Courtney Love has been a busy bee lately. She posted a (now dramatically edited) entry on her MySpace blog claiming that Ryan Adams stole $850,000 from Frances Bean‘s trust fund to finance and record Rock N Roll. Guess someone is trying to matter again. CONFIDENTIAL TO COURTNEY LOVE: You, um, sort of don’t.
“yeah you listen to this shit im listening to my i tunes on right now who names a record “Rock n Roll” what assholes do that?”
The full entry, in all its unedited and un-adhering to the rules of the English language glory, has been preserved at Stereogum. More.
About halfway through their self-titled, self-released debut album, a proclamation is uttered by the Pale Young Gentlemen: “Let’s tear the lid off this thing.” (“Clap Your Hands.”) Clocking in at just barely over thirty minutes, their self-titled, self-released debut does exactly that, and does so effortlessly and joyously. It’s refreshing to hear music that is so un-selfconscious in its glee, and the results are infectious.
These songs are carefully orchestrated, with a deliberate baroque feel and persistent theatrical flourishes (in particular “An Appeal To St. Peter”) that delicately stomp through what feel like novellas set in 19th-century beer halls and occasionally arrive at revelations. “As A War” backs away from the celebratory, woozy feel a bit, with singer Michael Reisenauer mournfully observing that “love has made us blind” backed by a spare, lonely piano and cello. If this record were a musical, and the consistent theatrical feel that it evokes often takes the listener’s imagination there, this would be the part where the hero stands lit by a single streetlight, pouring his heart out to the girl.
“You know, the last time we played Milwaukee there were about 20 people,” bewildered guitarist Bryce Dessner remarked midway through The National’s set to the screams of a packed audience. The National has been making a slow yet steady rise in the collective consciousness of the music world ever since 2005’s Alligator topped critics’ year-end lists, and whether this theater was packed because of indie-kid-blogosphere-bandwagon-hopping or genuine appreciation for the music is unclear and frankly irrelevant.
The appetite of this crowd was insatiable, fed on a diet of 2007’s excellent Boxer, and if anything their performance was an indication that indie rock truly belongs to the masses now, considering the fact that a great portion of the audience looked like the type of guy who would have kicked the band’s asses in high school, standing like tree trunks in the front row and repeatedly calling for them to play “Fashion Code.” This is not exactly new, this Frat Guy Takeover of Indie Rock. In fact, bitching about it has become cliche among music writers in and of itself. It’s still jarring to experience, however, especially when half of the between-set conversations going on around you seem to be the same burly dudes drinking PBR and talking about how hot that St. Vincent chick is.
On Tuesday, June 26, thousands of U.S.-based webcasters plan to turn off the music and go silent in a unified effort to draw attention to an impending royalty rate increase that, if implemented, would lead to the virtual shutdown of this country’s Internet radio industry. Internet-only webcasters and broadcasters that simulcast online will alert their listeners that “silence” is what Internet radio may be reduced to after July 15th, the day on which 17 months’ worth of retroactive royalty payments — at new, exceedingly high rates — are due to the SoundExchange collection organization, following a recent Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) decision.
I grew up a good ten years after The Replacements were at their height of recognition. I was thirteen years old when they broke up and just in the middle of passing from my New Kids On The Block phase into “grownup” music and they were still too sophisticated to cross my newbie radar. I don’t even remember how I got into them–it was probably that stupid Can’t Hardly Wait movie or something. The point is, however I started buying their albums, they made an indelible impression on my post-teenage soul.
Here was this guy singing in this scratchy as hell voice about girls and being drunk and being lost and misunderstood in the Midwest, and something in me reacted. Something in me wanted to feed Westerberg a sandwich and pet his hair and tell him everything was gonna be okay, but another part of me was screaming along with his every word, screaming “FUCK YES, I AM UNSATISFIED TOO.”
It’s going to read like How Not To Write Record Reviews With Cliches 101, but there are times when you can’t avoid em: We need Ted Leo now more than ever. (I will pause so you can get all the groaning out of your system.) But hear me out.
In a world full of Ford commercials drawling “This is OUR country,” where our government is destroying secret laptops and refusing to answer questions about it, where the names of more and more 19-year-old kids dying in Iraq are scrolled across the Sunday morning news programs every week and yet somehow the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby is still making headline news, where are the people who are just a little bit scared of waking up every morning in the Land of the Free supposed to find comfort?
As Deerhoof fans know very well, being a fan of Deerhoof means that you do not care if records follow typical verse-chorus-verse structures, nor if the singer even sings particularly well. The elements that fans find endearing about Deerhoof are exactly the elements that can make them so frustrating to try to appreciate—the wispy, little-girl vocals, the hyperactive little kid tendency to refuse to settle on a thought for more than ten seconds before running off in a completely different direction. Friend Opportunity, if anything, takes all of the elements they are famous for and condenses them, clocking in at a lean ten tracks and roughly 36 minutes.
And it’s easy for the novice to give up on it. At first listen, you might hear songs like “+81” (mp3), with its gleeful marching-band intro and buildup to a chorus of, of all things, “choo choo choo choo beep beep,” and throw up your hands and dismiss them as something that you are apparently not smart enough to understand. I came close to this reaction several times.
If this record could be summed up in a single phrase, that phrase would be: “a multitude of anxieties.” The places that Return To Cookie Mountain takes the listener are some very dark places indeed, filled with the type of imagery that calls to mind sci-fi films, or emerging from the other side of a war having seen and experienced horrors that you can’t even begin to describe.
The war in Iraq itself seems to have a presence on this album—witness the first track, “I Was A Lover,” a song that waltzes jerkily around, all bleating horns and waves of guitar fuzz, until it draws the sneered conclusion “It’s been a while since we knew the way / And it’s been even longer since our plastic priest class / had a goddamned thing to say.” On “Province,” after observing that “your history’s ablaze,” lead singer Tunde Adebimpe pleads (with backing vocals by none other than David Bowie) “Hold these hearts courageously / As we walk into this dark place / Stand steadfast erect and see / That love is the province of the brave.” These lines could be interpreted any number of ways, but it is seems very much more than just a simple love song.
In fact, every song on this record could be analyzed on a very facile level just by saying “this song is ____ but it is also more than ____.” While it is part of a music writer’s job to parse out exactly what that thing is, sometimes it is impossible to do anything but observe the blanks and ask the listener to fill them in. These songs are dense; the layers and layers of guitars and acapella choruses and little tweaks beg to be interpreted and reinterpreted and discussed endlessly, but above all, they beg for attention. They beg to be heard. There aren’t enough unwritten paragraphs in the world to convey that.
Haters might argue that the slight shift that indie rock took towards the danceable ended when Hot Hot Heat switched to a major label, or when the Scissor Sisters committed the unconscionable and covered Pink Floyd. The haters would be wrong.
With their second full-length, Pieces Of The People We Love, New York based dance outfit the Rapture are once again doing what they do best—making music for your ass. There are handclaps and cowbells and synthesizers dripping from practically every chorus, yet the use doesn’t feel expected or dated. They even take aim specifically at the kids who just don’t dance anymore on the deliciously titled “Whoo! Alright, Yeah, Uh Huh,” complete with the shouty refrain “People don’t dance no more / They just stand there like this / They cross their arms and stare you down / and drink and moan and piss.” Elsewhere, the Rapture gets positively Oasis on you, with the midtempo seventies-throwback “Live In Sunshine,” which (more specifically) sounds like what would happen if Liam Gallagher, Freddie Mercury, and Yes were to get very drunk in a recording studio together. The atmosphere is so relentlessly danceable that none other than Cee-Lo Green, better known as “Gnarls Barkley,” blesses it by lending his backing vocals to the title track.
What comes to mind after repeated listenings to Pieces is the fact that not every record has to make grand, sweeping statements about society or politics or love to be memorable. In these uncertain times, sometimes all you want to do is shut up and dance, and get everyone around you to do the same. And really, there is nothing wrong with that.