Friday, June 26, 2009

guy punks, girl punks

Damn, so I guess its been almost 3 weeks since my last post. What can I say, the game got real son. Not much has happened since, although I did catch a pretty ill Ted Leo show at Toad's Place in New Haven. Really cool venue, I'd never been there before, but maybe I'll try to go back when my broski is at Yale. For a quick summary, Titus Andronicus were on first, and rocked my socks off, even though they were short one guitarist. This didn't really change much except that it meant Patrick Stickles couldn't do his harmonica solos, which was a big loss during their performance of 'Titus Andronicus.' Ted Leo and the Pharms were great, of course, and played an astonishing 105 minute long set. Actually, I wasn't a huge fan of Mr. Leo's song selection, and I feel like much of the set was made up of the band's inferior tunes. However, they did get around to 'Parallel or Together,' so how can I complain? They did a lot of new songs too, and some of the sound really catchy in that magical Ted Leo sort of way. Looking forward to the new album, whenever it drops. The highlight of the show may have been during the encore, when Ted came out solo with his guitar and ripped into heroics of 'Timorous Me.' In the background, the rest of the band took the stage, and when the second verse ended, they made a thunderous entry, just like on the record. Good stuff.

Anyways, my real impetus for returning to posting was inspired while I was making a dinner a moment ago, listening to 'The Alternate Side' on WBEZ. For the millionth time they played the blandly routine Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover of 'Sheena is a Punk Rocker.' Which got me to thinking, are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the most overrated band ever?

I'm not gonna pretend I've got a deep knowledge of the group's catalogue, but what I have heard (the singles) has consistently underwhelmed me. Even 'Maps,' their supposed best song is pretty dull. Save the crunchy Nick Zinner chord change, the song doesn't really do anything for me. And the stuff off their most recent album? Okay, pretty good alt rock, but nothing too exciting.

Basically, I can accept the argument that the YYYs are a pretty good band. I trace to the massive amount of hype surrounding them to the unjustified worship of frontwoman Karen O. Why do people get so excited about this person? I feel like she falls in a long line of overrated lady rock stars who get a lot of hype because they can 'rock as hard as the guys can.' I just don't see Karen O doing anything new, or even doing anything better than her predecessors. She's just an above average rock vocalist but nothing more. I usually worship female alt rock stars, but I just can't understand the obsession with Karen O. Maybe if I did, I would 'get' this band, and I too would be a huge fan. But as it stands, I just haven't heard any great YYYs songs. I think the aforementioned remarkably average Ramones cover epitomizes how good this band actually is.

...alright, finally I spit some genuine negativity! 

Monday, June 8, 2009

Some hearts bleed, my heart sweats

Warning: For the following review of the debut album from Japandroids, Post-Nothing, brace yourself for a deluge of analogies to other musicians/songs. Describing what something sounds like is tremendously difficult, and I’m acting under the assumption that most people don’t yet know what Japandroids sound like. In my gushing review of their track ‘Young Hearts Spark Fires’ some weeks back, I missed my mark by a longshot in comparing the Japandroids’ sound to Pavement and the Replacements. The former is particularly off, although with less abstract lyrics and more shouting ‘Summer Babe’ would have slotted in nicely on Post-Nothing. The latter suggestion is marginally closer, especially in the sloppy drunk vibe evinced by the young Vancouverites. However whereas Paul Westerberg and co. were content to fuck around (brilliantly) for 3 or so albums, Brian King and Dave Prowse seem to have taken No Age’s ‘Sleeper Hold’ as a call to arms: with passion, they have chosen.


Perhaps Ian Cohen came a little bit closer in his review for Pitchfork when he described Post-Nothing as music for teens. To a certain extent, I agree with this statement, although I would liken the music of Japandroids to conjuring what Neko Case once described as “that teenage feeling.” On their myspace page, in fact, the band pithily describes its genesis as a “creative outlet for post-teenage angst.” However, whereas Neko, bless her heart, imagined “that teenage feeling” with tender nostalgia, her perspective was through the lens of a weary romantic pushing her mid-30’s. Japandroids, however, have a view from the front lines, and as they make clear throughout Post-Nothing, it ain’t pretty.


If anything, Japandroids sound like a precocious Meadowlands-era Wrens: they’re barely into their twenties, and life has already beaten them to a pulp. ‘Young Hearts Spark Fires’ opens with Prowse and King shouting “We finished our whole lives!” and continues with “We used to dream/ Now we worry about dying/ I don’t wanna worry about dying!” on the chorus. These boys seem all too aware of what future adulthood has in store, and want no part of it. They also sing about girls. A lot. Mostly they focus on the more lascivious side of the equation, particularly in the rousing numbers ‘Wet Hair’ and ‘Heart Sweats.’ In the latter, Prowse and King demonstrate their profound lyrical economy with memorable lines like “Your heart is cold as ice, girl, I should know I’ve been to the North Pole … Still my heart sweats.” Occasionally they veer into the realm of heartache, and do so quite successfully on tracks like “Sovereignty,” where they poignantly describe the anguish of geographical separation from a loved one.


If all of this sounds a bit too emo, it should, because both sonically and lyrically, Post-Nothing approximates No Age doing a pop-punk album. And this, it turns out, is a good thing, on multiple counts. First, in the burgeoning new no-fi genre, lyrical inscrutability has been a major issue for me, both in the sense of difficulty in understanding the words being sung thanks to distortion, and in the occasional implementation of pointlessly obtuse lyrics. The singing/yelling of the Japandroids dodges both bullets nimbly. Of particular note is their tendency towards repetition and lyrical straightforwardness, such that each song consists of only a handful of lines repeated over and over again, so that there is little chance of missing their direct meaning. Sonically, the No Age analogy works too, although I would go further to suggest that these tunes hew the closer to indie classics like Yo La Tengo’s ‘Sugarcube’ or Sonic Youth’s ‘Teenage Riot’: Specifically, moments when great rock bands took time-out from pushing musical boundaries to create brilliant pop songs that were able to retain a sense of edgy rawness. Impressively, Japandroids seem to have mastered this level of songcraft right out of the gates.


Lest I get too sycophantic, Post-Nothing does have its flaws. ‘Crazy/Forever,’ perhaps the album’s weakest track, is also, unfortunately, its longest (is it just me, or does that sort of thing seem to happen a lot?). Additionally, at 8 tracks over a scant 35 minutes, the album can feel a tad slight. I wonder how much greater could it have been with maybe a couple more solid tracks (like their ‘No Allegiance to the Queen’ off of myspace). Thankfully, however, each song on the album is fully realized and packs an individualized punch, diminishing the significance of the short run-time. Additionally, the tracks are sequenced brilliantly, book-ended by the wonderful, Thin Lizzy-inverting ‘The Boys Are Leaving Town,’ and the especially Wrens-like dirge, ‘I Quit Girls.’ The latter closes out the album on a near-perfect note. Over a piercing one-chord riff, Prowse and King relate the story of a girl who “wears white six days a week … and if you’re lucky, on the seventh day, she wears nothing.” Women like this can drive a (post) teenage boy mad, and after 7 songs of heart-pounding, adrenaline-drenched emotion, ‘I Quit Girls’ is the sound of sheer exhaustion. The album’s resolution: these boys are exhausted, and they’ve had enough of ‘teenage feelings’.

myspace: Japandroids

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Change the shapes, shape the change

A quick glance at my best of 2008 list indicates my difficulties in keeping abreast of new music last year. As a result, I didn’t discover many of my eventual favorites (‘L.E.S. Artistes,’ ‘Here Should Be My Home,’ ‘Across The Shields,’ etc.) until 2009 rolled around, and by that point it was too late to put them on any sort of year-end list. If I can’t do that, what’s even the point of listening to new music? In an effort to avoid another such catastrophe, I’ve been trying to keep a better tab on this year’s new shit. This a list of some of my favorite new songs from the last few months just to prove I’m ‘with it.’ No obscure personal discoveries, but still great stuff.

‘No Hope Kids’ by Wavves – As far as punk rock goes, you can’t get much closer to perfection than this. An absolutely indelible melody constructed simply of fuzzed-out guitar and pounded drums accompanied by Nathan Williams fuzzed-out vocals about having no car, no job, no money, no friends, no family, pretty much nothing, and not really caring about it.

‘Lisztomania’ by Phoenix – I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t really get into this song until I watched the youtube ‘brat pack mashup,’ and then I was hooked. I even went as far looking up a plot synopsis of ‘Pretty In Pink’ on Wikipedia, and moving the ‘Breakfast Club’ into my Netflix queu.

‘The Reeling’ by Passion Pit – When I saw Passion Pit back in January, several months prior to the release of their debut album, I was completely blown away by their set-opening song, with which I was unfamiliar. I’m not sure if that song was ‘The Reeling’, but the fact that I’m completely blown away every time I listen to it makes me think so.

‘The Dark’ by Woods – Imagine my disappointment when I threw on Woods most recent, Songs of Shame, only to find that it was lacking my favorite new Woods song. Despite the consistent strength of that album, I couldn’t help but feel gypped out of this little psychedelic pop gem, whose sweet summer melody runs in perfect contrast to it’s foreboding title and spooky vocals.

‘Reasons to Quit’ by Phosphorescent – Matt Houck perfectly timed the release of his Willie Nelson tribute album to the sudden emergence of my interest in country music. The brawny, straightforward lyrics about substance addiction here are perfectly suited to Houck’s fragile heartfelt delivery. The next song on the album, ‘Too Sick Too Pray,’ might be even better.

‘Call and Response’ by Times New Viking – Great pop music shouldn’t require much expense. All you really need is a guitar, a drum kit, a keyboard, a battered analog tape recorder, a killer hook, and a male/female vocal harmony to sing/shout “It’s not even close to ending!” Thanks TNV, I most certainly hope it isn’t.

And, conspicuously absent from this list, any hip-hop songs, because hip-hop sucks in 2009!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Just a random observation: what's with all these hot new bands putting out songs named after their own band. Some examples: 'Crystal Stilts' by Crystal Stilts, 'Titus Andronicus' by Titus Andronicus, 'Wavves' by Wavves (off the Wavves LP), etc. I guess it's kind of a hipply slacker sort of thing to do. Self-reference in Indie music makes me think of hip-hop. The latter genre really pioneered the idea of shouting yourself out in your own song, not to mention in the title of your song. Self-titled songs have occasionally marked career highlights in rap, like 'Method Man' by Wu-Tang, or the Souljah Boy song. So what is the allure for these indie dudes? Is it dumb irony to be like souljah boy, or is it actually a savvy marketing strategy borrowed from the technique mastered by rappers? Not sure, but all of the indie tracks I mentioned above are pretty solid, so if nothing else, these band's know that they need to write a good song if they're going to put their group's name on it. Personally though, I like my rapper influence theory.