Bloc Party is set to release a new album entitled Hymns next year, and today they released the first track from the record. Since Four, the band has shuffled their lineup a bit, including adding Justin Harris of Menomena to the group, and the electronic-influenced “The Love Within” is our first glimpse at the result.
News, new music, and other fun stuff to help you through the unbearable heat…
The biggest news of the weekend is the announcement that Dr. Dre will be releasing a new album in the very near future, though it is not quite the album many fans expected. Instead of releasing the much-delayed Detox, which for years was teased asthe expected followup to 2001, Dre is releasing Compton, inspired by his work on the upcoming N.W.A biopic.
Speaking of long-awaited followups, it has been nearly a decade since the release of Tool’s last album, and while for years fans have been teased with tidbits detailing the slow process of following up 10,000 Days, that does not mean the band members have been remaining idle. Maynard James Keenan announced that his other, other group Puscifer will be releasing a new album on October 30, and has shared “Grand Canyon” from Money Shot this week.
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 toafter 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 Tripfilms/series.
New music, videos, and news as you kill time on this arbitrary holiday…
If you could forgive us for a moment, but today was a bit of a downer when we heard about the passing of Lesley Gore this morning. Though many of the singer-songwriter’s hits have been overlooked over the years, Gore will forever be remembered for the timeless classic “It’s My Party.”
Over on Reddit, Modest Mouse leaked another track from their upcoming album Strangers to Ourselves, releasing “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”, a funky number that calls to mind the groovy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.” Isaac also answered a couple of questions, but since they are few and far between, we’ll provide our favorite exchange:
Death From Above 1979 has decided that acoustic versions of their songs are not a one-time thing, as you can see by their recent appearance on The Strombo Show, as they with pepper in a few stripped-down versions of their songs during their interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.
And finally, to prepare you for tomorrow’s release of their collaboration Sour Soul, here’s the video to Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Ray Gun”, featuring an appearance from DOOM. It’s pretty bizarre.
The Grammy Awards are a good idea in theory. We like to recognize artistic merits in a variety of disciplines, and we feel good when we come together and come up with some sort of consensus decision as to what is “the best.” The Academy Awards have worked pretty well for film over the years, and the Emmy Awards (despite never giving an award to the greatest television show ever) have done an adequate job as well, so why shouldn’t it be the same for music? And yet, pretty much from the very beginning, the Grammys have always been garbage.
I remember the moment when I completely lost faith in the Grammys, and it should be noted that this happened when I was in middle school, because that is when any hopes and dreams you may have had about the music industry recognizing artistic merit should die, and you can then readjust your expectations accordingly. It was when Radiohead’s ground-breaking, landmark album OK Computer lost out to probably Bob Dylan’s tenth-best effort (Time Out Of Mind) that I decided it was probably for the best that I stop giving a shit about this particular award. I probably should have seen the signs from the previous year, when Beck’s Odelay and the Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness lost out to Celine Dion, but at that point I didn’t have the same investment in either of those albums that I did in OK Computer. Even at that age, I knew that with that album I could divide my history of listening to music as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer, and no matter how good an album Time Out Of Mind may be, it wouldn’t be remembered in the same way. If you want to view the award as an acknowledgment of the greatness of Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding, The Times They Are A-Changin’, and Blood on the Tracks, that’s fine, but that’s the only way to defend it.
It was then that my cynicism fully set in and I finally understood the rants of many alternative artists about the quality of the Grammys. Here’s how I can best sum it up: “How many Grammy Awards did London Calling win? That should tell you exactly how much attention you should pay to the Grammys.” This is an album universally recognized as one of the greatest of all time, one that ends up atop best-of-the-decade lists for two different decades (because of its UK ’79/US ’80 release date), and it received exactly zero Grammys. In fact, The Clash won precisely one Grammy in the course of their career, an award in 2002 for “Best Long Form Music Video” for the documentary The Clash: Westway to the World, long after the band had stopped making music. And to top it off, the Grammys had the gall to put together a supergroup performance of “London Calling” to honor the life of Joe Strummer when he died, as if the Recording Academy gave a damn about the group at all when they were around.*
Consider this: Exile on Main Street…Loveless… Nevermind…In the Aeroplane Over the Sea…Are You Experienced?…Who’s Next…Remain in Light…Willy and the Po’ Boys…Unknown Pleasures…Fear of a Black Planet…The Velvet Underground & Nico…Hunky Dory…Doolittle…not a single one of these albums received a nomination. And not only could I list dozens more examples, but I could point to a ridiculous number of artists who never won a Grammy of any kind.
Part of the issue may be with the nature of the Grammys themselves. The sheer number of albums that are produced dwarf the number of films that are released or television shows that end up on the air, so the mere act of getting thousands of academy members to listen to the same records is enough of a challenge on its own. Then consider the wide variety of musical genres that exist, and contrast that with the simple comedy/drama divide that characterizes film and TV–it’s even tougher to build any sort of consensus when you take this into account. And then there is the simple nature of voting, which anyone with a background in political theory can point to as a potential stumbling block. All of these issues make the Grammy Awards an exercise in futility, and yet for some reason people still get up in arms with the results every year.
Was Morning Phase the best album of the year? According to us, probably not, though if one considers it in comparison with the other nominees, we agree with the decision. Though it’s not Beck’s best (which is a nearly-impossible hurdle to clear, considering his incredibly consistent output and the Odelay/Mutations/Sea Change triumverate), if you judge it on its own merits, Morning Phase is a great album filled with gorgeous musical moments and poignant lyrics that will be remembered for years. But let’s consider that if the Grammys were actually interested in honoring the best of the year in music, then they would have had to invite Death From Above 1979 and have them perform, and despite the fact that they’re only two guys they would have melted the faces off of everyone in the audience with their blistering performance, and then no one would be able to work on Monday.
So really, the fact that the Grammy Awards don’t recognize the best music of the year is more of a public service than anything. Just don’t get up in arms when they make the “wrong” decision. They were doomed from the start.
*This is not to disparage any of the performers that participated, all of whom I assume had a great amount of respect for Joe Strummer and The Clash.
We mentioned earlier this week that Sundance saw the premiere of the new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, and because our love for Nirvana has barely diminished over the years, multiple publications from a variety of backgrounds have pieces on director Brett Morgen and his film, including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and The Daily Beast.
Do not adjust your flickering screen: Rust Is Just Right is recommending that you read an interview with Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit. Stereogum has a fascinating discussion with the guitarist that shows his good humor and self-awareness of his place in music, and Borland provides an interesting perspective of the business and how bands operate.
Though this is difficult to hear, every year we get more evidence that it may be a good idea to break up your band for a decade, even if they are at their creative peak. Last year, Death From Above 1979 came back and wowed us with the stellar The Physical World; the year before that saw the surprisingly wonderful return of My Bloody Valentine; and then there is Dinosaur Jr., who have released three excellent albums after the reunion of their original lineup after nearly twenty years apart. Sleater-Kinney has pulled off the same trick with the excellent No Cities To Love, a furious and catchy album that is both an artistic step forward as well as a classic example of the trademark S-K sound.
The frenetic “Price Tag” kicks off the album, pairing an off-kilter looping Sleater-Kinney riff typical of their early years with ferociously political lyrics; not since the heyday of Rage Against The Machine have we heard a song that targets economic inequity and middle-class complacence. “Fangless” follows and throws a bit of a curveball with its mixture of funk rhythms and new-wave guitars, as well as featuring a prominent bass counterpart that was previously a rarity in light of S-K’s usual twin-guitar attack. The track is indicative of the kind of musical adventurousness found throughout No Cities To Love as well as what makes the album so much fun.
No Cities To Love features some of the best hooks of Sleater-Kinney’s career, including the peppy title track and the bouncy “Hey Darling”; the descending chorus melody in the latter immediately brings to mind something Ted Leo and the Pharmacists would have concocted circa Hearts of Oak. “A New Wave” has some fun with the bass riff from Nirvana’s “Love Buzz” before shifting into a sing-song chorus that makes perfect use of the unique vocal harmonies of Brownstein and Tucker.
Sleater-Kinney has been a band that has long been beloved by critics and pushed by their most passionate fans asall-time greats, but rarely have I ever felt that this type of hype was fully justified. I’ve certainly have enjoyed their albums over the years (after overcoming an initial reluctance due to their unconventional vocals) and recognize the impact that the group has had musically and culturally over the years (they have been arguably as far-reaching in their influence as Pavement in the past couple of decades), yet never had them break into my regular rotation nor would put them in that upper echelon of groups. However, even considering Sleater-Kinney’s excellent discography as a whole, No Cities To Love is a cut above, and will certainly invite not only repeated listens but end-of-the-year list consideration. Not bad for a January album.
The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing right now, and one of the films garnering the most buzz right now is the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and Esquire provides a rundown of some of the things that they’ve learned.
Interpol released the video for their latest single “Everything Is Wrong”, which provides an amusing look at the way the band possibly spends their day in preparation for an evening show. I’m just happy that they’ve chosen one of the best tracks from El Pintor as their next single.
And finally, Death Cab For Cutie has released the first single off the upcoming album Kintsugi, and it’s called “Black Sun”. It’s an interesting new direction for the band, though initial fan opinion seems to split.
There’s a reason that when watching the OutKast reunion this year that Andre 3000 didn’t feel like being there, and that was confirmed in his interview with FADER where discusses the specifics of his “selling out.”
Proving that just about every album gets the 20-year treatment, Stereogum has a piece on Bush’s debut Sixteen Stone. While admittedly it was one of my first albums, it’s not exactly a landmark record, but the evolution of its reception makes the essay worth reading.
And finally, most of our Foo Fighters coverage has revolved around Dave Grohl, but this time it’s Pat Smear getting the spotlight. Pat talks to Diffuser about the making of Sonic Highways and how he ended up becoming a part of Nirvana, as well as his unique take on guitars. Though the introduction mentions only two of the legendary bands of which he was a member, rest assured, Pat does talk about his time in the Germs for a bit.
With the release of their eighth studio album Sonic Highways this week, Rust Is Just Right is celebrating with a week devoted to the Foo Fighters. Today, we take a look over their discography.
Foo Fighters. By now, most people are familiar with the story behind the first Foo Fighters album. In the aftermath of the unfortunate end of Nirvana, Dave Grohl recorded an album’s worth of material (playing nearly all the music and instruments himself), passing around the demo to various friends. Some of the songs were old ideas that were tossed around during the Nirvana era and earlier, with a few more written during the recording process. Though it was moButre of a personal passion project and not initially intended to be a full-fledged solo album, it eventually caught the attention of record labels, and Grohl created a band to perform the songs.
But one doesn’t need to know the history of the album to enjoy its pleasures. Knowing the modest circumstances helps explain the less-professional recording style to the uninformed, but divorced from that knowledge one can enjoy the album as one of the most accessible lo-fi albums of the era. Looking back, one can see that Foo Fighters has more in common with a Sebadoh album than a lot of the rock music being produced in the mid-90’s, but it was catchy and dynamic enough to have a broader appeal. One could see Dave’s punk roots poking through the edges, as well as the lessons in songcraft that he learned from his time in Nirvana, and it added up to a side project that had enough legs to sustain a second career. It’s amazing that the album holds up as well as it does nearly twenty years later, even beyond the big hits like “This Is A Call”, “I’ll Stick Around”, and “Big Me”. I’m still holding out hope that one day the guys will see fit to include “For All The Cows” in their set once again.
The Colour and the Shape. I believe we covered this pretty thoroughly yesterday, but I’ll reiterate that this is clearly the high-water mark for the band. Not only that, but it provided a lot of the musical template that would come to define the Foo Fighters sound, though sometimes in more subtle ways than one might expect.
There Is Nothing Left To Lose. “Everlong” may have cemented the Foos among rock royalty, but it was “Learn To Fly” that got endless plays on both the radio and MTV, thanks to its goofy video. In many ways it’s a more upbeat and relaxed record, with gorgeous ballads like “Aurora” and “Next Year” fitting comfortably with moderate fun rockers like “Breakout” and “Generator”. Nate Mendel has some nifty basslines scattered over the course of the album, marking some of his most important contributions and really fleshing out the fact that this is now a group. But it’s the ultra-aggressive opener “Stacked Actors”, with its groovy Drop-A riff that threatens to blow the bass out of your speakers, that leaves the greatest impression on me.
One By One. There are few concert memories that I remember as fondly as seeing the Foos open with “All My Life”: standing ten feet away from Dave Grohl, backlit by sparse lighting during his palm-muted intro, followed by sharp bursts of spotlights once the full band entered the fray, and culminating with a dramatic banner-drop during the final chorus, all the while feeling the sensation of floating as the crowd packed in so tightly and moving along with the music. It’s a feeling that will never diminish no matter how many times I hear the song. That may explain why I hold the album in higher regard than many other fans, but I simply think that it’s a much more consistent effort than TINLTL. “Times Like These” is one of those rocker/ballad hybrids that the Foo Fighters do so well, and though its main riffs employ some unusual chords, the band makes it sound like a timeless pop record. While some people complain about the deliberate second half of the album, I believe that the band keeps the music interesting enough and pushing in different directions to keep my attention. Also, it should be mentioned that it’s kind of amazing that “Tired Of You” was used for a pivotal scene in a Chris Rock movie.
In Your Honor. This is where we first see the Foo Fighters show some real ambition, and how they look to classic rock for inspiration with a tried-and-true maneuver of established acts: the double-album. The hook was that there would be one heavy rocking disc and another softer disc of ballads (instead of allowing for a more natural flow within the course of an album’s running time), but as is usually the case, there simply wasn’t enough material to justify the gambit. This was especially true of the second disc, as the Foos overestimated their ability to produce ballads on such a large scale, though it did lead to interesting experiments like “Razor” and “Virgina Moon” (the latter with Norah Jones). But the first disc does contain some of their biggest and best rockers, like the epic title track and the titanic “Best Of You”.
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Probably the weakest entry in the entire Foo Fighters catalog, which is strange because it isn’t necessarily a bad record. It’s just that there is so much that feels so inessential, with few songs calling out for repeated listens, either out of joy or even spite (before doing the research for this write-up, it had been three years since I listened to the album). It leaves only a superficial impression on the listener’s mind, even though it’s a beautifully produced record that sounds great on the home stereo where you can bring out all the different voices (especially the strings). That said, “The Pretender” was a fucking great song.
Wasting Light. After taking some time off after Echoes to do stuff like release a Greatest Hits record, one would think that the Foo Fighters were comfortable heading into the twilight era of their career, but they surprised everyone with the ferocious Wasting Light. It had been years since they played with such fury and passion, as the band seemed to fully embrace the idea of “getting back to the garage.” With Pat Smear now fully back in the fold, the band composed songs that actually required three guitars, with fantastic results. It’s amazing that the band made the process seem so natural, as there’s never a moment on the record that feels like that this is an “old guys trying to rock again” kind of deal; we can just accept that these guys can still bang out something like “White Limo” with no questions asked. Though I’d claim that the album contains some of the weakest lyrics of the band’s career, to tell the truth, that never really was a primary concern I had with the band, so I can let it slide. I’m just content to see that the band still is full of verve after all these years.
We’ll see where Sonic Highways fits in with the rest of the catalog, but considering the touring-the-country gimmick that came along with the making of the album, I have my suspicions it will be similar to their In Your Honor period, and that the band’s reach may exceed their grasp once again. But I can at least commend the band for continuing to push in new directions and constantly searching for new inspiration, and we’ll see if I’m correct soon enough.