay but December showed up anyway.

There was no money, it was money that you wanted.
I went downtown, sold off most of what I owned.
And we raised a tower to broadcast all our dark dreams
From Dinu Lipatti’s bones.

I have no idea what it’s like to be in a codependent relationship because I am an unlovable hag2, but I get this (I think)! The falsetto, the muted guitar sounds, all of it all of it is just so fragile and slight and speaks exactly to the tenuousness of the situation at hand.

I chose to write about this because I recently won a struggle to understand this song, and it’s still not my favorite but I think it paints a picture that I struggle with, having never been in a codependent situation. I did my best to insert myself into the lyrics and I wrote from Jackie’s point of view inside the song, saying the unsaid things that lie very close to her mind.

Here is the original sonnet I wrote and submitted to the forums contest:

the lightless moon took its place overhead
and all heat seeped into unforgiving forgotten places
struck down by doom for rising out of bed
electrocuted by the eyes, the eyes,
looking in from all directions
so it carried on, a Tony-winning drama
performed night after night with cute perfection
“almost too cute, almost too cute”
tracing my ligaments with your furry hand
up each angle and down each limb
surfacing to breathe, breathing when you can
the crowd was silent, the crowd was dead

and we listened to a record
and not another sound was heard.

I revise a poem or story about 20,000 times before I ever submit it for criticism, and this particular one was whipped out in a few minutes of frenetic compulsion thanks to the sport of contest. But I am vicious, vicious to myself and my work and my words and my characters and I toiled over this poem in my mind and notebook and .doc files for a week, because after I wrote it I realized it was fitting to an assignment for my poetry workshop to write a sonnetic imitation or response to another poem. Killing two birds with one pretentious stone was the ideal course of action.

What I came up with was a wretched piece of work that you will find below. I’ve been reading Chelsey Minnis IF YOU CAN’T TELL!

The lightless moon took its place overhead
and all heat seeped into unforgiving places.
Money strewn on the floor, you strewn on the bed.
…electrocuted by the eyes, the eyes,

looking in from all directions…
So it carried on, a Tony-winning drama
performed night after night with cute perfection
“Almost too cute, almost too cute.”

Tracing my ligaments with your fuzzy hand:
up each angle and down each limb,
surfacing to breathe, breathing when you can.
The crowd was silent, the crowd was dead.

…and we listened to a record…
…and not another sound was heard…

Do your worst in the comments. Peace out.

—-

1. Acknowledging the incongruity of the phrase “meteoric rise”.
2. All of the people I’ve been desperately in love with and dependent on have not returned the feelings in kind, and when it comes to debating whether this is a good or bad thing I think it’s quite safe to say: good for emotions/brain-state/mental health, bad for well of empathy and emotion from which to draw for creative purposes.

Last Week’s Music

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately.

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The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania (2012)

I am finding it more and more difficult to be impressed with TSP as I grow older, or more, as they continue to make music that shows little to no artistic progression. Of course, each development in the Smashing Pumps discography is different. Oceania is not quite comprable to the grungy optimism of Siamese Dream, and nothing stands up to Machina, which comes straight outta left field, but nothing that they make is progressive. I’m sure there’s something to be said for consistency there—fans know exactly what they’re getting when they sit down with a box of Cheese Nips to listen to a Smashing Pumpkins album—but honestly I was really hoping for something different here. It sounds almost like a caricature.

That’s not to say it’s bad, though. Lest we forget that The Smashing Pumpkins are fucking awesome, know that any following words are in the context of the fact that The Smashing Pumpkins are objectively great.

That said, this album feels contrived and predictable. Billy Corgan has come a long way emotionally from “Mayonaise” and “Suffer”, but lyrically this album is just a disaster—yes, a lyrical disaster even considering that one of Corgan’s most popular lyrics is “despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”. The lyrics in Oceania feel awkward (take a shot every time he says the word “lover”) and gimmicky (namely, “The Chimera”). Of course there are brief interjections of sense in the lyrics, but it all feels thrown together and patchwork a la Radiohead circa Kid A—the only difference being that Kid A wasn’t supposed to make sense, and Corgan has repeatedly said that these songs are supposed to be about relationship strife. I just don’t see it.

It’s a relatively catchy album (“The Celestials” and “Pale Horse” felt like old favorites right away), and it’s pretty to a fault. It’s enjoyable, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly not good by The Smashing Pumpkins standard, and for that it’s a disappointment.

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Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion (2012)

Against my better judgement I picked up Grace/Confusion at the recommendation of Pitchfork. I usually avoid Pitchfork because it always disappoints me and makes me feel like shit, but I’m an open-minded person who loudly avows to her appreciation of music in all its forms. So once in a while I head over and read whatever those fuckers have to say about whatever album they dug up from the depths of the Philadelphia “underground” music scene.

If there’s one thing that will instantly turn me off to a piece of music, it’s pretentiousness. Musicians can do almost anything else they want and not bother me, from overt sentimentality (Explosions In The Sky) or painfully cheesy lyrics (Weezer, Taylor Swift)—hell, I even crack up reading Anal Cunt lyrics, though I’ll never admit to liking them1. Aloofness from an artist doesn’t fly with me. It falls into the same eye-rolling category bronies on reddit who complain about how “smart” they are and how little self-motivation they have, and how angry they are at everyone who ever told them they were smart, UGHH, I just, it is physically impossible for someone to care any less than I care.

I didn’t want to like Grace/Confusion, because I’m nothing if not a musical cynic, and because for fuck’s sake I found it on Pitchfork. But, as someone who is also hopelessly romantic—especially about obscure music—I always set aside my reservations and give every album as fair a chance as I can muster. Right away, everything about this album was sending up “worship me, I’m cool” red flags for me. The album opens with the crickets-creaking atmosphere of a warm summer night and falls into a soaring, happy, crooning melody reminiscent of the Beatles’ LSD era. The lyrics seem to be more or less meaningless, but if Dayve Hawk’s voice is to be regarded strictly as a music instrument then I think he’s moderately successful. There is a lot of atmosphere to these songs and his voice brings you right back down to earth with a light slap in the face.

The rest of the album continues on the same thread. Individually, the songs work pretty well, with the highlights being “Neighborhood Watch” and “Thru the Field”. As a collection, the songs feel a bit off. They don’t quite work together cohesively—it all feels a bit experimental. I’m not disparaging experimental music, but this album sounds to me like an artist fumbling in the dark, not quite able to find their voice. There’s the Beatles-esque song, the Boards-of-Canada-circa-Campfire-Headphase-esque song, the Crystal-Castles-esque song, etc. I don’t hear a distinct sound, I hear experimentation.

Perhaps the second or third album will be more solid.

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The Oh Hello’s – Through the Deep, Dark Valley (2012)

The Oh Hello’s are a brother/sister duo from San Marcos, TX. I saw a friend listening to them on Spotify last month and put them in a playlist of things to get to later. They came across my radar again last week while reading through a review of albums featuring female lead singers (although Maggie and Tyler Heath share the lead vocals and are almost always accompanied by a spirited chorus of background singers), and I decided it was time to give them a shot. According to the band’s BandcampThrough the Deep, Dark Valley is a concept album meant to be listened to in a single sitting, so that’s what I did.

I liked this album from the first 10 seconds. It’s honestly a perfect pander to my tastes: female lead singer, hailing from Texas, casual Christian guilt, banjos, tons of people with acoustic guitars, and generous insertions of “ohh ohh woahh ohh”s. Most importantly, there’s a complete absence of pretentiousness in the lyrics. As the album opened with sand shakers and a rallying drumbeat, I had no idea what to expect, but by the 0:17 mark I was calling myself a fan of this band.

The opening track (“The Valley”) is soaring and huge, bearing its emotion right on its sleeve, and it sets the atmosphere for the album quite well. Emotion and excitement are bursting out of the narrative here, but there’s also a deep, classic-country sadness. This tone allows for a ball of straightforward depth moldable with equal deftness by quick songs (“The Valley” and “I Was Wrong”) and slow songs (“Like The Dawn” and “Wishing Well”), with nothing seeming out of place.

My favorite songs from the album come down to “Second Child, Restless Child” and “I Have Made Mistakes”, but honestly it’s difficult to pick a favorite here. As a collection, the album works so well, and accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. I love this album, and after several listens over the past week, I have the distinct feeling that it will be going into rotation as one of my favorites.

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1. For the record, if there is a second thing that will instantly turn me off to music, it’s bigotry in any form, be it sexism (Bowling For Soup, Childish Gambino), racism (Varg, Brutal Attack), or any combination of both (Montgomery Gentry). Anal Cunt is different from groups like the aforementioned, despite their clearly racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic lyrics that read like posts from the most depraved, festering pits of 4chan. Anal Cunt is different because Anal Cunt is satirical. Those who find Anal Cunt offensive are the same people who think 4chan is actually a bigoted cesspool where misogyny and pedophilia run rampant.