Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pataphysical Introduction, Pt. 1

The Rockaliser blog now officially has two contributors, and I am the second of what could very well be three or four. My name is Nathan S., and like my colleague here I grew up in Ames, IA, and I tend to like music a lot. Before getting back into the music-blogging game, I thought I'd create something in the way of an introduction. I have undergone numerous blogging efforts of little note, including a recently wrapped series that reviewed DC's weekly comic series Wednesday Comics.

So yes, like Mendy I grew up in college-town Iowa, the son of an Iowa State professor, with all the privileges and problems that come with the territory. I got into Zeppelin and the Doors when I was in 7th grade; I got into the Velvet Underground and the Stooges when I was in 9th grade. Everything flowed organically after that, from the Pixies onward. I was not shy about my musical opinions at this time, and I took particularly pleasure in demolishing easy targets like U2, Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead in my own writings (I have since come around on the latter two). During this time, I went to Cornell College, graduated, and decided to move to Washington D.C. Right now I live in Rockville, MD, because I needed to establish my R.E.M. bona fides. I just recently got a job at a communications firm, which will cut into my music-listening time but at least I'm no longer unemployed.

Describing my taste would be difficult, but I'll try. I suppose my predilections if anything tend to gravitate toward "indie rock," but my general distaste with the term, and particularly with how it is too often associated with Garden State-variety tweeness, keeps me from generally stating such things in public setting. I have an abiding love for late 70s punk (American, British, Australian), and then for the kind of stuff Azerrad talks about in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Plus the Pixies and R.E.M. Then Nirvana, and Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees thereof. Backtrack and include stuff like the New York Dolls and the Modern Lovers. And of course I reject the label of "rockist," just as I often reject the top 40-apologists who tend to bandy that word about (Frere-Jones, I'm coming for you). I listen to plenty of hip-hop, when it suits me, but I do not choose to engage in tokenism.

Expect a lot of amateur(ish) musicology in my posts, with a lot of attention paid to individual band members and theories of group dynamics, plus a lot of conjecture about whether said musicians are probably horrible, unpleasant people. Also, expect a lot of talk about guitar solos. I can't explain why, but many of my favorite albums can be described as dark, soul-searching, focused on heartbreak and misery, plus brilliant guitar work. Albums that fall into this category include Nick Drake's Bryter Layter, Johnny Thunders' So Alone, and Blur's 13. There are a few others that I will get to later.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Only A Broken Mind Can Understand...

I was delighted to see that Fucked Up nabbed the 2009 Polaris Music Prize. Though I haven't heard any of the other albums on the shortlist, I have little doubt that FU's 2008 opus The Chemistry Of Common Life was vastly better than the competition. Shit, it's better than almost anything else out there.

Hopefully they'll use the 20,000 Canadian Dollars (a pathetic $19,000 US) to add additional guitar overdubs to "Year Of The Ox."

I've been considering a post on Fucked Up for while, but I haven't been able to get the angle quite right. I've poured over Chemistry, which I would retroactively call at least the third best album of 2008, attended a concert, and listened to the band's recent singles, but something about the group--who are not purveyors of subtlety--evades me.

Nevertheless, I can't shake the feeling that Fucked Up are important. What they do isn't particularly radical--a fusion of hardcore punk with layers of massive guitar overdubs.* Mixing genres itself is hardly news, and in the 21st century it's practically de rigueur. But Fucked Up's sound has the benefit of being singular. There's an earnestness to their music, and sense that they're exploring new territory. And their hybrid genre sounds enormous, big enough to cast shadows.

What excites me about Fucked Up has to do, in large measure, with how organic their innovation seems. Much has been made of The xx lately, and I enjoy their debut album. Their sound, however, comes as something of a graft: R&B beatmaking attached to slow, sultry guitars and hushed vocals.** On Chemistry, FU's graft goes unnoticed; the swirling guitars are a part of the propulsive whole, just as Husker Du's infusion of melody into hardcore sounded completely natural. Like Husker Du, Fucked Up have added to the vocabulary of punk, and it's an influence future bands will have to contend with.

Fucked Up's publicist never responded to my request for an inteview with FU guitarist and sonic mastermind 10,000 Marbles, so I'll cut off my praise here.

*Nathan noted that Chemistry's overdubs are more reminiscent of The Smashing Pumpkins than My Bloody Valentine. 2009's "Year Of The Rat" single sees the band moving toward the enveloping textures of Kevin Shields' guitar work.

**The novelty of this sound has been overplayed--take another listen to Low's
Drums And Guns or Beach Houses's Devotion.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Electric Arguments

It's hard not to get excited about the Beatles reissues, even if much of the attendant press has been atrocious.* By almost every account, the remasters sound brilliant, and I'm dying to hear them, if a few dollars short of the $300 price tag on the Mono Box.

The project has been an interesting look at what remains canon for the Beatles. The news isn't big--the UK versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver remain definitive, the LP-length US Magical Mystery Tour gets the nod, that Christmas compilation is ignored (but unlockable in Beatles: Rock Band), Anthology versions are absent--but I was sad to see that the Red and Blue albums weren't remastered. As a refresher: the Red and Blue albums, officially known as 1962-1966 and 1967-1970, were a pair of 2 LP best-of's released in 1973. They ran through the Beatles music in more or less the order that a pop-conscious listener would have heard the songs.

They have their shortcomings, sure: Pre-Rubber Soul material gets the short shift; the White Album gets three songs (10% of the album) to Rubber Soul's six (43%), while Revolver is represented only by "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine" (14%); the sequencing is chronological, except when it's not; and of course you could argue with the song selection. Personally, I'm astounded McCartney allowed the string-laden "Long And Winding Road"--which he detests--to close the Blue album. Why not close things out with "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)", the last Beatles song released at that point, a track the band had worked on for years, and a tune that showcases the Beatles influences and goofy brilliance? Alas, the Red and Blue albums don't challenge listeners with obscure cuts.

But the Red and Blue LPs represent just about the best way to listen to the Beatles. These days, you could easily assemble a playlist of your favorite Beatles tracks, but I challenge you to come up with a collection of tunes that coheres and flows as beautifully as either of these:
Red album, side two: "A Hard Day's Night," "And I Love Her," "Eight Days A Week," "I Feel Fine," "Ticket To Ride," "Yesterday."

Blue album, side two: "I Am The Walrus," "Hello Goodbye," "The Fool On The Hill," "Magical Mystery Tour," "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude," "Revolution."
I still listen to those songs, in that order, when I need a pick me up. I don't think I'll stop any time soon.

In other news, it looks like Rutles fans will be waiting a while longer for the Mononucleosis Box Set.

*The awfulness of the Times' Rock Band piece, authored by black hole of insight and video game critic Seth Schiesel, and the Star Tribune's review of the remasters, written by some guy called Chris Riemenschneider who managed to land a gig at the once-respected newspaper, is so apparent I need only link to them. The latter is particularly hilarious, and inspiration for a feature on this blog I may or may not follow through with. It'd be called "Review Of Reviews," in debt to a brilliantly-titled journal of the 1890s, and would be exactly what it claimed to be.