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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Save Heebie-Jeebies

Despite my annoyance with errors and misspellings, I, like everyone else, am prone to these mistakes. No matter how many times I go over something, chances are good that I'll find a typo or a missing word later. In the case of band biographies, matters of truth are always twisted around. However, whenever I come across an article that is so wrong, I'm reminded of why I write in the first place.

A few weeks ago, Kyle forwarded me an article that Scott over at AP found here. This write-up on Lifetime is mostly correct, except for one huge glaring error:

New Jersey had yet another music arrangement called Hellfest in 2005. Lifetime was asked to reunite and play for a charity event for the save heebie-jeebies foundation. Heebie-Jeebies had been a club that Dave and the band mates grew up playing, so naturally they agreed and were feeling confident about the whole ordeal.


Heebie-Jeebies? It's one thing to mistake New York's legendary bar CBGB's as See-Bee-Gee-Bees, but come on. If the Onion changed their AV Club section to all humor, this write-up should be considered. Seeing this stuff reminds me of why people got into playing music, just like how I got into writing.

In the documentaries I've seen and books I've read, the simplicity of punk rock inspired so many people to pick up guitars and start bands. Seeing how playing barre chords and keeping a steady beat was enough to play, no wonder so many people latched onto punk. As somebody who was into Led Zeppelin and Metallica when I got interested in playing drums and guitar, I figured that I'd need to take lessons to play that stuff. Though I taught myself how to play sloppy drum solos, play on a double-bass pedal and play basic rhythm guitar, punk rock later showed me that the excess was not necessary. In other words, punk rock was not my inspiration to pick up and play. Yet the general idea behind punk rock and do-it-yourself was the key to doing what I'm doing now.

I've made no secret here that I don't like Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. All of my attempts to read the book have resulted in anger and the thought of "I can do better than this." Maybe that's a sign of a huge ego, but trying to read something that is an outsider view thinly masquerading as an insider view is insulting to me. Granted, other writers I know have been following post-hardcore closer and longer than I have, but I think I should at least throw in my two cents. That's the beauty of sharing all of our views; we're all coming from different angles.

I recently ordered Clark Humphrey's LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story via Amazon. Looking at the consumer reviews at the bottom of the page, a certain review from "A reader" really popped out to me:

While there is plenty of interesting info on many Seattle bands, this book does NOT accurately document the real Seattle music scene. As an active full-time musician in the Seattle-area music scene for over 20 years, this book tends to reflect the attitude of the ROCKET magazine, a now defunct Seattle-area music periodical, which selectively covered only a tiny fraction which turned out to be more-or-less favorite bands of the staff. I would NOT recommend this book if you are interested what actually went on in the Seattle music scene.


If LOSER does not accurately document the Seattle-area music scene to this guy, then what's holding him back from writing his own book? I argue that if something bothers you so much, you should try and do something about it. In the case of writing a book, anyone can write one, so what's the stumbling block? There are plenty, but I cannot stress how emotionally fulfilling writing and researching has been for me. Whatever gripes I've expressed are greatly dwarfed by the pleasure of just doing this.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Book update 5.30.06

Things are relatively active on the book writing front. The research continues as some matters need more coverage (ie, straight edge and the Seattle music scene), so editing is still a ways away. I'm currently digging through all my stuff for the Hot Water Music chapter. With their recent break-up, this definitely changes some things. I don't mean this in a bad way, but the past tense will be used more than the present.

A handful of interviews still need to be done. Sometimes tracking people down and getting them on the phone is a major task in itself. People forget to call you back, go on tour, etc. This is par for the course, but I gotta remember, when the interview happens, the result usually quashes all headaches leading up to it.

Is there a release date for Post? Nope. I'd love to have this done by the end of the year and that may very well happen. How this will translate into print form is a bit foggy for the time being. Nick and I aren't squarely focused on printing this up by ourselves, but if it comes to this, we'll do that. We wouldn't object to working with a legit publisher, but neither he nor I are interested in diluting the book's topic/writing for the lowest common denominator. Telling a fleshed-out story of hardcore's evolution from Minor Threat to Rites of Spring to Jawbox to the Promise Ring to Jimmy Eat World is not very simple at all. However, whenever you finish the book, you'll have a better idea even if you don't care for the music itself.

Still a big stumbling block in my life is how much I want to devote to writing and devote to other matters. The current job situation is still frustrating and the search to find a new job is even more frustrating. As I said last week, the more resistance I get from a number of sources, the more I question why I'm seeking to change the current situation in the first place. As idyllic as it would sound to just write Post full-time, I'm not sure that's the best route either.

I will say this, a quote from Bill Barbot has been going through my mind quite a bit recently. This one comes from when Jawbox decided to sign with major Atlantic Records:


“Our motivations were many. We had a gift of a band, the right people in the right place at the right time, writing good songs and having some fun doing it. What we lacked was the ability to make a reasonable living doing it, and our music suffered for it. It’s not easy to stick to a rigorous rehearsal, writing, recording, and touring schedule when to pay the rent you need to spend forty hours of your week doing something completely unrelated. We saw an opportunity to give it a go, not with riches or stardom in mind, but with an earnest desire to pay the rent doing what we love –instead of paying the rent working retail while what we love suffered.”


Now I'm not implying that some publisher is asking me to sign on the bottom line (no publishers have contacted me or Nick). Rather, the tone of Barbot's quote to do your art full-time is what I relate to. I'm not about to live like a starving artist, but given how much I believe in this material, I'd like to have less distractions keeping me from completion.

As frustrating as writing a book can be, I know that I'm doing something better for my mental health than just sitting at home and watching television. The idea that writing is an option has long since passed and I can't think of my life without writing. I won't lie, I'll feel better when the book is done and is ready to be shared with whoever is interested.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Proper Rifle Assembly

Almost every time I drive on I-30 through the Fair Park area, I see signs for the Starplex. The deal is, the Starplex was renamed the Smirnoff Music Centre a few years ago. So, why are the Starplex signs still up? I don't know. I've only been to the place once, but I believe Starplex signs are still up all the way to the venue. Despite putting up all sorts of new highway signs for better visibility in the last year, the old brown Starplex signs remain.

In my time as a Dallas resident, I have never ventured out to the place. Big acts, from Rascal Flatts to Def Leppard, play there and I have no desire to go out to see acts like this. The venue itself is open air with a grassy lawn area in the back, thus making it a full blown shed. Though I've only been there once in my life, I remember the Smirnoff as being almost exactly like the Woodlands Pavilion in Houston (a place I went to many times in high school and college). Some of the most memorable ones I saw at the Pavilion were Radiohead opening for R.E.M. in '95, the Foo Fighters in '97 and Radiohead in '01. Good shows, but not as powerful as when I've seen shows in much smaller venues.

The biggest beef I have with open-air venues like this is the echo factor. If you're on the lawn, what you're seeing live is out of sync with what you're hearing. Watching the video screen above, the experience isn't that much different than watching a concert on DVD. Adding more insult is the price just to go. Nevermind the outrageous prices for parking, but add on the service charge and the cost of the actual ticket, I might as well buy an Xbox 360 with the amount I'd spend on two shows.

I can't say this enough, but small shows are way more fun for me. Last night's show at the Meridian Room with the Happy Bullets and the Tah-Dahs was a nice reminder of the many reasons why. Standing in breathing distance from the band members, this reminded me of how the level between performer and audience is the same. These people are people I see at parties, the kickball field and at bars. Last night I realized that the kind of community found in hardcore and punk isn't just in hardcore and punk circles.

Singing along with the Bullets' "A Proper Rifle Assembly" line of "We all get hurt/and we all get up/and we all move on" rang even more with me given what's been going through my mind as of late. With the Tah-Dahs set, seeing Roy go through four guitars because he kept breaking strings was awesome. On top of that, seeing them play a song I yelled out ("Alcoholic") and getting to play on it (the Happy Bullets' bells were still set up, so I played the brief bell accompaniment) was even better.

The Meridian Room is a mere ten minutes away from the Smirnoff Centre. I don't see any signs pointing in the direction of the Centre around there, but maybe I just haven't seen them. While people claim to not mind about dropping $60-80 to see some pop group at the Smirnoff, last night's show was a reminder of how even a free show could make more of an impact on me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pulp

Pulp has been on mind as of late. As the name of Bukowski's final novel before he died, the name of a great Sheffield band, part of the name of a movie from '94 and other things, pulp has a good name except in the world of orange juice.

When I was younger, I didn't like pulp in my OJ. The strands hampered the taste of squeezed oranges, so I preferred pulp-free orange juice. I don't know how long the major companies (Tropicana and Minute Maid) have produced pulp-free/lite-pulp, but it's nice to have choice. At this point in my life, I don't mind the pulp.

I still don't like seeds in watermelons or seeds in lemons because they're hard to chew. With pulp, it's not hard to chew and I don't mind them in my drink. In addition to milk and water, OJ is something I drink as a standalone drink. Having some in the morning is especially a nice little boost, plus it's healthy.

I credit Sir Douglas for recommending OJ to me because of my periodic sore throats in the last few years. I agree that the vitamin C aids in the recovery as it has greatly helped me out. Even when I'm not sick, I really enjoy the taste; more than coffee, tea or soda. Though I went for pulp-free OJ up until a few years ago, now I don't really care. I don't even know where the pulp comes from or how it's removed, but I don't mind.

Something also interesting: though I don't drink alcohol that much, all of the screwdrivers I've had in bars had no pulp. Is pulp really that much of a hassle? Not for me, but like crusts on pizza and sliced bread, not everyone wants them. People find them very annoying and distracting, but they're not like fat on meat. Now when I shop at the grocery store, I prefer the original OJ. When I see only lite-pulp or no-pulp OJ available on the shelf, I get a little miffed. Maybe I just like the more natural taste over the screened-out taste.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Like You Were Never There

Austin's Moonlight Towers played at the Barley House last night and something struck me right as I walked in the door. Thinking I would find a lightly packed place filled with SMU students, I found a packed house watching the Dallas Mavericks game. By the time that Moonlight Towers played at 10:30, the game was done and a large number of people left the place or just went outside to hang out on the patio. During the band's hour plus set, the audience consisted of me, members of Kissinger and some people still hanging around the bar. Seeing the place clear out like this, years of going to bars to see bands play gave me a moment of clarity.

I don't go out to bars unless I'm in the company of friends and/or I'm seeing a band play. I don't drink that much in the first place, so I need something to occupy my time. I go out for the music and if I were to run into friends at the place, that's even better.

In a situation like last night, I was there strictly to see the twang-less country rock of Moonlight Towers. The band was even better than the last time I saw them. Not only did they play for a solid hour of my favorites from Like You Were Never There, but they closed with a note-for-note cover of Television's 10-minute epic, "Marquee Moon." I had never seen a band attempt this song and they pulled it off really well. Following their set, I didn't really see a reason to stick around for much longer, so I went home. No roaming eyes for single girls and no drinks for me; just a desire to head on home after the set was done.

Why all this backstory? Because I'm now realizing how many more people just like to go out to bars and could care less about the bands that play in them. I've been to plenty of shows where a number of people were there for the atmosphere and the music, but as of late, I've seen the former more than the latter. Do I think there's anything wrong with this? Well, no, but I find the experience not as fun when the place is packed with belligerent drunks.

Maybe this all just goes down to my views of life. I'm not into stuff for the "party!" aspect. I may be so uptight that I can't let loose, but I'm not about loosening my grip on reality to deal with reality itself.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hold Your Fire

Despite what rock historians say about how grunge cleared all of the decks of popular rock music in 1992, hair metal didn't completely vanish during that time. I can think of at least three notable and wildly popular songs from this era with bands that had big hair, big choruses, big guitar solos and big drums. The way I think about bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, they were the policemen that showed up to the hair metal party and pulled the plug. There were still a few stragglers rockin' out, but by the time of Beavis and Butt-head, hair metal had turned into a popular joke.

First of all, there's Saigon Kick's "Love is On the Way." Probably the easiest way to have a crossover hit in any time period is by doing a ballad. This worked for a number of hair bands (from Warrant's "Heaven" to Extreme's "More Than Words" to even Guns N' Roses' "Patience") and this worked in 1992 for Saigon Kick's "Love is On the Way." A quiet little song with acoustic guitar, high harmonies and spare percussion (including a timpani), this was definitely not a "rock" song. Nice ballad though and it went Top 20 on the pop singles charts.

Secondly, there's Firehouse's "When I Look Into Your Eyes." Firehouse had a handful of hit singles between 1990 and 1993, including the powerhouse ballad, "Love of a Lifetime." "When I Look Into Your Eyes" from their second album, Hold Your Fire, went Top 10 in 1993. This stuff is standard power ballad: soft and sweet verses with loud and melodic choruses. Definitely the kind of material you'd hear at a wedding for people who remain at bay with Top 40 radio. If I were DJing a wedding, I'd throw on a Tom Waits ballad even if it clears the dance floor.

Third, there's Queensryche. Their 1991 ballad, "Silent Lucidity," was a huge hit on radio and MTV and for a time, it was inescapable. Listening to the song now, I can't help but think of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" as far as arrangement and tone. I still think "Silent Lucidity" is a great song, especially with the acoustic guitar and strings. Like Dream Theater, Queensryche has one of those fanbases that sticks with them despite popular musical trends. Recent evidence is the Top 20 debut of Operation: Mindcrime II, the sequel to their '80s heralded concept album.

One other I should add is Poison's "Stand." Released in 1993, the gospel meets Led Zeppelin III track went Top 20 on the Billboard Rock charts. Displaying a more mature sound from the same guys who sang "I Want Action" and "Nothin' But a Good Time" years before, this version of Poison was short-lived. Native Tongue would end up out of print and in the cut-out bins in less than two years. As a matter of fact, I doubt this era of the band sans guitarist CC Deville would ever be mentioned in greatest hits retrospectives if it weren't for the song's popularity.

If you're noticing a recurring trend here, it's the relatively safe zone of the ballad. If grunge killed off any in particular with hair metal, it was the overproduced, cheesy sing-alongs with noodly guitar solos. The power ballads still had a few years left, but by the time of Beavis and Butt-head mocking anything and everything related to hair metal, an era had reached the autopsy stage.

Now with the younger generation that's currently into bands like Panic! At the Disco and Avenged Sevenfold, they were too young to remember a time when there was a hair metal backlash. Hell, a certain sector wasn't even born when Nevermind came out. Since they don't have the reference point of seeing cheesy metal be oversaturated, they're prime to be sold a modern update. As far as what this modern version will sound like, I get the feeling that guitar solos will be one of the trademarks.

Despite having to gulp at the thought of this, I'd prefer this than the typical screamy melodrama currently sold at wholesale. A loosening of the rope is gonna happen where people aren't gonna be so inclined to gush their heartbroken feelings over detuned mush. As the resurgence of hair metal tomfoolery was put to me best at a recent party by a Guitar Center employee: "It's coming back." Maybe this younger generation is too cynical than we think, but I'm pretty sure that they're not as cynical as the generation before them.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Producing

Producer Gil Norton has often come up recently in a variety of places. First, there are lengthy interviews with the man in Fool the World:The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies as he produced the Pixies' three albums for Elektra. Then, he's the one that produced some of my favorite tracks by Feeder (especially ones from their fourth album, Comfort in Sound). Plus, he produced probably the best Counting Crows record to date, Recovering the Satellites (an album I'm just now beginning to understand its brilliance). Lastly, he produced How We Operate, the fantastic new record by Gomez. So, what's the scoop on this guy?

Norton's name was first brought to my attention back when I listened to Modern Rock Live, a syndicated radio show that aired on Sunday nights. One particular show that stood out for me was when the Foo Fighters were on. They were promoting their new record at the time (The Colour and the Shape) and Norton's name was brought up since he produced it. Dave Grohl said he wanted to work with Norton because of his work on Trompe Le Monde, the final Pixies record. Saying the record was "the most accessible" and curious about the Pixies in general, I decided to pick up Trompe Le Monde per Grohl's word.

What's crazy is that Norton's work with a variety of bands (from Echo & the Bunnymen to Dashboard Confessional) is some of the best "produced" stuff I've heard that doesn't sound zapped of life. What I've found with Norton' work is that his projects consistently yield great stuff. But what exactly does a producer do? Even after all these years of following music, I'm still not sure.

From what I know, producers are guides for a band or artist. They coach, cheerlead and hound them to get the best possible results. I've heard stories of producers being jerks and not getting along with the band, but I've also heard stories where the producer essentially becomes a welcome member of the band while in the studio. There is no magic formula that producers follow, but there is definitely a sound that is hard to describe that gets attached to producers.

In the case of somebody like Mark Trombino, his drum sound is one of his calling cards. The drum sound on Jimmy Eat World's Clarity is probably the best I've ever heard. Wide, but not over-bearing, the sound of Zach Lind's drums feel so natural and not glossed over. Trombino has delivered some great sounding records that are slicked up but not devoid of spunk. Some of his best examples are Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime, blink-182's Dude Ranch and all of his work with Jimmy Eat World.

With Gil Norton (and speaking of Jimmy Eat World), he was brought in to work with the band after they parted ways with Trombino for what would become '04's Futures. Norton could get some great sounds, especially with the drums, and did a fantastic job with the album. Definitely not the sound of processed cheese, Norton's work (even on Dashboard Confessional's A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar) elevates this stuff beyond the average mall punk sound.

Looking on his website, I'm pleased to know that Norton's latest work includes Other People's Problems by the Upper Room, a record I look forward to hearing. This stuff isn't the kind of music you'll hear on Top 40 radio or TV in America, but you'll definitely hear it in England. For me, that's perfectly fine because there are so many examples of production making artists sound like robots.

Though people think pitch-correcting (via the use of Auto-Tune) is a new thing, it is not. Singers' wrong notes have been smoothed out for years, but not until the last ten years has the practice gotten out of hand. Coupled with a vocoder, more pop singers have been sounding like robots (ie, the pitch remains the same and never wavers). From Cher to Faith Hill to Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, the mechanical-sounding pitch correction is a touch that's become an epidemic. I guess this comes with the territory: the more certain people claim to have no problem with singers sounding like robots, the more other people will be turned off and seek denser music.

For me, I like hearing a good sounding record that has life to it. I'm talking little nuances (from slight melody variation to flavorful drumming) along with the big nuances (songs that strike a deep chord with the listener). Producers like Gil Norton, Mark Trombino, Stephen Street, Ethan Johns, John Agnello and J. Robbins all have their various sounds, but the bands they produce on record often sound like they actually sound in a live setting. In other words, if one of these guys produced Def Leppard, you'd realize that the band doesn't really sound all that big when they play live as compared to their recorded work with "Mutt" Lange.

There's a big line between coloring up a band's sound and depleting the feel for the sake of the lowest common denominator. Depending on the artist, this works fine for them. I like stuff like Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Hall and Oates' "Do It For Love" and Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" because there's a lot of bang in the melody department over the rhythm department. These are rarities as so much mainstream music places a bigger emphasis on the beats over the melodies. In a lot of cases with mainstream R&B and rap, I can barely hear the melodies over the beats. Sure, that stuff sounds good on a club's PA system when you're dancing, but what's really there to dig in when you're listening to the record by yourself at home?

The production of a record is a major factor to the life of the record (whether it's listening to the album once or many times over many years). While I can tolerate the tape recording hiss of early Centro-matic and Guided By Voices material in small portions, I prefer to hear a good-sounding recording. Whether it's produced to a T or not, if I'm feeling something good from what I'm hearing, I'm happy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Southland Tales

If you didn't know what writer/director Richard Kelly has been up to since his '01 cult hit Donnie Darko, well, he has a new movie coming out this year: Southland Tales. Despite all my jaded feelings about newer films (and the obstacles in seeing them in a theater) in the last couple of years, this is actually a film I'd like to see when it gets a theatrical release.

Details on what Southland Tales is about have been abstract until recently. Interviews with its stars and Kelly have talked about certain things that happen, but only recent reviews have talked about key plot points. By going off of what I've read, this film is definitely not for everybody. A multi-character film with a backdrop of futuristic sci-fi, black comedy and social commentary is not guaranteed box office gold. I seriously doubt the film will play well for a mainstream audience, but neither did Donnie Darko when it was released into theaters.

If I'm interpreting what I've read correctly, the structure of Southland Tales sounds similar to a couple of Robert Altman's films, namely, Nashville and Short Cuts. Neither film blew me away, but I didn't hate them either. I want to go into Southland Tales with a fresh perspective and not make constant comparisons, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come back to those films for reference after I watch Southland Tales.

I bring up Altman's films especially in the case of critical and box office reaction. Do you hear about people's thoughts on Nashville or Short Cuts everyday on TV shows like Extra or websites like Ain't It Cool News? Nope. So why do we put so much stock into what people say about a film around its release? Well, talking about a film is a part of the promotional campaign because so many dollars have been soaked into spreading the word about the film. Of course that's a big "duh," but the point I've made several times before is that no matter how much money a film makes or what critics think in the short term, this means nothing to the life of the film itself. The fact that the movie got made is the success.

In the case of Southland Tales, the film recently premiered at the Cannes film festival in France. With the handful of reviews that I've read so far, all kinds of critics have panned the film. "Sprawling, messy, willfully self-indulgent and incomprehensible, Southland Tales is the biggest sophomore slump for a seemingly indie-filmmaker since Kevin Smith's Mallrats -- and the scope of Southland Tales' failed ambitions and vain pretensions make its failure all the more depressing," wrote James Rocchi for Cinematical. Seeing these kinds of reactions now, I had to laugh. In college, these kinds of tar-and-feathering reviews would make me mad. Now I just laugh. Rocchi's comparison to Mallrats especially made me laugh really hard.

When Mallrats came out into theaters, almost every critic who praised Smith's first film, Clerks, turned on him. Calling the film a major bust and a dropping of the proverbial ball, Smith's work was generally made light of and passed off until he made his third film, Chasing Amy. Smith would later describe the initial Mallrats reaction as the people who praised you and loved every thought you had are now telling you to get out of town because they think every thought you have sucks. Mallrats would find a major audience on rental in the years to come and turn a healthy profit. I love the movie, but I could understand why people didn't like the film. When a director makes such a profound statement in his opening bow, the follow-up is almost guaranteed for disappointment. But you know what? That doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

No matter how much talk you hear about a movie when it first comes out, it's gonna stick around, whether it's Casablanca or KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. People love talking about the business side of filmmaking because at the end of the day, it is a business. But the film business still has a creative side that is documented onto film that lasts and lasts over the years. Are we that transfixed by the now and can't look past the now? I know tomorrow never knows, but history has shown time and time again that sales figures shed very little light on the impact a film has on people.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

KISS will be my instrument!

I really don't know why I want to see this film in its entirety, but I'm curious if anybody I know has a dubbed copy of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Though I often criticize brainless action flicks, unfunny comedies and painfully cheesy kids movies, I can tolerate a certain level of kitschy camp. What little I've seen of Phantom makes me want to see how bad it really is for a historical perspective and for some fun entertainment.

Debuting on NBC in 1978, this TV movie would go down as the beginning of the end for the original KISS line-up. Up until that point, KISS seemed impossible to stop. Platinum records, sold-out arena shows and a large number of loyal members in the KISS Army fan club, KISS was one of the biggest bands of its time. They definitely put on a show for people and they tried to be seen by as many people as possible. This all came at cost of course.

Band members fighting with each other, their egos, plus the glitz and glamour of the whole thing was wearing the band out. The band made a slow change from being a poppy hard rock band to a commercial pop band. They thought they were unstoppable and they thought they could go into any arena they wanted to. One of them was feature film and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was their brief step into this field.

Thanks to VH1's KISS retrospective documentary from a few years back along with YouTube, I've seen about five minutes of the 96 minute flick. What I saw was incredibly cheesy, poorly edited, unexciting and screamingly '70s. When you take four guys who don't really know how to act (Paul Stanley was probably the best actor out of the bunch), a convoluted plot (a mad scientist makes humans into robots in his amusement park), cheesy special effects (on par with every great B-movie ever made) and a silly music score (Isaac Hayes/Curtis Mayfield-inspired pop funk), this film went down in flames.

Aside from entertainment value (yes, there is a value in watching cheesy kitsch), KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park proves that even the biggest, most legendary acts in music history can hit a low point. Though the band members have hated the movie since its release, the fact that it was documented onto film and released onto TV screens across the globe means that the film is gonna stick around no matter what. I doubt there will be a DVD release of it (I don't think it was even released on VHS back in the day), but that doesn't mean the film will go unwatched.

I know I know: KISS just got caught in this storm where they couldn't see what was best or worst for them at that point in their career. They didn't know where to stop. Finding out about that stuff doesn't usually happen until after the fact.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Do the Vampire

Listening to Eric and Amy's podcast over the weekend, I heard a great way of describing certain modern bands that dress up in sleek, Goth-like clothing: vampires. Which bands are we referring to here? Well, let's look at the most popular offenders/artists in the last year or so: Alkaline Trio, My Chemical Romance, Aiden and believe it or not, Green Day. Some of these bands make (or used to make) good music despite the image, but some are just jokes to begin with. Regardless, what's so appealing about looking like a vampire?

I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, I didn't really search for an identity. Yes, after seeing flannel shirts on MTV, I felt it was OK for me wear them, but as far as I remember, this wasn't an attempt to fit in. I was an invisible quiet guy with a small group of friends. I enjoyed playing in rock bands and listening to music, but I didn't intentionally dress up to make a personality statement. There were plenty of classmates of mine that wore Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails shirts and loved the color black, but I wasn't one of those people. I just sat in the shadows listening to all kinds of music. I liked some songs by those bands, but I didn't get the fuss about wanting to look like a vampire that came out in the daytime.

What I see here with these modern bands is an attempt to catch people's (especially young people's) eyes and imagination more than the average band does. Apparently this has worked as records like Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and Nightmare Anatomy have sold well and their shows have been well-attended. I guess there's a desire to give "the kids" a show versus just a few guys that walked in off the street and picked up their instruments. That idea definitely worked in KISS's favor in the '70s, but the focus was on the spectacle over the substance. Musically, I don't think KISS was a bad band at all. As far as their whole presentation, KISS was a band that got young people excited about rock music. They put on an entertaining show with fire-breathing, big lights, lasers, fancy costumes and facepaint. Definitely great when you're young and just finding out about rock music, but that experience really only happens once.

If I were to point a finger at one band that kicked off this recent trend of vampiredom, it's AFI. The members of AFI weren't always shielded from the sun via black-clad designer clothes. They had started out as a jokey punk band with their '95 debut, Answer That and Stay Fashionable. By the time of their third and fourth albums (and following line-up changes in the bassist and guitarist slots), they were much darker, heavier and (honestly) much better than before. Dressing up in all black, wearing some eyeliner and powder and doing Misfits covers, this image wasn't meant to be taken too seriously. Merely something different from the average looking punk band, the guys in the band were still cool and down to earth. (Lead singer Davey Havok was especially cordial when I met him a few years ago.)

As the band's fanbase grew, this image of being a designer vampire was spreading. When their major label debut, Sing the Sorrow, was released in 2003, AFI was now in a different arena of music fans. A slow and steady seller, the band found itself playing to an even bigger audience, thus attracting certain members of this audience to want to "dress the part." Not so different (but not exactly alike) those that dressed in Goth-like clothing as they listened to Bauhaus and Skinny Puppy in the 1980s, this kind of image was spreading.

With this identity is place, AFI is back with a new record, Decemberunderground, to be released on June 6th (yes, that's 06/06/06). I don't know if this means more Gothy goofiness for another year or two, but we'll have to see. For the time being, I think about the people that I know that were into Goth in some form or another when they were teenagers. People like Jason and Katie still speak highly of bands like Bauhaus, but they aren't sitting in their rooms with black lights on and candles lit while wearing all black clothing.

The more research I do on Post, whether on straight edge or punk rock in general, I keep hearing about/seeing the desire of younger people to have an identity. Not to sound like I had a superior experience, but I never even thought about having identity. Maybe my identity was to have no identity or at least not one to be pigeonholed with one. I don't know.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Be Here . . . Later

If you've been near a TV or a radio in the last few months, you've probably seen/heard a commercial for the "new" AT&T. Talking about "your world delivered" via all sorts of stuff (e-mail, blogging, etc.), each commercial features "All Around the World" by Oasis. Every time I hear this song, I keep meaning to write up a little story about the fabled album that closes with this song: Be Here Now. This is also the same album that is seen as the final hurrah of '90s Britpop.

Oasis broke out big time in England in 1994 with the release of their debut album, Definitely Maybe. Simple in nature but incredibly tuneful and brash, Definitely Maybe and the half-dozen singles off of it were not really like anything out there at the time. The band paid homage to the great musical acts of the '60s and '70s and was unapologetic about nicking riffs, melodies and lyrics from them. Hailed as heaven-sent, the band inspired a younger generation to pick up guitars and play.

I may be in the minority view on this, but I think Definitely Maybe is not the band's best album. Yes, the album got people really excited about music just like grunge did only a couple years before. I argue their best collection of songs is Maybe's follow-up, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? With a better and looser drummer onboard and more sophisticated tunes, Oasis actually proved they were not some hype created by the British press. Spawning classics like "Wonderwall," "Some Might Say," "Champagne Supernova" and "Hello," this album is more or less a great singles collection (most of the songs on it were released as singles).

One of the biggest notable points about the band members themselves, especially Liam and Noel Gallagher, was their life in the papers. Perfect tabloid fodder with their arguments, drunken antics, bold claims and overall arrogance, people were curious about what would happen next. By the time of their third album, Be Here Now, people started caring much less.

I have never owned a copy of Be Here Now in any capacity. After hearing the majority of the album once in Tim's car, I've heard a number of the singles off of it, including "D'You Know What I Mean?", "Don't Go Away" and "All Around the World," numerous times over the years. The latter tracks are really memorable tunes with an epic feel. The deal is, the whole album is epic-sounding, but not that compelling. The songs just kind of exist without much bite. Though the album was a big seller in England, the big balloon that had blown up for them was quickly deflating.

Oasis has released three records since Be Here Now ('00's Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, '02's Heathen Chemistry and '05's Don't Believe the Truth). While I argue that Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is underrated, I could really give a crap about the other two records. Simply, their formula has stopped working in their favor. The band always had this shtick about being the biggest band in the world, but as time has proven, you're not the biggest forever.

So hearing Be Here Now's closing track "All Around the World," anytime I'm near a TV or radio, I think about the wild video for the song, the crazy debauchery found on the album's cover and the arrogance of Liam and Noel. The band is still huge in England, but here in the states, they're more likely to end up on a cynical reminiscing show with two-bit comedians and actors than anything else. As far as I know, the current usage of the song hasn't really done much more other than blog fodder.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sitting in the waiting room

Of the 91 songs Fugazi has released so far, why is "Waiting Room," the first song from their first release, the most often covered? Not that "Waiting Room" is a bad song, but if there is one song that most people know by Fugazi, that's the one. I've heard a few other covers (including face to face's version of "Merchandise" and a local punk band covering "Great Cop"), but so far I've heard the song covered in a variety of places over the years.

A few years ago, Voigt was playing at the Liquid Lounge with the Cut*Off and the Action. During soundcheck, the Action's bassist started playing "Waiting Room"'s intro bass riff, Cut*Off drummer Jim started singing "I am a patient boy" and I yelled, "I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait." We all three looked at each other and shared a brief little moment. We had a brief connection and smiled. "Waiting Room" isn't as well-known as say, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" so finding people that know the song is pretty cool.

Last night, I saw Team Evil cover the song at Bar of Soap. I had never seen the band live before, but Joshua gave me a heads-up that the band does a version of it live. When that opening bassline kicked in, I raised both hands with devil horns and cracked a smile. A number of people in the crowd cheered and sang along as the band did a faithful rendition. This cover wasn't the only highlight of this band's set. They play a nice mix of pop-punk and garage rock with vitality and fun. I'll definitely check them out again.

Then this morning, I read this review of a recent I Am the Avalanche/Angels and Airwaves show. Which song got the tribute/cover treatment from I Am the Avalanche? You guessed right. Upon reading this, I had to ask: what's the deal?

The song itself is not as easy to cover as say, "Longview" by Green Day, but it's easier to cover than say, "Stairway to Heaven." There are random stops and starts, a double-time, reggae-like guitar line and a fractured bass line. The chorus line is pretty straightforward as the rhythms break out of the verse's riff. Not impossible, but a little difficult to pull off for the average musician.

I'm guessing that for most people, if they have any Fugazi records in their collection, chances are good they have 13 Songs (which kicks off with "Waiting Room") and/or Repeater. Those albums are awesome, but those aren't the only great Fugazi records. I argue that all of their stuff is worth listening to, but for a lot of people, Fugazi's most accessible material can be found on 13 Songs, Repeater and/or In On the Killtaker.

I'm glad that people still cover Fugazi and still remember their music. As great as 13 Songs and Repeater are, don't be easily led to think that the band went downhill after that. Though Fugazi is noted as a key influence on many bands, I have yet to hear a band that sounds exactly like them. Even though they're not playing together at the moment, they're still as relevant when they were playing together.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Patt Minfield

Yesterday's post was on Steve Isaacs, but today's post is on probably the most influential MTV VJ on me: Matt Pinfield.

If you watched 120 Minutes in the mid- to late-'90s, you remember Pinfield as the portly guy with a shaved head and a raspy voice. I remember that description of him, but the most shiny quality about him was his vast musical knowledge and friendly manner. He knew more than the average record store geek and he didn't throw around any record store geek attitude in the process. He showed me how being a big fan of the music led to other fields of knowledge. Not only did he know the players, but the producers, record covers, obscure references, videos and so on. He was definitely the guy you'd go to for his opinion on stuff. So where do you go for his opinion now? That's rather interesting.

First, I gotta mention the TV show, Farmclub.com. Farmclub was a merging of website, talent show and American Bandstand for the nu-metal, modern rock and mall punk crowd in 2000. This was definitely not my cup of tea as bands like Limp Bizkit and Hoobastank were considered heavy and rocking in their time. Seeing Pinfield go from being a guy that could read off something like the names of the Stranglers' first four albums off the top of his head to talking to cheesehead aggro-rock bands, I felt kinda bad for him.

Now, Pinfield seems even more busier than ever. He had hosted a show on New York's KROCK for a time, but he's been on Sirius Satellite Radio, HDTV and VH1 as of late. That's awesome that he's staying active, but that's not all of the stuff he's been doing. He's been an A&R rep for Columbia Records for a few years now with bands like Coheed and Cambria. As the A&R guy, he's the cool guy at the label that understands his bands and tries to get them good things to come their way from the higher-ups. A&R is a path that has seen many notable people come through (ie, Lyle Preslar, formerly of Minor Threat, and Mike Gitter, formerly of the Boston-area zine, XXX, for starters) and I'm glad to see somebody like Pinfield do this.

I remember when Pinfield was hilariously spoofed in a Bloodhound Gang video. Frontman Jimmy Pop Ali donned a baldcap, called himself Patt Minfield and proceeded to spill all sorts of random facts about Courtney Love and Pat Smear and tied them all together before the song started. Pinfield himself enjoyed the joke as the video was played in its entirety one night on 120 Minutes (future airings of the video chopped the intro off).

Why I bring up all these tributes to people like Steve Isaacs, David Sadoff and Pinfield is simple: these guys were accessible guides to the true power of music (especially underground music) for me. They weren't the type that would laugh at you and tear you down because you liked Lap of Luxury more than Give 'Em Enough Rope or Dookie more than Never Mind the Bollocks. They were open-minded dwellers in the past and present world of music.

As somebody who's met plenty of people that just want to talk about what sucks about music today, I truly appreciate the ones that seek out good music in any arena. As somebody that's seen people get into the music industry more for the opportunity to be seen with rockstars, I appreciate the ones that actually care about the power of music above everything else. Finally, I appreciate the ones that are willing to enthusiastically tell you anything and everything about a band or artist that you're curious about. I've seen people in that exact same position be incredibly rude, flaky jerks to those curious and I think that sucks. I can't change those flaky jerks, but at least I can try to emulate what I've found to be the better way of going about this.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The first ones of our kind

Does the name Steve Isaacs sound familiar? Well, if you watched MTV back in 1992-1994, you might remember him as one of its VJs. He had shoulder-length black hair and hosted the afternoon show, Hangin' With MTV. He was a fan and friend of grunge bands like Pearl Jam (they even gave him a platinum award for their debut album, Ten), but he wasn't a stereotypical grunge fan. Always cool and laid-back, but not too laid-back, Isaacs was one of my favorite VJs back in the days when MTV catered to my demographic.

The interesting part of why I bring up Isaacs now is not because of his new band, The Panic Channel (which happens to feature three ex-members of Jane's Addiction who are not named Perry Farrell), but because of his previous band, Skycycle.

The name Skycycle may not ring any bells, but I distinctly remember their debut record on MCA Records, Ones and Zeros, back in '98. What's odd is that despite a number of promo copies being sent out (with full artwork and everything), the album was never commercially released. KTCU received a copy and put the opening track, "Figure 8," into medium/heavy rotation. Liking its airy opening guitar riff (ala, Smashing Pumpkins' "Set the Ray to Jerry") and the ensuing crashing chorus, I pulled out the liner notes. To my surprise, there was Isaacs, the VJ from many moons before, fronting a band that was pretty good.

Ones and Zeros is a pretty solid spacey rock record that should have seen the light of day in record stores. You can find used copies for cheap on the Internet or in a local used CD store. Isaacs has a couple of tracks available for free download on his blog and one of them is the sublime, "Figure 8." Thankfully not available is the band's rather dodgy take of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows."

Other than Sense Field's unreleased Warner Bros. record, Under the Radar, I can't think of other times when a label pressed up full review copies of albums that never saw the light of day. If a label is willing to spend all that time setting up a release date, getting interviews and features lined up, setting up tourdates and all that, why pull the plug that late in the game?

I don't know the full story, but I wouldn't be surprised if the infamous Seagram's major label takeover in '98/'99 was a big reason. Almost every major label was affected, laying off thousands of employees and dropping hundreds of bands in the process. Essentially the writing on the wall was that major labels only wanted to work with guaranteed blockbuster artists and didn't have time for bands that developed an audience over a few years. The upside was that a number of indie labels gained these orphaned bands and in turn, helped the bands find a smaller, but still large, audience. The hilarious thing about the new major label approach following this was that some very embarrassing bellyflop albums, like Mariah Carey's Glitter, ensued. Sometimes watching people put so much faith into soft ground and lose their shirt in the process is really funny.

As for Isaacs, I'm glad to see he's still kicking around. I fondly remember him, along with John Norris, to be the kind of cool music geek that wasn't a socially inept nerd. He talked about up-and-coming bands with reverence and sincerity for the music, not just the ephemeral party elements that come with popular music. Case in point, he talked about seeing White Zombie perform (pre-La Sexorcisto and Beavis & Butt-head) and mentioned how J. Yuenger lit his guitar on fire and passed it around the crowd. That was cool to hear as a young and impressionable teenager. Now when I think about it, what was really cool was that Isaacs wasn't being smug or cynical about this kind of stuff. The only other VJ that I could remember being this cool was Matt Pinfield, who deserves a whole other post. You probably won't believe where that guy is now . . .

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

You're the Reason I'm Leaving

The more time and frustration that comes on this matter, the more I fell less inclined to go out of my way for it. That sums up my feelings on a lot of matters these days, but the one matter that has been on my mind as of late is shopping for used CDs. I used to drive all around town for the best price on a CD, but I'm more and more drawn to picking them up via online sources (especially Amazon's used marketplace). I can't comprehend buying a new CD for $18.99 when Best Buy might have it for $13.99 or a locally-owned CD store may have an opened copy for just $8.99. I don't think I'm being a cheapskate on this, but at the rate CDs are swapped digitally for free, the lowest price is where to gravitate towards.

In Dallas, there are a handful of great, locally-owned CD stores that sell plenty of used CDs. In all of them, I've found so many great bargains that I've lost count. I can live with a CD that's been touched by other hands before mine that may or may not have a hole in its UPC code. However, I've noticed the stock in many of these stores to be the same, month after month. Maybe this is further proof that people just aren't buying CDs as much anymore, but this is frustrating for me when I'm trying to find bargain surprises.

Tack onto matters that a certain CD store here in town makes digging very uncomfortable for me. Since my mind is always racing about what I want to look for, I could be looking in the 'D' section for a Death Cab for Cutie record, then be looking in the 'X' section for an XTC record and then be in the 'C' section for Neko Case and Converge. That tends to attract the eyes of the clerk(s) sitting up front watching the customers to make sure that shoplifting is not happening. I've never shoplifted in my life and I don't want to shoplift, so it bugs me when I'm looked at as a potential shoplifter.

Plus, when trying to merely exit this store without buying anything is a problem for me. Though there have been plenty of times that the spotters have been cool and just left matters at "thanks," there have been many other times where I've been hassled. "Did you find what you were looking for?" is often asked as I make my way to the door. I smile and say "Not today" and leave. If I found what I was looking for and wanted to buy it on this trip, I would have bought it no questions needed. I know they may be trying to present the illusion that they care about me, but I don't want to feel pressured into buying anything.

I like holding CDs in my hand and wandering around a store filled with what I may or may not be looking for. Yet I keep feeling the urge to buy my stuff online. There are no loudmouthed clerks talking about their first experiences of listening to Fleetwood Mac or the failures of punk rock. There are no pushy people at the checkout stand asking if I found everything I was looking for. On the flipside, there are no nice clerks that say hello and talk to you about music, life and whatever else is tied to them.

Forget about the chainstore world of customer service because it rarely exists in everyday human form. As someone who experienced that world firsthand as an employee, I understand why matters are this way. However, bugging the crap out of customers with sleazy sells on eight free issues of skimpy consumer rags or a free trial service of a lesser MP3 online store is not the way to breed happy customers.

As my annoyance grows with CD shopping in general, I find the online shopping much easier. I can tolerate the three-day wait in the mail for something that I want to hear. You can find a used copy of almost any CD ever produced online, so that comes in handy when I want to get something all in one place for cheap. But after all the years of CD shopping, I really enjoy the overall environment of hearing music I've never heard that I may like on a loudspeaker, relatively friendly clerks and reasonable prices. I doubt that enjoyment will go away completely, but the rather solitary world of online CD shopping is way more accommodating for me these days.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Got your picture in the magazine

Here's how a few records get introduced around our neighborhood (cyber and physical). Chris posted a write-up/MP3 on Denmark's Figurines recently and Jason took a listen. Liking what he heard, he bought the band's second full-length, Skeleton. After playing it for me and Taylor on our way back from a party (in which Chris was one of the guests) and getting a little lost, I heard a handful of tracks. So, over the weekend I burned a copy of it and now I can't stop listening to these guys.

Let me get this comparison out of the way first: singer/guitarist Christian Hjelm has a singing voice that recalls Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch. In other words, it's high-pitched and a little nerdy-sounding, but very melodic and colorful at the same time. There are times that he sounds like a dead ringer for those guys, but since I don't mind Brock's or Martsch's voices, I don't mind Hjelm's.

Musically, the majority of Skeleton is happy and snappy tunes that are catchy as hell. I've had "Ambush"'s chorus line of "Got your picture in the magazine" stuck in my head for the last few days. There are a handful of these kinds of songs on here, but the differently paced ones help make the album a multi-level experience. A banjo on the midtempo "Ghost Towns," a solo piano and voice on opener, "Race You," the chiming guitar breakdown in "Other Plans," the restrained album closer, "Release Me on the Floor," and all with piano and keyboards on a number of songs, this makes for a very sparkly record.

Overall, the way this record sounds reminds me of Built to Spill's There's Nothing Wrong With Love. This is higher than lo-fi, but it's definitely not hi-fi gloss. The instrumentation is sparse, and there aren't a lot of overdubs, but the songs are all the better. Overdubs are good in general as they augment songs, but if the songs are great in a stripped-down light, the fewer overdubs, the better.

Finally, I doubt this record will blow a lot of people away like something like Sufjan Stevens' Illinois. The Figurines' music might come across to people as a little too fast for their taste, but this ain't no mall punk, rehashed post-punk or indie rock tablescraps. This is the kind of rock music that reminds me how simple things can be constructed while also being so multi-faceted.

Monday, May 15, 2006

You Could Be Mine

I fondly remember Guns N' Roses back in the day. (When I mean "the day," I mean elementary school and middle school for me.) Compared to the average big rock band with big hair, they were the real deal. They weren't pretty or nice. They lived the debauchery of rock stardom to a T in their videos, image and in their songs. They had a number of great tunes that were dangerous and poppy at the same time. But this was a good 15-20 years ago. Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion are still fantastic, but I'd love to see them be remastered on CD. That's just me, but there's a big event on the horizon for a lot of longtime fans: a new album and tour. Now I'm wondering with the upcoming release of Chinese Democracy, why are people looking forward to this?

Make no mistake, Axl Rose is the definition of untouchable rock star. Always hours late to promotional appearances, easily angered and very uneasy to please, this is not the kind of person I'd like to be. However, people love the fantasy of a guy who takes zero crap and makes people revolve around him. Maybe Rose's persona is what people are looking forward to because I sincerely doubt Chinese Democracy is going to be the album longtime fans have been waiting for.

After the all-covers album, The Spaghetti Incident? in 1993, the "classic" GNR line-up slowly fell apart. Gilby left, Matt left, Slash left and then Duff left, thus leaving Axl as the man behind everyone. Izzy and Steven had long since left, but Gilby and Matt were as good if not better than them. So who's in the band now? A bunch of guys you might of heard of but none of them are Slash, Duff or Izzy clones. Brian "Brain" Mantia (formerly of Primus) on drums, Robin Finck (formerly of Nine Inch Nails) on guitar, Ron Thal (from Bumblefoot) on guitar, Tommy Stinson (from the Replacements and Soul Asylum) on bass, Dizzy Reed from the Use Your Illusion days on keyboards and Rich Fortus on guitar. Sure, they can play the parts, but is this revamp under the GNR name necessarily a good thing? Don't tell me that Axl was the guy and everybody was replaceable. The band wouldn't be the band if it weren't for Slash or Duff at least.

A couple of tracks from Chinese Democracy leaked onto the Internet a few months ago, but I have yet to hear them. I'll make my decision if I think they're any good when I hear them, but I'm not really inclined to hear them. I haven't heard the most positive things about this new stuff. "Most of the new songs are dystopian, tense, portentous, finally a bit inconclusive; they dabble in electronic rhythms, big keyboard sounds and droning repetition," wrote Ben Ratliff for the New York Times of a recent show. "They didn't produce much catharsis, on stage or in the audience." Proving my theory that bands get bigger write-ups in the media when they have a product to sell, Chinese Democracy is just that: something new with a recognizable name on it.

Swirly Girl recently posted this about bands that reunite: "I respect bands with members that decide they can work together again and not be what they once were, you know?" I totally agree. However, a lot of people want to see an encore for almost everything even if it's not going to be the same. I would not pay money to see this version of GNR no matter how great the current band members are.

I'm getting the feeling that this is more of like seeing the Brian Jonestown Massacre only with a number of familiar songs in the set. People want to see trainwrecks (what Rose is going to wear, how tacky he looks, him not showing up on time, him leaving the stage a few songs in, riots ensuing, etc.) because it's entertainment. I'll take a malfunctioning equipment, beer-spilling Tah-Dahs set over this any day.

Finally, there is a desire for Axl Rose to show how rock should be done. Currently, we have these hardcore metal clowns dressing the part but not delivering the real deal. The persona that Rose exudes is something you can't imitate by just throwing some attitude around in the media. He's definitely a rarity.

So this is the evidence I've gathered as to why this reloaded version of GN'F'R is being looked at. Sorry, but the danger of being eight years old and seeing the "Welcome for the Jungle" video on MTV has long since passed. However, I definitely look forward to hearing the original versions of songs like "Paradise City," "You Could Be Mind" and "Estranged" on a stereo (whether it's a multi-disc changer in a den, a boombox, car stereo or a computer).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hey when she sings

If there is one modern artist that evokes a melting sound from those that speak her name, it's Neko Case. I myself do not own any of Case's records (yet), but the more I hear from her and read about her makes me want to get at least her latest, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. But how do I describe what's so great about her? As usual, let's start with some backstory:

Coming from a background of punk rock as a drummer, Case first gained some national notoriety with her country-tinged folk. Releasing her debut, The Virginian, in 1997, Case would find a new audience in 2000 with her involvement with the New Pornographers, a "super-group" of sorts.

Featuring the talents of vocalists/guitarists Carl "A.C" Newman and Dan Bejar up front, the New Pornographers released their debut, Mass Romantic, to rave reviews. I myself was a little slow in listening to the record, but when it was reissued in 2003, I downloaded it. Bouncy pop that's smart and fun, Mass Romantic is awesome. However, I wasn't completely blown away by Case's voice at first. I didn't think it was bad, but I started noticing whenever I talked with friends that they loved her voice. For myself, I've come to really like her voice, her songwriting and her attitudes on life.

First, the voice: it's distinct, high-reaching and velvety smooth. The solo stuff I've heard has no trace of the twangy dreck that you hear in most country music. Her stuff with the New Pornos is pure magic, especially songs like "Letter from an Occupant" and "Mass Romantic." As far as how I heard her solo stuff, I first heard her version of Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" (thanks to Frank for posting it as his weekly cover song last Christmas). Totally chilled out compared to her New Pornos stuff, my interest grew.

Then there is the music. Listening to a track like "Star Witness" from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, the reverb augments the ghost-like pop (its swinging chorus is especially incredible). This isn't the kind of dixie chicken cornball country you hear on mainstream country radio. I've heard four tracks off of Fox Confessor and I'd like to hear the eight other tracks at least for a start. She has four other solo albums and a live album out and I don't where to start with them.

Finally, there are the views on life. Case was recently interviewed by Kyle for the AV Club and she offers some great views. "It's not really knowing where you fit in," she said of her song, "Thrice All American." "35 years old, I'm supposed to be married with kids by now, and I'm not really feeling that. I feel about 19 pretty much all the time." "I'm probably most comfortable with this," she said with her current level of fame. "I'm not really working for Kurt Cobain-style fame, and I might be a little old for that anyway. I'm not going to the fat farm or getting lipo anytime soon. I don't know if that's possible in America, even. You could compare yourself with such a thing, but I think it's apples and oranges."

This is all just a start, but I think I'm getting closer to understanding what Case is all about. Friends of mine have described her as not just "Neko," but "Neeeeeeeko" with an implied love in their voices. I may be saying the same soon.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Live Your Heart and Never Follow

Despite the announcement a year ago that Hot Water Music was on an extended break, now the word is that the band is done. This doesn't come as a surprise, but I must stress that just because a band isn't playing together anymore doesn't mean it's the end of the world. I'm sad to see them go, but there is plenty to cherish from their time together as a band.

Hot Water Music was the last band that I decided to devote a full chapter to in Post. At the time, I had No Division, A Flight and a Crash, Never Ender, and Live at the Hardback, in addition to MP3s from various other releases. I knew a little bit about their story and felt they needed some coverage, but I wasn't sure if they deserved a full chapter. After my friend Seth told me, "Hot Water Music saved my life," there wasn't a doubt in my mind about how much I should devote to them.

Out of all the bands that I'm spotlighting with a chapter, Hot Water Music was the most prolific. Six proper albums, two singles collections, one live album, numerous split EPs, 7"s and compilation appearances, there's plenty to comb through. I argue No Division is their best album, but a number of longtime fans I know say either Fuel for the Hate Game or Forever and Counting is the best. Despite listening to of all their records, No Division is the album for me. Regardless, the band wasn't just about music for me and for a lot of people.

I have to be honest: I didn't "get" the band until I saw them live. Though I only saw them once (touring No Division with AFI, Sick of It All and Indecision), that was enough to understand. What I first passed off as a lot of off-key yelling, seeing how intense these guys were made sense. They were playing like it was their last set. They were sincere and played everything with conviction. There was a force to them more than your average shouting hardcore band. There were warm melodies in their songs, but there was a lot of grit too. Seeing all of this in person really changed my mind about the power of hardcore.

Reading the lyrics, I realized how deep these messages were. They were short and simple songs about brotherhood, friendship and understanding. They weren't some rough and tumble youth crew shouting slogans. Where those bands had shortcomings, Hot Water Music moved beyond them.

By coincidence, the only active band that I'm featuring in Post is the one that broke through to the mainstream: Jimmy Eat World. I don't mean to spotlight bands like Braid, the Get Up Kids and Jawbreaker as a pity party; rather, I want to show how important these bands are whether they're together or not. In the case of Hot Water Music, I agree with what No Idea's Var Thelin told me last year: "They gave it their fuckin' all." These guys went through really hard times (going for broke, coming back from tour homeless, enduring physical injuries) but kept going. Though the band broke up following a European tour for Forever and Counting, they regrouped with an stronger fire behind them. Being the band they were, this was even more inspiring.

With our favorite bands, we often don't expect them to end, even after so many years of touring and recording. After growing up on bands that said they would never reunite and would say mean things about their ex-band members, I never bought it whenever the band reunited. These days, the way people tiptoe around matters is saying the band is on "indefinite hiatus." Details often later emerge that the band is finished, but with the exception of At the Drive-In, I haven't heard much mud-slinging. Hot Water Music is ending quietly and in a tactful way. They had definitely given their all and I'm thankful for all the time they were together.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Drumming Life

I've discussed this before on this here blog, but I want to bring it up again: is a drummer a musician? I think so, but I can understand that certain people don't agree. No, drummers don't necessarily play melodies; they augment them. They're a crucial part of a band, yet drummers often get a bad rap.

Yes, I've heard plenty of drummer jokes, but they've never been proven true for me. I've never gone homeless because I broke up with a girlfriend. I've never left a porch after I was paid for the delivery of a pizza. I've never been let go from a band after I suggested we should play songs that I wrote. And no, I'm not a guy who hangs out with musicians.

I started playing piano in elementary school and picked up the coronet in middle school. I grew up wanting to be a guitar player, but as time passed, I was drawn more to the drums. I would get out empty coffee cans and plastic bowls for drums and chopsticks for drumsticks. From time to time, I would play until my sister would raise her voice and tell me to stop. Maybe this is around the time that I started air-drumming, but I'm not sure. When I got a real drumset for my birthday in 1994, my sister was not happy. I could rarely play on it whenever she was home (which wasn't that often) and when she did allow me to play a little when she was home, all she did was criticize my playing. How inspiring.

Undeterred, I kept playing, but I picked up the guitar for real in my sophomore year of high school. Slowly learning chords, leads and making up my own stuff on my mom's acoustic guitar, I'd play for however long I liked, except for when my sister was around. If I was playing too loud, she'd tell me to play at a lower volume or stop playing completely. Even more inspiring.

I spent many hours practicing drums and guitar and I always wanted to form a real band that wrote its own songs. When that opportunity arose, I had a blast. I had ideas for songs, but they never became full band songs. My focus was on locking in with the rhythm guitar and vocals, not just the bass. This is still the case after playing in a handful of bands.

Joe Strummer once said, "You're only as good as your drummer" and I agree. I don't think the Clash would have been the Clash if it weren't for Topper Headon. A straightforward, but incredibly versatile drummer, Headon helped make the only band that matters matter. (You can also add the firey combination of guitarist/vocalists Strummer and Mick Jones, tuneful songs with grit and smart basslines of Paul Simonon to the list.) Yet why do I often hear of drummers getting fired from their bands when they record an album (especially a debut for a major label)? Original Clash drummer Terry Chimes wanted to have a pop star-like life and that just wasn't going to happen with the Clash. So Headon came aboard.

Drummers are the foundation and if that foundation isn't strong enough, a replacement will be sought out. Ringo Starr wasn't the original Beatles' drummer, nor was Neil Peart with Rush. Hell, even the character of Chris Partridge was recast after the first season of The Partridge Family.

Drummers get a bum rap because they are often seen as underdeveloped. Well, especially in a young band, how can everyone in the band be fully developed? I rarely hear about Young Johnny Singer or Young Johnny Guitarist (who can barely sing or play) getting replaced. Sure, there were a number of session musicians back in the '60s and '70s that played on the record while the band members performed the songs live, but the one slot that seemed to more than likely change was the drummer's slot.

I remember reading Modern Drummer and Michael Azerrad's Come As You Are in high school and being scared. Reading about bands like Pearl Jam, Sponge, Everclear, Soul Asylum, Soundgarden and Nirvana replacing drummers for various reasons, I did my best to not be replaced. Knowing that Dave Grohl's key contribution to Nirvana was hitting hard, I hit hard. Thankfully, I wasn't kicked out of my band in high school.

Dave Grohl himself was a major inspiration for me in high school and college. A drummer who also wrote and recorded songs on his own, I saw something that I could do myself. When Grohl's solo-project-turned-band the Foo Fighters sprang up, I got really excited. Though I've understood that I can't write complete songs by myself, I feel totally fine with being an arranger and suggestion-maker in a band. This definitely works well with Ashburne Glen: Jason comes in with a rough idea for a song and we all hammer out something together. There are no egos here; just minor frustration because I sometimes play a little too loud. I'm still working on that, but if the song's a-rockin', I can't hold back.

Drummer jokes and lack of general respect for drummers withstanding, I love playing the drums. I can't get the kind of release when I play drums when I play guitar. Yeah, guitar, piano and bass are melodic instruments, but there is definitely a need for the drums. Rock music wouldn't rock if it weren't for them.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Life's not fair

Something I've joked with a number of people about in the last few months is that whenever I talk about how life isn't fair, I say I should start an aggro-rock band and yell "Life's not fair!" over and over again. The deal is, this is a direct nod to Papa Roach's '02 single, "She Loves Me Not." I know life isn't fair, but I find matters amusing with how others talk about this.

"I don't know/If I care/I'm the jerk/Life's not fair/Fighting all the time/This is out of line/She loves me not, loves me not/Do you realize, I won't compromise/She loves me not, loves me not," so the song's chorus goes. Frontman/lyricist Jacoby Shaddix made no secret that this song was about his wife. He openly discussed the lyrics in interviews like this. "Being in a band and being a rock star, I gotta put a lot of energy and emotion into what I do," he said, apparently unironically. "I'm always gone and I'm always on the road, and that's really hard on a relationship. So we fight, and I know I can be a dick. But as much as I'm a dick, I'm also a nice guy. I really recognize the duality in my life and in the world in general. It's like, you got the good, the evil, the love, the hate, the nice guy and the dickhead. It's sad sometimes that I am a dick to my lady, but sometimes she's a bitch to me." Not to be like Dr. Phil here, but this stuff ain't the key to a lasting relationship. Yes, I'm being judgmental because this kind of stuff is not what I consider kosher for my life.

A major facet of lyrics in nu-metal/aggro rock/rap rock is one of a self-punching bag. Treating yourself like a self-punching bag is a totally natural thing, but wallowing and dwelling on it is just something I get no satisfaction from anymore. Call that maturity or just growing up, but there is no pleasure in this kind of pain for me. I wonder if any of these band members think this way now.

By the time Limp Bizkit came along in the late-'90s, the combination of rapping with detuned guitars and industrial-sounding drums had become an utter joke in the mainstream. Earlier in the decade, bands like Rage Against the Machine, Helmet, Faith No More and Quicksand were doing something really unique with heavy rock (with or without rapping vocals). Yet when bands that were influenced by them started popping up and bands like Korn, Deftones and Limp Bizkit got mainstream attention, the sound became a commodity. By the time Limp Bizkit's Significant Other dropped in 1999, this kind of rock was an utter joke to me. The painful part was that us non-fans had to suffer through four years of mainstream attention until the mainstream's interest cooled. Sure, bands like Deftones put out good stuff, but they were greatly overshadowed by the faux-macho industry that nu-metal had become.

Chalk matters up to being older, but I remember grunge giving us fans more tuneful material than nu-metal ever did. I can still hear a song like Nirvana's "In Bloom" and hear a catchy little tune. Yet when I hear something like "She Loves Me Not," I'm baffled that I even listened to this song more than once. Maybe if I didn't have cable TV back in those days I could have been spared. Songs like the Deftones' "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" and A Perfect Circle's "Judas" still hold up really well not just in the pantheon of aggro-rock. Yet there are so many more songs that were DOA on arrival (ie, almost every single song by Limp Bizkit). I wonder how they're gonna package this kind of nostalgia some day . . .

So back to the point at hand: I know life isn't fair but I choose not to dwell on that these days. I'm sure somebody out there (probably younger than me) got some sort of release from "She Loves Me Not" when it came out. I just find that I can't get anything positive out of screaming "Life's not fair!" over and over again and not do anything about it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Label spotlight: Polyvinyl Records

Though I'm still in the research-gathering stage for Post, I have planned out some nice coverage of labels that I liked back in the day and still like today. I'm happy to see a number of labels (like No Idea, Jade Tree, Polyvinyl, DeSoto and Second Nature) keep their legitimacy instead of cashing all of their chips for mall emo. Though labels like Epitaph and Vagrant are still criticized for their mall punk releases, at least they put out a wider variety of stuff that isn't strictly tailored for the mall crowd. Under the Epitaph umbrella, we've seen releases as diverse (and really great) as Converge, the Weakerthans and Neko Case in the last few years. With Vagrant, we'll be seeing the new releases from unique acts like the Futureheads, Lemonheads and the Hold Steady in the near future. I hope to cover all of these labels to a decent extent with Post, but as a little taste, I wish to spotlight them here without the constraints of a book format. For starters, today's label is Polyvinyl Records.

I argue that the bands on Polyvinyl are a more organic progression from mid-'90s post-hardcore. Instead of aping the first two Get Up Kids records with moronic and sophomoric cheese, Polyvinyl's records attract a wide audience that will keep coming back even after they finish college. They're a label, just like many of the labels listed above, that puts out of music that is for anybody that's interested in music as a dense form of expression instead of as an accessory. Their records don't sound like they nabbed a bunch of young and underdeveloped bands, sent them to Guitar Center for all new equipment, hooked them up with some hot producer and made a glossy record spewing all sorts of neutered sounds. Nope, this is indie rock more akin to what traditional indie rock is: poppy music that isn't for the lowest common denominator.

My introduction to Polyvinyl came with Braid's third album, Frame & Canvas, and the interest grew from there. Being introduced to Rainer Maria, matt pond PA, Sunday's Best and the Ivory Coast through college radio, I wouldn't say I was a hardcore fan of the label, but I noticed there was a consistency with their stuff. Great packaging that was simple, but effective, with usually really worthwhile music that wasn't solely for the emo/post-hardcore crowd. This is still the case, but in the last few years, the label has expanded its roster and its diversity has grown with it.

The reason why I wanted to highlight the label in Post was because of the Braid connection. Co-owner Matt Lunsford was a longtime friend of the band and the label helped release a few Braid 7"s. Offering to release the band's breakthrough full-length, Frame & Canvas, the band would receive some nice and wide attention in all sorts of places, including a certain Alternative Press piece that caught my eye. Feeling that Polyvinyl needed some coverage, I got in touch with Matt.

During our interview, the topic of skateboarding came up because that's how he knew future Braid members Roy Ewing and Todd Bell. Telling me that skateboarding "defined my personality," his thoughts turned large lightbulbs on in my head. As someone who was into skateboarding not just for the air tricks and grinds, but for the mentality behind it, I could really relate. When you're skating, you're not looking at the world as something that's there to take for granted: you're looking to do something in the world with what you have at your disposal. This is a basic mindset of the DIY work ethic. I could relate to this back when I was younger and I can still relate to this.

The reason for all this backstory is that this is what makes the label special. Sure, there is temptation to release only what "the kids" want and make a whole bunch of money, but thinking about things in the long term, is this really the best strategy? I say no. I like to see labels that forge ahead with releasing, as Matt put it to me, "good, original music," regardless of commercial potential. This stuff isn't a reinvention of the wheel, but it's definitely not a cheap knockoff of a wheel that fell off years ago.

Though I had sort of lost track of Polyvinyl's output in the first few years after college, I've been following what they've been doing a little closer for the last couple of them. As evidenced by Polyvinyl's releases in the last few years, there isn't a doubt in my mind that the label hasn't lost its way.

I reviewed Picastro's Metal Cares for Punk Planet last year and gave it high regards. While it's a record you have to sit with, it's a really unique blend of brittle folk and gothic ballads. Using spare guitar, light female vocals, melancholy cello, old piano and simple drums, Metal Cares isn't necessarily upbeat, driving music for me. Rather, it's good to have on for a slow day at home. The same can be said for Ida's Heart Like a River. Gorgeous, three-part, male/female vocals over soft and folky guitar, piano and light drums aren't the recipe for moshing, but again, that's not what the aim is.

Coming from a much different angle, ZZZZ's Palm Reader melds deranged, spastic math rock with saxophone, keyboards, bass and drums. Then there's the fun and full sunny pop of Saturday Looks Good to Me and Of Montreal along with the stripped-down pop of Mates of State. Though this stuff was released last year, I'm still finding a lot to dig in with these kinds of acts. I'm just beginning with the stuff that's been released this year.

Aloha, a band my friend Jeremy introduced me to last year, released their fourth LP, Some Echoes, last month. Evoking moods of mellow Steely Dan (sans noodly guitar solos) in spots with its keyboards/marimba/guitar/drums set-up, I argue that Some Echoes is better than their previous effort, Here Comes Everyone. Though I really dig a number of songs on Here Comes Everyone, Some Echoes feels like a complete album. Though this album is mellower and more subtle, each song has its own unique flair. They have a consistently strong appeal, especially the super-catchy third track, "Your Eyes". I never imagined mathy rock to be this poppy, especially with marimba and keyboards as main instruments.

The Like Young is a married couple primarily featuring dual vocals, guitar and drums. Though that may sound like Mates of State retread or another garage blues duo, the Like Young is neither. Last Secrets is more or less straight-forward rock with a slight tint towards a Sleater-Kinney-like style of guitar. The catch is, this is incredibly melodic at the same time. Yes, this is only two people playing together, but instead of leaving all sorts of empty space, they are doing enough playing off of each other that a third or fourth member would be too much.

Then there is the M's. Their second album, Future Women, was my introduction to their stuff and I'm rather puzzled how I can describe these guys. I don't mean this in a bad way, but this is some really wild mixing of styles here. Though they could be thought of as a Sixties throwback to the Kinks and Beach Boys, there is a messy, dirty-like nature to their songs. They definitely bring some rockin' riffs in spots but they aren't all about this. Their buzzy, bash pop is sometimes countered with surprises (like the strings-filled, "Light I Love"). Maybe you could say this is loose garage rock that's not all about rocking out and having a wild time.

All this said for just one label, I don't mean to write up puff pieces or promotional fluff with these label spotlights. While I shouldn't be so ticked off at the mall-friendly version of punk, emo or hardcore, I'm reminded of it in so many different places I look these days. Feeling like there is a lack of talking up of great labels that came from the mid-'90s world of what was sometimes called post-hardcore and later all bunched together as emo, I gotta give credit where credit's due.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Countdown to the disappointment

Believe you me, I didn't intend to spend three days answering the simple question of "what's so great about ________?" but something happened right after I posted yesterday's column. Here's the story:

Each week, Torr posts lists of albums and singles coming out in the US and the UK. Sometimes he adds a brief little comment to an item (sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes in-between). Knowing that he doesn't often rave about stuff (at least from what I've seen), when he does rave about something, I'm likely to check it out. He recently posted about a single by a band called Boy Kill Boy, declaring their single "Suzie," "Perhaps the single of the year." When he posted a link that had four tracks from Civilian, the band's forthcoming album (including "Suzie"), I downloaded the track. Immediately upon listening to it, I loved it. But why?

Shortly after a guitar fade-in, drums and guitar kick in with an upbeat feel and an ascending guitar riff. Reminding me of the Upper Room (another band Torr has raved about) in parts of the instrumental department and Maximo Park in the vocals and instrumental departments, I was really taken by its super-catchy chorus of "Countdown/Countdown/Countdown to the disappointment." I'm a sucker for songs that grab me right away and don't get stale after repeated listens. I'm not sure if I would call "Suzie" the single of the year, but it's definitely one of the best new songs I've heard all year.

Another song I've really been enjoying since the first listen is Secret Machines' "Lightning Blue Eyes." Yes, I have spoken at length about these guys' new record (Ten Silver Drops) because I really like this record. Another upbeat tune, I love the roomy-sounding drums, the tight/muted keyboards, bass and guitar lines in the verses and then the building pre-chorus leading to a big chorus. However, the song doesn't blow its load when they reach the chorus. Holding the instruments back to let the vocals sing the chorus melody is a wonderful tease of what's to come. When the chorus' melody is next played on a guitar lead and then played with vocals and the guitar, keyboards and bass, this all creates a great payoff. Then there are the simple vocal harmonies courtesy of Ben and Brandon that augment a later run around the chorus. What you have here are different variations of a great melody under a solid, straight-ahead beat.

When I listen to music that I like, I tend to act in a few different ways. I may tap my fingers along or I may air-drum or air-guitar along. Oftentimes melodies that I like give me a warm feeling (as in, nerves in my body make me feel warm and certain muscles in my neck tighten), but even more often is when I stop and pay close attention to a song. This is the way the experience has always been for me. Because I enjoy that feeling, I want to have this feeling again and again, so that's what moves me to keep finding stuff.

I have no clue if this is how other people respond to music they like, but I often hear about similar feelings (warm feeling all over the body, hair standing on the back of the neck, etc.). Somehow these all play into the intensity of a recommendation one gives when sharing music. I may sound all scientific when I describe what I like while others simply say, "I dunno -- I just like it." I don't fault people that express this, but I appreciate it when someone goes a little further in describing what he/she likes about something. Of course, in the case of Torr's one sentence praise of "Suzie" and kind of knowing what he digs and doesn't dig, that's all I needed to know. He wasn't telling me or any of his other readers that "Suzie" is the best song for everyone. He wasn't going the lame route of saying "If you like the Upper Room and Maximo Park, then you'll LOVE Boy Kill Boy." No, he lets us hear this song that he's really digging and that's that.

Recommending music with a guarantee of pure enjoyment almost always leads to a disappointment. Forcing some band/album/song onto someone is not the route I like to take. I've been let down many times by stuff that I thought was going to rock my world. Since I can't decide for others what's good, bad and everything in between, I just talk about what I like and leave matters at that.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What's So Great about the Barrier Reef?

As if yesterday's post wasn't long enough, Jason still asked me: what's so great about bands like Band of Horses, Sufjan Stevens, the Black Angels, SOUND team and the Secret Machines? Now I will attempt to unveil the mask that is often referred as, "I dunno -- I just like it."

Band of Horses, not to be confused with Horse the Band or a couple of bands called Horses, has a new record out on Sub Pop Records. I've heard a couple of tracks from Everything All the Time and the band I'm reminded of is My Morning Jacket. This is rock that isn't afraid of twang and twang that isn't afraid of rock. This isn't hokey at all and I like what I've heard. Fans of My Morning Jacket may take to this a little more or less because of the sound comparison.

Sufjan Stevens, coming off of a breakthrough album last year, recently released an album of outtakes released called The Avalanche through Asthmatic Kitty. Though I've only heard his material from Illinois (aka, Come On Feel the Illinoise), I can say that I'm really impressed with the album, but I'm not really compelled to check out more of his stuff. I gotta give him credit though: he writes some really lush acoustic pop with strings and horns sometimes showing up. His singing voice is pleasant and calm and rather unique to my ears. Unless his next album blows away everything else he's done, Illinois will be his watermark.

Austin's Black Angels have received some nice praise in the last few months. Their South By Southwest performances drew raves from a number of notable critics (like Jim DeRogatis) and their new album, Passover, is a part of such raves. I saw the Angels play a few months and wasn't wowed nor turned off. Yes, the music is hazy and psychedelic, but I don't believe you have to be under the influence to dig in. For some reason, whenever I hear their name, I keep thinking about that one Mary Katherine Gallagher skit on SNL where she tried to become a Black Angel.

SOUND team, another Austin-based band, is gearing up for the release of their major label debut album. I saw the band live a couple of years ago opening for . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. I really liked what they played: upbeat and layered guitar/keyboard rock. Listening to "The Fastest Man Alive" and "Movie Monster" on their MySpace page, this is what I mean. This is not post-punk, orchestral pop or mopey country twang: this is slightly sideways pop rock that could really break through to the college rock and slightly older crowd.

Secret Machines have received a lot of blog love here at the theme park. I would pinpoint my love for their stuff because of their ability to write moody rock with a pop flair over a big wall of keyboards, swirling guitars, thick bass and pounding drums. Ten Silver Drops is a bit more focused in the "getting-to-the-point" element in their sound compared to their debut, Now Here is Nowhere.

Those are my feelings on these bands, but I really don't know if others feel the same. I will say this, there is an attachment to acts that are new with a solid new record. Yes, that's a huge "duh," but somehow and for various reasons, certain acts really make strong impressions on people. People don't really know how to convey why they like or don't like something, but we all try. I don't think there's a lemming mentality going on here. I think this is about music with a certain degree of accessibility connecting with a wider, but not mainstream, audience. The more unique (but still accessible) to the average listener, the better the chances are of getting noticed.

None of the aforementioned acts sound alike, but there is a feeling that this music is way more in-depth than the kind of stuff you hear on mainstream radio and TV. This isn't for the SUV-driving mother in the suburbs scanning the radio dial for something familiar and instantly digestible. This is the kind of music that draws a closer eye, but not everyone wants to look that much closer. I refuse to say, "That's too bad," if someone were to pass up on somebody like Secret Machines because people assimilate music in so many different ways. I can't expect people to adhere to music like I do.

Now that I've done this explaining, maybe Chris, Sam, and Jason can explain to me what's so great about Midlake's "Roscoe." Yes, I like Fleetwood Mac's pop-friendly stuff and I don't mind this song that sounds a bit like it, but I'm curious what these guys find so great about this song. The trail continues . . .