This is how new work should be released. A beautiful folded cover, a nice slab of metallic silver/black vinyl, complete with CD version incorporated seamlessly into the packaging to boot, instead of this downloadable mp3-ness (though that is a nice touch from labels not willing to put the effort/resources into such a gorgeous package as this).
When it comes right down to it, though, we buy this stuff for the music, right?
I'm happy to report that, finally, after two mediocre albums, Thursday is kicking ass again.
And the Envy tunes are enough to convert anyone into a fan, if you've never heard them before.
This feels simultaneously comfortable in the sense of "the music I expect to hear from these bands," yet new. It's undeniably Thursday & Envy - but it also feels like a step ahead for both of them.
One listen, and I love it. That's not common for me.
Why is it the media won't call it what it is? While these are certainly "harsh interrogation" techniques, they are more accurately defined as torture. This headline is similar to reading "Boat Traveling from U.K. to U.S. sinks" when the Titanic sank - it wasn't just a boat, it was a massive cruise ship.
What this memo tried to justify was not just "harsh interrogation techniques"; it was torture.
And even though this memo was "later rescinded", that doesn't mean the techniques were.
If you have not yet seen Michael Haneke's brilliant film Funny Games (the original, or the re-make in English that was just released), it comes highly recommended from me.
In addition: the music that is so integral to the film is by a band called Naked City, a project of composer/musician John Zorn. I'd also recommend a listen to Naked City's "Torture Garden", which you can find on CD under the name "Grand Guignol", which additionally features some of Zorn's more classical arranging.
The use of Naked City's music in the film was not only aesthetically fitting, but the thought and histories behind the music and the film work well together, too. The name of the Naked City LP, "Torture Garden", is presumably taken from a play produced at The Grand Guignol in Paris. Read more about The Grand Guignol here...how fitting.
Really interested in this whole question of pain and torture and terror, and why we as spectators are so interested in seeing on stage/film that which we ardently avoid in our everyday lives. When does it stop being escapist and cathartic, and how can it begin to make an intervention, to say something (as I feel Funny Games does)?
Seems I've been stumbling on a lot of articles on the analog v. digital debate (I think, a couple of them through this website). See here, here, or here for more info (that last one is a video from Wired Science, featuring Steve Albini & Ken Andrews that's well worth watching). A great commentary on the self-fulfilling prophecy of the death of the old-style music industry can be read here, from Matador records.
I don't fall solidly in either camp, as this idea of a "war" between formats, with people proclaiming the "death" or the "lack of soul" of the other (has anyone announced the death of the digital file yet? you know some idiot probably has, somewhere, like this cat proclaimed the death of podcasting, much to the chagrin of Dan Savage, of whose podcast I am a big fan), is sort of silly to me. The market for music is huge, so can't we all just get along?
I know some of you are cringing after that last sentence. "'The market for music is huge'?? Where's this guy been??" While I'm too lazy at this moment in time to find you statistics, I remain convinced that the music market is not shrinking, only changing - and, as many of us have been saying for years, the major labels have not been able to adapt. That's why it appears to be shrinking - the big companies and their big artists aren't making the money they used to.
That doesn't mean a lot of music isn't being made, or consumed. More artists are selling/distributing in more and different ways - and the consumers aren't simply buying the new Beyonce or Nickelback jams because that's what's on the major label, and what's getting airplay. The internet changed not only how we hear music, but the music we're able to hear about.
Any kid can record to a 4-track (or, nowadays, Garageband) and post it on MySpace the same day. Tell your friends, if they dig they pass it on, and it grows. Case in point: Lily Allen. A special case, as she blew up and was absorbed into the establishment, but there's plenty of folks out there doing their thing on Virb or MySpace or their own websites or whatever, and they're being listened to. Even my simple little folk-rock music MySpace gets some listens (yes, that means "click that link and go listen").
Even while all this free sharing of music is going on, you've got folks proclaiming the resurgence of vinyl, what others will derisively call a clunky, antique format, a relic of our parents' past. But those adherents to the 'old' technology have good reason (as Steve Albini notes in the Wired video), and hey, let's face it - vinyl never stopped being cool. The records are beautiful; even the weird stuff you dig through in the $1 or $2 crate has a certain beauty to it, with the artwork and the smell and the feel of cardboard covered in dust.
Those crates are also a great way to inexpensively expand your music knowledge; I just picked up Graham Parker's "Squeezing Out Sparks", Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly", and a live Neil Diamond record for $2 each at a place over by Union Square, as well as Rupert Holmes's "Partners in Crime" for $3 at Generation in the Village. All very solid records that I'm glad to have heard - and I spent $9, or a little over half what I paid for my new CD copy of "The Odd Couple" by Gnarls Barkley.
My point in this rambling and name-dropping is that, there's a place for everything in the music market. This past week, I bought a few CDs, and a few vinyl records - the format depended, for me, on the price, and the style of music I was picking up. I rarely listen to CDs anymore - while I'll sometimes throw them into my stereo, I usually end up importing them into iTunes and listening to them on the iPod. And, as I mentioned earlier, some really great artists don't have the funds or ability to get their work pressed to vinyl - but I can still get their tracks via mp3s or streaming audio. A different distribution method = freer (or more free) distribution, not under the control of labels.
The ease by which I can listen to so much different music via that magic little box I carry everywhere is just too damn amazing to get all worked up over sub-prime audio quality. But the beauty of getting my groove on from plastic grooves is something that can't ever be fully replaced.
I'm not going to stop buying CDs & digitizing them for my iPod. I'm also not going to stop buying vinyl. The only thing I'm NOT going to do is buy digital copies of albums that I can have in a physical format (but that's a different argument).
The perfect compromise? In my opinion, the download code for vinyl records. Record companies like Saddle Creek and Radar Recordings are doing it, I know, and I'm sure they're not the only ones. For instance: I pre-ordered the Caspian/Constants split 7" from Radar Recordings 3 weeks ago (I think the physical copy will be mailed this week, or maybe next) - but I've been jamming out to the tunes on it for the past 3 weeks regardless, because they sent me a link to download the tracks from their website. I can't wait to hear how the vinyl sounds - but I couldn't wait to hear the music, period. And thanks to this setup, I didn't have to.
In summation: keep making music. And get it out, somehow. Lots of us are listening, in many different ways.
I wrote earlier that this might be a source for some shameless self-promotion...
...here, it begins.
I will be playing the role of "John Ivan" in a performance (more than a staged reading, less than a full production) of the new play "Carlisle" by Myrton Running Wolf. The play is adapted from Chekhov's "Three Sisters", and takes place at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania at the start of the U.S.'s involvement in World War I.
This is a really, really cool play, in my humble opinion.
THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 7pm - The Barrow Group, 312 W. 36th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10018
FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 7:30pm - The American Indian Community House, 11 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10004
(* not listed on flyer *) SUNDAY, APRIL 20, 4pm - New York University Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Shorin Performance Studio, Room 802, New York, NY 10012
SATURDAY, APRIL 26, 3pm - La MaMa E.T.C.'s "The Club" on the 2nd Floor, 74A East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003
I feel like writing about music recently. Probably because I'm listening to far too much of it, instead of PLAYING it, but there it is...
Anyway, I started writing this yesterday. I was listening to Wow Owls! and just felt...good. In a way I haven't felt like since I was an undergrad, I felt really, really good about music again. I'm hoping this good feeling will have an impact on my playing/writing (I say I haven't been playing, but that's a lie...I've been practicing a lot more than usual in the wake of the '08 RPM challenge (hear some of the outcome here), and hopefully I'm going to get to some open mics and try to set up some small shows sometime soon...
So here's what I wrote. I hope to do this semi-regularly, at least twice a week. Who knows, maybe it'll just drop off like most of the things I start and never completely follow through on...
Hells yes for new (to me) music. I’ve been feeling invigorated by music again; this constant stream of new (to me) sound just makes me feel GOOD. Music changes me, puts me into good moods, pulls me out of bad ones, focuses me when I need it, and distracts me at all the right times in all the right ways.
What I’ve been listening to that I highly recommend:
Constants – Nostalgia for the Future
Caspian – The Four Trees (also, the split w/ Constants)
Junius – s/t (EP compilation)
Wow Owls! – Pick Your Patterns
Chamberlain – Exit 263
Circle Takes the Square – As the Roots Undo
Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
The Big Sleep – Sleep Forever
She & Him – Volume 1
I remember being in college and somehow stumbling upon this trove of new avenues to pursue for new music – label rosters, album liner notes, compilation discs, Audiogalaxy recommendations, sweet record stores (i.e. The Music Shack) – that seemed to peter out when the labels I loved either went under or started supporting bands I wasn’t really into (and the Shack died, r.i.p.).
Recently, I somehow stumbled upon Constants, Caspian and Junius and their label, Radar Recordings (through The Cancer Conspiracy, I think…) After listening to the free mp3s from Radar, I was really feeling the styles their roster represented…it was new, yet somehow reminiscent of the stuff I loved in college: heavy/twinkly and soft/hard juxtapositions, shifting times, guitar-laden indie-emo-post-hardcore-punk-rock-whatever-you-want-to-label-it music. Music that touches me, for some reason that I’ve never been able to adequately describe. Maybe it’s the constant changes the songs seem to go through…or something about the tone of the guitars…or the movement of the melodies…not that everything I listen to sounds the same, but I think I’ve definitely found a particular aesthetic that touches me in a way nothing else can, and it’s an aesthetic I’ve been missing lately (but sort of re-found, thanks to these Radar artists and where it’s pointed me). It’s not even the kind of music that I PLAY, personally…but man, I love to hear it.
But I'm also really diggin' on other stuff that doesn't fit that aesthetic, too. Like The Zombies. Why had I never really listened to these guys before? And She & Him. I love M. Ward, and Zooey's voice/songwriting is very pretty, so that's a great listen. And CHAMBERLAIN. Dear God, so good. I'd only heard the first track from Exit 263 before ("Lovely & Alone"), and loved it, but I stumbled upon a copy of the CD at Generation Records in NYC (Thompson St., just North of Bleeker - check it out, probably my fav new record store), and I'm LOVING it.
...so there's my opening music rant. This might take on more of a review section eventually, rather than my own scattered musing/name-dropping, and hopefully I'll write a bit more about other stuff non-record related...like maybe my theatre work, or research, or my own music.
In the meantime, PAZ.
P.S. 5 years yesterday, kids. If you still aren't outraged, you still aren't paying attention.
...or, not-so-electrifying. Yeah, yeah, I never finished. And we're almost 3 months into 2008.
But just because I hate leaving things unfinished (a blessing and a curse), here's my Top 10 (in alphabetical order, because I didn't want to heirarchize these; see Part I for my reasoning), and a few Honorable Mentions that I thought were sweet releases in '07:
Honorable Mentions (High Replay Value):
Ted Leo + Pharmacists – Living With the Living
Thrice – The Alchemy Index (Vol.1&2)
Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
Okkervil River – The Stage Names
Battles – Mirrored
Bruce Springsteen – Magic
I’m Not There – Official Soundtrack
Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade
The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour
...maybe I'll be more punctual in writing about '08. Maybe.
Now that I'm a member of a music community site, I think it'd be fun to post my yearly run-down of the year in music (as I heard it) so all the other opinionated music-nerds like myself can alternately pat me on the back and take me to task. So here it is, kids. Have at it.
The Badger List is undergoing an overhaul in 2008 in an attempt to subvert the hierarchical structure so often imposed on the music we so voraciously consume. Is it fair to compare Battles with Beirut? Or Thrice with Iron & Wine? I don’t think so. Accordingly this year, I’ll have the (what are becoming) traditional categories for ’07 music, in addition to a Top 10, in no ranking order, of releases I heard this year.
I’d like to stress – these are 2007 releases that I, Robert Gonyo, listened to, which is by no means a comprehensive list of all the rock and/or roll released this year.
So, categories I’ve got in mind so far:
Get Over It, It’s Not THAT Great
Most Pleasant Surprise(s)
Complete Disconnect Between Recordings and Live Show
Honorable Mentions (High Replay Value)
Beautiful Playing/Production that Still Somehow Doesn’t Make a Top Album for Me
Any additional category suggestions, send them my way. If anyone actually reads this.
As I post them, feel free to comment by testifying to the brilliance of my observations, or how big of an ass I am for thinking Neon Bible wasn’t really all that great, etc.
Now, without further ado, the first of those few categories...
Saddest Song – The Weakerthans – “Virtue the Cat Explains Her Departure”
New category; really, I just wanted to write about this song.
The caring, endearing, hyper-observant feline of Reconstruction Site’s “Plea From a Cat Named Virtue” returns – to explain why she’s gone. Why is this so sad, to hear about a fictional cat leaving home, eventually forgetting “the sound that you found for me”? This is why I love Samson’s lyrics; this is enough to make a grown man weep.
A plea from a guy named Robby - please let Virtue find her way home. Or you’ll kill my childhood fondness for Homeward Bound.
Get Over It, It’s Not THAT Great – Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
So every year, I like to talk a little smack about a good record that everyone else seems to go ga ga over (like I went over Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). Neon Bible is the object of my tepid ire this time around.
Really – what’s so amazingly wonderful about this record? The lyrics are very good, yes. There’s some smart instrumentation, and one of the best songs of the year, “Keep the Car Running.” I love other tracks, too – “Intervention” and “Windowsill” stand out in my head right now. But there’s an overall lack of cohesion here; and a couple sort of boring tracks (see “Black Mirror” and the title track – while they’re the kind of songs that get stuck in your head, I don’t feel like they work toward anything, not even the slow burn that made some of Funeral’s tracks so amazing). And why the re-do of the wishy-washy “No Cars Go”, from the band’s self-titled EP?
For all the effort I’ve read went into this record, it falls short of the expectations the band and the surrounding media blitz built up. Maybe if it weren’t so highly revered, I wouldn’t feel the need to mildly attack it as such. It could just be my anti-pop inclinations coming out. A very nice record; but not one of the year’s best.
Most Disappointing – Jimmy Eat World, Chase This Light
Some might give me a lot of shit for this one. I don’t care. I’m mad as hell, and I’m gonna rant.
If you’ve seen my record collection, you will know that I have a copy of (almost) every album, single, collection, and promo for this band. My CD copy of Clarity is signed because I waited 6 hours before a show to see the band (got in on vinyl, too). I own 4 copies of Futures (regular, European, deluxe w/demos, and vinyl – signed), even though that used to be my least favorite Jimmy record (until now). I have methodically tracked down everything from the misprinted copy of the singles collection that was released on Big Wheel Rec, to 2 copies of the Sense Field/Mineral 3-way split (on different colored vinyl), to a copy of the split with Christie Front Drive, and have scoured the contents of the now-defunct “Simple Discourse” website as well as more recent live-show archives. I even bought an MTV Road Rules compilation just because “Bleed American” was on it – it wasn’t even a new recording, I’m just that obsessed. My band has covered “Table for Glasses”, “The Authority Song”, “Clarity”, “A Sunday”, “No Sensitivity”, and Jimmy’s version of Guided by Voices’ “Game of Pricks”. Yes, I am bragging. But it is to show that I LOVE THIS BAND.
So it pains me to write that this record does nothing for me. Other than make me sad.
There’s nothing new here. Nothing interesting. The lyrics sound like they were written for middle-schoolers. Songs even sound the same (for example, “Always Be” and “Open Bar Reception” are almost the exact same song). And face it, the cover art sucks.
Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe they’re getting old. Maybe it’s the industry, and the desire for airplay. Maybe it’s the loss of Mark Trombino. But this is not a Jimmy Eat World record. This is a collection of boring formulaic pop songs by the band that was supposed to save rock radio. In my opinion, the best thing that could happen to the Jimmys would be to be dropped from their label, to do another record the way they did Bleed American – on their own dime, with a friend producing, no pressure other than to make a killer record. If the relationship with Trombino’s not salvageable, then Jim can produce.
These are my fantasy suggestions. Are they worth anything? Of course not. But my love for this band makes me want to see them do something incredible again, so I’m dreaming. And I’ll keep dreaming. And I’m sure I’ll be tracking down that this band puts out until they stop recording. Hopefully there won’t be any more bad ones like this.
Complete Disconnect Between Recordings and Live Show – Stars
Last year The Raconteurs won this love/hate recognition from me; this year, it’s not a complete disconnect, because I hear some replay value in In Our Bedroom After the War, but given the only “OK”-ness of that record, I want to write just how amazing their live show was.
I was constantly amazed at the swirl of sound, the intricate and delicate beauty of these songs that somehow would build into a rousing force that you couldn’t help but feel wrapped into. Sure, it was kind of weird when Michael came out with that jacket-o-touchlights doing a strange Mr. Roboto sort of dance. And if you watched Amy closely, she often wasn’t actually playing guitar. But shit, man. What a freakin’ SHOW.
So why am I only half-heartedly into their new record? Can’t put my finger on it.