Minnesota Reads Interview

[Chris DeLine is] one of the men responsible for Culture Bully a very fine music blog based right here in Minnesota. One of the very coolest things about Culture Bully is their nobility. In October, the blog spent 60 hours raising money for Twin Cities Arts Education. It was awesome, featuring music premieres and artists’ commentary on arts education. It was amazing and humbling.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I just went to the library yesterday and picked up a copy of Douglas Wolk’s take on James Brown’s “Live at the Apollo,” from the 33 1/3 series. For the entirety of what can loosely be described as my adult life, James Brown has been a staple in my listening diet. I choose not to think of him as the person he was when he died, but rather the person he was when he was at his artistic peak, and even at that I’m not saying he was ever a “good” person.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Who?

While this could easily be answered by saying that I’ve had a crush on pretty much every character Jennifer Connelly has ever played – I’m not sure it’d fit the bill… the question being about books, and all. I’m not too sure that I have ever had a crush on a character I’ve read about. My answer is swayed by the fact that I find myself far more interested in non-fiction, though. I suppose that probably says something about my inability to read into the intricacies of literature, but you have to do what works for you…

If your favorite author came to Minnesota, who would it be and what bar would you take him/her to?

I have no idea who my favorite author is – I haven’t read nearly enough to even begin the process of identifying who I enjoy reading “the most.” That being said, for all his flaws and idiosyncrasies, Henry Rollins has probably had the most impact on me, as far as authors go. His non-fiction journaling aside, my teens were saturated with his words, and his poetry helped me identify a lot of emotion that I was experiencing at the time. I haven’t necessarily grown away from his words, but I’ve grown away from those feelings… by default he’d probably be my favorite author. He’s not a drinker – and I’m not much for making plans, we’d have to cross that hurdle when it comes.

What was your first favorite book?

When I was in elementary school I really liked The Wizard of Oz I enjoyed the adventures that the gang went on that weren’t in the movie… as a child I was typically too interested in playing with friends to sit down and read, unless it was for school. Suppose that I was fortunate to have had to write a book report on that bad boy, otherwise I might have never figured out that movies don’t necessarily reflect the books they’re based on.

Let’s say Fahrenheit 451 comes to life, which book would you become in order to save it from annihilation?

I’m happy with being a bystander in terms seeing how the world sorts itself out – and if that’s how the world was going down, I’m not sure that I’d be too interested in saving it. Toss in something nihilistic from Chuck Palahniuk, and you’ve got yourself a stew.

What is one book you haven’t read but want to read before you die?

The follow-up to Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance entitled Saving a Nation: How a Young Canadian Stallion Helped Me Turn America Around.

[This interview was first published by Minnesota Reads]

Deerhunter "Microcastle" Review

Opening with the comparatively quiet "Cover Me (Slowly)," Deerhunter's Microcastle quickly evolves into something less abstract and inherently more familiar than the band's previous offerings. While 2007's breakthrough Cryptograms was applauded for its abrasive intangibles, Microcastle sounds harnessed and reflective of, rather than in conflict with, the band's inspirations. But rather than just sounding like Sonic Youth or the Pixies, Deerhunter transcend a culture dying for immediate nostalgia and creates an album suggestive of rock's illusive "next wave."

It's odd to think of obscurity as an advantage, but whereas bands were once given the ability to hone their sound over a matter of years, today's modern climate demands immediate evaluation and categorization, allowing for little time to develop. Microcastle's second track, "Agoraphobia," reflects a sound characteristic of what was once termed "slacker rock" and a casual lyrical style reminiscent of that of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. But while Deerhunter avoid the noisiness often associated with the art-rock trailblazers, uncharacteristically leaning toward sounding like a "rock band," they base the core sound on something that took years to develop. Likewise, "Little Kids" sounds as though the band inherited a sound the Pixies lost somewhere between internal conflict and addiction. In attempting to expand upon a variety of influences that took years to cultivate, in a very short time the question that arises isn't "what's next?"—it's "is next possible?"

The curiously self-debasing lyrics of the album's closing track, "Twilight at Carbon Lake," evolve into Microcastle's increasingly dramatic and intricate conclusion. What becomes the loudest song on the album is also the most telling of what might become of the brilliance that the band generously exudes. With guitars twisting and sounds colliding, the album peaks before fading out into silence—and if that looming "next wave" of rock 'n' roll is ever to materialize, part of its success will lie in bands such as Deerhunter not similarly fading away into silence.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Eagles of Death Metal "Heart On" Review

In a promotional video released weeks before Eagles of Death Metal's new record, singer Jesse Hughes exuded joy as he described the current state of his hometown: "Hollywood feels like this opening sequence to Saturday Night Fever. Everyone seems like they're ready for action—and the action is go." If only that sort of abundant energy translated to the band's new release.

A decade after being merely a Josh Homme side project, Eagles of Death Metal has taken the role of being one of rock 'n' roll's loudest, cockiest, and cheekiest bands. Between the group's first two albums, Peace, Love and Death Metal and Death By Sexy, EoDM created its own universe; one which focused almost exclusively on hard rocking, innumerable double entendres, and the devil. With Heart On, however, the luster is gone, the rocking isn't as hard, and the sexual innuendo isn't nearly as fierce as it once was (album title aside). Whereas Jesse "The Devil" Hughes once sang about the mixed emotions associated with diving into the depths of questionable sexual eligibility, the band now takes a thematic higher ground, often focusing on "emotions" and "relationships." Hughes himself asks the question late into the album: "How can a man with so many friends feel so alone?"

Things aren't entirely blasé with Heart On, however. The album's lead single "Wanna Be in L.A." sounds like a reckless, beer-soaked surfer, barely hanging onto a repetitive flow before wisely fading out. "Secret Plans" prominently expels much of the record's tired sound, adding the tight-fisted chorus "I want what I want, what I want, what I want, what I want." And if repetition and the occasional suggestive lyric could save the album, Eagles of Death Metal would be solid gold. Instead, Heart On sounds far less like a vivacious representation of the city, and a lot more like the cliché that Hollywood has become.

10 Biggest Anti-Bush Songs

In the eight years he's been in charge of the nation, George W. Bush's approval ratings have hit all-time lows. That sentiment has, of course, been manifest into song, as well. To help us prepare to say goodbye to eight of the most disheartening years in the country’s history, here are 10 of the biggest anti-Bush songs of the era.

Beastie Boys: “In a World Gone Mad” / Internet Exclusive [2003]
"But you build more bombs as you get more bold/ As your mid-life-crisis war unfolds/ All you want to do is take control/ Now put that 'axis of evil' bullshit on hold."
Released in 2003 via sites including MTV, MoveOn.org and Win Without War, Beastie Boys' "In a World Gone Mad" takes aim at the Bush administration's resolve to send American troops to Iraq. It may include one of the most ridiculous Beastie Boys lyrics of all time ("George Bush, you're looking like Zoolander/ Trying to play tough for the camera"), but it also has one of the most poignant: "Now how many people must get killed/ For oil families pockets to get filled/ How many oil families get killed/ Not a damn one, so what's the deal?"

LL Cool J &Wyclef Jean: “Mr. President” / Exit 13 [Def Jam, 2008]
“Mr. President, truth or dare/ Terrorist is hiding. Do you know where?”
Released on LL Cool J’s 13th and final Def Jam album, “Mr. President” finds the MC taking a nonpartisan look at the reality of the past eight years, ultimately asking for the truth on where the country stands. For the most part he uses nonaccusatory statements, something that is a rarity on this list, but ultimately “Mr. President” paints a similarly bleak picture: “I’m not Republican or Democratic/ I’m independent; I want the facts/ When are the soldiers come back?/ Are we prepared for a terrorist attack?”

Pearl Jam: “Bu$hleaguer” / Riot Act [Epic, 2002]
“He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer/ Swinging for the fence, got lucky with a strike/ Drilling for fear, makes the job simple/ Born on third, thinks he got a triple.”
Roughly two years into the Bush administration, Pearl Jam released “Bu$hleaguer,” a wordy chop at the faltering president. Comparing his competency as leader of the nation to the ability of a minor league baseball player, Eddie Vedder criticizes Bush’s credentials and path to the presidency before fading off into a wasteland of poetic commentary. It’s a little easier to make the squad when your dad runs the team.

James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” / Childish Things [Compadre, 2005]
“Will work for food/ Will die for oil/ Will kill for power and to us the spoils/ The billionaires get to pay less tax/ The working poor get to fall through the cracks.”
A commentary on the state of the nation, James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” is exponentially true four years after he first wrote the song. Throughout the story McMurtry delivers examples of things that break his heart — eventually pointing the finger at the source of the trickle down, “if the president wants to admit it or not.” In 2005 the economy was relatively solid compared to today’s, but now more people are hurting and more fingers are being pointed. A lot of people are looking at the administration and saying, “We can’t make it here anymore.”

Bright Eyes: “When the President Talks to God” / [iTunes, 2005]
“When the president talks to God/Are the conversations brief or long? Does he ask to rape our women’s rights/And send poor farm kids off to die? Does God suggest an oil hike/When the president talks to God?”
Conor Oberst’s poetic protest, “When the President Talks to God” caustically chastised Bush for the conflicts between his outspoken Christian beliefs and his administration’s policies. Oberst performed the acoustic song on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in May of 2005, pausing momentarily before stepping into one of the song’s most infamous lines, “When the president talks to God/Does he ever think that maybe he’s not? That that voice is just inside his head/When he kneels next to the presidential bed/Does he ever smell his own bullshit/When the president talks to God?” While Oberst faded the song out of his live rotation by mid-2006, the track would still go on to win Song of the Year at the 2006 PLUG Awards.

Zack de la Rocha and DJ Shadow: “March of Death” / MarchofDeath.com [2003]
“Here it comes the sound of terror from above/ He flex his Texas twisted tongue/ The poor lined up to kill in desert slums/ For oil that boil beneath the desert sun.”
For the many looking for a glimpse of some (even then) long-overdue Zach de la Rocha solo material, “March of Death” was a gift. Distributed for free via MarchofDeath.com, the song focused de la Rocha’s anger and frustration into roughly four minutes of pounding beats. Co-opting a one of the last solid tracks DJ Shadow produced before his dreadful The Outsider album, “March of Death” is as much a banger as it is a fierce commentary.

The openly outspoken de la Rocha accompanied the song’s release with this message: “Lies, sanctions, and cruise missiles have never created a free and just society. Only everyday people can do that. Which is why I’m joining the millions worldwide who have stood up to oppose the Bush administration’s attempt to expand the U.S. empire at the expense of human rights at home and abroad. In this spirit I’m releasing this song for anyone who is willing to listen. I hope it not only makes us think but also inspires us to act and raise our voices.”

NOFX: “Idiot Son of an Asshole” / Rock Against Bush, Vol. 2 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2003]
“Cocaine and a little drunk driving/ Doesn’t matter, when you’re the commander in chief.”
A B-side from 2003’s War on Errorism that was also released on the Rock Against Bush compilation, “Idiot Son of An Asshole” doesn’t hold back in explaining how Fat Mike and NOFX feel about George W. Bush. It isn’t poetic, it isn’t overly thoughtful and it’s a little too dense for its own good. But then again, all of those characteristics apply to Bush, as well.

Green Day: “American Idiot” / American Idiot [Reprise, 2004]
“Well, maybe I’m the faggot America/ I’m not part of a redneck agenda/ Now everybody do the propaganda/ And sing along to the age of paranoia.”
“American Idiot” was released as the lead single for Green Day’s 2004 politically focused “rock opera” of the same name. The hugely successful single propelled Green Day back into the spotlight, raising the profile of the band not just because of its energetic hooks but also because of the political leanings of the songs. Criticizing the administration’s stance on gay rights is nothing new, but to call a conservative minority out on its own sickening rhetoric was a step in the right direction.

Neil Young: “Let’s Impeach the President” / Living With War [Reprise, 2006]
“Let’s impeach the president/ For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected/ Dividing our country into colors/ And still leaving black people neglected.”
The Grammy-nominated song was released on Neil Young’s Living With War album, primarily taking focus on the Patriot Act, Al Qaeda, New Orleans and the seemingly innumerable contradictions made by George W. Bush during his presidency. Blatantly calling for his impeachment, Neil Young closes the song by chanting “Thank God,” poking at the skepticism behind the President habitually putting his “born again” values ahead of the law, the nation and the world.

Eminem: “Mosh” / Encore [Shady/Interscope Records, 2004]
“Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell we gonna let ’em know/Stomp, push, shove, mush, Fuck Bush, until they bring our troops home.”
The single from Eminem’s 2004 album, Encore, proved controversial for both its lyrics and the accompanying Ian Inaba-directed video. Opening to a sequence depicting Eminem surrounded by newspaper articles condemning Bush’s administration, the video depicts a nation lost and angry and on the verge of an uprising. “And assemble our own army/ To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction/ That we call our president, for the present/ And mosh for the future of our next generation.” The closing scene of the video, which accompanies those words, depicts citizens standing in a voting line, all bitterly wearing masks of dissent. Here, four years later, the only thing that has changed is that the line is a lot longer.

[This article was first published by Prefix Magazine.]

of Montreal "Skeletal Lamping" Review

There is a high degree of whimsy that accompanies each new of Montreal release, one that is evidenced by the overwhelming sexuality of the records, and one that is certainly apparent in the band's new album, Skeletal Lamping. Driven by a sexual freedom, singer Kevin Barnes's lyrical candor can often be as overwhelming as his on-stage presence. All the same, it isn't always clear what he's trying to say. "Wicked Wisdom," for instance, is boggling: "I'm just a black she-male/And I don't know what you people are all about." Then again, sometimes his lyrics are glowingly forthright: "We can do softcore if you want/But you should know I take it both ways."

This sexuality is just as vital to the band's success as it is to distinguishing and appealing to Of Montreal's fans. Additionally, it's vital that the band not shy away too far from the themes that have contributed to its headliner status, a mistake that isn't made with Skeletal Lamping. Take, for instance, the number of openly frigid conservatives at the band's shows compared to that of adoring adolescents and neo-hippies. Would drab recollections timidly bemoaning lost love honestly appeal to the latter? Probably not. Likewise, which group would be more receptive to such visually ripe lyrics as those in "St. Exquisite's Confessions": "I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel world, I've forgotten what it takes to please a woman/But that's all gonna change"? Which group of listeners would be interested in an album that unnoticeably shifts between electro-funk and lightly shredding guitars? Accordingly, Of Montreal have identified its core audience and such a group of youthful, free-loving music listeners will not be disappointed by Skeletal Lamping.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Moby "Ooh Yeah!" Video

A video accompaniment for "Ooh Yeah!," one of the better tracks from Moby's recent Last Night album, has just been released via Mute Records. The Matteo Bernardini-directed clip was the winning entry in a recent contest sponsored by the web-video site Vimeo. While the video reflects a 1970s-themed porn shoot, it is more of an erotic spoof than anything; though erotic is definitely the key word in that phrase. "Ooh Yeah!" might not be as sharp or sleek as Britney's latest, but it does have a pizza delivery man, a staged car wash and a whole lot of titillating debauchery.

[This article was originally published by Prefix Magazine.]

Britney Spears "Womanizer" Video

Dawning a short black wig, leather pants, a chauffeur’s uniform and at times nothing at all, Britney Spears returns with a video for her new single "Womanizer." As unnecessarily sexual as it is a display of feminine power, the video serves as a motion to reclaim the pop spotlight that was once hers. Since last we saw Ms. Spears she has continued her overwhelmingly public collapse, something she attempts to satirize in the song, "You say I’m crazy, I got your crazy." Unfortunately for Britney however, at this point in time a photoshopped, glamorized portrayal of herself does little to make people forget of how truly crazy she is.

[This article was first published by Prefix Magazine.]

The Five Most Ridiculous Canadian Coins

I am Canadian. But I’m an American, too. Having dual citizenship is a pretty great thing, if for no other reason than having the honor to criticize both nations equally. And the most recent reason I have to criticize Canada is the government’s decision to approve a special coin for pressing by the Royal Canadian Mint. But it’s not just any coin, it’s a unique “CH” coin which celebrates the Montreal Canadiens’ centennial season. Certainly hockey is one of the most important staples ingrained in Canadian culture, and without question the Montreal Canadiens stand as somewhat of a patriarch within the sport, but there are simply far too many things wrong with this equation to begin to make sense of it. But alas, that this isn’t the first questionable pressing in the history of the Royal Canadian Mint. Ever the innovators when it comes to currency design, Canada has seen some really, really odd coins in its time. Going into a gas station in the wrong neighborhood with an American two dollar bill is likely to get you shot, but that’s pretty much par for the course as far as unique currencies go in the Great White North. Here are five of the most ridiculous Canadian coins ever to see production:

Denomination: $1
Year of Issue: 1987
Level of Reasonability: Irritatingly Suspicious

The loonie in and of itself isn’t too crazy…it’s just a dollar coin with a bird on it…that has taken on the name of the bird in referencing the coin itself. Well, a little odd maybe, but not crazy. The crazy thing is how the loonie may be the direct link between Canada’s currency and its favorite sport. At the 2002 Winter Olympics a loonie was buried under center ice, and coincidentally it was the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams which won gold that year. The next year, at the World Hockey Championships, the men’s team won again - assisted by the luck of the loonie, which was placed beneath the padding the of opposing team’s crossbar. Here’s where this really becomes an issue: at the 2006 Winter Olympics the ice attendants rejected the idea of placing a loonie within the ice sheet. The outcome? Not only did the men’s hockey team fail to win gold, they failed to place within the medal standings altogether. Likewise, prior to game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, the Carolina Hurricanes removed a loonie which had been placed in the ice by the opposing Edmonton Oilers. Outcome? A Canadian team was denied the cup for the second season in a row. The loonie isn’t crazy, but the idea that the Royal Canadian Mint will now be pressing “Lucky Loonies” every Olympic year is.

Denomination: ¢5
Year of Issue: 1964
Level of Reasonability: It is the world’s largest coin…so…it’s a tad unreasonable

Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest coin, the Big Nickel measures about 30 feet across and literally brings the idea of a wooden nickel to life as it is constructed of plywood (covered in a sheet of stainless steel). Rather than a product of the Royal Canadian Mint the nickel was created by a local Sudbury, Ontario businessman, but my friends - does that make a nickel that is just as long as an American end zone (or half a Canadian end zone) any less demented? Either way, the thing is ridiculously big and entirely unnecessary.

Denomination: ¢10
Year of Issue: 1967
Level of ReasonabilitySon of the Mask

The idea of having an animal on a coin is far from new, so when the Mint took to celebrating the country’s centennial by introducing a series of coins featuring a variety of animals it made a bit of sense: a dove, a rabbit, a mackerel, a cougar, a wolf and a goose. But hold up for a moment here; somewhere along the way this idea went terribly wrong. A wolf? Majestic, I love it. A cougar? Daring, a symbol of fierce power. A goose? Sure, Canadian geese are everywhere - why not? A dove? Canada = peace. A rabbit? Well, I guess… But a mackerel? No sir, that’s where I draw the line. This coin represents a fisherman’s wet dream just as much as it does a starving seagull’s. A slimy scrap in the foodchain that somehow made its way onto the list by what I can only imagine what a drunken prank on the nation. And who’s to blame? I’m looking at you Molson Canadian…

Denomination: $1
Year of Issue: 2009
Level of Reasonability: Highly Unsound

The biggest issue I have with the coin is that the Montreal Canadiens are a privately held business, owned by an elderly American billionaire. Even if we’re considering the impact that sport has on culture, the idea is still insane. It would be equally questionable for the American government to approve a coin to press featuring any number of baseball teams - a subject of what is, and forever may be, America’s national pastime. How pissed off would you be if Mark Cuban bought the Cubs and rallied for the US government to celebrate the team’s legacy with a specially minted dime? If you’re answer to that question isn’t “furious,” you’ve lost your mind.

Denomination: $1,000,000
Year of Issue: 2007
Level of Reasonability: Hopelessly Ludicrous

First of all, the coin weighs 100kg (or for my American friends, that’s roughly two Paris Hiltons) and bears the highest denomination of any coin in the world. While the “pizza sized” coin is crazy by its own merit, the fact that the coins were each pressed using approximately $2,000,000 dollars worth of pure bullion makes this the most ridiculous Canadian coin of all time. It’s simple math Canada - for every dollar that this coin represents, you spent 2 making it…

A Journey Into Declutterization: Part One

“Other people’s stuff is shit, but your shit is stuff.” -George Carlin
The past few months have been, to say the least, interesting for me. I gained some of that “life-experience” stuff I’ve heard so much about, and accompanying it has been a perspective leading me towards a stronger sense of what is honestly important to me. But as the saying goes, “When people see some things as good, other things become bad.” When I started to examine what’s now important in my life, the stuff that was becoming unimportant began to reveal itself at an alarming rate. And not to say that I’ve given up on having physical stuff, but spending a month and a half away from much of civilization (and the internet) gave me the distance I needed to see that in reality, as George Carlin might have said, my stuff was shit. Furthermore, the majority of that stuff was beginning to mean shit-all to me. It was time to do a bit of spring late-summer cleaning.

My return to the internet was welcomed by a number of articles and suggestions that focused on the topic of decluttering one’s life. Time detailed Dave Bruno’s extreme course of action against the unnecessary which he labeled the “100 Thing Challenge.” Bruno’s goal being to, fittingly, narrow the scope of what he owned down to 100 things. Then Lifehacker pointed out a Get Rich Slowly article entitled “Simplify Your Life with a Stuff Replacement Fund.” The focus of this article being to sell your unused stuff so that when you want to get more stuff you’ll have a bit of extra cash ready and able to help you make the purchase. Additionally, Zen HabitsInternet Duct Tape and many other resources all offered great decluttering tips. It was Cindy Loughridge’s recollection that really nailed the point home for me however. In her article Loughridge explains her three month trip to India and the experience of being removed from her stuff, all of which lead her to question exactly how much stuff she really needed. It was around the time that I read this article that I knew my Quebec Nordiques banner, which I had been holding onto for all these years - waiting for the right moment to break it out, was no longer valuable to me. And the flag was not alone.

After referencing a number of online how-to resources I started to identify the best way to go about my declutterization. I found a lot of great examples, tips and processes used, including reducing one zone of your stuff at a time, using lists to identify which stuff is no longer valuable, creating piles for stuff that you want to get rid of in designated areas of your home, reducing stuff by eliminating things you have multiples of…and the list goes on. But defining my goals before getting too deep into the process seemed like a good place to begin, and paring down to as close a fresh start as possible seems like something I’d like to work towards at this stage in my life. That may sound overly ambitious, and it might be, but for too long I’ve been dissatisfied with the way I’ve been living - continually trying to find my happiness in external stuff. It’s a strange feeling to be happy, genuinely happy, without having to look for that feeling in something (or someone) else - and through this process I hope to upgrade my life by downsizing and simplifying much of all the stuff in it.

As I’ve branded this “Part One” of my experimentation with declutterizing, my goal is still far off in the distance - something I’m working towards…but the fact remains that I am working towards it. After roughly two weeks of assessing everything I’ve been left with feelings of hope and happiness - but occasionally sadness as well. As my personal cleansing commenced it became evident that it’s a tough realization to find out that the things I once placed so much emphasis in no longer reflect what I want in life. And while the online examples of decluttering one’s life are all helpful when the goal is to eliminate physical stuff - typically things you own - my goal is as much to mentally declutter as it is physically declutter. While the effect of eliminating gross levels of unnecessary possessions will hopefully give me, as Loughridge said, “peace of mind, clarity and liberty,” I’m focusing on ridding myself of destructive mental stuff to help me increase my quality of life. And as saddening as it is to realize that most everything around me, the things afforded by “slaving the wage,” held little to no personal value - it’s inversely uplifting to realize that things can change. And they are changing.

Since returning home I’ve stepped away from my job, realizing that the work environment would be wholly detrimental to me had I gone back to it. I’m calling it a day with the vehicle I’ve owned for the better part of a decade and the condo I moved into earlier this year as they both represent a goal with which I can no longer identify. I’m trying to let damaging relationships go, and build new ones on honest terms. Most of all - I’m trying to free myself from so many things in my life that are simply unnecessary… hopefully “Part Two” will detail some positive results from this journey through declutterization.

TV on the Radio "Dear Science" Review

It seemed that whenever I was talking to a fan of TV on the Radio about Return to Cookie Mountain, they would always revert to “I liked (either) Young Liars (or) Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes better.” I, on the other hand, felt that the album was amazing — truly one of the year’s best – and certainly representative of some of the band’s strongest material. But my reality wasn’t influenced by countless listening sessions of the band’s older material as were my friends’, and as such I was comfortable with accepting the band at face value. With Dear Science however I find myself in the position of listening and basking in the memory of the band TV on the Radio once was – a bit disappointed because I was now playing the role of someone who liked their older music better. But Dear Science is a transition brought on by change – something that should be embraced rather than chastised. Since RTCM, David Sitek has worked on producing Scarlett Johannsen’s Anywhere I Lay My Head and Tunde Adebimpe has further pursued his acting aspirations – the band is certainly different, and the music should reflect the people they are now. How fickle would it be for me to then criticize such a thing when, even as with something as simple as being a listener, I’ve changed too? In accepting that it becomes far easier to move away from a “they were better when…” statement and closer towards once again accepting the music by its own merit.

How funny is it then, that after accepting Dear Science for being its own album, that we are still prone to scratch for comparisons in order to place the music into some sort of imaginary context. Some have alluded to how Dear Science is to RTCM as Wish You Were Here is to Dark Side of the Moon, while others have gone further with the comparisons. In attempting to place the album in a dramatic historical context, Will Hermes wrote for Rolling Stone, “But the group is still determined to stage a revolution worth dancing to, a throwback to the days when New York artists like Patti Smith, Television and the Ramones set out to do the same.” But TV on the Radio isn’t Patti Smith just like TV on the Radio certainly isn’t Pink Floyd. With Dear Science the band isn’t looking to replicate anything, most certainly not themselves, and while comparisons are generally inevitable – such dramatics are a tad unnecessary. Even making comparisons on an individual song-to-song basis proves something difficult, ultimately failing to portray the music appropriately as well. To say that Dear Science doesn’t have its “Wolf Like Me” moment would be partially true, but “Halfway Home” does incorporate a wild fuzzed over riff that might remind some of RTCM‘s lead single. All the same the songs have little in common and the comparison is weak at best. So what exactly does Dear Science sound like then?

The balance of the album has shifted away from avant rock towards a funkier pop sound – and while each style is equally represented throughout, the combination further suggests that TV on the Radio might not be a rock band at all. Horns, Barry Gibb-like vocals, and a small string section, all of which appear at some point throughout the album, all suggest TV on the Radio to be something drastically different than what indie rock has shifted towards (see: Kings of Leon). “Golden Age” lends a soulful grace to uptempo shifts, “Crying” reflects an updated lounge act – its keyboards and muted guitar working together to simply set a mood — and the hushed melody of “Love Dog” hints at acid-jazz while being something entirely different. What I’m trying to say is that if you break these songs down they don’t exactly fit the rock standard.

The songs do meet TV on the Radio standard, however…

The songs are different, but the flavor lingers – Dear Science is like nothing heard before by the band, yet it’s like everything heard before by the band. The band is like an old friend who you had become comfortable with, only to meet them years later as a changed person – you can still see their core as something familiar, but the differences are vast. Wish You Were Here wasn’t Dark Side of the Moon. Each album portrayed the band in a different way, but were both somehow characteristic of the Pink Floyd that many of us have come to know and love. Likewise, I’d like to think that TV on the Radio will never sound the same, never attempting to put out material to simply match their last recordings. But years from now we’ll get to look back at the continual shift made from what the band used to be toward what the band evolved into and suggest such a change to be more characteristic of brilliance than any album or song in particular. Dear Science reflects such a brilliance.

Hipsterdom: It Affects Us All…But Not Really

On Saturday Jay Smooth laid down his latest in a long string of increasingly thoughtful commentaries via his video blog, Ill Doctrine. This time around he reviewed the subject of “Hipster Rap,” citing acts such as The Cool Kids, The Kidz in the Hall and Kid Sister as few examples of the burgeoning sub-genre. One of the issues he mentions, apart from the unnecessarily tight pants, is the insincerity often associated with hipsters due to their tendency for sarcastically adopting culture, sporting it as some sort of ironic decoration. But this isn’t exclusively a problem amongst the hip hop or African American communities, my friends…it affects whites too…

Jay’s thoughts have an upbeat, welcoming feel that isn’t generally associated with hipsters in certain circles. In contrast is the article Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization in which Douglas Haddow furiously detracts from any and everything associated with the ambiguous term. “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the ‘hipster’ – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.” Clearly he doesn’t think that they’re “just like us”…whoever we are.

Haddow, no matter how harsh, is correct in the connection he identifies between the hipster and mainstream (pop) culture. But typically, ideas surrounding fashion, style and trends have been given birth by an acute few only to be later adopted on a mass scale. As such I think that he’s really putting too much emphasis on this wave of hipsters and their ability to crush our already degenerative culture. In all fairness this generation’s hipsters have no more long term control over the market and culture than the nü metal-heads of my generation. Both subcultures were started as something unique and honorable without a concrete classification - and both were manipulated into something that could be sold to a mass audience. No matter how much it might pain anyone to even remotely consider this: Crystal Castles, while at an entirely opposite end of the musically spectrum, isn’t too different than a band like P.O.D. or Limp Bizkit in this scenario; same goes for The Cool Kids.

Haddow continues, “Hipsterdom is the first ‘counter-culture’ to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion.” Well…yes and no. Other counter cultures have thrived within our modern advertising landscape, some also sporting rebellion at affordable prices, but he is right in saying that hipsterdom is the first to be under continual manipulation; but that has a lot to do with the term itself constantly shifting. Certainly it could be argued, as Haddow does, that this change is provoked by the mass marketing machine behind the trend, but couldn’t it also be instigated by the “non-culture” itself? Probably not, because then hipsters would have to be given credit for evolving on their own, even if it is a transformation into something offering an even shallower tribute to past counter-cultures, but all the same - it would still reflect something close to organic growth. Right? The hipsters might just outgrow themselves in time, like every other generation has, so I’m thinking that it’s probably a little overdramatic for Haddow to conclude that “The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.” Like Jay says, they’re just a culture who likes what they wear and listen to, just like everyone else…it just so happens that at this point in time hipsters are both adored and criticized for being this season’s “it.”

If I were twenty five when Korn was all the rage (who’s to say they aren’t still?) I would have thought the entire generation of youth buying the albums of like-sounding bands, wearing far too much black and piercing far too many body parts to be a bunch of culture-crushing, soulless marketing-slaves. But having lived through those years as apart of that generation I’m fairly content with knowing that my tastes changed, and so too did my sense of fashion and curiosity surrounding body accessories (though I kind of miss my nipple rings). As such, I’m not quite ready to start throwing stones at those skinny pant wearing, PBR drinking, fixed-gear bike driving hipsters because they’ll probably move on too. I’m under the belief that whatever comes along next will transition us away from the current state of trend just as hipsterdom did to emo and garage rock-chic. But while we’re here, I see no problem with cranking up some MGMT and watching the hipster parade march on by.

Reengaging Facebook

Back in April I decided that I was going to attempt to reduce my “online presence” by dismantling my MySpace, Facebook and Twitter accounts with one fell swoop. The reasoning behind doing so seemed simple enough at the time, but since I’ve come to understand a deeper significance to these sites, one which I hadn’t really emphasized when making my decision. At about the same time that I closed up shop A.L. decribed the process of making Facebook a more effective service and I felt it appropriate to leave him a comment, relating the direction I was taking.

“Well, call it an experiment… 
I initially opened my MySpace account with its only purpose being to serve as an auxiliary site to my blog. For many people it has become a great way to interact with friends, but for me the realization was that it was simply an outlet for me to collect band-spam…1000+ friends who I don’t know, y’know? 
Despite my initial attempts to follow even the most compact group of friends on Twitter I failed at adding any worthwhile commentary to the day’s events…how many people really care that “I’m Tired”? It’s a great tool to follow your friends lives but when it comes down to it, if I’d like to take you out to dinner or see what Loomer is up to…chances are, I’m just going to call or drop an instant message. 
But Facebook was, and for the past three years has been, an exception to my views on social networking. It’s allowed me to gain new real life friends, catch up with people I once knew way back when, and stay active with friends who are in different cities, states and countries. I started Facebook as an individual and have attempted (though occasionally failed) to maintain it as a branch of my personal life rather than an extension of my blog-persona, whatever that may be. 
But now Facebook too had become something less fulfilling. With both your and Ed [Kohler]’s commentary in mind I went and looked at what it was Facebook was evolving into for me. In the past year I had begun to receive and (much of the time) accept “friend” invitations from people who had begun to follow my blog despite not know them as individuals. I was still able to use the service to interact with “friends,” roughly 80-90 % of which I actually knew, but in an entirely superficial manner - it was becoming a source of division between real life friends and myself rather than a means of bringing me closer to my friends. 
So I quit. 
I closed my Twitter account, my MySpace account and asked the kind folks at Facebook to delete any and all of my personal information from their database (which they did in a timely manner). 
Again, call it an experiment…”
In the following months however it began to dawn on me just how shallow my approach to all this. All I really had to do was take a moment to think about the impact that online social networking has had on me, and my relationships, in order to realize the significance that these sites have had on my life. A good share of my real life relationships began, in one way or another, as online contacts and a lot of my real life interactions (event planning, networking, etc.) were at some point in time mediated by Facebook. Nonetheless I can still justify the concerns that I had at the time, the similarities to MySpace’s friend-spam and the detachment increasingly associated with the site were both individually enough to warrant my retreat. Additionally I wasn’t sure how to honestly accept a stranger as a “friend” when I considered the medium to be a personal experience. My troubles with semantics only escalated because, rather than being MySpace band accounts or people posing under some sort of pseudonym, these requests came from real people and I really didn’t want to offend them by rejecting their offer to virtually befriend me. So, with all my complaints and discomforts with the site in mind I figured it wise to make my purpose and reasoning behind rejoining the site clear before I jumped back in.

In his article, “Facebook Suicide,” Micah White disparagingly explains a number of personal security issues that tend to arise with Facebook, relating them to his own experience surrounding unauthorized inclusion. After considering the article, and others like it, in addition to my own thoughts, I came up with a few simple guidelines to help make Facebook a better experience for myself:
  • Only “friend request” people that I’ve met in person or have engaged in actual discourse with online (and with that being said…)
  • Accept any reasonable incoming “friend requests” with the goal being to expand a personal network
  • Limit the amount of personal information I associate with my account (contact info, personal pictures, pictures tagged by others, etc.)
  • Generally refrain from being too personal with individual matters (essentially becoming less revealing with things like “wall” posts and “status” updates)
The list is compromised of only a few simple parameters but in being honest with my purpose I hope to better maintain and expand my personal network without oversharing, being disingenuous or risking the security of too much personal information. Not to say that I won’t use Facebook to build and expand friendships, I will, it’s just that I won’t look to Facebook as the primary way of staying connected to friends. And keeping in mind that by posting this article I’m being embarrassingly self-important I still thought that it would be a good idea to publish some helpful guidelines to help ensure that my new Facebook experience is a far more rewarding one; even if only to help keep me in check.

Scoundral! Norm MacDonald on The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget

I can’t say that Bob Saget would ever make it to my short list of favorite comedians, nor does his name cross my mind when I think of actors I admire (though his brief cameo in Half Baked still brings a smile to my face), but when the producers of Comedy Central’s ongoing celebrity roast series found themselves burdened by the cross of having to top last year’s special, featuring the ever-dashing Flavor Flav, I can’t disagree with their decision. After all, by selecting Saget, they did in fact outclass Flavor Flav. Albeit barely.

From what I remember of the first in the channel’s annual series, The Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary, I remember it to be pretty funny. I’ve always enjoyed Leary’s brand of humor and have never been one to shy away from vulgar, crass jokes typical of roasters; so what’s not to like? Following that came the roasts of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, animal activist Pamela Anderson, celebrity pitchman William Shatner and the aforementioned renaissance man himself, Flavor Flav. But as time passed by so too did the show’s flare for originality, its sense of one-upmanship and the depth and quality of its celebrity roasters. Again don’t get me wrong, I love the dirty jokes, but at some point in time hearing Lisa Lampanelli talk about Andy Dick’s vagina for a few minutes, before concluding with a brief gesture towards the roastee just stopped doing it for me. With all that in mind, sometime a little over a week ago I found myself sleepless and flipping the channels, eventually tuning into The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget.

Even after only a few minutes though the show already seemed a bit flat, the only highlights really coming when the camera panned to Saget’s one time Full House cast mate Lori Loughlin (who is looking fantastic at forty four, in case you’re wondering). Despite the show’s lack of entertainment value I continued to watch because the teasers relentlessly plugged the upcoming roasters; including Norm MacDonald…a comedian whose dry delivery and wit have earned him a place on that shortlist of my favorites (for whatever that’s worth).
“Suzy Essman, of course, is famous for being a vegetarian. Hey, she may be a vegetarian, but she’s still full of bologna in my book.” -Norm MacDonald
And here, after far too many words, is the reason behind recalling any of this: MacDonald’s performance was delivered with such brilliant timing and contrast to the rest of the roasters that he stole the show (or so I am to assume…I opted to turn on a movie after he left the stage). His first few jokes, which poked at roast master John Stamos, left the crowd apprehensively laughing seemingly uncertain as to where MacDonald was going. But as he moved on with his segment, adapting it to include long pauses for emphasis, the crowd slowly began to buy in.

It wasn’t just that MacDonald delivered a set of kitschy, clean jokes (which he did) - it was that he was unique and charming in the process. He could have taken the stage and delivered a set of debasing jokes belittling each of the other B, C and D-list celebrities on stage, but he didn’t. He went up and decided to surprise everyone by being imaginative and not following precedent…now I’m not saying he had a Lenny Bruce moment or anything, but in today’s Dane Cook-saturated market of in your face comedy, MacDonald’s roast wasn’t just a simple change of pace - it was a genuinely hilarious change of pace.

Concluding backstage with a brief wrap-up interview MacDonald mentioned of the other roasters, “I think it got over the line a little bit, if I’m not mistaken I heard some people cussing.” To the end, his performance was brilliant; it’s just too bad that pretty much everything else the series has offered the past five years hasn’t been.

A Place for My Stuff

This past week I’ve tried numerous times to write, and re-write, a post of introduction for [sftfcs.com]. Each attempt aimed for a witty or informative explanation, but each attempt subsequently failed. As such this is my fourth or fifth try at coming up with something that is both appropriate and makes sense…leaving me with a bit of a mountain to climb, especially so considering that those are two things I haven’t historically been known for.

One version of the draft included a drawn out point/counterpoint between the meaninglessness of celebrating my twenty fifth birthday (today is my birthday) and celebrating the fact that I’ve somehow managed to not die in the past three hundred and sixty five days. Another draft related some of the first time experiences I’ve had this past year to the idea that twenty five is but a stepping stone in life rather than some sort of plateau or milestone. And yet another draft was driven towards defining the changes that have occurred in my personal life recently that have essentially granted me a second chance at…well…life. At least with that last draft I thought I would get to use a few really sharp quotes to help establish and emphasize my story (such as Henry Miller’s “Until we lose ourselves, there is no hope in finding ourselves”). But ultimately I couldn’t convince myself into believing that oversharing a choppy, skimmed over depiction of a dark period in my life would be a good thing; so that too was nixed. Each introduction I wrote failed to speak with an honest voice, furthermore each failed to really identify the purpose of adding yet another blog to the already oversaturated “market”…so I scrapped the whole thing.

All history and dramatic build-up aside, the point of this blog is to act as a home for the ideas I have that don’t really fit in anywhere else. If I write something music-related chances are that it will still land over at Culture Bully, or on some other sort of music bloggery-type site. But if it has to do with something else, be it a wacky “life experience,” a comment on something I’ve read, or just some general thoughts on the state of things - I thought it’d be nice to have a place for me to expand on some thoughts from time to time.

Why sftfcs? One of the things that consistently made its way into each of my failed introductions was a bloated explanation of the term “soft focus” and what it means to me. Simply put, soft focus, as I’ve come to understand it, is the idea of primarily concentrating on the moment without burying yourself in the overwhelming thoughts that come from our minds and environments. That’s not to say that being mindless is the goal, rather the goal is to simply give less significance to the static and appreciate what’s really going on in our lives. Hopefully this site will come to reflect such an appreciation.

But… while yet again attempting to bring closure to this I had also been needlessly trolling my RSS feed, stumbling onto something that influenced my now-yet-again-questionable introduction. In an entry written by 43Folders‘ Merlin Mann, the oft-mislabeled “productivity guru” describes the process of feeling forced into disengagement by, essentially, his own environment.

In the article Mann outlines the process of becoming disillusioned as a result of some of the increasingly common side effects of Web 2.0, “What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, make believe insight, and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it’s making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I’ve come to despise it. With this diet metaphor in mind, I want to, if you like, start eating better. But, I also want to start growing a tastier tomato — regardless of how easy it is to pick, package, ship, or vend. The tomato is the story, my friend.” Not to suggest that Mann is guilty of any of these suggested e-crimes, but historically his commentary has unintentionally spearheaded a pack that occasionally is; unfortunately I must include myself in such a pack. I’m guilty of having wasted countless hours wading through digg and not really reading a thing while spending days “reading” article online. And likewise, with the content I was creating, I had become less and less concerned with quality, honesty and originality - focusing more on simplicity and link bait (also, I can relate to the idea of “fake-connectedness,” but I’ll save that for another post). To move on in a similar fashion as Mann, with blog as with life, would only be logical; so hopefully this blog can fit somewhere into the context of feeling good about life, feeling good about what I put in, and feeling good about what I take out.

While I occasionally can’t help myself from posting the occasional hilarious video, I’m hoping that sftfcs becomes a place where I can work towards figuring out what my voice is. It’s a place that I’d like to try to be honest with myself. It’s a place where I can point my friends to when I have something that I think is valuable enough for them to spend their time on. And it’s a place that I hope comes to validate the countless hours I continue to spend interneting. At least that’s what I’d like to see when I read the site’s content, and as the site’s only reader at this exact moment I figured that I have no choice but to cater to myself.

Metallica "Death Magnetic" Review

As Death Magnetic slowly begins, an interesting similarity arises between the introduction of “That Was Just Your Life” and that of Slayer’s “South of Heaven,” the first song from the second of the band’s albums produced by Rick Rubin. Both songs build slowly before commencing with an album’s worth of commercial thrash — a slower thrash in the case of South of Heaven and a seasoned thrash in the case of Death Magnetic. Additionally, both songs come from albums with which Rubin’s influence was clearly intact. He was there helping elevate Slayer with Reign in Blood, and 20 years after South of Heaven his imprint is again evident as Metallica releases their ninth studio album, its first under Warner’s imprint (though Warner now owns Elektra, Metallica’s prior label), and its first in 17 years without producer and fill-in bassist Bob Rock.

Funny then that one of the main criticisms of Death Magnetic has been that it is self-plagiarizing, a term that could equally apply to a band like Slayer. The term hasn't really been applied Slayer's case though, primarily because the band has pretty much stuck with the same formula from the get-go. Likewise, no one’s criticizing AC/DC for sounding too much like AC/DC with their new release, are they? So just what makes the criticism valid in Metallica’s case? For starters, the band’s return to speed comes after over a decade of “soul-searching” and “experimentation” (code: a string of easily dismissible albums spread out over far too many years). This might be why Pitchfork‘s Cosmo Lee suggested that Death Magnetic is the musical equivalent of a mid-life crisis. It is after all an attempt by an aging band to return to their glory days by recapturing the sound and attitude that made them famous (exception: bassist Robert Trujillo, who has continued to prove his diversity and prowess since first kicking it with Suicidal Tendencies back in the late-80s). Even aesthetically the band has returned to its classic logo, one scarcely used since The Black Album. Fact is, Death Magnetic is an attempt at recreating Metallica – at that, the band has succeeded.

Rolling Stone‘s Brian Hiatt attempted to define the vibrancy of the new sound in his recent review, “‘What don’t kill ya make ya more strong,’ Hetfield sings, with enough power to make the clichè feel fresh.” While partially true (and a tad amusing), the description fails to capture the blinding truth that no matter what Metallica does at this point in time, it is going to be a little clichè. Had Metallica released another album’s worth of Load-sounding filler, that would have been called clichè. Had the band gone further back into a grittier sound reflective of Kill ‘Em All, that would have still been called clichè. At this point in time it isn’t the music, but the band itself that is the clichè.

Even so, after St. Anger the odds of getting a solid album from Metallica were on level with the odds of drawing blood from a stone. But on the record James Hetfield sounds like the cocky frontman he was during the band’s heyday, and both he and Kirk Hammett exchange solid riffs without a hint of “The Memory Remains” to be found. Maybe “The Unforgiven III” is a bit unnecessary, but at least it’s no “Unforgiven II.” And maybe the ten tracks on the album push the limits of human patience, all landing somewhere between five and ten minutes long, but they all ring true to what Metallica should be about: They’re loud, they’re heavy, they’re full of capable riffs and solos, and for the most part they’re really good.

If the band had disappeared after 1993 only to reappear now with this release it would probably be openly received and accepted without the disdain that accompanies Death Magnetic given the group's history. Unfortunately we all know the details: Napster, Jason Newstead’s departure, rehab, psychiatry, and so on. But to continue the comparison, Slayer fans want to hear Slayer when the band sounds most like Slayer, and Metallica fans love hearing the band when it sounds most like Metallica. Death Magnetic sounds like Metallica. Death Magnetic also sounds like it was written and recorded by a band of aging celebrities in its forties who are trying to relive their Scarface. So what! In the end it's an album stronger than what most anyone expected, and for all the group's been through, far better sounding than it probably should be.

Girl Talk "Feed the Animals" Review

Attempting to explain Girl Talk's Feed the Animals and identify what succeeds or fails with the set can’t be done on the level of an album in its entirety, it’s hard to even approach each track on an individual basis considering what they are. Mashups aren’t anything new, nor is Gregg Gillis’ mix-heavy approach, but what’s detailed on this album is a new offering that exceeds everything that is out there, even 2006′s Night Ripper. And while attempting to explain the album may be difficult, explaining why it succeeds is not – Feed the Animals may have a lot more to do with the direction our culture has taken and how the definition of music as an art is changing than how it sounds.

With Tha Carter III‘s release I wrote that I felt Lil’ Wayne’s album was reflecting “the nature of the environment which he is a product of – a society riddled with various revolving doors continually making it harder to focus on a single idea for more than an instant.” While I’ll stand by that statement, it’s far easier to stand by those thoughts in the context of an artist like Gillis. The end product of his work is a piece of music that is almost impossible to recall, a piece of music that is fresh every time it is heard because of the fact that it passes the listener by with lightning-like speed. The fantastic Wikipedia page that has been assembled for the release counts some 274 samples which collectively make-up the album. Falsely judging our society’s shift towards a clip-heavy viral video addiction and suggesting that we’re collectively on a path to that depicted in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy might be a bit much, but the essence for the debate remains – we are slowly shifting towards becoming a nation demanding instant gratification, no matter the vehicle. There stands a partial reason for not simply the existence of mashups and mega-mix styled releases, but the reason they continue to exist and a suggestion as to why the material on this album succeeds.

Mashups are often, to some degree, kitschy, sugar-coated regurgitated second generation pieces of music lacking any substance whatsoever; and I should know, I love them. When done well they are fantastic gems that reflect not simply pop music as a whole, but some of its finer moments. The club culture that Gillis is submerged in isn’t necessarily conducive to mashups however – often they are fun pieces to listen to but just as often they only serve as momentary answers to irregular “what-if” questions (Question: What would it sound like if you tried to combine Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” with some sort of disco-based club track? Answer: Shit.) That being said, Feed the Animals works – not just as a collection of intellectually curated, professionally mastered mashups, but as a piece of music that excels in a club atmosphere.

As much as I try to fight the urge, ever since the mid-90s when the Chemical Bros./Fatboy/Prodigy contributed to taking electronic music to a whole new level of popularity I’ve been a fan of that sort of music, whatever you’ll call it. And while I tend to suggest that I enjoy music with more face-value substance, I love a lot of what’s out there in the clubs these days. The club culture has evolved into something just as unique, innovative and forward thinking as anything else on the pop music’s radar… nothing could help push that statement further than last year’s amazing reception of Justice’s Cross and Daft Punk’s insane festival draw. By propelling his project with the same intensity that these electronic artists demand of their music Gillis has prepared his output for an inevitable acceptance within that culture, it just so happens that he uses the term mashup as a vehicle for what he creates.

It’s not that Feed the Animals uses as many samples as it does and it’s not that it brings mashups to the mainstream or even invites people to further search within the genre. Feed the Animals succeeds because there may be an unspoken demand right now for such an exciting, terminally scatterbrained album. While Night Ripper was a solid release, there are contemporaries out there that are also solid – it just happens that with Feed the Animals, Gillis is the first to offer a release of such caliber. I still don’t know what Gillis’ aim was with the album or even how to critically describe what it is that I’ve been listening to for the past few days, but I can say this: the bar has been set, and it has been set high.

Moby "Last Night" Review

“Disco Lies” reads a picture included as an insert with Moby’s latest album Last Night. The announcement is a bit misleading as many fans have felt quite the opposite since Moby’s departure from his role as an almost strictly club DJ following 1995′s Everything is Wrong — as for the albums that followed it almost seemed that disco wasn’t as dishonest as were Moby’s diversions. Now returning to the sound that first helped him find mainstream popularity, Last Night initially leads the listener towards the belief that Moby is either attempting to reclaim a musical presence he once had, or is attempting to blow off the criticism of his past few releases by dropping an album of oh-so-Moby songs. As it turns out however, Last Night is neither.

If only judging the album by one song, it might very well best be represented as a whole by “Ooh Yeah,” Last Night‘s opening club-hymn. The harmonizing between Erin Marszalek and Luci Butler over Moby’s synth, guitar, and flat-beat produce a culmination of what one would expect to hear from the man at this stage in his career. Once drifting through clubland only to find solace in the sounds of cringe-worthy industrial, the track settles Moby where he may be most comfortable, in an ambiguous genre heavily influenced by dance music. Introducing what is to come with the much of the album is the second track, “I Love to Move Here.” Sounding akin to a page out of Leftfield’s notebook circa 1995 it introduces a gentle female presence timed accordingly with with Grandmaster Caz’s intermittent toasting. And from there on out, one may very well think that Last Night could have been released in 1996… mostly.

“257 Zero” uses a staggered countdown-themed audio track looped over an elastic synthesizer break to fuel the similarities to a decade gone by. Following is “Everyday it’s 1989″ which could very well double as a slower version of 1995′s “Everytime You Touch Me,” and “Live For Tomorrow” which is a Play-influenced remedy to Everything is Wrong‘s “First Cool Hive.” The main difference in direction comes with the following track — the album’s lead single — “Alice.”

Though it becomes desensitized with increased listens “Alice” changes the pace of the record by drumming bass-heavy feedback into a weave between Moby’s best digital croon and the driving verses of S.O. Simple and Smokey from the Nigeria-based 419 Squad. The song isn’t as much of a stretch as it is an interesting mashup in styles, proving far stronger than anything hinted at with Moby’s 2004 Public Enemy collaboration. The balance between what listeners expect from Moby at this point in time and what is realized begins to then weave its way in and out of the remaining tracks. The low tempo “Hyenas” is seductively narrated by the French singer Nabila Benladghem, while Wendy Starland leads the club-ready “I’m in Love” and Shayna Steel does the same with “Disco Lies.”

Speaking of the album Moby details in Last Night‘s liner notes, “It’s also trying to condense an eight hour night into just over an hour of music. A night can ideally contain a multitude of experiences… to me this record sounds like a night out in New York with all the sex and the weirdness and the disorientation and the celebration and the compelling chaos.” And following a bit of silence on the album’s title track comes a breezy jazz-whispering finale. Therein is the realization that Last Night is a culmination of twenty-some years within the club scene with Moby now winding up with the urge to just live in the moment, even if that moment feels roughly a decade old at times.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" Review

Age is only important when numbers are empowered, it is the knowledge and depth of a spirit which embodies true substance. All the same, having crossed half a century, the idea behind who Nick Cave is leans increasingly closer to that of an ageless poet. The Guardian‘s Alexis Petridis concluded his thoughts on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! by explaining his envious take on Cave, “It’s hilarious, chilling and exhilarating: further evidence of the unique and enviable position Cave finds himself in at fifty.” And while 50 is just a number, so too is 14 – a number representing how many albums Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have released. With 14 studio albums, a triple disc rarities collection, multiple live releases, a decade old retrospective release, and over 200 songs behind them – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have just released a set of new material depicting the band as lively, inspired and full of substance as ever.

In 1996 Pat Blashill wrote of Cave in his photography-centric Noise from the Underground, speaking too of Lydia Lunch and Foetus retrospective glances, “Cave and these others authored a new American gothic, a haunting subgenre of spooky and screeching music with lyrics about serial killers, AIDS, or other modern madnesses. In the hands of these singers, a little knowledge was a powerful artistic device.” If only one could look ahead into the future and see Cave as an enduring storyteller rather than a brooding intellectual one might not have been startled by the bounce and drive of “Albert Goes West.” The song’s unwavering guitar-heavy rhythm depicts a version of the Bad Seeds rarely seen, an honest-to-god rock band. Uncharacteristically the song’s fast pace allows the listener to dispel theory that Grinderman had little impact on Dig!!!, rather Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey, and Jim Sclavunos seem to have imposed a new energy onto the rest of the band, one reminiscent to that found in 2003′s “Bring it On” or even 1996′s “The Curse of Millhaven.”

And while consistently scattered, the smoothness of the harmonic shift throughout the album suggests a band comfortable with itself. “Today’s Lesson” finds the Bad Seeds chanting repetitively “We’re gonna have a real cool time” only to be balanced by the dramatics of Cave, “cause the game is never won by standing in any one place for too long,” sung on “Jesus of the Moon.” Equaling each directional commitment is a reverse thrust in theme, for each American gothic agonizing in retreat there is a reckless Australian screeching with enthusiasm and vibrancy.

The dynamic of each song may gesture to any number of previous recordings by the band, but the wonder of Dig!!! comes in that it’s an album unexpected. The record delivers with no waste, perfectly identifying the strengths of the band without reaching extravagantly far. “Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix,” rants Cave repeatedly in “We Call Upon the Author,” as if to say that he has finally learned when to cut himself short to strengthen his words as a whole – giving them more substance through emphasis than through dictionary-length thoroughness. And who are we to question, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is brilliant in its diversity, fluent in modern diversions and — after all — Cave is 50 now, he probably knows what he’s doing.

Portishead "Third" Review

What has been roughly 10 years in the making finally sees release in the form of Portishead's Third, the aptly titled release from the Bristol-based trio largely for helping standardize trip hop in the mid ’90s. With the exception of a few scattered contributions and a Beth Gibbons solo album, the group has been largely unspoken for in commercial recording since its 1997 self titled release. Since then mystique and anticipation have blossomed around the band’s absence. Now releasing an album of new material, matching its first two releases with an 11 song track listing, Third may act as a question rather than an answer to the band’s layoff. Not only does Third‘s release serve to question whether or not Portishead is still a relevant in a changed musical landscape, but it also suggests it valid to ask whether or not the trip hop Chinese Democracy was simply worth the wait.

Performing its first full set in roughly a decade at last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties: A Nightmare Before Christmas festival, the group presented five new, and at the time still-untitled, tracks. Capturing the interest of fans the world over, the new material was received with a stark feeling of separation when contrasted with of the sounds of both Dummy and Portishead. The thoughts of a music departure are quite suitable, for to call the new music trip hop would be a disgrace to both what the term came to represent and to the honest beauty of the variation in Portishead’s sound visibly apparent with Third.

“I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you and I don’t know what I’ll do without you” moans Gibbons on “Nylon Smile.” Almost serving as an echoing conclusion to 97's “Only You,” Gibbons now playing the role of a songstress who has achieved her romantic grasping. Much in the same sense, Third seems to repeal any bloated stabs at grandeur which may be expected, rather its tracks are heavy with reaching innovation and variety in place of excessive beat-hugging.

“The Rip” blooms with a stench of cheap 90s ambiance, accounting for a sound that could be construed as appropriate of the album if out of the context of the rest of its songs. But its sound grows appropriately while adjusting to the delicateness of Gibbons’ lyrics in a way that Air’s denser electronic may have melded with Charlotte Gainsbourg had her 5:55 taken a darker direction. Likewise the track’s following sounds further shed any idea of repetition between this and any other Portishead album; “Plastic” determined in its minimalist orchestral texture, and “We Carry On” sounding of deceiving gypsy with Adrian Utley’s guitar acting as a deceptive monkey scouring for unguarded pocket change.

And as the album continues to relax, “Deep Water” surprises as a ukulele-driven ballad, waxing just before Third chomps with “Machine Gun.” The song’s Downward Spiral beat provides a uniquely hard shell, an environment surprisingly suitable for the harmonically quenching Gibbons. Its beat unfolds into a psudo-industrialist electronic rhythm, one a bit too basic to be a Squarepusher anthem, though it teases some of Tom Jenkinson’s earlier subtleties.

Perhaps “Threads” is as close to what was last heard from Portishead, post-Portishead. The song’s early violin moan captures a hair of what was 1998′s live Roseland NYC album, Utley and Geoff Barrow adding haze to the near-transparent sound. “I’m always so unsure” groans Gibbons as “Threads” begins to wail, possibly attributing a few words to the theme to not just the album but the group’s prolonged recording hiatus. When so much is expected of a band so talented, yet so remotely unusual, uncertainty is not merely granted but presumed; however Third as a solid body of work fulfills in its surprising assuredness, failing to even whisper suggestions that Portishead was ever irrelevant. Third is 10 years worth of anticipation fulfilled.

Dead Meadow "Old Growth" Review

In 2005 I was introduced to Dead Meadow as the group opened for Sleater-Kinney, the band epitomized neo-psych with its no-nonsense hazy drab. At the time the band's music came across as something terribly powerful while the makeup of its sound was tastefully cautious, the group never fully realizing the massiveness it sought. Cut to roughly three years later, on the same stage at Minneapolis' First Avenue, with the heavily touted To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie playing a showcase. Again I was witness to a band that seemed to be far more talented than it sounded, its music coming off as a blurred wave lacking any sense of harmony. Given a few years of expansion however, To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie may prove me wrong much like Dead Meadow's increasingly colossal latest, Old Growth has.

That being said - Old Growth has been criticized for failing to move forward, Pitchfork's Tom Breihan elaborating on the album, "Since the release of 2005's Feathers, the band has relocated from D.C. to L.A. and returned to being a trio after additional guitarist Cory Shane came and went. Listening to Old Growth, though, there's barely any indication that anything has ever changed for this band." This is an interesting accusation considering the elaborate layering of such songs as "Till Kingdom Come" and the album's opener "Ain't Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)."

Breihan caustically demeans the group's sound, claiming, "Dead Meadow can write songs like these in their sleep, and they probably do," but therein lies the continual shallow observation of anything remotely using its weight in reverb or shallowly defined as shoegaze. Given that bands ranging from the Brian Jonestown Massacre's to The Upsidedown and Dead Meadow are all easily classified by the simpleness of their sound it's easy to cast aside the creativity that necessitates the music; if it sounds simple it can't possibly be art, right? But situations such as the carefully placed guitar solo late into "What Needs Must Be" demonstrates the band's willingness to step outside the reverb-bubble it's created and play-out an honest piece of music.

Old Growth is an album that is for the majority what one would expect of it, but it is also an album that is creative and enjoyable by its own right. Creating a record's worth of mood music is easy, but the band's inclusion of acoustic palatability without stunning the listener with a harsh abrasiveness proves that Dead Meadow has in fact grown.

[This article first appeared on I Rock Cleveland.]

Daniel Johnston at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Opening with “Mean Girls Give Pleasure,” Daniel Johnston quickly abolished any sense of discomfort that lingered in the crowd, chugging along on his unique electric, versing about the toils of following one’s passion at the cost of the heart. Johnston continued with a brief solo set before being accompanied on stage by long-time collaborator Brett Hartenbach. It was within the duo’s performance that Johnston’s words became free, the artist allowing himself to focus solely on the delivery of the stories he has been crafting his entire life.

Now the subject of legend, Johnston’s life was introduced to many through the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston — a film that captured the (almost) absurd demons that the man has struggled with since he was young. But as the set wore on it was Johnston’s humanity, not his checkered past, that became the sole focus of the night. “Hold me like a mother would, like I always knew somebody should, yeah/Though tomorrow don’t look that good.” Lyrics such as these, from “Living Life,” helped speak to the historical narration of the infamous documentary, proving to the night’s audience of how he once filled 3000 seat theaters and inspired legends.

Johnston’s benevolence carried on throughout the evening as he kept the audience in high spirits, “I heard they just sentenced a man to the death penalty... for trying to commit suicide,” went one such joke. Perhaps even in spite of his overwhelming shaking that hindered the singer throughout the night, Johnston maintained his composure and continued entertaining the packed venue. “What town is this?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Indianapolis?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Memphis?!…” While Johnston had won the audience over long before he even took the stage he ensured that he would not soon be forgotten with his colorful interjections throughout his set.

Before heading off the stage again, Johnston and Hartenbach delivered a brilliant rendition of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” one that had fans shouting in unison each time Johnston approached the classic chorus.

Returning again, this time with local act Bison Forest backing him, Johnston dawned a new role, one of an honest frontman. Though not necessarily as fitting of a role as that of the solo player, Johnston still delivered in a manner that was upbeat and warm; the band helping by kicking off with the classic “Speeding Motorcycle.”

Continuing with “Rock & Roll,” Johnston told a story that more than likely held words with which everyone in attendance could relate: “Oh, that rock and roll, it saved my soul” he sang. Eventually shedding the band, Johnston and Hartenbach completed the night’s performance beautifully with the traditional one song finale, “True Love Will Find You in the End.”

Some people talk of Daniel Johnston as a beautiful soul trapped in a dangerous mind, while others remark of him as a brilliant songwriter trapped in the body of an average performance artist. No labels matter when thinking of the Johnston as a person however, because there is something wonderful, sincere and valuable about anyone expanding on that which makes them who they are. Doing so is essential to the humanity of each and every one of us—this night proved to me that Danny Johnston is an essential.

MGMT & Yeasayer at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, MN)

The Battle Royale’s frontman, Mark Ritsema, disclosed to me before the show that the group had almost gone into a panic mode when the recent blizzard-like conditions here in the Midwest left the state of half the band in limbo. “We were going to leave at 5:30 this morning and get them,” he said, speaking of Sam Robertson (keyboards) and John Pelant (guitar) who attend college in Milwaukee. Thankfully for both the audience and the band the charter delivered the pair to Minneapolis in time for the show.

The group performed in support of its most recent album Wake Up, Thunderbabe released locally on Afternoon Records, though occasionally reverting to songs from its 2006 debut Sparkledust Fantasy. Sticking largely to the electronic-based sounds that make up the first half of Wake Up the set list neglected the acoustic-driven songs that carry the album allowing a shift towards song-writing and structure. In the evening’s context however electronic music ruled the event and the Battle Royale easily paved the way as appropriate openers. “We begged to get on this bill” Ritsema told me, and his band made the most of the evening using their limited stage space to joke around, have some fun and even dance (though Ritsema teased falling over a few times as he struggled to move about in his roughly four square feet of stage space).

In approach of the show the only real mystery of the night focused on Yeasayer, the band still supporting last year’s highly recommended All Hours Cymbals. It was odd that a band as highly touted as Yeasayer would be playing second fiddle to any act on such a stage but given MGMT’s latest push which included a recent spot on the Late Show with David Letterman, it made sense. Within minutes of the group’s opening chords however it was clear that no matter the band’s slot, this was a Yeasayer show.

Coursing through the bulk of the band’s debut release, lead singer Chris Keating began to make use of the stage space that the nights openers failed to have the luxury of — he sashayed about in his stocking feet, smashing a tattered cymbal, pounding his shaker, and jarring his keyboard. The performance wasn’t focused solely around any given member though, as Ira Wolf Tuton worked his fretless bass as hard as he sung, while guitarist Anand Wilder and drummer Luke Fasano kept the flow of the set in check, creating a base for which the music could take shape from.

Again – despite the band’s slot for the night this was a Yeasayer show, and without compare on this evening the group delivered a phenomenal set that beautifully translated the depth and layered structure of its studio tracks.

The main attraction may best be summed up by How Was the Show’s Carl Atiya Swanson who bore great detest for MGMT’s set, condemning it as “a wall of noise that lost any of the clarity and verve of the recording.” Each of the group’s five members packed enough auxiliary tools into the already overcrowded environment to choke even the heartiest of avant instrumentalists and in the wake of such sound was a band that overshadowed the music it made.

Given the cramped atmosphere the justification for maxing out registers was both unnecessary and unfortunate as each member’s overwhelming levels tended to blend sounds rather than accompany one another, especially unfortunate was the tendency to blend during the band’s consistently enjoyable single, “Time To Pretend.”

Eventually, however, the set flat-out spiraled out of control. As various instruments changed hands everything concluded in a ridiculous rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” which came to a close with overzealous fans being invited on stage to dance and join in on the then-musicless festivities. The ending could have possibly been expected of the night’s openers, all college freshman and sophomores, rather than a major-label act signed to a rumored six figure contract. Everyone has their fun in different ways though, right?