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Wednesday, April 30, 2008
GIMME INDIE ROCK
Homestead 7" : 1991
Available on: III (Reissue)
Domino : 2006
A few years ago, I spent a few weeks fact-checking at a magazine called Elle Girl. One thing I remember about those weeks is being asked to check an album review which began, more or less, as follows: "How in the world did an indie band like Dead Boy Confessional manage to end up on two soundtracks, a Doritos ad, and Hot 97, all before they'd released their first album?"
I went to the editor and said, "Well, they managed it because they're signed to Atlantic, and have the full resources of our media-industrial complex behind them." And the editor said, "no, no - indie doesn't mean independent. Indie's an aesthetic, and Dead Boy Confessional are the indiest band around."
That Friday, I asked the undergrads in my Writing About American Music class about it; as I recall, they agreed with the Elle Girl editor, unanimously.
LOVE TO THE THIRD POWER
Slaves to Rock'n'Roll
Self-released (cass.) : 1985
Available on: Length of Growth 1981-1989
Old 3C : 2000
[Out of Print]
LOVE TO THE THIRD POWER
Live at the Electric Banana, Pittsburgh 5.22.85
Old 3C : 2005
The other night, my friend Franklin and I schlepped out to Maxwell's, in Hoboken, to see two old, reunited indie bands - Great Plains and Big Dipper. Both bands had appeared on Homestead's Wailing Ultimate compilation (which had also served as a lot of people's introduction to Dinosaur Jr., Death of Samantha, Salem 66, Volcano Suns, Squirrel Bait, Naked Raygun, and Big Black). Great Plains was a Columbus band, led by the irrepressible Ron House (who went on to front Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments). Big Dipper, a Boston band which included Bill Goffrier (who'd fronted the great Lawrence, KS band, the Embarrassment), and the former bassist and guitarist from an early incarnation of the Volcano Suns (a band fronted by Mission of Burma's drummer, Peter Prescott). There were many other connections: Before it was an aesthetic, "indie" was something close to an ideology - small, geographically centered, and no more or less incestuous than, say, the N+1 crowd. Big Dipper had recorded an epic song called "Ron Klaus Wrecked His House" -
He had a party- and Franklin, who is also a musician (as well as a music writer, and erstwhile philosophy professor) - whom I'd met when I interviewed him for my fanzine, almost twenty years ago - used to cover Great Plains songs with his old band, Nothing Painted Blue:
He had a band
And a thousand loving friends
He had his reasons
Or so he thought
This should be where the story ends:
Wrecked his house
Down on Indiana Street
He wrecked his house
Now it's lying at his feet
He threw the doors
Out of the windows
And the windows out the doors
He brought the outside
Into the inside
And the ceiling to the floor...
LOVE TO THE THIRD POWER
Nothing Painted Blue
2 song 7" : 1994
Available on: Emotional Discipline
Scat : 1997
Maxwell's is a tiny club; you're never more than a few feet from the musicians, and that night, everyone in sight seemed to be a musician: One band finished playing, and the folks who'd been standing beside you climbed onstage. (Climbing on stage isn't a big deal at Maxwell's, where the stage is about six inches from the ground.) Yo La Tego's Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley stood towards the back (YLT's history with Maxwell's goes back 25 years or so); their bassist, James McNew, played a short opening set. (YLT, too, has covered Great Plains songs.) Another friend of Franklin's had flown in from Portland for the occasion, and was thinking of flying in again, in July, to see the Feelies. I'm 35, and it's not often that I get to be the youngest guy at the show, but with a few exceptions, I was the youngest guy at the show - which felt, more or less, like the nicest, noisiest, smallest high-school reunion you could ever imagine. Ron House sang "Letter to a Fanzine" - the song included on that old Homestead comp. - which might have served as something of a generational cri de cour, twenty-some years ago, if more than a few thousand people had heard it (if memory serves, the lyrics were cribbed from an actual letter to a fanzine):
I I like everything that comes out on 4AD -LETTER TO A FANZINE
You like everything that comes out on SST -
You like almost everything that comes out on Homestead -
I like everything I get in the mail for free!
Naked at the Buy, Sell, and Trade
Homestead : 1986
Available on: Length of Growth 1981-1989
Old 3C : 2000
[Out of Print]
LETTER TO A FANZINE
Live at the Electric Banana, Pittsburgh 5.22.85
Old 3C : 2005
- and Bill Goffrier sang "Ron Klaus Wrecked His House" with Ron House standing five feet away, in cargo shorts and a pullover:
RON KLAUS WRECKED HIS HOUSE
Homestead : 1988
Available on: Supercluster : The Big Dipper Anthology
Merge : 2008
RON KLAUS DEMO'D HIS HOUSE
Unreleased Demo (w/drum machine!) c. 1988
Available on: Supercluster : The Big Dipper Anthology
Merge : 2008
Big Dipper broke up in 1991 or so, after releasing a mediocre, major-label album which resulted in a total loss of indie cred whilst failing, utterly, to penetrate the mainstream (a common enough, pre-Nirvana predicament). Great Plains hadn't even tried to break through to the mainstream - once, they'd pressed a single which never went on sale at all. (You had to write Ron House a letter in order to get it; if he liked it, he'd send you a copy for free.) "How many bands can you name that are consistently unafraid of allowing their songwriting reach to exceed their musicianly grasp," Franklin wrote, in his liner notes to a Great Plains compilation which was released eight years ago (and is currently selling for ninety-nine bucks per used copy, on Amazon). "As they put it in 'Before We Stop To Think' - 'We would write our songs slow, then try to speed them up/We would write our songs soft, then try to make them tough.' This is a pretty fair description of four-fifths of the music that's made the last two decades worth living through, and a better introduction to Great Plains' honest ambivalence about themselves (and the whole punk-rock making enterprise) than anything I could say."
This seems right to me, and I don't see the profit in following it up with a thousand words about indie then, indie now, semantic drift, and my own sense of what we may or may not have lost along the way.
YOU'RE NOT PATSY
The Waiting Ultimate
Homestead : 1987
Available on: Supercluster : The Big Dipper Anthology
Merge : 2008
Instead, I sent a draft of this post to a handful of friends, and asked them to provide their own definitions of "indie," in hopes that it'll encourage further discussion in the comments, or elsewhere. Here are the replies, as of this morning:
As in the new millennium catch-all that is the term "indie rock?" I mean, it's a huge field, but when we're talking a specific, sort of defined sound that syncs with that term alone, I think of (often bland) bands like Tapes'n'Tapes, the National, the Arcade Fire, etc. As far as a shared aesthetic, I'd say it's generally straight-ahead guitar music with a few meticulously considered deviations (recently horn orchestrations and Americana influences) that inhabits that sort of middle space between mainstream rock and the experimental underground. In other words, it's pop music for people who define themselves in opposition to pop music."We're curious as ever to know what you think... In the meanwhile here's one, last song by Big Dipper:
- Andrew Phillips, music editor/writer
The way I see it there are two kinds of genres - genres that represent living subcultures and genres that are purely marketing constructions (examples of the latter might include 'folktronica', 'IDM', 'electronica',... genres that no musician really claimed while the terms were first being bandied about, more as umbrella terms than as descriptors of unified movements, although then next-gen musicians sometimes claim these terms for their own, these media-created terms that described no living movement at their inception can actually birth a subculture that really *is* aligned around them). So those type of genres have two faces or phases that occur at different moments. Whereas genre-terms I regard as more meaningful-- things like punk, hip-hop, indie, genres that describe living subcultures where the terms are propagated by the musicians and THEN picked up by the media, which have lifestyle accoutrements and organic social dimensions etc..,, these also have two faces or phases, but they unfold simultaneously. So "indie" viably means two things: the fundamental one is music that is recorded outside of the major label system (& this category is very confused now b/c so many "indie" labels are structured so much like major labels and/or have commercial ties with them, and b/c unlike in the late 70s/early 80s when arguably American indie rock was born, there wasn't the massive touring and commercial infrastructure for indie rock that exists now, which made the term less shaky and more meaningful, with bands genuinely just finding their own way around the major label system not settling for this institutionalized subcurrent to it that exists now...plus with the current shakiness of the label system, categorizing a band by their label-affiliation is making much less sense than it used to.) & so the other thing that 'indie' means now is mainstream, record industry bands who emerged from this organic indie scene, who appropriated certain very visible musicological strains of it, and who are "indie" in the same way that a mainstream band can be "punk", we can say they are a punk band and while being mainstream violates every tenet of organic punk-movement culture, people will know what we mean. I guess the bottom line you're asking which of these definitions is the "right" one, and I think they're both right... what can I say, I'm a descriptivist at heart."
- Brian Howe, poet/critic
Indie is short for "independent." There are four major labels: EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner. If a label ultimately answers to one of those four companies - if one of those companies has the power to make direct decisions about what the label does, or signs its paychecks--then it has a dependent relationship with that company, and the artists affiliated with it aren't "independent" either. That's a definition, not a value judgement, although it sometimes has value judgements attached to it. And it's a very useful tool for understanding where certain recordings and artists and labels fit into the economic matrix - what resources they have available to them, etc.
"Indie rock" has a generally understood meaning, largely associated with what a bunch of guitar bands on independent labels did in the '80s and '90s. It is, in fact, a subset of rock released on independent labels - an aesthetic that got its name from its economic circumstances. But the reason it got its name that way is that the idea of deliberate financial independence from a few large companies was, and sometimes still is, an important part of the intention and meaning of a lot of "indie rock" artists' work. To claim that a band can be "indie" without being financially independent of the major labels is to pretend that industrial capitalism does not exist.
- Douglas Wolk, author/critic
The way I see it, "indie" is a definable genre, not just a declaration of limits vis-a-vis the market (since, after all, there are tens of thousands of variously rebarbative musical units far less market-friendly than anything that can be labeled "indie"). If punk is descended from the Stooges, indie is descended from the Modern Lovers. Both subgenres come down from '60s garage rock, but indie takes the introspective, romantic, self-conscious, self-doubting road. Indie is usually friendly, catchy, and openhearted enough that it seems as though it should be accessible to all and therefore mass-popular in that old AM-radio way, but in fact it represents a formerly centrist aesthetic that's been pushed out to the fringes by a bunch of large historical forces. Its self-doubt, a crucial element, also tends to limit its appeal, and I'll let you guess what demographic unit feels sufficiently secure to countenance it. When something that sounds indie makes it to the big show, it's usually either because a freak weather pattern broke its way, or else because an indie wrapping coats something slick and shallow. Indie is a lot like the kind of American novelists who are kept in print by the French. Jim Thompson may speak to the soul of the nation, but Americans would generally rather read James Patterson.
- Luc Sante, writer
Wait - I thought the "indie" aesthetic being referred to was actually the "alternative" aesthetic; "alternative" more aptly referring to, say, Nirvana on Geffen, whereas "indie" would have referred to Nirvana on Sub Pop. Or is "alternative" now a sanctioned Billboard category like Country and Western? Anyway, as Tom Frank aptly put it around fifteen years ago in THE BAFFLER, "Alternative to what?"
Indie, anyway, does appear often to be a marketing term (albeit an intrinsically fraudulent one) referring more to a certain flavor of product issued by the majors (whether labels or studios) than to independently produced and released works. As far as the aesthetic it espouses or implicitly promises, it seems generally to be a tepid one, at least by my lights (same with the average "indie" movie).
(I think, incidentally, that the idea may be spreading to publishing as well -- look at Soft Skull's acquisition by Counterpoint. They're really acquiring an attitude, not necessarily just a backlist.)
I have to confess to being somewhat disturbed by your students' unquestioning absorption of the corporate line in this instance, particularly since it's music in which they, especially, have historically had a stake. The carelessness with the language is surely opportunistic for the record companies, but inexcusable in students charged with the task of thinking critically. We're in Orwell territory here; If "indie" doesn't actually mean it, then "organic" doesn't have to either, and we can all easily extrapolate from there.
- Christopher Sorrentino, novelist
My heart wants to side with the indie-economic-model hardliners but my head says that, semantically, that fight is lost: "Indie" has been redrawn by common usage just as "alternative" was before it - the most common musical strains in an oppositional subculture crossed out of that subculture, and the label crossed with them. "Indie" now connotes such a hodgepodge of economic, social and aesthetic associations that it is irrelevant. We can be rueful about that over beers, but that's about all.
So everyone please abandon ship on the word "indie" just as happened with "alternative." The principle of autonomy doesn't have to go with it.
Then again, considering that the four major labels are at the moment losing their hegemonic power like oil tankers spilling crude into the sea, maybe that's not currently the most compelling battle. If your main paycheck is coming from your songs being sold to commercials and TV shows, but you're on a non-major record label, are you still meaningfully economically independent from large entertainment
conglomerates? And as critical as we want to be of popular-culture economics, the indie/alternative subcultures have had their share of pathologies and snobberies that might warrant as much a "good riddance" as a sentimental tear.
The bigger question is whether the autonomy of the "indie" movement from mass entertainment was in fact as sociopolitically progressive and artistically liberating (not the same thing) as people attached to it believed in the 80s/90s - the populist question. And even if it was, as the major labels flounder to redefine themselves, what does true independence in the age of digital reproduction look like? What might "selling out" be?
Maybe the expiration date of the word "indie" provides a good, temporarily unlabelled moment to look at things anew.
- Carl Wilson, author/critic
Apologies for being obvious, but Indie used to mean 'not on a major label' - and the DIY attitude that that implied - and that was the only time we all knew precisely what it meant. When the major labels sniffed money, and bought the bands, it couldn't mean precisely that anymore - perhaps the word should have been more strictly applied at this time: "you were Indie yesterday, but since you signed that contract, you're now Modern Rock" - so it came to refer to the type of music which embodied that spirit, or was at least influenced by it, whatever the profile of the label.
"...with the current shakiness of the label system, categorizing a band by their label-affiliation is making much less sense than it used to."
Hits the nail on the head, and true for a long time.
And now Indie, or Alternative, is a "branding tool" that annoys. But those who still use the word in conversations (rather than marketing meetings) are generally understood to refer to music made regardless of the mainstream, for the love of doing it, regardless of technical perfection, profit etc.... or any combination of the above. I can't speak for those who use it in marketing meetings, but I assume they refer to that, but also to another meaning, which as with all sales terms is a slippery catch-all concept, comprising everything from "people with goatees and tattoos who are, to our delight, happy to make money" via "The spirit of the Kids and their Nike revolution" and "What's New" to "That music I may or may not like that will make me money".
One is a devil-may-care philosophy, the other its commodification - sorry: I can't think of a less Cultural Studies word right now! (Commoditization may be more up to date in Business School.)
Maybe Alternative Music nowadays is like Alternative Medicine?
- Wesley Stace/John Wesley Harding, author/musician
The first entry cited in the OED comes from a 1928 edition of the NY Times: "Indies, independent producers of pictures." More to the point however is a 1945 Billboard heading: "Indie diskers new collection ache for publishers royalty." What's relevant is the association of the term with vendors rather than with artists themselves. Additionally, there is the English idiomatic use which refers to scruffy but apolitical music as far back as Happy Mondays and Stone Roses. The term is now used internationally in this manner to class music as a broad commercial category. I think the term is helpful in the U.S. for drawing a line between groups who are oppositional (punk, free jazz) and groups who are totally cool with making it (indie). It's worth mentioning, however, that "indie rap" still seems to describe a fairly cohesive venue for intelligent, countercultural music (J Live, The Coup). But I think the elliptical return of the early citations is relevant: film and music, in a standard bid for commercial synergy, converge somewhere around the end credits of most romanticized youth dramas (Garden State's anointment of The Shins being only the most obvious example). As it stands now, indie means operational freedom from social consciousness; it's about as atomized and self-interested as the Victorian Novel. Actually, we can go slightly further by noting the current coincidence between Jane Austen films (affirming the virtues of marriage and estate ownership) and the commercial fiefdom of indie (affirming the virtues of Urban Outfitters and Apple). Both, I think, offer the consumer a provisional show of "hardship" (or authenticity) before moving on to an easy retirement.
-Blake Schwarzenbach, musician/professor
my "alternative" OED, different than the usual overground edition cites "in-die" as opposed to "out-die" ie to die on the inside generally defined as selling fewer records than everyone believes you should have and/or having driven a seemingly popular or commercially viable style or approach into mercantile disrepute versus "out-die" to die on the outside to sell more records than is seemly or good for the state of your carbon footprint and/or soul in the larger sense of such things hence the paradigmatic in-die band would likely be big star -- taking beatle-esque pop hooks, attractive hair, hetero love motifs and settling into underperforming "cult" inner-death (i.e. no one else really cares) status while paradigmatic "out-die" band is certainly the rolling stones -- who dragged oppressively morbid delta blue fetishivism and drug-death-spiral somehow through four decades and counting of overdog arena-selling "outer-death" (i.e. we're all appalled to have to witness their dollar-soaked decrepitude)
a simple measure of the difference is often the function of a cover song -- out-dying cindy lauper propelling in-dying jules shear number onto the charts vs. in-dying galaxie 500 or yo la tengo burying out-dying kinks or george harrison tunes in the "in-die pantheon"
one of the paradoxical cases is the velvet underground, long understood as the "ur-in-die" band but they were actually out-die -- leveraging john cage dissonance, cellos, homosex motifs and bad singing into some shred of popularity and lasting fame -- yet the innumerable bands adopting them as a model have achieved treasured "in-die" status (i.e. gloriously no one cares)
(meltzer would have taken this and run for fifty pages, whereas I have to get to work)
-Jonathan Lethem, novelist
A SONG TO BE BEAUTIFUL
Homestead : 1988
Available on: Supercluster : The Big Dipper Anthology
Merge : 2008
Labels: alex, indie
posted by Alex
Thursday, February 28, 2008
YOU WON'T SEE ME
Capitol : 1965
OFF THE HOOK
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones Now!
Decca : 1964
TELL HIM I'M NOT HOME
I Don't Want to Cry
Wand : 1965
Available on The Very Best of Chuck Jackson 1961-1967
Varese : 1997
BIGGEST FOOL IN TOWN
Stax : 1965
Available on: The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968
Atlantic : 1991
YOUR PHONE'S OFF THE HOOK, BUT YOU'RE NOT
Slash : 1980
HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE
Available on: D.i.Y. Come Out & Play : American Power Pop 1975-1978
Rhino : 1993
Let It Be
Twin-Tone : 1984
I hate the telephone. It's fine for taking care of business or making contact in a more personal mode than e-mail. I doubt that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he had any idea the type of misery it could create in personal matters. The telephone is an idiotic and torturous enemy to the lonely or obsessive. These songs all predate cell phones, e-mail and text messaging, which further complicate matters. I don't even have a land line anymore - just a cell phone. I'm always there, whether I want to be or not. Presence can be painful when you want to be absent, and even worse is absence when you want to be present.
Most of these songs deal with that dynamic in on one form or another. Paul McCartney wrote "You Won't See Me" after having his phone calls ignored by girlfriend Jane Asher. Her line is always "engaged" - the English really have a way with words. Mick Jagger, too, gets only "an engaged tone." He figures it's off the hook or maybe she's ill or sleeping, until he's heading off into paranoia. Why won't she talk to him? He's Mick Jagger for Chrissake! Even The Beatles and Stones are getting dissed.
Chuck Jackson's really got it bad. Every time he calls his girlfriend, someone else answers and he hears her in the background saying "Tell him I'm not home." The telephone has turned Gorgeous George into the biggest fool in town, and he's had enough. And from the sound of things, George doesn't seem like someone you'd wanna fuck with.
"You're Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not" is a great title and a great line that I once used on a girlfriend when, after a terrible conversation in my apartment, she said the first part ('cause it was) and without missing a beat, I responded "But you're not!" "What did you say?" "Oh, nothing." Jack Lee from the Nerves is "in the phone booth - it's the one across the hall," but guess what? She won't answer and he's hanging on the telephone. He's gonna let it ring off the wall. He can't control himself. It's a common reaction to being ignored.
Finally, Paul Westerberg takes us to the eighties version of no reply: the answering machine. Remember those? No call waiting. No voicemail. A machine and a tape. "How do say goodnight to an answering machine" he asks.
How do you say I love you to an answering Machine?
-by Ted Barron
Labels: indie, power-pop, rock, soul, ted barron
posted by James
Thursday, January 24, 2008
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Sony : 2007
West of Rome
Texas Hotel : 1992
Copper : 1997
FLORIDA'S ON FIRE
Here's to Shutting Up
Merge : 2001
LAND OF SUNSHINE
Faith No More
Reprise : 1992
TROPICAL HOT DOG NIGHT
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
EMI : 1978
On Monday, Alex posted all about Alaska. That was the name of one of the alphabet books I used as a kid, "All About Alaska." It started like this: "Abundant Bear and Caribou; Deer Everywhere and Fishing, Too." I was highly suggestible, and so I imagined deer everywhere, showering in locker rooms, reaching their hooves into salad bars. I grew up in Miami. What did I know?
Florida has been in the news lately. I'm not sure why. Something about a primary? I plan to vote Democratic, but I watched the Republican debate in Boca Raton last night, because it's my home state, and my country. Probably because I disagree with most of what the candidates said, I found it more interesting than the Democratic debate. The current of hatred running between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney was almost visible. Rudy Giuliani wore his underdog status like underwear two sizes too small. John McCain addressed global warming forthrightly and tried to emphasize his conservative bona fides. Romney seemed to control the first half of the debate and McCain the second half, which didn't look like it would shake up the Florida polls much. Ron Paul was there, which I didn't know until the end.
My wife and I let my two sons stay up and watch part of it, and I explained that the primary was closed, and that it was winner-take-all for delegates, and that it was coming up Tuesday. They are six and three years old, and they listened for a while and then their attentions drifted and they began to remind me about our trip to Miami last month, and especially the parts where they ran around outside and then came inside to hear me tell stories about running around outside--swimming in the pool, climbing on the roof, pulling the tails off of lizards. A little much, maybe, but they wanted details. At night, grandparents watched the kids, and my wife and I drove around--the adult version of running around--and listened to the radio, which isn't the radio anymore, but an iPod run through the cassette player. She's from Miami, too, and some of the music we listened to was from bands that she heard at clubs in the late eighties and early nineties, sometimes knew, sometimes worked with: the Goods, Mary Karlzen, Nuclear Valdez, the Mavericks. I haven't posted any of them, not because they're unworthy, but because I have an obvious mind sometimes. Instead, I decided to post songs about Florida by acts from Washington, Georgia (though Florida-born), Tennessee, and North Carolina, along with a pair of songs by Californian eccentrics that may or may not be about Florida but have plenty of sunshine and flamingos, respectively. This set of songs has a more contemporary bent than much of what I have posted; the debate put me in the mood to pander. Indie Rock the Vote! Thursday's temperature in Miami was 79.
Labels: ben, indie
posted by Ben
Friday, June 15, 2007
YOU'RE ONLY LEAVING HURT
There My Dear
Warner Music New Zealand : 2006
SUN OF GOD
The Far Now
Merge : 2007
I don't listen to too much Weepy White Guy music these days. For one - like playing wiffleball or using coupons at McDonalds - it just doesn't seem like something a man should be doing in his 30s. But also, surprisingly, my tolerance to it has become more sensitive with age. When immersed in emo-angsty poignancy of certain tones and frequency, my brain becomes like some simple-celled organism suspended in a biological medium that scientists are running an electric current through: helplessly without control, just a big twitching, embarrassing reflex. (Which reminds me, as I type it, of a mom, a mom of a certain size, a size that pantyhose copywriters might describe as "Queen-Plus," who I saw pushing a cart through the aisle of a low-income mega-mart the other week. She was a really big woman and she had a really big cart, like Ikea-furniture-cart big, and it was entirely filled with soda and nothing but soda, of all hue and literage. I wasn't judging her. If anything I felt a little envy. After all, isn't sugar water the one great redeeming perk of poverty? I felt like a 98 pound donkey, there with my flip-flops and bourgeois protein.)
So I don't listen to much WWG, but when I do, I'm fiercely loyal about it. I was quite sweet on the NZ rock band Straitjacket Fits in the early 90s, and ever since have kept tabs on its former frontman, Shayne Carter. Sometime in the very late 90s, Carter had Sony deliver some sort of studio recording pod to his New Zealand farm, like a plastic Pro Tools yurt, and he shut himself away, alone, for months, and immersed himself monastically in its circuits. As a musical experiment, it was akin to that movie Altered States, except with more purpose and less full-frontal nudity. He emerged with a brand new sound, something that achieved some kind of vivid electro-stupor. That sound became I Believe You Are A Star, the debut album by Carter's band Dimmer. It holds some pretty godlike activities. Especially "Under The Light" [download] and "Smoke" [download]. These songs move like the blood of a man who is 10 years into his career as an MTA night-shift train operator, and 15 years into his heroin addiction.
Dimmer's follow up record, You've Got To Hear The Music, was still had an electronic measure, but with more of a pop feel. It won awards and was okay, in the way Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" won awards and was okay. For their latest, There My Dear, Carter goes way way back to the old Fits formula. Guitar driven, melancholy but muscular. Though the standout is a downbeat one: "You're Only Leaving Hurt." If early Dimmer sounds, as Carter once very coolly described it, like "Sly Stone dying on the mic," then this song might sound like "Elvis drinking alone at the pub." The way Carter gets all up in your brain often reminds me of my WWG idol, Matt Johnson, especially so on an agro-angst track like "Scrapbook." This album was recorded mostly live in the community hall of the Grey Lynn Bowling Club. Only in New Zealand kids, only in New Zealand.
Carter's fellow Kiwi, David Kilgour, also has a new album in release. Kilgour, who led famed NZ rock band The Clean oh so many years ago, seems to have a much sunnier outlook these days than his countrymate. Maybe it comes from not isolating himself in techno pods. You could argue that just living in New Zealand is an isolating act in itself, but I reckon the isolation of open spaces is a different kind of isolation. A kind that empties you out, and makes it really difficult for you to continue stashing your introversions like soda in a cart.
Labels: indie, James, NZ
posted by James
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The Complete Smash Sessions
Polygram : 1992
Our friends at Minnesota Public Radio are putting together a segment on campaign songs, so MW & MPR are forming like organized crime to pose the au courant musical question: What campaign songs should America's most enterprising and indefatigable candidates adopt?
Toots & The Maytals
Berverly's : 1970
?UTAH MORMON BLUES
Available on: Jazzin' the Blues vol. 4 : 1929-1943
Document : 2000
?Readers of Moistworks - good news. We're opening the floor up to you! What do you think? We mean, really? We're interested. And, for once, we're talking big news: Obama, and McCain. Romney, Clinton, Edwards, and Hero Mayor Rudy G. - Important stuff!
OMG WTF LOL, right? But for serious - you're our BFF! So let us know, in the comments below. Ground rules?
Surprise Us:TAKE ON ME [DEMO]
& Make Us Love You:NOBODY
Larry Williams and Johnny Watson with the Kaleidoscope
Okeh : 1967
Courtesy of [the newish & wonderful audioblog]: Office Naps
Tell The Truth, But Eschew The Obvious -RUN ON FOR A LONG TIME
Bill Landford & The Landfordaires
Columbia : 1949
Available on: There Will Be No Sweeter Sound : The Columbia/OKeh Post War Gospel Story 1947-1962
Legacy : 1998
& Off Point:BRENDA AND EDDIE
Live : somewhere
& Omit Those Words That You Find To Be Needless:ONCE
Darla Records : 1990
Bonus points for riffing off something whichever candidate you're on about said, or did, within the past few news cycles - we paying enough attention to you to know you're paying attention to that sort of thing so: we'll post the best songs next week, and who knows - you might even end up famous here or on the radio! Either way, any idiot with with a suitcase nuke can tell you that the fate of this free world we're building rests squarely and securely on your shoulders.
NB: Speaking of same, Moistworks' Astoria Bureau would like to take this opportunity to endorse Mitt Romney - who believe you us, the last thing we want is to see our friends and readers committing Sodomites and catching Gommorrhea
Labels: alex, country, gospel music, indie, pop, radio, reggae, soul
posted by Alex
Thursday, May 10, 2007
HEY KARI G.
[Out of Print]
SHE SENDS KISSES
Absolutely Kosher: 2003
A FUNKY SPACE REINCARNATION
Here, My Dear
Tamla Motown: 1978
AH FRAID PUSSY BITE ME
Comi-Kal Cat Fight
Mighty Sparrow: 2001
Once, years ago, in a short story in my first book, "Superbad," a bird sang. It was a small bird, and the song it sang was small, too, though the consequences of singing were enormous. "The bird flew through a gap in the wire, minding its own business, singing - it was actually singing, a happy little song about the spring - and she plugged it at two hundred yards." Pow. Bye, bye, birdie. When I finished the story, I sent it to a friend who was also a writer for his comments. I received one comment, which was that birds didn't sing when they flew. He told me that it was a well-known fact, with a tone that was infuriating but somehow replenished my affection for him. He had enough certainty to send me to the encyclopedia, where I discovered that he was wrong. Many birds, including skylarks and pipits, sing while they're flying. In attempting to differentiate between the British Chimney Swallow and the American Barn Swallow, John James Audubon wrote in Birds of America that "both sing on the wing and when alighted, and the common tweet which they utter when flying off is precisely the same in both." They sing on the wing. That's a song in itself.
"Hey Kari G" is a song in itself, also. The song was written by the Minneapolis power-pop great Dan Sarka, who recorded it first in 1990 with a group called the Sparrows. The Sparrows only released two singles, as far as I know, and Sarka resurfaced a few years later with a band called the Vandalias, who were best-known for existing in both human and cartoon form. Conceptually, they were located somewhere between the Josie and the Pussycats and the Gorillaz; aesthetically, they were closer to Cheap Trick and the Raspberries; somewhere along the way, they rerecorded "Hey Kari G." Eventually The Vandalias folded, like most bands, and Sarka went on form to a band called Stingray Green that released one strong album, "Hard Numbers," before also folding. I read about the demise of Stingray Green just this past week online-the band's farewell concert was May 4-and that sent me back to the Sparrows' version of "Hey Kari G." It's everything it needs to be, both plangent and poignant. The guy in the song-the guy singing the song-hopes against hope that his small, strong voice will reach the girl and turn her toward him once again. It's a document of innocence and hope and sad defiance; he has an idea but no might, and so he cannot bring his idea into the world. I doubt that the girl turned.
The girl also doesn't turn in "She Sends Kisses." The record does, though:
Ten tons against me and you've goneThis is a song about human song, of course, not birdsong. The French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen was obsessed with birdsong. He recorded and notated the songs of birds his entire life, and often integrated birdsong into his music, most notably in his the orchestral work Reveil des Oiseaux, from 1953. Mike Patton, the lead singer of Tomahawk (and, before that, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) is among the most birdlike of singers, in that he often uses sounds instead of words. Recent research has shown that there is a strong link between birdsong and memory. Birds have unique songs, but they don't simply remember them. They dream of them. While they sleep, they learn what they want, and what they want from their songs and their lives. They may, upon waking, be reminded of what they do not have. The consequences of singing are enormous. Pow. Bye, bye, birdie.
I put your favorite records on
and sit around
it spins around
and you're around again.
There is a desperately beautiful song named "Sparrow" on Marvin Gaye's album Here My Dear, from 1978, which chronicles Gaye's divorce from his first wife and his blossoming love for his second wife. In the song, Marvin explains that he "used to hear a sparrow singing," but that "one day as [he] went along [he] didn't hear his song." This silence doesn't sit well with him, and what starts as a polite request to the sparrow to resume singing becomes a down-on-my-knees-please entreaty. "Sing before you go," he sings. "Sing to me, Marvin Gaye, before you fly away." "Sparrow" ends with a semi-attached bit of poetry, calligraphed in layered, lighter-than-air vocals: "I remember a bird." What kind of bird he remembers is clear from another song, "A Funky Space Reincarnation," that is more relevant here: first, because it's an unhinged, lickerish meditation on flight in which Marvin takes a girl out into the solar system for some interplanetary screwing, and second because it includes a lovely come-on in which he calls his new bride, "Little Miss Birdsong." Anna, Marvin's first wife, was seventeen years his senior and Berry Gordy's sister. Jan, his second wife, was seventeen years his junior and Slim Gaillard's daughter. Jan turned. Marvin turned, too, or had his head turned. He may not have understood why, but Mighty Sparrow did.
. . . . . . . . . .
Ben Greenman is the author of several books of fiction, including Superbad, Superworse, and the new A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both: Stories About Human Love. He is an editor at the New Yorker and lives in Brooklyn.
Labels: ben, calypso, indie, power-pop, soul
posted by Alex
Monday, April 23, 2007
Vivid Sound : 1969
One of the things I do when I'm not doing Moistworks: an MP3 Boombox is, I teach writing at The New School: a University. And one of the first things I did to prepare for that job was buy a pair of glasses. Moistworks own Joanna Yas tagged along, to make sure I picked appropriately professorial frames: Glasses with heft, and gravitas. The sort of thing Henry Kissinger might wear around the house.
She did a good job.
But glasses were a pain in my ass. Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm a hyper-athletic guy: In high school I jumped from great heights, into bodies of water below. Later in life, I drove very fast in Germany. And so, I heaped athletic scorn on the glasses Joanna helped me buy. Like man in his natural state, I would be unencumbered - glorious - with fierce aspects to my mien and countenance. Not Clark Kent, but Superman! I'd wear contacts, and sing:
I am! I am Superman!
And I know what's happening!
Sue : 1960
Available on: Itchy Twitchy Feeling
Lately, I've been seeing a psychiatrist. I want to understand the inner workings of me. What does it mean to be me? What are the things that amount to me, and what do I amount to? Like the rest of you, I suffer sometimes. But why must I suffer so?
ROUND 1: I AM THE GREATEST
I Am The Greatest!
Columbia : 1963
And it turns out that my suffering is caused by a condition "characterized by extreme focus on oneself - a maladaptive, rigid, and persistent condition that may cause significant distress and functional impairment." My psychiatrist Dr. Fehr calls it "the writer's disease."
ROUND 2: I AM THE DOUBLE GREATEST
I Am The Greatest!
Columbia : 1963
According to Dr. Fehr, I "present a large, powerful, grandiose self to be admired, envied and appreciated," which he defines as the very "antithesis of the weakened and internalised self that hides in a generic state of shame, in order to fend off devaluation." Insofar as diagnoses go, this strikes me as a brave and manly one; I'm proud to call it mine own. But, sadly, there's no cure for the condition itself. Nothing to do but suffer it so.
Run to Ruin
Touch & Go : 2003
Like many of you, I have a very tall, very beautiful friend named Kathryn. (I tried to kiss my Kathryn once, but she's so very tall I couldn't reach her lips at all!) My Kathryn turned me on to Nina Nastasia, who judging by this song knows a bit about the symptoms I've described above. It's a wonderful song, and because I've spent a lot of time listening to and learning how to play it on the cello (one of the many instruments I've taken time away from swimming in the shark-infested waters off the coast of Djibouti to master), I can tell you a few things about it: This song uses an artfully constructed musical peu de chose to potently describe some of the ways in which a cluster-B personality disorder causes people to seal themselves off from others, isolate themselves from the world, despair, and finally die. About how there is no hope, or light, and about how all that we are is dust in the wind.
"Look at me!" the singer sings. "I am a mess!"
But then she sings, "I know, I know, I know what you said." And then she sings, "Look at me!" again, and then: "I am a superstar!" whilst a cello, or something cello-like, illustrates the point in precise musical terms. It is, to me, a chose etonnante - both la derniere chose and une chose en amene une autre - which brings us to the very end of language, and also this post.
Labels: alex, curios, indie, rock and roll
posted by Alex
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
RCA : 1988
HEY HEY HELEN
4 A.D.: 1989
My Bloody Valentine
EVERYDAY IS LIKE SUNDAY
Warner : 1988
Enigma : 1988
I moved recently, and this past weekend started unpacking my music. A friend came over in the middle of the mess-making and demanded "Everyday Is Like Sunday." Which, he somehow knew, I would only have on tape. I started tearing apart boxes, desperate to find Viva Hate, but instead unearthed my semi-precious collection of mix tapes. Each one with it's own clever collage cover (typically cut out from Interview, Sassy, and flyers for all-ages shows); serial killer-like titles made up of cut-out letters; and personal messages I can no longer remember the meaning of.
The oldest I could find is from 1988 (and, as luck would have it, features the Morrissey song in the middle of side B). The blurry blue-and-white snow-like pattern on the front and the brown cardboard-colored inside are distinctly reminiscent of a late-eighties Esprit ad. The tape itself says (in pencil; when was the last time you used a pencil?) "Jo's Tape (pretty mellow stuff) 11/88." The real coup would be to find those old mixes I made by holding my tape recorder next to the radio, which date, much, much earlier, as do the fake radio shows my brother and I would record, one of which bore the following call letters and tagline: "WJYJ, WJYJ, the station that repeats itself."
For now, I give you selections from this mix that are actually from 1988 (except the Abba cover "Hey, Hey Helen," but I couldn't help it). In my bedroom in Framingham, Massachusetts, it was the year REM signed to Warner, regular kids started knowing who Siouxsie was, Mike Boddicker joined the Red Sox (minor interest in baseball, major crush on him), Surfer Rosa came out, and my big brother left me alone with my parents by going off to college. Though on the day I made this mix, I was probably much more focused on the person for whom it was intended. Sadly, it's clear that I never gave it to him.
Labels: indie, joanna, pop
posted by Joanna
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
AND I WON'T CAUSE ANYTHING AT ALL
Sub Pop : 2007
COLLECTION OF STAMPS
I'm From Barcelona
Let Me Introduce My Friends
EMI Int'l : 2006
Facts and Figures
Labrador : 2006
Peter Bjorn and John
Witchita : 2006
Would You Let Me Play this EP Ten Times a Day?
Razzia : 2006
In the end, I think people end up busting Brian's balls because his writing can be, well, precious. - "Avery"
And then she asked for a job. She's got me dead to rights though. Whenever people ask me about my influences, I'm like, Hummel figurines, baby photos, certain gems, cute kitten calendars. "Hang In There Baby!" It's probably my preciousness that causes my enduring affection for the recent bumper crop of Swedish indie pop, which is uniformly whimsical and fey (the Knife, while incredible, is obviously excluded from this taxonomy), that has flooded the States over the past couple of years. We could start by talking about Abba, but on his deathbed, my esteemed mentor in preciousness (a certain gray eminance called Chauncy Wigglesbottom), clutching my ruffled sleeve with a daintily manicured hand, said to me, "Brian, never write about Abba!" And I gave him my oath. We could talk about Camera Obscura, but they aren't really Swede-poppers due to the minor technicality of being Scottish. We could talk about Jens Lekman or Pelle Carlberg, but their mannered affectations leave me a little cold. We could also start with Acid House Kings or the Cardigans, who laid a lot of the groundwork for this new wave of Swede pop - actually, we could definitely talk about AHK's frankly terrifying cover photo
(notice how the eyes just follow you. Do they have Olan Mills in Sweden? Is it haunted?) but we've only got so much bandwidth here and I'd rather share the newer stuff with you.
The Concretes' Victoria Bergsman makes a terrific cameo in Peter Bjorn and John's conversation song "Young Folks", which is pretty perfect comfort pop - the whistled melody tattoos itself on your brain immediately, and the song does a great job of capturing the bubble-like quality of burgeoning romance (it makes me think of getting-to-know-you montages in movies: Throwing a medicine ball, chasing pigeons in the park, eating ice cream in front of a boardwalk arcade...). There's a really adorable video for "Young Folks" here
, sort of like Linklater without the drugs and paranoia.
In my Pitchfork review of Loney, Dear's Sub Pop debut
, I speculated that Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch collaboratively authored Sweden's English curriculum, explaining why so many Swedes get starry eyed when they sing in English. As one savvy reader pointed out, this isn't actually true - the jig is up, and I salute this reader's fine-tuned bullshit detector. At any rate, Loney Dear is an utterly likeable musician with a voice that seems to be composed of some sort of chilled liquid, and his record is my current go-to record for frazzled moments.
I wonder if this same reader wrote to I'm From Barcelona to inform them that they aren't, in fact, from Barcelona, and I wonder if they replied that it just sounds better than I'm From Jonkoping (umlauts sold seperately). IFB is a bouncy, jangly behemoth-- there are like 67 people in the band ("hey, I've got a kazoo and a neckbeard" - it's that kind of party), a utopian society where cute girls sing rapturous 20-voice harmonies with heinous boys
and every day is school picture day. From personal research I've discovered that taking any "ba-ba-ba" section from an I'm From Barcelona song and using digital editing software to crank the speed and pitch way down turns it into a monkish chant. You should try it - it's fun, and Audacity
is free! Sorry to say that I've run out of posting time before getting to The Legends and Hello Saferide (except to those of you who become personally offended when I write things, to whom I say, you're welcome), but if people want to hear more modern Swede pop or discuss it with greater depth, we could do that in the future - there's plenty of this stuff I haven't even touched on. You know your way to the comments box. Moistworks is nothing if not interactive. Until then, have a precious day!
Labels: brian, indie, swede pop
posted by Brian
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
SEA OF LOVE
Phil Phillips with the Twilights
Mercury : 1959
ALWAYS ON MY MIND
The Pet Shop Boys
Capitol : 1991
Rough Trade : 1990
MAMA, YOU BEEN ON MY MIND
The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3
Columbia : 1991
Homestead : 1991
Last week I sent an email to about twenty friends, relatives, ex-boyfriends, new friends, old friends, and people I hardly know but thought would have good answers, asking "I'm making a list for my Moistworks Valentine's Day post...what are your favorite love and anti-love songs...?"
My main reason for asking was that I was curious to see how certain people would respond. Who would ignore it, thinking "What a stupid question." Or, who would ask "Don't all songs fit into one category or the other?" Who would respond immediately with a long, rambling list, or who would write, also immediately, with "I need to think."
My people did not disappoint; I got all of the above. Al Green (obviously) and Ween (awesomely) showed up on several lists. Bob Dylan, yes (and even I, with vast ambivalence about him, am torn apart by the last line of this song). Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, Throbbing Gristle, Monochrome Set, Judas Priest, Orange Juice, Sebadoh, Van Halen, and the Buzzcocks, yes, yes, yes. But the best answers, which I did not anticipate, were those songs that would make absolutely no sense to anyone but me, due only to the nature of my relationship with the responder.
"Sea of Love" fits squarely into the last sentence. "That was the day I knew you were my pet," does not typically ring the bell of today's modern woman, yet the man who named that song has sent me so far to the brink of sanity and submissive lust that I could do nothing but nod and drool and wonder which version to use here. (Of course I opted for the one he had specified.) The Pet Shop Boys version of "Always on My Mind," could only be on the list of the man who held my hand at a concert in an airplane hangar in Berlin, as both of our jaws dropped at the odd and scary sight of a thousand German fists banging the air to the rhythm. "Halah" by Mazzy Star would be merely a pretty, dreamy whine were it not for the fact that the record was played over and over again to mask the sounds of the first great sex I ever had. "Kath" was mentioned by both a close friend who knows I wrote a poem after it in college and a man who has no idea how much my heart aches for him whenever I hear it.
All this to say: Love is such a specific, alchemical thing, that to merely hear someone else sing about his/her love for yet someone else doesn't quite register. To me, a love song is all about association. But anti-love, that's another story. Gut-tearing, nauseating rejection and loss, now that is indeed universal. Here, though, is where my friends did disappoint, and where I, for fear of breaking down into a quivering wreck before finishing this post, have failed. This is what I leave to you, dear readers. Tell me the saddest (or angriest) love songs you know, and by sunset (just in time for the east coasters to burn a mix for their dinnertime sweetie), I'll post a handful here.
Thank you! Here are some highlights. I wish I could post them all...
FARE THEE WELL, MISS CAROUSEL
Townes Van Zandt
Townes Van Zandt
Sunspots : 1969
ALL THE LOVE I EVER HAD
Available on The Original Singles Collection
Mercury : 1991
GIN HOUSE BLUES
RCA : 1968
Warner : 1977
HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART?
Let's Stay Together
Hi Records : 1972
And a late-stage addition, for a friend and reader who knows who he is (and whose own version I prefer but don't have a recording of):
EVERY TIME IT RAINS
Dreamworks : 1999
Labels: indie, joanna, love, oldies, pop
posted by Joanna
Monday, February 12, 2007
ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG
Columbia : 1977
BAD SCENE, EVERYONE'S FAULT
DCG : 1995
THIS IS JUST A MODERN ROCK SONG
Belle & Sebastian
This is Just a Modern Rock Song single
Jeepster : 1998
THIS FUNNY WORLD
Tony Bennett Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook
Concord : 2005
I was embarassed because I'd been caught listening to Billy Joel. This is not something I am prone to do, but we all indulge secret passions sometimes and I am no exception. Even worse was that I'd tried to cover it up.
By the time my relatively new friend Carla and I were buckling our seatbelts after the rock show, I had completely forgotten I'd been listening to Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 on the way to the club. Carla and I were sweaty; our ears were ringing, and we basked in the post-show, pre-bar glow. The dark windshield glimmered furtively in the light rain. Carla was in the passenger seat saying something I couldn't hear through my teal foam earplugs, which I proceeded to plop greasily into an empty coffee cup. I rememeber she wore a navy blue denim jacket with a lot of brightly-colored buttons, a lot of mascara and silver glitter. I turned the key in the ignition and the car woke up sputtering, gouting light everywhere.
I like to relish the moment, right after starting the car, when the CD player resumes its work, especially when I can't immediately place the music. Sometimes I wait for an appropriately anonymous section of whatever I'm listening to before I turn off my car so I might get to experience the mysterious instant of not recognizing the familiar when I return, setting up a little wonder pit-stop for myself in the future. It doesn't always work.
Then I try to prevent myself from identifying the music that's playing, delaying the jolt of recognition for as long as possible by shutting down mental file-searching and concentrating on the sound of the music. It feels great to hear something so good and unencumbered, if only for a moment. But when I started the car on my pseudo-date with Carla, something about the texture of the music, which I couldn't identify at first, bothered me. Something about its jittery piano and deep-throated vocals gave me pause. With dawning horror, I realized - Oh my god it's the freaking Billy Joel CD - and I stabbed the off button. The silence of the ocean floor flooded the car.
Carla and I had known each other for about a month - we met through a series of events that has nothing to do with this story. We definitely had a spark, but we were also co-workers and were involved in vague relationships and would probably wind up being too good of friends for anything to come of it.
My real mistake wasn't listening to Billy Joel; it was trying to hide it. It's one thing to get caught doing something embarrassing, but it's much worse to actually appear embarrassed by it, which implies that you meant it. Had I just smiled rakishly, started belting out the lyrics ironically, or made a wisecrack instead of quickly turning off the CD player as if she wouldn't notice... I can't help but wonder what might be today.
We both stared straight ahead. I affected a studious aspect; her gaze was more searching. The silence was enormous. No cars passed through the gravel lot to make a munching sound. We were almost the last to leave the club, because we always stay until the bands are heading to the afterbars.
"What was that?" Carla asked, not unreasonably or without sympathy. Still, her voice sounded like a parody of casual curiousity. Her reflection looked slightly baffled in the windshield, brushed in broad dim strokes on the dark.
"Huh? Nothing," I said, in way I hoped would register as absently, feigning surprise at her question as if she'd jarred me from a pleasant reverie. I might have even yawned and stetched my arms. I suddenly developed an intense fascination with the web of cracks I had put right above the inspection sticker on my windshield. I'd been moving large furniture. Running my finger along the bright water trapped in the black glass, I furrowed my brow as if to say, These fissures are no longer acceptable; how might I bring my ingenuity to bear on a solution?
"That was Billy Joel," Carla said defiantly.
"No, it wasn't." My god, what did I mean?
"Yes it was!" Carla said in a scandalized tone. "That was 'Only the Good Die Young.'" She was smiling, but in an astonished, kind of affonted way.
Fucking "Only the Good Die Young." It was. It really was. It wasn't exactly "We Didn't Start the Fire" bad, but still, it was bad. My jaw lolled like something with a busted hinge. I felt like maybe my eyes did something that might be construed as goggling.
She said my name plaintively, taken aback by the sudden disappearance of my usual bravado. I had to think in terms of damage control. I needed a ripping bon mot, something witty and cutting and dismissive.
"No it wasn't."
Oh dear. Like Peter in the Garden, I had opted for a third denial. I could see where it was heading. Like Peter, I was going to get called out.
Carla must have enjoyed the pliant, come-hither resistance of the stereo's knob as she purposefully depressed it with a stiffened finger. The song began right at the titular chorus. "Only the good die young," Joel proclaimed, with what seemed to me a smug satisfaction. He would not be denied. I peered intently through the windshield as if trying to discern portents in the confusion of orange street lights refracting through the irregular rain. The part of the song right after the chorus that sounds like a used car commercial accused me from the air. Carla's gaze burned into the side of my head like a brand. Defeated, I turned down the volume a little, but let the song continue to play. Carla smirked at the floorboard as we drove off into the weeping night. At last call, she left the bar with some guy wearing earlobe expanders and a neckerchief. I went home alone. Although we remained friends, the tenor of our relationship was markedly different from then on, we never spoke of that night again.
[A friend of mine told me recently that she sometimes just had to listen to the Arcade Fire even though she "felt guilty about it," and it reminded me of Joanna's recent Shins-anxiety post. Around the same time I discovered a cache of old writing, stuff from my late teens to early twenties, that I'd thought long destroyed. This little Billy Joel thing was among that writing, and it seemed of a piece with this concept of taste-based guilt that keeps popping up for me recently. I barely recall writing this and certainly don't remember living it (my late teens and early twenties being a particularly blurry period in my life), so I'm not sure how much of it is autobiographical and how much is character sketch. I still don't wear earplugs, for instance, and I never knew anyone named Carla. But I did find a burned copy of Billy Joel's Greatest Hits in an old Case Logic CD binder, and I was terribly indie at that time in my life, so...who knows? It was probably a spot of both.]
Labels: brian, indie, rock
posted by Brian
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
TURN ON ME
Wincing the Night Away
Sub Pop : 2007
Due to the wonders of the internet (and an unauthorized promo leak, I'm told), I've had this yesterday-released record since October. I have listened to it my requisite 67 million times; know all the lyrics of my three favorite songs (Australia, Phantom Limb, and Turn on Me); and am starting to sing along to my least favorites (Sea Legs and A Comet Appears), which are starting, now, in the fourth month, to grow on me. The Shins are the only band I've gotten excited about in a long time, and it embarrasses the hell out of me to admit that.
A friend recently said to me at a cocktail party, "I've been reading Moistworks and am liking it a lot," to which I thanked him and blushed, prompting a few other friends to ask what is it (of course they were thinking porn). I explained a bit, and he went on to say, "Joanna has, by far, the most mainstream taste of anyone on there." To which I also blushed, but in a different, much less pleasant way. My god, I thought, what has happened to me? I never in a million years would have described myself as the most mainstream of anything. But I knew he was right.
I have lost my way. The music niche of my youth no longer exists, and I haven't found another. In college, it was all about Pavement and Big Black and Guided by Voices and My Bloody Valentine, in addition to the much more obscure bands we all claimed to have been listening to longer than anyone else (and which I, often, pretended to like). But even to be into the Pixies, as "big" as they were becoming, was still to be a member of a fairly small group.
Now it's me sneaking around with the god damn Shins on my shuffle. I had heard them somewhere, perhaps a store, asked the shopkeeper or coffee server who it was, wrote it down, bought the first two CDs, fell in love, found out they were playing, and, thinking I was one of only a few who had made this find, was surprised that they were playing a venue as big as Webster Hall, and then was even more shocked to find the shows to be sold out. I got a ticket from some guy on Craiglist, went, felt like the oldest person there, stood in back singing along with every single lyric, and crying my eyes out. For how much I loved them, for how lonely I felt, that night and in my life. And perhaps, for how I no longer knew what was on the outside, and I wouldn't know where to look if I wanted to.
I admitted it out loud for the first time the other day. I was having a meeting with the editor of a very now magazine and a writer friend. The new issue of his magazine has a CD in it, which I dutifully looked at in his presence, proclaimed, "I've never heard of any other bands on here, but I love the Shins!"
The editor groaned and mumbled something about keeping the advertisers happy. I grinned defiantly, extolling their virtues: "They're writers! They're smart! The twists and turns of melody on this new record are...."
The editor groaned again, mentioning their "horrible" appearance the other night on TV, Letterman or something. (Why he was watching Letterman to begin with didn't come into question, though, in hindsight, it really should have.)
My writer friend immediately leapt to my defense. He could absolutely not tolerate being known to associate with someone who likes this band. "No, you like lots of other things, too."
"Yes," I said, "Arcade Fire!"
He blanched. (And if I had said the Decemberists he would have actually passed out). "No, but you love Syd Barrett!"
"Yes, and the Zombies," I muttered.
The editor perked up, as I knew he would. He shouted, "Yes! Odessey and Oracle!" and we were back on track. I was okay, we had redirected our cool-compass, and we were able to continue our meeting with everyone's respect for one another (rather, for me) intact.
When did it become cooler to love the British Invasion and Journey than the popular new-ish indie rock band? I suppose it's embarrassing to like something that's on a once-cool label (Sub Pop) and still fits squarely into a category (indie) that no longer has any meaning. Perhaps the kids don't want their cool handed to them in a box. They want to feel as though they've discovered it on their own, years later (and ironically) like Herb Alpert, or dragged out again (and therefore big-kid approved/ironclad) like the Boredoms.
I know what it means to have eschewed everything loved by the populace of Williamsburg, readers of McSweeney's, and all that surrounds. But for now, can I keep my cute boy indie nerdie bands while holding on to some shard of punk rock credibility? Please?
The more astute or psychodynamic thinkers of you might be wondering something, which I'll try to address in future posts (or in therapy): Why, Joanna, need you ask our permission?
Labels: indie, joanna
posted by Joanna
Monday, November 06, 2006
Babes in Toyland
Reprise : 1992
THE SAME BOY YOU'VE ALWAYS KNOWN
The White Stripes
White Blood Cells
V2 : 2001
Drag City : 1992
I went to my gym this evening to cancel my membership. It was time for "Let's be honest, Joanna, you haven't been in months and you aren't going back anytime soon." The woman at the desk literally tried to pull the "You have to give a month's notice and you owe for November," but I gave her my best "Are you joking?" one-eyebrow-raised glare and she dropped it.
On my way out I noticed they were having a blood drive (my (now-ex-) gym is a YMCA). Why not? I had some time to kill, and this would be my final gesture to the institution to which I had donated so much sweat. I haven't given blood in a while (since high school maybe) and was surprised at how elaborate it was. Blood pressure, pulse, hemoglobin level, have you ever been to Africa, have you left the country for more than six months at a time, did you eat today, have you ever had sex for money, have you ever paid for sex, have you ever had sex with a man who might have had sex with a man, do you have a cold. But I passed and they agreed to stick me. The male nurse glared at my tiny veins. "Make a fist!" He said. "Tighter!"
"I know," I said, "I'd make a terrible junkie." He didn't smile, and eventually stuck me somewhere I'm imagining he thought might be a vein.
"Blood is coming out, right?"
"Yes," he said, and minutes later told me what a good bleeder I was. I beamed with pride.
Meanwhile, an attractive middle-aged woman (whose name I'd later learn to be Linda) arrived, asking if her sister could sit by her for "company." I averted my eyes to her own sticking (her veins were so much easier than mine!), and joked to the nurse that I hoped I'd get a nice "I gave blood sticker" to show off to my date in a little while.
"You have a date?" The nice woman asked. "I was wondering why you're so dressed up!" This is an oddly intimate comment to hear from a stranger. I was wearing a cotton short-sleeved dress, not particularly fancy, so I'm not sure how she was measuring the formality of my attire. "Where are you going?"
"This restaurant on Prince Street, Savoy?" I said it as a question, a little snobbishly assuming that people in the Y on Fourteenth Street giving blood might not know of a fancy Soho eatery. But I was totally wrong about Linda.
"Oh, that's right around the corner from where I live. I love that place. Upstairs or downstairs?"
"Up." He had actually made a point of telling me the reservation was for "upstairs."
Linda approved. New Yorkers really are hilarious. Then the sister asked, "Is this a first date?"
"No, it's a do-over." Linda, sister, and nurse all looked confused, so I said, "A re-do." More blank stares. The blood loss was making me coy. "We dated a long time ago and know we're trying again."
"What happened last time?" asked Linda.
"I-got-married-to-someone-else-and-now-I'm-divorced." In truth, I just filed the first of eighty-seven divorce papers earlier this week, but details in these situations are totally out of place.
This got the nurse's attention. "You're divorced? Any kids?"
"No," I said, "no kids."
He nodded in approval. Then muttered, "Lucky guy." Let's assume he meant the date rather than the ex-husband.
Then one of the other nurses, who'd been on her cell phone the whole time, shouted something about the cars back to Brooklyn/Queens being disorganized and it seemed as though my nurse was going to get screwed out of a ride. I suddenly felt so sad for him, with his bad mood, lonely eyes, and now this, the likelihood of a three-transfer subway trip. He started getting very angry, and I looked over at the huge needle sticking out of my arm. Linda had a similar concern, saying "Don't get too excited, sir!" Sir. Linda is classy.
He calmed down enough to gently take the needle out of my arm, told me I was finished and that I should go sit down and drink some juice. "What about my proof?" I asked/whined.
He frowned seriously, went into a large plastic file box, and pulled out a roll of stickers. "Is this what you're wearing later, on your date?" he asked. I nodded. He then peeled off a sticker that said "I just gave the gift of life," and planted it square on my left breast. "In case you change, here are a few more," he said, handing me three more stickers. Then, out of nowhere, he pulled out a small plastic pin the shape of a drop of blood, eyeing my other breast. I knew exactly what was coming. He slowly leaned in toward the fabric of my dress. There were at least ten long seconds during which I could have stopped him, said, "I'll put it on myself," but didn't. He reached in, literally put half his hand inside my bra, and pinned the blood drop not only to my dress, but through the fabric of my bra and my slip. Three layers. I just watched, amazed, then nodded at him as he shyly handed me six more blood-drop pins, for another day, or, perhaps, for poseur friends anxious to impress.
Labels: indie, joanna, rock, smut
posted by Joanna
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
FAKE DRUG PROBLEM
Dragunsmilk : 2005
Apropos of letters this week, Moistworks' Williamsburg Bureau recently sent a package to an associate in Heilbronn, Germany, containing (among other things) a CD by George Draguns. George used to be in Don Caballero, and now works as a restorer of 18 & 19th century homes in Philly. Notably, he's (still) a ripping skater and is a perennial fixture in the East Coast Handplant Invitational.
Here's the email response we received:
yeah, jet goes slowly....thanx ones more for good stuff...lots of goodstorys and lots of pession to go over crazy punk stories and artists life...music, hm nice....what i enjoy in moment....i hear in moment lots of post rock shit, draguns are good..some parts are in somekind of surf music....nice....
those tours in last time make so crazy....you know, when you live in small tour and here is nothing going on and germoney goes in moment throught economie crise...its everthing fucked up, we loose concert room, darkroom and there is no money for youth, lots of pepole with ideas(like every year when comes time to study) are also away....so fucked up....and i i don't know way fight over moving in big citys) and try to work with people to make sach born/dead city more nice.....but pepole run every year and i start every year from begining, search for new people....ahhhhhhhh....take sometimes lots of power that you will like too to move and sometimes just also be consumer ;)
ah, lots of down feelings......tom waits make me feel common
Labels: indie, joanna
posted by Joanna
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
You Are Free
Matador : 2003
RKO : 1969
Last night I rode up to Chicago to see Cat Power. I wasn't all that into it. I mean, I would probably go to see her if she were playing in Iowa City, but it's a long four-hour drive. My friend, Mark, who had purchased an extra ticket based on the mistaken notion that Cat Power's status with Indie chicks would land him a date, was desperate for a ride. So he offered me his extra and gas money to use my car--plus he would drive both way. So I figured what the fuck.
We went straight to the best beer bar in the world--the Hopleaf on Clark and Foster--and drank a medium-sized fortune in Belgians. The Reader listed an opening act we hadn't heard of, so we figured showing up 45 minutes after the ticket's listing of 7:30 would be a safe bet to land a decent seat. How annoying that she was already playing when we arrived. It was a solo show, which I wasn't pleased about either, and the place was hipster central. There's something amusing about rapt 23-year olds with hair parted too far to one side "shhhing" each other at the slightest sound so as not to miss a single throaty sigh.
My first impression? This woman is not nearly as attractive as Mark had led me to believe. Mark is "in love" with Chan Marshall, but he admitted afterward that there was something distressingly linebacker-like about her appearance. Chan certainly doesn't look fragile. She looks like she could have wiped the floor with any of the girls in the room. "Well, she's a cracker-girl," Mark told me later, as if that explained it. As a Southerner himself, Mark calls people "crackers" more glibly--and affectionately--than I do.
The music was good, but not worth the drive. Chan has a unique voice, for sure, and a gift for creating a sense of intimacy. There were moments when my attention was totally captured, like when she played that "Good Woman" song. She mostly played new material that I didn't know. She played a lot of covers, most of which weren't on the covers album. She did an oddly melancholy version of "Sugar, Sugar," which I liked. She didn't play an encore. She was done in a little over an hour. I would have felt ripped off if I had paid for my ticket.
About half-way through the show, she started losing it, babbling under her breath about how she wasn't living up to her own expectations. This kind of talk elicited some hilariously earnest encouragement, including a totally unselfconscious "you go-girl!" shout-out from one of her midwestern fanlets. This, of course, seemed to embarrass her even more. It seemed like everyone was expecting a meltdown, wanted one even, but there was only some awkward mumbling and an occasional pointless apology.
by Matt Miller
Labels: indie, joanna, live
posted by Joanna