Archive for Commentary
November 4th, 2011 • Commentary
I was recently asked the “age-old” question, “if you were to go back in time when would you go to?” After remembering how slow rocks change, I ignored my geologist instincts to go back to the Late Paleozoic to see the Appalachian Mountains created and grow large. I decided to base my answer, rather, on what was happening musically during different times. This still proved challenging. Presented here are some of my finalists (focused rather on specific years rather than decades or eras…)
5. 1839: Pablo Casals finished recording the Bach cello suites. Before this, they were used as practice/warm-up pieces for cello. Casals made them stand-alone pieces to play. Where would Master and Commander be without Suite 1: Prelude? More importantly, where would we all be without the entire collection? Well, we’d probably all be right where we are but without some of the best cello pieces accessible.
4. ~1985: Stephen Malkmus, David Berman and Bob Nastanovich met. They all worked at the Whitney together in the late 80s. With others, Malkmus, Berman and Nastanovich, in different combinations, make up Pavement and Silver Jews. If Pavement was never a band, then Built to Spill may not have ever been a band. If Built to Spill was never a band, then maybe the Microphones wouldn’t have been a band (who knows?). And if Silver Jews had never been a band then Silver Jews would never have been a band and that’s bad enough by itself.
3. 1993: I was three and had no idea what was happening. In Seattle, In Utero was released by Nirvana. Seattle’s the best. In Omaha, Saddle Creek Records was started.While Conor Oberst has a pretty bad rep, his record label produced bands such as Cursive, The Good Life, Rilo Kiley and now is home to Rural Alberta Advantage, Big Harp, Maria Taylor and some other stars. Omaha is not the best but has created some pretty awesome music.
2. 1981: The Clash play their historic show at Bond’s. Welcome to America, boys.
1. 1983: The Smiths.
In summary, if I were to go back in time I would go back to about 1980 and stay there until about 1995. Sounds fun!
I investigated the music of tUnE-yArDs (the moniker of Oakland-based Merrill Garbus) the way I always look at new music that’s been getting a lot of rAvE rEvIeWs: with caution. Obscure bands getting rave reviews are even worse…and I don’t want to be that person who’s touting the next up-and-coming band-you’ve-never-heard-of. But tUnE-yArDs was a pleasant surprise.
Let’s start with the basics. tUnE-yArDs isn’t that obscure. Pitchfork, for what it’s worth, ranked Garbus’ debut effort, BiRd-BrAiNs, as the 44th-best album of 2009, which is no small honor. BiRd-BrAiNs was released on the Marriage label, shared by notable acts such as Dirty Projectors and YACHT. She’s now signed on to the UK independent label 4AD, which she shares with the likes of The Big Pink, TV on the Radio, and Bon Iver.
Bon Iver forms a particularly relevant comparison. Like Bon Iver, tUnE-yArDs’ first album was recorded in a makeshift home-studio with whatever was at hand…which was comprised mostly of Garbus’ ukulele. Interviews with Garbus suggest that she owned significantly less gear at the time of BiRd-BrAiNs‘ recording than she tours with now, meaning that what she’s got onstage is more than what she recorded the album with. The album was mixed with free-for-download software on her home computer. This makes the album super-lo-fi, most likely with one mic for just about everything. This style is important in terms of Garbus’ expression, insofar as the album was more a catalog of her life, a journal of how she felt, than a studio album. Garbus herself calls it a ‘living history.’ Live, tUnE-yArDs reminds me more of Professor Murder, with the live band’s sparse melody section and prolific drumming. Like Professor Murder, tUnE-yArDs has multiple drumkits on stage, and often as many as three people banging on them at once, forming a very rhythm-oriented sound. Also like PM, the bass guitar sits pretty far forward in the mix (it’s half the melody section), and the mildly-distorted bass sound really fills a lot of space. Garbus’ voice sails over it all, with an unabashed, sustain-filled tone.
Bottom line? If you love the ukulele, and can take some real lo-fi, please grab BiRd-BrAiNs for a listen this summer. At least a couple of songs should speak to you. If you hated Bon Iver and can’t stand Professor Murder, a police officer who stopped me recently gave me a rave review of a recent Staind show he was at, so you could probably check that out.
When I met Kyle Swartzwelder, he was hosting open mic night at the Burlap and Bean, a coffee shop outside of Philadelphia that knows its coffee and knows its music. That evening, Kyle informed me that he was going to have to find a real job. Music simply isn’t enough to support him. Anyone who heard Swartzwelder play his folk ballads that night, however, might disagree with that assessment. Though music might not pay the bills at the moment, Swartzwelder is certainly a promising young craftsman and songwriter. His self-titled 2008 debut album deserves further investigation.
Swartzwelder performs an uncomplicated country tinged folk. His ballad Julianne, a song expressing the joys of new love, best exemplifies the songwriter’s genius. He does not mess around with complicated lyrics or deep metaphors. Rather, his beautiful voice expresses his longing. Ever repeat the name of the girl you love to yourself to hear the sound of it on your own lips? That’s the chorus of this song—longing repetition that instantly touches the listen. The song ends with a usual and welcome flourish for the album. In the only true guitar solo of the project, Kyle plugs in the electric and rips out an Allman Brothers sounding guitar solo. Read more »
Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for (mthfl), and was published in that publication on April 29, 2010. The video below contains scenes of nudity and violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
The webs are aflitter with talk of the new M.I.A music video, “Born Free,” and all MTHFL has to say is “bravo, m’lady.”
I think I have found the second candidate for the “futurevisions” series.
Treading a tender line between blatant outraged social commentary and dark science-fiction future-drama, this artist has made something that feels uncomfortably close to the truth, and yet remarkably and violently foreign. The tune is great, sampling a late 70′s punk song by a band called Suicide. Some people are saying this plays special significance to those who lived through that era of music and can remember the time and place that song came out. I cannot be counted among those poeple, so I cannot attest to this fact. i suggest you read more about that if you are interested. Read more »
Spring Break, yes indeed.
I will never claim that Cancun, Mexico is the most “authentic” foreign excursion in El Mundo, but no American really wants to stick out like a sore thumb. My travelmates and I have found an album that we can bump that helps us blend in a little better with the locals. I pulled this puppy off my second favorite blog on the interwebs, Boingboing.net. Its called The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru, and it is solid frickin’ gold start-to-finish.
Chicha is actually a genre of music named after a corn-based liquor that the Incas used to drink way back when. I, however, think of a tall daiquiri or something served in a coconut when I hear these tunes. The explanation from the album’s Myspace page describes an interesting back-story for how this liquor-turned-genre got its start: Read more »
Lately I’ve noticed my iTunes drifting back into the listening habits of my high school days: exclusively D.C. Hardcore/Post-Hardcore i.e. anything released on Dischord from 1980-1996. Literally, this is all I would listen to for two straight years of high school. I hadn’t even heard Modest Mouse until sophomore year, when a friend started proclaiming their newest album at the time, “Good News…,” as shit, lamenting the fact Issac Brock stopped taking acid and drinking heavily.
Dischord Records has affected the majority of what I listen to. Immediate heavy listens went to Minor Threat, Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Q and not U…bands that remain my favorites to this day. But lately, I have really started to delve into what is their most nuanced and subtle heyday: early 90′s indie rock. What band captures this crazy blend of post-punk/hardcore, avant-garde/art rock, and pop? Shudder to Think.
The first song I heard by them is ‘Red House’ and I’m grateful for that day. It’s a great introduction to what this band’s sound is about. Starting off with some slow palm muting and a tepid drum, you can tell this shit was recorded in ’91. And once the riff begins, and the bass and full drums kick with the full climax of the second chorus, a listener cannot help but remember how solid independent rock music used to be (by the third chorus, you have no choice but to endorse this view). Read more »
I’ve been embracing my punk-rock self lately. Any one who started with Ramones and went from there understands the appeal of fast chords, leather jackets and ratty tennis shoes. ‘Punk’ is a surprisingly diverse and general term and I tend to think there’s almost something for everyone within it. Punk’s not dead, just different nowadays. Enjoy!
Masshysteri—This Swedish act released Var Del Av Stan (rough English translation ‘Be Part of Town’) last year, but they’re relatively new to me. This LP contains excellent, jangly, anthemic punk tracks almost like the legendary Wipers (from Portland, OR).
The best comparison is probably Denmark’s recently disbanded Gorilla Angreb. Great male/female vocals, and almost garage-like guitars. They’ll be putting out a new record and touring the US later this year. Check them out here.
Title Fight—All I can say is damn, yes. This is pop-punk at its unadulterated best, slick guitar riffs, excellent fast parts, equal parts Saves The Day, early New Found Glory and maybe Dude Ranch-era Blink. Read more »
In case you have been living under a rock outside of the Northeast Liberal Arts College circuit, a group of students at the esteemed Middlebury College in Vermont came out with the following video a few weeks ago, and, not surprisingly, its gone viral.
One thing that I think is clear about this video (other than the fact that, excepting the quidditch verse, you could basically replace Bates and Midd and get the same effect) is that us liberal arts kids love to lampoon ourselves and our athletic departments. It is sometimes shockingly scary how truly generic we can all be in our attempts to be original, which, at some level, is where The Allen Jokers’ humor comes from in the 5 minute song. Read more »
There is certainly no music festival in the United States quite like the famed South by Southwest festival (SXSW) held annually in and around Austin, Texas. It is an absolute certainty to say that students of the University of Texas and workers in the Texas government are very lucky to have this one-of-a-kind event invade their city every year.
The truly special thing about SXSW when compared to other large-scale music festivals in the United States such as Bonaroo in Tennessee or Coachella in California is that SXSW is not really aspiring to be the next Woodstock. The concerts are deliberately small and held in venues across the city. Venues that might not normally host concerts are transformed into hip spots to see some of the world’s finest musical talent perform. Read more »
It would seem that a number of my favorite musicians are now following the trend of producing films to accompany their album releases. Recently, English anti-folk musicians Noah and the Whale released album and film The First Days of Spring, and now Icelandic post-rocker extraordinaire, Jonsi, has announced a film to complement his forthcoming release Go, due in stores early April.
The film, titled Go Quiet, is billed on his website by director Dean Deblois (Director of the Acclaimed Sigur Ros documentary, Heima) thusly: “The concept behind ‘go quiet’ was simple: it’s New Year’s Day in Reykjavík, and Jónsi awakens to a trashed house in the wake of his party. he avoids cleaning up and instead procrastinates by playing songs that reflect the night before, the bittersweetness of new year, and the melancholy of a year gone by”
This full length DVD will be released alongside the album as a part of various special edition packages.
Check out the trailer, it is pretty epic: