Sonic Youth

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”.


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 (Oct. 20 Edition)

Who knew the middle of October would be filled with tons of new videos and news to report?

Thurston Moore’s new album The Best Day comes out tomorrow, but today he released the Halloween-appropriate video for the track “Speak to the Wild”.  Once you’ve collected yourself after watching it, be sure to check out his introspective interviews with The Guardian and Salon.  Of course, you may want to check out the NPR stream of the album as you do so, which we linked to last week.

However, the biggest news of the day is the confirmation that Sleater-Kinney is reuniting.  Early reports of their new box set that’s being released included a new single with the date “1/20/15”, and today the band confirmed that they will release their new album No Cities To Love on that date.  In the Line of Best Fit link you will also see the lyric video for new single “Bury Our Friends”, a tracklist, and a list of tour dates.  There’s no Portland date listed yet, but considering we witnessed their final show and their first “reunion” onstage with Pearl Jam, we can probably assume one will be added in the future.

Interpol released the video for El Pintor‘s “My Desire” today, and the grimy video also is appropriate for the season, filling the screen with plenty of the band’s trademark red and black.

Damon Albarn announced that he’s getting ready to get Gorillaz going again, with hopefully a 2016 release in the future, sure to please many fans of the side-project.  However, it’s another group of his that I’m personally more excited to hear about, and that’s the fact that apparently The Good, The Bad, & The Queen was not a one-off effort, and that a new album from the band is written and ready to be recorded.

TV on the Radio is getting ready to release their new album Seeds, and last night the band played the previously unreleased “Could You”.

Pond, the side project from a couple of members of Tame Impala, are set to release their second album, and have released a new video.

Foo Fighters were on Letterman all of last week, and Consequence of Sound has done a good job of cataloging not only the various musical performances (many of which include legendary guests), but also the various comedic skits that the band did for the show.  The band premiered their new single “Something From Nothing” last week on the show, and today released a fancy lyric/performance video for the song, featuring guitarist Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick.  The song itself takes a while to build, and I’m not entirely sure the effort was worth it, but its emphatic chorus is sure to impress many fans.

And finally, be sure to check out the comic strip Pearls Before Swine and their musical take on the legendary “Who’s on First?” routine.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 13 Edition)

News and video as you prepare for a week of facing the Pumpkin Spice onslaught

Thurston Moore has a new solo album coming out next week, and NPR has The Best Day available on their First Listen stream.  I loved his two most recent solo records, Trees Outside the Academy and Demolished Thoughts, which show a more sedate, folkier version of what one might expect from the Sonic Youth frontman.  If that worries you, take comfort in the fact that Moore throws on the distortion for this one.

On Friday we mentioned how Kendrick Lamar’s “i” was received with an underwhelming reaction; however, people were gushing over his appearance on Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me” off the latter’s new album, You’re Dead.  Enjoy the video, featuring some fantastic dancing by a couple of precocious dancers.

David Bowie released a new song this morning, the jazzy, seven-minute long “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)”.  It will be available on the upcoming compilation Nothing Has Changed, which aims to replace the version of Changesbowie which is now taking up space on your shelf.  At the very least, you can have a compilation which also includes “I’m Afraid of Americans”.

Consequence of Sound has the newest track from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, as well as an explanation of its inspiration.  “A Million Random Digits” is from IX, which will be released next month on the 11th.

Peter Matthew Bauer isn’t done releasing new material, as he offered up the new track “You Always Look For Someone Lost” on SoundCloud.  He also released a new video with an interview that helps explain the song as well.

Foo Fighters are being a bit more coy with their previews, offering only glimpses of tracks.  Alternative Press notes that you can hear clips of two new songs from this trailer for the upcoming Sonic Highways.

And last week, Ryan Adams was apparently inspired by the setting and performed a cover of Alice In Chains’s classic “Nutshell” in his show in Seattle.  Because “Nutshell” is one of the greatest songs of the last 20 years, you bet we’re going to pass a long a video like this.

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.