out of egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and i shake the dirt from my sandals as i run

Friday, April 13, 2007

What I Should've Said 2

[2nd installment in our whatever-part series]

Friday April 13, 2007, 9:45 am. Bond St between State and Schermerhorn.

I'm walking to the subway. A dude wants money.

Homeless dude: Excuse me sir!

Me: (I say nothing. I walk past.)

Homeless dude: You bald-headed mother fucker!

What I said: nothing

What I Should've Said: You can tell???

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

a doomed, hysterical defense

Shaboy! Pitchfork brings the clever today in honor of the warm weather, jumping the gun and wheeling out this nice, plushy punching bag a full week before its release. They even give it top billing, saying that this, not their blue-balling non-takedown of Amy Winehouse, is actually the critical story of the day. This, my friends, is the element of surprise, and it is genius and it is beautiful.

But I don't know. Easy? You think? A little?

If you have a second, hop in the wayback machine with me - take a look at the old party line on Fountains of Wayne. Dumb lyrics, repetitive v-c-v structure - but ok say they, so what: "I don't fault the band for being disposable." As well you should not sir. Cut to four years later though, and suddenly We Are Not Amused. "We should expect much, much more from pop music than this kind of bullshit."


But truthfully: I expect much, much more from Pitchfork than this kind of bullshit. Especially from the post-2003 Pitchfork, the one that supposedly embraces the disposable, the top 40, the accessible. Faulting a band for getting a hit isn't just A Little 90's You Guys Know What I Mean - it represents the laziest, worst, most cynical aspects of pop criticism. LeMay takes pains to tell us how much he really, really, really didn't like "Stacy's Mom," you guys. Wow dude. Good on you.

I've heard the album, it's not their best. But it has easily as many fantastic songs as Welcome Interstate Managers does (unless we're still pretending to like "Hackensack"), and I want to make sure that bitches are not denying this band their significant, serious place in American pop music.

The lyrics issue is moot. Think about "Radiation Vibe," which I'd bet is LeMay's pick for the band's best song, before they apparently went astray around their second album (by getting a backing band????). I'm not going to write out that amazing song's lyrics, because they are retarded. Overlooking lyrics for melody is not an excuse for mediocrity - it's a listening device that pop music demands as a genre. Look through the liner notes of Pet Sounds and then we can talk.

One thing Fountains of Wayne are doing lyrically, and doing well, is advancing a sort of thesis on which people and stories are worth writing about in pop songs. The epicenter of their songs' landscapes is never far from the suburbs of new york city, which I appreciate selfishly, but also more generally as a statement reclaiming the pop harmony for the east coast, like they're the Biggie to Brian Wilson's Tupac.

Springsteen it ain't. But the hard truth is that even on a weaker album, this band represents a ton of what's right in the pop universe. If you can't remember ever being seriously unable to get over "Mexican Wine," or "Hey Julie," or "Sick Day," or "It Must Be Summer," or "I've Got a Flair," or fuck, even "Prom Theme," then I don't know, man. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that we exist on the same internet.

Fountains of Wayne - New Routine

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Here's two things about cars:

Yesterday my car was broken into. Someone smashed through the passenger side window, opened the glove compartment, rummaged through all my shit, and ultimately made off with my phone charger, my bluetoof headset, $15 in change and a box of juicy juice. Grape.

Stupidly, this morning I took it to a shop before I'd had a chance to take any pictures of this frankly incredible damage, unprecedented even for my car. Me and she, we've gone through a few scrapes together. So in lieu of what I owe you, public, here are some greatest hits I found in my iPhoto:

Well, there was the time I got that flat tire on Eastern Parkway.

There was the time a Wesleyan food services van backed up on me.

And oh yeah, one time I had a block of wood installed, for safety.

And that's to say nothing of the time my speedometer dropped to zero somewhere in Ohio; or the time my windshield wipers started grinding into the windshield, make a seal-like record-scratching noise; or the time Matt backed up into my car at 30mph, folding his car in like an accordion but cracking my taillight; or the time someone slashed my tires in Middletown; or the time when I was 18 and I backed into my parents' garage too far to the right, taking out my side view mirror; or the two-year period when I drove without a side view mirror at all; or the time I turned too sharply out of the Eisner parking lot, grinding the side of my car into a mailbox.

Man, remember that?

I turn 24 tomorrow, but honestly birthdays are nothing to scream about these days. The big news is that I scored tickets for one of the Arcade Fire's five Judson Memorial Church shows, and I get to go on my birthday.

Neon Bible is the Arcade Fire's new album, in case you have a job or a life. A few days ago Rachel tuned me into the fact that it had already leaked, even though it won't come out until March. I fired up my intellectual property theft contraption and grabbed it.

The Sophomore Album is, almost without exception, a situation where you brace yourself for disappointment. You expect the band to have become too good at what they do, or to have already gotten sick of themselves, or to have phoned it in, or slicked it up, or done it exactly the way they did it before - but no matter what, it will not be what you want it to be. Mostly because you don't have a clue what you want.

What can I say? You know what I'm going for here. Once again I lack the critical faculties to really express myself on this. I like the album. I'm really, really into it. I'm listening to it all the time. I'm listening to it when I'm having a great day and I'm listening to it when I'm miserable. It's good, is what I am saying.

But I really only want to talk about the 10th song on the album, the second-to-last track. This is "No Cars Go", and it's actually an old Arcade Fire song, off of their first EP. In fact, it's the first Arcade Fire song I ever heard, back in the summer of 2004, before their first album had come out and before they were the instant and suspicious toast of blogburg.

I'm not bragging. I mean to say that I heard this song far back in the distant past, free of context except that it was late at night, and I knew I hadn't heard anything like it before. Which is so stupid/trite/unwriterly to say, for sure. But hey. Funeral is great and everything, but in my opinion nothing on it reaches the heights of the moment when they yell "Hey!" in the middle of the first verse in No Cars Go.

Anyway, they rerecorded it for this new album, and amazingly it's been jacked up even further. And again, this feels wrong to be saying. No doubt the reviews will single this track out as the least necessary on the album, a retread to an already-strong track that just diminishes the nuance of the original. And this is why I'm glad that no reviews have been written of Neon Bible yet. Here in this age of innocence, I can still say, This song is a fucking tour-de-force. I love it.

And it's just a better recording of the song, too; it's not even really re-imagined. But the vocals are higher, there are more instruments (I hear a little Sufjan whistle at 2:14), and suddenly the full form of the old song comes out. I actually thought they'd written a new ending for it, but then I went back to the early version and realized that I'd just never noticed it before. iTunes puts this track at 21 plays so far, which I know is a lie - but I promise that every one of those times, the last minute-and-a-half has punched me right in the face.

It sounds like the song is over, like it's basically accomplished everything it's going to. But the punch I'm referring to is the moment when Win Butler steps back to the mic, and rallies the band for one final push. I mean, he may not be addressing the band. He may be addressing us, or he may mean someone else entirely. Maybe he's literally talking to who he says he's talking to. (Babies.)

I don't know if this is the Strongest track on the album. But I know for sure that it's the strongest track on the album - it has muscles, and not the kind that critics mystifyingly refer to when talking about bands that make you wish you understood the appeal of metal. No - this song will break your legs, snap off your head. It's everything good and bad about the idea of the sophomore album. It's the idea of More. It's exactly what this band is about.

The Arcade Fire - No Cars Go

Monday, January 22, 2007

What I Should've Said

Honoring a drunken promise I made to Sara on Saturday night, today I'm reentering the blog-sphere for 07 with a new, semi-regular, real-life feature. Listen up:

A lot of people are able to make the good first impression. A lot of people are able to make a good fifth impression. A lot of people are sharp, charming, always knowing the right thing to say, good listeners, great conversationalists. Able to talk to women in bars. Good for you guys.

Introducing: What I Should've Said.

Monday January 22, 2007. 8:25 am.

I'm getting dressed, just about to leave for work. Dave comes down the stairs, earlier than I expected him to be up. I'm listening to Guster.

I am not going to sit here and tell you that Guster came on shuffle. I'm a big enough man to admit that I was listening to Guster on purpose. Wait, I could have worded that better.

I turn the volume down quickly.

Dave: Don't try and turn that down, I already heard.

What I Said: Hey... uh whatever nothing wrong with a little Guster in the morning fuck you uuuuuuuuh I gotta go

What I Should've Said: Dave, I am doing research.

man this is going to be great.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #1

Girl Talk - Night Ripper

Here's what I learned this week. I am not a rock critic.

Let's just say I bit off more than I could chew by promising to write up one Best Album a day. One: I'm not a good enough writer to churn out something that doesn't suck every day, and I don't have the extra down time to make up for it. Two: I'm not a good enough judge of artistic merit to put together a credible list. At some point my aesthetic filter breaks down, and this is that point.

Unfortunately for the blogosphere, a countdown turns out to be more fun to read and write than something maybe more coherent. So fuck if I'm totally unqualified to be in charge here. 90% of the people "reading" this page aren't even going through these paragraphs, they're just skipping down to the song they're looking to download. A well-regarded, or well-read, or even read music blog, this is not. So: do I think Night Ripper is the best album of the year? Eh. Was it my favorite album of the year? Well, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Truthfully, I generally fucking hate it when people end their best-of countdowns with Bold Statements - the dude who ends his all-time-classic-movie list with #3 Citizen Kane, #2 Casablanca and #1 "Ojos de la Luna," a little-known foreign Gem from 1974 that apparently has "the most beautiful cinematography man has ever created." You, my imaginary example friend, should get out more.

But that's not how I roll. I promise! Well maybe. Listen: Girl Talk gets the trophy not because it's the Best Ever, but because it's simply absolutely astonishing in a way that nothing else this year was. The first time I heard the Hold Steady album I turned to Josh Kesner and said "this is good. This is really, really, really good." The first time I heard this album, I yelled "holy shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit" repeatedly. It's not greater than or less than - there should really be two different lists. But there aren't.

So yeah. This is an album of mashups. An album of one long string of mashups. The line between "gimmicky" and "a work that stands on its own" is thin these days, as anyone who didn't put the Pipettes on their top 10 will tell you. But it's December and I'm still listening to this album, theoretically loud enough to drown out the protests of the people in the back seat of my car asking "can we listen to a real song now??" And it still amazes me.

So finally, America, let me hear you say: hey, we want some puss-ay.

See you in 07.

Download: Peak Out

buy it.

seacrest out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #2

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

People throw around "guilty pleasure" like it's a fuckin aerobie. Kids, watching Friends is not a guilty pleasure. Eating a milano cookie is not a guilty pleasure. Fuck, listening to Britney Spears is not a guilty pleasure. These things are not transgressions. If they don't fill you with guilt, then they're straight up pleasures. Okay? Now masturbation, there's a guilty pleasure.

The key to the good g.p. is dissonance - the conflict over the thing that goes on while you're actually doing the thing. Listening to bad music doesn't pass the test because it's not doing any harm to anyone, least of all yourself. Bad music is either a pleasure or it's not. Good music on the other hand, good music is a violent act. Listen to good music and your friends will think you're a fuckhead. Talk about it to someone who's already heard it and they'll laugh at you. Good music gets between people. It destroys relationships. Guilty pleasure.

The Hold Steady's strength is in their adhesion to formula. They know what they're about, so do their listeners, and so do all the critics in the world. Try finding a review of this record that doesn't contain the words "boozy" or "riffs." Formal innovation this ain't; the Hold Steady is unabashedly the sum of its parts.

BUT - this is Good Music, so we're told, and so I'm supposed to know what those parts are. But I don't. And I feel guilty about this. Bruce who? There was a dude talking to me after the Hold Steady show I saw last month, and for some reason he kept bringing up Love Is All, and I was drunk but I just remember thinking Thank God, a band I can pretend to know about! As long as I don't have to talk about old music!

If you search for the Hold Steady on youtube, you'll eventually find a video where I do a crazy man dance while my roommate tries to mount a shelf in the background, something I promised I would help him with. I'm a jerk in real life, but when I'm listening to music I really like, I'm a huge fucking douchebag. I feel bad about that, a little.

Because the dissonance is built in. The Hold Steady deliberately appeals to people who are older than the subjects of their songs by 5-10 years. At their show I felt like I was simultaneously too old and too young. A girl in a black dress punched me in the face; I was pissed at her, but then I felt guilty about being so uptight, and besides, they were playing this song.

Download: Stuck Between Stations

buy it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 10 Albums of 06: #3

Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies

A Destroyer album is an event by nature. The New Pornographers may be remembered as this decade's emblematic pop think tank, but they're no monolith; Dan Bejar does not equal A.C. Newman, who refined the Pornos' sound on his own solo album; and he does not equal Neko Case, who has her own thang and betters it on each of her successively more awesome solo records. Bejar has no thing. He'll do whatever the fuck he wants.

So we have 2004's Your Blues, on which Bejar programmed tinny MIDI melodies and laid them under bombastic, reverbed, theatrical vocals, with lyrics about I don't even know what. It's one of my favorite albums. And we have 2005's Notorious Lightning EP, on which he took songs from Your Blues and played them like they were rock songs, and which I can't stand.

It seems like I'm building to the thesis that Destroyer's Rubies is the relieving synthesis of those two albums, but I'm not good enough to set that argument up. I just mean that Destroyer is all over the map, and that other than the thing he does where he name-checks his songs in all his other songs, this album has nothing to do with anything.

Take "Painter In Your Pocket," which is probably the best song on the album, but which was also the one I used to habitually skip. It starts off like a song I don't want to listen to - it doesn't even really sound like a proper song until 30 seconds in, actually. But proper it is, proper like a fox, and by 2 minutes 40 seconds in it's a virus, even though I still don't really know what it's about. Where did you get that penchant for destruction in the way you talk?!?

Bejar's strength as a lyricist is unquestioned by critics, even the douchebag ones. It's his musical choices they harp on, and that's why Your Blues was a divider, not a uniter. This is an easier pill to swallow musically, and it's not nearly as dissonant, even if it's not completely consistent. The opening track is almost 10 minutes long and has at least five distinct sections. It'd be great as a Joanna Newsom cover, if it had more nonsense words. Now that's something I would pay to download.

Download: Painter In Your Pocket

buy it for someone you luv.

Only two more. I get the feeling you're not going to like this.