J Mascis

Reviews: Quick Hits (Part 2)

Though we here at Rust Is Just Right try as hard as we can, it simply is not possible for us to review all the great new albums that come across our way.  However, since our goal is to highlight great music that you may have not discovered yet, we feel obligated to at least give a brief mention to some of the records that we have accumulated over the past few months that are worthy of your consideration.  With that in mind, we present another slate of albums.

Frog Eyes – Pickpocket’s Locket With their previous albums Tears of the Valedictorian and Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, Frog Eyes showed a certain flair for the dramatic, delivering cracked indie rock epics that can overwhelm listeners with their passion and intensity while challenging their preconceived musical sensibilities.  For this album, Casey Mercer has pulled back a bit and offered a more stripped-down version of his group’s bombastic sound, but delivered with a similar fervor.  You still get Mercer’s unique voice, but this time it is often accompanied by strings.

HEALTH – Death Magic For their long-awaited follow-up to Get Color, noise-rockers HEALTH have decided to throw on the most depressing dance party ever.  Industrial affectations adorn slow, slinky beats, creating a menacing if alluring album.  The only downside is a tendency early in the album to borrow a melody from Vampire Weekend’s “Giving Up The Gun”, but that might be a problem that does not afflict everyone equally.

Lou Barlow – Brace the Wave It is really strange that two of the members of probably the loudest fucking band on the planet, Dinosaur Jr., enjoy making gorgeous acoustic music in their spare time, but such is the case for J Mascis and Lou Barlow.  To be fair, Barlow has shown this side for years, even on a handful of Dino songs, but Brace the Wave is an especially gorgeous collection of songs.  Recorded after the dissolution of a long marriage, there is the expected melancholic element, but it is balanced with several moments of fragile beauty.

Wire – Wire The old punks are still kicking, and they are as restless as ever.  Not content to rehash their early work that has inspired countless modern bands, Wire instead dives into a dour post-punk take on shoegaze.  That is probably a poor characterization of their sound, but goes to show how the band has always managed to defy description.

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool The band got some airplay with the aggro-indie track “Moaning Lisa Smile”, but the album as a whole exhibits far greater diversity than one might expect.  Wolf Alice shows a bit of love to multiple 90’s subgenres and trends, but avoids sounding like a rehash of that decade.  My Love Is Cool does not quite work as a cohesive album, but there should be plenty of stray tracks that fans will love.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 19 Edition)

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]

“:

Another high-profile release coming out next week is the album that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy made with his son Spencer (released under the name “Tweedy”), Sukierae.  Jeff writes a piece for The Guardian discussing the significance of the album form, and why Suierae is a double-album.

J Mascis sat down for a fun interview with Pitchfork for their Guest List feature.

NPR examines the lasting popularity of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”.

WIRED samples some psychological studies that attempt to explain the scientific reason why you and your friends tend to like the same music as well as analyzing the significance of music in social interaction.

And finally, our readers should be well-aware of how psyched we are about the reunion of Death From Above 1979, so of course we’re going to pass along any stories about these guys.  FADER talks to the band about some of their favorite movies while Rolling Stone talks to the band about their time apart.  In true Rolling Stone fashion, the interviewer keeps on referring to the limited-run Romantic Rights EP as the touchstone of their early days instead of the wide-released full-length You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, but I’m willing to let that detail go.

Covered: “Fade Into You”

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.

“Fade Into You” is one of the most enduring songs of the 90’s, even if many of its fans never learned the name of the song or the band that performed it.  It’s a gorgeously melancholic ballad, the kind of tune that’s perfect for long moonlit drive down a long country road.  The song is malleable enough that it can fit between just about any mood, from somber and pensive to relaxed and content;  it’s the perfect soundtrack to either a night of solemn, longing regret or perhaps peaceful joy with satisfied companion.  I never fully became a fan of Mazzy Star, but the brilliance of this song forces me to try again every so often.

Musically, it’s built on several wonderful little sonic details, from the haunting lead slide guitar lines, to those piano figures that accent the end of each phrase, to that laid-back yet insistent acoustic guitar with its loping waltzing rhythm, with Hope Sandoval’s breathy, ethereal vocals softly hanging above the mix.  The song is built on a slightly unconventional take on the normal three-chord structure, progressing in a IV-I-v structure, with the dominant five chord played as a minor chord.  This slight violation of normal harmonic theory gives the song its edge, as each line in the song seems unsettled because the chords haven’t resolved properly; it’s what gives the song its mournful atmosphere.

The last time we did this feature, we looked at Dinosaur Jr. dismantling and giving a shot of energy to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”.  This time, J Mascis takes a different approach with his contemplative and respectful version of the song.  It actually fits with his style as a solo act; for an artist that’s known for letting loose with blistering solos at the loudest possible volume with his regular gig, J often takes a more measured and thoughtful approach as a solo artist, and often indulges in acoustic ballads.

With this cover, J keeps it simple with just two guitars.  The rhythm guitar track is played with a softer, looser feel than the original, with the kind of touch that either indicates softer strings or perhaps strummed without a pick.  The lead is also done on an acoustic guitar, with meandering yet melodic lines dipping in and out throughout the track.  J’s leads, though omnipresent, often remain in the background, but when they poke through to the forefront are never showy.  Each line is not meant to purely dazzle the listener with technical wizardry (even though they are often impressive), but instead offer variations and comments on melodies from the vocals and in the original.

Then again, over a 30 year career we’ve come to expect this from J, at least from a guitar-playing perspective.  Here, J’s vocals also help produce a great cover: J’s unique vocal style has that particular vulnerable quality that really helps bring out the fragile beauty inherent in the music.  His voice may not be technically perfect, but in this case the imperfections become an asset by helping to enhance the delicate emotional complexity of the song.

Covered: “Just Like Heaven”

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.

One of my all-time favorite covers is Dinosaur Jr.’s take on one of The Cure’s biggest hits, “Just Like Heaven”.  The Dino version somehow succeeds in being both faithful to the original and irreverent at the same time.  The video above helps make my point, as the band clearly has a bit of fun with the original version by mimicking many of its dance moves, but it’s done in a gently mocking manner instead of a heavy-handed insulting way.  The distinctive bass pickup/drumfill intro remains, but this time at a quicker tempo, followed by a shimmery acoustic guitar that’s a close match to the original.  It’s when the next wave of guitars enter that changes the mood, first with a heavily wah-wah’ed backing rhythm guitar, and then followed by a guitar that’s been whammy’ed within an inch of its life that takes on the memorable melody line, instead of the delicate twinkly style of the original.  It’s at this point that this sounds like a classic Dinosaur Jr. song, though with a more danceable beat.

J Mascis matches the vulnerability of Robert Smith’s vocals, and J’s distinctive whiny drawl actually helps bring out the emotion of the lyrics.  But it’s Lou Barlow’s shouted contribution of “You!” to the power chord-heavy chorus that really seals it, and it makes me crack up every time I hear the song.  It’s so jarring and unexpected that it changes the whole demeanor of the song, but once you know it’s there, you can’t wait for it to appear again.  J then twists the melody into one of his trademark blistering solos, further putting the band’s stamp on the song.  And just when you’re expecting the release from another chorus, the song abruptly cuts out.  For years, I thought I was the victim of a shitty version of the album, but I later found out that no, everyone had the same problem; the story is that the tape ran out while they were recording the song, but they liked the take so much they shipped it as is.  To this day, the band plays it the same way, abrupt ending and all.

For a long time, the Dinosaur Jr. version was the only one I knew; I had known it was a cover, but I never felt like seeking out the original since it was rare that I was in a mood to listen to The Cure.  So it may appear that my opinion is tainted, but no less of an authority than Robert Smith himself has proclaimed himself a fan of the cover, going so far as to say that it now influences how his band plays the song live.  I like the original, but I’ll agree with Mr. Smith on this one.

BONUS TRIVIA: In the Dinosaur Jr. video, the green puppet is wearing a “Deep Wound” t-shirt, which is the hardcore band that J and Lou were in before starting up Dinosaur Jr.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 11 Edition)

I would hope that we provided you with enough #longreads for the weekend with our recent series of Neutral Milk Hotel essays, but just in case, we have a few more links to check out.

The big story this weekend is the first weekend of Coachella.  Because you’re all smart enough to avoid the huge crowds and the awful heat, you’ll do what I do and watch the festivities courtesy of their own YouTube channel.  That said, I wouldn’t mind if I was one of those people that were deemed important enough that companies would pay just so I could attend a music festival.

As for earlier this week, the biggest news was probably Stephen Colbert being tapped to replace David Letterman as host of the Late Show.  SPIN sets you straight if you think this has little do with music.

Oh, you might have thought that last night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was the big story.  It was pretty huge, if only for the inclusion of Nirvana.  I’d direct you over to the Everybody Loves Our Town Tumblr for all your necessary links, though I’ll specifically link to this interview with grunge experts analyzing the “irony” of Nirvana’s induction, as an anti-establishment force that is now formally a part of the establishment, and this piece that discusses the brilliance of an all-female lineup heading the reunited Nirvana.  It’s probably not a good idea to take a look at this setlist at the secret aftershow party that included J Mascis showing up to do classics like “Drain You”, because you’ll be pissed at the fact you weren’t there and are only hearing about this now.  But I will link to this video of Kim Gordon performing “Aneurysm”.

And in a nice coincidence with all the Nirvana news this week, we’re about to see one of their major inspirations release their first new album in over two decades soon.  Guitarist Joey Santiago of the Pixies did an in-depth interview with MusicRadar talking about his guitar-playing style and gear, and drops some insight into the recording process behind Indie Cindy and the current dynamics of the band..

Last week we were less than pleased with an AV Club article, but they’ve redeemed themselves with a close look at the brilliant Weezer track “Only In Dreams”.  I’m only disappointed because I had hoped to do a Feats of Strength on one of my favorite Weezer songs, but they did a pretty bang-up job themselves.  I’d only add that part of the brilliance of the guitar solo is that the show-stopping run up the neck is reminiscent of the big solo in “Marquee Moon” and does a great job of creating tension by dancing around the traditional sweet spots on the scale, and that the whole sequence is a perfect parallel to the lyrics and title of the song.  But good work.

And finally, I’m going to be sure to spend a little time this weekend reading this Pitchfork interview with a biographer of Big Star’s Alex Chilton, because Big Star was amazing and that’s all you should need to know before doing the same.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 7 Edition)

This is a Monday that should be especially easy to handle, because there are a ton of new videos to watch and aid in your quest to find the best ways to procrastinate.

It wasn’t a bad weekend to stay at home, because Nine Inch Nails made a rare television appearance in performing for the legendary Austin City Limits.  SPIN has the video of the almost hour-long performance, but I’m not sure how long it will be up, so better watch this one as soon as you can.

Continuing a week full of Nirvana tributes, here’s a roundup of a few from various artists from this past weekend, including covers from St. Vincent and Muse.  Lost in the (understandable) fuss over Nirvana, is the fact that this weekend marked another terrible anniversary, that of the death of Layne Staley.  The Everybody Loves Our Town Tumblr has a link to his last performance with Alice in Chains.  And here is another strange way in which the stories have been combined, thanks to the use of Photoshop.

Lots of news for fans of Jack White (which includes us, of course), as he announced the upcoming release of his solo follow-up to Blunderbuss, with Lazaretto scheduled to hit stores on June 10.  In addition, he’s announced a string of tour dates and released the “liquidy” video of the instrumental track “High Ball Stepper” (embedded above), a great please of ragged blues-rock.

Speaking of Jack White, Weezer stopped by the headquarters of Jack’s Third Man Records to record an acoustic version of fan-favorite “Susanne”.  Hey, remember when Weezer not only wasn’t awful, but actually pretty great?  That song is from that era, and along with “Jamie” is the reason why I bought the expensive Deluxe Edition reissue of the Blue Album.

J Mascis always seems to be having something going on, from his work in his main band Dinosaur Jr. to his solo work to even his acting (he’s been a guest on Portlandia and will be in the upcoming film The Doublehere’s a clip of Richard Ayoade talking about casting J).  J also has a side project with Sweet Apple, and you can find the debut video “Wish You Could Stay” (with guest vocals from the great Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, and more)), as well as a stream of the entire album, The Golden Age of Glitter, on Stereogum.  The single is a pleasant, shimmery piece of guitar pop, so please click if that description intrigues you.

Coldplay has released a music video for their latest single, “Magic”, and it’s rather good.  It’s made in the style of a silent film (with Coldplay being the backing music, of course), and involves a storyline with Zhang Ziyi and, well, magicians.  It’s nice to have some visual flair to a song that’s going to be pretty omnipresent on radio for a few months.

And because we publish this pretty late in the day, this allows us to catch some news just as its breaking–like the fact that The Roots are releasing a new album next month.  …And Then They Shoot Your Cousin will be out May 13, and Pitchfork has the first single “The People Cheer”.