Kim Gordon

Review: Deaf Wish – Pain

Listening to Pain is a lot like hearing a sampler of the major underground rock movements from the late-70’s to the early-90’s; over the course of ten tracks, Deaf Wish dabbles in gloomy post-punk, aggressive hardcore, and abrasive no-wave, all in a quest to overwhelm the listener with the power of noise.  For most people, the band’s name is wonderfully apropos–the persistent onslaught of pure cacophony the group manages to generate would cause many to hope that their ears would cease functioning.  However, for that certain audience that desires that sort of grating noise, Pain has what they crave in spades.

Though Pain lacks a consistent thematic trajectory, as Deaf Wish jumps between different styles from track to track, the album certainly improves as it goes along, making it a backloaded affair.  Each member gets a stab at the mic, and the different vocal approaches help create a truly diverse record, even as they work within the narrow confines of this particular subgenre.  One song will feature an aggressive bark, another a soft coo, and yet another will have a longing drone, all with walls of guitars and drums bashing around in the background.

As one might expect, it can be fairly easy to spot the band’s significant influences, especially that of Sonic Youth–Sarah Hardiman’s voice is such a dead ringer for Kim Gordon that when I listen to “Sex Witch” it prompts an instinctual response to chant along “spirit desire”.  Deaf Wish does benefit from the fact that few other bands digging through those same records for inspiration, setting them apart from current trends, but the group also proves that there is enough room even within these narrow styles to create something original.  There is subtlety to be found even amid all that noise.

Pain really hits its stride in its last three songs, beginning with the driving and catchy single “On”.  In an album filled with noisy freakouts, the instrumental “Dead Air” is easily the best, with its Krautrock-like bass that pushes the beat underneath walls of feedback-drenched guitars.  The real surprise is the closer “Calypso”, which manages to show a more delicate side of the band–even with its dissonant chords and melodies, the band nearly manages to make noise sound “pretty”.

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Why Good Intentions Cannot Overcome Bad Arguments

When writing an editorial, it is imperative to understand your target audience.  The focus should always be on the impressionable middle–there is no need to waste time preaching to those who have already been converted, and there are few reasons to bother trying to convince those who are firmly opposed, so concern yourself with the minds you can change.  Once you have determined your target audience, then it is simply a matter of finding an appropriate hook to grab their attention and then building a case from there.  However, if one constructs an argument that relies on faulty reasoning or poor evidence, all the effort would be for naught; best-case scenario is that the person simply ignores your theory, but if worst comes to worst, the reaction may be so negative that it can push people into the opposing camp.

Pitchfork recently published an op-ed entitled “The Unbearable Whiteness of Indie,” and it suffers from the typical problems that one would expect from the average flaky Salon thinkpiece.  Though the title is pure clickbait, it is easy to imagine that there is some merit to the claim–one only has to hear Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers pop up every three minutes on the radio to think that the author has a point.  Unfortunately, the evidence offered is so poorly chosen and the supporting arguments are so incompetently constructed that it is difficult to go through the whole thing without attempting to cite contradictory points while you read it.  By provoking such a reaction, the whole thing falls apart before reaching the desired conclusion simply because the support for the premise is built atop a shaky foundation.  How can one agree with the author’s goal when there are so many holes to poke through in the argument?

In fact, the introductory example from the piece was so bad that it had to be redone; originally, there was a discussion about the ethnic backgrounds of the people who appear on the cover art of Belle and Sebastian albums, but once somebody pointed out the error in the author’s assessment, the opening two paragraphs shifted instead focus on a film that the band’s Stuart Murdoch wrote and directed.  Somehow, a coming-of-age film by the leader of a Scottish band is supposed to be representative of an entire genre of music, and the connection is pretty much just assumed by the author because of a particular scene that for some reason the reader is assumed to have watched.  This is not a promising start.

As the piece moves along, it becomes clear that the author has no interest in providing any actual documentation of the assertion that indie rock is white, but that the anecdotal treatment of a few acts tangentially associated with the scene should suffice instead.  It is at this point that anybody who has any familiarity with either the construction of an argument or merely an incidental knowledge of anything related to the sciences should be throwing their hands in the air–if you are going to rely on anecdotes to prove your point, you better make a damn good case about how they represent the greater issue.  The author opts instead to make broad assertions about “whiteness” being the goal and then commit such blunders as citing Major Lazer and Diplo as examples of white co-option, when 1) Diplo is the main face of Major Lazer and 2) the other two members of Major Lazer are minorities.  The half-assed interpretation of lazy reviews of Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors that follows is just icing on the cake (the fact that Graceland is used as a shorthand for Vampire Weekend’s debut album need not be indicative of a racial bias, but instead an easy reference point since it is an album owned by millions, and the “idiosyncrasies” of Dirty Projectors can easily be construed as an acknowledgement of the band’s use of unusual time signatures and eccentric sense of melody).  Any hope that this op-ed can recover is gone at this point, as it devolves into a jumbled mess that contrasts the politics of Indian rappers with riot-grrrl punk for some reason (with an additional oversight of not characterizing Das Racist as rappers), and holy shit this thing has gone completely off the rails.  Once the names of Kathleen Hanna and Kim Gordon are slagged through the mud, the only reaction should be “this is why it is important to understand historical context”–this generation tends to assume that progress is self-evident, and should have occurred already, without understanding the sacrifices that specific people made in previous generations to actually induce change.

This whole article is a complete mess, and there is little in its present form that can be done to salvage it.  If one was actually serious about the issue of race among the participants of a certain genre, then it would be best to actually provide some numbers and some definitions, so we can know roughly what percentage is “white” and what exactly constitutes “indie rock.”  For instance, would Alabama Shakes count as indie rock, since they first got airplay on a lot of alternative rock stations?  Decisions like that one would seriously affect any potential analysis.  Once those ground rules are set, then one can go and look at connected issues, such as whether white bands get different treatment than other non-white bands.

There are several counterexamples that one could easily identify: TV on the Radio, Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, The Thermals, Yuck, Deerhoof, and The Shins all feature members who are minorities, and if you open up the criteria to include other underrepresented groups, like women and gays, you will find many more examples.  These are some of the biggest groups in the indie scene from this century, and if you look further back to groups like Soundgarden and the Dead Kennedys, you can find even more.  The question then becomes what is exactly the problem.  Are there other indie bands that are not getting the same attention?  Are musicians not doing enough to encourage minorities to go into the genre?  Are other genres affecting the demographic breakdown?  Or how about trickier considerations, such as should a band be denounced for “co-option” for looking beyond its own insular background by incorporating diverse music and themes from other cultures, when it could easily face just as much flak for going in the opposite direction by only working within a narrow subset of a particular genre?

All of those would be more worthy considerations.  Maybe someone should publish a follow-up that actually contemplates these problems.

Covered: “Touch Me I’m Sick”

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.

If you guessed that we selected this song for ulterior reasons, congratulations, you have seen through my ruse.  Today has been rather unpleasant, and any post published today should probably be reflective of that fact.  Inspiration eventually struck, as I remembered my favorite Mudhoney track, the delightfully scuzzy “Touch Me I’m Sick”.  It is certainly not the most adventurous pick, since their first hit is definitely their most well-known, but I have always loved the song’s ability to mine the common ground of Stooges-era punk with the abrasiveness and power of metal, providing the blueprint of what would become “grunge”.  Also, it is a hilariously ridiculously offensive song if you take it seriously, but you probably shouldn’t.

I had no idea if anyone covered this classic, but since it is a fairly easy song to learn as well as one that is ridiculously fun to play, I figured there was a good chance that a cover existed somewhere.  It turns out that Sonic Youth did an early cover of the song as part of a split single where Mudhoney returned the favor.  There is not much to recommend about Sonic Youth’s version beyond any mild curiosity one might have, aside from the mildly intriguing twist of having Kim Gordon deliver the fairly depraved lyrics, giving the song an unexpected feminist perspective in the process.  Otherwise, it is a fairly by-the-numbers take, with the band matching the shambolic punk attitude by barely playing the riff together after a cursory feedback-drenched intro.  The importance was more symbolic, as Sonic Youth deemed this young up-and-coming band worthy of attention, serving as another example of Sonic Youth’s willingness to embrace their role as a gatekeeper in the early days of when alternative music broke into the mainstream.

In the future, we will analyze Sonic Youth’s reinterpretation of an old classic that marked a better use of the band’s unique sensibility.  As for “Touch Me I’m Sick”, I would stick with the original, superior version.

Over the Weekend (June 16 Edition)

Now that we’re all properly psyched up after the US victory over Ghana in the World Cup, let’s get to some cool videos

Our favorite news from last week, which we mentioned on our Tumblr, was the announcement that Death From Above 1979 will finally record a follow-up to their stunning debut You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.  I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times since its release (and the handful of oddball EPs and singles to help complete the short catalog), and it never gets old.  The Tumblr post has the video of one of the coolest late night performances you’ll ever see, with the band performing on Conan with a special guest who arrives halfway through the song, so check that out.  We’ll see if this song makes the new album:

Speaking of Conan, Jack White visited his show last week, and SPIN has the link to their extended interview, plus a funny bit where Conan had interns stand-in for Jack White and his band during rehearsal.

Mastodon released a video for their single “High Road”, and this one features some LARPers in a fierce battle.

The first few minutes of the new Elliott Smith biopic have been released and are available for viewing; I’m linking to the Pitchfork announcement because it also includes a link to their extensive oral history on Elliott, which is definitely worth reading if you have the time.

And finally, Ray & Ramora shot a fun video for their cover of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” which features a bunch of cool random cameos, including Kim Gordon, Jeff Goldblum, and Stephen Malkmus himself.  As for the cover itself, it’s an interesting pop take on the song that works pretty well.

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 (Feb. 17 Edition)

It’s a holiday weekend, so it’s a fine time to catch up on some #longreads before heading back to work tomorrow.

Pitchfork had an interview with Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about his new book of photographs documenting Nirvana’s 1989 European tour.  It’s a great first-hand account of “the calm before the storm”, before everybody had an idea what grunge was or where Seattle was even located.

A different era of Nirvana

A different era of Nirvana

The Guardian has an excellent interview with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.  It’s a wide-spanning interview, covering her early career with the band to her new work with Body/Head and other venues for her art.  The end of her marriage to Thurston Moore and the breakup of Sonic Youth are still clearly sore subjects, so don’t read this expecting juicy gossip.

Stereogum has a ranking of the Elliott Smith albums from worst to best.  I know it’s merely opinion, but let me say this: it’s just wrong (beyond the fact that there is no “worst” Elliott Smith album).  Feel free to read it anyway, because it’s always good to talk about Elliott Smith’s work.  The subject is definitely worthy of a TL;DR post later on, but here is the correct ranking, in order of increasing awesomeness:

  • 7. New Moon
  • 6. Elliott Smith
  • 5. Roman Candle
  • 4. Either/Or
  • 3. From A Basement On The Hill
  • 2. Figure 8
  • 1. XO

And finally, Beck has a new album coming out next week.  We’ll have a long review of his career so far later this week, but for those of you who don’t mind jumping the gun, NPR has a stream of Morning Phase available on their site.  Also, it’s a good reminder to note that we have a Tumblr, because apparently that’s what kids do these days, where we posted the link earlier.