All posts by Johnny Loftus

WHO MADE WHO: Rock radio, targeted males, and the tyranny of nostalgia

In January 2018, rock radio in Chicago met its eschatological fate when K-Love ran the flaming sword of the archangel Uriel through the prostrate body of WLUP. The Loop had first declared itself the city’s loudest radio mouth in the late 1970s, when Steve Dahl burned disco records in a big fuck you to anyone who challenged the white male’s perceived right to be an obnoxious, ignorant clown. The station’s AOR format downshifted into hard rock, and a steady thrum of AC/DC, Def Leppard, Skynyrd, Foghat, and “Get the Led Out” rock blocks blasted from suburban garages, unfinished basements, and cinder block high school weight rooms, eventually traveling through the cocaine and Aqua Net hair metal era and onward to grunge and “active rock,” i.e. lots of Foos and Nirvana. But by the mid-aughts, radio listenership had splintered, coalesced, and splintered again to form into specific micro-demos, and The Loop’s blunt instrument approach was wavering. Its battering ram dulled, the Christians came calling, and with their “positive and encouraging” CCM niche, they squashed the dude rock bug dead. All stop signs, all speed limits; highway to hell, indeed.

Enter Labor Day Weekend, 2020. With the suddenness typical of terrestrial radio moves like this, iHeartMedia flipped its “Big 95.5” modern country format to “Rock 95 Five” and cued up a core playlist of Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, Green Day, Def, Foo, and Motley Crue. Radio bigwigs described the move as returning ”a key soundtrack to a large lifestyle group,” and white guys aged 25 to 54 driving around Chicagoland in their grey 2003 Ford Mustangs with a vinyl bumper sticker featuring Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo suddenly felt seen again.

The visual branding for “Rock 95 Five” is all blacks, reds, and bold dips, sort of the typographic version of a football lineman who does up his eye black in tragicomic kabuki. A recent playlist scan featured Foreigner’s loutish “Hot Blooded,” “Beautiful People” from Marilyn Manson (a song which reveals its extreme debt to Alice Cooper schlock as it ages), the Foos doing “All My Life,” and Steven Tyler’s lewd scatting on Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.” A nod toward relative tenderness (or at least an acoustic guitar) came in the form of the Black Crowes’ heroin paen “She Talks to Angels,” and 95 Five finished out the set with the turgid knuckle dragging of Creed’s “My Own Prison,” a song and band where emo is bruised, battered and recast as the singular right of the white male animal to have what are otherwise known as all of the feels. There are no women here. (Maybe Alanis. Maybe.) There are no people of color, aside from a few Hendrix nuggets. And the imaging positioners that drop in between songs exclusively feature a smarmy white male voice shouting stock phrases like “Do you even lift, bro?” and leering that “we’ll melt your face, and melt it good.” A certain kind of male is in control again. As he sees it.

Continue reading WHO MADE WHO: Rock radio, targeted males, and the tyranny of nostalgia

Folklore Is Found in the Threads of Despair

…Driving in to Darlington County
Me and Wayne were quarantining since the Fourth of July
Driving in to Darlington County
Looking for any kinda work on the county line
We drove down from New York City
Where the pretty girls wearing’ masks just want to know your COVID history
Driving in to Darlington County
Got a connection for free testing with an uncle of Wayne’s
We drove 800 miles without seeing a temperature checkpoint
We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing…

The hard truths of our American COVID moment are many, maddening, and bitter. Cases spiraling upward and spiking daily in towns, cities, counties and states; a mortality rate in the hundreds of thousands; an economy in tatters and the average person isolated, masked, and desperately shifting their weight on uncertain ground. From barbecues to ballgames, fancy graduations to informal get togethers, the course of everyday life in America has careened off course into unknown territory. The numbers are scary, the danger is real, and the only thing anybody knows for sure is that nothing is for sure, and none of us will ever be the same again.

The fact of the virus as the arbiter of our new American reality is sobering enough. Its effect on our institutions of leisure, the games we watch and play, and the arts that we hold dear has been a bewildering leveling agent. Basketball? In a bubble. Baseball? Getting by, barely. Summer movie release schedules? Decimated. And music — for so many of us, the guiding factor throughout the year, but the brightest of lines in Summer, when traipsing around boffo music festivals, seeing sets outside at street fairs, and reveling in sweaty rock club moments form a kind of idyll — music is facing its own peril as both an economic system and an art form built from shared experience. What does music look like when it wears COVID’s scars?

…It’s a long day, locked down in Reseda
There’s a community testing site out in the front yard
I’m a bad boy, ‘cause I didn’t practice proper distancing
I’m a bad boy, for bringing it here…

On June 23rd, Taylor Swift surprised the world with the announcement of Folklore, her eighth studio album. The set was conceived of, written and recorded entirely in quarantine after the singer and songwriter’s plans for a tour in support of her 2019 record Lover were blown apart by the virus. For Swift, the pandemic’s altering effect on her business model offered a unique opportunity for creativity, one which lent a new intimacy and earthiness to her music, received critical appreciation for her stylistic and economic pivot, and netted positive returns in the all-important social media news cycle. The pandemic sucks, but people still love a surprise.

For the folklorists and musicians Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the pandemic hit as hard as an early March tornado that nearly destroyed their home base and recording studio in Nashville, Tenn. As performers and gigging musicians whose money is often made on the road, it was natural to drop a new set of demos for the heads (Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1) and use the lockdown to record the Americana covers set All The Good Times.

“Music has some things that only music can do in a time like this,” Rawlings explained to Rolling Stone. “With folk songs, every person has put a little bit of their DNA into what becomes the bloodstream of that song, and the culture and time period they came out of usually did also.”

“[Playing these songs] in a time of isolation and reflection, it’s almost like all those people are there.”

Exploring the spinal fluid of what makes a folk song live seems especially important in a period like this COVID journey, when our modes of living are realigning and sickness, death, and fear are in too high supply.

In the stark, melancholy and achingly emotive world he created for “Highway Patrolman” from 1982’s bleakly rewarding Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen tells a tale of two brothers torn by loyalties and a love triangle. “Me and Franky laughing and drinking, nothing feels better than blood on blood,” he sings. And the brothers take turns dancing with Maria, as the band plays “Night of the Johnstown Flood.” While no such folk song seems to exist, with the reference Springsteen alludes to a catastrophic 1889 dam failure just upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania that killed over 2,200 people and more than $17 million in damages, or nearly $500 million in 2020 money. The Johnstown Flood was the worst loss of civilian life in US history, a grim title it held until the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900 and, later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What will the coming folkloric record chronicle about this tragedy of our time, this unseen flood, and its even more profound toll in lives and destruction?

JTL

Listen: JTL FM – This Summer

Spotify: JTL FM: This Summer

Look, those white linen dungarees you bought in a frustrated, which way is up moment back in the deepest, darkest depths of winter are not going to wear themselves. The breeze won’t catch the light tick of their fabric, and you’ll never savor the aroma of Impossible Burgers grilling as you sip a Stiegl Radler with Hendrick’s over ice and catch someone’s eye across the side yard in the fading light of a warm June evening. This will never happen if you don’t let it. It’s key, in these clown show times, that you take a sloppy, mirthful bite out of your warm weather weekend, and watch the soy leghemoglobin drip down the bun and soak into your pant leg. Because woo! My god, you look good today.

Camila Cabello’s “OMG” could be a contender for the vaunted “Song of the Summer” perch; after all, it was designed and built to seize that gauntlet. In the same way, “Fuego,” from 2018 Eurovision finalist Eleni Foureira, feels purpose-built for elation. Or as the peanut gallery in the GLONO break room put it, “‘Fuego’ takes place in that moment when someone on a rope swing lets go and splashes into the cool water of the secret lake out by the armory, only that instant is stretched out for the entire summer.”

After a round of powerful live shows in support of 2016’s Puberty 2, Mitski has returned with “Geyser,” from her forthcoming fifth full-length. Grace, grab, yearn, riff: this track has everything a hot summer night spent on the roof of a garage needs. Savory new material abounds in the set, from Mitski to the welcome return of Madrid’s own Hinds (“Finally Floating”), the heady grooves of J-Cole’s “KOD,” and “Black Walls (Minimal Oxygen)” from Chromatics, house band at the Bang Bang Bar in Twin Peaks, Wash. And don’t forget to pack your glitter cannon, because Rita Ora is out here writing songs about her ex Cara Delevigne, and her pals Cardi B, Charli XCX, and Bebe Rexha were happy to roll through. Roll J’s, love kush.

What is Summer without throwbacks? May, June, July, and August 2001 called, and they are STILL kickin’ it to “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” from Eve and Gwen. If sixties bossa nova goes better with your cocktail, please take a seat on the patio and tune in Nara Leão’s effortless “Chegança.” And don’t forget about the funky pulse of 1970’s Lagos, Nigeria, either. How could you? Not while the Ify Jerry Krusade is around, you won’t.

Music sounds better in the summer. Laughs are louder, food is better, and white linen never looked so good. So roll your windows down and listen as the Jeep next to you bumps the new Ariana, or Migos and Drake, or Rich the Kid. Swoon to Miguel singing en español. Because like Leon Bridges says, “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be).”

Continue reading Listen: JTL FM – This Summer

Listen: JTL FM ii

Spotify: JTL FM ii

I don’t want nobody hurt, but I made an exception with him.
–Cherry Glazerr

Making a mess is easy when you think you know it all.
–Jessica Lea Mayfield

The color of your mind, you feel it coming right through you.
–Beach House

When you talk to my face you speak politely. I know you’re only following to bite me.
–Tayla

Is she a stripper, a rapper, or a singer? I’m busting bucks in a Bentley Bentayga.
–Cardi B

I don’t want a secret, secret life. I have no idea what I really wanna be.
–Speedy Ortiz

Take over me, I’ll never be the same.
–Ashley Monroe

Major league chemicals make her grave.
–Unknown Mortal Orchestra

So I fall into continents and cars All the sages and stars, I turn all of it to just a su–
–Lorde, Run The Jewels, El-P

It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault like you say it is. It’s not my fault, because I told you long ago that I wouldn’t put up with your bullshit.
–The Regrettes

For all that we know, the heart is pumping rhythms that are not our own.
–Natalie Prass

Even if you got somebody on your mind, it’s alright to be alone sometimes.
–Kacey Musgraves

I don’t wanna worry no more. I just wanna ball like the big leagues. I just want a nice house on the shore. I want a big house like Gatsby.
–Diplo, Lil Yachty, Santigold

Jordan 23, guarantee you’re gonna wanna leave with me.
–Camila Cabello

I remember the first time I was in love. It was only back in 1997.
–MO///

Lean back. Lean back. Lean back.
–Fat Joe, Eminem, Lil Jon, Mase, Remy Ma

You want some me so bad? Come get this body.
–Tinashe, Ty Dolla $ign, French Montana

Continue reading Listen: JTL FM ii

Listen: Jams of Note, June 2017

Some jams of note for June. Or, really, it’s a mix about where do you put “Cut To The Feeling.” Is it first? Is it always? Is it just “Cut to the Feeling” for an entire Sound Design tape? Both sides? I got a tape once like that from a pen pal, years ago. Same story, only it was The Cure’s “Pictures of You.” And it was recorded onto a Maxell XLII-S 100.

Please enjoy the set. And maybe pop music might one day save the world. Or, at least, inspire one Rib Fest cover band to rave up a crowd somewhere with CRJ’s “Cut to the Feeling.” Because maybe that’s all we need in this crazy world.

We need more, though, so there are a bunch of other songs.

JTL

Spotify: Jams of Note, June 2017 (25 songs, 1 hr 19 min)

Continue reading Listen: Jams of Note, June 2017

Listen to Frontier Justice 3/25/17

Tei Shi has described her songcraft as a communion of many jams, tributaries of ideas meeting on a flood plain to the wide open sea. You can climb inside the layers on a track like 2013’s “M&Ms,” let the stuttering beat of 2015’s “Basically” blast from your imaginary boom box as weird thoughts bounce off your skull on the train ride downtown. And on Crawl Space (Downtown), the Argentina-via-New York City artist’s debut full-length, it’s this kind of stylistic pointillism that’s the name of the game. It’s a headphones record, speaking of train rides; Tei Shi’s vocals drift in from one channel in harmony, while they fill the middle space with Prince screams and hooks to set off another treated blast of brass or a well-timed percussion squall. “Justify” from Crawl Space kicks off this edition of Frontier Justice, and the low-end growl’s nearly as cool as Tei Shi’s multi-dimensional vocal trading barbs with that skittering effect over top. Let it get inside of you.

Spotify: Frontier Justice 3/25/17 (34 songs, 1 hr 59 min)

Speaking of multiple dimensions, Gorillaz have returned from the Fornax Cluster just in time to collaborate with a billion more tastemakers. Reggae has always been central to Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz star map, and here his drowsy vocal meshes well with the melodic chat of Jamaican dancehall hot shot Popcaan. The craziest thing about Gorillaz is how much it always sounds like Gorillaz, no matter what posse of guests Albarn’s rustled up. Perfect example? Jehnny Beth, fearless leader of Savages, leads the pulsing “We Got the Power,” which stands strong on its own even as it’s built from Gorillaz’ signature tool kit.

Debbie Harry has never stopped being cooler than everyone, and “Long Time” is the new proof. Written with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and feeding on the genetic material of “Heart of Glass,” it’s one of the lead tracks from Pollinator, out May 5, which will also feature collabs with Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Johnny Marr, Sia, and the homie Charli XCX. Sitek is also the man behind the curtain on the hazy remix of “Hot Thoughts,” the title track to Spoon’s new record, appearing here alongside , who herself worked with XCX for “Drum,” which certainly bears the British singer-songwriter’s sixth sense for brash pop hooks.

Continue reading Listen to Frontier Justice 3/25/17

TRAX: MisterWives – Machine

Audio: MisterWives – “Machine”

MisterWives - Machine (Audio)

MisterWives is the band nineteen-year-old-me would’ve loved — a cool girl out front, being super posi and singing huge, soaring hooks. There’s also a groove, and that’s like No Doubt in its earlist, best moments. And oh yeah, there’s a horn section. There are less and less great things in this world, right? It’s a fucking hellscape out there. Who does not want to jump up and down in rhythm with a bass player wearing a drug rug.

This song goes the other way.

Yo, dummy: We’re not part of your machine.

JTL

Listen to Frontier Justice 2/19/17

The Thousand Points Of Light Memorial Waterfall lies dry at the center of the Super 7 Mega Mall food court tetrahedron, and everybody’s got an opinion as to why. Hair triggers, we have them. In this new reality of hot takes and burning questions, it’s fun to clamber onto a roof and shout “BELL BOTTOMS” over and over into the night sky. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion strut their way outta “Frontier Justice” in its college radio days and into this new consciousness, the latest FJ delivery system being Spotify. And speaking of that new consciousness, on this set JSBX drops into the void between Danny Brown‘s stuttering, claustrophobic “Ain’t It Funny” on one side and Lady Gaga‘s “Diamond Heart” on the other. Young, wild Americans, both.

Spotify: Frontier Justice 2/19/17 (35 songs, 2 hr 3 min)

At the top of the set, Norway’s Sigrid makes her debut with “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and M.I.A. returns with the typically martial “P.O.W.A.” Minor Threat and Agent Orange remind us that the establishment was riling up the youth in the early moments of the Me Decade, Patti Smith remains royalty, and “Said It Already” is new, incisive and grooving from young Londoner Ama Lou. Elsewhere, Tommy Genesis oozes volatility and effortless after-hours club cool on “Art,” and Dai Burger wants to be your class president. Did you know Michelle Branch is back? Hopeless Romantic is her first full-length in 13 years; it was written and co-produced with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, and sounds like it. Angel Olsen released one of 2016’s best records in My Woman — The engrossing, cinematic “Sister” is a highlight — and digging deep into the Spotify Sound Vaults reveals classic material in a new light: Elvis Presley brings both vulnerability and bluesy swing to an alternate take of “Heartbreak Hotel,” and The Supremes are full of funky soul on “Bad Weather,” the 1973 nugget produced and written by Stevie Wonder.

There’s some Ratt along the way, because after all, what goes around comes around (and they’ll tell you why), L.A. Witch is back with cool new stuff for Suicide Squeeze, RTJ remind us to stay hungry and pissed, and Eminem is no less than unhinged on “No Favors,” one of the many standouts on Big Sean‘s terrific new record I Decided.

Making playlists isn’t protest. It’s not political action. But it can be a soundtrack for both dancing and dissent, and do its best to uphold the art of discourse, which in these polarizing times is increasingly under attack. And if you want to completely check out, there’s always room on Goat‘s delightfully weird magic carpet. Here, “Try My Robe.”

JTL

You can also try an Apple Music playlist. Let me know if this works. -ed.

Continue reading Listen to Frontier Justice 2/19/17

The Ministry of Found

What was once angry might once again inspire volume

It was a few days after the election when I found nihilism lying broken in the street. Scuffed, half-crushed, and sharing a gutter with chicken bones and an energy drink that didn’t take, it still had spittle in its beard, metal shavings in its throat, and gave off the vibe of not having removed its leathers for a decent spell. And by the way, ‘you party?

Ministry’s Land of Rape and Honey was in the gutter at the bus stop. A half dead cassette, still broadcasting to Past Me. The iconic Sire Records logo was apparent on its banged up, off-white housing, next to all of those rabid, reverse paeans to a god called Fuck You. “Stigmata,” “The Missing,” “Deity,” “Golden Dawn,” “Destruction”. Electric guitar and bass, arc welded to unholy electronics.

Just like a car crash. Just like a knife.

Released in 1988, Land of Rape and Honey continued Al Jourgensen and Ministry’s evolution from a largely electronic, but definitely weird dance act into something much more angry, and louder. Today we talk a lot about dumpster fires, right? This music was abraded in flames, reflecting in a million jagged shards of the devil’s disco ball. In Hell, no one can hear you party, and that’s mostly because of Jourgensen’s mechanized yowl. Mr. Acidic Robot Sarcasm, he was pretty much over the putrid mud from the sky, the shit storm of propaganda. It was time to scream obscenities at the Conservative Establishment. Oh, and society? You’re a bunch of boring-sex-havers. The title track even hijacked the bashy 1985 slink of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and applied skeezy synths and shouty polemic at maximum volume. You climb the mountain, you pray.

Past Me reveled in the pounding dystopian echoes of “Destruction,” how the martial beat and its bizarro hardcore punk churn resonated in my head. At a different bus stop, I cut its music video out of footage from the 1987 Patrick Swayze headband vehicle Steel Dawn. Back then I knew Reagan, Bush, and their cronies were schmoes, but I mostly wanted to max the volume on my Walkman in private solidarity with some scary people from the city who didn’t give a fuck about God, The Guv, or giving license to complacency. (Play it louder, blasted tape technology!) Land of Rape and Honey sounded like a middle finger built from amps stacked to the sky. And the sky could suck it, too.

Post-election, Current Trump, happening upon a bracing screed from my own past, I wondered how artists in the now will agitate the status quo. I fished out the remains of the tape, and said goodbye to the gutter. Our bus had arrived. We would make it in time.

JTL

Continue reading The Ministry of Found

Andrew WK Live in Chicago: Ten Years After

Andrew WK at Riviera Theatre
Chicago, March 25, 2012

All of the dudes were there, and that was just on stage. Flanked by four wild-haired guitarists, plus a drummer and his black leotard-clad wife, Andrew WK stood in a party line of his own making and flailed, writhed, pumped his fists to the rager soundtrack of ten years ago. This was the I Get Wet tour, featuring WK in all of his lank white denim glory ripping through the record that made him a star with the same heaping helping of gusto he’d brought out on the road in 2002. Clod-stomping metal riffs were kicked up against WK’s own keyboard flurries and supported with double-bass kicks that kept a hard and fast rhythm on two drum heads, each emblazoned with the maestro’s bloodied face. It was the same iconic shot from the I Get Wet cover art and the one that hung over the proceedings like the visage of a master propagandist. This was WK for Vendetta, and the crowd was eating it up.

“We are fortunate to be here tonight, to live here and be alive,” WK enthused to raucous cheers. And later, “Never forget the power of musical joy.” It was the same metal-vational speech he’d spouted between (too long) pauses back at Metro in 2002, and this time around he couldn’t resist playing a bloodied Tony Robbins once again. It was too much talk, not enough rock. The crowd was eating it up, sure, the same way the pit surged to the left and right during highlights like “Party til You Puke,” “Party Hard,” and the title track, hundreds of kids pushing at the stage in a tangled mess of frenzied limbs, following along with every hair whip and judo chop of their fair leader, who seemingly hasn’t aged in the interim. But WK’s shtick, fully invested as he is, still seems like shtick at heart. There’s a gear missing, that extra rev into crazed that turns a rock and roll show into a mirthful murder spree. He had so many guitars at his disposal, and so much hair whip back and forth. He had the ears and fists of the crowd in his hands. So why was the Riviera a stolid line of folks with their arms folded once you reached the sound board level? And why wasn’t that sound ripping hearts out of chests? It felt like an act, not an act of the party gods.

The post-9/11 fatalism that I Get Wet embraced and espoused in 2001 and 02 has its partner in the fuck-it-all, glittered-up party ethos of LMFAO and Ke$ha, and WK has savvily brought the record back to not only celebrate its birth, but indoctrinate a new flock to his projectile rock. And they were down there, eating it up. But just like his strange question-and-answer sessions of a few years ago, or his incessant web cam party patrolling on Twitter, WK’s rings of egoism before it does altruism. No one can question the stripped-to-its-core genius of “Party Hard”; it’s an anthem that wears the animal skins of a thousand other anthems into a battle against boredom. But why does the whole thing still feel like self-righteous zealotry and not visceral release? Why does it ultimately feel as shallow and rootless as LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”? Maybe that’s the populism innate to the I Get Wet material, though. Like a beer bong or box of fireworks, WK offers a necessary tool kit with which to party, but doesn’t do the real puking or exploding until your neighbor calls the cops. It’s always up to us to never stop living in the red.

JTL