Month: July 2015

Catching Up On The Week (July 31 Edition)

Some #longreads as we enter the most boring month on the calendar…

We have entered the dog days of summer, and as such this invites commentary and features discussing the fabled “song of the summer.”  Contrary to what you may think, the “song of the summer” is not a recent phenomenon, and Vox discusses the surprisingly long history of the term.

Here is a great interview with Conrad Keely of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead done by the Australian website The Music that discusses the band’s surprisingly long history and the friendship at the center of the group that has endured over the years.

The Guardian sits down for an interview with all four members of Blur as they return to Hong Kong, the inspiration for their comeback album The Magic Whip.  In addition to learning the details on how the band’s dynamic has changed over the years and the specific influence of Honk Kong on the record, be on the lookout for a fun anecdote involving shenanigans with Lou Barlow (though he is not mentioned by name). [Ed. Note: The timeline of the story seems to indicate that these shenanigans took place after Lou Barlow left the band, so “Dinosaur Jr. bassist” seems to be an apt description]

We recently reviewed Vaadat Charigim’s new album Sinking as a Stone, and maybe we should have read this interview with CMJ beforehand, as they make sure to distinguish themselves from other groups given the “shoegaze” label.

The AV Club ruminates on the nature of the mp3 as a medium, as the listening public shifts towards streaming.

And finally, following up on one of our earliest pieces, the New York Times is reporting new evidence in the fight against the “Happy Birthday” copyright.  Don’t worry, there is hardly any legal jargon involved.

Ruminations on a Weezer Show

In our coverage of Project Pabst last week, we included a brief review of Weezer’s set in our recap of the festival.  However, I wanted to take some time to discuss the ambivalence that I felt as the time for their headlining set approached.  Why did seeing a band that I once loved so much fill me with such dread?

Weezer has had a long and successful career, to the surprise of many–they’ve now released nine albums over the course of twenty years, which is rather astounding considering many believed the band would have folded after the commercial failure of their second album.  There is a whole new generation of fans that have pledged their undying support for the band and have helped maintain the band’s place as a festival headliner; many of these fans had not even even born yet during the time that the devoted message board community in the late-90’s were keeping the spirit of the band alive.  These younger fans probably have no idea why many of the band’s initial followers long ago ditched Weezer.

Much as it pains me to say, I am one of those who sits on the “wrong” side of the generational divide, metaphorically screaming at the young kids to get off my lawn.  In my eyes, Weezer released two perfect albums, followed it with a passable comeback attempt, followed by an underrated and overlooked record, and then several steaming piles of shit.  The Blue Album not only has all those hits that have filled radio playlists for years, but also several other gems of masterful pop-rock that make it a top-to-bottom classic, and Pinkerton was the beautiful mess that turned off the casual fan but whose ragged emotional core thrilled and captured the hearts of the devout ones.  The Green Album and Maladroit each have their merits, but overall they fail to reach the standard of what the band had previously established.

Usually, I am the kind of fan that not only forgives a band for its missteps, but stands up for records that have been treated unfavorably by those who have moved on to the next Hot New Band.  Hell, I am still buying Alice in Chains records after the death of Layne Staley.  It is rare for me to turn my back on a band, but Make Believe caused me to do just that.  I have made it a point to keep the album and transfer the files across several hard drives, only to never listen to it, so I can remember how much I detest the album.*  On its own merits, it is an extremely mediocre set of songs, but more than that it represented that the original Weezer that I had grown up with and loved was gone, never to return.  I remember giving their next effort a chance, and after listening to a stream of The Red Album I decided that I was done with the band forever.  There was no going back, a fact confirmed every time the band would release a new single that would force me to dive for the radio dial.

It was during the Make Believe era, however, that I finally got to see the band in person, and I still have giddy memories of the show.  It was about the best I could have hoped for, with the band hitting the expected highlights of The Blue Album, throwing in some Pinkerton favorites (a recent development, since the band had long had an uneasy relationship with the record), and keeping the new stuff to a minimum.  The band was lively and having fun, with even Rivers loosening up a bit–everybody had a shot at lead vocals for a song, and the guys all had fun switching instruments.

There was no way that Weezer in 2015 could have improved upon that experience, and I did not want to sully my recollections of that show.  Yet I still stuck through to the end, as the band played a strikingly similar set–I got my Blue Album-era stuff, as well as a couple of Pinkerton tracks (including a fantastic version of “The Good Life”), and once again had to endure the same amount of new shit, though in slightly different form.  I may be categorized as part of the “Millenial” generation based purely on my age, but I should not be lumped into the same group of people that cheer as hard for “Back to the Shack” as “My Name Is Jonas”.**

While my initial dread turned out to be misplaced, I still wonder why it is I hold Weezer in such high regard compared to many of their peers, refusing to allow them to change as they see fit.  Much of their new material has much of the same superficial quality of their earlier work, but to me there is something missing.  I want the band that sang about “little ol’ three-chord me” while constructing the musically complex “Falling For You”, or the group that composed the gorgeous instrumental climax to “Only In Dreams”.

I guess I am just selfish that way.

*That sounds like something that should be explained to a therapist

**There were also several fans that cheered along to the absolutely horrid “Beverly Hills”, and I am frightened by the fact that these people are probably allowed to operate motor vehicles

Review: Bully – Feels Like

We are seemingly living in a boom period for garage rock.  Perhaps this is merely a result of musicians branching off from the general 90’s indie rock revival,* as part of the general tendency of artists to look to the recent past for inspiration.  At the same time, bands are opting for a more stripped-down take on the “punk” music that dominated rock radio at the time, while at the same time .  Questions of origin aside, one finds that the bills at local shows are being filled out more and more by garage rock bands, and now with this wave we are seeing their records getting wider release.  The recent debut album from Bully is one of the most promising examples of this trend, as Feels Like is an exhilarating burst of adrenaline that stands out as one of the most exciting records of the summer.

Feels Like comes fast and furious at ten tracks in half an hour, with most songs hitting you in the gut immediately and then not making sure to overstay their welcome.  The drums pop and the guitars cut through with an almost-too-perfect amount of distortion, though the most distinctive element is easily Alicia Bognanno’s infectious yell, a perfect mixture of anger and vulnerability.  Listen to the pain and anguish of her vocals as Bognanno tears into opener “I Remember” as the band chugs along with barely-contained fury, setting the stage perfectly for the rest of the album.

Some critics and listeners may feel that the music on Feels Like is too derivative of their alternative idols, and it cannot be argued that Bully is trying to reinvent the wheel here.  However, there are enough hooks that are plowed through with the right amount of energy that should downplay the concerns of everyone but only the most steadfast detractors.  Even on post-grunge-by-numbers tracks like “Trying” the band displays a knack for hooks that is hard to resist.

Bully may not be a revolutionary act, but with Feels Like they have created one of the most infectious albums of the summer, proving sometimes it is best to listen to your gut instead of your mind.  There is no need to overanalyze the music–just strap yourself in and enjoy this blast of invigorating punk rock.

*See: Parquet Courts, Waxahatchee, Yuck, Speedy Ortiz, etc.

Built to Spill, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Built to Spill returned to their home-away-from-home last week, playing a two-night stand at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.  We caught the band on the second night as they were finishing up their tour in support of their most recent album, the excellent Untethered Moon.  If the band felt weary after months on the road, they certainly did not show it on Thursday night, as the group played an energetic set that covered just about every part of their vast catalog, including a couple of surprise additions as well.

Outside the Wonder, with that late Oregon summer sunset.

Outside the Wonder, with that late Oregon summer sunset.

The show got off to a raucous start with Keep It Like A Secret opener “The Plan”, with the crowd immediately going nuts as soon as the opening chords were strummed.  We were lucky enough to have a great view of the full band, and were able to enjoy seeing guitarist Jim Roth’s dissonant slide-work create the song’s memorable solo.  From then on the band mixed in new material with old classics, and the crowd greeted the recent stuff with nearly the same approval as their favorites; singles “Living Zoo” and “Never Be The Same” featured some of the group’s catchiest hooks, and “So” has the spirit of many of the band’s brilliant guitar work-outs, so they were natural fits into the group’s standard set.

The band were able to seamlessly shift between different moods and tempos, such as when the group followed the mid-tempo ballad “Liar” with the raging “Pat”.  It would not be a Built to Spill show without a couple of covers thrown into the mix, and the group obliged by including “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain” (a song that I keep forgetting is a cover because of its many appearances in a BTS show, from a side project that Doug Martsch did with Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening called The Halo Benders) and part of “Orion”, which took a few minutes for me to place since they started it off at about the halfway point.  The band finished off the night with a rousing encore, first with the epic “Kicked It In The Sun” before rounding it out with early year favorites “Big Dipper” and “Stab”.

Doug Martsch and co. engaging in some guitar heroics

Doug Martsch and co. engaging in some guitar heroics

Opener Honey Bucket did a good enough job keeping the early crowd entertained with their take on garage rock, and Genders was a solid second act.  Their first song reminded me of post-punk revival in the vein of Interpol, especially with the way their bassist was making full use of the neck for counter-melodies, but the highlight for most of the crowd was their faithful cover of Mazzy Star’s classic “Fade Into You” (even if the guitarist decided that the song’s memorable leads could be mimicked without the use of a slide).  It was an intriguing counterbalance to the headlining act, but it is hard to overshadow Built to Spill when they are on top of their game.  The sound mix overall was excellent, with all three guitar parts balanced perfectly, and the group actually integrated a fairly effective light show into their set.  Overall, it was hard to find a better way to spend twenty dollars on a weeknight.

Over the Weekend (July 27 Edition)

News and other fun stuff to help you make it through the week…

If you have a half hour to spare this week, we recommend you check out this brief documentary on the history of Krautrock, courtesy of Noisey.  In half an hour, you will learn the origins of this distinctive style and gain a new appreciation for its influence on modern music.  And when you finish, be sure to check out this list from FACT magazine for a list of Krautrock records that go beyond the basics.

The Foo Fighters have been making it pretty easy for music content aggregators these days, and this story is no exception.  After making headlines for performing with a broken leg, Dave Grohl invited his surgeon to join the band on stage to sing on a cover of The White Stripes’s “Seven Nation Army”.

A tribute album to singer/songwriter Donovan has attracted a lineup of indie rock heavy-hitters, including contributions from The Flaming Lips, Sharon Van Etten, and Hamilton Leithauser.  The charity album will be out on October 16.

Who doesn’t love a good rap beef?  Quickly get caught up on the Ghostface Killah/Action Bronson beef here.  Then you will be prepared to be the talk of the party this weekend.

Catching Up On The Week (July 24 Edition)

Some #longreads for helping you pass the time while you luxuriate in humanity’s greatest sin, Central Air

It’s the dog days of summer, and so it’s probably about time we share some of the pieces we’ve bookmarked over the past few months but neglected to pass on to you.  One such example is this account from Vulture detailing Bob Dylan’s first Letterman appearance, and the unique group of musicians he enlisted for support.

Deadspin has another great piece that would have been better if we shared it at a more appropriate time: a look at the history behind Alice Cooper’s classic anthem “School’s Out”.

It is usually a blast to read the interactions between artists of different generations as they discuss their appreciation for the work of each other.  This interview with Frank Black/Black Francis of the Pixies and Tunde Adebimpe in Time Out is one such example.

We were fortunate to finally catch one of our favorite bands live a few months ago, and it turns out it was worth it to take on the additional expenses to do so, since The Replacements have seemingly broken up once again.  The Guardian has a profile of the band that ran shortly before a couple of the band’s final shows in London.

Review: Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone

We are slowly beginning to see a revival of the shoegaze genre, though to this point it was only members of the original movement that were bringing back the swirling guitars and lush soundscapes.  Legendary pioneers My Bloody Valentine began the charge with their release of m b v, the long-awaited follow-up to the classic Loveless, followed by the triumphant return of Slowdive, and continuing this year with a brand new album from Swervedriver and a newly-reunited Ride.  There have been several acts that have incorporated elements of shoegaze into their own sound since the genre’s heyday, but few bands fully embraced the style.  We had to look halfway around the world, but it is safe to say we finally found such a group with Israel’s Vaadat Charigim.

Unlike Nothing, which incorporated elements of metal into their version of shoegaze, Vaadat Charigim’s sound is a more direct descendant of the genre’s original practitioners.  Vaadat Charigim’s closest counterpart is Slowdive, as they emphasize melody and ethereal guitars on Sinking as a Stone, though propulsive drums reminiscent of Ride poke through the mix at key moments, like on the single “Ein Li Makom”.  Like other shoegaze albums, it is nearly impossible to listen to Sinking as a Stone at too high a volume, allowing for a more pleasurable experience as one searches through the haze and picks various details from the wall of sound; Sinking also benefits from modern recording techniques and mastering, so it is not as much of a chore to sift through the music as it was back in the 90’s.

Vaadat Charigim sings exclusively in their native language of Hebrew, so lyrical content will not be a primary concern for most American listeners.  Instead, most will be focused on the lush music marked by dreamy textures, with the vocals fitting in perfectly as an additional instrument to the mix.  The fact that the group can create such intricate and dense soundscapes with only three people is astounding.  For the most part, the band keeps the ambiance relatively light, allowing the listener to get lost in the music, but closer “Hashiamum Shokea” shows what the band can do when it adds in a bit of distortion.

It may be a difficult task to actually get your hands on this album (we had to wait several weeks for Amazon to ship it, and they had a limited supply to begin with), but it is easily worth the effort.  There will be few experiences as pleasurable as spending around forty-five minutes getting lost in Vaddat Charigim’s elaborately cultivated soundscapes.

Project Pabst 2015 Day 2 Recap

The first day of Project Pabst had a better lineup, but the second day offered just enough that made spending a second day in the heat a worthwhile proposition.  At least it never got as hot as it did the previous day, though there was little to no escape from the sun, aside from the odd bit of shade and the PBRcade.  Still, water refills were once again free, even if that did not make up for the fact the organizers made no adjustments overnight.

Alvvays delivered the most season-specific music

Alvvays delivered the most season-appropriate music

If there is one thing you can count on when you travel in Oregon, it is that random traffic jams will occur without any reason.  A massive slowdown on I-5 added another hour to our travel time, forcing us to miss the majority of Alvvays’s set, an unfortunate result considering we were really excited to see how one of our favorite new artists from 2014 performed live.  However, we can authoritatively state that, from what little we heard, Alvvays’s bouncy, shimmery pop-rock was a perfect soundtrack to a sunny outdoor festival.  Though attendance was lagging at this point in the day, at least there were a devoted few that sang along to closer “Archie, Marry Me”.

Aimee Man and Ted Leo had easily the best stage banter of the festival

Aimee Man and Ted Leo had easily the best stage banter of the festival

Though I have been a fan of Ted Leo for years, I had yet to give his collaboration with Aimee Mann a shot.  However, The Both won me over with their ripping set, with Aimee and Ted displaying a tight chemistry that was only matched by El-P and Killer Mike.  The music was an intriguing mix of the two styles, though I tended to prefer the moments when Ted would kick it up a notch with flashy-but-efficient guitar solos.  The stage banter between the two was a definite highlight, including a memorable bit where Aimee poked fun at Ted’s love of all things Tolkien, with Ted responding by totally owning it and singing an impromptu version of “Frodo of the Nine Fingers”.  Also, for the record, Ted can change a broken guitar string faster than any performer that I have ever seen.

This was the act the crowd appreciated the most

This was the act the crowd appreciated the most

Passion Pit generated the best crowd response of the day, but my reaction to the group has always been the embodiment of the shrug emoji.

Buzzcocks still going steady

Buzzcocks still going steady

Since I spent several years listening to Singles Going Steady, a truly essential compilation for anyone who has ever dabbled in punk rock, the Buzzcocks were the “living legends” reunion I was looking forward to seeing the most at Project Pabst.  Judging by the packed backstage area, I was certainly not alone in this sentiment, as one could easily see other performers like Ted Leo singing along to the words of some of their classic hits like “Why Can’t I Touch It”, “What Do I Get?”,  and “Noise Annoys”.  The group tore through their discography at breakneck speed, with guitarist Steve Diggle constantly asking the sound mixer to crank up the volume.  Just hearing “Ever Fallen In Love” and “Orgasm Addict” live made Day 2 worthwhile in and of itself.

Weezer finished off Project Pabst with some flair.

Weezer finished off Project Pabst with some flair.

There are few bands with whom I have more of a love/hate relationship than Weezer, and considering my age it should be easy to spot exactly where that dividing line occurs in the band’s catalog.  I think the surest example of how people my age should not be lumped into the catch-all “millenial” generation is that we would never cheer as loudly for “Back to the Shack” as we would for “My Name Is Jonas” or “The Good Life”.  I ended up sticking around longer than I anticipated since the group did a good job of mixing in some of their genuinely great songs with their later hits that played well to certain segments of the crowd, and I can certainly admired the well-oiled machine that Weezer the performance act has become.

Project Pabst was a solid success this go-around, but hopefully they will learn from a few of their mistakes from this edition as they set up plans for next year.  Hopefully they can create a lineup as exciting and varied as the first two editions.

Random Notes

Number of free water refills: 2

Number of beards longer than mine: 1

Number of comments on my shirt (Dinosaur Jr. Green Mind cover): 2, including a “Best Shit EVER!”

Project Pabst 2015 Day 1 Recap

Last year’s Project Pabst was an unqualified success, so it made sense for the organizers to make the festival an annual event instead of a one-off celebration.  Even though it could be argued that this year’s lineup was a step below last year’s edition, Project Pabst offered easily the best selection from a burgeoning Portland festival scene.  And so once again, Rust Is Just Right made the trek up north to enjoy a weekend’s worth of music in a gravel pit.

Into the clown's mouth...

Into the clown’s mouth…

As great as many of the performances were throughout the weekend, the defining characteristic of Project Pabst was how goddamn hot the entire event was.  I feel ashamed to be complaining about the heat since I spent my childhood playing pickup basketball during the unbearable Louisiana summer months, but living in Oregon has unfortunately made me soft.  Temperatures hit triple digits on the first day, and the primary concern was locating shade wherever it was available, with making sure the sunscreen was still effective a close second.  Actually, the heat was not the problem–it was the sun beating down mercilessly upon all of our heads that contributed to the crowd’s relative misery more than anything.  This was in stark contrast to last year’s edition, which took place at the end of September, and it seems as if the organizers made no effort to alter the accommodations to prepare for the drastic change in weather.

Against Me! declares that "Gender Is Over"

Against Me! declares that “Gender Is Over”

The first set that we caught came from punk rockers Against Me! who delivered a fiery set that was better than their early-afternoon slot would indicate.  Variety is not Against Me!’s strong suit, and as a result their music tends to run a bit on the formulaic side especially when you focus on the drums and bass parts.  However, the band’s energy easily won me over, which is more than I could say for the heat-stricken crowd–I was surprised to see the relatively listless reaction to the band’s breakthrough hit “Thrash Unreal”.

Why have one drummer when you can have two?

Why have one drummer when you can have two?

Thee Oh Sees kept the punk spirit rolling with their set, delivering their garage-rock at a breakneck speed and with an extra helping of pure cacophony.  The band would have won a trophy for “Most Treble” if any such award was given, which is somewhat ironic considering the number of intriguing bass lines that were sprinkled throughout their set.  For the most part, the group rarely exploited the fact that they had two drummers, choosing to have the two play duplicate parts instead of contrasting or complementary parts.  Their set quickly began to wear thin, with each short burst of fury practically indistinguishable from each other; a full hour was too much, a fact that the band acknowledged when they expressed surprise that they still had twenty-five minutes left in their set.   At this point, Thee Oh Sees became the soundtrack to a food break, where I opted once again for the mediocre Muffaletta sandwich.

TV on the Radio attempt to beat the heat

TV on the Radio attempt to beat the heat

TV on the Radio put on one of the best shows of last year, so they were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the most this weekend.  Like many of the other acts, however, they were not prepared for the relentless heat, as seen by the fact that most of the band was dressed entirely in black.  The band performed with the same intensity and passion as they did last winter, though on occasion the sound mix was not as up to the quality of that previous show; this was most obvious during “Could You”, when the song was dangerously close to falling apart for most of its running time.  The thrilling finale of “Staring at the Sun” served as a microcosm of the set, as initial enthusiasm soon fizzled and the crowd began anticipating a move to the second stage.   The set did nothing to diminish TVOTR in my eyes, but due to the conditions outside of their control it is unlikely they earned many new fans with this performance.

Run the Jewels owned the weekend.

Run the Jewels owned the weekend.

The unquestioned highlight of the whole weekend for me was the chance to finally see Run the Jewels live.  Killer Mike and El-P totally lived up to expectations, as they proved to be one of the most dynamic acts touring today.  In contrast with a lot of hip-hop sets, the duo was able to keep spirits high as they seemingly fed off each other’s energy, with Trackstar the DJ doing a fantastic job manning the 1 and 2.  The crowd ate it all up, with a majority ready to throw up the fist-and-gun hand gestures at a moment’s notice.  Two audience members who had a blast during the set were Del the Funky Homosapien and A-Plus, a fact that I realized when I saw them perform later that night.

Blondie bringing out the big guns...a keytar

Blondie bringing out the big guns…a keytar

Blondie was the headlining nostalgia act this year, taking over the spot held previously by Tears for Fears.  I was surprised at the lack of buzz that greeted these legends, especially in comparison to last year’s feverish anticipation for Tears for Fears, but it is not as if I was compensating for the lack of enthusiasm myself.  It was a strange and ragged set that managed to not only to display the variety of hits the band has had over the years but to include a random cover of “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” (mirroring last year’s TFF set).  Of all things, I felt that a random keytar solo during “Call Me” was the best summary of the performance.

This would have been a nice finale to the evening...

This would have been a nice finale to the evening…

Saturday night was all set to have a thrilling conclusion with Ghostface Killah joining up with BADBADNOTGOOD to perform from their collaboration Sour Soul, except for the fact that Ghostface never showed up.  Stuff like this happens, but the way that the organizers of the show handled the situation was inexcusable.  There may not have been a hotter spot in Portland than the Crystal Ballroom that night, and the fact that the crowd was left in the dark for an hour before BADBADNOTGOOD had to reveal the bad news themselves was inexcusable; at least give the audience a chance to decide to bail or not, and inform them why they are suffering in the heat for so long.  BADBADNOTGOOD tried to make amends and delivered a technically-proficient and spirited jazz-fusion set, but it was impossible to overcome the letdown that the news of Ghostface’s absence had caused.

Random Notes

Number of free water refills: 4

Number of beards longer than mine: 3, including Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio

Number of comments on my shirt (Neutral Milk Hotel Gramophone/Aeroplane): 0

Over the Weekend (July 20 Edition)

New music, new videos, and news as you recover from a weekend spent with the sun shining mercilessly on a gravel pit…

Wilco shocked the music-loving world last week with the surprise release of their latest album, Star Wars, for free through their website.  The record is a very loose affair, hearkening back to the pre-Summerteeth era, and serves as the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer afternoon.  They played the record in its entirety during their Pitchfork Musical Festival-headlining set, so those of you who are lucky enough to have tickets for their current tour should prepare yourselves accordingly.

We are entirely against the idea of playing the song “Friday I’m in Love” on any day except Friday, though we may have to make an exception for Yo La Tengo’s pleasant take The Cure’s classic for their new covers album Stuff Like That There, especially for its hilarious music video that is perfect for any Monday.

Wavves shared their latest single “Way Too Much” last week after a brief brouhaha with their label.  The drama seems to have ended, which is great news because the song has us amped for the October 2nd release of V.

Pitchfork has a handy guide to a list of the best books of the 33 1/3 series, which allows writers to examine classic albums through a variety of perspectives.  We can vouch for the excellence of the entry on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and one of these days we will pick up a few more selections.

If you are in need of a laugh this week, we highly recommend you check out Clickhole’s irreverent take on the Oral History.  Their most recent look at the making of Jay Z’s The Blueprint is hysterical, though it may be topped by their examination of the creation of OK Computer.  Those expecting a serious look at the making of those classic albums will be sorely disappointed, but everyone else should enjoy the mocking of an often tired format.