I wanted deeply, in my heart of hearts, to not compare Dear Comrade to stellastarr*. But I truly think, even had I not known that Dear Comrade is the work of stellastarr* drummer/keyboardist Arthur Kremer (with the help of Emmett Aiello on lead guitar, bass by Dan Freeman, and backing and occasional lead vocals by Stefani Pekin – who also goes by Dex, and Dr. Dex, though I doubt she’s board certified), my mind would have immediately leapt to that conclusion.
Moody instrumentals, soaring female backing vocals behind almost-speaking-rather-than-singing post-punk male vocals (think almost Interpol), yeah, I could be describing either band. But while stellastarr* began reaching out toward what I would argue is a more gothic sound (in the literary sense of the word) with Harmonies for the Haunted, Dear Comrade is a little less flashy, more stripped down, and attempts to show a broader mix of influences.
“Badlands” opens the album, a semi-political track mostly about apathy. “Conflict of interests, clashing of faith / What would John Lennon fight for today? / Where’s the amber, where’s the glow / Where’s Black Panther, I just don’t know.” While I assume Kremer is referencing the 1960’s radical party, he could just as easily be asking for the Marvel Comics superhero. Oh, the joys of interpretation. The track itself is certainly enjoyable, but I think it lacks a certain spark, especially when compared to later tracks on the album.
The Beach Boys | “Don’t Go Near The Water” (from Surf’s Up)
No American band has said more about the importance of catching waves and spending time at the beach than the oft-underrated/overrated/underrated again Beach Boys. In 1971, the Boys kicked off their Surf’s Up album by imploring folks to stay out of the water because of – you guessed it! – all that gross pollution. “Toothpaste and soap will make our oceans a bubble bath,” Al Jardine and Mike Love lament over an upbeat whiteboy funk groove typical of this era of the Boys’ work. Sure, they sound as naïve as they did just a few years before extolling the virtues of a surfin’ safari, but the song is damn catchy. And it’s maybe more than a little appropriate for the folks on the Gulf Coast right about now.
The Morningsides | “Summer Song” (Single)
A kind of New York supergroup, featuring members of the retro-rock band The Wowz and singer-songwriter Chris Maher, The Morningsides only have one single from 2004 to their credit, but it’s a keeper. The A-side, “Summer Song,” features the soap opera-like antics of a star-crossed couple in the verses while the chorus pays tribute to summer radio anthems, the kind that have choruses as catchy as the one featured here. The band’s sound has the same ‘60s garage rock crunch you find on a lot of Wowz songs, but the vibe is notably looser and noisier, bringing to mind Pavement. Maher’s slightly strained vocals similarly recall Stephen Malkmus but not in a way that seems slavishly copied.
I often find myself, in conversation, bemoaning the portion of Detroit’s storied history in which I was born and raised. Born almost twenty years too late to witness Motown first hand, even the MC5 and the Stooges were long gone before my time, having disbanded seven and five years before my birthday, respectively.
Sports were a joke, after 1984, for what seemed like ever. Even when Detroit sports teams go all the way, it’s a sporadic great season from the Pistons (basketball moves too fast for me), or the Red Wings (when I first moved to New York, my first boss there called hockey a “white boy” sport). The Tigers have largely been a laughing stock for almost thirty years (setting the record for most losses in a single season by an American League team in 2003), the Lions have not won a championship (and only a handful of games, it seems) since 1957. Don Was, who was born and raised in Detroit, made his mark as a musician with Was (Not Was) in New York, and as a producer (Bonnie Raitt, Barenaked Ladies, Rolling Stones) in L.A. Sadly, by the time the White Stripes, Dirtbombs and their ilk had made the term “garage rock” a household name, I had gone west to college.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this column that the Insane Clown Posse-the self-described (and aptly so) most hated band in the world, were the first group to make me feel like it was cool to be from Detroit. These guys had a national following, and yet they consistently did things to make Detroit feel special. At least one single a year (and the entire first Forgotten Freshness CD) was exclusively available in Detroit. Every Halloween was spent in the Motor City, with what they called the Hallowicked show. Gwar opened the Hallowicked show I saw, and it was, hands down, one of the most fun shows I’ve ever attended. I feel bad, admitting even I can’t stomach ICP records anymore, after spilling so much love on them for their Detroit-centric attitude in the 1990s.
A somewhat less embarrassing scene, though, made some of us proud to be from Detroit around the same time. Though not by any means rooted in Motown, any touring band in ska‘s third wave would have to admit that Detroit was a crucial stop for any band with horns, up tempo punk songs, and an emphasis on the off beat.
When Charlie Faye, a New York native now based in Austin, played Rockwood Music Hall earlier this month, it was at the midpoint of a ten-month tour whose concept is pretty much unprecedented: to support her new album Wilson St., she’s playing ten cities – and living in each one for a month. In locales ranging from LA to Burlington, Vermont, she’s setting up residencies, enlisting local musicians to back her up, and recording new material for her next album. At Rockwood, Faye delivered her songs with a vocal clarity and strength – shades of Neko Case, Chrissie Hynde, even Patti Smith – that suggested an untold number of gigs in her recent past. A few days later, at an office in the Meatpacking District, she talked about her monthly “miniature life,” her New York roots, and what she’s learned along the way.
JM.com: So this is kind of like intermission for this tour, would you say?
Charlie Faye: Yes. I’ve done five, and I have five to go.
JM.com: How do you feel?
Charlie: I feel like, you know, half the time I’m on the greatest adventure of my life, and half the time I’m doing something completely insane and I don’t know why I’m doing it. But that’s part of the adventure.
JM.com: What’s a day-in-the-life?
Charlie: I get somewhere at the beginning of the month, I move into wherever I’m moving into, I spend the first few days really by myself exploring, getting my bearings. Then I start meeting people. In that first week, I’m sending emails, making phone calls to friends of friends: “Who do you know in Burlington?” “My drummer’s friend’s brother is a guitar player.” So I’m gonna call that guy and have coffee with him. Then the first gig – I’ll probably do it solo or with one person I’ve brought on. Then by the second week it’s getting more exciting and social. I’m making friends and I’m putting together the band, and the third week is usually heavier in terms of more gigs, maybe some regional touring, and the fourth week is crazy ‘cause that’s always when I do my recording for the month. So I have that last gig, the recording, saying goodbye to everybody. It’s like one miniature life. A month-long life.
JM.com: Are you traveling alone?
Charlie: I’m traveling alone. And the crazy thing is, I’m originally from New York – I didn’t even start driving until I moved to Texas three years ago. So for me to be doing this solo cross-country trip is pretty nuts.
FRESH BAKED Wavves King of the Beach
2010 | Fat Possum
“I’m stuck in the sky / I’m never coming down,” shouts Nathan Williams on “Linus Spacehead.” It’s more of a sneer really—the bratty whine of a kid who still feels invincible. It was that kind of mentality that landed Williams, better known as Wavves, on stage at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival last May hurling insults at the crowd and dodging flying beer bottles. It was a meltdown you’d expect from an aging rock star, not a 22-year-old who happened to have his
bedroom pop project declared the next big thing. Then again…
But that was over a year ago—in Internet years, a lifetime; Williams is like a seasoned vet at this point. Or at the very least he’s just hitting his prime, something more than evident on Wavves’ newest record, King of the Beach. While at heart Wavves is still the gritty, lo-fi pop-punk group they were on last year’s self-titled breakout, this new record is something completely different. The most noticeable thing: You can actually hear every instrument; the omnipresent, sometimes oppressive, wall of fuzz from Wavves’ first two records has been checked thanks to the simple luxury of having a studio in which to record. And the results are unsurprisingly wonderful.
As a songwriter, Williams has always been strong. On King of the Beach he churns out his usual array of slacker anthems with ease—powerhouse pop-punk gems based around three-maybe four-chord progressions that, this time around, retain just the right level of Wavves original bedroom aesthetic. But mixed in with these tracks are lazier, shoe-gazey cuts like “When Will You Come” and “Baseball Cards,” the latter droning along in hazy synths and vocals, but anchored by clean choral “sha la la’s.” One of the record’s most unexpected surprises is “Convertible Balloon,” a song that’s pure bubblegum doo-wop, carrying elements of “Under The Boardwalk” if The Drifters had smoked weed and played Nintendo all day.
ART OF SONG
RCA | 2003
It’s summertime, and the bars on the Lower East Side have seemed more crowded than ever, drenched in the uniquely cloying smell of sweat and desperation…something you don’t seem to notice as much in the winter. People want to get laid in the summer, I can respect that. As I’ve attended party after party in these dark booze-filled basements where successful people asked me what I’m doing and I responded with three bleak words: “looking for jobs,” I could feel myself sinking farther and farther away from what I wanted. And that left me searching for music to comfort me, which inevitably brought me to 2003.
I always feel like stellastarr* doesn’t quite get the respect they deserve, as the Brooklyn-based band (who, interestingly enough, played their first show at a Lower East Side venue) has faded into the patchwork of other post-punk indie bands of the era. “Jenny” was the first single off their debut, self-titled album. And, while I suppose I always sort of sympathized with the titular character, this summer it’s really hitting me, the way good songs should. This is a fairly standard, if catchy, alt-rock song. There are stripped down instrumentals, a pretty awesome female backing track, and a danceable beat. However, what’s important here are the lyrics – this is a song about a person. I can imagine Jenny; a quiet, sad looking girl, sitting in the corner, maybe whispering along with the music from the sound system…desperately wishing for another drink, a cigarette, or someone to meaningfully connect with…something to break the monotony. “Jenny was sitting in the lounge / She was talking to herself / Well maybe things like that turn you on / Maybe you felt that for yourself / Well I’m a believer!” Lead singer Shawn Christensen is key here, his emotional voice, complete with tears and breaks, is necessary for you to believe that HE believes.
JezebelMusic.com @ Cakeshop June 18, 2010| Pissed Jeans
Last Friday night at the Cake Shop, Allentown, PA’s Pissed Jeans played a twenty-six minute set to a room hot enough to roast marshmallows off people’s skin. Stuffed to the point that you were drinking beer evaporating off the person next to you, the room was a chamber of bodily fluid exchange, much in line with the imagery of Pissed Jeans.
Lead singer Matt Korvette strolled onto the tiny stage while the rest of the band assembled a city of amps. Grinning like mischievous Tomata du Plenty of ’70s synthpunkers The Screamers, Korvette thinly veiled the cyclone of energy that was about to erupt from him. He plodded around the stage, patient and vulnerable. You almost wanted to poke him in his soft Pennsylvanian belly, like the song “Half Idiot” on their newest LP King of Jeans advocates.
Without warning, Pissed Jeans opened with the hip-checking “I’m Sick,” which starts with two sludgey chord hits, lots of feedback from dexterous guitarist Bradley Fry, and Korvette screaming that his head is falling apart. Korvette tore the neck of his T-shirt until it ballooned out like a contaminated ballgown, which was fitting given his lyrical tendency to emasculate and make himself look foolish.
I had another topic ready for this week’s Hidden Gems, but then Devo went and released their first studio album in 20 years on Tuesday. I haven’t been able to concentrate on much that’s not Devo-related since. So here’s four less-than-obvious Devo songs you should check out.
“The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize” (from Duty Now For The Future)
Devo’s second album Duty Now For The Future is often characterized as suffering from the sophomore slump. This is understandable, since the album’s strongest songs are backloaded onto what would have been side two and lazy rock writers probably didn’t have the patience to flip the album in search of the kind of giddy thrills the band’s debut offered upfront. “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize” is one of the album’s shoulda-been hits. It features an oblique tale about a young man’s joy at his sweetheart recovering from some sort of debilitating accident. It also has an unbelievably catchy chorus that is simply the exclamation “Wa-hoooo!”
“It Takes A Worried Man” (available on the Pioneers Who Got Scalped anthology)
In 1982, Neil Young had the crazy-ass notion to co-direct an apocalyptic comedy film with the actor Dean Stockwell, called Human Highway. He cast Devo as nuclear garbagemen. In the film, they sing an upbeat, poppy version of the folk-festival classic “Worried Man Blues” (here slightly retitled) while they cart around barrels of nuclear waste. (The band has also been known to perform the song when they pretended to be Dove – a Christian, leisure suit-wearing opening act for many ‘80s-era Devo shows. Here’s a video of Dove in action.) The movie made it to VHS, but then faded into obscurity. Inspired somewhat by Devo, Neil Young released the synthesizer-driven album Trans… and eventually got sued for it. Apparently, everyone doesn’t appreciate devolved music.