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Friday, December 29, 2006

Nobody Likes You

A preview of Marc Spitz's latest book, Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times and Music of Green Day, appeared in Alternative Press a few months ago. I liked what I read, especially the nice long quote from none other than Bryan Jones of Horace Pinker. Just based on these excerpts, I was really looking forward to the book. Besides, this is an official biography where the band members, along with a number of key people, were interviewed directly. So why do I feel like Nobody Likes You is an excerpt from another, much longer, yet-to-released, biography for Green Day?

Nobody Likes You is very well researched. At 190 pages, there are no glaring topics not mentioned. I loved how the whole Gilman Street area mindset/sell-out backlash is discussed with prime quotes from Fat Mike and Jello Biafra. This section was probably the most thorough analysis of what selling out meant to the area and it's well put. However, once the band members' beginnings, the band's formation and Dookie are discussed, the three main albums before American Idiot are merely touched on. As a fan of Nimrod (their best album in my opinion), I wasn't so pleased to see it be made light of as a mere transitional record.

By the time that American Idiot is discussed, I felt like skimming through this part. The deal is, this is where the book unceremoniously ends. American Idiot is a fine album, but its themes and time of release seem more important than the actual songs. Yes, there is some really biting commentary on post-9/11 America in these songs, but do I really want to read multiple pages about how this "matters" to a populist mindset? Nope.

All this said, Nobody Likes You is a very good read. It's written by a fan who cares about the band. It's gripping and it doesn't really slow down until the end. Yet it feels like a lot of the band's life between '95 and '03 is just exposition. I argue that those times are really important and should be more dug into. How did these guys adjust to being fathers and rock stars at the same time? How were the relationships between their friends and family change after the band became famous? How were they grounded even when they had millions in the bank? Why did they start acting like this super-serious rock band shortly after American Idiot came out? What's with all the eyeliner and all-black look? These questions are just the beginning. Here's to hoping for a future 300-400 page biography on the band.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

iTunes Shuffle 12.28.06

"(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" by the Soft Boys
I remember when my friend Goose told me to drop everything and buy the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight. He called it "Eric Music" as it mixed punk rock with garage rock and jangle-pop (some of my favorite styles of music). I had him burn me a copy as I wanted to be 100% sure. He was totally right. "Anglepoise Lamp" is not on Moonlight, but it has everything on it that makes the Soft Boys the greats they are.

"Champagne from a Paper Cup" by Death Cab for Cutie
This version is from the You Can Play These Songs With Chords compilation. Ben Gibbard sounds more like Doug Martsch than Ben Gibbard here. That said, this is a nice little short song from the band's early days (an era I'm slowly rediscovering).

"Kingpin" by Wilco
Bluesy country from Wilco's transformation album, Being There. Though the band doesn't play a lot of material from this era now, this song has been played quite a bit in the last few years. Wilco has been on a streak of slowing migrating into different styles with each passing album. Their forthcoming album may be an ornate All Things Must Pass-like album, but I'm not sure.

"Frank's Wild Years" by Tom Waits
Its intro reminds me of The Ladies Man sketch on SNL. However, the tale of Frank burning his apartment is everything but funny.

"Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners
I've heard some nice cover versions of this song over the years (including Save Ferris and the City on Film), but the original still ranks the highest with me. I guess it's because of the violin, piano and banjo.

"(I'm) Stranded" by the Saints
This is the song played during the Desert Island Jukebox pick every week on Sound Opinions. I like it, but I have yet to find it as praiseworthy as I've seen it elsewhere.

"Nowhere Again" by Secret Machines
One of my favorite songs from the band's debut album, Now Here is Nowhere. It's a pretty damn catchy tune from this former Dallas-based trio.

"Monkey" by Counting Crows
I've met a few people who don't claim to be Counting Crows fans but they love their second album, Recovering the Satellites. Count me in as one of those people. While I dig some of their songs on other albums, this one is the most consistent. Plus, "Monkey" mentions Ben Folds in the lyrics. I believe this was the first time I ever heard of Mr. Ben and it certainly wasn't the last.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Deathly

It's official: book seven will be called:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now, how about that rumored 07.07.07 release date?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rain

Time for another poem. This time, if Bukowski wrote about today's weather in Dallas:

Rain

rain
it reigns over everything i want to do
it sums up my mood
but i see some clearing

the rain brought some cold
yet there is no ice
no panic
no fear
just some skids at a stoplight

i want some more clearing
before i walk outside
do the drunks care about the weather?
i guess i'm an exception

winter is supposed to start tomorrow
but it feels like fall just started
halloween felt like yesterday
hell, last year's christmas party felt like yesterday

time goes too fast
in a weekly routine

my shopping is done
i cross my fingers for no return trips
even if it totally clears
i've had enough shopping for a year

i'm too old to play in the leaves
i'm too aware of the mud on the ground
i think i'll enjoy the ground when it goes back to dirt
maybe i'll have something else to complain about

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

You Could Be Born Again

I've always had a soft spot for sunny, almost-whimsical pop music from the Sixties. It's why I get a smile on my face when I hear "Windy" by the Association or the Friends of Distinction's version of "Grazing in the Grass." It's what drew me into LOST's second season opener with the use of Mama Cass's "Make Your Own Kind of Music." There's no "rock" element here; it's just warm and sugary melodies with horns, pianos and layers of vocal harmonies.

I first heard of the Free Design's existence via Stereolab's song of the same name. I heard accolades about their material over the years, but I never heard any of it until yesterday. Sound Opinions features a super-obscure Christmas track, "Shepherds & Wisemen," on this week's show. I played the track about three or four times before I cast my net out for some of their material. Good friend Mark supplied me with the Kites Are Fun compilation, but I'd like to hear more.

If I were to start with a comparison, I'd go back to where I first heard of the group's name. Stereolab has always had some bouncy little pop numbers mixed in with their hypnotic driving numbers. If you want to hear where they got those pop influences, look no further than the Free Design.

I get the feeling the Free Design (and similar-sounding groups) were initially pegged as saccharine pop. Everything sounds clean and sparkling ala Sergio Mendes and Burt Bacharach. Yet the melodies still hold up after all these years. Then I start thinking about what I consider modern pop blah and wonder: will stuff like Hannah Montana and Black Eyed Peas be considered pop perfection in 2021? I honestly hope not. I could be wrong though. Imagine some MP3 blogger praising "My Humps" as one of the greatest songs ever. Now that's scary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update from J. Robbins

J. posted a message on his website over the weekend following up on last week's news release:

12.13.06

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. Partly, I haven’t had the time or energy, but mostly it just didn’t feel appropriate to write about a family crisis on my music/work/vanity website. This is the place where I indulge inconsequential musings about music or politics, throw down Top Ten lists and propound my love of whomever I am lucky to be working with at any given time ... but things have definitely changed around here and especially since Kim and Bill put up their page for our son Cal, I figure it’s time I said something about what’s been happening.

Above all, I want to say THANK YOU - though words barely seem adequate - to Kim, Bill, Margaret Morgan and friends in the UK, and to everyone who has donated anything or even just sent a message of support. Janet and I feel more than ever that we are part of a real community, irrespective of geography but sharing a powerful bond through music and common ideals, and for that we are truly thankful. We have been moved to tears by the kindness of friends, and of total strangers, responding to Cal’s plight. And we are thankful for the messages we've received from other parents of kids with SMA.

I also wanted to give some more specific details about what we’ve been going through.

Callum was born Jan 27, 2006, and for the first few months of his life, we had no clue anything was wrong. We remarked on his “mellowness,” the fact that he didn’t seem interested in his legs or feet, and that he seemed to really hate being on his tummy, but he was really sociable, an early babbler, and obviously bright from an early age. Even our pediatrican thought Cal was just developing in his own way. He was, and is, simply a wonderful kid. But when he had passed his 6-month pediatric appointment and still didn’t sit up or even shimmy, and started having trouble holding his head up, we got more worried and went back to our doctor, only to find that something was indeed very wrong. We were told he had a severe lack of muscle tone, a total absence of reflexes, and the official diagnosis of SMA Type 1, confirmed by bloodwork, came fairly quickly thereafter.

We are lucky to live within walking distance of Johns Hopkins hospital, where Dr. Thomas Crawford has been studying SMA almost exclusively for 18 years. We were referred to him and he has been Cal’s doctor (along with our regular pediatrician) since the diagnosis. And he has been great. But when someone on the cutting edge of 21st century medicine tells you there is little or nothing that can be done, it does have a harder impact than hearing it from your family doctor.

We are encouraged by Dr. Crawford’s perception that - at least for now - Cal is in very good shape for a kid with his diagnosis. It is not uncommon for an infant with Type 1 SMA to already have severely impeded breathing and/or digestion, but Cal’s respiration and digestion seem really normal and healthy - he has a really strong voice and great appetite, and for his condition, fairly good head control. As an almost-11-month old with the physical aptitude of a healthy 2-or-3-month-old, in some ways maybe he is ahead of the game.

But our brief from the world of conventional medicine is simply to do as much physical therapy with him as we can (not because it will make for functional gains, but rather to keep his muscles from wasting and thereby keep him as healthy as possible), and do everything we can to keep him from getting sick, because thanks to his weakened chest muscles, his lungs will probably not develop fully, he will be at greater risk of a simple cold turning into something more serious, and an opportunistic infection is most likely to be his downfall.

As Dr. Crawford said to us, the most perverse thing about SMA is that no two cases are alike, so there is no predicting the course of Cal’s illness. It could be stable for the rest of his life, or it could worsen - slowly, or quickly, to what degree, all pretty much unknowns. SMA Type 1 is so often a fatal condition, but there’s just no telling what’s actually coming for Cal, except that actual improvements are not to be expected.We are working overtime to explore our options outside the traditional thinking. Since October, Cal has been getting regular physical therapy, along with cranial sacral therapy which has done a lot to alleviate the physical effects of being immobile, and we have even gone outside the US (and the influence of the FDA) for one inconclusive) form of treatment.

We are working with another neurologist who has used detoxification programs to treat and even cure autistic children, to explore the possibility that dietary allergies and environmental factors may have an effect on Cal’s condition.

At 11 months, Cal is too young to be an active participant in clinical trials, and we are not generally the greatest fans of pharmaceuticals, but we are also looking into some drug-based treatments that we may be able to try outside of a formal clinical trial setting.Most promising: two days ago we returned from a 2-week trip to a unique physical therapy practice in Mississippi with a very special approach to neuromuscular disorders, which gave us a lot of hope for a way forward. After 2 weeks there, we have seen Cal get some muscle tone where he previously had none, a contracture in his right leg has straightened out, he is definitely inhabiting his body more than before, and he has even made progress toward rolling over for the first time since before the onset of SMA. We have a lot of faith in what we experienced in Mississippi and the donations from Kim & Bill’s page will enable us to return there and make it a continuing part of Cal’s care.

We are getting some great advice and logistical support from the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Maryland Infants and Toddlers program, but we still don’t know just how far our insurance will go for the more conventional expenses that are coming up, things like adaptive equipment (including wheelchairs and the associated corrective surgery) and assisted breathing machinery ... meanwhile the alternative stuff is 100% up to us, so for Kim and Bill, and Janet’s family and friends in the UK, to reach out to people on our behalf, and for people to have responded as they have, is nothing less than a blessing and it’s hard to find the language adequate to express the depth of our gratitude.

I do want to conclude by saying that, after the initial shock and sadness, having come somewhat to grips with the state of things (the “new normal”), day-to-day life right now is not always all that dramatic. I now realize how often, when we deal with disabled people, even despite our best intentions, we see the disability more than the person, and just how awful that really is. Day-to-day, with things stable as they are right now, Janet and I are reveling in this time with our son, and when we look at him, we don't see "our stricken baby," but rather a beautiful kid, with incredible positive energy and such a strong character that often it's been like he is the one getting us through it, not vice versa. He has started talking for real, babbling a lot but also saying some specific words and being even more communicative and funny ... the point being, though we know the road ahead is going to be different and sometimes a lot more difficult, Janet and I are still experiencing the joys of being the
parents of a wonderful little boy, and it’s amazing.

To everyone who is helping in any way, even with a thought of support, we send all our gratitude and love.

J., Janet & Cal

Friday, December 15, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 - Part IV: A New Hope

Now to unveil my top favorites of 2006. Not all of these records came out this year, but I've never quite understood why records of the year have to be records that came out that year. With the exception of the bottom three listed -- which denote my favorite favorite albums of the year -- there really is no ranking.

Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Reviewing the How Strange, Innocence reissue for Punk Planet, I realized that Explosions in the Sky is not some Mogwai/Godspeed toss-off. After listening to all of their recorded material (including the Rescue EP and some bootlegs), I kept coming back to The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. Way more hopeful and brighter compared to their other material, these five tracks are pretty damn amazing.

Converge, You Fail Me and No Heroes
You Fail Me was played many times in my car this year. Brutal and spastic yet incredibly thought-out, the record kept blowing my mind. When No Heroes arrived in October, I thought this record towered above You Fail Me. Way more in-your-face and punishing, No Heroes is still blowing my head off.

the pAper chAse, Now You Are One of Us
Nobody else sounds like the pAper chAse. The idea of twisted chords and beats with bits from obscure horror flicks may sound like something for the Hot Topic goth crowd. Yet the band doesn't pander to anyone. This won't have you dancing in your seat, but it's pretty damn head-turning (in a good way).

Sparta, Threes
The Mars Volta may get more love from the press, but Sparta's music keeps evolving in a good way. Threes feels much different than their previous albums. It's darker, but not so dark that it's morbid and lifeless. It's a bit more toned-down, but that doesn't diminish its power.

Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
A sweet little record that's worth a lot of listens. The Life Pursuit is more amped up than their earlier work, but that doesn't put a damper on things. I know people who feel that If You're Feeling Sinister is the only album worth having. I argue that if you're a B&S fan, you can't have just one or two records.

TV On the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
I wasn't expecting this record to really grab me, but it did. Chris kept playing "I Was a Lover" when I would see him DJ, so I became very curious about the whole record. I never thought I could get into something that made me think of Prince and My Bloody Valentine.

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
"Neeeeeeeeeeko," as some of my friends slowly say. Her voice has that kind of effect on people and it really hit me this year. Since her approach to her solo material is different from her work with the New Pornographers, I often forgot that she's that golden voice on songs like "Letter From An Occupant." Fox Confessor melds folk, country and gospel into something so special that even non-fans of those genres can enjoy it.

Killswitch Engage, As Daylight Dies
Not as groundbreaking as their previous albums, but As Daylight Dies is another worthwhile addition to the band's canon. The riffs are more involved and meatier, but so are the warm melodies.

Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops
I couldn't really sink my teeth into Secret Machines' debut, Now Here is Nowhere. Too much building with very little payoff. Ten Silver Drops has plenty of payoffs. A step-up sonically from their debut, but a major step-up in the songwriting, the record holds my attention over the 45 minute runtime.

Blackpool Lights, This Town's Disaster
Former Get Up Kids member Jim Suptic really steps up on his new band's debut album. Owing a lot of its sound to Sire-era Replacements and Reprise-era Paul Westerberg, these eleven songs make me want to sing along over and over again.

Cursive, Happy Hollow
The big one. Tim Kasher is on a streak and I hope this praise won't jinx it. Happy Hollow is a solid record with a defined beginning, middle and end. There's a story told in the lyrics, but it's not some story where graphic novels, 13-minute self-important videos, storybooks or bonus tracks are needed. Happy Hollow seems like the logical next step from The Ugly Organ, but it's not The Ugly Organ Part II. It's a tuneful satire that doesn't get stale.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 - Part III

Sometime in January of this year, I had a craving for Pantera's music. I hadn't really listened to these guys since high school, but when I heard them again, I didn't feel like I was in a timewarp. Receiving a copy of the band's "greatest hits" collection, I was struck by how incredible this music still was. I've always held fellow bands like Metallica close to me, but I never thought 2006 would be a year I would really get into a few newer metal bands.

I've thought all year long about why I feel drawn to this kind of music. Depending on the band, stuff like crunching power chords, noodly riffs, shouting/singing vocals and busy drumming don't seem stupid. They actually feel pretty inspiring. Again, this depends on the band.

A few metal bands have blown my mind this year and here's the list

Killswitch Engage
I've posted so much about these guys this year, so I'll keep it short. This is some tuneful and tasteful metal that's also crushing. Alive or Just Breathing, The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies received plenty of spins in my stereo this year.

Converge
Not necessarily metal, but not necessarily hardcore, Converge is well, Converge. A number of their songs may sound like spazzy gibberish at first, but they have a lot more going on than meets the eye. I listened to You Fail Me quite a bit this year, along with Jane Doe, but their '06 album, No Heroes, blew me away big time.

All That Remains
I've only heard a couple of All That Remains' songs, but I've really dug them. Their '06, The Fall of Ideals, features a lot more melody compared to their older material. More in the vein of Swedish death metal, ATR has a nice flair of nice melodies over blast beats.

DragonForce
Yes, this music is rather goofy (opera-like vocals, a handful of guitar solos in every song, etc.), but taken in small doses, this isn't bad. Looking past all the excess, these are some pretty tuneful (there's that word again) songs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

68

When you interview people for a book or documentary, you can't help but get close to them. In my time of writing and researching my book, I've become close to a number of people I've interviewed. This is not so I can take advantage of them and exploit their "dirt"; this is because I relate to who they are and what they are about. Plus, I'm a big fan of what they've done (be it playing music, releasing albums or writing about music). So it was pretty heartbreaking to get the news about J. Robbins's son, Callum.

10-month-old Callum was born with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA affects the brain's ability to communicate with the voluntary muscles that are used for activities such as crawling, walking, breathing, and swallowing. The prognosis is very grim: even if he lives past his second birthday (which a large percentage of children with this don't make it to), he'll never be able to walk.

The cost of treatment is very expensive and it is not known how much of J.'s insurance will cover this. So, former Jawbox members Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot set up a PayPal account for donations. Within hours of the news, MySpace bulletins about it appeared, along with news releases on Punknews.org, the AV Club and Pitchfork. A benefit concert is even being discussed. For me, I had to step back and be blown away.

Seeing people come out of the woodwork to help this cause has been pretty overwhelming. Former bandmates of J.'s, former members of bands J. has recorded and others have passed the word along. This is not some guy who plays tunes that some people like. There's a lot more to him than the notes he plays and the bands he records.

In my case, J.'s always been supportive and encouraging for the book. So I was pretty devastated when I heard the news. I know life isn't fair, but it hurts when something so unfair happens to gracious and kind people. It's been very difficult to get my head around this. I hope this spreading of the word will do a lot of good. I get the feeling that it already has.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 Part II

Today's list consists of "catalog artists" (aka, artists that have been around for years). Coincidentally, all of the following released new material this year. Yet it was mostly older material that really rocked my brain off.

Tom Waits
Until October 2005, I thought Tom Waits was The Guy With Nearly-Unlistenable Songs That Somehow Wrote The Very-Listenable, "Downtown Train". Being introduced to his gentler material (like "Take It With Me," "Tom Traubert's Blues" and "Ol' '55"), I realized there was more to this guy.

With the acquisition of Used Songs, a collection of his material on Asylum, I dug even more. Reading Innocent When You Dream, reading the Complete Idiot's Guide on Jefito and seeing Big Time, his "unlistenable" stuff became pretty listenable. Now I'm at a point where I want to have almost every album of his. While I await some nice record company to remaster and reissue his back-catalog, I look forward to hearing Orphans, the new 3-disc compilation of unreleased and new material.

Feeder
Feeder has been around for ten years. Though more popular across the pond, some of their songs have been used in commercials and TV shows on the WB (back before it became the CW). Thanks to used record stores around town, I found almost all of their back catalog for cheap. No, these guys aren't trailblazing, but they rock with a melodic tinge that I can't get enough of. And they don't come across as wimpy either.

Scott Walker
A few months before I heard the It's Raining Today compilation, I had the urge to hear some really rich orchestral pop. I don't know exactly why, but I did. Being introduced to Scott Walker's solo material via a couple of nice write-ups on the 'net and hearing It's Raining Today, I had to have some of this for myself. Opting out of picking up the single-disc Boy Child compilation, I jumped in the deep end with the 5-disc In 5 Easy Pieces. I'm still sifting through all of this, but I'm glad I picked it up. If I had picked up Boy Child, I would have wanted more.

Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth was a band that always eluded me. I've known about them since 7th grade and I've slowly warmed up to them (fifteen years after the fact). I've had Dirty, Murray Street and Sonic Nurse for a while, along with burned copies of Washing Machine, EVOL and Daydream Nation, but something just didn't sink in. Listening to Dirty's "Sugar Kane" and Sonic Nurse's "Peace Attack" over and over this year, I finally got these guys.

2006 saw the band release another stellar album, Rather Ripped, in addition to a compilation of non-LP and unreleased material called The Destroyed Room. They have so much material to process and I'm just beginning. For now, it's Rather Ripped and the Goo reissue that I'm digging. I'll get to stuff like A Thousand Leaves and Sister eventually. Maybe by then Daydream Nation will get its long-overdue reissue.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 Part I

2006 was indeed a great year with music. I'm working up to my absolute favorites of year, but before then, here are some records I really enjoyed in 2006 that were released in 2005.

Against Me!, Searching for a Former Clarity
Searching for a Former Clarity came out in fall of 2005. I was curious to hear the album when it was released, but I heard all sorts of drastically mixed reviews. Some said this was a great step forward. Some said the demos were better. Others felt the band could never top their debut, Reinventing Axl Rose.

Fate stepped in by receiving the record to review for Punk Planet. I wasn't sure what to think of it based on my first few listens, so I kept listening to it again and again. I reached a point where I couldn't stop listening to the album (well after I had written and sent off my positive review). Why could I not stop listening? Well, the band has its own blend of harsh punk rock with pop-punk and folk (and they do it very well). Other bands do the whole folk with punk rock beats and it comes across as a novelty to me. Not these guys.

Gang of Four, Return the Gift
The idea of this record sounded awful: the reunited, original line-up re-recorded songs from their first few albums in conjunction with a worldwide tour. So many bands re-record older material and it just doesn't work. The charm is usually gone due to several factors (age, studio polish, etc.). Gang of Four proved this wrong, but that doesn't mean the coast is clear for everyone else.

Return the Gift sounds fantastic. The big-beat drums are way more pronounced, as are the vocals and guitar. Bassist Dave Allen puts his stamp of thwack on a number of great songs originally done after he left the band (like "To Hell With Poverty"). All this said, Return the Gift doesn't totally top the original recordings, but it makes the case that the reunion was not some walked-through, phoned-in, cash-in.

Modern Life is War, Witness
Modern Life is War play a kind of hardcore that is harsh, but not so harsh that it's an all-out assault on your ears. This is a fine album even though it's nine songs played in under 27 minutes. These guys don't muck around; they get in and they get out. I thank my editor at Punk Planet for introducing them to me (via his interview with singer Jeff Eaton that ran earlier this year).

Nightmare of You, Nightmare of You
Credit goes to Torr Leonard for spreading the good word on these guys. Consisting of members from the Movielife and Rival Schools, NOY go for something broader than what seems to easy. Yes, lead singer Brandon Reilly wears eyeliner and has a slightly melodramatic approach to singing. But that doesn't mean that the band's music is only for the teen goth vampire crowd. Nightmare of You is really poppy rock with hooks galore. Though there are parts that are a little too sugary for me, I can't help but hum along.

Editors, The Back Room
Released in England in 2005 and released stateside in 2006, The Back Room is a pretty fine debut. Driven by the singles "Munich," "Bullets" and "Blood," Editors do something right. Yet calling them a commercially-friendly mix of Joy Division and Interpol is very misleading. Yes, these songs sound dark, but they are incredibly warm and hopeful at the same. I don't know how a band can do this so well, but they do it.

Figurines, Skeleton
Released in Europe in 2005, but released here in 2006, Skeleton is a peppy little gem. The comparisons to certain bands that have put out records on Up Records really begins and ends in the vocals department. Songs like "The Wonder" and "Other Plans" really rocked my mind this year.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
A record I heard plenty of kudos for last year, I got this record in late-'05. So I didn't have any time to review it '05's wrap-up. I didn't think this big, dense record would be the band's final bow, but it was.

Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
I loved Transatlanticism, but I didn't like Plans very much. I listened to it a few times and brushed it aside. Seeing the Directions DVD this year, I realized what I was missing. Plans is something you have to sit back and enjoy.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sister I'm a Poet

A few days ago, Jen posted a link that imagined Poems That Were Considered and Rejected Before 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Was Established as "The Official American Christmas Poem." Poems from Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Alan Poe were imagined and I thought the results were funny. Feeling inspired, I decided to chime in with a poem I thought Charles Bukowski would write:

sleigh ride

even in winter
my ears bleed
i never wanted to see that broad again
but i did

i paid too much for too little
in return
i ask why
why so much for a sleigh ride

no jingle
no jangle
just cold air breezing through my clothes

i think about why i gave the bottle up
just for a night to be with her
and her damn little ride
then i remembered

the smell of that perfume
that laugh
that lipstick
it was all there

but the cold brought me back
back to where i was before she called

i just can't hear that jing-jing-jingling


I don't fancy myself a poet; I was just doing what I thought old Hank might have said. I've only read one of his books (Hot Water Music, a collection of short stories), seen the Born Into This documentary and have read a couple of his poems. Frankly, I thought I was writing a total Bukowski rip-off and nothing more. I was expecting somebody else to come along and do something like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by John Cheever or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Richard Wilbur. Tee-hee, ha-ha, right?

So it was surprising when Jason asked me if this was a real Bukowski poem. Jason's really into poetry (he once had his own poetry magazine) and has a number of books of poems all throughout our house. He said he liked it regardless of who wrote it and I was very flattered. He suggested I submit it somewhere. The cynic in me felt like saying no and just make light of the whole thing, but another part of me wants that cynic to shut up. This other part wants to try doing some poetry (in addition to all the other writing I do).

So I ask you, the reader of this non-poetry blog portal, would you care to occasionally see original poems on here?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Mall Punk News Stories of 2006

No matter how absurd mall punk can be, I can't really turn away from reading about it. I figure one must arm him/herself with as much information for the most amount of ammo. Some of these bands I like, but a number of them I don't like at all. I've found trying to read about a band I really like requires digging around stories about bands that I don't care about. So, here's a short little list of news stories I found fascinating (in good, bad or both ways) in 2006.

Top Mall Punk News Stories of 2006

Hawthorne Heights vs. Victory Records
2006 started off with some very shady attempts by the label to get the band's second album, If Only You Were Lonely, atop the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. The plan backfired and the record debuted "only" at number 2. In August, a bombshell was dropped: the band was suing to get off the label. The label counter-sued and things are still up in the air. I'm still not a fan of HH's music, but what they did was incredibly brave and commendable.

Panic! At the Disco vs. Brent Wilson
The band first said the bassist quit the band, then word got out that he didn't. He filed a lawsuit and things are still pending. Lawsuit or no lawsuit, would this band of mimes and Goth pirates just go away?

Lifetime signs with Decaydance Records
One of the most revered post-hardcore bands of the Nineties signs with one of the most hated mall-punk labels of today. Guitarist Dan Yemin responds with extensive reasons why and an open call for fans to e-mail thoughts, concerns and questions to him. By the end of the year, a two-song 7" came out and it sounds a lot like the classic Lifetime (and in a good way). As a sidenote: one-time bassist Linda Kay was charged with possessing human remains.

Escape the Fate loses vocalist before their debut album arrives
Las Vegas five-piece (who long for the days of sleazy excess last seen with bands like Motley Crue) part ways with vocalist Ronnie Radke before their debut album arrives. Only a few weeks prior, the vocalist made bold claims about this record: "I don't want to come off like an asshole, but we're gonna be that change in music. I have a vision. I want people to have fun, put their fists in the air. We're getting recognized in every city. It's gonna happen. Watch. I'm not jokin'. We're gonna be the biggest thing. So huge. I know it."

My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade
Giving numerous straight-faced interviews about how this is a concept album on death, I wondered when they would start laughing about it. That has yet to come. That's the problem with a number of these bands: they're taking total shtick and trying to be incredibly serious about it. Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way (at least to me).

CRACKED listed the album as one of the Five Most Unintentionally Funny Albums of 2006. "Epics are either really fun or kickass," wrote Dustin Glick, "you can either be funny and flamboyant like Queen or surly and awesome like Lynard Skynard. But you can't shop at Hot Topic and cry about your daddy."

Angels and Airwaves
Amid mudslinging from his former bandmates in blink-182, Tom DeLonge aimed for the sky with Angels and Airwaves' We Don't Need to Whisper. Hoping to revisit the heights of the Cure, Pink Floyd and U2, the album reminded me more of A Flock of Seagulls. A Flock is Seagulls is not bad, but definitely not something of the caliber of the Cure, Pink Floyd or U2. DeLonge shot himself in the foot by hyping the album to absurd depths months before the album dropped. By the end of the year, he appeared on Larry King Live for a surprisingly coherent interview.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Student Bodies quotes of 2006

I make no secret about how much I love Student Bodies (read my review here). Every year, there are a number of quotes from the movie that stick in my head. Simply, this is really smart, deadpan humor that hasn't become stale. Here's this year's list:

Top 10 Student Bodies Quotes for 2006:

10. "Talking? During horsehead bookends?"

9. "Why do they always run away from me? It's the galoshes. They're a dead giveaway. Why do I wear them? It isn't even raining!"

8. "Hasn't there been enough senseless killing? Let's have a murder that makes sense!"

7. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Sahara Tahoe. It's showtime!"

6. "I can never stop thinking about it. Funerals get me hot."

5. "I'll get it. I'm farthest from the phone."

4. "Please, don't be so formal. Call me Daddy."

3. "How do you feel about sex?"
"Sex?"
"Did I mispronounce it?"

2. "Look at those two sneaking off."
"Well, maybe they have to go to the bathroom or something."

1. "And if I see one more horror film, I'll throw up. What makes them think that the American public wants to watch such stupid trash?"
"You're right dear, now hurry up or we'll miss The Dukes of Hazzard."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Translation

Yesterday, Chris got some flak for posting his top albums of 2006 without any commentary on them. He felt he would be repeating a lot of the stuff he already wrote about them earlier in the year. So he just kept it to a list. After kicking an idea around with him, I decided to post the following tongue-in-cheek item in the comments section:

gorilla vs. bear's Top 10 of 2006 . . . as translated by Eric Grubbs

10. Hot Chip, The Warning
--Here's a band that rocked my face off even though they don't use the standard instruments that rock most faces off. Layers of keyboards, vocals and drumbeats go places. And when I mean places, they're not some swanky clubs that play house music.

9. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House
--Not to be confused with Austin's Golden Bear, Grizzly Bear reminds me of Jim O'Rourke's best solo material. This is laid-back, atmospheric, folky pop that doesn't put you to sleep.

8. Beach House, Beach House
--This duo's recent performance at the Amsterdam Bar blew the roof off. The deal is, there is no roof where the bands play, but whatever. This is some pretty, chamber-like stuff. Yes, this is another mellow record on my Top 10, but it's great.

7. Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming
--Let's get the Bowie comparison out of the way: yeah, the guy sings like mid-70s Bowie, but not in a tacky way. The scope of this record is like a twee pop record, but it doesn't feel like a twee pop record.

6. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
--Furthering the puzzlement of fellow bloggers like The Berg and Eric of Theme Park Experience about the hipness of gangsta rap, this is a straight-up gem. His flow is still right on target and his lyrics are totally raw. Enough rappers talk about their chains, rims and false teeth; Ghostface tells it how all great gangsta rap tells it: it's the CNN of the ghetto.

5. Love Is All, Nine Times That Same Song
--You want some poppy rock that sounds alive? Here you go. Love is All feature some spectacular female vocals and really catchy guitar along with some tasty bells and whistles.

4. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury
--The record everybody has been waiting for, except for those who haven't or don't understand what's so great about these guys or gangsta rap in general. Not to be confused with the Coup, this is some more smart rap that blasts out of your speakers and opens your mind. Using non-traditional beats (like coins, steel drums, banging on steel walls) makes this even more appealing.

3. Joanna Newsom, Ys
--She's done it again! Joanna is my homegirl with a record that Joni Mitchell, Bjork and Fiona Apple would kill to make. Yes, this record could be considered an EP at only five songs, but these fifty-five minutes will hold you tight and knock your socks off.

2. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
--Denton band drops the Flaming Lips vibe for something that America and Fleetwood Mac did in the Seventies. With a one-two punch of "Roscoe" and "Bandits," this is a stellar little record of quiet beauty.

1. The Knife, Silent Shout
--This record sounds like it came out in 1986. This is all electronic with vintage sounds from dance music's past. It's a head-trip and it's my jam out of all the jams I heard this year. Don't ask me why, but it just jams my mind.

Hear me out: other than Midlake's albums, I had not really heard any of the aforementioned records. I pulled up the iTunes music store, listened to some sound clips and wrote what I wrote. It was fun to gauge what somebody else might think about these records, especially records that I don't really "get." Some people got the joke and some didn't. I don't mean to piss on a hipster mentality, but it was a little fun doing something like Geoff would do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Top Ten Quotes

Time for some fun with year-end lists. I'll get to my favorite records of the year (you can read about ten of them in the new issue of Punk Planet), but for the time being, let me share some quotes I gathered from interviews this year.



Top Ten Quotes I Heard This Year During Book Interviews:

10. "I don't feel like I've changed the reasoning that I'm doing any of this shit. You're playing a show for the people that are inside the room, not the people who didn't bother to show up. You're putting out a record for the people who dig it."

-- Chris Wollard

9. "His singing gave me the courage to sing like a girl."

-- Jeremy Enigk on Shudder to Think's Craig Wedren

8. "When you're talking about rock -- and this goes for any type of rock -- if it isn't a little bit dangerous and it doesn't piss off the parents a little bit, it's questionable and suspect. That's just a safe assumption to me."

-- John Congleton

7. "That whole section was blank. I was like, 'Dude, you can't have this instrumental section. You gotta have something there. And we gotta have some back and forth or something like.' And then Chuck goes, 'How about, "Live your heart and never follow"'? I was like, 'Great.'"

-- Walter Schreifels, on recording Hot Water Music's "It's Hard to Know"

6. "To me, it always seemed like gang violence. And I think that whole gang mentality is something I just could not relate to. I can understand how some kind of misdirected person is gonna come to that and that's gonna be their kind of ad-hoc family. I don't know – I was screwed up in different ways. I looked for my family values elsewhere in hardcore."

-- Aaron Burgess, on straight edge

5. "Every generation's older people are convinced that they were the last [that] did anything worthwhile and that none of the kids are taking up the torch like they did, and it's just a load of shit. People just love to complain."

-- Kyle Ryan

4. "I think [with] punk rock, you have to be young. It's an inheritantly young thing because with age, you become a realist. I don't know how much I would want to pine over the kind of romantic subtitles that Blake was pining over on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy."

-- Trevor Kelley

3. "If you wanna know why so much bad music is popular, well look at the demographic of the people that buy all the records, it's all babysitting money. Somebody who's fourteen/fifteen year-old, no offense to these people, they're valid human beings, but they have not had a lot of life experience."

-- John Congleton

2. "The more we talked about breaking up, the more bearable the tour became."

-- Chris Wollard, on Hot Water Music's first break-up.

1. "The truth takes time to tell."

-- William Goldsmith

Friday, December 01, 2006

Through the Fire and Flames

Credit goes to the folks at Punknews.org for pointing this out: CRACKED's Five Most Unintentionally Funny Albums of 2006. Albums by My Chemical Romance, the Mars Volta and Jibbs are listed, but the one that I find very appealing (even with all the silliness) is DragonForce's Inhuman Rampage. A video for "Through the Fire and Flames" is included and I've watched this video a handful of times. I gotta say, I like this song.

Yes, these guys have an Iron Maiden meets Swedish metal vibe. Yes, these guys sing about pain, burning, darkness, freedom, flames and fighting over and over again on the album. Yes, there are about seven guitar solos in "Through the Fire and Flames" alone. Yes, this is pure guitar wankery, but damn, this stuff is tuneful (to my ears at least).

A few months ago, a friend of mine who came up through the same post-hardcore/emo/pop-punk stuff that I did, was so excited to see DragonForce play live. As a matter of fact, he changed his MySpace username to say that he was seeing these guys. This was the same person that sang praises of the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden-like 3 Inches of Blood last year. I asked him if he seriously liked this stuff and he said yes. Slowly, I've understood why.

Make no mistake, I'm well aware that this stuff is insanely goofy, but it's not like this stuff is Overkill or Warrant. I know I could never play songs like these on guitar or drums, but I'm OK with that. This kind of tuneful speed metal isn't that far removed from the blazing pop-punk of Strung Out, a band I have loved for almost ten years now. As long as the material is tuneful (including the solos), that's fine by me.

Did I ever think I would praise stuff like this? Absolutely not. It's not as dense as something like Tom Waits, Scott Walker or the Beach Boys, but this stuff is no joke for me

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hurting Each Other

I'm a MySpace addict. I check my account a half-dozen times a day for various matters, like show updates and messages from friends. I know I'm not the only addict around the people I hang out with. Yet I find it odd when people take great offense to actions that seem like a dis by their friends. In particular, declining Friend Requests and changing the order of your Top Friends list. This all may sound so silly, but it's serious business for a number of people.

Late last year, I spoke with a couple friends of mine about receiving Friend Requests from people they didn't know. One said she received a request from someone that was a friend of a friend of a friend. Since she didn't know this person, she declined her request. A short while later, she met this person face to face. The encounter was awkward to say the least. This person took great offense to the supposed flat-out rejection. But I wondered why. Is the acceptance of a Friend Request symbolic of acceptance in other aspects of life?

I know I'm one to talk about taking stuff way too personally, but I've never been crushed by a declined Friend Request. I've felt bad for inadvertently hurting someone's feelings by leaving a comment on his or her's page, but I know that kind of reaction is not solely by my doing. I don't have that kind of power over someone.

In regards to the Top Friends (aka, the 4-24 profiles listed on the front page), I'm flattered when a friend of mine puts me up there. However, I've never expected to be "ranked" among even my closest of friends. I have my own weird way of placing my friends in the Top 24 and it's not easy to explain. I have friends from college, bandmates, my band, blogging friends, friends from work, writer friends and so on. Are these the only people I'm closest to? Absolutely not. Yet they each have their own specific reasons why they're up there. If I were to take someone out of there, that does not mean there's been a major fallout between us. However, people think that is the case.

Writing all of this stuff out makes me think this is gossip strictly for the middle and high school crowd. Yet it's not. Has the addiction of MySpace made us so? I think of the site as a virtual portal. It's not a replacement for face to face/phone to phone conversations. No matter how many features get added to the site, it's no substitute for them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happiness and cheer

With the holidays coming up, I'm slowly making my way into some holiday shopping. Nevermind the long lines, sparse parking and crabby customers, it's the Christmas music that can be annoying the most. I can tolerate hearing the classics to a certain degree (Phil Spector's Christmas album still rules, Big Crosby's stuff is still good, U2's version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is still great, the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" tears me up inside and so on), but a number of songs are played to overkill. Doesn't matter where you are; you can't escape these songs. So in the last five years, I've decided to make my own Christmas mixes from various sources. These are songs that I have yet to be tired of.

I still listen to the Vandals' Oi to the World once a holiday season. Nothing like songs titled "A Gun for Christmas," "My First Christmas as a Woman" and "Hang Myself from the Tree" to liven the mood. Yes, this is dark and cynical stuff, but very funny and tuneful at the same time.

Another staple is Vince Guaraldi's score to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only do I love the cartoon itself, but the score is what makes it for me. It's loose poppy jazz played in a really "live" way. As a fan of the drums and piano especially, there's something so timeless about this music.

A few years ago, local label Idol Records released Electric Ornaments. Featuring some of the best local bands at the time, a number of the songs hold up. While there are some standards that get a standard walk-through, original tracks by Centro-matic, Valve and Clumsy are pretty stunning (at least in my mind). Plus, Chomsky's rendition of "Christmas Time Is Here" and Pinkston's rendition of the Kinks' "Father Christmas" are prime tracks also.

Lastly, I have to give props to my blogging friend Jeff of Jefitoblog. His 2005 Holiday Mixtape introduced me to a number of wonderful tracks, including George Winston's "Joy." His 2006 Holiday Mixtape recently came online and there are a number of stellar tracks here too. From Peggy Lee to Aretha Franklin to Twisted Sister to the dB's, you're not going to hear these songs as you stand in line behind a person having a hissy fit about Playstation 3's availability.

So what songs get you through the holidays?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Say Cheese!

Taking a little cruise down memory lane last night on YouTube, I came upon a few videos I remember seeing all over MTV in their day. Here are three of them:

White Lion, "Wait"

Firehouse, "Love of a Lifetime"

Nelson, "After the Rain"

Listening to these songs again, I don't find anything wrong with the songs themselves. They're tuneful and filled with melody. However, I can totally understand why grunge was such a great thing for me, the 7th grader in '91/'92, and the jaded rock music critic who was much older than me.

The biggest thing that strikes me with these videos is how goofy-looking guys take themselves very seriously. But how can White Lion's singer consider himself a serious musician when he's constantly bending down in leather pants? How can the guys in Nelson take themselves seriously with their whole look? "That's what people did in those days" they would probably argue today. But come on, this is pure cheese. Yet cheese sells . . . for a while.

I get the same feeling whenever I watch that silly Panic! At the Disco video for "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." Sure, this band has sold a lot of records, but so what? Are the same people who love this band going to be feeling like us former Nelson and Firehouse admirers when they get to be our age? I think that's definitely in the cards.

So why do I even care? Because there's something very peculiar about how cheese can be taken so seriously and then be forever lampooned.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Living in Happy Hollow

I think it's very safe to say that last night's show at the Gypsy Tea Room was the best show I've seen all year. Cursive headlined, Jeremy Enigk played second and the Cops opened. Yes, I usually complain about paying for service fees and parking for shows like these, but this one was totally worth it.

I was lucky to see Jeremy play twice as he played a five-song set at Good Records in the afternoon. As a longtime fan of his stuff, it was great to see him perform solo with only guitar and piano at his disposal. He played songs from his recent solo album, World Waits, along with a couple of prime tracks from Return of the Frog Queen (including "Explain") and a song from the United States of Leland score. Though he would play all five of these songs again in a few hours, I didn't mind.

The Cops are from Seattle and their material often reminded me of Mission of Burma. Though there were no noise-filled jams, there were definitely parts that sounded like the great Boston band. Most of their material had that pulsing dance beat that you can clap along to. Decent stuff, but once Jeremy got on stage, it was a different story.

Though Jeremy performed this summer with a full band, it was just him on this tour. You could speculate all you wanted to about the lack of drums, lead guitar, bass and strings with performing this stuff solo, but Jeremy stole the show. His voice still sounds incredible and it filled the ballroom up. He was really relaxed and cheerful between songs, but he went off into a different world when he played. His presence wasn't contrived or silly; it was the Jeremy Enigk that people have been glued to ever since Diary.

I wasn't expecting Jeremy to play any Sunny Day songs, but he casually rolled into a version of "How It Feels to Be Something On" at the piano. Though slower than the album version and less bombastic, it sounded so good on piano (especially the ascending melody at the tail-end of the pre-chorus). In addition to the five songs he played at the in-store, he did a rousing rendition of "Shade and the Black Hat" from Return of the Frog Queen. Though its outro was him banging away on the piano, it felt like an interesting way to jumble up the set's vibe.

Following the set-closing "Explain," I saw something that I had never seen before: a non-headliner be called out for an encore. Jeremy tried walking up the steps to the green room, but he came back. There was thunderous applause and a number of pleas for another song and he delivered. Doing a charged version of John Lennon's "Mother," I was blown away. I don't really know Lennon's version, but Jeremy made the song so intensely personal. Yet at no point did I feel like I was watching Dashboard Confessional perform. This was such an awe-inspiring set and I didn't feel old. It was nice to see people appreciate Jeremy as a solo artist instead of That Dude from Sunny Day Real Estate. He's not trying to escape his previous life as SDRE's frontman, but he is moving on. That in itself is a major point of inspiration.

As far as Cursive, they were excellent as usual. Playing an equal amount of songs from Domestica, The Ugly Organ and Happy Hollow, I had no complaints. Augmented by a horn section (trumpet, sax, trombone) and a cellist, there were no empty spots in the Ugly Organ or Happy Hollow material. The horns played a little bit on the songs from Domestica and that was pretty sweet. More accents than anything else, they added some nice colors. They encored with "Sink to the Beat" and it blew the roof off. Tim Kasher even pulled a guy up from the crowd to play his guitar during the song's middle eight. The guy was pretty great as he did some simple soloing that never veered into pure wankery. A very cool way to end the night.

Overall, the whole show was fantastic. Plus, it was not a bust attendance-wise. There were a lot of people my age there, but so were a number of teenagers. Yes, the same people that allegedly all bow down at the Temple of Chris Carrabba, Gerard Way and Pete Wentz. Yet everybody seemed very into it all. Like Jeremy Enigk, Cursive isn't marketed to death to "the kids." They still make incredibly dense music after all these years. Plus, people actually care about what they have to offer even if it's not all over MTV, Fuse or glossy magazines. I think I should remember this before I pass future judgment on this younger generation.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Altman

I'm not an expert on Robert Altman's films. I can't say I'm a big fan of his work. However, he was a filmmaker that took a lot of risks on stuff that most people wouldn't dare do. (How many films not involving Christopher Guest have you heard of where they started shooting a film with a general idea instead of a script?) He was unafraid to say stuff that a lot of people thought about but couldn't put into film. This is why it's sad to hear the news about his passing.

A number of Altman's films are staples in film courses and film schools. Myself, I was first introduced via the eight-minute, one-take opening in The Player. Blasting the MTV style of fast-cutting while paying homage to Orson Welles' Touch of Evil opening shot, I was impressed. M*A*S*H came a few months later, but I didn't see another Altman flick until earlier this year.

If you only look at his highest-grossing films and say that's all the worthwhile stuff he did, you're missing a lot. Films like Nashville and Short Cuts aren't popcorn fare where everything is neatly handed to you. Instead, they're snapshots of specific times in the last forty years that don't feel dated today. Nashville isn't just about country music in the Seventies and Short Cuts isn't just about living LA in the Nineties. He focuses on humans going through human things more than the always-shifting pop culture of the day.

While there can only be one Altman, understand that he's not going to be forgotten any time soon. He was always respected among film critics and scholars. Also, a number of younger directors, including Richard Kelly and Paul Thomas Anderson, cite him as a major influence. You can debate all you want about how Anderson's Magnolia and Kelly's Southland Tales hold up to Altman's stuff, but it's hard to argue they were taking cues from a great.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kingdom Come

I wrote a similar post about this earlier this year, but I want to bring up the topic again: why is modern hip hop/rap considered so . . . hip? I'm talking about the people that love the orchestral folk of Joanna Newsom, the poppy rock of Destroyer and the brutal metal of Mastodon who also love modern hip hop. I ask this as Jay-Z's "comeback" record, Kingdom Come, arrives in stores this week.

Full background recap: I've never been a full-fledged fan of hip hop/rap. There were times in middle school and high school where it seemed cool, but never as cool as classic rock, grunge and metal. I couldn't understand how white suburban males found solace and inspiration in this stuff (from the music to the fashion). I couldn't understand how guys my age found Too $hort singing about prostitutes and Public Enemy singing about racial tension cool. What was so appealing with songs about gritty street life? What was so appealing about wearing Los Angeles Raiders jackets and baggy jeans? I didn't understand it then, but I think I have a slightly better understanding now.

There was something so appealing about the attitude and grit found in this music. This was stuff that was not a part of everyday suburban life. The fantasy was safe to have because the suburbs are mostly safe as compared to the ghettos. While grunge and hard rock played into people's anger, hip hop was something that played into a desire for confidence. I've had self-esteem issues since adolescence, but I have yet to see hip hop as a way raising my level of confidence. Why? There's too much materialism discussed. It's not everywhere in hip hop, but it takes up most of what's eaten up by the mainstream. I'm not going to gain the confidence of finishing and publishing my book by hearing songs about rims and gold chains.

The lyrics are just part of the story; the music is a big part of what I can't get into. No matter how many warm melodies are put on a track, when the rapping kicks in, it gets annoying. I have yet to hear many melodic colors in rapping and I doubt I'll ever hear them. Plus, too much of rapping feels mechanical and talkative. I'm wired into warm melody and all kinds of warm melody, be it Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Tom Waits or Barry Manilow. That's just me.

So I wonder about the people that are my age, who have been through the teen angst phase and are settling into adulthood whether they like it or not. What's the appeal of hip hop at this age? Is there still a fantasy element involved?

It puzzles me when I see Pitchfork's Track Reviews section praising a number of new hip hop tracks from Jay-Z and Nas, Clipse, Trick Daddy and Akon. Yes, they reviewed indie rock stuff like Voxtrot and Matt and Kim, but that's a minority. Granted, Track Reviews is usually pretty balanced with all sorts of styles of music, but I'm just amazed at how much hip hop is covered on the site and on MP3 blogs in general. How can Voxtrot's Smiths-meets-Strokes rock be as acclaimed as a Jay-Z and Nas track? Does my lack of understanding hip hop impair me with this?

I've asked this to people over the years and I've never really received a straight answer. And I don't take "I don't know, I just like it" and "If you don't understand, you'll never understand" as suitable answers. One answer I have heard over the years is the production quality. There's something about the beats and the orchestration, but I usually find this stuff cold and robotic. Plus, the production is just the beginning of enjoying a song. It doesn't make up the beginning and ending for me. The melodies are key.

Again, what am I missing here?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some sharing for an early weekend

Time to share some funny/amusing stuff I've read in the last few weeks that you might enjoy:

Useless Advice from Useless Men answer a question by a mother dealing with a three-year-old who has gone beyond being a Toddler Terror. My favorite line is the opening line: "As someone who does not have children, I know exactly how you should be raising your kid."

Jeff gave a link to Py Korry's review of Paul Young's new album, Rock Swings. Yes, the same man that gave us such pop hits as "Everytime You Go Away" goes the crooner/swing route on songs like Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

Ryan (formerly of Trickles of Reason and now of Zine -O- Phonic) sent me a link to a local band called face to face. No, it's not the Eighties Boston band or the might Nineties pop-punk band of the same name; this one is a praise and worship band.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Paradise Lost

I've seen my fair share of documentaries. Some great, some OK and some just appalling (Riding In Vans With Boys comes to mind). I had never seen one that left me incredibly disturbed and frightened at the same time. Besides, I always thought that was a feeling that you could only get from watching a gritty, but fictional, horror movie like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Exorcist. Documentaries don't have those jumps like the ones you find in the original Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. Well, Paradise Lost (and especially its sequel) have changed that perspective for me.

I had seen Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger's revealing look at the making of Metallica's St. Anger in Some Kind of Monster, but I had never seen the film that put them first in the spotlight. Paradise Lost originally made headlines because it was the first time that Metallica allowed some of their songs be used in a film. Well, the focus of documentary itself made an even bigger impact upon its release in 1996.

Paradise Lost takes an even view at the aftermath of the murders of three young boys in a small Arkansas town. Three teenagers, later known as the West Memphis 3, are arrested and sentenced to life in prison (including one on death row). But the question that lingers throughout the whole film is "did they or didn't they?" To me, I couldn't tell with Paradise Lost. Upon viewing the sequel, I had a better understanding and felt really uneasy at the same time. I don't want to open up a debate here, but let's just say that more questions and suspicions arise as Paradise Lost 2 unfolds. You could say there was a heavy bias in favor of the ones in jail, but certain people not in jail seem more like suspects versus the ones that are in prison.

I'm not going to spoil anything more, but I will say that I'm glad a third installment is set to arrive sometime next year. The truly scary thing is that this is not some fictional film claiming it is real. This is not some Blair Witch Project or a The Last House on the Left or even a Fargo kind of thing. It's something no marketing ploy can do.

Like when I saw The Exorcist for the first time a few years ago, a lot of stuff from Paradise Lost stuck in my mind with a sense of terror. There were no lame jumps out of doors, tricky musical stings or gory make-up. It's just real-life stuff that is fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

I understand why people turn to film to be entertained and would stay away from a film like this. No, this is definitely not popcorn material. As a matter of fact, I had to watch a few hilarious episodes of Police Squad! to take my mind off of Paradise Lost. Yup, it was that powerful a charge. But these movies are proof as far as how powerful documentaries can be. They can be shallow and boring, but they can also get a charge out of you that you can't with fiction. (Maybe that's why I'm so attracted to documentaries in the first place.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sunken Dreams

. . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead feel like they've been around for ages and well, they have. I remember reading about them some ten years ago in a Rolling Stone recap of South By Southwest. Just the name itself sounded cool. Picking up on their recorded material with their second album, Madonna, I've been lucky to see them live twice (right after Source Tags & Codes came out and a few months before Worlds Apart came out). Yet being a Trail of Dead fan for the last couple of years has become a very defensive thing with their post-Source Tags & Codes material.

Source Tags & Codes, the band's 2002 major label debut, came out a time when people were convinced that dense modern rock was becoming mainstream again. Records by the Strokes, the White Stripes and At the Drive-In released in the previous two years came out to critical raves and legitimate enthusiasm by the buying public. Yet when Matt LeMay's 10.0 score of Source Tags & Codes appeared on Pitchfork, there was some understandable suspicion. How could a new record be considered essential for a score so often reserved for older, time-tested material? Describing the album's grand finale (complete with a strings-laced reprise), LeMay wrote, "The impact is immediate: you know without a moment's doubt that you have just heard something that is absolutely classic." Looking back, you could say this was the final salvo for this era's mindset.

Source Tags & Codes' follow-up, Worlds Apart, arrived in January '05. To me, I felt that the band had made a much better record than Source Tags & Codes. Even though I really dug Source Tags & Codes, I felt the band had a better grasp of songwriting this time out. Instead of depending on simple loud-quiet dynamics and an echo-drenched sound, the band made an upfront epic with really thought-out songs. Yet trying to convince people of the album's merits went mostly unfounded. Simply, people had moved on to other things, even as early as summer 2002. The hope that dense modern rock could unite doe-eyed teenage music fans and jaded 20/30-somethings didn't catch on this time.

Though favorably reviewed in a number of major publications, Pitchfork felt like they were on a smear campaign with Worlds Apart. Nick Sylvester's 4.0 review reeked of an overly-critical, "Why does this matter right now?" vibe. This kind of piss-taking is something I find so disheartening about being a fan of music who wants to share what I like. Nevermind the merits of the songs or the songwriting itself; how does this matter with the populist ideas of right now? Well, that's not how I process music. I know, different strokes for different folks. But there's something to wonder about when it seems like people skip town on something they previously held in extremely high regard.

This week sees the release of Trail of Dead's new record, So Divided. Matt LeMay's 5.5 review reads like his feet are on the ground as compared to his Source Tags & Codes review. I don't agree with a number of his points (especially his shots at Worlds Apart), but he doesn't seem like he's going to town with nitpicking either. Other publications, like Rolling Stone, have given the album favorable, but not earth-shattering kudos. But the deal is, there is no hopeful hype that substance-filled rock music is going to blow the tepid crap out of the mainstream's water stream right now. In other words, the record has to speak for itself as a record instead of a statement about post-whatever society. So does the band sink or swim on So Divided? Signs point to both in my mind.

I don't hate So Divided, but I'm not really that bowled over by it. "Stand in Silence," "Wasted State of Mind" and "So Divided" are great tracks, yet there's some very uneven stuff on here. Sometimes I wonder if they're trying to pull my leg. The one-two of "Naked Sun" and a cover of Guided By Voices' "Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory" feels misplaced. They feel like b-sides plopped in the middle for fun. I appreciate the band for going further outside their previous work, but that doesn't always mean it's something I'm going to like. "Eight Day Hell" feels more like a Polyphonic Spree song, but I actually dig it. The atmospheric, country-tinged "Witches Web" feels more like AM/Being There-era Wilco, but I also dig this. The rest feels so-so, something I had yet to feel about Trail of Dead's music.

Tying the whole record together, So Divided sounds like a straight-up rock record, Trail of Dead-style, not an epic record, Trail of Dead-style. I think the band is doing the right thing even if the results aren't as strong as what I've heard before.

Have I learned anything by seeing the whole praise-and-destroy of this mighty Austin-based band? Plenty. I could be all cynical and bitter about this, but I choose to think even more about the things that I really like. In the case of Trail of Dead, they're staying on the course they've always stayed on even if critics say otherwise. So Divided is not going to make people lose their proverbial minds, but at least it's a decent effort to not be firmly tied into a noose they can't loosen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Universal

Up until a few months ago, the place where I started and stopped for information about movies and TV shows was the Internet Movie Database. Now, I go there less and less because Wikipedia has so much more. So I wonder, what happened to the IMDB? It used to be so packed with information but it seems so on the cusp compared to what Wikipedia has.

Case in point: I watched Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and three episodes of Police Squad! last night. Curious about details about both features, I hit up the IMDB first. The page devoted to Paradise Lost is scant with information beyond some reviews and some trivia. The page devoted to Police Squad! has some nice tidbits, but feels a little lacking. Hitting up Wikipedia, I found a ton of information, especially in the case of Paradise Lost. Not only is there a page devoted to the documentary itself, but an incredibly thorough page devoted to the West Memphis 3. Police Squad!'s page is also thorough and pretty easy to read. So, what happened?

There was a time when Wikipedia was scant with information and filled with factual errors. I figure more people have become attracted to what the site offers, so more information has come to light. Even the most smallest matters in the pantheon of well-known everyday life is covered. For example, Bob Nanna's page is surprisingly accurate despite the misspelling of Pete Havranek's name as Pete Haverick and the fact that Havranek and Roy Ewing started the band before Nanna joined. Small details, but not as mangled as I've seen it elsewhere.

For my book research, the site has been incredibly helpful. Whether it's about Dave Grohl's Pocketwatch cassette or the 9/11 attacks, there's plenty of accurate information to go through. So now I wonder, is Wikipedia just blowing everything else away with information? How has this place become the place to find information on anything, from teeth to Frank Miller and the meaning of abandonment?

Monday, November 13, 2006

X Marks the Hope Box

In my nine years of playing shows, never have I played a show quite like the one we played Saturday night at Hailey's. Opening for Tilly and the Wall and Pony Up!, we hoped this would be a fun show. As simple as it sounds in words, it was and so much more.

When I pulled up at 7:50, there was already a line of about thirty people. As the rest of us loaded in, more people kept showing up and lining up. By the time we got to play, there was roughly 100 people watching us and plenty more listening outside in line. 100 people may sound like small potatoes to some, but not for us. Plus, this was a whole different crowd. Our last show in Denton was two years ago at a diner where the audience consisted of some friends of ours and the band members in the other band on the bill.

Despite some missteps (a longer, makeshift intro on one song, on-the-spot transposing in another), I felt like we did a great set. I couldn't stop smiling and singing along not because of how large the crowd was, but how much fun I was having playing live. As someone who used to love playing drums as a way beating out my mental frustrations, I'm now at a point where I just love the idea of playing music, especially the drums. So I really enjoyed our thirty minutes on stage as I normally do but slightly different this time out.

Pony Up! sounded great with their poppy atmospheric rock as did Tilly and the Wall's folksy pop and stomp. If you've never heard Tilly and the Wall before, they have a tap dancer that plays on an amplified block of wood instead of a drummer. Yes, the beats sounded like Riverdance at times, but it was actually enjoyable overall. People were going nuts for them and they ended up playing two encores.

So why all this gushing? Well, as someone who knows what is like to play to just a couple of friends at midnight on a Saturday night at a youth center, I could really appreciate a show like this. I don't have stars in my eyes that demand that I play only for big crowds, but it's a nice feeling to play cold turkey to a whole other (and large) audience.

One other thing I have to add. After Tilly and the Wall finished and the crowd starting thinning out, a familiar face walked up to me. Turns out it was the guy who was nearly paralyzed for life in an accident two years ago and went to see Braid on their reunion tour in a wheelchair. I got a chance to talk to him a year later at a Firebird Band show and he was now walking with a slight limp. From what I observed Saturday night, he walks perfectly fine and is doing well. He liked our set and gave us some nice kudos. It was great to see him again and I thanked him for coming out.

So why was this encounter so amazing to me? Well, it's because this guy was from a younger generation that is often made light of for not understanding the power of music. This generation knew punk rock as blink-182 and New Found Glory instead of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols when they were growing up. Critics tend to fear the worst with this generation (and younger) that they will never understand music on a deeper level because of stuff like reality shows and the Internet. Well, like in all generations of music fans, there are the ones that are into it on a passive level and then there are the ones that take it to a deeper level. Knowing this guy's story of how he was so committed to recovering from his accident to see Braid on their final tour (and the miracle that he can walk again) is pretty well beyond inspiring for me. I can now remind myself of how powerful music is to any generation despite cultural fads. This is what it's all about to me with playing and listening to music.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard this One Before

Merritt has the full story on her blog about this, but here's the Cliff Notes version: a friend of ours was at a mall and kept noticing a female working at a kiosk desperately trying to have people stop and talk to her. Stopping people mid-pace, the hope was to get these people to see what she was selling. The friend walked by this girl a few times as he wandered through the area a few times. After repeated pleas, he decided to have some fun with her.

Responding to her question of "Can I talk to you guys a moment?", he responded by saying with a smile on his face, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." He figured since he had walked by her a few times, along with the smile on his face, she would understand that he was joking. Instead, our friend was given looks of pure aghast. He felt sorry that she didn't catch his cajoling, but I think he did something we all wish we could do.

I am not a fan of the practice of breaking into a person's personal zone for the sake of selling something he/she probably doesn't really want or need. Whenever a panhandler comes up to me at a gas station asking for spare change, a telemarketer calls me, a door-to-door salesperson comes to my door, a clerk comes up to me in a retail store trying to sell me something I don't want or someone is trying to collect money to a church I'm not aware of, I turn on the cold. I'm usually very curt as I try to be polite, but I could do worse. Though there are exceptions to this (ie, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts selling popcorn or cookies are totally fine given their ties to their organizations), I usually become this stoic being when I'm confronted with this face to face.

I think my mindset about going shopping, getting gas or going out to eat is very similar to how I like to drive from point A to point B without any slowdowns. If I run into a back-up because of an accident, a disabled vehicle or construction work, I'm not happy. This is limiting me from getting to where I want to go in the time that I hoped it would take me. I would like to completely avoid them, but I know I can't always elude them. I think panhandlers, go-get-'em sales reps, telemarketers and other forms of solicitors are obstacles on the road of life.

I know people want to make money doing this form of solicitation as they can rake in some nice cash, but it seems incredibly informal and pathetic. I couldn't do this stuff and feel like I'm doing an honorable thing. Plus, in some cases, this is breaking the law. Signs all over Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum encourage patrons to not give money, food or drink to homeless people. Yet a similar kind of approach is deemed OK for salespeople in a mall or retail store? There's a good reason why "No Soliciting" signs are all over businesses and homes.

I might be crossing some opposing paths here, but I see these as similar actions. If I wanted to stop by and check out a kiosk in a mall, then that's my decision; not the decision by someone else trying to force me to stop. If I wanted to donate money to a church, then I would go to the church on my own time and donate the money myself. I don't need faceless strangers hoping that a forced smile and a forced "hello sir" will be enough in order for me to take out my wallet. That's just how I see it. Is this cold? Yes, but I have plenty of reasons why I am this way. What's your take? Am I being too harsh?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

As Daylight Dies

Killswitch Engage has the distinction of being a band that I had never heard before this year and has become one of my all-time favorite bands. I know statements like that are ripe for tearing down by others, but that's how strongly I feel about this Massachusetts-based quintet. The band's fourth album, As Daylight Dies, is not likely to gain the kind of kudos that Mastodon's Blood Mountain received earlier this year, but it is no less an incredibly strong effort.

As Daylight Dies is the first record in the band's career where the line-up is the same as its predecessor. Shifts in the drummer, guitarist and vocalist positions did not drastically the band's sound on their previous albums; they helped the band grow into a titan. But what happens when it feels like it's grown big enough that it isn't likely to drastically go anywhere? That's what I wonder when I listen to this record.

The eleven songs do not detour from what KSE fans are used to hearing: smooth-but-bruising guitars, guttural-to-clean vocals and tightly-focused drumming. There are plenty of melodic hooks and plenty of hard and heavy parts too. All the right ingredients are here but why does feel like the material feel like it's reached a crossroads? Because their previous records outdid their predecessors. As Daylight Dies doesn't out-do The End of Heartache; they're on-par with one another.

If you ask me, none of these tracks are weak, but "This is Absolution," "The Arms of Sorrow," "My Curse" and "For You" are some of the standouts. There are a number of spots that are trickier/mathier than what they've done before (see the intro to "For You" and most of "The Arms of Sorrow" for starters) and one song sounds like All That Remains wrote it ("Still Beats Your Name"). Still, I wish that the stellar "This Fire Burns" (currently only available on a WWE compilation) was on As Daylight Dies. It would not be an odd fit with the rest of the songs on the album and it would have been a welcome addition. Alas, that is not the case.

So if I were to review this record like Jim and Greg do on Sound Opinions, I would say hold off on buying this and burn a copy of for the time being. In hopes that Roadrunner reissues As Daylight Dies with bonus tracks (as they have done before with KSE's back catalog) in less than a year from now, it would be worth the wait if you like what you hear.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Politics Shmolitics

Yesterday, the more pleas I saw for people to go out and vote, the more uncomfortable I felt. Plenty of the blogs I hit up everyday said something along the lines of "Vote and if you don't, don't complain." Folks, this is why I find discussing politics so alienating.

There are plenty of reasons why I don't discuss politics on here or in my everyday conversations. The biggest reason is because I don't have a lot of interest in politics in the first place. By what I've seen, heard and read for the last eight years, political debates are usually pissing contests. Judging by the views I've processed, it would be easy to think that we're all slowly going downhill either on the left, right or down the middle. Yet I don't think we're going totally downhill or totally uphill. Debating the direction we're going seems futile, especially when adults start screaming at each other like they're in grade school.

To my ears, political debates are similar to how people talk about professional sports. They think they can sway matters, but they're not in full control in deciding who goes and who stays. Wouldn't it sound silly if I got all huffy-and-puffy talking about Tom Waits not using guitarist Marc Ribot on an album and debating someone to the death about it? I think so. That's why I don't discuss matters like I'm in a political debate.

What's really difficult about discussing politics is talking about them with friends and family. When Bush was re-elected in 2004, someone very close to me threw me a mean cheapshot: "The right person won." As someone who didn't vote for Bush that year, I wasn't about to throw any cheapshots towards the people that did vote for him, so it hurt. This was a reminder that talking politics can bring out the worst in our hurtful sides. Sorry, but I'm not interested in hurting people like this.

What's even more difficult is having a view that appears to be in the minority around your circle of friends and family. I remember in fifth grade, almost everyone in my class wanted Bush to win over Dukakis. Only one guy wanted Dukakis to win (apparently because he shook his hand at a rally). The boy was teased as it seemed like Bush was the better man by a mile. Looking back, I'm glad he didn't cave in with his views.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a MySpace bulletin that I could relate to:

I myself did not vote. Why? I didn't educate myself enough on the issues and facts of the candidates. I just know I fucking hate Rick Perry and that he's got to go. Even then, I felt I didn't know enough. I'm not proud of this fact, and it's a shame I didn't learn more so I could vote.

Whatever you decided to do today, I hope you did what you felt needed to be done.


Reading this was a breath of fresh air, but when I heard that he got "slammed" by others for saying this, I felt bad for him. The way I see it, I have a right to vote and a right to not vote. Both have consequences, so why does one sound so much better than the other? Is voting blindly way better than not voting at all?

I'm not a lemming and I learned some lessons with the 2004 election. I choose to keep these relatively private as I'm not interested in creating an all-out-war with those around me. All I know is this, with word that the Democrats won a lot of races yesterday, a lot of my friends are happy but a lot of the members of my family aren't. I'm not going to choose sides here: they're my friends and family. We can agree to disagree but I disagree in turning political discussions into witch hunts and trials.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

This One's For You

Yesterday's focus was on Scott Walker. Today's focus is on Barry Manilow. Yes, the man behind such hits as "Mandy," "Can't Smile Without You" and a handful of other songs you couldn't escape in the Seventies. I grew up listening to his stuff and still like a lot of it. Yet I was appalled to see a display in a bookstore last night for his latest album, The Greatest Songs of the Sixties. Here's my reasoning:

A big chunk of Manilow's audience is older than me. So I've wondered why these people want to hear re-recorded versions of songs they've heard for most of their adult lives. Following up The Greatest Songs of the Fifties, Manilow goes through versions of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," "And I Love Her" and "Strangers in the Night" on this collection. Manilow doesn't drastically change the songs' arrangements here; it sounds like he's phoning this stuff in. Sure, he's serving his audience what they apparently want, but isn't this just trying to tread water as the boat slowly sinks?

Similar to Kenny G covering songs that you've heard enough times in your life (especially "My Heart Will Go On"), what attracts people to these retreads? The same can be applied to the people that watch American Idol and buy the CDs filled with these cover songs. While I may have an interest in hearing Tom Waits' version of "Somewhere," I doubt it's going to surpass the original cast recording version in my mind. So what gives?

I understand there is a market for people who don't like hard-sounding rock or pop. They like music to be a soothing, unchallenging matter. This is a mindset I hope to never have as a music fan. Music is just so endless, so why would I want to have something so limited in my regular rotation?

I'm sure Manilow and his record company are eyeing another record: The Greatest Songs of the Seventies. Will Manilow reprise some of the hits from his heyday? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure he'll cover songs by artists like the Carpenters, Carole King and Neil Diamond. So I wonder, is there a stopping point for these kinds of albums for Manilow? I doubt there will be collections of Eighties and Nineties material because that's a little too "young" for the audience. Well, there could be additional editions of the Fifties and Sixties material until the cows come home. In my mind, the cows are home and they need a rest.