Joy Division

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads for your enjoyment this weekend…

You might need to find something else to do this weekend than find new music articles to read, because we only have a few pieces to share with our readers for this edition.  One article that we do recommend is this discussion of Deafheaven’s new album New Bermuda in Pitchfork that somehow ties the album to Lana Del Rey, but is definitely worth reading if solely for the analysis of the record alone.  Also, since Deafheaven is set to perform in Portland on Monday, now is the perfect time to check it out.

Elsewhere on Pitchfork, Josh Langhoff has a fascinating look at the strange history behind the song “El Karma” and the saga of narcocorridos in contemporary Mexican culture.

In an amazing coincidence, there were two articles on the iconic and innovative group Suicide published this week.  The Quietus has an excerpt from a new biography on the band as well as a Q&A with the author of Dream Baby Dream, Kris Needs, while Noisey has a first-person recollection of the group.

Finally, it seems like we have a link to this story every few months, but here is another scientific explanation behind the cover art that was used for Joy Division’s seminal debut, Unknown Pleasures, courtesy of Scientific American.


Viet Cong and Free Speech: A Defense of the Offensive

Viet Cong is in the middle of a tour in support of their much-buzzed, occasionally brilliant debut album, but experienced a minor problem when one of their scheduled stops was cancelled by the promoter.  Oberlin College was set to host the band this upcoming Saturday but this last week announced that the show will be cancelled because of the band’s name.  Or, to put this in another way: months after negotiating a contract with the band to perform a show, the students who booked the show suddenly felt that they could not host a band with a potentially offensive name, even though the reference from said band’s name was immediately apparent to anyone.  The meaning of the name “Viet Cong” did not change in the past few months, but Oberlin’s reaction to it certainly did.

To a certain extent, I can understand the weariness of the promoter.  Having taken numerous history courses in high school and college that included the Vietnam War in its curriculum, I was well aware of the exploits of the Viet Cong and was initially skeptical of the group purely because of its poor choice of a name. Eventually I reconsidered, mainly because as a music fan and as someone who grew up with punk rock, I’ve long been accustomed to offensive names and never let that stop me from enjoying their music.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to have never listened to the Dead Kennedys or Gang of Four or Joy Division or New Order, and to possibly have been stopped from hearing their music because of their potentially offensive name is as asinine a reason that there could be.  Hell, I imagine most people only learned what the term “Joy Division” refers to after they heard it was controversial, highlighting the fact that people can use controversy to educate themselves; at the very least, it makes the audience think about what a name means and what it can represent.

Here, I’ll let Tony Wilson explain in a more eloquent and condescending manner:

The video should be cued up to the appropriate spot, but if it isn’t, fast-forward to the 2:42 mark*

Offensive band names are part of a larger discussion that we should be having about free speech in our society.  As an artist and as someone who appreciates art, I will almost always err on the side of caution in protecting free speech; we are richer as a culture and as a society when we have a free exchange of ideas and philosophies, and often that involves the discussion of potentially harmful or dangerous concepts.  This is especially true in art, where we explore certain concepts and theories from all angles to better understand the human condition, but often music is held to a different standard than other forms.  We don’t think twice when we see violence and other evils on screen, but if someone raps about the same thing, it’s time to protest.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this problem is that this principle of free speech is being attacked from both the right and the left.  I’m sure there would be plenty of students who would be upset if they were prevented from offering commentary that attacks the Catholic church or if they could not discuss the tenets and political underpinnings of Communism, yet they want to prohibit a band from playing a show because it adopted a name of a group that shares the beliefs of the latter example.  There certainly would be protests if a college banned artists that attacked Christian dogma or classes on leftist ideology, as well as they should–college is supposed to be a sanctuary where we can have a free flow of ideas with only the bare minimum of restrictions.  The Dead Kennedys were about as leftist as a punk band could be, but they certainly understood that fascism can come from either direction, as they illustrated in “Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Über Alles”.

I understand if there are Vietnamese students who may take offense to a band named “Viet Cong” playing on their campus, especially if many are from families immigrated to America as a result of their actions during the war.  However, attendance to the concert is not mandatory–no one is forcing these students to attend the show.  The aggrieved students could express their displeasure in a variety of ways, from writing tot he band to publishing op-eds in the student newspaper to protesting outside the show itself.  The students make their case and alert others to their concerns, but still allow others to enjoy the show if they so choose.

It’s one thing to complain about the possible offensiveness of the name, but it’s another complaint noted by the promoter that I find far more troublesome, that the name is “appropriative”; it’s not just the fact that the band calls themselves “Viet Cong”, but that it is four white guys from Canada that are using the name.  This specific complaint has become de rigueur in the past few months, and while there are certain contexts where “appropriation” can be an issue, that is definitely not the case here.  When discussing music, “appropriation” is generally applied in a pseudo-intellectual manner as a way to show off knowledge about different cultures, with total disregard for the fact that any form of music is the mix of dozens of genres derived from a variety of settings.  But in reference to band names in particular, it is a particularly galling argument, because 98% OF ALL BAND NAMES ARE “APPROPRIATIVE.”**

NEWSFLASH: If an artist does not identify himself or herself by his/her own name, then they are adopting a persona that is not theirs.  They are guilty of “appropriation.”  In this context, Franz Ferdinand is a group of guys from Scotland, not the Archduke whose death sparked World War I, and we really should not have been expecting the latter to be performing these days.

Let us examine the potential extent of this policy.  Would Oberlin have banned Nirvana from performing since they were not practicing Buddhists?  Would they bar the Wu-Tang Clan from appearing since they are not in fact Shaolin monks?  Would they prohibit the surviving members of The Monkees from performing since they are not in fact monkeys?!?!  And don’t even ask about what Oberlin would do with The Beatles…

Before they became Viet Cong, members of the band were in a previous group called “Women”.  Clearly, they should not have been able to perform under that name since they are in fact guys, but then you have to wonder that if they prevent them from performing under that name there is the implicit conclusion that the term “women” itself is offensive.  It is utter and complete nonsense.

I hope that this incident wakes people up to the potential pitfalls of adopting such a poorly conceived approach to free speech.  While minimal harm was done overall, I certainly hope that the band was compensated despite the fact they weren’t able to perform, since Oberlin breached their contract in such a dubious manner.  Of course, venues are free to book whomever they like, and are under no obligation to hire a specific band for any opening that they have, but once an agreement is made the venue cannot back out for such a questionable reason.  I wish that I was able to hear Viet Cong’s initial reaction for myself, but despite receiving dozens of emails a day alerting me to shows in the area I was unaware that they performed at Mississippi Studios just a few nights ago.  Unfortunately, I feel this will not be the last time that we will be having this discussion, but until then, don’t stop yourself from listening to a band just because they have a terrible band name, even if they don’t have a good reason why they chose it.

*That’s Rob Brydon interviewing Steve Coogan in the clip, which should delight fans of The Trip films/series.

**This is a conservative estimate.

Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you finalize your Oscar predictions…

Fans of Joy Division are probably well-aware that the famous illustration that graced the cover of their landmark album Unknown Pleasures was a graphic of radio waves from a pulsar taken from an old encyclopedia.  However, they are probably not familiar with the origins of the graphic itself.  Scientific American takes a look at the fascinating backstory behind the creation of what would eventually become one of the most famous images in music.

Earlier this week we published our review of I Love You, Honeybear, the brilliant new album from Father John Misty, and for those of you are interested now more than ever about the exploits of the man known as Joshua Tillman, check out the profiles on him by Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound.

Consequence of Sound also takes a look at the trio BADBADNOTGOOD and how they ended up working with the likes of Ghostface Killah, and while you read it you can take a listen to their album Sour Soul, which is now available for streaming on SoundCloud.  The site also catches up with Elvis Perkins and fills us in on what he’s been doing in the years since 2009’s Elvis Perkins in Dearland as he prepares to release I Aubade next week.  Elsewhere, Pitchfork has an extensive interview with Sufjan Stevens available for your perusal this weekend.

If there’s a band that knows their way around cheap beer, it’s Red Fang, and Portland’s favorite heavy metal band recently persevered through a challenge from Denver’s Westword to rate some of the cheapest beer they could find.  Be sure to use that as inspiration for this weekend.

Ratter provides a great explanation of the copyright lawsuit over “Blurred Lines” between Marvin Gaye’s estate and Pharrell/Robin Thicke that is still making its way through the courts, including discussing exactly what parts of a song are copyrightable and how that can potentially affect the music industry.  You can even hear the musical excerpts from each side’s submissions to the court.

And finally, before watching the Oscars this weekend, be sure to read this New Yorker profile on the career and legacy of Glen Campbell, whose haunting “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is up for Best Song.  We’re pulling for him to take home the statue, but we think it may be a longshot.

Review: Viet Cong – Viet Cong

Viet Cong’s self-title debut is one of those records that I find easier to admire than to truly enjoy.  Though Viet Cong is enjoying a serious amount of critical buzz (its Metacritic rating currently sits at 82 with only a typical half-hearted shrug of a review from Rolling Stone dragging down its grade), I find it highly unlikely that the band’s noisy take on early-80’s post-punk will break through to a mass audience in any big way.  At times Viet Cong is a challenging and confrontational album, with the band seemingly taking a defiant approach by avoiding by thismuch a more approachable melody whenever possible.  It’s an album that defies easy conventions, but one that is rewarding with repeated listens; the problem is gaining the will to get to that point.

The album is heavily influenced by post-punk like early Joy Division or Wire with its insistent drumming, melodic bass counterpoint, and off-kilter guitars, but Viet Cong filters these elements through a sheen of Sonic Youth-like noise and the lo-fi experimentation of their disciples.  Whereas a lot of those classic records would employ a common verse-chorus structure, most of the songs on Viet Cong veer through multiple unrelated ideas, with songs stopping on a dime and making a sudden left turn into previously unforeseen musical territory.  For example, a song like “March of Progress” begins with an ambient sonic experiment like you would find on a No Age record, abruptly shifts into an eastern-tinged drone, then concludes by suddenly morphing into a dance-y 4/4 rave-up; none of this makes sense on paper, and the unfamiliar listener will assume that he/she just listened to three separate songs, but Viet Cong finds a connective tissue between the differing styles.

The band’s relentless desire to experiment doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, it does so in a big way.  The first half of Viet Cong can be a struggle to listen to, with slogs like “Bunker Buster” and “Pointless Experience” sounding like homework for a lesson on post-punk: OK, here’s the guitar accenting the off-beats, there’s the drums chugging along, and oh yeah here’s some distant, ethereal haunting vocals overlooking the entire enterprise.  Sure, there are individual moments within each song that are worth noting, but they are enveloped by such dour surroundings that they can be difficult to appreciate.  If you thought Interpol was too brooding for your tastes, then you’re in trouble.

However, the second half of Viet Cong is a monster that should have you overlooking any potential misgivings from the first half.  “Continental Shelf” manages to twist a beach-influenced Surfer Bloodtype riff into something more ominous and foreboding, and it pays off in spades. Bassist Matt Flegel’s vocals alternate between a desperate wail in the mold of a Paul Banks to a more restrained version of Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, etc.) in his best performance on the album that shows the band’s exciting potential.  “Silhouettes” is a more frenetic number that amps up the paranoia and makes excellent use of the band’s heavy dose of reverb, the perfect soundtrack for an apocalyptic disco party.

Viet Cong concludes with the eleven-minute epic “Death” and features a stellar drumming performance by Mike Wallace, who expertly deploys an attacking snare riff to build on the unstable mood established by “Silhouettes” before the entire song collapses in a noise-freakout.  That is, the song seemingly collapses–after a false ending, the band seamlessly transitions back into a more furious version of the original song, constantly increasing the speed and tension.  It’s a performance that will leave you figuratively gasping for air, though I imagine in concert the reaction may be more literal.

If Viet Cong can build on the strengths shown on the second half of their debut, then they have a very bright future ahead of them.  I am unsure whether Viet Cong will appeal to anyone outside of post-punk enthusiasts, but for those who appreciate the genre they should enjoy their original spin on its conventions.  At the very least, we should all be able to enjoy the pure unfiltered fury of a song like “Death”.

Essential Classics: Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights

With the release of Interpol’s fifth album El Pintor yesterday, now is a great time to take a look back and examine the career of the band.  Today we’ll analyze their brilliant debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, and tomorrow we’ll see how Interpol’s career developed in the wake of the success of that album.

Few albums have personally affected me as much as Interpol’s debut.  When I first listened to the record back in high school, it helped introduce me to whole new worlds of music, providing the gateway to both modern indie bands and to classic post-punk bands from the past (though it would be many years before I truly comprehended what the term “post-punk” meant).  It became one of those albums I would spin over and over again, be it as a disc pumping through my car stereo, an iTunes playlist played through dorm room speakers, or an iPod selection performed through my headphones.  Over the years, there was one particular situation that would always inspire me to listen to Turn on the Bright Lights, and that was in my frequent airplane trips from coast-to-coast as I shuttled between college/law school and back home.  It didn’t matter which was the destination; either way, the album allowed me to both confront and relax away the mixture of emotions that were a result of the trip.

So you should consider my claim that Turn on the Bright Lights is the greatest album released since the turn of the new century with this personal backstory in mind.  Simply put, I believe that this album is an example of each individual member playing his part and fulfilling his role perfectly.  Daniel Kessler’s beautiful and unique guitar style is the first thing that you notice; his use of single-note melody runs as well as a dynamic array of unusual two and three-note chords (as well as his crystalline tone) helped set Kessler’s guitarwork apart from his contemporaries, and showed how an alternative approach to the instrument can work (inspiring critics to deem his guitar lines as “angular”, a nonsensical description if-you-think-about-it that has nevertheless prevailed over the past decade in comparing guitarists influenced by Kessler, much like how “jangly” became ubiquitous with the rise of R.E.M.).  The guitar doesn’t have to be omnipresent for it to still have an impact, and it can still have a massive effect even when it’s used to deploy bits of color to a song.  Kessler is helped as well by Paul Banks’s wonderful work on second guitar, which doesn’t rely on playing mere stock chords or basic rhythms but instead provides a melodic counterpoint in weaving melodies around Kessler’s runs (often creating intriguing, rarely-heard chords) or complex rhythmic interplay that help propel the songs in new directions.  Of course, you can’t talk about the genius of early Interpol without discussing Carlos D’s mesmerizing bass, which often provided key melodies to the songs and gave musicians everywhere a lesson in how to provide rhythmic support without relying on basic and repetitive patterns.  But the real hero may be Sam Fogarino’s drums, and it may take several listens to realize the subtle tricky patterns that he employs without coming off like a showoff that are nevertheless integral to keeping the songs fresh, as well as his ability to provide just the right accents to punctuate all the key moments of the album.

In addition to their fantastic individual musicianship, there are two things that the band does very well that are revealed after multiple listens.  The first is that Interpol does a brilliant job of subtly tweaking repeated phrases, both musical and lyrical, a technique that often provides the effect of casting both in a new light.  It helps keep the listener on his or her toes by challenging expectations, and also provides an incentive to engage in repeated listens, so as to uncover new musical  “tricks”.  Interpol are also compositional experts, rarely relying on a basic verse-chorus-bridge formula; not only do they employ the tweaks mentioned before, but they often create dynamic bridges that lead to amazing outros, taking the song in unexpected and rewarding directions.

Before going any further, let’s just address the Joy Division comparisons for a second.  The comparison between the two bands is valid, but to argue that Interpol is merely aping or ripping off Joy Division can only be the result of a superficial listening of the two.  There are similarities, namely the prominence of the bass and the way that it often provides melodies (especially in the upper-register), the way that the guitar is often used to provide color and as a support instead of the point of emphasis, and the disaffected baritone vocals shared by Ian Curtis and Paul Banks.  However, saying that the two are the same fails to take into account that Joy Division’s rhythmic approach was more straight-ahead and based on motorik styles (with Peter Hook’s bass in “Dead Souls” being a notable exception), while Interpol used “funkier” rhythms and switched styles more easily.  As for the vocal comparisons, this fails to take into account how Paul would often explore the outer limits of his range, or attempt to convey various emotions more often than the flat, affectless style that was the trademark of Ian Curtis.  The two bands are also unfairly tagged as “depressing” music, though this is due to some extent to the way that they present themselves.  I think it’s fairer to say that both are serious about their craft, which comes out in their songs, and deliberate in their intentions; even if the themes may edge into darker territory, that is not the same thing as saying they’re both depressing.  Interpol can often tread in the realm of the melancholic and gloomy, but after a few listens it’s easier to see both the hope and the humor in their lyrics and music.  It’s not “mope-rock” to say the least.  However, if you’re a reviewer still stuck on comparing the two bands, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats once provided a helpful list of other things to which you can compare Interpol.

With these general points in mind, I’d like to provide some personal insights on a track-by-track basis.  Hopefully they help inspire you to listen to the album and discover insights of your own.

The album begins with the delicate ballad “Untitled”, starting with a gorgeous, gauzy guitar playing a delicately descending figure.  After repeating this pattern four times with a gradual crescendo, the drums kick in with a memorable cymbal pickup, followed by Carlos D’s powerful bass.  This actually provides the dominant melody of the song, giving a prelude to Paul Banks’s vocal line.  While the song essentially amounts to one line, with each repetition Banks adds a couple of words to the phrase that subtly changes the tenor of the lines, it never feels incomplete (as the title may suggest).  After a gorgeous buildup featuring some guitar flourishes, the song ends with each instrument gradually dropping out.  But the part that I always captivates me is the bass, which switches from the ambling, rolling figure to a deliberate and decisive conclusion.  The effect of the quarter note bum-bum-buuuuuuum line is both ominous and chilling, especially as the third note lingers and you can hear the overtones rattling around your speakers.

“Obstacle 1” is the song that first made me fall in love with TOTBL, and it was unlike anything else I had heard before.  Once again, the bass takes center stage in this song, as Carlos plays one of the most innovative bass parts ever recorded.  He switches between delicate figures played on the upper register to switching between alternate rhythmic figures in the verse, to adding certain flourishes with his glissandos that slide up the neck before stopping without warning.  Kessler’s guitar sounds like a distant alarm, echoing Television’s “Marquee Moon”, before interacting in a subtle interplay with Banks’s rhythm guitar.  And then everything slides into place for that driving chorus, featuring the memorable line “as you go stabbing yourself in the neck.”  The violence of the line is never really explain, but it somehow still makes sense.  It should be noted that Paul makes a subtle switch between the two choruses, singing “It’s different now that I’m poor and aging, I’ll never see this face again” the first time, and replacing “face” with “place” the second time.  In the context of the song, which is seemingly about the dissolution of a relationship, this switch shifts the context from the personal interaction between the partners to the setting.

This all sets up the brilliant bridge, featuring some of Sam’s most furious drumming as he shuffles around the entirety of his drumkit, providing the perfect foundation as Banks struggles with the reasons that the relationship has ended.  Many critics like to make fun of the line “her stories are boring and stuff”, but this is merely an example how in many songs the narrator in many Interpol songs are either unreliable are unsympathetic; this line is an example of the narrator grasping at straws to end things, which is made clear with the very next line that “she’s always calling my bluff.”  The mood then immediately shifts to one of mourning, as he laments the “weights” that she put in his heart, which is contradicted by the consistently ascending guitar part.

“NYC” is a devastatingly gorgeous ballad filled with memorable imagery; the line “the subway is a porno, the pavements they are a mess” is one of the most memorable of the decade, and really captures the grime in the city in more ways than one (it even takes on a whole new meaning when you think of the implication of the idea that the second phrase is a direct result of the first).  For me, though, the opening lines are what stick with me: “I had seven faces, thought I knew which one to wear; I’m sick of spending these lonely nights training myself not to care.”  It is the single most accurate depiction of depression I’ve ever heard, right down to the selection of “seven faces”, since each day of the week means a different role to play according to social norms.

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom, echoing a mistake that many detractors make when describing the band.  Because the band takes that pain and decides to use that to propel themselves–first encouraged by the backing vocals “gotta be some more change in my life”, this builds into a personal call for action as Paul sings “it’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights” as Dan’s guitar elevates to the heavens with a majestic termolo-picked solo guitar line.  But perhaps the song’s highest moment is when Sam’s drums emphasizes each quarter note before the last chorus of “New York cares”, as if you can reach through and feel the band sense each of those words.

The track “PDA” is how many people first heard the band, and in many ways this makes it easy to understand why all the music critics insisted on comparing the band to Joy Division in every single review.  It’s one of the most straight-forward songs on the album, with a momentum built on its forward-leaning eighth-note drive, and is marked by Paul’s nearly affect-less singing, which makes those connections that critics drew to Ian Curtis pretty clear.  One thing I enjoy hearing is Sam switching drum patterns from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during each line in the verse, giving some lines extra clarity while others get a bit of cloudiness added to the mix.  This song has some of Interpol’s most oblique lyrics (I never figured out what “sleep tight, grim ride, we have two hundred couches where you can sleep tonight” meant), though I do enjoy the lines “You’re so cute when you’re frustrated/you’re so cute when you’re sedated”, which can double as both sweet and alarming, depending on the context or your perspective.  But it’s the breakdown into the outro which shows the band’s true musical genius, as one single guitar figure is countered with an alternate guitar figure, before the bass adds a third melodic line to an already complex mix.  It’s absolutely sublime, and it’s a crime that the music video omitted this section.

When people want to mock Interpol and say that they’re a bunch of sad bastards, I like to point them to the song “Say Hello to the Angels” which has some lines with real, actual humor.  Just think for a second what Paul is referring to when he says “I can’t control the part of me that swells up when you move into my airspace” (the line “1-2-3, do me” is a little less subtle).  If you think that’s an inappropriate metaphor for a serious musician to use, then you clearly have never noticed the erection joke in Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free”.  Musically, I love the alternating moods of the song, from the frantic, driving beat that shifts into a bouncy shuffle, to the deliberate, almost-metal stomp at the end that’s augmented by those palm-muted, percussive guitar strokes.

“Hands Away” is in many ways similar to the opener “Untitled”, and is one of the clearer instances that helps support my theory that the second half acts as a mirror to the first half, with tracks 6-10 partnering up with 1-5.  It’s not a perfect theory, but it’s worth thinking about once you’re listening to this half of the album.  The song is practically a music theory exercise, with each section seemingly getting faster merely by adding a note to the rhythmic figure (going from quarter to eighth to triplets, etc.).  The high point of the song is the gorgeous use of string synths at the climax, as it becomes too difficult to keep adding to the rhythmic figure as laid out before.  It’s also worth noting how the vocals switch styles from the first half of the song to the second, from a delicate approach to a more distant and evocative wail at the end.

In my first listens of TOTBL, I had felt that “Obstacle 2” didn’t measure up to “Obstacle 1”, making the comparison in my head even though I had read that the band claimed that the two are unconnected despite the similar names.  But over time I have come to love this song even more than its counterpart, even though I recognize the unique creative brilliance of the first one.  “Obstacle 2” provides the perfect case to examine how Interpol uses those “subtle tweaks” with its various repetitions to subtly change both tone and meaning.  In the pre-chorus, Paul sings “If you can fix me up, girl, we’ll go a long way” twice, but uses a different rhythm each time; the first has a bit of a bounce, reminiscent of someone skipping down the sidewalk, while the second one is deliberately straightforward and on the beat, as if to emphasize the importance of this declaration.  This pre-chorus is also repeated twice, with Sam using a different drum fill each time; the first is simpler and emphasizing the downbeat, while the second stutters and staggers a bit.  In a song filled with various references to drinking, both direct and indirect (“I stand by all this drinking if it helps me through these days”; “friends don’t waste wine when there’s words to sell”; “toast the snow that fell”), this helps indicate that perhaps the narrator is stumbling a bit as the alcohol begins to take hold.  It also puts the final lines of “It took time, then I found you” in a whole new light, depending on how much you read into that interpretation–is it a declaration, or is it a lament?

“Stella was a diver and she was always down” almost works as a reverse of “NYC”–instead of building up, the song is slowly torn down, as seen by its extensive breakdown that concludes the song (forgive me, I’m trying all that I can to make my theory proposed in the write-up of “Hands Away” work).  This song features my least-favorite Interpol lyric, but one I rarely see mentioned in those “bad lyric” roundups that critics love to employ when they bring up Interpol; I don’t care for the repetition in the line “the building fronts are just fronts”, especially since this pattern isn’t used elsewhere in the song, and it’s not even used to fit into a rhyme.  I feel that “the building fronts are just that” would capture the same idea in a more poetic manner, as the listener could pause to realize the implication of the use of the word “front”.  Speaking of lyrics, I’m pretty sure this song is referring to a woman engaging in the art of oral sex, giving a whole new meaning to the title and what specifically is the goal of the diving.

“Roland” is where you can really see where the “punk” in post-punk comes from, and the driving rocker is a great change of pace once “Stella” slowly disintegrated into the bottom of the sea.  I love the riffs, especially the riffs reminiscent of spy movies, which I believe helps shed light on the otherwise cryptic lyrics.  With this in mind, I believe that the song can be interpreted as a friend being interviewed about the unexpected violent crimes of an acquaintance, with the non sequiturs of the snow and the beard indicative of the narrator’s delicate mental state as he/she confronts the ugly reality of the person they thought they had known.

It took me years before I warmed up to “The New”, but now I believe that it is perhaps the best song on the entire album.  It’s a multi-part epic that doesn’t feel burdened by those expectations; the six minutes fly by and though the fragile first half and the sinister second half differ greatly, one can find the connective tissue between the two parts.  The song is an excellent showcase for all the talents of Carlos, beginning with his upper-octave melody that begins the song to his restrained support in the first bridge to his stuttering and funky maneuvers that help raise the anxiety of the listener during the song’s climax.  It also includes yet another example of the “subtle tweak”, this time with the insertion of a single word that may or may not change the meaning of a line (depending on how you interpret double-negatives in music).  First, Paul sings “I can’t pretend, I need to defend some part of me from you”, but on the next time through, he says “I can’t pretend I don’t need to defend some part of me from you”; once you realize that “don’t” can alter what Paul is trying to say, you then go back and realize that depending on the punctuation and emphasis, you can change the meaning of both lines once again.  It’s a puzzle that potentially always remains unsolved.

I want to make a special note of the climax of “The New”, which shows once again highlights the strength of each member as musicians.  I mentioned Carlos and his bass earlier, who makes excellent use of both the high and low end of his instrument (the latter of which whose sudden entrance near the end of the song helps give a foreboding warning), but I should also point out that the interplay between the two guitars is also mesmerizing.  For the guitar solo, Daniel repeats a single note multiple times, creating a tension in the listener’s mind because he/she cannot predict what will happen next; Kessler then responds by actually detuning the string, relieving the tension by physically releasing tension in the string.  Somehow the unconventional maneuver of detuning a guitar mid-song sounds more comforting to the ear, if only for a moment, than playing a normal note.  After this section, Daniel and Paul play competing lines that both dance around the tonal center, spawning a different kind of tension by devising these unconventional two-note chords.  This effort is all underscored by Sam’s efficient drumming, which both effortlessly shuffles between different patterns and provides excellent fills, most notably the big snare-roll fill for the final climax and the subtle crescendo emphasized hits that end the song.

The album concludes with the sublime “Leif Erikson”, an elegant midtempo number that carefully outlines the delicate relationship between opposing partners and worldviews.  The guitar chords are often unconventional, using slight deviations from normal patterns to create feelings of unease, but the band carefully resolves the progression each time they’re played.  The bridge features perhaps my favorite lyric of the album, which eloquently describes how clumsy the initial communications of love can be: “it’s like learning a new language…helps me catch up on my mime” is an excellent simile, evoking the memory in many people the difficulties of expressing one’s self in a foreign language and the various work-arounds we attempt in order to carry across our message.  Once again, synths help provide some nice color, and in combination with the final little guitar solo helps the song end on a hopeful note.

That may have seen like a rather intensive analysis of the album, but it’s only a fraction of the total number of ideas that Turn on the Bright Lights has spurred in me.  It’s that amazing of an album, and it’s the reason why I will forever be a fan of Interpol.

Catching Up On The Week (May 2nd Edition)

We’ve got some nice, light articles for you this weekend, mirroring the gorgeous weather we’ve been experiencing this week (at least here in the Pacific Northwest).

Last week we had an article that provided some interesting trivia about Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, and this week we have an article about its successor band, New Order.  The AVClub has an article about the single “Ceremony”, which bridged the two bands.  Kevin McFarland makes a convincing case for how the song provided an effective transition between the two eras.

The Wild Magazine has an extended interview with M.I.A. that’s worth checking out.  I didn’t get a chance to post anything about Matangi in the 2013 roundup, but I enjoyed the album and felt that it was a significant step up from its predecessor, MAYA.  But now I have a great excuse to post the video for “Bad Girls”, because it’s pretty damn cool.

Steven Hyden listened to the new Damon Albarn solo album, and while he hasn’t completely accounted for his sin of choosing Oasis over Blur in the mid-90’s Britpop battles, he does use the occasion to ponder why there aren’t any big band beefs any more.  Let’s just hope that this eventually leads to a listen of Parklife at some point.

The Flaming Lips recently fired long-time drummer Kliph Scurlock from the band, and Pitchfork has a message from Kliph that explains the situation and dynamic in the band.

And finally, great news for those of us in the Northwest, as the Nine Inch Nails/Soundgarden/Death Grips touring juggernaut announced additional dates in Sacramento, Portland (actually Clark County in Washington), and Seattle.  It feels good to not dread making a trip 800 miles down I-5.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 26 Edition)

Not too many #longreads this weekend, which probably is good news for us since our publishing schedule got sidetracked a bit this week, and there’s not much time left to cram.

The one exception is Stereogum’s week-long celebration of Britpop, featuring a ton of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the defining trends of the 90’s.  The pieces that grabbed my interest the most were the anniversary retrospective of Blur’s Parklife and the list of the Top 10 songs from The Verve, but I’ll be checking out more when I get the chance.

Going a few years from Britpop’s heyday, Shortlist has a slideshow of facts about Joy Division’s landmark album, Unknown Pleasures.  If that piques your interest, then I’d urge you to set aside some time in your schedule to watch Control and 24 Hour Party People if you haven’t already done so, because both are excellent looks at the brilliant band.

Just so you have the information somewhere on file, know that Lorde has been given Dave Grohl’s “Dad’s Seal of Approval”, which should have been somewhat obvious given her appearance with the reunited Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Finally, there are a couple of articles from Pitchfork I wanted to highlight.  On the one hand, there’s an interview with Marc Weidenbaum about his 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which provides some good insight into the composer, the development of the ambient genre, and the album itself.  At the end of the scale, we have this attempt by the staff to avoid writing a simple review of the new Pixies album Indie Cindy, with this half-assed stab at covering the entire Pixies discography.  It offers no insight or perspective on landmark albums like Surfer Rosa or Doolittle, but seems to exist only so that they have it on record that those records deserve perfect 10 scores, and that for some reason Trompe le Monde is a better album than Bossanova.  Perhaps that belief helps color their insistent tone in dealing with the new album.  I’d normally advise against reading something like this, but I’ll make an exception for this since it’s a good example of how empty some music writing can be.