Monday, March 30, 2009

Game 2: Day Dream Nation vs. Chutes Too Narrow

Our next match-up in the indie rock region I see as being quite similar to one of those #8 vs. #9 games on which it is impossible to make an even remotely educated guess as to the possible winner because the two make for such an odd pairing. I had a very difficult time comparing these two albums because they are such polar opposites. The Shins are one of those dribble drive motion teams a la Memphis who just slash and kick in perpetual movement and can be a hell of a good time to watch. Sonic Youth however are one of those grind it out Bo Ryan Wisconsin Badger teams that you do all those little, subtle, things that aren't so readily apparent on TV.

For starters, despite being their fifth studio album, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation established the fuzzy, part grunge, part punk, part stoner rock aesthetic that persists on even their most experimental material to this very day. Daydream Nation definitely takes more effort than Chutes Too Narrow. The bits of straight forward neo-punk snarl always seem to devolve quickly into the beautiful muck and mire of guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo's noisescapes. This album is like running a tough technical trail... occasionally you'll burst into a clearing and you feel that sense of ease and calm that always lures you into a false sense of ease right before the trail devolves into a crush of woods, rocks, and vines. The key to enjoying this album, and the point where it really shines, is being able to appreciate the complexity and order of those tangled masses of guitar sludge and noise. Once you do this, then those moments of pop bliss driven by Moore's sarcastic, fuck-if-i-care vocals and wife Kim Gordon's sultry yet slightly uncertain voice work are all the more beautiful and welcome.

Chutes Too Narrow on the other hand benefits from the fact that it takes almost no effort, particularly for those mopey masses of nerdy, hipster wannabes, who are desperately searching for a manic pixie dream girl* of their own. Due in part to their prominent placement on the Garden State soundtrack, this album was one of the most successful indie rock albums since another timeless Sub Pop Records release, Nirvana's Bleach. Listening to it, it's hard to argue with the relatively widespread embrace of this album. The melodies are evocative of Rubber Soul and while the album does not compare ALL THAT strongly in terms of overall greatness with the British Invasion Region #1 seed it's also not as far away as you'd think. Standout tracks like "Saint Simon" and "Kissing the Lipless" are Thomas Beckett songs** are just so easy to love and are the kind of songs that you hum all day without once thinking, "damn I wish I'd get this song out of my head." Just listen to the guitar solo from about the 2:10 point to the 2:27 point in "Saint Simon" and try not to fall in love with this album.

In the end though, it's that exact EASE of Chutes Too Narrow that makes it really hard to give it the nod over Daydream Nation in this matchup. Sonic Youth make you work just enough so that when you're done with their work you feel like you've really done something and while this isn't necessarily a sign of great music, in this case it serves to break a tie between two great albums.

Daydream Nation will square off against In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in Round Two

* This article is a MUST read for anyone who considers themselves even mildly pop culturally aware
** Songs for All Seasons.. HOO AH for that history reference

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Game #1 Indie Rock Region

Neutral Milk Hotel vs. Pavement

It's interesting that the selection committee* decided to let these two albums square off in Round 1 as there are perhaps no bands more responsible for laying the foundation for year 2000 era indie rock than NMH and Pavement. This is not to say however that the two attack from the same angle. The boys in Pavement - Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kanberg, and Mark Ibold, along with various drummers - particularly on what is perhaps their most accessible album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain seem to embrace their inner rock star. Tracks like the opener "Silence Kid" and equally aggressive "Unfair" show that Pavement weren't afraid to turn the amps to eleven and take their at times jammy guitar solos on a stroll through more focused power pop territory. Throughout their history though, this half-hearted proclivity toward underground heartthrob status was always balanced by a total refusal to take themselves too seriously; particularly as evidenced in Malkmus' lyrics which were at times throughout the 90s the only media that seemed interested in poking fun at the absurdly inflated collective ego of the grunge movement. This trait is prominently displayed again in the Stone Temple Pilots/Smashing Pumpkins skewering "Range Life" and what became their biggest "hit"** "Cut Your Hair." What I love most about this album though is simply its pure listenability***. From beginning to end the album keeps you chuckling at the cleverness of the lyrics and hooks you musically with its sweet and simple pop melodies. All these forces come together just over halfway through the album with the standout track, "Gold Soundz" which represents everything that's great about the album as a whole.

Neutral Milk Hotel on the other hand approach from a completely different direction. While not venturing into stock indie rock snobbery, the work of singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum seems in no way interested in pop success. On In the Aeroplane Over the Sea we find the now reclusive Mangum writing what seems at times to be a painful ode to Anne Frank of all people and at other times to be a rumination on some other past love. At any rate, it seems that Mangum's personal demons are on display... it's just nearly impossible to tell what they are. As you listen to tracks like "The King of Carrot Flowers" and "Oh Comely" where in a very Anne Frankish manner pathos always manages to give way to a subtle sense of hope and at times optimism you feel the meaning of the songs in a way that defies explanation. Mangum's yelp over the rollicking fuzz of "Holland, 1945" is this closest the album gets to accessible but still stops well short of the territory in which Pavement ventured. The standout here though is the title track, where buried in lyrics that are focused upon mortality one can find the essence of the album as Mangum suggests, "So now we are young, let us lay in the sun, and count every beautiful thing we can see."

It's this key difference between the two albums that makes the winner in this first round matchup so apparent to me. Despite the fun and refreshing honesty of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Neutral Milk Hotel reaches a point on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea where the honesty is felt uniquely by those listening.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea will face the winner of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation and The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow in round 2.

**meaning they got to play it on Leno and the Real World London played it during a scene featuring the burgeoning love affair between British rocker Neil and whatever that American girl's name was.
***not a word

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Triumphant Return

So yeah, it's been awhile.... I figure consistency is what makes a great blog and I haven't really displayed that recently. Fortunately, this is not a great blog so I get a free pass after this absence.

How then will I make it up to my ones of adoring fans? With something that you're probably seeing every blog in the world do right now... a bracket style contest between pop culture phenomona that do not have anything to do with basketball.

So how is this going to work? Basically, for years when I asked the question, "So what's your favorite album?" I have answered the same way: The Clash's London Calling... no doubt. Recently though, I've begun to reevaluate this and am starting to question my response. This is not to say that the Strummer, Jones, and Co.'s magnum opus isn't still number one... simply that I'm ready to consider the fact that I've moved on to something else. So over the next several weeks we're gonna have a little tournament of albums vying for my affection and the much sought after #1 spot on my list. Seeds and regions are posted below:

Indie Rock Region:
#1 Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
#4 Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

#2 Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
#3 The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

Rap/Punk Region
#1 The Clash - London Calling
#4 Dr. Dre - The Chronic

#2 The Clash - The Clash
#3 Husker Du - New Day Rising

British Invasion Region
#1 The Beatles - Rubber Soul
#4 The Kinks - Part One Powerman v. Lola and the Moneyground

#2 The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street
#3 The Beatles - Revolver

American Rock Division
#1 Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
#4 The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

#2 The Replacements - Let it Be
#3 Nirvana - In Utero

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wait... WHAT did you do with Victorino's two friends?

Macarena - Los Del Rio

Add this organized dance song to a not-so elite group of songs that are almost universally loved by the boring, white, embarrass-yourself-while-singing-a-long-with-or-dancing-to-after-two-glasses-of-Berringer-Zinfandel crowd but aren't nearly as innocent and wholesome as those shouting them between vomit tinged burps would like to believe. If this pristinely described subgenre is not clear, let me direct your attention to songs like You Shook Me All Night Long,* Honky Tonk Woman**, Squeezebox***. This song, which I'm sure has been a part of elementary school dance presentations and church youth group lock-ins since its release is obscene on a level that would horrify Boy Scout den mothers the world over. The song subject matter ranges from basic shallowness to promiscuity to straight forward menage-a-trois all the while keeping up their absurd semaphore-esque^ dance of seduction.

All this makes it even funnier**** to watch entire rooms full of seemingly not-retarded adults gyrate indiscriminately to the hybrid Spanish/English lyrics which couldn't be more clear in terms of the nature of their subject. So really, pay attention next time you see your ex-Sunday school teacher soul clapping to this track at a chili cook-off and remind yourself that in doing so she is applauding the idea of group sex with Victorino's buddies.

So now getting down to business, what of the dance? It has had a few years to temper and slowly begin to die out (see: The Hustle) and in the process has become much less omnipresent and therefore much LESS annoying.... still though.

Drinks Rating: 7/10

*She told me to come but I was already there?
** She blew my nose and then she blew my mind?
*** The entire song
**** if that's even possible
^ Minus the flags of course. Come to think of it they almost look like they're signaling to other motorists that they're turning right on their motorcycles.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Line dancing makes me throw up in my mouth a little

Watermelon Crawl - Tracy Byrd

Elements of the modern country music scene have set the south back more culturally than anything since the Civil War... seriously. The Great Depression? We were poor before that... it barely registered on our radar. Evangelical Christianity? The midwest fell victim to that much more strongly than we did.* Not that we particularly care about what outsiders think of us** nor am I suggesting that we should because frankly, a lot of the horrible preconceived notions about the south are manufactured and fostered by our media or other outlets and this doesn't seem likely to change as long as reality T.V. exists. There are some southern stereotypes that we can help fight however... and while I'm not sure which ones would be attacked by what I'm getting ready to suggest, I do know that it would be a very positive step in a positive direction.


We MUST STOP LINE DANCING. Seriously.... forever. No one looks "good" or "mildly intelligent" while doing this. In fact, it makes you look like your pelvis has some sort of horrible malformative birth defect. The Watermelon Crawl sticks in my head as being a particularly obnoxious dance that was ridden straight to _________ *** and it's stupidity is truly unparalleled in this set. Don't agree? Here's a sample lyric: "She rocked back on her heels dropped down to her knees, Crawled across the floor then she jumped back on her feet, She wiggled and she giggled beat all you ever saw, Said this is how you do the watermelon crawl." Now, putting aside the actual act of this partial birth abortion set to steel guitar we also must consider the damage that the outfits involved in such a thing cause.

Here's the thing douchebag... you're not a cowboy. Sorry to tell ya but they don't exist anymore and haven't for decades. If I walked around dressing like a milkman or a soda jerk on any day other than Halloween I would probably get arrested and committed to an insane asylum because milkmen and soda jerks don't exist anymore. So let's bury this cowboy thing okay?
Go ahead and play Watermelon Crawl one more time just to purge it from your system forever... I'll wait.
Okay... it's over. Done.

DRINKS RATING: 8/10... avoiding a ten because it would actually be really funny to watch me line dance.

*For those of you that don't buy this, watch the documentary Jesus Camp and try not to give yourself a lobotomy afterwards.


*** not sure what the word I need is... fame? fortune? brutality?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Like a dry body heave set to music...

Our next series, inspired by what will surely be a great Charleston, SC summer wedding hopefully devoid of most of these songs will focus upon songs that teach/spawned dances. Given the fact that I rather enjoyed the quick hits format of the last post, I will be trending more toward that shorter format.

I will be rating these on a 1-10 scale based on the number of drinks that it would take to actually get me to dance to the song.... Without further ado....

Casper Cha-Cha Slide - Casper

Ne'er have mine eyes experienced a sight quite as terrifying/exhilarating as the summer exodus into the aisles at Bluefield, WV's Bowen Field at a minor league baseball game of morbidly obese mountaineers as they stumbled out of their jelly sandals over the remains of funnel cakes and bottles full of their eighty pound boyfriend's skoal spit to bless the world with the greatest gift given since the French gave our United States of America the Statue of Lib... nigh since the LORD gave the world his only begotten son our SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. What might have caused such a colossal mammalian migration?* That my friends would be the opening hand claps of... wait for it... the Cha Cha Slide. I hate this song on a level that I can't articulate with words or actions or pictures or anything else for that matter. The problem isn't in the fact that it makes SO many white people dance but rather HOW it makes the cracker hordes of the world dance. Watching a room full of buzzed wedding guests/bowling alley patrons/baseball fans try to "cha cha real slow" is part of the world that I'm guessing the Virginia Company of London was envisioning when they began violently settling the lands of/uprooting people of color across North America. I can see it now:

John Smith: We wish to learn much from your kind Chief.
Powhatan: We will be gracious teachers if you will be gracious learners
John Smith: Great!! Let's start with the cha cha, I'll need to know it for a wedding.
Powhatan: Oh fuck.

Final Rating: 10 drinks out of 10

*reaction to a rumored appearance by Burt Reynolds?