Heart ain’t ready

Earlier tonight, I read an article in the literary journal n+1 by John Colpitts (aka Kid Millions of Oneida) about his life as a drummer in an experimental rock band, entitled “Heads Ain’t Ready.” The article is title after the name that the band gave to their first tour, which lasted two and a half months, a truly insane amount of time for an underground band on their first time out.

The tour was grueling. It was the longest stint we’ve ever played. But when you’re in your early twenties anything is manageable once. We dubbed it “The Heads Ain’t Ready Tour, which meant– people are not ready to love Oneida. We knew it would be a thankless tour. And we were right– heads were not ready. It’s arguable whether they were ever ready.

Throughout the essay, Colpitts takes this tone, of questioning whether anything has changed in the last 15 years, for a band that started out with no fans and no prospects and barely seems to have anything more today. The essay begins with a withering and indispensable account of a disastrous show in rural California, at which the band played at 1 AM for 6 minutes to impatient hotel staff. This show happened in 2010, when the band had been together for 14 years.

The guys in Oneida were probably right that “heads weren’t ready” for what they were doing in 1997. But I think one has to conclude that, at some point around the turn of the century, they came around, at least to the point where they could engage with the music on something like its own terms. Here’s what a young college radio DJ wrote about the band’s fourth album in 2003:

Goofy, experimental psych-rock from New York. Runs the gamut from wacky and amusing to rocked-out to cheesy and irritating, but mostly stays on my good side. Lots of good guitar and drum work, and world-music influences are exploited with more-or-less standard instrumentation in a way that I find quite novel. My only major complaint is that many of the songs are a lot longer than I think they need to be.

Although it seems that the pummeling, apparently endless exploration “Double Lock Your Mind” was something that I was not prepared for, I’m living proof of a ready head’s existence.

And it’s not like I was the most clued-in, far-out dude at KTRU in 2003 either. My impression at the time was that Oneida was one of those bands that were fundamental to college radio of the day- that they were one of those bands that everybody knew. I’m guessing that there are lots more people out there like me who get what Oneida’s doing and respect it. However it may look to Colpitts from a day-to-day perspective, there are people out there being spoken to by his music.

Perhaps he can take some comfort in that; no doubt he remembers it from time to time, such as when his solo project Man Forever is profiled in the New York Times (on page C7 of the New York edition), or when his autobiographical musings are published by a well-regarded literary journal (in an edition that’s not available online and is probably read by a couple hundred people outside NYC at most).

Here’s the thing though: I have been a terrible fan of Oneida. I own two of their twelve records, and I haven’t bought or even listened to any of their material since 2009. I’ve never paid to see an Oneida show; the only time I’ve ever seen them at all was in 2005 when the Jonx opened for them, and I’m ashamed to admit I barely even remember that show. I’m a huge fan of Oneida-adjacent artists, including Parts and Labor (friends of the band, whom I’ve written about three times for the Houston Press and Chronicle), Marnie Stern (Kid Millions plays drums on her most recent record; I don’t have that one yet, but I wore out that first three, and I’ve written about her multiple times), and Pterodactyl (Colpitts released some of their records on his label Brah; I’ve written about them for the Austin and Houston Chronicles, I have every piece of vinyl they’ve ever released, except one EP that I have seriously considered mail-ordering from Europe, and I flog them to friends every chance I get). By rights, Oneida should be one of my favorite bands.

Yet somehow, though my head might have been ready, my heart never was. I think part of it is that their music is just a lot more challenging than that of any of the bands that are associated with them- and if you’ve ever heard Pterodactyl, that is really saying something. Experimental music (which is how I would describe Oneida, and if you want to argue about that please go jump in a lake instead) has always been something to which I felt as if I didn’t have complete emotional access, like it was something that I listened to less because I enjoyed it than because I wanted to understand it. The problem is that you can’t be a good fan out of intellectual curiosity. That’s just not how it works.

Maybe there are other people out there like me. Maybe that’s why Kid Millions seems to feel like he’s still out there in the middle of nowhere at 1 AM playing to nobody- those of us who are watching don’t bother getting close enough for him to notice.

Writing this now, I feel as if something has changed. I’m going to make a pledge, here and now. I’m going to be a better fan of this unique and enriching music. I’m going to start by going out and buying that new Marnie Stern record that Kid Millions is on and at least one Oneida record, on vinyl. Even if I have to spend $35 for a 3xLP copy of Rated O.

My heart is ready. I hope that counts for something.

How To Quit Fucking Up

Rick Moody is fucking up.

The novelist, best known for The Ice Storm1, has been moonlighting the last couple of years as a music critic for the pop-culture website The Rumpus, in a column called Swinging Modern Sounds. It’s an exercise in critical self-indulgence, in which Moody gives himself free rein to discuss whatever he likes, at whatever length that he cares to go.

As Moody himself tells it in SMS #40 from January 15, he “normally only write[s] about things [he[ like[s],” but in this particular column, he chose to “experiment” with talking about something he doesn’t like at all: the music of Taylor Swift.

I think it’s kind of bizarre to spend your entire column talking about things you like and then choose to shit on something just to see how it feels. I also think that Moody says a lot of silly things: claiming Los Lobos will be “elder statesmen” in 5 to 10 years when some of them are already over 60; saying the NYC duo the Books lasted “as long as” the Clash, when they lasted considerably longer; referring to Americana artist Jolie Holland as “indie rock.” He is prone to ridiculously broad statements like “[t]here is no . . . singer [other than Holland] in the ‘indie rock’ world who is an effective interpreter of songs” and “the word “noise” when applied to music is incredibly stupid.” He fetishizes “analog” and “acoustic” methods over “digital” in the manner of people who don’t really understand how the recording process works: “I further believe that digital recording . . . makes vocals that were beautiful in a natural way sound as processed and auto-tuned as anything you might here on the ‘radio’ these days.” His writing is imprecise, hyperbolic, and long-winded.

In short, though he seems to have good taste, I don’t think all that much of Rick Moody as a music critic. But I also don’t think he has anything to apologize for as far as his comments about music go, because I don’t particularly think that critics should apologize for their opinions, even ones such as Moody’s comically intense dislike of Taylor Swift (“She makes me want to die”) or his fawning praise of everything else he writes about.

However, I do think that Moody has something to apologize for as a critic, which is that he says a bunch of sexist shit in his discussion of Swift, starting with his irrelevant reference to artists from the post-grunge era who are not very much like Swift or each other except that they happen to be women:

I remember all of that faux-confessionality from Jagged Little Pill, and from Natalie Imbruglia, and one summer’s bold and true lyrics are next summer’s post-menopausal antiques2

and continuing into his assertion that Swift will “marry up,” a phrase whose meaning is incomprehensible when applied to a rich, famous, and beautiful seven-time Grammy winner. Who’s she going to “marry up” to, Prince fucking Harry? And why does her marital status have anything at all to do with her music?

On Friday, Moody published a piece in Salon that was, if not exactly an apology, an apologia if you will, written in the face of what he describes as “assault that lay in wait,” entitled “I dared criticize Taylor Swift.”3 First of all, let me congratulate Rick Moody on his bravery in “daring” to say some bad things about a popular singer, which is something that certainly doesn’t happen on the internet thousands of times every fucking day.

Sarcasm aside, the argument of this simultaneously self-pitying and self-congratulatory piece of work is mostly a repetition of Moody’s original complaints about Swift, just longer.

It’s hard to understand who Moody saw this winning over, if anyone. Faced with disagreement, there’s little a critic can do to respond besides repeat him or herself. That’s why, unless one has changed one’s mind, or feels that the original piece was inadequate, there’s little point in writing justifications like this one, which inevitably conclude with pretentious claptrap like “it’s the job of the critic to sort through the collision of contemporary music with the history of the form and to assess music based on more enduring values” etc. etc. I happen to agree with this particular bit of pretentious claptrap, but expressing it about yourself in the face of critique is awfully high-handed.

Maddeningly, what Moody doesn’t do in this essay that he should have done is engage in a little self-reflection, realize that he allowed his negative feelings about Swift’s record influence him to degrade her as a woman, and apologize for it. Instead, he equivocates, embarrassing himself with cliches4 such as “I’m not a misogynist because I also praised women” and “what I said wasn’t sexist because I can also say it about men, see? Tim McGraw and some other guys nobody’s ever heard of ‘married up!’ And fuck Kid Rock and Toby Keith, amirite?”5

Moody has misunderstood a very important aspect of the criticism of his comments about Taylor Swift. The point isn’t that Moody is a misogynist who hates Swift’s music because it was made by a woman. It’s that he made degrading, sexist comments in his original essay. You can’t undo something like that by proving that you don’t hate women, because the complaint isn’t about you as a person, even though some people might express it that way because they’re mad; it’s about what you said. The only thing you can do is take back what you said and apologize.

This is a hard distinction to understand and accept when you feel like you’re under attack, and even once you understand it, taking responsibility and apologizing for what you said, publicly no less, are also very difficult. But recognizing when you are wrong is an essential part of accountability, and accountability is an essential part of being a mature adult, to say nothing of being a credible music critic.

In order to gain some credibility myself, I’m going to take this opportunity to try to set an example by accepting responsibility for a mistake that I made as a critic that was not very different from Moody’s. Back in 2005, I reviewed a record by a singer from New York named Maggie Kim for Space City Rock. I had many of the same complaints about it that Moody has about Taylor Swift: the record was too slick and commercial and not original enough. I find the review myopic and snide in retrospect, but those issues aren’t really the problem. The review opened with this sentence:

Though on Lesson 1.5, Maggie Kim claims artistic geniuses like Missy Elliott, Prince, Beck and PJ Harvey as her heroes, her actual closest analogue is more likely Christina Aguilera: a marginally talented also-ran who is more famous for her outlandish fashion sense than her music, although it’s much less likely that even Kim’s fashion sense will make much of a difference.

Here’s the problem; it’s twofold. First, I’ve lumped Kim and Christina Aguilera together by virtue of nothing more than the fact that they are both women who wear funny clothes sometimes. Second, I’ve referred to Aguilera as “marginally talented,” which is simply incorrect: Christina Aguilera is a remarkably gifted singer whose music I do not favor.

When I wrote this review, I allowed my distaste for Maggie Kim’s music to compromise my judgment, and I took the opportunity of the platform I was provided to make unfair and sexist comments about her and about another woman. I deeply regret having made those comments, and I extend my sincere apologies- however little notice may be taken by the wounded parties- to Ms. Kim, who deserves to have her work evaluated without bias or animus; to Ms. Aguilera, who deserves to have her talent recognized even by people who don’t enjoy her work; to Jeremy Hart of Space City Rock, who deserves uncompromised work from his writers; and to SCR’s readers, who deserve to read fair and level-headed writing. I also have to apologize to my wife Angela, who had to bring this issue up with me repeatedly before I was willing to understand and accept what she was talking about.

The personal struggle to overcome privilege and prejudice isn’t about trying to be a certain type of person, and it isn’t about being an “equal-opportunity offender.” It’s about recognizing the imbalances in society, being mindful of how they affect your thoughts and actions, and taking responsibility for the ways in which you take part in them. In order to do that, you have to recognize that you won’t always be in the right, and you won’t always be able to stand by what you did. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that sometimes, you have to quit fucking up and say you’re sorry.

Your turn, Rick Moody.

1. Love the movie, never read the book

2. “Post-menopausal?!” Imbruglia and Alanis Morissette are both still under 40 well over a decade later! Morissette has a freaking two-year-old!!

3. Thanks to Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle for sharing the Salon article.

4. These are exaggerated representations of Moody’s lines of reasoning, not direct quotes.

5. What are you talking about dude!

Fun Fun Fun, Day Two

On Friday I knocked off work juuuuust a little early so that I could catch Napalm Death. The awesome thing about watching Napalm Death is that you are literally watching the oldest grindcore band in existence. It’s not possible to watch an older grindcore band, because Napalm Death are the oldest one! Even if not one of the guys onstage was in the band in 1981. Napalm Death are one of the most in-sync grind bands I’ve ever seen (and the only one from England). You know what? Their music still sounds like gibberish. That’s what I like about grind- if you go watch an extreme metal band who have been playing for 15 or 20 years, it will be the most precise, cleanest-sounding show you’ve ever been to. That’s how it was when I saw Marduk and Nachtmystium a couple of years ago. But grindcore isn’t like that. It’s loose; chaotic. Somehow it’s more “free” than metal. Obviously grind comes as much from punk rock as it does from metal, so maybe that’s part of it.

The shitty thing about watching Napalm Death is that a bunch of beefy slam-dancing dipshits are going to smack into you when you least expect it. Grown fucking men too!

Napalm Death played the longest grindcore set I’ve ever seen, by a mile. They were still at it when I left to catch Bob Mould playing Sugar’s Copper Blue. Jon Wurster from Superchunk was playing drums for Mould, which was neat. I hadn’t been able to see him well enough at the Mohawk the night before to notice that he holds his drumsticks using traditional grip, which puts him in a rarefied group that includes, most notably Stewart Copeland of the Police, along with John Wright of Nomeansno. . . probably some other guys that I can’t think of right now, and almost everyone from the ‘60s. And me! So that’s cool. The set was competent, but I just don’t think Sugar’s music has aged all that well, especially in comparison to Husker Du’s “New Day Rising,” with which Mould and his band closed the set, powerfully. I’m glad I got to see Bob Mould playing Sugar songs, but I’m REALLY glad I got to see that.

Tomahawk are a funny-looking band. From a distance it looks like Ray Wise (aka Laura Palmer’s dad) is playing the drums, with Jeff Tweedy on bass and David Bowie dressed like a high school chemistry teacher wearing a fedora on guitar. The frontman is the guy who played Vinnie on Veronica Mars. When I get closer, now I can see that the band is actually the dudes from Helmet, the Melvins, the Jesus Lizard and Mr. Bungle. And the world makes sense again.

At this point I have to admit to myself that I like the idea of Tomahawk more than I like the reality. I find a lot of their songs lacking in coherent musical ideas, which now that I think of it is an opinion I have about Mr. Bungle as well, and sometimes even (apostasy warning!) the Jesus Lizard. However, on the Tomahawk songs that I do like, hearing all of the elements of the band come together is a major adrenaline rush. The muscular performances of “Mayday” and especially the chilling “Birdsong” may have justified my attendance at the festival all on their own. Also, not that this will surprise anyone, but Duane Denison’s guitar sounds GREAT. I did, however, tire of him sarcastically asking if anyone knew who the Big Boys were. Yes! We know about the Big Boys, Duane! Play “We Got Your Money” or get off the pot! You know, Mission of Burma did “Dicks Hate the Police” when they were here. Just sayin’.

I had no expectations for Earth, with whom I was mostly familiar by way of their reputation as a cult stoner/doom band and as elder statesman of sorts for the post-metal world. When I arrived at the stage, leader Dylan Carlson was fulfilling the latter role in Cranky Old Man mode, admonishing the audience- quite politely!- to refrain from flash photography in consideration of “a medical issue.” Then they played their music: languid instrumental stoner rock comprised of ambling guitar lines, repeated hypnotically with variations, underlaid by quiet, restrained drums. The song went on for seven or eight minutes; when it ended, Carlson got back on the mic and, much less politely this time, demanded that the audience refrain from flash photography.

The set went on like this, with the band playing these long, elegant, unhurried songs- they sounded beautiful- and Carlson rapidly losing patience with people taking flash photos. At one point he even offered “$400 to anyone who stabs the next person who uses a flash.” I do not believe anyone capitalized on this offer, fortunately for him. As the end of Earth’s allotted time slot came and went, a stage manager in a top hat (seriously) gestured frantically and in abject futility from the wings for the band to stop. Lady, I thought, I know you have a job to do, they went over their time and I don’t envy your position. But there is probably nobody at this festival who gives less of a fuck what you think he should do than Dylan Carlson. And everyone can see you losing this battle.

Earth may have been one of the best things I saw at Fun Fun Fun this year, because it sounded so good, but also because it was so different from anything else. As an observer, the tension between the band, the audience and the stage manager, while not Fun for anyone involved, only enhanced the “specialness” of the experience. I’ll have to add Adrienne Davies to the list of my favorite drummers; I’ve rarely seen anyone play so aggressively but with such a light touch at the same time. She is what I wish Jim White of the Dirty Three was.

I wanted to see whether Against Me! had improved since I last saw them at ACL in 2008, where I found their performance problematic. Sadly, as I arrived (from the complete opposite side of the park), they were playing their last note. I did see that they have a new drummer, which is probably a good thing.

UGK’s socially irredeemable “country rap” has been a guilty pleasure of mine since 2007’s Underground Kingz, but I’ve never felt inclined to investigate the solo work of surviving member Bun B, who has released three albums on his own since the untimely death of Pimp C. Seeing Bun B onstage only confirmed this gut-level decision. Bun remains a technically gifted rapper with an enormous voice, but without Pimp, his music feels colorless and one-dimensional. Pimp produced most of UGK’s music; I couldn’t hear the beats very well underneath Bun’s thunder, but they didn’t sound like much. Pimp sang virtually all of UGK’s hooks; Bun simply yells the choruses of his songs. He doesn’t sing at all. I’m not sure he can. I respect Bun’s art, and in a way, because it’s so stripped-down, it seems more elemental, more pure. But it’s so limited that I can’t enjoy it. It just makes me sad.

So I left and went to check out Santigold, who had something no other act that I saw had: backup dancers! Including a couple that briefly wore a horse costume and pretended to be lassoed by another pair dressed as cowboys? Santigold’s music was vaguely exotic dance-pop, which I found inoffensive but otherwise was not sure how to evaluate. Mostly her set made me think that I’d really like to see Janelle Monae at this festival next year. She’s probably too famous though. Well, I can dream.

I’m not terribly familiar with Run-DMC, and I don’t like to party, dance or wave my hands in the air. To be frank, I do care and I have trouble acting as if I do not. Also my legs hurt like hell. But goddamn if it didn’t bring a smile to my face when the first chorus of “It’s Tricky” rolled around and every single person around me turned to their neighbor and shouted “TRICKY TRICKY TRICKY!” Run-DMC may not have been on stage together in more than a decade, but they haven’t forgotten how to, as they say, “rock a party.”

And are you ready for something better? The reason they haven’t performed, of course, is that DJ Jam Master Jay was murdered in 2002. A few songs in, DJ Run announced that the TWO DJs they had brought along to fill Jay’s shoes were none other than Jam Master Jay’s own children. Tears of amazement. Following, each DJ soloed for a few minutes, and various beats and noises thundered from the stage. When I heard the tired strains of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and saw a hundred pairs of hand-horns in the air, I decided to call it a night. As I stiffly lumbered away, I heard the voice of Grampa Simpson booming across the lawn: “Turn it up! TUUURRRN IIIIITTTTT UUUUUUPPPPP!”

Friday rating: Three Funs

Fun Fun Fun, Day One (i.e. Night)

It was pledge week. “Call to make your pledge now, decease ” said the DJ, site “and be entered into a drawing to win passes to Fun Fun Fun Fest, where Bob Mould will be performing the classic Sugar album Copper Blue in its entirety!”

“Wow.” I said. “That would be pretty cool to see. Oh well.” I didn’t feel like I could afford to go. And I don’t like festivals much. Even if Nomeansno is playing their first show in Texas since I started listening to them.

“The magic of mobile!” My wife exclaimed proudly, five minutes later. “You’re going to Fun Fun Fun!”

She is amazing.

I decided to see Superchunk at the Mohawk on Thursday night so that I wouldn’t have to catch them at the festival on Friday. It was nice to be able to see them on a smaller stage, at night, the way punk rock was meant to be seen! They played well. They had great energy. But I just don’t think Superchunk’s music means that much to me. It occurred to me that Superchunk, with their modest hooks and paradoxically hyperactive and chilled-out demeanor, are a good band for “rescuing people from commercial rock,” as someone once described Sunny Day Real Estate. Unfortunately for me, I went to a Sunny Day high school, and I didn’t hear Superchunk for the first time until I was 23.

As Superchunk were winding down, I hustled down to Red 7 to catch some of American Sharks. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from them, but it wasn’t the fairly accurate Turbonegro impersonation that they delivered. I was impressed by the execution, but it’s not something I particularly care for. I guess Stephen Walker is not in this band anymore.

When I was in high school, I went to see a band called the Lechers. (well, not “went to see” them- I was at a punk show, and they were playing). They were a power trio who all dressed in black and had shaved heads. They played Oi! punk, except instead of yelling “Oi!,” they yelled “Hey!,” all in unison, the drummer through a headset mic. The Krum Bums didn’t do any of those things, but that’s what they reminded me of.

I wandered into the ND to the sound of the same reverb-drenched gobbledygook that Christian Bland delivers as a member of the Black Angels. The keyboard player was dressed up as a cowboy. How people are not tired of this stuff yet is beyond me.

I have a confession to make: watching Indian Jewelry almost always makes me fall asleep. It’s not that I don’t like their music; I do. It’s just that, when I see them, it’s always loud and dark and very late at night. My Monster Energy habit actually originated at an Indian Jewelry show at Emo’s Lounge a few years back, when I discovered that hypercaffeinated poison was a great help in my mission of remaining vertical.

I didn’t fall asleep watching Indian Jewelry on Thursday, though. Their performance had more focus, force and clarity than just about any other set I’ve seen from them, and I left more awake than when I entered. Well done.

Thursday night rating: Fun and a half

All the boys think she’s a spy. . . or an undead creature of the night

My wife and I were watching some ’80s music videos this morning when she noticed something odd.

“Bette Davis Eyes,” by Kim Carnes (1981):

“Thriller,” by Michael Jackson (1982):

Kim Carnes, 1981:

Michael Jackson, 1983:

COINCIDENCE?!?!?! . . . .

On a sort of unrelated note, does anybody else find it odd that MJ’s date doesn’t notice that the guy in the movie they’re watching looks just like him?

Is Muppet rap funny?

Digging deep into the buried strata of pop culture from two months ago: I wasn’t a huge fan of The Muppets overall- too much sad, nondescript new guy, too little Swedish Chef– but the low point was definitely the song “Let’s Talk About Me,” the god-awful rap delivered by Chris Cooper’s villainous oil tycoon:

Entertainment Weekly described this scene (which features Cooper dancing around his office in a Muppet version of a rap video) as “brain-pausing, spit-take inducing lunacy” and “one of [the Muppets’] strangest big-screen moments.” I’ll grant that it’s a weird scene.

However, I don’t think the song or the scene themselves are all that weird. To understand this scene, you have to know that, because music was such a big part of the show, the world of the Muppets was tied in to pop music in a very deep way, even to the extent that there are Muppet characters (the Electric Mayhem) who have specific referents in the real world of rock and roll: Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Dr. John, Gato Barbieri. Numerous pop musicians appeared on The Muppet Show, and for pop music performances to happen on the show, so far from being remarkable, was part of its very structure.

But when The Muppet Show was on the air, hip-hop wasn’t much more than a gleam in the eye of a few DJs in the Bronx. The last widely seen Muppet film (The Muppets Take Manhattan) was made in 1984, the better part of a decade before the gangsta rap explosion. There’s no overlap between the world of the Muppets and the world of hip-hop.

Therefore, I don’t really think that what’s weird about this scene is the song or the action themselves. I think what’s weird about it is simply that the Muppets have never done a rap before. So the weridness is simply the incongruity of seeing a 60-year-old white man and a bunch of puppets performing a pastiche of gangsta rap.

In my opinion, that’s as far as the “joke” goes, because the song that Cooper performs here is really stupid. Sample lyrics:

I got more cheddar than some super-size nachos
Got cash flow like Robert has De Niros
I use more greens than Vincent Van Gogh
I make the baker make my bread out of dough
No, don’t eat it though- it’ll make you ill
There ain’t no flour in a hundred-dollar bill

As I mentioned, this is essentially a pastiche of a rap song, constructed out of the signifiers that are used in pop culture to represent rap lyrics: boasts about having money, expressed in the form of awkwardly phrased rhyming analogies and bad puns. Not only is this an old joke, it’s barely even a joke at all, because this is actually what some people think rap is. In fairness, this used to be sort of true- 20 years ago.

I don’t find this scene funny. But that doesn’t mean that the idea of finding humor in the juxtaposition of Muppets and rap music is completely without merit.

I think the Bert & Ernie one is my favorite, probably for the clip of Ernie rapping while Bert tosses and turns in bed.

Ultimately, the Muppets may have to engage with hip-hop in the same way they do with other pop music. Today, rap has been popular for nearly as long as rock and roll had been when The Muppet Show debuted, and if Mick “Bitch” “Rocks Off” “Sister Morphine” Jagger can be a Muppet, then surely the day can’t be too far off when Jay-Z, or at least ?uestlove, is rendered in felt.

Relevant:

Anyway, if the problem with “Let’s Talk About Me” isn’t simply that it relies on the juxtaposition of Muppets and rap, maybe the problem is that gag rap songs aren’t funny.

Let’s see if we can find some evidence for that.

Hrm.

The Community Christmas rap is especially instructive, because Donald Glover’s verse is a lot more enjoyable than Danny Pudi’s. Why? He’s a better rapper! Interestingly, Pudi’s most absurdly hilarious line:

If years were seasons, this December
Would be the December of our December

is similar structurally to one of Cooper’s from “Let’s Talk About Me:”

If something’s for sale consider it sold
I’ve got so much gold I gold-plate my gold

but the impact isn’t the same, because as mediocre as Pudi’s rapping is, Chris Cooper’s is downright TERRIBLE!

Sorry! I loved you in Lone Star, man.

So I think the lesson here is not that joke rapping isn’t funny, or that Muppets rapping isn’t funny, but that poorly performed rap isn’t funny (unless of course the joke IS that it’s poorly performed). Which makes sense; would it be funny to hear Chris Cooper performing a ridiculous folksong badly? No; it would be funny to hear a ridiculous folksong performed well:

Frankly I think it would be hilarious if Chris Cooper were a really good rapper. Unfortunately, it’s apparently not as easy as it looks.

To bring this all home, I feel like I need to point out that not only can rap be funny as a joke when it’s well-executed- it can be hilarious even when the music itself is not a joke. As someone who was into Weird Al (who has at least two other raps that I could have used above instead of “White and Nerdy!”) before any normal-people music, I think that’s one of the things I appreciate most about hip-hop.

Charm City Indie Rock Smackdown

The Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop poll, the definitive year-end music list compiled by surveys of critics all over the country, hasn’t come out yet. However, when it does, based on a completely unscientific survey of stuff I read and people I know, I’ll be surprised if the album Civilian, by the Baltimore band Wye Oak, doesn’t appear on that list somewhere.

That is to say, people seem to like this record quite a lot. I bought a copy after watching their performance on Late Night.

Most of the time, network TV performances from bands I like don’t do a lot for me. Sometimes things just don’t sound right. Or the clarity of the mix reveals that the singers can’t quite hit the notes they’re aiming for– much harder to look past in a recording, even a live one, than a concert. Or the performance reveals the limitations of the source material. Wye Oak’s performance, by contrast, benefits from a perfectly constructed song and Jenn Wasner’s powerful and skillfully deployed voice. And of course Andy Stack’s ability to play two instruments at the same time.*

Unfortunately, I must say I haven’t been able to get into the album the way I figured I would after seeing this performance. None of the other songs strike me as being as structurally perfect as “Holy, Holy,” and even with that song, the live version makes the album version sound a little tame. But that’s OK, that’s not really what I wanted to talk about anyway. Thinking about this album a while back, it struck me how much Wye Oak reminded me of another indie rock band from Baltimore, fronted by a woman gifted with a naturally beautiful alto-range voice, that recently put out an NPR-beloved album graced with a perfectly structured song.

Lower Dens, featuring former Houstonians Jana Hunter and Will Adams.

Obviously this isn’t an NBC-caliber performance video (or maybe it is, har har!), but I hope you’ll excuse that. The things that I love about seeing this song are the same things I love about the Wye Oak performance: the vocal performance, and the way the structure of the song transmits itself through the musicians.

However, while there are certain superficial properties shared between Wye Oak and Lower Dens, their music doesn’t sound very much alike. Civilian is light on guitar and drums; instead, the band uses keyboards and overdubs of Wasner’s voice to create rich, lush, glowing combinations of sounds. It’s a very warm and pleasant-sounding record, oriented around melody expressed vocally. That is to say, the aesthetic is “pop:” pretty songs, sung in a pretty way. (That’s a reductive way to put it, but as anyone who has performed in public can tell you, it’s a lot harder than it sounds!)

Lower Dens’ Twin-Hand Movement, on the other hand, is driven by thudding drums and twangy guitar. Both Hunter’s voice and the guitar are frequently masked by reverb and distortion. At times, the record is murky, dissonant, or just plain harsh. This isn’t to say the record’s not good. It’s very good. But its aesthetic is bohemian: it uses sounds that aren’t inherently pleasing to create compositions that are meaningful or striking- even beautiful, but not in the same way that Wye Oak’s songs are.

So even though Lower Dens and Wye Oak are playing the same kind of music, narrowly defined- “indie rock-” they’re doing it with aesthetics that are almost diametrically opposed. This isn’t even limited to the music itself; you can see it the song titles: the elevated “Holy, Holy” vs. the subversively gross “A Dog’s Dick.**” You can even see it in the way that the artists are marketed. Take a look at these press photos of the two bands, both used on Stereogum:


It’s dangerous to read too much into the apparent opposition here. It of course does not translate to any kind of relationship between the people in the bands. What’s interesting to me is that fact that two bands from the same city, playing the same kind of music at the same time, could end up artistically opposed in this way, however that may have happened. I think one of the defining characteristics of “indie rock,” at least to the extent that that phrase means anything anymore, is its ability to encompass both music that’s basically sub-mainstream pop and music that is underground for artistic reasons.

I started wondering if it there were other Janus-faced pairs of bands out there, where one had a “pop” and one a “weird” aesthetic.

Superchunk and Polvo, from Chapel Hill
Jawbox and Shudder to Think, From D.C.
The Sea and Cake and Tortoise, from Chicago
Silkworm and Shellac, from (Montana by way of) Chicago
Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu, from San Diego
Sleater-Kinney and Unwound, from Olympia
Bright Eyes and Cursive, from Omaha
Parts & Labor and Pterodactyl, from Brooklyn

It occurs to me that a lot of the truly great bands of indie rock are capable to embodying both sides at the same time, or switching between them: Mission of Burma. The Melvins. The Pixies. Sonic Youth and Pavement are among the most skilled at this. I once saw the band Sebadoh described somewhere (the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing perhaps) as “is-it-punk/is-it-pop,” which I’d say is getting at the same thing. I think you could make an argument that some of the modern bands that have been consistently well-received in the indie rock world do this; I’m thinking specifically of Deerhunter and the Animal Collective. Women are another example, although they sit more on the “weird” side.

I think you could use this idea to construct a definition of the notoriously slippery idea of “indie rock” that’s about as good as any: rock music that sits somewhere on the continuum between pop and bohemian aesthetics, while- importantly- taking account of both of them. At least, that’s more or less how I’ve always thought of it.

Bonus Lower Dens!

* Aside for guitar nerds: check out Wasner’s fingering. If I recall correctly, she plays this song tuned to D#-G#-C#-G#-B#-F, which is a half step up from D-G-C-G-B-E, which is a variation on a tuning called Taro Patch, which is used in Hawaiian slack-key guitar. The hell?
** True, Twin-Hand Movement does have a song called “Holy Water,” but it also has a song called “Two Cocks Waving Wildly at Each Other Across a Vast Open Space, a Dark Icy Tundra,” so I think on balance my characterization is justified, much as this entire post is justified by the opportunity to type the name of that song.

The Things My Friends Did

I realized something a couple of days ago: in 2011, for the first time since 1999, I didn’t set foot in a recording studio1. That makes me a little sad. But not too long went by before I realized that every year I hear more records that I like from friends and people I know. That cheers me up a lot, and I thought it would be fun to round these up, as a celebration of all the talented musicians I’m lucky enough to know. In more or less chronological order, I present: the year in music made by my friends.2


Bull Thieves

Technically this came out on December 28, 2010, but fuck it, because I really like this and I want to talk about it. This is a new project from Lance Walker of Hands Up Houston, Ojet Records (which is apparently active again!) and whole bunch of Houston bands. This is by far my favorite thing that he’s done; it’s a mix of heavy guitars and electronics, with some really strong melodies. It reminds me a lot of Justin Broadrick’s post-Godflesh “shoegaze metal” band Jesu.


El Camino, by The Gary

The fruit of a trip to the 2010 Electrical Audio summer picnic, this EP was recorded by Steve Albini, a natural fit for the hard-edged yet forthright sound of this Austin trio. Bassist Dave Norwood is one of my favorite lyricists working right now, and drummer Paul Warner, a guitar player who’s only been behind the kit since 2008, continues to improve; this the first record they’ve made where he sounds completely comfortable, I think. Guitarist Trey Pool, late of Sad Like Crazy, has nearly enough treble in his guitar here to rival Albini himself! One of the best rock records from Austin this year.


Constant Future, by Parts & Labor

The second installment of the third period of this Brooklyn noise-rock band features one of the best songs they’ve written (“Never Changer”) and, according to my wife, the best drum sounds ever recorded. P&L announced a couple of months ago that they’re going on “indefinite hiatus” after a show in February; at least they’re going out on a high note (coincidentally, this was also the last record I reviewed for 29-95). I do wish that I’d had a chance to see them in a non-festival setting at least once in the last four years.


Space is a Place, by Western Standards

The sophomore album from Houstonian Major Miller’s one-man ambient project followed its predecessor by less than a year. I quite like both of them. This one seems more concerned with rhythm and movement than the first, and Miller seems to be moving toward longer compositions as well- an impression that is partly supported by the two other albums he released this year, which I didn’t even know existed until 5 minutes ago. Jeez Major what are you trying to do to me here, some of us have lives you know!


Erin Edmister and Three Tons

Found in the Alley described his country-rock band as “of an ilk that, if I were not a part of it, would blow right be me in a heart beat.” To be honest that’s probably true of me too and almost everyone else here. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the craft that clearly went into this project. Well done, Kilian.


Don’t Be So Cruel, by Something Fierce

The third album from this Houston punk power trio is the most self-assured and melodically strong record they’ve made so far, and it earned them the beginnings of some national attention this year. I have to be honest though, there’s something I don’t quite get about it yet; part of the problem may be that I don’t know what box (punk? garage? indie rock?) to put it in. I need to spend some more time with this one.


Get Split, by The Energy

For this Houston punk band’s second album they made the songs shorter and faster, but it would be tough for them to be any meaner, considering the first album’s preoccupation with violence. Rather, vocalist Arthur Bates took a left turn into paranoid delusion, with results that are “off” in a really interesting way. It’s pretty damn hard to do something new and exciting in punk rock, but the Energy manage it somehow. Highlight: Chris Ryan doing an unintentional impression of Matt Freeman from Rancid. I just love this band.


Arabia Mountain, by The Black Lips

Over the course of their last few albums, the Black Lips have increasingly come to seem less like a fun retro-garage band with hilariously unpredictable live shows and more like legitimately good rock songwriters. I think this is the best record they’ve made.


Strong Drunk Hands, by We’ll Go Machete

The first full-length record from this Austin group, fronted by Paul Warner (who also plays drums in the Gary), benefits from the addition of stone cold pro Rachel Fuhrer on drums. WGM sound a lot like Hot Snakes to me, and I think they share some of the same strengths (they rock) and weaknesses (not a lot of variety); it sounds a little like they’re still trying to find their voice a bit, although this record has a lot of awesome, heavy punk riffs.


Summer Panic, by Killdeer

This throwback indie rock quin(?)tet is co-fronted by Mari Pool, formerly of Sad Like Crazy, and also features Chris May of We’ll Go Machete on bass. This debut EP is lovably shaggy and quite tuneful, not unlike SLC. Bonus points for having a song called “Killdeer Fight Song.”


TIME

Chris Ryan of the Energy and Black Congress (and a bunch of other bands), proprietor of the late, lamented studio Dead City Sound, played and recorded every track on this epic psych-rock album. I don’t think too many people even knew he was working on it before he announced it on Facebook last summer. I like almost everything Chris has ever done, but to tell the truth I’ve had a hard time getting into TIME. I feel like I can hear some of Austin psych band the Black Angels here- I know Chris is a fan of them, and I’m really not at all, so that may be coloring my perspective a little. I will say that this record sounds awesome, and I do like that Chris threw in covers by Them and Spacemen 3, which I think give the record a little more variety and context. And I have a history of being disproportionately resistant to bands with long, repetitive songs. Perhaps, as a friend used to say, “I’ll listen to it until I like it.”


Excalibur, by The Mathletes

I cleverly tricked Joe Mathlete into sending me a copy of his first non-CDR release by promising to write about it on NAP right before I was about to stop writing completely for four months. Sucker!3 Belatedly, Excalibur, as one of the only fully-orchestrated things that I’ve heard from Joe, is a stellar showcase for his talent for arrangement. I love the variety of styles and sounds that he works with, and the wounded-yet-detached intimacy with which he sings. I would recommend this highly for fans of They Might Be Giants or the Mountain Goats.


American Honey, by Roky Moon and BOLT!

I totally forgot that this came out and never even bought a copy. It’s on my list to get when my eMusic subscription renews later this month. Sorry, Jeoaf!


Phantoms, by Ume

These Houston expats took a big step in the journey of breaking out this year with the release of this dreamy, glossy, propulsive record. It’s quite pretty. The highlight for me is a reworking of “Hurricane” from their first album, featuring Ronnie Barnard of the Kants and Handdriver on drums. Also: translucent pink vinyl!


Snake People, by Balaclavas

In a continuation of the theme of Houston artists being in a hurry to get their music out. Balaclavas’ second LP followed their first by only 18 months. 2010’s goth-rock masterpiece Roman Holiday was one of the best-made and most unique records I heard last year- that I’ve ever heard from Houston, really- and Snake People suffers a bit from comparison, coming off to me as a little thinner than its predecessor, and less considered in production. On its own terms, though, it’s plenty good.


August, by Still Lost Bird Music

Speaking of unique records, August is an Americana record with lyrics drawn from poetry, made by a composer and music professor named Simon Fink, with whom I used to play in a roots-rock band called Gross National Product. Repurposing poetry in this way isn’t like covering a song, for which royalties, but not permission, are requred; it’s necessary to either get permission from the artist or use poems in the public domain. Fink chose the latter option, which means that all of the poems are at least 80 or so years old. One is from the year 1505. Contrary to what some people think, popular song lyrics aren’t even close to being poetry, and using a poem as a song lyric sounds odd, because the language is so elevated. Using old poems sounds even stranger, almost like a song written in a foreign language. But Fink is such a talented and seasoned songwriter that not only does the poetry fit into the music, but listening to the words is absolutely essential to appreciating this remarkable and quite beautiful record. The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Fink played stripped-down live versions of three songs on the Central Standard show on the Kansas City NPR affiliate, and I almost prefer those to the album versions.


Fall Tour 2011 East and Live!, by Indian Jewelry

I kind of think Indian Jewelry’s ad-hoc releases are easier to get into than their major albums, because the arrangements tend to be a little more stripped-down. That’s how I felt about the 2008 odds-and-sods collection Fake and Cheap, and this tour CD hits the same spot for me. Apparently a number of these songs are culled from their VHS release Sufi Headbanger. Sample song titles: “Guns;” “Freak Pride;” “Heart of a Dog;” “Slouchback With Gills;” “Against Nature;” “Headless in Gaza;” “Wallbangers.” Boom goes the dynamite.

An Indian Jewelry live record turns out to be a shaggier, crazier, more aggressive version of the records, which is to say it pretty much kicks ass. For best results play very loud after midnight with the lights turned off.


Lexington 2125, by Dry Nod

Speaking as someone who is not only too young to have seen Dry Nod but too young to even have met more than a couple of people who have seen them, this band occupies something of a mythical position in my idea of Houston music history. I have the live album, but this is something else entirely, some kind of ur-text for the Mike Gunn and LP4 and Dunlavy, etc. I’m guessing anyone who’s reading this has already heard this record so I won’t say any more except that this record is pretty great. Essential listening for anyone who has gone to an indie rock show in Houston in the last 20 years. Well done, Roberto.


Spills Out, by Pterodactyl

The third LP from this Brooklyn trio is more melodic than what they’ve done in the past, but no less strange. While Jesse Hodges (formerly of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and my faves the Tuxedo Killers) was in Pterodactyl when they made 2009’s Worldwild, he’s a much stronger presence on this album, contributing a warped pop sense that I wouldn’t have expected from his previous work. It contrasts nicely with the frantic, overlapping yelp-singing of guitarist Joe Kremer and drummer Matt Marlin. Pterodactyl’s sheer difference from other rock bands makes their music sound absurd, and yet the love of harmony, and of sound itself, that it transmits are so innocent that it pierces me to my core. I love this band so much.


Nine of Clubs, by Good Times Crisis Band

When drummer David Hobizal delivered this LP to me, he went down the tracklist naming the songs that he tracked in 2009. Gutarist and bandleader Bill Corsello manages Emo’s, and the transition that the venerable Austin venue has been undergoing for the last two years prevented GTCB from finishing this record or even playing any shows for a long time. My understanding is that they have no plans to perform even now, rendering the album a true labor of love I suppose, since it’s unlikely many people will even hear about it. It’s kind of a shame, as the dizzying geek-rock of Nine of Clubs blows away their first album, which was pretty good in its own right.

I was theoretically supposed to audition to play bass in this band at one point, and hearing this record, I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because I doubt I could have measured up to the musicianship on display here. Damn but it would have been fun to try though.


Abnormal Vergence, by Brainworlds and Expo ‘70

Guitarist Mason Brown has performed in a wide variety of independent rock bands, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the starkly avant-garde solo project Brainworlds when he debuted it in 2008. Brown’s take on the guitar-drone genre is maximalist, building layers upon layers of wailing and whooping, and his live shows have steadily become more and more impressive. When I saw him in Austin last summer, it was kind of like the musical equivalent of watching remixed whale song interpreted as a 3D laser light show. And that’s how I guess would describe this album.

On my wish list for 2012: a split LP between Brainworlds and Western Standards.


Uberchriist

My brother Colin’s take on black metal has much the same tongue-in-cheek rock geek quality as his take on speed metal, Chopper. This is indicated partly by the name of the band. the cover of the cassette4, and select song titles (“Ancient Ziggvrat,” “Lord ov Pain,” “Alcoholocavst II,” “Black Svpremacy”)(extra piss-taking credit for using the letter V in place of both U and F), but also by his tendency to alternate orthodox scrape-and-screech black metal with midtempo stuff that sounds not all that different from blown-out versions of Chopper or his shoegazey indie rock band, Hollow Stars. I approve, not just because Uberchriist serves as a welcome antidote to the self-seriousness of black metal, but also because I think the riffs are pretty good. And also because the bandleader is related to me.


Roam 4 the Holidaze 3

For the third year running, the winter solstice brought an edition of this Atlanta compilation series, put together by David Matysiak of Jet By Day and Hollow Stars. It’s a mix of warped, ironic Christmas material (“Jingle Bells” on a Casio; “If I Die Before Christmas” by Old King Cole the Younger, AKA Cole Alexander of the Black Lips; a reading from A Christmas Carol on an answering machine) and odds and ends of varying weirdness from various figures in the Atlanta music scene, including Brainworlds, Matysiak’s indie-folk band Coyote Bones, and Hollow Stars. The aesthetic of R4TH is neatly summed up by the inclusion of not one but two tributes to recently deceased indie music superfan Kim Jong Il, one of which is credited (naturally) to CMee and the Selves.

And with that: Happy New Year, friends of mine. Happy New Year, everyone.

1. This and this did come out this year, but both were recorded in 2010.
2. Obviously I didn’t like every record the same, and I don’t have the same amount to say about every record. And of course, I may have forgotten something. Please don’t be offended, guys.*
3. In all seriousness, sorry Joe. I did not do this on purpose, I swear.
4. Tapes: WHY?!?

* Except Jeoaf and Joe, you guys can be offended if you want to I guess 🙁

October 16, 2001

As I’m sure we all remember, October was pretty nuts. The anthrax attacks that followed 9/11 claimed their first victim on October 6. The invasion of Afghanistan began the next day. The USA PATRIOT Act was introduced on October 23 and became law just three days later.

This is the backdrop against which Fugazi released their final album.

I can’t think of an artist that I needed to hear from during this time more than Fugazi. Nobody represents the real “dream of the ’90s” more truly:

“My principles are not based on hatred; it’s not about hating. I don’t hate things. It’s not that I’m out to smash the state. I’m just interested in building my own damn state.”

To me, The Argument seemed to respond to 9/11 with an intelligence, humanity, and paradoxically calm intensity that were exactly what was called for by the moment. And yet, obviously the album had been written and recorded entirely months and months before. Somehow Fugazi had known that what we needed to hear that October would be a furious, beautiful anthem about secrets and political alienation:

Fugazi- “Full Disclosure”

Or an apocalyptic demand to put down the camera and take action:

Fugazi- “Ex-Spectator”

Nearly every song seems to have some referent in our ongoing national nightmare. “Life and Limb” murmured “Hey, we want our violence doubled- no, but really in a loving way.” The narrator of “The Kill” might well have been an infantryman recently landed in Afghanistan. It was uncanny. And if you weren’t impressed already, you could hear Guy Picciotto brag on “Oh,” “Memo to the partners: I’m changing all the locks. I’m pissing on your modems. I’m shredding all the stocks” while watching the Enron scandal break on the SAME FUCKING DAY. No shit.

The title of the album comes from the final song, which represents the record’s mindset most eloquently:

“When they start falling, executions will commence. Sides will not matter now; matter makes no sense. . . It’s all about strikes now, so here’s what’s striking me: that some punk could argue some moral ABCs when people are catching what bombers release. I’m on a mission to never agree.”

Fugazi- “Argument”

It’s hard to express how chilling it was to hear this seemingly prescient album. It still is, but less because of its timing than because of its concise and powerful thematic statement: that both before and after 9/11 we lived in a world ruled by violence, in which we are constantly called upon to stand up for justice and humanity- and that such a stand matters most when the pressure is strongest to submit and conform. This did not change on 9/11, and it hasn’t changed now.

Getting Fucked Up

One of the best-reviewed independent records of 2008 was The Chemistry of Common Life, by the rowdy, overstuffed Canadian post-hardcore band Fucked Up.

You know what? Scratch that. The Chemistry of Common Life wasn’t one of the “best-reviewed” records of that year; it was the record that was most frequently reviewed as if it were a harbinger of the freaking end times. Uncut called the record a “radical redrawing of hardcore’s boundaries.” For Slant Magazine, it was a “natural and seamless masterpiece.” Pitchfork and Paste had the good sense to employ scare quotes when anointing the record “the second coming of hardcore punk” that “could possibly revitalize hardcore.” All Music Guide, getting competitive in the field of overblown praise, called it “a lush, expansive masterpiece [there’s that word again!] that dismisses the theory that punkers have to follow a concrete formula of short and fast songs with raw-edged production.” The AV Club called Chemistry “the greatest hardcore record since Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come,” in an interview with vocalist Damian Abraham that was weirdly obsessed with the Refused.

I bought a copy of Chemistry of Common Life. How could I not? Everyone said it was the best thing to happen in hardcore in years. I didn’t really get it. Yeah, there’s a flute. So? Yeah, they sing about religion. So do a lot of bands, and while we’re on the subject of the vocals, Abraham has no rhythm, and I don’t particularly care for that screechy dude’s voice. Yeah, there are a lot of guitar tracks, I guess, but you know, does the world really need another band with three guitarists who can’t play a solo?

And if I may ask, why is the definition of hardcore as “short and fast songs with raw-edged production” still at issue? Who still thinks like this, and have these people not heard of the Blood Brothers? Or the Jesus Lizard? Or the Deftones? Or Drive Like Jehu? I know that one guy’s heard of the Refused. Or fucking Fugazi? Have they never heard Bad Brains’ I Against I or Black Flag’s In My Head, both of which came out more than 20 years ago? We fought this battle already, and we fucking won. Punk bands no longer get a gold star for sounding like something other than DOA.

Anyway, the point is, I think Chemistry is OK, but it’s not my favorite rock record from that year, by a long shot (that title probably goes to either Torche or Wilderness, if you’re wondering).

Fast forward to this year. Again, Fucked Up release a record- David Comes to Life– hailed universally, less as a revolution this time, because that already happened, but as “a convincing demonstration of what can happen when a band works without limitations.”

So again, I buy it. Less of the screechy guy (none in fact) this time. Lots of strangled-sounding screaming, with better rhythm this time, from Abraham. Still not much in terms of riffs, and no leads, but lots of loud guitars with delay. Lots and lots- it’s 80 freaking minutes long! And as detailed in a masochistically over-investigated Popmatters review, it’s apparently a concept album about some kind of intrigue in a lightbulb factory in 1970s England. Just speaking for myself personally here, but with one exception (Mike Watt’s Contemplating the Engine Room) I’ve never heard a concept album that I liked more than its non-concept equivalent. I’m a Who’s Next/ Dark Side of the Moon/ Blood Mountain (as opposed to a Tommy/ The Wall/ Crack the Skye) kind of guy. Actually, you know what David reminds me of more than it does Tommy? Quadrophenia. Not impossible to enjoy in the moment, but as a whole dense, overlong, monotonous, and generally difficult to get through.

I had all but dismissed the record when something happened- this song came up on my iPod:

“9 A.M. Everyday” by O Pioneers!!!

This is a band from Houston called O Pioneers!!!- melodic midtempo rock, with gruff bark-like vocals in the style of Florida post-hardcore bands like Hot Water Music and Against Me! And I thought, that was cool. I’d like to listen to some Hot Water Music now.

OR- I thought to myself- you know who else kind of sounds like this?

I started to ponder. Do I know some other bands with lots of loud rhythm guitars and blown-out vocals?

And there it is. If I listen to David Comes to Life as an emo-core revival with a lot of guitar effects instead of some kind of grandiose hard-rock concept record, I actually enjoy it a lot more, even if I still think it’s overlong and maybe lacking in variety. I’m not sure Fucked Up are the saviors of punk rock, if such a thing is possible and/or necessary. I AM pretty sure that embedding shoegaze inside hardcore- the technique that got them so much love on Chemistry– is less innovative than a lot of the stuff that happened in post-hardcore in the ’90s. But at least I feel like I understand their music now.

And here’s a bonus video, just to demonstrate the most important difference between bands like Hot Water Music and Fucked Up:

CARGO SHORTS.