June 28, 2010
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.
June 25, 2010
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.
June 22, 2010
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.
June 19, 2010
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.
June 17, 2010
Last week, we talked about a brief resurgence in popularity of 30s and 40s big band music, aka “Swing.” Swing was wildly popular for a hot minute, the bands critically accepted (if not always acclaimed), and lots of hip people dumped lots of money into zoot suits, dance lessons and the various other accoutrement’s of the genre. A few bands made some big dollars, got to perform on Leno, and then that was it. Nobody bought Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s second album, because nobody cared about swing, once popular culture had deemed the movement passé, and labels stopped pumping money into them. Eighteen months after the 90s became the 40s, it was over. Britney Spears came around. Things got dark for a long time.
Most fads (for swing was truly a fad-no one gets dressed up like that every Friday night forever) happen just like this. The 90s were chock full of them: Tamagotchi, sour gumballs, punk-ska (which lasted longer than swing, but still died a lonely death), etc. I’ve begun to realize that part of the reason there was no great guitar hero in the 90s-note that Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White weren’t joined by a 90s counterpart in It Might Get Loud-is that the 90s; even more so than the 2000s; were all about style over substance. Even in the wake of Nirvana, the radio was inundated with cut-rate imitation groups, bands that copied the sound but never approached the heart. It’s amazing to me, now, that the Goo Goo Dolls are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, trucking out the familiar old hits on a culture that never (non-ironically) asked for them. I imagine it’s the same feeling folks who grew up in the 80s felt when I was laughing and screaming Eddie Money songs in 1996.
There’s one group, however, that gets lumped in with all the other ridiculous fads of the 1990s that deserves a hell of a lot more credit than they get. This is a group who have weathered a declining music industry and universal ridicule by all the world except their fans. Despite zero support from radio or MTV, they’ve sold millions of records over the last twenty years. That group is the Insane Clown Posse.
June 11, 2010
Over the past five years or so, the Chicago-based Numero Group label has established itself as one of the best reissue labels on the market. Numbering each release in a manner similar to the DVD giants at the Criterion Collection, the label’s crate-digging efforts have revived the excellent work of a few has-beens and a lot of never-weres. I am an unabashed fan of this label’s work, and I prize so many of their releases that it was hard to pick just four to feature, but here goes…
Eccentric Soul | The Capsoul Label
The first-ever Numero release introduces their most popular series, Eccentric Soul. The idea is simple: the folks at Numero find out about a creative soul-music record label off the beaten path (in the case of this collection, it was located in Columbus, Ohio) and they try to obtain as many master tapes (or, failing that, playable records) from the key figures at the label as they can. They also do their best to piece together the history of each label, which they retell in generous and picture-filled liner notes. This collection from the ‘70s highlights, among others, the supergroup-that-never-was Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr, the Sam-and-Dave-like Kool Blues, and deep-voiced ballad crooner Marion Black. By focusing on the best of each artist instead of going for completism, the album comes off sounding like a hits compilation of songs you just didn’t happen to hear before. That said, the vocal group The Four Mints from this collection inspired Numero’s first full-album reissue (of the Mints’ Gently Down Your Stream) on their Asterisk imprint.
Wayfaring Strangers | Lonesome Heroes
One of the other main types of music Numero also tends to feature apart from soul is obscure work by ‘70s singer-songwriters, more often as full-album reissues, although the Wayfaring Strangers series skims the cream off of assorted other releases. To be honest, even as a folk fan, the first two entries in this series – focusing on female folkies and on acoustic guitar soloists – were pleasant, but kind of a snooze. This third entry, Lonesome Heroes, features male folkies, and successfully cherry-picks a bunch of occasionally oddball, emotionally direct, and affecting songs. As a frequenter of New York open mic nights, I can tell you the success of this compilation is quite a feat, because no one can be more annoying than a belly-aching male singer-songwriter. Despite that, this album works both as a sampler of different artists’ work and as a top-notch folk mixtape with a sustained melancholic mood.
June 9, 2010
ART OF SONG
“He’s Got the Power”
He’s Got the Power b/w Drama of Love
United Artists | 1963′
During my last semester at college, I had a radio show on WNYU.org called HIGH-CLASS & BAD-ASS. Mostly a garage rock venture, I explored a lot of older music for it, and it left me with a deep love for Japanese group sounds and early 1960′s girl groups. It’s through the latter avenue that I discovered The Exciters. Based out of Queens, they’re not technically a girl group, since Herb Rooney – lead singer Brenda Reid’s future husband – joined the group. He can be spotted in the Scopitone film for “He’s Got the Power,” the song I’m going to expound on today.
I consider myself (among many other jumbled and sometimes conflicting labels) a feminist. Listening to the lyrics of some of these songs makes me feel a little bit strange inside, but that doesn’t undermine their power. “He’s Got the Power” is a chief example of this.
It starts off grabbing you with a “YEAH YEAH YEAH!” that I’m shocked hasn’t been sampled more often. I can get behind that. Who can’t? But then we get into the questionable territory. “He makes me do things I don’t want to do / He makes me say things I don’t want to say / And even though I want to break away / I can’t stop saying I adore him, can’t stop doing things for him / He’s got the power, the power of love over me.” Okay…that stanza makes me want to call the police.
June 8, 2010
Aside from the crass commercialization of the underground rock scene of the 80s, the invention of “alternative” music, and the subsequent deluge of thinly-veiled, entirely corporate rock groups sent to piss on Kurt Cobain’s grave, the 90s were a hotbed of ill-advised genre revivals. Every couple of years, something that had already been done came back. These revivals were alternately good (punk-ska melding the positive vibes and dance-y rhythms of 2 Tone with punk rock’s manic energy), and horrible (while “Boy bands” may not seem like the real stuff of revival, the Backstreet Boys, et. al, reminded me of nothing more than the New Kids on the Block, version 2.0). In the case of the former, the revival happened on the underground – it was great to live in Detroit in the mid 90s, seeing ten or fifteen different ska bands every weekend, and not being bombarded with it on the radio – until the end. In the case of the latter, the revival was all over the mass media, radio and television coated with slickly produced teen idol pop (and if you were just a few months too old for the New Kids on the Block, version 2.0 wasn’t even bad in a good way. It was just bad).
A truly weird genre that came back into prominence in the 90s, though, was the swing revival. Overlapping the punk ska scene and the Boy band juggernaut, there were a couple of funny years in there where it was somehow cool to put on a zoot suit, consume cigars and fine whiskey, dance in an antiquated and difficult-to-master way, and eke out a living selling pencils and dice on street corners. Okay, not so much that last one, but swing WAS a completely period fetishistic movement based as much around aping the fashion of the day as it was about the music; which, itself, was not updated from the music of the period, beyond heightened production values.
The movement, as far as I can tell, began with the 1989 formation of Royal Crown Revue-who you may remember as the “Hey! Pachuco!” band Jim Carrey grooved to in The Mask. For a few years, Royal Crown Revue and their ilk (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, etc.) served a strange, commercial-yet-not-in-your-face role as “the band that plays when something zany/hip happens” in movies and commercials. To be fair, though, this was how most ska bands that transcended the underground scene made their first impression on the commercial map-remember the Mighty Mighty Bosstones as the cool dance group that Alicia Silverstone and friends groove to in Clueless, or the rally band at Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s home games in BASEketball (a role that Reel Big Fish ultimately played in real life, too, briefly providing theme music for the Florida Marlins in the late 90s).