November 28, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1994, Courtney Love’s response to the death of Kurt Cobain (and how Rivers Cuomo plays into all this) and Pearl Jam, Korn, and the steep descent of metal. For earlier installments, go here.
One of the funniest conspiracy theories I’ve heard about in the last few years is that Kurt Cobain and Rivers Cuomo are the same person. Right: Kurt Cobain was so affected by the spotlight that he faked his own death, only to return a few months later with a new, poppier sound and a slightly altered look. Even his wife, Courtney Love, believes his death was real. Yeah.
When you think about it, the number of flimsy similarities between the two men are astounding. Nirvana and Weezer were both signed to the David Geffen Company (their recording careers only overlap by the slimmest margin). Both men were the sole songwriters in their respective bands, though Cuomo has deferred to the other guys in recent years, and Dave Grohl got to write one of the B-Sides for In Utero. Cuomo and Cobain are both often seen wearing sweaters in photographs; Cuomo’s dapper and preppy, Cobain’s most likely intended to cover up track marks. Both debuted with music most people did not hear (Weezer’s earliest recordings are still-unreleased pop metal tracks), followed by a slicker-than-owl-shit major label debut, then followed by an intensely personal, self-produced sophomore effort. In Utero is infinitely better than Nevermind, and Pinkerton is infinitely better than The Blue Album. Weezer, after Pinkerton, have slowly pissed away everything that was great about them, while Cobain didn’t last long enough to watch his career go to shit.
Of course, Cobain was a left-handed guitarist, while Cuomo is right-handed, but have you ever noticed that Cuomo became something of a fret-shredder between the first two albums?
More on #11: 1994
November 21, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1993, the birth of a conscious music listener, and falling in and out of love with They Might Be Giants. For earlier installments, go here.
1993 is a defining year for me, Brook Pridemore, as a musician/music obsessor (one can’t really exist without the other). Aside from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged premiere in November (the defining live document of the 90s) and Prince changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol, 1993 is the year I became conscious. So, while the year may not be the best for music (certainly ‘95 and ‘97 are go-to years for “the classics”), 1993 will always evoke something of a coming of age nostalgia within me. The historical equivalent of the participant’s trophy in softball you’ve got in a box somewhere, maybe, or the barely-meeting-the-weight-requirement large mouth bass you caught when you were a kid, that ended up stuffed and mounted, a constant reminder of simpler times. 1993 is the year I came of age.
It seems innocuous now, but one February morning in ‘93, I was watching Saturday Morning cartoons with my much-younger sister. An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures that featured animated videos to two songs by quirky Brooklyn group They Might Be Giants crossed my periphery. And that was it. I had no idea what these guys looked like (as TMBG were depicted by Tiny Toons characters, you see), but I could tell just by hearing them that they looked more like me (skinny, pale, gawky) than the hip hop crews or cartoon-y hard rock bands my contemporaries were discovering. Gangbangin’ was in, but it’s hard to be a gangbanger in a lake-dominated suburb thirty miles north of the inner city of Detroit. Being a hesher was in, but I still don’t quite dig on metal, and it’s hard to be a hesher without dirt weed.
They Might Be Giants seemed like they spoke to me, personally. In the last dying days before the Internet diluted the mystery a band could wrap itself in, I went on a quest to find all of their albums to date, and learn all the lyrics. The things I had picked for my career focus to date (funny car designer, video game programmer, etc.) went out the window. I was going to be a singer like They Might Be Giants. Christmas 1993, when I got my first guitar, TMBG’s guitarist, John Flansburgh, served as my first role model. Never known for his flash, Flansburgh held the band’s quirky, percolated rhythms together with his simple, creative strumming. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is buoyed by Flansburgh’s tic-tac bassline across it’s chorus. You may never have noticed that bouncy little line in there, but it’s an essential element to what gives the song it’s danceable backbone.
More on #10: 1993
November 14, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1992, Pavement sticking their heads out of the sand for the first time, Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the pope, and John Frusciante’s love of herion. For earlier installments, go here.
All eyes on Seattle in 1992, right? Warrant lead singer Jani Lane commented (after the dust had settled) that in August 1991, Warrant had stepped into the offices of Columbia Records to their hit, “Cherry Pie,” blasting from every speaker in the house, giant posters of the iconic album cover all over the place. By the time Lane and Co. made their way back into the Columbia office in Spring 1992, they were practically persona non grata: their posters had been eschewed for an equally large, but bleak poster for the new Alice in Chains album, and that band’s specific, dour sounds were pouring out of the stereo, in place of Warrant’s party rock. Times had changed, and fun dumb stuff was out. Intellectual (or at least faux-intellectual, in the case of Alice in Chains) sounds, ushered in by the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in September 1991, were in. American pop culture had changed for the good, and things would never be the same.
It couldn’t last, though. Within just a couple of years, all of the avenues that had been opened to forward-thinking, eclectic rock groups were closed again. Prefab music came back into vogue. The watershed of rock bands who had benefited from the early 90s boom mostly failed to capitalize on their initial momentum (Sonic Youth being particularly notorious for making a slew of bad albums in the 90s), sinking back into relative obscurity. But many still remained firmly enough planted in the public consciousness to make it impossible for any new upstart scenes to come up.
More on #9: 1992
November 7, 2009
Well aware that my railing against the big bucks corporate music system might be veering dangerously close to the realm of beating a dead horse, I thought I’d take a week off from clue hunting and celebrate several of the happy accidents that Kurt Cobain and Co. championed once every press mic in the world was in their faces. So, here it is:
TOP FIVE RECORDS YOU PROBABLY WOULDN’T HAVE HEARD WERE IT NOT FOR NEVERMIND
1. The Raincoats | S/T
Sharing drummer Palmolive with The Slits , The Raincoats, were a noisy mess of fun, frantic, Celtic-inflected punk rock that fervently embraced feminism and Do-It-Yourself charm. The Ramones may have been the first band to say, “We can be in a band even if we can’t play like virtuosos,” but the Ramones (who could keep a beat) sound downright virtuosic themselves next to the always slightly tipsy-sounding Raincoats. Check out their gender-bending cover of the Kinks’ “Lola:” Ana De Silva, Gina Burch and Co. keep pronouns the same in their version, which raises a plethora of gender-identity queries. Plus, it’s a sick dance number, too. In the liner notes to his band’s collection of B-Sides and rarities, Incesticide, Cobain asserted that meeting de Silva in UK was the best thing that had happened to him since Nirvana took off.
2. Mazzy Star | So Tonight That I Might See
Partially because of Cobain’s kind words about Hope Sandoval and David Roback, but also because Mazzy Star’s best album dropped in a year when even a somnambulant country song like “Fade Into You” could be a hit, So Tonight That I Might See is the perfect example of the positive effects “alternative” rock had on public consciousness in the early 90s. Here was an elegant, three chord ballad, sandwiched in between the latest Dr. Dre and Aerosmith videos, and nobody seemed to notice. “Fade Into You” turned out to be the band’s only real hit, but the song still pops up from time to time in movies and TV, when the right tender moment is called for. The rest of the album is equally elegant, simple and gorgeous, as well.
More on #8: 1991
Doveman Announces New Album The Conformist Featuring Nico Muhly, Most of The National, Martha Wainwright, and Norah Jones (Sounds Like a Really Crooning Version of “We Are the World”); Released October 20 [Brooklyn Vegan]
Andrew W.K., After Experiencing Some Kind of Sexual Religious Experience, Cancels Concert Dates With Calder Quartet, As Apparently Sex and Religion Don’t Mix Well (Tell That Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Theresa”) [Idolator]
James Murphy Drops Hint On Facebook About Upcoming LCD Soundsytem LP Possibly Due Out New March ; Elsewhere, Music News Is Really Fucking Slow Today [Pitchfork]
Watch Beach House’s Victoria Legrand Perform New Moon Track “Slow Life” With Grizzly Bear; Get Bored Fast, And Then Imagine How This Song Sounds Anything Like a Vampire/Werewolf Teen Crossover Novel Turned Film [You Ain’t No Picasso]
compiled by Max Sebela
The end of August is inevitably a slow time of year. People, en masse, seem to start dragging their feet, trying to stop summer from coming to a halt. But not in the music biz. As this past week shows, musicians, big and small, are ready and raring to go for the fall. Announcements of new album releases were abundant. Ready for a listen the first day the leaves begin turning gold and brown will be Kyp Malone’s first release as a solo artist and Bon Iver’s first release as a non-solo artist, Daniel Johnston and Massive Attack are prepping albums for October, and November will bring us new material from 50 Cent, Nirvana, and many more. So see, summer’s impending end ain’t so bad after all…
by Elana Jacobs
Michael Jackson’s Death Officially Ruled Homicide [Rolling Stone]
Official Nirvana Live At Reading CD/DVD Due Out November 3 [Pitchfork]
The Doors’ Final Four New York Concerts To Be Released In Six-Disc Set [Rolling Stone]
Get The Deets On New Beck/Charlotte Gainsbourg Album [Pitchfork]
Blackalicious’ Gift Of Gab To Drop Solo LP, Escape to Mars [Pitchfork]
Listen To Previously Undiscovered Elliott Smith Song, “Grand Mal” [Pitchfork]
And, For Something To Think About After An Unusually Pitchfork-Heavy News Day: Buddyhead Gives Pitchfork’s “Top 500 Tracks Of The 2000s” A 0.0 [Prefix]
compiled by Erin Sheehy
August 8, 2009
HATE TO ADMIT IT, BUT…
1991 | Epic
I’ve never given a damn about celebrity gossip. So glancing at the average tabloid is, for me, a more or less completely fictional experience. I think I know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still married and adopting babies from impoverished countries, but, Inglorious Basterds excepted, I don’t think I could name a single movie in which either actor starred for years. I know that somebody from Good Charlotte is married to (I think) Ashlee Simpson, but I couldn’t pick either artist’s sound out of a lineup [Editor’s Note: the factual inaccuracies present in the preceding paragraph do well to prove Mr. Pridemore’s lack of pop-cultural awareness].
And I don’t think that I’m behind the times. At all. Modern popular culture’s emphasis has shifted back and forth between quality entertainment and calculated dreck since at least the popularization of television in the 1950s: for every Beatles, there was a Mickey Mouse Club. Punk did its thing in the 70s because “dinosaur” rock, with its ten-minute keyboard solos, had sucked all of the fun out of pop music. And without Paula Abdul and New Kids on the Block to rail against, Nirvana wouldn’t have been Nirvana.
These days though, it seems to me like the artist’s talents are held as secondary, at best, to the amount of inane publicity that can be drummed up around said artist. Look at Britney Spears, who fell into a bucket of crazy for two solid years; two years in which she made no music or movies, but garnered just as much (if not more) media attention for her increasingly weird/disconcerting behavior.
Which leads me to think about one time in my personal pop-culture awareness in which artists used their powers for good instead of evil (if “evil” is too strong a word for your taste, think “inanity”). I think about Pearl Jam, who used popular interest in their breakthrough single, “Jeremy,” to steer cultural awareness toward the harsh reality of what goes on in idyllic American suburbs, and how what many people would consider “teasing” can go awry and send a kid over the edge. The song itself features all of the elements of classic Pearl Jam: flashy bass, muddy guitars and Eddie Vedder’s patented stomping-on-a-dog yell (for effect, listen to the song around the four-minute mark, and imagine that Vedder’s “hoo-hoo” vamp is the product of the singer stomping repeatedly on a wounded dog). It is deadly serious in content and delivery, and the accompanying video – the only fully conceptualized video of Pearl Jam’s “classic” era – is a dark, dark near-six-minute excursion into one kid’s decent into desperation and madness, complete with off-putting shots of his classmates frozen in different positions, low-lit shots of the band, and close-ups of Vedder looking alternately livid, scared and strangely jolly. A more cynical writer than myself would say that the latter is Vedder’s internal adding machine, working out how much money he’s gonna take home; but, truth be told, even Vedder’s “joy” looks painful.
More on Pearl Jam | “Jeremy”