Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween as Halloween -or- Jamie Lee Curtis in a DayGlo Wig

As much as I think everyone should go home tomorrow night, at whatever time, in whatever state of undress, and whatever state of sobriety, and listen to Dead Hills One in a good pair of headphones, I'd rather talk about Arthur Brown's "Fire". I have no idea how many people have or have not ever heard this song. It was ostensibly a hit when it came out, but has fallen into some sort of obscurity since then. What amazes me is that people who knew the song back in the day don't bust it out at least at certain times, like, well Halloween.

What is so amazing about "Fire" is that it's a song that is supposed to be scary, it's about people meeting their just deserts, righteous indignation, doom and death, but it's so ridiculous that it stops being scary on that level and graduates to a level where you begin to think that Arthur Brown and his organ player are about to leap out of the radio and slit your throat. And all for the crime of "living like a little girl".

Man, I love that song. I'd write more but I have to watch The Exorcist.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Some Bands Suck - or - Space Management

Lately I've had the opportunity to listen halfheartedly to a good deal of new independent rock and roll music, which in itself, is a pretty funny idea. Maybe as little as ten years ago the term "indie rock" meant something to someone, but by this point I'm not convinced it should mean anything to anyone anymore. I even heard from a reputable source that the Killers released a gaping arena rock song about how great indie rock is. I think that's both amazing and indicative of how useless the term is to describe anything that's been released since Sebadoh.

Anyway, I've listened recently to a bunch of music ranging from [Fernando Rodney right here throws the ball over Placido Polanco's head, ceding the tying run to the Cardinals in game 4 of the World Series] the boring ambience of Peter and the Wolf and Christopher Willits to the boring sort of pop-punk of Grey Does Matter, and it's all indie rock. And anyway, without getting too bogged down in semantics, the reason most of it sucks has a lot to do with space.

Bands in category a (the aforementioned PandW and C-Willits as well as people as revered as Grizzly Bear) basically exist in order to create an idea of vastness with instrumentation. Lots of reverb, not a whole lot going on in musical terms, openness - or I mean, at least that's what they're trying for. And failing. Most of it sucks and is as boring as it sounds. Like a good man once said, it is hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, or could be any fun at all.

Category b bands (Grey Does Matter, pretty much most guitar drum bass bands you've never heard of) are more fun, but in many ways no less bad. They don't generally give a shit about space at all. Wether they want to rock out, write a catchy ditty, whatever, they aren't concerned about space. They do their thing, and I understand that people like it, whatever, whatever. Whatever.

I listened to Paranoid by Black Sabbath this week for the first time in probably like 8 years. These guys had it right. There is space in this album of a nature that no new band I've heard in a while is capable of creating or has even attempted to create. The tension created by the 15 beats between instrumental hits during the opening of "War Pigs" is something people need to study. I know I already wrote about this in the Wolf Eyes thing, but it bears repeating. Good music is nothing more than tension and it is very difficult to create tension when you're just noodling or trying to be clever.

Maybe I'm not being coherent, but mainly my beef is with these bands that are, I think, all trying to be Animal Collective - folksy and completely nuts at the same time, acoustic guitar drones, whoopy tribe style vocals, you know the thing. They're going about things all wrong, because they heard Animal Collective was good, listened to songs like "Mouth Wooed Her" and that one from Here Comes the Indian that has the word "Ships" in the title, didn't realize the cool songs were the ones like "Slippi", "We Tigers" and "Who Could Win a Rabbit", and tried to imitate the wrong thing. Which isn't completely wrong. Animal Collective is good, and I wouldn't mind hearing more bands that actually sounded like them, but you can't have it only one way.

And this is getting more and more incoherent. I apologize. I can't watch my Tigers die like this.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Popmatters - or - No, That's All This Post Is About

Ok. I got a thing on Degrassi Published in Popmatters.

Go here to see it.


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Monday, October 23, 2006

Dirt -or- Pine Tar

Yeah, let's address all of that.

I've pretty much talked to only one person about the incident [Kenny Roger's alleged application of pine tar to his hand during the first inning of last night's baseball game], but he pretty much agreed with me. Rogers was probably using pine tar. And the fact that he was was a) not surprising b) not really a big deal c) characteristic and d) kind of awesome.

More than anyone the Tigers have signed in the past few years, I've really come around on Kenny Rogers. I never liked him. I thought him old, ornery, hard to pin down (baseballwise I mean: I still can't figure out why people have so much trouble hitting him sometimes). Then I realized: shit! Those are pretty much my favorite characteristics in a human being!

So now I love Kenny. And he was totally cheating. And the fact that he'll get away with it, I mean, as much as you can say that - he washed his hands after one inning - it isn't really like he got away with anything, the fact that he'll get away with it is proof positive of why baseball is so great. Cheating is an unspoken part of a lot of sports, except of course for cricket as we all learned this summer. But most sports have their share of shady behind the scenes business. The thing is, in most sports what you could call cheating is so behind the scenes that you don't really see it. In baseball, this should not be the case. Cheating has always been a visible part of baseball.

And here, this, is why the whole steroid issue is such a big deal. These guys, McGuire, Sosa, Bonds, whoever, they broke the rule that if you were cheating, you had to do it in the open. You had to give the other team a chance to see what you were doing, check their detective work and awareness. It's like, what would you think of a substance that made cork invisible once it was inserted into a bat? Cheating methods in baseball were supposed to be archaic, unscientific and strategic. What are the chances they'll check my bat, what are the chances they'll steal this sign/catch me stealing this sign. Steroids brought cheating into the 21 century in a sport where it had previously been in the 17th.

So kudos for Kenny. Doin it the old fashioned way - putting sticky shit on your hand so the ball spins more. A lesson for all the kids out there learning wrong from right - that's how you cheat.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nonviolence -or- Where Does the Aggression Come From?

John Darnielle wrote a thing on his blog, which you can read, there's a link to it over in the sidebar there, it's called Last Plan to Jakarta and when he writes he's awesome, though he doesn't write that much. He wrote on his blog a thing, berating internet-people for not reporting enough on the really scary cops tazering Saddle Creek musicians and 14 year old kids in Texas thing. While I agree that the whole incident is, as I said, really scary, I mean, wow, it's a complicated and wierd thing. I don't really want to say anything in particular about it cause the political stuff isn't my thing, I'll leave it to people who know more and are more interested in the nuances. I basically just wanted to maybe see if I couldn't inform some of you about it.

And use it as an introduction to talking about Wolf Eyes. I went to see Wolf Eyes a few weeks back at the Knitting Factory. There were two guys who opened up for them. One had a name like a band, and the other had a name like a human guy. I don't remember what either one of them were. They both made a shitload of noise that was really very very boring. Like standing next to a small but very loud piece of industrial machinery manned by a guy who turns knobs in esoteric ways and sometimes hits things for 20 minutes. Pretty terrible.

But violent! Sonically violent to the extent that any normal person would fear for the wellbeing of their body. The extremity and violence of it, though, just made the fact that it was entirely uninteresting all that clearer. Nothing happened. I stopped watching the performers and started watching the speakers, which, if you imagined that they were communicating with each other, were much more interesting to look at.

I swear to god I was about to give up entirely on noise music. I'd been to the No Fun Fest, but that was supposed to be the cream of the crop, and maybe it wasn't representative. It wasn't obviously. Most noise music is shit. It's impossible to listen to outside of a live setting, and within a live setting it isn't much to watch or listen to either. I was convinced I'd never bother to listen to it again.

And then Wolf Eyes happened. I don't know what you would expect, I don't really even know what I expected from this band. I'd heard they were amazing, but I couldn't really picture how it would go. Which makes sense, cause it was more or less entirely unlike any other show I've ever seen.

It started with the old man looking one (there was also a skinnier Kevin Smith looking one and one without a beard) playing long drones on wahat I think was a bass saxophone that got sampled and contorted, but really subtle like. And I hadn't heard anything subtle for like 2 hours (the kids near me had been talking about Dubai for some reason, which was plenty odd, but not exactly subtle). The band commenced to build off of these samples of the saxophone, some tone generators and some sampled and distorted vocals, a fucking scary track over the course of what couldn't have been less than 12 minutes, and was probably more like 20. This first track was really tense, but it didn't have any percussion, developed in a smooth arc, sort of like a less intense but still unbearably creepy version of "Dead Hills 1".

What was wierd was that this song actually ended. They didn't just stop or try to bleed the song into the next one. They actually stopped and silently set up the next song. And this is where it all went the way of some crazy shit. The no beard guy grabbed a couple of mics, Kevin Smith picked up a bass guitar (only slightly modified) and they all just went completely out of their minds. This is also where I started to realize that there was a crowd. Totally unlike the first two acts Wolf Eyes had managed to fully mesmerize me for the course of the first song. But then people started running into each other, which was really easy to do. The beat on these songs is probably the most pummeling almost steady slow thing I've ever heard, and the dude is just shredding his voice into these mics and Kevin Smith is whipping his hair around like a frantic Brother's Quay figure I mean fuck. It was violent. In a way that people who weren't there probably could easily misunderstand or misinterperet.

And that's why this asshole cop who has probably never thought about anything in his life tazered the 14 year old kid at the Saddle Creek concert in Texas. Rock and toll music is scary, threatening, inspres violence and dissention, and insubordinate. Dude couldn't see past that to see that the guys on stage were actually totally harmless and that the crowd was no where near riot mode. The shit he did was inexcusable. But the question is, would you rather bands like Wolf Eyes didn't exist? That there wasn't the scary side to rock'n'roll that freaks out cops? Rock music, as a lot of people will tell you, is about rebellion and all that shit. It's not always true, but I'm glad that side exists. Unfortunately, it means that sometimes innocent kids get tazered. I don't see this as the beginning of a backlash, but the resurgence of a backlash that's been dormant since rock became commodified and neutered in the 70s.

And, Wolf Eyes rules (but I'll still probably never listen to any of their records).

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Apology - or - Why I Think That Sam's Town Is Good


I must first apologize to those of you (Beau, Richard) who have continued to check this blog for updates over the past weeks with no satisfaction. At first I thought I wasn't writing cause I had nothing to write about (I wasn't watching TV, I wasn't seeing movies and I wasn't listening to that much new music). Then I though it was because I didn't have the time.

Those were both lame excuses. It was true, though, that for a few weeks, maybe a month, there I wasn't being exposed to popular culture the way I have been for the last 22+ years, and that it the lack of media stimulation kind of fucked with my head. Or, perhaps, really fucked with my head. I think I'm better now, even though I still can't remember the last time I watched BET, VH1 or, gasp, any television station owned by the glowing beacon of love that is Viacom.

But "nothing to write about"? Who was I kidding. Maybe September was a down month, but I'm not even convinced of that. I've been at least as lazy as the popculture machine has been (no, I haven't listened to Futuresex/Lovesounds and, no, I haven't listened to Cookie Mountain or Whatever and, no, I haven't even listened to the new record by one of my favorite bands of all time for chrissake I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass)- the blame goes both ways. But now I have a job where I get free promotional copies of CDs. So that's enough explanation.

Which takes us to 2nd things Second. I listened to Sam's Town (the Killers' new CD for those who, I dunno, there's no reason you should've known that really) for the first time while doing lots of other things last Friday. I thought it was great.

I listened to Sam's Town for the second time this morning on my way to work. I thought it was even better. And I fucking hate the Killers! Fucking hate them! Biggest tools in the world next to Nickleback I shit you not except for Creed! Because they have the audacity to think that they are doing something important not because they're Canadian (Nickleback) or Christian (Creed) but because they're indie rock. And lord, boy, don't even, no. I'm not gonna address that.

What I will say about the Killers is that they are huge. Like I said, huge tools, but also, just huge like a band hasn't actually been in years. They were big when Herr Brightside was doing its thing, but there were still people out there who didn't know, didn't care, or maybe just thought of them as another band on the radio. I think when this album drops (not like an album usually drops, in the Macey Gray written on the dress sense, but more like you know, the Pressure Drops) everyone is gonna feel it one way or the other, and everyone will have to have an opinion on the Killers.

Even if I'm off base though, they sound, they fucking sound like they're totally positive that this is the case and that they have been since they were four years old and first saw Bono's face in the tube. In the Killers, I'm convinced, we have the first great arena rock band since Journey. Can you think of a single great arena rock band from the 90s? There weren't any. Fuck you if you say Pearl Jam too.

In recent years there have been pretenders like the Darkness, who are good, but don't take themselves nearly seriously enough, and I think the Hives coulda done it, but wait no, they couldnta. This has been an unrecognized void in our culture for the past decade and 1 half. Just because bands kept playing sold out shows in gigantic arenas, we were fooled into thinking that the Dave Matthews Band or Korn somehow were arena rock bands. Dave Matthews belongs playing to a giant open air crowd, and Korn sucks. I dunno where they should play, but maybe New Jersey, they suck.

And hey, funny that I bring up New Jersey. Everyone and their mom seems to want to say that Sam's Town is Brendan Flowers's attempt to become the next Bruce Springsteen, or, at least, Bruce Springsteen. Maybe, but who cares because he totally fails. He ends up sounding much more like Steve Perry or Jon Bon Jovi, and that's what counts. You can't compare this album favorably to the Boss, but you can compare it favorably to Journey. And I love Journey. Journey tried to be Bruce on occasion, too, and failed miserably. Just cause you sing about "getting out of this town" doesn't mean you can be compared to Springsteen, though I understand why people are trying to make the connection ($).

So yeah, the Killers are assholes who have no idea what they're doing and in many ways completely fall on their faces on this album in regards to accomplishing what seem to be their goals. But the outcome is so ludicrously huge and hugely ludicrous that it cannot be taken seriously at all - the fun is imagining what it would feel like if you could take it seriously. God some of the lyrics are terrible, there's one I'm sure you've heard about a hurricane in "When You Were Young" that is so cringeworthy it's almost as good as classics like "the movie never ends/it goes on and on and on and on". Try to take it seriously! I dare you!

Ok ok, I'm almost done, but I thought I'd try to put it into an equation: talent (at creating pop music, which is so nebulous a thing it's not worth explaining) + more money than anyone should be allowed to have + huge egos + straight faces + the desire to be someone that people with taste find interesting + a total lack of taste = Sam's Town. Does that make sense? No? Well maybe I'll make more sense next time when I plan to write about Wolf Eyes.

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