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.

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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.)

Chronically Ill/Last Week’s Music

This has been a hectic week for me—I have reached a new level with my continuously compounding medical issues, any of which would be stressful enough to handle on their own, let alone all-together. I’m starting yet another treatment plan to deal with them all in delicate balance, and this one seems quite promising. It’s always nice to get (finally hopefully) proper diagnoses and the prospect of new medications always leaves me feeling delightfully anxious.

Still. Part of my issue is a metabolism that grinds along with less rapidity than the shifting of the seasons, and as a result I have no energy and it takes all of my will to get myself to move an inch. The constant and overwhelming sense of fatigue I feel is something that will hopefully start to go away as I continue with the medication and force myself into the gym to raise my metabolic rate. Until then, every day is a struggle for me to stay awake, think clearly, be active and present, and feel alive.

Chronic illness eats away at you with just the most terrible doggedness and leaves you feeling futile and hopeless and completely lacking in control—in many ways, that’s completely accurate. Luckily I was blessed with chronic illnesses that can be overcome with hard work, and the only thing between me and some semblance of relief or normalcy is persistence and the will of my own inertia.

I hope that things begin to look better in the future, and I am clinging to that hope for dear goddamn life.

In the meantime, I’m struggling with homework and social obligations and trying to get in exercise and therapy of all kinds, but I managed to get in some new music this week and I’m going to start off with the one and only:

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Justin Bieber – Believe Acoustic (2013)

I’m a huge fan of acoustic albums, especially of artists for whom acoustic is a completely unrealistic format—that is, pop artists, metal artists, punk artists, electronic artists (remember Dirty Vegas’ acoustic demos that floated around Limewire? Remember Limewire!?!?)), et cetera.

I’m not sure Biebs’ new album adds much to his music, which is inarguably catchy and sonically pleasant but admittedly cheap. I’ve been a fan of Bieber since his YouTube days, and the kid has undeniable talent with pop music, and he can play guitar respectably well.

But he’s not playing guitar on this album. Here we have Dan Kanter, a multi-talented production hotshot who produces tracks for a lot of top 40 artists. Dan and JB hav e their act down brilliantly, don’t get me wrong—still, this album was a cash- and cred-grabbing attempt by Biebs and his managers, and he failed a major part of the cred part by not playing the guitar parts himself.

It still felt like a studio album. If it had a more stripped-down feel then Biebs would have had all the cred in the world—like I said, the kid has raw, pure talent. The arrangements are fantastic and full of his new-trademark soul. Standout tracks are “She Don’t Like The Lights” and “Take You”. “Beauty and the Beat” is patently more palatable than the radio version (in which Nicki Minaj awkwardly name-checks Selena Gomez), besides the fact that the original cut is over-produced to the point of ridiculousness.

“I Would” is a beautifully constructed classic soul-pop song with a simple studio backing, including drum machine. It’s solid and would hold up well to light-pop radio and romcom montages.

I think this album definitely adds significantly more to JB’s repertoire and credibility than 2010’s My Worlds Acoustic, though that album had the added bonus of being cute since JB was 16 when he was singing those sweet semi-acoustic arrangements about asking his GF to marry him—and, for that matter, it adds much more to his reputation than his pop albums. I have found myself wanting to listen to this with some amount of regularity, and it’s certainly easier to stomach than BelieveI would recommend this album, especially if you want to see what Bieber Fever is all about but you were waiting for an album that wouldn’t drive you crazy.

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My Bloody Valentine – m b v (2013)

Finally. Finally. FINALLY.

It was about six years ago when I visited Madison, WI for the day to catch up with friends—most importantly, the honorable and beautiful Ryan J. Zeinert. At a record store off of State St., I grabbed onto Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and was immediately intrigued by the whole package. Ryan saw me gawking at it and spastically insisted on purchasing it for me. It went on to become one of the most listened-to albums in my collection, surpassed only by my favorite album of all of time.

So of course I was totally jazzed when I heard through the grapevine that MBV had covertly released a new album for digital download on their website. I—and, I think, everyone else—had high expectations for a followup to 1991’s Loveless. MBV had a lot to live up to with this, and thankfully they did not disappoint.

The album opener, “She Found Now” is a beautiful a lovely transition from Loveless. In fact, the first few songs are all kind of disconcertingly Loveless-esque and could easily be called bonus tracks with zero sense of a 22-year gap in production (although, leave it to Kevin Shields to spread an album’s production over 22 years). “Is This and Yes” is the mark of a transition in the album into a more synth-y sound hinted at in Loveless’ “Soon” and “When You Sleep”. “If I Am” is full-on diving into a new sound that keeps any MBV fan on the edge of their seat, dissecting every interval and sonic choice.

I’m sure it was a conscious choice to put the Loveless-esque stuff at the front end of the album, easing fans into the new-but-classic sound and allowing any discography marathoners an easy transition from the sounds of 1991 to the sounds of 2013. That’s not to say the stuff at the tail-end of the album is bad—how could it be bad?—it’s just when you give fans 22 years to form opinions around a band as influential and seminal as MBV then it is going to take a lot for us to accept a different sound. Luckily, MBV executes it perfectly and eases us into it.

I will give one criticism: the last two tracks are atrocious. I found “Nothing Is” to be one of the most annoying and ridiculous songs I’ve ever heard. I seriously thought my stereo was malfunctioning when I heard it and I’m still not sure that’s what it is actually supposed to sound like. Seriously this is an Apple Loop gone awry. “Wonder 2”, is a possibly-Satanic and incomprehensible composition. Together, they feel strangely tacked onto the end of an otherwise-brilliant album.

And, obviously, I want to point out Tata Young’s song “My Bloody Valentine” which I may or may not hold in higher regard than MBV. You should go download/buy her 2009 album Ready for Love. She is a brilliant vocalist but it takes a westerner with a particular sonic palette to connect to her Thai-language albums, which are available on Spotify.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPj0A_qkCS4]

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Moonsorrow – Verisäkeet (2005)

Part of my persistant quest to open my mind to metal music, I picked out this album from one of the many that is sent my way by friend and kvltmaster extraordinaire Matthevv.

It’s a solid black metal album. It has distinct elements of folk and pagan metal with the fantastic feel of belonging in middle earth or at least as the soundtrack to some sort of epic and fantastical battle between mythical creatures.

There is no standout track to this album—they’re all epics averaging 14 minutes, and they clearly work best together as a single-listen type of thing. I will mention that the celt-folk feel of the final track (“Kaiku”, meaning “echo” in the band’s native tongue of Finnish) is absolutely brilliant. It comes replete with the wonderful ambience of crackling fire, wind through trees, and roughly cawing birds—something present more or less throughout the whole album, lending more to the imagery of armed hordes charging through glens and fog and into battle.

I’d rate this album up there as one of the more accessible metal albums I’ve listened to. It also carries very little pretentiousness, and is certified trve kvlt by Matthevv himself.

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 11.31.55 PMThis album is exactly what I love about metal. It’s a big, conceptual album made by peeps with pure refined talent, deep love in their hearts, minds as wide open as a nordic vale, and a beautiful gift for atmosphere and storytelling. Listen to it, and feel compelled to be great.

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Paul Baribeau – Grand Ledge (2007)

I’ve been vaguely familiar with Paul for a year or two now, through mutual friends here in Bloomington and through musically-inclined folks I know who are always much more up-to-date on innovative and great music than I am.

I’ve been meaning to get to this album for a while, but things kept getting in the way. His name popped up a few times in recent conversation and I decided it was finally time to hop to it.

So immediate reaction? Holy shit. Secondary reaction: *sobs*.

I’m a huge fan of pop-punk music because it expresses the kind of frenetic ennui and anxiety that I identify with, and which I think is not necessarily unique to punky kids but is certainly most beautifully expressed by them. Paul clearly expresses a huge influence by punk and pop-punk and his music is all the more effective and beautiful for it in my *humble* opinion.

But let’s get to the music, because wow. “Christmas Lights” hits you square in the chest with it’s honesty and raw anxiety and beauty and simplicity, with lyrics like “I never feel better after I cry / I spent six months of my life wishing I would die / I’m learning to be alone without being lonely / learning to be lonely without losing my mind”. “Ten Things” is a classic and FUCKING BEAUTIFUL motivational life-affirming scream-along tune that reminds you that “all you have is time time time / and one day that time will run out / that is the only thing you can be absolutely certain about”.

“Nothing To Say” hits me particularly hard and resonates with my life wonderfully, even though it’s clearly about a very specific moment with a person, Paul hits common chords with lyrics like “And I could call out your name / but the sound would never reach you / Or I could call you on the phone / and have nothing to say”. “Hard Work” is a beautiful and tenuously sane song about aimlessness. “Falling In Love With Your Best Friend” is another simple and beautiful song with a bubbling energy beneath the surface, like all of Paul’s songs.

They’re all 2-minute neurotic love songs that showcase Paul’s great writing and deliciously simple and stripped-down sound. This album comes highly recommended from me and other people with good taste so go put it in your Spotify playlist like now.

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Last, but not least, I want to mention the fact that FALL OUT BOY is RELEASING AN ALBUM and just announced a tour to coincide with the release. They released  a new song today (“My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)”) with an accompanying music video that scares me out of my wits about their new sound and allows for a varied and lengthly list of producers that one could reasonably speculate brought the wonderful atrocity into the world. The music video shows a tattooed dude and a lady burning FOB vinyls and tshirts in a bonfire then opening a van with four masked-and-bound people (who are presumably Fall Out Boy) and looking at them ominously.

The video is a great success in cinematography—it’s gorgeous. As for the music, I’m going to reserve judgement for the album. I know that FOB can never be the band that it was for Take This To Your Grave or From Under The Cork Tree (or Infinity on High, for that matter), but it remains to be seen whether I can handle a more hip-hoppy sound with drum machines (which leads me to wonder what Andy Hurley is doing during the recording of this track?) and screeching Prince-esque vocals from Patrick Stump(h)—who, let’s face it, is much more tolerable now that he can actually sing like a pro, as opposed to whatever whiny mumbling it was he heaved out of his chest and onto all of the tracks pre-hiatus. I guess Stump(h)’s solo career was less than a miserable failure (I actually feel pretty bad for the guy, he’s nice and intelligent and talented) if it made him a better singer.

At any rate, I’m extremely excited for this and you can expect to see a lot of ranting and raving about Fall Out Boy on this blog in the weeks to come, OH BOOOY!!! In the meantime here is the music video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=HsfY8iFbYjE]

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.

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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]

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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!!

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.