Archive for the ‘ Rants & Raves ’ Category

Portrait of an emo fan at 30; or, why I can’t get over the Get Up Kids

What the hell is wrong with me?

A couples weeks ago I was hipped to an emerging scene in the North Eastern part of the States  made up of bands who use 90s emo as their primary touchstone. They embrace the tortured vocals, jammy guitars and heavy breakdowns of groups like Promise Ring and Texas is the Reason. Of course, as soon as I heard about this I immediately started scouring the Internet for records. Safe to say that I’m now completely enamored with bands like Everyone Everywhere, Into It. Over It., and Grown Ups and the label Top Shelf Recordings (as an odd side note, these bands and this genre are for some reason being classified as Twinkle Daddies. I’m not making this up.)

Seeking out new bands is all fine and good. But what bothers me is the kind of bands that I’m after. These twinkle daddies basically sound like bands I loved ten years ago. And here I am, a decade later, still being pulled into their little sonic webs.  I can’t stop listening to the music of my youth. And when I say the music of my youth, I’m referring to the slew of late-’90s, early ’00s emo bands I swooned over in my early 20s – Lifetime, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day and the Get Up Kids – I listen to them on a regular basis,  their albums taking up valuable space on my overstuffed iPhone. I’ve even rebought have these LPs on vinyl. And now they’re brushing up against a bunch of new ones that sound just like them.

I get the appeal of what’s familiar. What I can’t account for is my continued devotion to bands who were supposedly meant to appeal when you’re in your teens and early twenties. Most of the songs are in some way about unrequited love aimed squarely at young men (yes, there are female fans, but I’m going with the stereotype here) unable to process their teeming emotions. So why do I, four months shy of 30, continue to identify with their music? Even  the bands who are most identified with the emo tag did everything they could to drop the association by either breaking up, drastically changing their sound or both. If they can walk away, why can’t I?

While the stereotype of the awkward 17 year old crying to Dashboard Confessional songs in their room has become a little tired, it’s not that far off from the truth. Over the holidays I read Andy Greenwald’s book Nothing Feels Good, which back in 2004, tried to make some sense of this whole emo thing. And based on the accounts from the fans he interviewed, my self-identifying with the problems these dudes were singing about paled in comparison to the emotional connection other people had with it.

But I think there’s more to the music than just broken hearts and spineless young men. What I continue to connect with is the non-specific emotional malaise, not the pained tales of heartbreak. Whatever problems I had with girls are long since past me (I’m in a long term relationship) and even if they weren’t, the problems that arise with the opposite sex at 30 could never be encapsulated in a 3-minute Dashboard tune.  What remains though is a general confusion with life.

Which is whay I’m so drawn to this new generation of bands,  their songs about tiny apartments and having bigger fish to fry speaking to me far more that the orchestral pop and folk-tinged indie rock that so pervasive, particularly up here in Canada (and thanks to Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy win, won’t be disappearing anytime soon). There’s a restless energy to these bands. Like the best music rooted in a punk rock aesthetic, they’re raging about something, even if its not immediately clear what that something is.

I similarly still feel this restlessness, though I can’t quite pin down what it is.  Suffice to say though what I continue to hear in the band’s of my youth and this new generation of groups is a sense of uncertainty about what’s to come.  Their pained wails and thrashing guitars saying far more than any movie or book I’ve encountered have been able to.

At some point maybe this feeling will pass, and I’ll look back on these songs with the same sense of longing nostalgia that I’ve since bestowed upon bands like Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. But even the bands who walked away, due to frustration of expectations or embarrassment at the public airing of their deepest feelings have returned to not only play together live again, but to record new music. If they can continue to find new meaning in their own music, why can’t I? And why can’t a new crop of groups tear this music away from the clutches of mainstream stereotypes and make something meaningful with it again? It seems as if what were once constants aren’t so constant anymore.

The Get Up Kids – “Action and Action”

Ke$ha : spoiled party girls :: ICP : white-trash

In the year end issue of Spin, comedian Patton Oswalt refered to pop-singer Ke$ha as the “Arbys to Lady Gaga’s In ‘n’ Out Burger.”   While I find this statement both hilarious and true when it comes to the quality of the two singer’s music, it also perpetuates an image of Ke$ha that I don’t entirely agree with.

Since she dropped her single “Tik Tok” back in 2009, people have thought of Ke$ha as the poor-man’s Lady Gaga. And while it’s true that both apply their make-up smeared pop to Euro-disco beats, the similarities end there. You see Lady Gaga has pretensions towards artsiness that her numerous imitators seem unable to duplicate. Whether she actually succeeds in making art is a whole other debate, but there’s no doubt that there’s an element of fucked-up performance art in everything Gaga does. Her video for “Paparazzi” probably comes closest to portraying the life-as-art thing she so desperately strives for.

Ke$ha on the other hand, harbours no such pretensions. Down to the dollar sign in her name, it seems that all the singer wants is fame and fortune. How she gets it seems besides the point; she’s gonna get it no matter how many strangers beds she wakes up in hung-over as shit, partying her way to trophy-wifedom. At least that’s what her music videos would have us believe. And so far it’s working: “Tik Tok” even managed to supplant Danny Elfman’s theme to an episode of the Simpsons last fall in a move that either payed homage to, or ironically made fun of the track. I still can’t tell.

What’s worse is that at least in her music, Ke$ha gives no indication that drinking and fucking your way to the top might not be the best course of action, or that there might even be another option. And while Ke$ha is hardly the first singer to celebrate spoiled party girls – Paris Hilton’s ill-fated foray into music comes to mind – she’s the most vocal adherent to the cause. Just check out “We R Who We R” where she rallies the troops who “make the hipsters fall in love” and are “running this town just like a club.” Her message: accept us or else.

But Ke$ha’s hardly the first artist to champion a much-maligned demographic who perhaps should have remained firmly on the pop-culture sidelines. Back in ’99 Eminem and Kid Rock did the same thing for white-trash, making wife-beaters and white-angst the style of the day. And while both of those artists have since done a lot to distance themselves from the fans who once made-up the backbone of their base (okay, maybe not so much in Kid Rock’s case), a gaggle of less talented groups quickly swooped in to fill the void. Some, like Insane Clown Posse and their annual Gathering of the Jugalos, continue to blight our airwaves with their extreme ignorance.

So for everyone waiting for the Ke$ha scourged to pass, I’ve got bad news: she’s here to stay. Even if her career blew up in a puff of smoke tomorrow, she’s laid enough groundwork for a whole slew of vapid, self-entitled pop-tarts who look like they taste like whiskey and whose knowledge of feminist theory starts and ends with “Girl Power” and are ready to invade our airwaves. Because not giving a fuck is a hell of a lot easier than actually giving one. So it’s not going to be too hard to recruit new converts to the cause.

“Blah, Blah, Blah”

Best Worst Video

This post should not be confused with this post I wrote several months ago.

This video accompanied a friend request my friend recently received, encouraging her to play his track on her indie-rock college radio show. As music director at said station, I have the power to approve or disapprove it’s inclusion in our music library. What should I do? I mean, I’ve never had my car towed, but I bet it’s a bummer. So what say you Interweb?

Stormm – “Long Hot Summer”

Live Review: Robyn @ Sound Academy, Toronto 01/26/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca.

Robyn’s self-directed reinvention finally seemed complete last year, when she unleashed her excellent Body Talk full-length. The album closed the book on her transformation from late ’90s teen-pop star into Euro-disco diva, embraced by indie-minded hipsters and, if her Toronto gigs are any indication, the gay community as a whole.

But as her star re-emerged on the pop-culture landscape, Robyn seemed to find herself right back where she started. Last fall, the Swede appeared on teen-drama phenom Gossip Girl, while she will be playing warm-up act to teen-pop sensation Katy Perry across North America this summer, playing some of the very same venues she turned her back on over a decade ago. So in reclaiming her image, has Robyn simply come full circle?

Her rescheduled performance at Toronto’s Sound Academy would suggest not. Drawing heavily on the dance-floor fillers that populate Body Talk, Robyn proceeded to throw down the gauntlet for all subsequent pop shows that role through town, swinging, dancing and twirling her way into the hearts of the sold-out audience who cheered her every move.

Robyn fills her songs with heartfelt emotion, giving her listeners an actual piece of herself as opposed to a manufactured version. Similarly, onstage Robyn gives a piece of herself to her audience and, in turn, feeds off their energy in a performance that is neither hindered by the shallowness of a singer like Perry or the choreographed and distracting spectacle of Lady Gaga.

Her exuberant personality won over even the most casual fans in attendance, as she had the entire bar dancing along to her three-piece band (her second drummer was mysteriously absent), who were decked out in white lab coats. Throughout the 90-minute set, the singer never wavered in her energy levels, stalking the stage with a determination that rivals Mick Jagger, grinding the air and generally defying physics with her flexibility and dance moves in a pair of impossibly huge platform shoes.

Whatever Robyn has in store for the future, it’s clear that she continues to occupy the driver’s seat of her own career. While she may continue to flirt with the mainstream she once abandoned, these dalliances are on her terms. If Robyn decides to move away from the fan base whose fervent adoration helped spread word of her resurrection, it will be of her own volition.

“Hang With Me”

Death From Above 1979 to Reunite for Coachella!

One of my favs, DFA 1979 are getting back together after a five year split to play music in the desert. No word on why, or if this is a permanent situation, or even if there’s any more dates in the works. This should satiate all those fans wondering when the next MSTRKRFT record was gonna drop…

You can check out full Coachella line-up here. For the posterity minded folk, you can read an interview I did with Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger  back in 2004 here. And check out what in store if you make the trek out to California below.

“Romantic Rights”

Record Review: Fat Music Vol 7: Harder, Fatter + Louder

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

It’s been eight years since Fat Wreck Chords released one of these infamous comps. Back in the late-’90s and early 2000s, these el-cheapo collections worked as a fantastic introduction to punk, or at least the pop-friendly type of punk that dragged the genre into the mainstream a la bands like Blink-182 and Simple Plan.

Part of their appeal of course, was the cost: five bucks was a steal back when actually stealing music would get you a ride in the back of a cop car.

So it’s not surprising that the label abandoned the series back in 2002 in favour of more pointed, often politically-charged comps.

Volume 7 though picks up where Uncontrollable Fatulance left off in 2002, offering 22 tracks from the label’s deep roster of bands. There’s a good dose of old favourites (Strung Out, Chixdiggit!) along with relative newcomers (Cobra Skull, Old Man Markley).

If you, like me, remember these collections as a somewhat homogenous sounding take on punk, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the depth, diversity and quality of the material on offer here. The opening salvo from nine-piece punk bluegrass crew Old Man Markley is especially nice, as is the laid-back ska of Mad Caddies and Celtic punk fury of old favourites the Real McKenzies. Of course, Teenage Bottlerocket and vets like No Use For A Name (who deliver a great Cheap Trick cover) and of course NOFX keep things firmly grounded in the label’s core sound.

Fat Music Vol. 7 is without a doubt one of the strongest entries into the Fat Music series, presenting a label overview with no weak links. Anyone who abandoned the label figuring they’d grown out of that phase of their life will have their love reinvigorated by bands both old and new.

No Use For a Name – “Dream Police”

In Defence of… Third Eye Blind

This story originally appeared at Chartattack.com

In the world of pop music, there are cool bands and good bands.

Cool bands are universally regarded as good, but not all good bands are cool.

Cool bands, like Husker Du or Bad Brains, are obscure and harsh to casual ears. Fans wear their T-shirts with pride and keep vinyl copies of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking prominently displayed on their record shelf.

The music of good bands, like the Beach Boys or Journey, is similarly unimpeachable and you’re probably more likely to spin one of their greatest hits albums on the turntable on a Friday with your buddies night than you are Television’s Marquee Moon, as awesome as that record is. But there’s nothing cool about them — no one wants to walk around wearing the picture of a middle-aged Brian Wilson face on a T-shirt.

Third Eye Blind, those San Francisco post-grunge rockers responsible for a half-dozen late-’90s hits, are universally regarded as uncool. However, many would argue they, or at least their 1997 self-titled debut, are very good.

Your perception of the band really comes down to age. If you’d already lived through the early ’90s “grunge years” and seen the indie dream burned alive by Stone Temple Pilots and Gin Blossoms, then Third Eye Blind were just another in a long line of pretenders picking at alternative rock’s decaying carcass. But if you, like me, were a teenager in ’97, oblivious to a revolution unrealized and co-opted, Third Eye Blind were simply a catchy alternative to hip-hop’s bling-bling aesthetic.

Haters have a lot of fodder to work with. Third Eye Blind essentially took the dark bookishness Counting Crows mined so well on August And Everything After and married it to upbeat, pop-friendly guitar riffs.

Lead singer Stephen Jenkins became a pop-rock sex symbol and acted like a self-entitled ass with no concept of self-awareness. (While speaking with Chicago music-journalist Jim DeRogatis, Jenkins once claimed Third Eye Blind were the most independent minded band this side of Fugazi). His crass interpretation of his own lyrics live — he’d bring out a length of rope that he would whip around during the line “Your whipping boy calamity” from “Graduate” — didn’t help.

Detractors would argue Third Eye Blind sanitized an already watered down version of alt.rock until it was safe enough to soundtrack teen-comedies and your mom was asking you, “Who sings that ‘doot-doot-doot’ song?” Along with Matchbox Twenty, they paved the way for the faux-funk and saccharine sentimentality of Maroon 5 and Train, the REO Speedwagon and Foreigner of our time.

All of these points are, of course, true. But in crash landing at the top of the charts with “Semi-Charmed Life,” the band brought a San Francisco tale of crystal meth addiction into the mainstream. It was, according to Jenkins, a San Fran take on Lou Reed’s drug- and transsexuality-filled paean to New York, “Walk On The Wildside.”

In fact, all of the songs on Third Eye Blind tackled dark subject matter. “How’s It Going To Be,” for better or worse the album’s most enduring track, masked a bitter break-up song that asked, “How’s it going to be/When you don’t know me anymore?” as a monstrous alt.rock power ballad. All five(!) singles tackled some version of dissatisfaction with life.

And while drug-fueled days of futility might not really resonate with teenagers, the bitter hindsight of first love (“Losing A Whole Year”) and getting on with life (“Graduate”) certainly do. It was a sobering message to confused 17-year-olds who just couldn’t connect with Mase and Puff Daddy (as he was known back then).

It’s a minor miracle that in a period of time where major label hubris was such that every week there seemed to be a one-hit wonder cranking out a record with one good song (New Radicals, anyone?), Third Eye Blind not only managed to crank out the aforementioned five singles, but the rest of the album stood up to, if not bested, the tracks chosen for radio.

As mentioned, these guys wrote some catchy tunes, many of which got played to death across multiple radio formats in the late ’90s. But the back half of the album was laden with undiscovered gems anyone between the ages of 25 and 30 can probably sing word for word today. They were all hooky as hell, and each had a character all its own (well, except for the similarly constructed “How’s It Going To Be” and “Jumper”) thanks to the ingenious guitar work of Kevin Cadogan. “Motorcycle Drive By” was always a favourite of mine. Even the B-sides from this period were particularly strong; how “Horror Show” didn’t make the final cut of the record is beyond me.

Most people probably forget the band’s follow up, Blue, and remain unaware of their subsequent body of work (they’ve put out another two records since Blue, with another due next year). The band’s sophomore record is probably most notable for the single “Never Let You Go,” which is so similar in sound and tone to the stuff on their debut that most people just assume it’s tacked on there somewhere.

But Blue, at least its first half, built on the ambitious, hooky songwriting of Third Eye Blind and added a new sense of anxiety to the band’s music (see “Ten Days Late”). Unfortunately, halfway through track eight, “The Red Summer Sun,” the band devolves into faux rock star posturing with some off-key falsetto that would make Aerosmith blush. It’s one big self-indulgent downhill slide from there.

They’ve been sporadically active since then, scoring a minor radio hit with “Blinded” from 2003′s middling Out Of The Vein. Falling off the charts has left the group firmly in the “where are they now?” category, and the Third Eye Blind that released Ursa Major in 2009 looks little like the band of old; only Jenkins and drummer Brad Hargreaves remain from the line-up on the band’s debut.

Haters will more than likely remain indifferent to Third Eye Blind. They’re hardly essential listening, and if you lived through the ’90s as a rock fan, you can probably find bands tackling similar themes in much more musically meaningful ways.

But it’s important to recognize not everyone had that kind of background in 1997, and this band, if for only a brief moment, connected with fans of a certain age. Start asking around and you’ll probably be surprised to find out how many of your friends — even those self-proclaimed music-snob music journalists — not only have a Third Eye Blind CD, but actually still listen to it. And you can’t say that about many albums 13 years after the fact.

“Horror Show”

Incoming: Shimmering Stars/Bedrooms of the Nation

It’s not often these days that I get to hype a band from my hometown. But a friend of mine hipped me to this quartet based out of Vancouver a while back. They play in two bands, both of them quite awesome.

Shimmering Stars have a retro 60s pop vibe to them, covering stark tunes in cold reverb and warm melodies. They’ve got a four-song seven-inch available here with a full-length due next spring.

Shimmering Stars – “I’m Gonna Try”

Bedrooms of the Nation on the other hand take a more modern approach, albeit retaining Shimmering Stars lo-fi approach. Bedrooms engage in heavy guitar riffing, punctuated by passages of stark-minimalism, held together by soaring vocal melodies. You can get a handful of mp3s by emailing the band at bedroomsofthenation@gmail.com.

Bedrooms of the Nation – “Stars Burned Out”

If Shimmering Stars are these guys emoting with their heart, Bedrooms of the Nation are coming straight from the balls. Both are absolutely worthy of your time and money.

Incoming: Indian Handcrafts

Admittedly, I don’t go out to enough small, local shows here in Toronto. Between all the shows I review and my age (pushing 30) I just can’t keep up with the kids anymore.

This Saturday night though I mustered the energy to head down to the Bovine Sex Club to see Lost Cities and Greys, who were both awesome. Thankfully though, I managed to make it in time to see local openers Indian Handcrafts, who just killed it with their short, punishing set which included a nice Fu Manchu cover.

A guitar and drums duo use lots of tape samples and effects to create some truly unique sounds, including a guitar tone that makes the axe sound like an organ. Guitarist Dan Allen’s single note riffs groove like old-school Rage Against the Machine being dragged across the tracks towards an oncoming train. It’s a nice, vibe.

A quick Google search leads me to believe that Allen and drummer Brandyn Aikins (who both share vocal duties) are also in Fox Jaws, meaning that either this is a side project or that band has split-up.

The duo has a three track CD-R that they’re selling off the stage. I foolishly didn’t buy one, and I can’t find any mp3s to link to so for now both you and I are left with their Myspace page. If these dudes are playing near you anytime soon, go see them.

Record Review: Flowers of Hell – “O”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

In retrospect, it seems inevitable the Flowers of Hell would stretch out their experimental post-rock into a single, continuous 45-minute track. The songs on the trans-Atlantic collective’s last disc, Come Hell or Highwater, were already pushing the boundaries of traditional song lengths.

Taking what was already a sprawling sound to new heights, O isn’t exactly the kind of track you listen to on repeat while riding the subway; it’s best experienced alone, in a quiet room, turned up really loud to grasp the full sonic range and emotion. Music of this kind tends to be made electronically, usually by someone alone in their bedroom, basically because it’s difficult to get a bunch of musicians in a room playing together and not have at least one of them make a mistake over a 45-minute span. Group mastermind Greg Jarvis managed to capture O in one live take after many rehearsals and demos, giving the recording a very visceral feel.

Presented with a DVD on the disc’s DualDisc flip side, O includes a host of extra material, including a fancy stereo mix of the title track, music videos and individual live cuts, and a great 50-minute set recorded at Toronto, ON’s Music Gallery. While neither easy listening nor watching, O is nevertheless a triumph