31 August 2009

25 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 7
So, this is it. I have listened to this album for seven days in a row, and more importantly I tried writing about it for seven days in a row which is a feat that is at least slightly impressive since this is the first time that I have been able to execute a several part series from start to finish. 
I finished reading Sellers' Perfect From Now On, and while the last five chapters are all about GBV I still feel slightly empty-handed. Yeah, he got to hang out with Robert Pollard and that's real cool, but I feel like Sellers never really expounds upon why he loves GBV so much. I mean, he quotes song lyrics and he talks about how he listens to them all the time and he talks about scouring internet message boards in order to talk about GBV even more and he talks about searching eBay for bootlegs and concert t-shirts but he never really says "I love GBV because...". (Writer's Note: The book is really funny, and I would recommend it to anyone for any reason.) 
Sellers calls Pollard a genius for making Bee Thousand, and the internets still revere this album as being a lo-fi masterpiece. I'm hesitant to call anyone a genius other than Bill Murray or Hunter S. Thompson so I'm trying to refrain from calling this record the work of a genius. One thing that does deserve commending is the fact that all this week at work, songs from this album kept popping into my head. I was digging a hole today, and out of nowhere I was singing "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" to myself. I was humming "Gold Star For Robot Boy" while I had my usual lunch of iced tea and cigarettes. "Echos Myron" crept into my head twice today, and I didn't mind either time. 
After a week, the only conclusion that I feel comfortable making is the fact that Guided By Voices is awesome. I think that it's really that simple. Is this a cop out? Well, yes and no. It is in the sense that I promised to deliver, and I clearly haven't. But at the same time, it's not because this album really is special and awesome. It's awesome because it doesn't sound like an album is really supposed to sound, but rather it sounds the way Bob Pollard wanted it to. It's special because it was made in 1994, and yet it still sounds fresh and unique even in these tumultuous times of 2009. In the future, when the world has exploded within itself and the next generation is hard at work recreating the internet and the plant, these cats will need music to listen to and Bee Thousand is one of the albums that they should be listening to. They would probably be best off if they just listen to Guided By Voices exclusively, but that may be asking a lot so let's just agree that they should listen to this album so that there's still room to listen to the Pixies because that's another band that the future should listen to. At the risk of sounding redundant and rehashing everything that I have already said, I am going to stop. This album is excellent, and is easily in the top 10 of best albums that I have ever heard. It makes me smile in ways that an album never has before. I sympathize with Sellers in the sense, that now I feel compelled to talk to everyone I know about this album. I want to shout from the rooftops that GBV is one of the most meaningful bands my ears have ever heard. (Writer's Note: I said "one of the most", not "the most. There are a few other bands that would rank higher. I mean, shit, I really like this album/band but I'm not going full bore into fanaticism.) This was good times, and hopefully it wasn't a waste of time. (Writer's Note: I'm totally doing this again in the future with another album/band.)

24 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 6
Pavement released Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain on February 2, 1994, and Guided By Voices released Bee Thousand on June 21 of the same year. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was Pavement's second album although, technically, it was their third if you include Westing (By Musket & Sextant) but that was more of an album that just contained odds and ends. Bee Thousand was GBV's ninth album, and contained a slew of left-over tracks that hadn't yet been put on record. For whatever reason, these two bands end up joined at the hip whenever people discuss the true indie rock luminaries.  Considering the back stories for these two albums this may seem strange. Pavement was slightly younger, I think, and was probably seen as a band on the up-and-up. I mean, they did play Lollapalooza that summer and that's back when Lollapalooza was a big deal for being a one day concert and not a bloated three day extravaganza that mixes old bands from the '90s and a bunch of bands who played Pitchfork the year before. At the time, you would have to imagine that the Pavement album was a bigger deal while GBV was just more of pleasant surprise.
Of course I'm biased about this, but I would have to argue that Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was in fact, a bigger deal. Then again, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was the first Pavement album that I ever bought, and to boot it completely changed the way I thought about music and life. If I had never heard that album then none of this would be happening right now. I would be unaware of Pavement which means I would have never gotten into Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, or any other band that falls under the indie umbrella. I certainly would have never gotten into GBV. The more I think about it, I probably wouldn't listen to hip hop either if it weren't for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Pavement restored my faith in music. I realized that rock music didn't have to be angry, and that lyrics didn't have to be meaningful. I learned that music could be rock, and be strange and slightly awkward at the same time. 
I bring this up because earlier I had a fleeting thought. What if I had heard Bee Thousand before Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain? What if my introduction to indie rock had been Guided By Voices instead of Pavement? Would I like this album? 
I'm inclined to think that I would like the album, but I doubt that I would love it. I probably would have complained that it was uneven like the movie Stripes, and I probably would have been out of shape over the fact that the lyrics were all over the place. I would have kept this album, but it probably would have been one of those albums that I owned but never really listened to except for when I was blackout drunk and feeling just crazy enough to listen to something totally off the wall. 
It's probably ridiculous and unfair to compare GBV and Pavement, but it's the only comparison that makes a shred of sense to me. Reviews on the internets say that Bee Thousand was influenced by The Who and bootlegs by The Beatles, but all of that is kind of lost on me mainly because I never got into the Who and my fandom of the Beatles is limited to Abbey Road, Revolver, and The White Album. I may be just grasping for straws, but I think my reasoning for mentioning Pavement in today's assessment is that because without Pavement I would probably have no room in my heart for GBV. Closing in on the end, and am starting to get to a point where I felt that I was pulling myself too deeply into Bee Thousand. Thought that maybe if I created some space between myself and this album that perhaps I would get a better grasp on it. It's hard for me to determine whether or not I succeeded in this endeavor, but I can say unequivocally that I feel better about today's analysis than I have about the past few. 

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 5
"i walked into the house of miraculous recovery/ and stood before king everything/ and he asked me to join him in the red wing/ took me to pie land/ said, 'i'm a thigh man'/ i will be eternally hateful"

That may be favorite lyric so far. I hadn't picked up on it until today, but for whatever reason it stands out in a positive light. In fact, "Hot Freaks" may be my most favorite song on the album. The thing is, and Sellers touches on this in his book when he's talking about driving and listening to GBV, but just about any GBV song could be your favorite. You could pick out any song on Bee Thousand, and say that its your favorite and you couldn't be wrong. There's aren't any clunkers on the album so you could reasonably make an argument for any of them. It would boil to down to personal preference, I suppose. 
Ok, so its the lyrics that are similar to Burroughs' cut and paste technique. Not the songs. I think that makes more sense. When the verses are just on paper it looks like they could be slid interchangeably into any song, but when listening to the song its hard to imagine the lyrics being anything other then what they already are. It's awesome. It really is. On the surface the lyrics seem random with nothing to them, but that's beside the point. All of these songs work. You can take whatever you want out of the lyrics. You create your own meaning. The songs still rock. Pollard utilizes the cut and paste way better than Burroughs, who only used it to be ridiculous basically and as a means to inject his narratives with a bunch of crazy sex and drug use. (Writer's Note: Sorry, but I was a literature major in college and in my opinion Burroughs is pretty overrated. There's no point to Naked Lunch. It's just a bunch of shit. I liked Junky, though. Oh, and Kerouac sucks big time.) 
"Gold Star For Robot Boy" works out kind of cool on paper. When the lyrics are broken down, each verse and chorus come out as a kind of call and response. The verse will lead off with an "If I..", and then at the chorus its "Gold star for robot boy" almost like the speaker is being rewarded for thinking and asking questions. It already had an awesome title, and it was a nice drinking song, and now its got the whole package.
Two more days to go, and anything could happen. Lightning may strike and I might get it, but that probably won't happen. And wouldn't the only way to get it be admitting that I won't ever get it? Should these last two days just be a celebration? Stop thinking so damn much, and just relish in the moment and savor the fact that this album was made. It's a thought.

22 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 4
I'm an idiot. A massively huge dumbass. I've been calling these posts "In Over My Head" because I thought that was a clever title, but I actually am in over my head. Correction. Yesterday, I was in over my head. Today, I am in the clutches of a tractor rape chain. (Writer's Note: "Tractor Rape Chain" is the name of the third track off this album, so perhaps I am not in as much trouble as I thought.)
I've spent all day reading Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life by John Sellers because I figured that a book about being obsessed with Guided By Voices would aid me in this current endeavor. I was wrong. I'm really really enjoying this book, but even Sellers admits that this is a pretty arduous task. At one point he says, "...the best adjectives I can come up with when thinking about this band are 'sweet' and 'awesome'." (131). I'm in the same boat. Those are the same words that I want to use when talking about GBV, but I resisted doing that because I thought it would be so much more awesome to dedicate an entire week to the album so that I could come up with more meaningful and inspired descriptors. Something else I read in this book also makes me somewhat concerned. In the chapter before he talks about GBV, Sellers talks about how he discovered Pavement and how he thought for sure they would be his all-time most favorite band forever and ever but then he discovered GBV and everything changed. Pavement is my all-time most favorite band in the world, and they will always be that for me forever and ever. What if I spend too much time listening to GBV, and in addition to fucking up my last.fm charts, I end up abandoning Pavement for GBV. (Writer's Note: This won't happen. My charts are going to be skewed, but there will never be a question as to who my favorite band is.)
I'm still not tired of this album. It's totally rad, and sweet and awesome. The other day I compared this record to a hoodie, but after four days its becoming more like a pair of Chuck Taylors. It works with everything. You can take it anywhere. It'll never wear out. (Writer's Note: I realize that the listening party has just crossed the halfway point, and with that should probably come a more detailed review but I must apologize because it won't happen today. Tomorrow is Sunday which is seen as a day of rest for some, and its a day of heavy beer drinking for me so here's hoping that tomorrow's review is better than today's and yesterday's.)

21 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 3
I'm still no closer to understanding this album, but I am slowly realizing that I love it. I keep turning to the internets in hopes of finding a concrete explanation of why it causes these feelings among listeners, but alas nothing so far. One of the things that I keeps popping up today is how important the track sequence is. Yesterday, I may or may not have said that the album was like a piece of Burroughs writing but when I said that I wasn't talking about the tracks, per se. That had more to do with the lyrics, but that part of the analysis will come later on in the weekend.
Apparently, this album is sheer chaos if the songs are heard in any other order then the way they are arranged on the original record. On one hand, I find this to be surprising because it seems like there are so many abrupt changes that the album rarely hits a consistent groove. On the other hand, I totally agree that the way the songs are arranged are the only way that they could possibly be arranged. 
I've been listening to this album for three days straight now, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet so it definitely has staying power. I'm hesitant to admit this, but every night when I go to bed I put on the Velvet Underground's self-titled album and I lay awake until I have listened to the whole thing. I love that album, and now I'm starting to get to a point to where I feel like I could listen to Bee Thousand every day in a similar fashion. 
I've read that the GBV recording process involved heavy beer consumption so I thought that might help me in my attempt at analysis tonight. It helps in the sense that I am thoroughly enjoying the record, but at the same time the alcohol makes it harder to think so I find myself at a loss for words so you'll just have to believe me that tomorrow will bring with it a more comprehensive analysis.

20 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

Day 2
In 1994, Spin said this was the 10th best album of the year and in 2005 they dubbed it the 37th best album of the last twenty years. P4K christened it in 1999 as the 4th best record of the 1990s, and in a revised list published in 2003 this record dropped to #10. Truth be told, these lists may not mean anything at all. There's an entire book published about this album so hailing this record as big deal is totally acceptable. 
According to the internets, frontman Robert Pollard's song-writing style is similar to William S. Burroughs' in the sense that the product can be taken and broken apart and put back together in any number of ways and still make sense. All the tracks could be re-arranged and put in a different order, and it wouldn't hamper the album. In this writer's opinion, this technique did not work for Burroughs but that's a conversation for a later date. It works here though because Pollard's aim isn't to offend or to shock. It's to rock. A bulk of the songs here are older GBV tracks that have been re-recorded and re-worked. Pollard was trying to do something with what he had as opposed to Burroughs who wasn't trying to do anything except to appall the readers. It would be irresponsible to suggest that this album didn't send some listeners running to the hills, but there are always going to be haters regardless of what the product in question is. Cleary, there are some people who can't get behind songs that are only a minute and a half long and of course there are some who just don't dig lo-fi. That's their loss, though.
After two listens, this album is fascinating. It was good yesterday, but today it seems like there are more levels to it that need to be penetrated and that's just from a musical standpoint. I've resisted paying attention to the lyrics at this point, but that will happen in due time. Focusing on just the recording and the instruments, there's a wave of feeling. This album could be listened to in the summertime while you're hanging out with your bros. You could listen to it on a cold, winter night while you sip whiskey and chain smoke cigs and think about that one girl. If you work in an office in a tiny cubicle with no windows then this album could brighten your day or at least make it more interesting. This album is similar to a hoodie in the sense that you wear the shit out of it, but despite that you never really get tired of it. 
(Writer's Note: If anyone is actually reading this then hop in on this. I'm not terribly bright, and oftentimes I am very wrong in my assessments so if you know what's up then offer your thoughts as well. There's an online movement where people have been reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest for the first time, and then they all get together on a website and discuss their thoughts. That probably won't work here because it'll just be me talking to myself, but at the very least I'm just putting it out there.)

19 August 2009

I May Be In Over My Head On This One

I have read on the internets that Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand is a seminal indie rock album, and that it is one of the first lo-fi records ever made. I listened to it in hopes of talking about it, but after listening to it the first time something happened. This is not an album you can listen to a handful of times, and then reach a concise conclusion as to why it is good. This one will take some time. In accordance with this, I am going to listen to this album every day for the next seven days and record my thoughts and then hopefully by the end of it I will have figured something out. 
Day One:
One of the few things that I know about GBV is the fact that if one were ever to host a barbecue for a bunch of their chillest bros then GBV would be a good call in terms of music to play. I realized this while in Brooklyn last month. At Woodsist/Captured Tracks, GBV was played in between sets and at one point a photographer turned to me and said, "I fucking love this band." 
During my first listen of this album, I was with my attorney Gary and it was his first listen as well. Early on, Gary remarked that this record had that classic early '90s feel to it. Monotone singing and general angst. Further expounding upon this observation, I think why Gary and I both enjoy this classic early '90s feel is because the ideas behind it are not that far removed from what we are experiencing now. In the '90s, it was very much en vogue to say that the times sucked. Its beyond me whether or not they actually did, but it seems to be a typical state of mind based on what I have seen and heard from this time period. I think it still resonates today because in 2009 things are still pretty shitty. Both then and now, people seem to grapple with simultaneous feelings of apathy and earnestness. Things are terrible, and it gets to a point where one wonders whether it will ever get better and eventually the shit storm pours on long enough that individuals resign themselves to the fact that shit won't get better and from this disposition comes apathy. Apathy is all well and good, but its hard to fully come on board with this line of thinking. Shit doesn't have to suck. Change can be made if we just try a little. That's where the earnestness comes from. Combine the two, and you get groups of people who listen to rock and roll. 
One of the really great things about this album and about GBV in general is that the songs are really short and really good at the same time. The song lengths are short enough to suggest they are just throwaway tracks, but they are so not. There are no guitar solos or anything like that, but GBV still gets the job done. It's working man music which makes sense since GBV is from Ohio which is a state known for its workers. 
On first listen, the songs are kind of all over the place. Three or four of them will have a groove to them, and then there will be some sort of abrupt change. It's my understanding that a lot of the songs on this album had already been recorded in some capacity and were now being released for the first time. The abrupt changes are never really too obtrusive or anything like that because with the 2 minute format the song is over and done before you can complain or do otherwise. It's constantly changing, but never ever bad. Gary said at one point that GBV sometimes reminds him of Neutral Milk Hotel, and I agree somewhat with that statement. There are times where I think I hear it as well, but with the shorter song format its hard to really pin down why it seems like that. 
Can you imagine seeing GBV live? You'd probably hear a hundred songs, and that is no exaggeration because they could just churn right through them. Talk about a meaningful concert experience. 
After one day, this is definitely a great album but thats not the point. The point is to figure out why, and I am fairly certain that I came nowhere near that conclusion today. And I probably won't hit the mark tomorrow either, but something will come eventually and if nothing does then it won't be a total wash because it'll just mean that I spent an entire week listening to GBV.

17 August 2009

I Bought This on Amazon for Less Than a Pack of Cigarettes

Do you remember 1999? I remember that was the year I finally got rid of my bowl cut hair style in exchange for the Caesar look that George Clooney had made very popular at the time. My tragic fashion past aside, do you remember the music? In 1999, Britney Spears was on top of the world as her debut album ...Baby One More Time was basically the top-selling record for the entire year, and her videos were all over MTV and MTV still played videos. This was also the same year that Christina Aguilera burst onto the scene with "Genie In A Bottle". The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC were both insanely popular. This was the year of really shitty pop music that would go on to completely change the definition of what "pop" music was. On the other side of the spectrum, Limp Bizkit and Korn were both mad popular with those with angst. There was also Eminem, who everybody dug while being simultaneously frightened and offended. Then that led to that whole thing where Eminem started making fun of Britney and Christina and Fred Durst, and he made that one video to further emphasize that point. Everyone thought Blink 182 was zany because they made that one video where they made fun of all the boy bands. And, the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers all stopped using heroin and their music suffered as a result. 
It wasn't all bad though. In that same year, the Flaming Lips delivered The Soft Bulletin, The Roots dropped Things Fall Apart, and Wilco arrived with Summerteeth. The Jesus Lizard and Pavement both broke up, and that was awful but the whole year still wasn't a total bust. A young, up-and-coming rapper from New Orleans released his very first album. He went by the name Lil' Wayne, and remarkably he is still around today.
Everything that has already been mentioned fits nicely into the pantheons of music history which now leads us to the album that I just bought on Amazon for less than pack of cigarettes. And, I have to plead general ignorance on this as well because truthfully I had no idea that this band was releasing albums this long ago. Les Savy Fav released The Cat and The Cobra during the turbulent time that was 1999, but its a record that doesn't slide properly into place. Rather, this disc is a bit of a beast.
With this album there's the music on one hand, but there's a whole other story going on at the same time. The songs on the album are post-punk revival or post-hardcore or art punk or whatever the hell else you want to call it, but the whole thing is bigger than that. At one point on "Wake Up", Tim Harrington delivers the line "The air in there is static and unstable/There's a rapping at the door." Is this a song about the weather with a possible Poe reference tacked on the end of it? No. It's more like a relay for the impending revolution. Its LSF saying, "Hey. We know there's a lot of shit at the moment, but don't worry because eventually this shit won't be so bad." Its similar to that line of thinking in which some believe that the only way society will correct itself is after they see the absolute worst that is possible. LSF is talking to the real people. They're not singing limp-wristed songs about how they want it that way or how if you rub them the right way you'll get what you want. They're recognizing that we as people actually live in a state of unsatisfied desire as opposed to the guise of satisfaction that the masses live under. "We're all gluttons" as they say, and no matter how unsettling that is to the majority its closer to the truth then whatever bullshit was permeating to the surface at this time. On "Reformat", there's a sailor about to be executed and as the ax closes in on him all he says is "set me free". It doesn't matter if he doesn't make it in this particular life time because he is going to be free somewhere else. Its all about sacrifices, and being willing to just let go. If you can't let go then you're just going to be this tightly wound ball of nerves and concerns and you'll end up drinking yourself to an early death because of your inability to revel in the moment. Without reveling there is no revelation. 

12 August 2009

On Saturday, I attended something called the "Summer Spirit Festival". It was held at Merriweather Post Pavilion which was built way before the Animal Collective album of the same name. 
Randon, one of my most favorite bros in the world, called me in the afternoon and said that he had an extra ticket to this concert that Erykah Badu was performing at. Once I heard that name, I immediately put my pants on and then began to hurriedly shave with no shaving cream while brushing my teeth while cooking eggs while watching the Weather Channel. Seeing Erykah Badu live was enough to make me rush like a Twilight fan (Writer's Note: I mean, seriously, have you heard about these Twilight fans--or Twi-hards as they're sometimes called. They are just absolutely rabid. Its crazy. It recalls the late 90s when boy bands were all the rage, and shopping malls, airports, and arenas were all breaking out in mass hysteria because of Brian and Justin and Aaron and Kevin and Howie. Well the Twi-hards are like that, but times 1000. They absolutely over-ran Comic Con a few weeks back, and technically Twilight isn't even a comic. The whole thing is really just nuts.)
While looking up directions, I discovered that Chuck Brown was also going to be performing. Chuck Brown is kind of a big deal. He is advertised as the "Godfather of Go Go" in reference to a particular brand of music from the Washington, DC area. (Writer's Note: Go Go is seriously hard to explain so I don't really know what to say other then that its out of DC, so, sorry.) I had heard of Chuck Brown, and like Badu it just seemed like one of those acts that I would probably never see. And if I wasn't already rushing to get out the door then I certainly was now.
Randon pulled into a parking spot in the far corner of the lot. I was riding in the passenger seat and was gazing out the window. There were already people walking towards the concert grounds, and I jokingly asked Randon whether I was going to be the palest person at the show and Randon said he was sure there would be at least one other. Well, it turns out that Randon was right. We saw one other white person the whole time we were there, and its not like that matters and its not something I would normally think about, but at the beginning of the show there was this comedian, who turned out to be real drunk, and he started talking about some Afro-Centric stuff and it kind of gave me a weird vibe and then Randon looked over at me and shrugged his shoulders and then I did the same. 
Everyone had a lawn chair. Everyone was sitting in a lawn chair. I've been to Merriweather before, but I've never seen so many people sitting in chairs while I was there. Normally, people just sit on the ground. The only reason I mention this is because is because it impeded on certain things that people may do while at shows. Once we found a spot, we had to keep it for the rest of the time we were there or else we would have missed everything. When we did need something, Randon would go because he said I was easier to pick out of the crowd. This also made doing that one thing you normally do at concerts slightly more difficult, but you just have to be crafty and resilient and you will succeed. 
Simply put, Chuck Brown was one of the single most electrifying performers I have ever seen in my entire life. It was almost as good as that one time I saw George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic. I was dancing and rocking out at the same time. Maybe rocking out is too strong of a word, but I was really digging the go go sound. The drums just keep you on your toes the whole time, and once the vocals come in you start doing your two-step and then who knows when you will stop. So good. So awesome. Not this Saturday, but next Saturday August 22nd, its Chuck's birthday and there is going to be this big outdoor party and a corner is being renamed "Chuck Brown Boulevard". Needless to say, I will be there for that.
In a way, Erykah Badu was exactly what I expected live. Awesome. At the same time, though, I really had no idea how awesome. She performed her last album, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), in its entirety. She has a very commanding stage presence to say the least, and she is also amazingly talented and so what happens is that all eyes are on her at all times and the best part about that is that she talks. Erykah Badu talks about some real shit. She can really make you think about shit that you don't normally think about. There are elements of hip hop in the music, but more than anything else its soul music. So good. So awesome.
In closing, this show is also responsible for the fact that I didn't spend my weekend listening to My Bloody Valentine which had been my original Saturday plan.

09 August 2009

I Bought This on Amazon for Less Than a Pack of Cigarettes

In yet another installment of the series which combines thrifty shopping tactics and a desire to understand rock and roll comes an earnest analysis of an album considered to be one of the most seminal recordings in the history of what is known as indie rock. The album is entitled Loveless, and it was recorded by the group My Bloody Valentine. It was released on November 4, 1991, and it was through somewhat tumultuous circumstances that the album ever saw the light of day. It took two years and nineteen different recoding studios, but eventually the London by way of Dublin group found what they were looking for. Namely, frontman Kevin Shields who apparently dominated sessions in order to create the right aesthetic. According to the internet, this album cost nearly 250,000 pounds to make and somehow resembled a failure. Not a lot of commercial success surrounded Loveless upon release, but it has gone on to be praised by people who are paid to review music. In 1999, P4K named Loveless the top album of the 1990s. In their 2003 edition of the same list, the album dropped to #2 as Radiohead's OK Computer was anointed as the new #1. Spin had it at #22 in their "Greatest Albums of 1985-2005", and even Rolling Stone managed to recognize it as the 219th best album in their 500 Greatest Albums list. If this is all to be believed then this album may be kind of a big deal.
At this moment, there are really only two things that I understand about this album, and one of those is the fact that this album is really really really good. The second thing is that it seems like the internet is out to make Kevin Shields look like a dick. Write-ups for this album center around the fact that it took longer than expected to make, and how for some reason this would be Shields' fault. Yeah, he went through lots of engineers and producers while making this record, but what does that really mean beside the fact that he went through a few engineers and producers. It certainly doesn't make the album any less good, and to be fair Lil' Wayne did basically the same thing while he was working on Tha Carter III. I realize that was a strange comparison, but Shields' could have gone through a hundred producers as long as the end product turned out the same. Obviously, Shields had a particular vision in mind. He had a sound in his head, and it was merely a matter of getting that sound on wax so that he could share it with the rest of us. There's this book entitled The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen, and if you ask any of the dozen of people who have read it they would probably say it is completely batshit. I will admit that it is slightly weird, but there is some merit to it below the surface. Throughout the book, the narrator directly addresses the reader and each time he doe so he is always talking about how he is really doing something with this journal and how there is a very deliberate process involved in sharing his thoughts even when all hope seems to be lost. It's intimidating on the surface, but once you plunge through it becomes kind of beautiful and the same could be said about this album. This is a daunting disc at first, and once it starts playing the listener feels swarmed in sound to the point of suffocation but once the listener lets go then it becomes this impressively massive wall of sound like a monster wave and at this point the best course of action is just surrender and follow it to its natural end. 
The phrase "wall of sound" pops up in lots of reviews for this album, and it is a term that is somewhat inescapable when thinking about the album. And while, I'm sure there are countless number of bands that were influenced by My Bloody Valentine the one that keeps appearing in my subconscious is Deerhunter. They construct a similar structure, and like MBV it is very easy to become swallowed up. The tricky part about Loveless is the fact that volumes of words could be dedicated to this album, and it still wouldn't be done proper justice. If I was more talented and clever then perhaps I could provide some cutting-edge analysis, but alas I am not and as a result we are stuck with this middle of the road interpretation. I apologize for the failure, but what really can be said about something so stellar? Wouldn't any attempted explanation just bog the album down? When consulting the internet for possible gateways into what makes this album so great, all a reporter can find is quotes from Robert Smith, Trent Reznor, Brian Eno, Billy Corgan, Robert Pollard, and Trey Anastasio all gushing about how amazing this album is. Well that, and how it is considered to have directly influenced Radiohead and how it is seen as such an original and extraordinary record that it calls to mind the hey-day of the Velvet Underground. And now after listening to it, this ignorantly humble writer thinks that the album is pretty...pretty good.

05 August 2009

Bullshit or Not Bullshit?

This may come as a surprise, but it is my belief that occasionally things can become sensationalized on the internet. Namely, bands. It seems like every other week there is a new "Next Best Thing", and I have reached a point where I am saying, "Enough". I have come up with a task so daunting that I have had to recruit my attorney, Gary, to assist me. Gary is an ideal partner for this endeavor because he isn't the type of bro who spends hours and hours on the internet. He interacts with culture on a much more natural level because his thought process isn't bogged down by what the internet thinks. Gary and I are now going to step into a new territory, and now we are going to attempt to understand something that the internet praises but at the same time completely escapes our understanding. We are going to call this, "Bullshit or Not Bullshit", and in our first installment we are going to listen to So Far Gone a mixtape by Drake, an up-and-coming singer/rapper who is associated with Lil' Wayne and is reportedly dating Rihanna. 
I've already seen this mixtape on several "Best Mixtapes of 09" lists, and every time it was rated very favorably. I read somewhere that Jay-Z called it one of the hottest mixtapes around, and with that kind of co-sign I felt compelled to tackle this album. 
The first two tracks were "Lust for Life", which we decided was basically an introduction, and "Houstatlantavegas", which confused us slightly. The intro was slightly underwhelming, but not too offensive to the ears. However, "Houstatlantavegas" drew the ire of Gary. He stated emphatically that he would never listen to this song on his own time, and added that there was a possibility that he had heard this song at a strip club. Gary described the first two songs as "doing-it music", and I have to agree with this assessment. Both songs were these real slow, slinky R&B numbers with Drake singing on Auto-Tune Level 11. 
The next song was "Successful", and it was a considerable upgrade over the first two tracks. Gary said that he thought this song had hit potential, and I agree but only because this track also has Lil' Wayne on it. Gary also expounded on a theory of his in which he believes that Drake makes R&B songs to get Jay-Z's attention, and that eventually Jay-Z is going to hook Drake up and deliver him to superstardom. I don't doubt that Jay-Z is going to have a hand in Drake's development, but I have a hard time believing that the reason for doing so would be because of R&B songs. 
The next track was called "Lets Call It Off" and featured Peter, Bjorn, and John. This song was a complete change from the other tracks at this point, and to boot it was quite a good song. Gary called it a "toe-tapper", and said that the whole album should have sounded like this. I liked this song a lot as well, and felt very much relieved that we finally found a song that didn't suck.
The song "November 18th" followed, and upon reflection we determined that it may be the best song on the album. Things are starting to look up. 
"Ignorant Shit" was a track on Jay-Z's American Gangster album, but Drake and Lil' Wayne rhyme over the beat for this mixtape. It only took six songs, but we finally got a full-on rap song out of this guy. Drake can rap a little bit, and at one point he had a pretty funny line about how gangsters and hipsters listen to his shit. 
The next song was called "Night Off" and featured Lloyd, but Gary skipped it because he had had enough slow jams for the evening. 
"Say Whats Real" had Drake going in over the beat from Kanye's "Say What You Will". This was one of the best tracks of the night. Not only can Drake rap, but he can say something as well. He doesn't deliver hollow lyrics. Well, he does sometimes, but on this song he sounds like a man with a purpose.
"Little Bit" featured Lykke Li, and was woven into this weird duet type song. It was a cool idea and it was certainly ambitious, but the beat was louder than the voices.
"Best I Ever Had" is somewhat of a hit at the moment as it is played on the radio and on television. The song is what it is. It sounds like the kind of song that gets played on the radio. Gary called Drake a "hoser" for making this song.
I was really excited about "Unstoppable" because it had Santigold on it, but I found myself slightly disappointed when the song ended. The Santi part seemed pasted in there like it wasn't there initially, and for whatever as a sample it failed. Gary started shaking his head when it got to the part with Lil' Wayne on it. "Well, it isn't my least favorite song," Gary said.
"Uptown" started off as an OK song, but then became a pretty good song when it got to the part with Bun B. 
The last few tracks on the album were all kind of indistinguishable from one another. "The Calm" wasn't a bad song, and Gary said that he was kind of digging the whole idea of rapping over a low beat. When it was all said and done, Gary and I determined that we weren't crazy about the first few songs, and we weren't crazy about the last few either. Basically, this mixtape is like a sandwich. Its kind of fluffy on the top and bottom, but the meat in the middle isn't bad.
Gary said there were eight songs that he liked, and out of those 8 he would play 3 of them under his own accord. I counted nine that I liked in one way or another. Gary admitted to adamantly hating the beginning and end of the album while I wouldn't go that far. I didn't really hate any of it, but there were parts that I wasn't totally digging. "It was alright, but it didn't make me want to say 'Aw Shit Son!'", Gary said.
In our final verdict, Gary and I deem that Drake is not bullshit based on the strength of the rap songs on this mixtape and the collaboration with Peter, Bjorn, and John. Gary feels like some of the R&B stuff is pretty colossal bullshit, but the rap songs make up for it. So the tape isn't bullshit, and hopefully this post isn't either.

04 August 2009

Apparently, Heath Ledger was directing a music video for Modest Mouse before his unexpected and tragic death in January 2008. The video for the song "King Rat", off of the new EP No One's First, and You're Next, is meant to be some sort of anti-commercial whale hunting PSA. Well not really a PSA per se, but in the second half of the video the whales begun hunting a group of humans and there's some blood involved as people are getting harpooned by cartoon whales. And there's a processing scene that results in some weird gingerbread men that then become seal food. The song isn't bad, and the video is kind of cool. The whole thing is animated, but that doesn't really underscore the message of the video. Hunting whales isn't cool, and it would probably be best for all of us if people would stop doing it. 

03 August 2009

This fall, Jay-Z, Wale, and the Clipse will all be releasing brand new albums. This is very exciting considering the fact that up until this point there hasn't been a whole lot of blogworthy hip hop. Cam'ron and Jadakiss are all well and good, and Eminem just won't go away but there is still something slightly disheartening about the fact that Rick Ross has released the best hip hop album of 2009. So far, at least. At first, I thought I was just being biased since Jay, Wale, and Clipse are already my favorite hip hop acts, but then I started thinking about it and I started to realize that they may also represent the high mark for hip hop in 09. 
Its almost like hip hop fans are going to experience a Christmas-like effect. You get all excited, and wait and wait and wait and then you finally get what you've been yearning for and then a couple hours later you realize that you have to wait 364 days until this feeling returns again. But seriously, what happens in October after all three of these albums have come out? Yeah, there will probably be a few dope mixtapes here and there, but what else? The internet says that there will be another new Eminem album, but honestly who really cares about that? Except for maybe Nick Cannon. More on that HERE in case you've haven't been studiously following, but then again no one should be even paying attention to it. I only am because it merges my two of interests (hip hop and celebrity gossip), and because it is my job to report the news and in a meager way it seems to qualify as news from time to time.
There is also speculation on the internet that Kanye West is going to drop a new album before the year ends. As awesome as this would be, its not like he has to. In no way, is he obligated to. Some purists like to complain about 808s & Heartbreak, and how it isn't a hip hop album and how its kind of whiny. While the album was more of an R&B-type record as opposed to a straight hip hop album, that didn't make the album any less good. It was, in fact, quite good. Kanye's skills as a producer are unmatched by anyone in the game, and some of the songs were a little sad but the dude's mom had died and he had just gone through a break-up so give the man a little slack. Anyway, since that album came out Kanye has been popping up here and there on various hip hop songs in 09 and he has been dominating all of them. He out-rapped both of the dudes in the Clipse on "Kinda Like A Big Deal", and he even bested Jay on "Run This Town". The way Kanye is rapping these days its like College Dropout never even came out. He sounds hungry like he has something to prove. If he does release something then that would be pretty neat, and if he doesn't then we the people will just have to wait.
Back to the month of October and the possible scarcity of good hip hop. All may seem to be lost, but how about this for a fleeting thought. Maybe Lil' Wayne will come back to Earth, and release an album worth a damn. By the fall, his supposed rock and roll album will already have come out and since he is constantly recording then by this time he should be about ready to start working on Tha Carter 4. And since Jay-Z has already slayed the dragon that is Auto-Tune then Wayne should be ready to make a real hip hop album, one that is sans robot-voice correction technology. He's on tour right now so its not like he's working on new shit at the moment. His protege Drake will be dropping a proper album soon enough, and once he starts to get more shine then Wayne will probably start popping up in more places and before you know it POW!, there will be a new Weezy record. He'll have had all this time to prepare it and put it together, and since there won't be Auto-Tune it'll be just straight rhyming and it will slowly restore people's faith in Wayne's abilities. Well, maybe that's what will happen. Then again, maybe not. To be fair, there is a new HEALTH album coming out in September so perhaps by the time we get to the end of 2009 HEALTH will be the biggest band in the known universe and we will all completely forget about hip hop. (Writer's Note: I sincerely hope that we don't forget about hip hop. That closing sentence suffers from an acute case of hyperbole.)
I had made a promise that I would cut back on the number of videos being posted, and while I had firmly intended on keeping that promise that was before it took three weeks from my package to come from Amazon Marketplace seller mister_happy. Seriously dude, what is the hold up? Anyways, besides I also think I should get immunity for posting this video because it is a Bat for Lashes video and as previously documented there is a large amount of love for Bat for Lashes coming from this writer. Not only that, but I had bought tickets to see Bat for Lashes in Baltimore and while I had been very very excited about said concert I was informed last week that the show had been cancelled. Very sad, but oh well, and here's the video. (video via stereogum).

02 August 2009

Last month, I saw the movie My Bloody Valentine in 3-D and shortly thereafter determined that all movies should be shown in 3-D. On Friday, I attended the Deerhunter/Dan Deacon/No Age Round Robin show at Sonar in Baltimore. Upon leaving the show, I determined that more shows should be in a Round Robin format,but then upon further reflection I realized that may not be possible because there may only be three bands that can pull this kind of thing off. There were three stages set up creating an open square for the attendees. After that, it was a sheer wall of sound. Sounds volleyed across the room as people scampered from corner to corner to see whoever was playing at the moment. 
It seemed like the whole thing ran through Dan Deacon. It was like he was Magic Johnson back in the '80s with the Lakers, and he's got the ball and he can dish it to either Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or James Worthy or he can keep the rock for himself and take it straight to the hoop. Deerhunter was awesome, though. They were this massive presence, and no matter how wild things got they were constantly elevating their game. It was tight. No Age were able to crank out song after song at a hypersonic pace that left the crowd always on their toes. But it always came back to Dan Deacon. The crowd was like his yo-yo, and while they drifted away at times they always came right back to him. He was the one that had them moving. Literally, in fact. At one point, everyone put their hands up in the air and we all walked toward the center of the room and then we all started to lean in closer and closer and then we came out of it, and oh, man it was fun. 
The Round Robin set-up turned out to be pretty rad. You start out just making 90 degree turn after 90 degree turn, but before you know you've covered every square inch of the place. It was just constant movement from one to other to the next. As awesome as this thing sounded in theory, it was just that and more when actually performed. It wasn't so much playing at the same time as it was just each band alternating song at a quick pace so that the music never stopped. Before the show, it was hard to wrap my head around how this was going to work but once it started up everything just took off. And it was just cool because there aren't any other bands that are doing this type of thing. It was an experiment, and it worked. Not to get too deep, but there were some really good vibes in the air and the people were basically down for anything. A lot of these cats could have easily been talked into running straight into a concrete wall if told to do it by one the bands.