Most of the attention around Project Pabst was focused on the shows happening down on the South Waterfront of Portland on Saturday and Sunday, but the festivities actually began with a few select shows around town on Friday night. Even though it would mean I would be making the trip up I-5 on three straight days, I jumped at the chance to see one of my local favorites play the Wonder Ballroom. I’ve been a fan of the “experimental” indie rock of Menomena for years, ever since I caught them opening up for Modest Mouse about a decade ago (and in a nice bit of symmetry, Modest Mouse would be headlining the final night of Project Pabst), and have been consistently impressed with their albums and their live show, and Friday was no exception.
Fans who have followed the band over their career are well aware that the original trio has now become a duo, at least in the recording studio. For the live show, Justin Harris and Danny Seim don’t do as much instrument-switching as they did in the past, with Danny finding a comfortable place behind the drumkit and Justin switching between bass and bari sax, with the occasional guitar thrown in, but sharing vocal duties. To fill things out, they’re aided by various touring musicians, and for this tour they had help from a pair of them to cover additional keyboard and guitar lines, and with their help all bases were covered and the songs sounded fantastic.
Justin and Danny are setting up for the show.
The set was a mix of favorites from Friend and Foe on, though “Strongest Man In the World” from their debut I Am The Fun Blame Monster kicked off the show (aside: that title is an anagram for “The First Menomena Album”, a fitting coincidence since the last band we saw was Interpol who just released their own anagramed album, El Pintor). The guys were loose, enjoying the hometown atmosphere and having fun with the title sponsor–Justin was hoping that anytime he said “Pabst Blue Ribbon” he could get a “cool hundy”, though he would settle for $33.33 for saying any part of the name, while Danny changed up the lyric in “Five Little Rooms” on the fly to “at half-Pabst again”. Speaking of Danny, over the past decade he has become one of the greatest drummers in indie rock, and it’s always a marvel to watch him capture all the tricky rhythms that comes from a result of their unique songwriting process while also maintaining perfect time. He alone is worth the price of admission.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to hear a glimpse of a follow-up to the fantastic Moms, but there were no new songs on the agenda last night. Instead, the audience had to be pleased to watch highlights like “Muscle’n Flo” and “TAOS” nailed with pinpoint precision. The crowd was captivated as Justin alternated between different instruments and weaving in loops with his feet all the while. Personally, I always enjoy it when a band utilizes a bari sax, and with Menomena, it’s an integral part of their sound and not a mere gimmick (though I have to say, those bros behind me who kept yelling “TUUUBA” every time they saw the bari sax, you’re exactly as clever as you think you are).
Justin and Danny exploding in light
The night ended with a fantastic encore, with the epic rocker “The Pelican” thrilling the crowd, followed unexpectedly by the subdued track “Rotten Hell”. However, the guys tweaked the song a bit from its recording version, with the changes providing the finale with enough of a kick to properly send the crowd off into the night with the right amount of energy to keep raging for the rest of the weekend. It was as perfect a kickoff for a festival that Portland could ask for.
Tweedy released the Nick Offerman-directed video for “Low Key” last week, and it should lift your spirits up as you kick off your week because it’s hilarious and filled with a lot of great cameos. See how many you can spot, and be sure to watch until the end when the “twist” of who is actually in charge of the record industry is revealed.
I’ve read that this year is the “Year of the Booty”, but I think that’s bullshit, because every year is the “Year of the Booty”. Even so, I was not expecting to see quite this amount of posterior-shaking in a Mastodon video, until I remembered that they were from Atlanta. Here’s their new video, “The Motherload”, which should not be watched at your place of employment.
“Twice as Hard” seems an odd choice for a follow-up single to “All the Rage Back Home”, but it inspired Paul Banks to film this boxing-focused video for the El Pintor closer. The track has grown on me with repeated listens, and in my mind seems to be an improvement over the similar closer “The Lighthouse”.
Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
Is there anybody that doesn’t appreciate “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”? It seems like one of those songs that we can all agree is pretty great, and even though it was ubiquitous enough that we’ve all heard it, no one seems to think it was overplayed. Just take a listen right now, and tell me that it doesn’t put a smile on your face.
Tears for Fears is touring once again, and they’re one of the headliners for this weekend’s Project Pabst festival in Portland, mixing it up with the likes of Modest Mouse, GZA, and the Thermals in a one-of-a-kind lineup. I didn’t even know that the band had reunited, but it’s a nice surprise and I’m sure there will be plenty of people from younger generations who would love to hear “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” live for the first time. It’s pretty much a perfect pop song–who doesn’t love those warm synth chords, those gorgeous harmonies, even that lively drumbeat and that whirling guitar part? I never paid much attention to the lyrics, but it’s easy to see that they’re versatile enough that you can use the song in a variety of setting, from the sarcastic to the sincere. The song represents the best of pop music trends in the 80’s, with none of the irritation.
Ted Leo has done some great covers in his time, so he was a great choice to kick off the AV Club’s “Undercover” series; unfortunately for the rest of the bands that followed that season, he was a tough opening act to follow. For this version, he swaps out the synths for guitars, but their shimmery tone more than makes up for the switch. It’s a tricky drum part, but Chris Wilson nails it, and even includes some of the memorable fills of the original. And though it was only Ted on vocals, he does a great job of capturing the style of Tears for Fears, yet at the same time staying true to his own voice.
The key that makes this cover so effective is that the group commits to the song, even though they could have easily decided to toss it off as a lark. This is especially apparent in their re-working of some of the guitar parts and the brilliant solo sections, where Ted and the Pharmacists trade off some excellent licks. At the same time, the group keeps the feel loose enough that the performance doesn’t come off as rigid; it feels like an especially tight rehearsal, which is the best you could really aim for in that round room.
One of our primary goals here at Rust Is Just Right is to provide an alternative to a lot of the dismissive snark that is the hallmark of a lot of contemporary music criticism these days. We believe that in a world that’s overflowing with great music, it’s better to analyze and promote what’s worth listening to instead of attempting to tear down what’s already popular. Sure, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation of writing something bitingly clever about a band that we don’t like, but it’s not really going to accomplish all that much. Besides, it’s not our place to decry other people’s tastes. If you enjoy something, we’re in no place to tell you why you’re wrong–life is simply too short and awful to take away any such joy like that.
Given those parameters, this editorial may seem to run counter to that mission. Yes, we are going to slag on Arcade Fire, but that’s not the main purpose of this piece. No, our qualms are with the breathless adulation and coverage that the band receives on an infuriatingly and consistent basis, and how Arcade Fire has somehow in the past decade became shorthand for what’s “good” in “indie rock”. This unabashed love of the band has frustratingly led to the ridiculous need that many publications and writers to shoehorn a mention of “Arcade Fire” in pieces that are completely irrelevant to the group.
First, we’ll lay all our cards on the table and explain why we don’t like the band in the first place. Well…Eels wrote a superior album about coping with the deaths of close family members, Pavement did a much better job of writing seemingly-tuneless melodies, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor along with Broken Social Scene did a far better job of simply being a collective of Canadian musicians. Hell, even the cover of Funeral is infuriating, since it comes off as a rip-off of the art associated with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea–shit, it even has the same goddamn font that NMH used. The art just screams “WE REALLY LIKE NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL AND WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE’RE COOL LIKE THAT!” If you want more substantial criticism (beyond this standard rock-critic trope of accusing a group of being derivative of all these other influences), it boils down to the fact that their music is boring, they can’t sing, and have never written an insightful lyric. They wrote a two-chord song, and they couldn’t figure out how to do it in a key that was in the range of their singer–LCD Soundsystem managed to do that, and came up with one of the greatest songs of the decade despite James Murphy’s limited vocal abilities. This is a band that ruins their one decent moment, the song “Wake Up”, with an abrupt and inexplicable shift into fucking “Walking On Sunshine”.
Perhaps my frustration with the band can best be explained by their presence in the film “Her”. It’s an absolutely amazing film and further cements in my mind that Spike Jonze is a true genius, and I was glad that he won an Oscar for his work. However, I had significant issues with the score. There was one key scene where the OS “Samantha” composes her own music, and we in the audience here it played back. It’s twinkly piano music that sounds pleasant on the surface, even if it has no real melodic ideas, and sounds like something an entity with limited knowledge of songwriting would create. Which seems to fit the idea of a computer attempting a human behavior and approximating that behavior except…it was frustratingly obvious that the piano was played by a human, since the rhythms were wildly imprecise and fingers were lingering too long on certain notes and making the notes stick together and therefore ruining the illusion. That’s Arcade Fire in a nutshell: humans attempting to mimic machines which are trying to pass off as humans, and failing miserably.
For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue and aside from their presence in an otherwise magnificent film, I’ve been able to avoid Arcade Fire rather easily. It doesn’t take much to avoid clicking links like “Watch Arcade Fire’s 25 Best ‘Reflektor’ Tour Cover Songs”, even if those links appear everywhere and on multiple sites. No, the true problem is when the band makes a random appearance in an article that has absolutely nothing to do with them, as illustrated in this review. Pitchfork’s review of M83’s re-release of their first three albums marked the moment when we officially reached Peak Music Critic Insufferability, as the reviewer attempted to describe M83’s style with this statement: “Arcade Fire are perhaps a better touchpoint for their overall approach: lead with emotions telegraphed big and wide enough to fill a stadium, and let the guitars and synthesizers fall into place around them.”
Now, let that sink in for a second. Not only is it ridiculous to compare the music of the two bands (since no one who has ever listened to both bands would find a connection beyond “these are two acts that create sounds”–just listen to that video above and explain how it resembles Arcade Fire in any fashion), note that the connection between the two seems to be…that the two groups are both emotive. This assertion that somehow Arcade Fire was the first group to emphasize emotion in some capacity in their music is completely insane (especially in an era where “emo” was huge) and demonstrates the myopia that afflicts a generation of rock critics in which in order to convey that a musician is “serious” that it must be compared to this one band. To further underscore how clumsily the point is made in the review, note that the comparison to Arcade Fire is immediately dropped and no further mention is made in the rest of the review.
However, the most ridiculous aspect of the comparison is just simple chronology. M83’s first two albums were released before Funeral, while their third was released a couple of months after. Unless those crazy Canadians can bend the rules of time and space, it can be definitively stated that they had absolutely no effect on the French electronic duo. If you’re dead-set on making some sort of comparison, perhaps another article can be written about how M83 influenced Arcade Fire, but why bother. I mean, this is a great song that displays subtlety and mastery of melody–something that is difficult to find in an Arcade Fire song.
That’s not the only irrelevant mention of Arcade Fire I encountered this month–in a review of Death From Above 1979’s new album, I learned that apparently we started measuring time in terms of Arcade Fire album releases in the past decade. To be fair, that isn’t the worst problem with that ridiculous review (which includes gems like finding out that Wolfmother was apparently a dance-punk band), but it once again points to the annoying habit that many rock critics employ of needlessly dropping references to Arcade Fire. DFA1979 are as bad a comparison as M83 in terms of music, but why the hell should that matter?
These are all symptoms of the general problem of giving Arcade Fire way too much credit than they deserve. In this feature, we see the band get praise for…incorporating “whoas” in a song, as if having an instrumental swell accompanied by a wordless chorus was a fucking revolutionary act (just one year later, we would see a much better example of this technique from My Morning Jacket). Arcade Fire somehow also gets credit for “having an auxiliary floor-tom for intermittent bashing” when Radiohead had a hit the previous year doing exactly that (and to great effect). Even the most diehard Arcade Fire fan has to admit that Radiohead is a much more influential band. Besides, has this been a real trend? Sure, White Rabbits used it to great effect on “Percussion Gun” and it helped get people to listen to their fantastic album It’s Frightening, but for fuck’s sake, it isn’t worth tricking me into clicking a link for a goddamn Imagine Dragons video. More than anything, it just seemed like an excuse for this poor excuse for a Canadian collective to employ extra people to play random percussion, seemingly ripping off Slipknot of all bands (hey, I knew I forgot another random influence of Arcade Fire).
Arcade Fire fans, I mean you no harm. But please, if you end up working as music critics, please refrain from constantly mentioning your favorite band. It reflects poorly on all of us.
The Thermals are returning home to Portland this weekend for the inaugural Project Pabst festival, and as always we’re psyched for the opportunity to see one of our hometown favorites* in action once again. With that in mind, we’ve decided to take this opportunity to briefly discuss one of our favorite albums from the last decade, The Body, the Blood, the Machine. A furious blast of righteous fury aimed directly at an oppressive political establishment, The Body, the Blood, the Machine stands as one of the few concept albums whose execution matches its ambition. Its narrative revolves around a couple fleeing the clutches of a fascist, theocratic government, and though it could easily devolve into a mere screed that ultimately bores the listener, the album never fails to consistently engage the listener, both with its incisive lyrics and its ever-propulsive music.
“A Pillar of Salt” illustrates the ability of the band perfectly. Lyrically, it’s the most straightforward depiction of the actual storyline, detailing exactly how the young couple is escaping the clutches of the authoritarian regime, capturing the tyrannical nature of the regime and also the perilous nature of the family’s quest for freedom. Musically, it’s the perfect example of what “pop-punk” should aspire to be–catchy melodies but backed by razor-sharp playing that doesn’t lack for any edge. One of my favorite accomplishments as a music director back when I worked in radio was playing this song and receiving direct feedback from our listeners about how much they loved the song. It was rare for us to get phone calls from listeners, but for “A Pillar of Salt” we got several calls from listeners who wanted to know who the band was that played this song and requesting that we play it more often. It was nice having my instincts confirmed as I shepherded the song from the specialty show into a new music showcase and eventually into regular rotation, that a band that didn’t get a big push nationally was actually really good and that listeners actually wanted to hear them. Hopefully those listeners took the initiative and bought the album as well, because “A Pillar of Salt” was definitely not the only highlight of the album.
“Returning to the Fold” appears right after “Pillar” on the album, and though it veers in a different direction by slowing the tempo a bit, it eventually reveals itself to be another high point and would become a fan-favorite, who enjoy stomping along with its big chorus and singing at the top of their longs brilliant lines like “I can’t believe I got so far with a head so empty.” Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the songs, I want you to listen to the intros and first verses of each songs carefully, paying attention to the guitar. You should be able to notice that…the two songs have the exact same chord progression. Even with the different tempos, it should be obvious now, especially after I’ve pointed it out.
Now, considering the connective thread that runs throughout the album, this clearly isn’t an example of a band repeating the same tired old ideas, but is instead obviously intentional, especially since the two songs appear back-to-back. And then it becomes clearer that there are deeper connections between the two songs, such as the fact that the first revolves around escaping, while the second talks about “returning to the fold”. In fact, the fact that the slower song is the one detailing the return mirrors the reaction of what would occur in real life–there would be a frantic attempt at escape, but when caught, the family would trudge back home, in no way eager to come back. It’s subtle musical and thematic connections such as this which help set The Body, the Blood, the Machine from other concept albums, and help it succeed where so many others failed before.
*Ed. Note: We don’t want to slight any of the other great Portland bands that we love, including Red Fang, who are set to perform at Project Pabst as well. Just as parents aren’t asked to choose favorites among their children, we don’t want to do the same with our local bands. We love a lot of them.
Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.
The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”. Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.
If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.
Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick. Listen to “Coasting” here.
On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum. That should be enough of a signal for you to watch:
Some #longreads as you prepare for the return of the purest of athletic competitions: Ivy League football.
Next week sees the release of the highly-anticipated new album from Aphex Twin, Syro, though if you live outside of the United States, you may have had the chance to purchase the album as soon as today. This is Richard D. James’s first album under the Aphex Twin moniker since Drukqs came out in 2001, so anticipation has been extremely high for electronica fans. James sat down for an extended interview with Pitchfork (filled with all sorts of fancy website tricks) that you should probably read to help pass the time before you get a copy of Syro in your hands, and the Village Voice has a piece putting the new album into context. For a taste of the new album, here’s “minipops 67 [120.2]
Interpol hit the Crystal Ballroom last night feeling a bit rejuvenated. Their latest album, El Pintor, was released last week to the best reviews that the band had received in a while (including our own rave, published on Tuesday), and they seemed eager to build on that momentum. As the band geared up for a full-fledged fall tour in support of the album, a lot of the press from the early shows emphasized the prevalence of the band’s early material in their sets. While many of the highlights of their beloved first two albums were performed last night, Interpol didn’t shy away from performing new material, sprinkling the set with several cuts from El Pintor.
Black and White helps hide some of the flaws of my photography
Whereas before it often seemed that the band struggled to maintain an effortless cool in their performance–I have a distinct memory of their last Crystal Ballroom performance, which came during the Antics tour, where Paul would smoke and rest his still-burning cigarette on his guitar’s headstock while he played–last night the band was focused and intent on nailing their performance. Daniel Kessler has always been a sparkplug and in his own little world with his various nifty dance-steps (though the Crystal’s stage put a damper on some of that footwork), but last night Sam Fogarino was locked in with a blistering performance, displaying a great ability to shake off the crowd’s enthusiastic-but-off-beat clapping. Most significantly, Paul Banks was in a cheerful mood and seemed especially engaged, and it came through with one of the best performances of his that I’ve seen.
A glimpse of the stage show
The stage show was fairly simple, alternating between green- and red-focused light setups and a simple backdrop, alternately displaying the hands of the El Pintor cover with the occasional abstract visualization. The focuse was on the songs, and though the curse of the poor acoustics of the Crystal reared its head once again (Sam’s hi-hat and other auxiliary percussion were poorly mic’d, the keyboards were always buried, and Paul’s guitar spent most of the night turned down too low), it was still a riveting set. After opening with “My Blue Supreme” from the new album, Interpol revved the crowd up with the one-two Antics combo “Evil” and “C’Mere”, with the latter surprisingly getting the bigger roar from the Portland crowd. From then on it was an even mix between new material and early stuff, with the crowd going nuts for Turn on the Bright Lights‘s “Say Hello to the Angels”. Our Love to Admire and Interpol only got one track apiece, with “The Lighthouse” being the surprise pick for the former and “Lights” leading off the encore for the latter. It seems clear that the band is distancing itself from those albums (with Dan and Sam remarking how they barely remember how to play the songs from OLTA in a recent interview), but the band is not heading to the nostalgia circuit any time soon. The new material was met with a rapturous response for the most part, an amazing feat considering the album was released just last week.
Interpol in a familiar red setting
The future is bright once again for Interpol, and hopefully the band continues to make the most of its “comeback”.
If we are to take Death From Above 1979’s claims at face value and believe that they are indeed machines, then fans should be glad to hear that they are at least constructed from materials incapable of rust. You would be hard-pressed to believe that it’s been a decade since You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, because DFA1979’s long-awaited follow-up doesn’t miss a beat. The Physical World does everything you would ask following a landmark debut–it maintains the spirit and essence of what made the original so brilliant (perhaps with an edge or two smoothed over), while at the same time attempting new tricks that keep the new music sounding like a mere rehash of previous ideas. In other words, all previous devotees should be fully satisfied, and perhaps the band will pick up some new fans as well.
Death From Above 1979 proves that their formula of stripped-down rock reliant on bass and drums (but not drum and bass) still works, filling the album with plenty of riffs that are both fast and furious. “Right On, Frankenstein!” and “Gemini” would fit right in with some of the more blistering tracks from their debut, like “Little Girl” or “Romantic Rights”. “Gemini” has several catchy parts that will certainly stick in the minds of the listener (the pre-chorus of “she cries on her birthday” and the chorus of “24/7–still believes in heaven” will definitely be parts that the audience will be shouting along with at their concerts) and “Right On, Frankenstein!” features a terrific outro, with the band stopping on a dime before slipping into a furiously-picked rapid-fire 32nd-note bass riff that ends with a bang.
The band also stretches out a bit with great success, dipping into sludge-rock territory with the “Virgins” and getting damn near close to writing a ballad with “White Is Red”. The latter features an inventive bass part that utilizes a gorgeous unique tone that shows that simply because the band uses a limited set of instruments, it doesn’t mean that their sonic palette is in any way constricted. The lyrics are also some of their best work to date; DFA1979 always were able to come up with an incisive line or individual memorable lyrics, but the heartbreaking story of a spurned lover and an unplanned teenage pregnancy in “White Is Red” shows that the duo can craft a complete song and are capable of invoking previously unknown subtle emotions in the listener. It also ends up being the perfect setup to the lead single “Trainwreck 1979”, which sounds as terrific and energetic on the album as it does when it’s livening up rock radio’s otherwise generally moribund playlist. (It also may bear an interesting connection to the previous track, as the track begins with the details of the protagonist’s birth.)
The album ends with the epic title track, a song that shifts from a goofy 8-bit melody into a frenetic punk rocker before ending on a throwback 80’s metal coda, which fades seamlessly into a classical piano outro that mirrors the previous melody, processed through a filter that evokes the soundtrack of a classic horror film from the Silent Era. With the coda, Jesse Keeler comes as close to a bass “solo” as you’re likely to hear from the duo, and Sebastien Grainger shows off some of the drum tricks he’s picked up in the decade since their debut. Once you hear that, you gain a new appreciation for Grainger’s rhythmic support throughout the album, noticing how he’s not only driving the beat but also engaging intriguing melodic support as well by effortlessly shifting styles and patterns. But most importantly, the radical shift at the end shows fans that the band is capable of exploring even more styles, and that the band won’t be running out of ideas anytime soon.
You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine still is in my regular rotation ten years later, and at this point I’m willing to predict that The Physical World will follow the same path as well. It’s already been stuck in my car’s stereo for the past week, and the good news is that I’m not even beginning to get tired of the album. In other words, it’ll be definitely making an appearance on our Best Of list for 2014.