Month: January 2014

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 31 Edition)

A few quick links you may have missed this week and worthy of your time this weekend

Complex had a great article this week in which a member of the Recording Academy provided a first-hand account of the Grammy Award voting process.  It’s a quick read, and it gives you a clue as to how you end up with some of the more ridiculous options over the years.  Of course, if you’re not inclined to read a behind-the-scenes look because the Grammys are not an award worthy of your time, that’s perfectly fine.  Fiction has its merits as well, for the record.

Cloud Nothings debuted a new song this week on SoundCloud, and you can listen to it here.  I’ve been a fan for a few years now, and appreciated how their new-found love of The Wipers shaped their previous album Attack On Memory (without “Youth of America”, there would be no “Wasted Days”, and Dylan Baldi would probably be the first to point that out).  After listening to the new track, I’m glad to hear that this love of The Wipers was not just a passing phase and continues to be an influence.  Hopefully the rest of the new album lives up to this song (we’ll find it for sure on April 1).

And finally, the music world (and the world itself) lost a giant when Pete Seeger died earlier this week.  It’s been great reading tributes to him from all over, and seeing different friends post his performances.  There was one that I caught last night that I wanted to share, and that was his performance of his classic “If I Had A Hammer” with Stephen Colbert.

Feats of Strength: The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers have carved out a great career writing catchy, ambitious rock songs with great pop melodies.  A prime example of this is “The Bleeding Heart Show”, one of the highlights of my favorite album of theirs, Twin Cinema.  The rousing coda makes it easy to see why it’s a live favorite; it’s probably indie rock’s best answer to the second half of “Layla”.  I think it’s a fair comparison, because while both are certainly crowd-pleasers, I’m never quite sure if there is a real connection between the two sections.

But we’re here to celebrate, not bury the song.  I think it’s pretty apparent that the key part of the coda is the propulsive drumwork of Kurt Dahle.  It’s his shift to double-time that gives the music its lift, and it’s his fills that connect each repetition of the lament “we have arrived too late to play the bleeding heart show” that help pump up the listener.  He plays a different variation at the end of each phrase, propelling the band into the next go-around by progressively amping up the intensity and increasing the difficulty while never letting things get out of control.

While I love each of the fills, there is a very subtle pattern that Dahle uses that is in my mind the coolest part of the song.  It occurs about two bars after each fill (after the “too late” part), with the first instance at around the 3:16 mark.  It’s a quick two hits of the hi-hat on the off-beats, and it serves to both accent the “too late” of the lyrics, and to reset the drum pattern until the next fill.  It’s a little detail that’s easy to gloss over and escapes notice on the first few listens, but once it’s found, it becomes the highlight of the song.

The Return of Slowdive

The biggest news from Monday was the surprise announcement of the reunion of seminal shoegaze band Slowdive.  While the news didn’t break the internet like the shocking release of My Bloody Valentine’s long-awaited followup to Loveless, it still brought a cheer to those who remember those lonely nights while Souvlaki played softly on the stereo of an empty apartment (though actual personal experiences may vary, it is has been my experience that these are in fact the optimal conditions for listening to the album).

For those who are interested in the particulars of the news announcement, the band announced that they will be playing the Primavera Sound festival, which takes place in Barcelona at the end of May.  Just take a look at all the other headliners–it’s hard to imagine a more loaded lineup.  In addition, the band announced a London show, and more dates will be added.  And have no fear American fans (like myself), the band is hopeful that they can record a new album together, so there’s reason to think it won’t be a one-off kind of thing like the Pavement reunion was (the new go-to example now that the Pixies have decided to release new music once again).  And while there were some publications that expressed reservations about the motives of the band (see Stereogum, AV Club), in an interview with The Quietus the band assured fans that this was done with more noble intentions in mind.

So, why should you care about this particular reunion?

In my mind, there were two titans of shoegaze, a peculiar genre that was popular in Britain in the late-80’s/early 90’s: My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.  I’ve always appreciated the term “shoegaze”, because of all the various microgenres that the casual music fan might encounter, it gives the best idea of what the music actually sounds like (contrast it with say, “krautrock”).  It conjures up both ideas of melancholy (staring at the “shoes”)  and dreaminess/haziness (the “gaze” component), both of which appear in sizable quantities in the genre.  I always felt that MBV focused more on the former, while Slowdive’s great asset was its emphasis on the latter.  (For the record, if you are completely unfamiliar with My Bloody Valentine, I suggest you visit this link and then repeat the video ten times, because that will allow you to fully process what a mindfuck Loveless is to the uninitiated. )

The best introduction to Slowdive is probably their second album, Souvlaki.  Few albums perfectly capture the concept of “dreampop” like this one–there is an ethereal quality to the swirling guitars, but they don’t overpower the delicate hooks and melodies.  This is apparent from the very first track, “Alison”.

It captures the attention of the listener immediately, and gives a roadmap of what to expect from the rest of the album–layers and layers of echoed guitars with reverb to spare, a gentle melody, and those beautiful backing female vocals, all in a mid-tempo three-and-a-half minute pop song.  Another highlight is the haunting ballad “Dagger”.

The band strips down most of the effects and leaves a gently strummed down-tuned acoustic guitar, with suspended chords adding to the tension of the lyrics.  It is the quintessential melancholic 3 am song.

“Machine Gun” is another highlight, a ballad that features a great contrast between the vocals of Rachel Goswell for the verses and Neil Halstead for the chorus. I find that the song itself presents an interesting juxtaposition with its title, not only in style but in its lyrics as well, which focus on water-related imagery.

If you love what you’ve heard so far, then great news, there’s a strong chance you’ll love everything else in the Slowdive discography.  Their debut Just For A Day is stylistically similar to Souvlaki, though it doesn’t quite gel in the same way that the later album does, and suffers a bit from weaker production.  Pygmalion was a bit more of a stylistic shift, with some experimentation and an icier atmosphere, but is not a radical departure from the gorgeous Slowdive sound.  All of this should bode well in case we’re lucky enough to see a new album.

Welcome back, Slowdive.  You’ve been missed.

Mission Statement

Welcome to “Rust Is Just Right”.  This is a music site that’s designed to provide an environment for all kinds of fans, from the ones that study every single page published by the music press to those who have barely any time to keep in contact with what’s happening in popular culture these days.  We’re all here because we all love music, and we all want to find more of it.

Our aim is not to just be another music criticism site, but to focus on what makes certain songs and albums great and worthy of your time.  That means going beyond handy crit-speak cliches, and getting to the root of “why you should listen to this new band right now.”  In other words, we are well aware of the limits of providing reviews that are a string of name-drops, and will make sure to provide commentary that is actually helpful.

We’ve also planned a couple of features that will look into the past with this same goal in mind.  “Feats of Strength” will analyze particular songs or videos, and point out certain parts that you may have missed on the first few listens, but are really the key to what makes a song great.  “TL;DR” will be a section for longer essays that ponder theories and trends, and hopefully provide some helpful history for those that are in search of new areas to explore.  “Covered” will be a recurring feature that looks at different covers and hopefully sparks a discussion on whether they are faithful or even surpass the original songs.  While that’s what we have planned for now, we’ll always welcome suggestions for other features in the future.

We hope you enjoy the site.  Feel free to give us feedback.  We know we won’t be perfect, but hopefully over time and with your help, we’ll get close.