Saturday, October 30, 2010

Music Humane Society Saturday: "Being There" by Wilco

"I bought this album as a CD in the music section of Borders when I was nineteen.  Which was in the '90s!  Yeah, they used to sell music in round, shiny, disc form in stores," said Rob while stricken with a serious case of "good old days" syndrome.

Artist: Wilco
Year of Release: 1996
For fans of: The blending of rock and country, once referred to as alt-country--this is one of that genre's signature, standard-bearer albums.  Those songs about going home or back to someone and it's never quite the same and all the scars contained therein.  Albums with a mystifying mix of poetic breakup/heartbreak songs and songs that are infectiously fun--that somehow work.

Last night I maintained a stance that often sounds like an accusation.  Three years a generation gap does make.

Me: You claim Arcade Fire is the Radiohead of your generation.
Her: My generation?
Me: Yeah, your generation.  How old are you?
Her: 28.
Me: Yep, definite generation gap.
Her: How old are you?
Me: 31.
Her: Three years?!?  We're in the same generation.
Me: No, we're clearly not.  For me, 1992 was when music got good for me.  To you?  Like five years ago.
Her:  That's not true.  And besides, I love Radiohead!
Me: Sure you do.
Her: I do!  And I don't like Arcade Fire as much as Radiohead, by the way.
Me: Shut up.  I'm on a roll with this argument.

So yeah, that's essentially how that "discussion" went last night with a couple of drinks in me.  But it's true. A generation gap has to occur somewhere along a line of time and there have to be points in history where people only a few years apart are members of different generations.  So I'm planting my flag in this claim, plugging my ears, and saying "Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon!" to any and all critiques of this.  Like a grown-up.  

A prime illustration of this comes with the way that Wilco's great discography is typically judged by fans of these different generations.  If I was a twenty-something growing up in the Pitchfork Media hipster-tainted generation of today where albums create a meaningful impact equal to the amount of time they are trending topics on Twitter, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--no doubt a fine album with an even better backstory--would be adjudged to be Wilco's pinnacle of artistic achievement.  The album was certainly a testament to the band's conviction and principles in a record industry that lost its way--as well as a collection of abstract, well-crafted, noise-filled gems.  But for those of us who had giant compact disc (I've linked it in case you don't know what that is, kids) collections long before the age of high speed internet and album ratings with a pretentious decimal point, and of course those of us that love Wilco, Being There is still tops.  Wilco's magnum opus is a lush, meticulously-built album full of music made by musicians playing musical instruments.  And while that seems like an insultingly apparent statement, keep in mind today's musical landscape.  It is a statement of purpose and intent--just like the album.  Skilled guitars, pianos, strings, percussion combine with the vocal heartbreak, longing, and hope of a generation both inspired and broken by music to create something more than just a record.  Being There is a sheer, undeniable event reflective of all those moments that define and destroy us all at once.  Listening to this album gives me the same feeling I had watching The Wonder Years.  The moments aren't specifically yours, but yet somehow you've been there and you can touch those times all too easily.  It's not a sad album.  It's not a happy album.  It's not an angry album.  It's not a love album.  It's an album that--just like your life--is all of it and none of it and more of it and less of it and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Don't get me wrong, I celebrate Wilco's entire catalog.  But I think I'm right on this one.  Or I've cleverly used this whole generational argument to make the case that no matter what claim I make, my membership in a particular group correctly guides and directs an opinion that--if you disagree with it--you're wrong about because you just don't get it because you're not "in my generation, man".  Either way, I'm a genius.  Maybe a diabolical genius, but a genius nonetheless.  And so is this album.  Get it, says your leader.

MP3 Link: Amazon

Rob's Favorite Song: "What's the World Got In Store"

Lyric of Possible Relevance:

"There's rows and rows of houses
With windows painted blue
With the light from the TV 
Running parallel to you.
But there is no sunken treasure, 
Rumored to be
Wrapped inside my ribs 
In a sea black with ink."--from "Sunken Treasure"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quick Music Jerk: Newly Deerhunted, Twitterjuana, the "Other Show" and more

My mom always told me not to judge a book by it's wild-assed, Marfan Syndrome-having, long freaky limbed cover.  And she was right.  Case in point: Bradford Cox.

1.  So I have arrived very late to the whole Deerhunter party.  For those of you reading this who have been listening to Deerhunter and their twisted genius frontman Bradford Cox for some time, you'll agree with this sentiment.  For those of you who are hearing about Deerhunter for the first time at this very moment, let me assure you that you are ridiculously late to the party and everyone already has a huge head start on the drinking and you'll probably never catch up in time and will be expected to just go ahead and volunteer to be the designated driver.  Knowing that, if you still wish to come along for this ride, then best of luck.  In short, Deerhunter is a really, really good and strong to quite strong four-piece from Atlanta.  Their influences are all over the place, but the most apt description I have for them is a noisier Velvet Underground.  But really, there are a lot of sounds in there and I often feel that most comparisons for most bands don't do them justice.  My dear sweet ex always seemed to think that everyone sounded like The Beatles.  I don't really blame her for that since there's some truth to that statement for about 80% of rock bands.  But it does neither the band nor The Beatles any favors.  And yes, I did hyperlink The Beatles in the highly unlikely case that one of you reading actually doesn't know who The Beatles are.  The Beatles.  Which would be sad on many levels.  And another reason the terrorists want us all dead.  Anyway, their latest album, Halcyon Digest, has absolutely captivated me for reasons I can't fully describe.  It haunts and warms me all at once.  For the longest time I avoided Bradford Cox and Deerhunter because I'd seen his spaced out, unfocused, and spastic interviews, heard about his stream-of-consciousness songwriting style, and seen his general appearance (which sometimes includes wearing old dresses on stage)--and made the general conclusion that his music would be as unfocused of a mess as he is.  Well, I just couldn't be more wrong.  Halcyon Digest is focused, beautiful, unique all while retaining a large measure of adventure.  I'm not calling the guy an idiot savant or something (Cox is actually quite intelligent), but his lyrics and composition retain a measure of order and focused brilliance that you wouldn't have expected if you were judging a book by its cover.  Like I did.  Head hanging.  Shoulders shrugging.  Hey, this is one of those times I'm really glad to be wrong.

[Listen to samples of Halcyon Digest here]

2.  I've decided that one of the primary reasons for my relative laziness which leads to the infrequency of updating this blog has to do with Twitter.  Yes, I'm going to shoot the fish in the barrel that is social networking and blame Twitter.  Having an outlet for my all my random musings about music and life and the injustices of the world takes a bit of the piss out my passion for writing this blog.  But I'm going to really try so very much harder because of how obvious you all make it to me that you need this blog.  You need me.  You need...US.  Also, I believe I may have coined a term for the way Twitter makes me lazy the way that weed makes one lazy--Twitterjuana.  I did one Google search and found nothing matching this term, so I'm claiming it for my own based on my exhaustive and thorough research.  Yes, kids.  My legacy on this earth is coining the phrase "Twitterjuana".  Self-doubt creeping in.  Surely someone has already meshed these together.  I mean hell, the word is a veritable "Brangelina".  It's too obvious right?  Right?  Oh, and my Twitter name is @RobRobRiot if you care to try and follow me.  If you must.  (I'm making a stern face of resigned humility at this very moment.)

3.  I would be remiss for failing to mention the "other" show that was a part of the ballyhooed pre-breakup concert weekend of 2010 that I referenced in my previous entry.  In addition to seeing The National, I had the distinct pleasure the night before of seeing Muse at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  Muse are a relatively big, famous band who regularly play big arenas and headline big festivals and fill said arenas and festivals with big arena and festival rock music.  For such a "big" band, it might come as a surprise that there are only three guys in the band proper.  But these guys play a mean show with heavy drums and guitars that at times border on metal.  The visuals include huge glowing platforms, big screens showing images focused on each member of the band, and a light show guaranteed to cause an epileptic seizure within about 30 seconds--probably to people who don't even have epilepsy.  Yeah, it's that full throttle.  Now this is not to say that they're all hype and visuals and no substance.  I was thoroughly impressed by the songs, the hooks, and the overall presence of these guys.  Muse is the closest thing we have to a modern day Queen out there and I highly encourage you--if you have the means--well let's just say one of their live shows is so very choice.

4.  And finally, thanks to a recommendation by my good friend Lori, I'm listening as I write these words to a band I'd never heard of until today called Here We Go Magic.  So far, so good.  She said I'd be blown away by these guys.  Now let me tell you, it's typically not a great idea to promise anyone they'll be "blown away" by anyone the first time they hear them.  That's sort of like telling a girl that you're really good in the sack before you've ever had a chance to actually, um, "engage".  You better deliver and you probably won't because the bar has been raised a bit higher than what actually matches the reality of your "skills".  Just sayin'. Anyway, these guys are promising.  On first listen, they remind me of a more focused and less abstract version of Ariel Pink--an artist whose most recent release, Before Today, has already cemented a place on my year-end, best-of 2010 list.  I'll be interested to listen more.  And therefore, I can only assume you will be, too.  Just follow all the above words and links to a place called music bliss.  I triple dog dare you.

That's all for now.  I love you all so hard with the fire of a thousand exploding suns flying in to a great, big huge mega-sun.  Yeah.  That much.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Breakup Music: The Soundtrack to the End of an Era

Last concert together: The National at House of Blues in Dallas this past Friday.

There really is no nail in the coffin for a relationship that's just ended quite like opening up Words With Friends on the good ol' iPhone to see that your ex has just resigned the game you were in the middle of playing.  This is especially true of my ultra-competitive ex who has always been quite principled about resigning WWF matches because "you should never quit because you never know what might happen".  Those words hang in the air with a myriad of meanings to me as I begin writing this--as I'm sure a series of flashbacks will begin to hang around my head over the next several weeks and maybe months as I mourn the loss of my relationship.  We were actually playing two games and I was ahead in both (in one for sure, the other I can't remember but I know it was close!), by the way--which for those who know how bad-ass of a WWF player my lovely ex is, they'd know that that's no small feat.  Figures.

But life is all about contingencies and coping mechanisms, right?  That's why I'm suddenly blessing you all with this entry.  That's also why in my oh so "High Fidelity" sort of way, I plan to dive head first in to my record collection.  I'll also pray and I'll also probably have an extra drink or two and then I'll get up and go to work because that's just what you do.  But as it was before, the soundtrack to the end of one era and the beginning of a transitional one is noteworthy to me.  And whether it is noteworthy to any of you isn't really the point.  The point is that when major relationships end for all of us, we all have certain signposts in that wounded little brain of ours--the last place you had dinner together, the last time you kissed, the last 100+ point word you played against them (QUILTED, in case you were wondering).  For me, there are notable music moments I'll always associate with "us"--both in good times and in bad.  These aren't so much the bad times as much as they are the end times (that sounds a bit apocalyptic, eh?).  And this music will always be associated with this time no matter what happens next.  But in the same way that I was able to keep listening to Ryan Adams, Morrissey, and Juliana Hatfield after my ex-fiancee and I broke up, I have no doubt that I'll be able to listen to this music fondly again.  If I believed that great music could be somehow ruined forever for me, it would almost be like saying that a huge part of me was ruined forever.  And I'm not that emo.

Last concert together: The National.  House of Blues, Dallas.  Saturday, October 9th.

This concert came just days after "The Big Fight" and preceded "The Last Fight" of last night.  Wounds were still fresh, but we had both had time to make enough peace to drive to Dallas and make this show.  I credit her, because my initial inclination was to cancel this trip and she insisted we go.  She was right, as she often was, and we went and I'm glad we did.  We both love The National and they didn't disappoint.  They played almost every one of my favorite songs--the sad, beautiful, frustrated songs that are indicative of their catalog.  But also the songs she and I both knew and had heard together so many times.  The songs that bonded us just a bit.  At one point, she leaned over and remarked that The National was the first band she'd heard me play that she was unfamiliar with that she actually liked.  I leaned over and spoke in her ear (since it was pretty loud in there), "You're welcome."  I kissed her on the cheek and at that moment I had hope for us.  It was our last tender moment--but what a great last moment.  A great last concert.  The band finished their encore with an a capella, sing-a-long version of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks".  I felt at that moment that we were all a part of something so unique--that rare feeling of camaraderie where you feel like you're a part of something no one has been or ever will again be a part of.  Magic.  For one night.  I'll store this one away as one of our best moments and will remember it fondly no matter what.  I hope.  I mean, if I can, that shows maturity or something, right?

Last Record I Listened to Before the Breakup: Brighten the Corners by Pavement

This is my favorite Pavement record.  Album opener "Stereo" starts buzzing and blistering and exploding so soon after the needle hits the vinyl and I am suddenly a teenager again.  And it is good.  About the halfway point of side one, she calls and we begin--I believe unbeknownst to us both at the time--"The Last Fight".  I was just about to step in the shower and I almost didn't answer the phone.  But I did.  And such is the way of fate and related things.  This is not to say that we wouldn't have eventually broken up, but it's the little moments like this and all the little decisions you made or didn't make that find a way to nip at your heels as you try to escape all of this madness.  One minute, it's this.  And the next...  You all know what I mean, I think.  "Brighten the Corners" is an amazing album on many levels, but the irony of it being Pavement's last great album before the band collapsed under the weight of internal disagreements, fights, bickering, etc. is not lost on me.  A band responsible for so much good was susceptible to the same mistakes, the same harsh words, the same actions that destroy so many human relationships.  It's sad and a tragedy on some level, but go on we must.  They did.  And I will.  After this weekend, at least.

First Record I Listened to After the Breakup: Girls Can Tell by Spoon

Armed and/or burdened with a night of sleep and a little time to digest it all, I chose this record to listen to around 7 AM this morning.  This is not to say that I gave much thought to the selection of this album at the time.  I was barely awake and I just knew I was looking for one of my "comfort records"--one of those "old standbys" that you listen to because you know it and it knows you and is like a great friend, a comfortable pair of shoes, or your favorite single malt scotch that warms your chest and might be a good idea or a bad idea depending on what time of day you decide to drink because you're not an alcoholic and you don't want to fall in to using liquor as a primary coping device--but I digress.  As I listened to it and took that shower I never ended up taking yesterday because I was too busy answering a certain phone call and dealing with the aftermath, a realization related to the aforementioned "Brighten the Corners" came to me.  Just as that album represented the last great moments of a band barreling down the path of dissolution, "Girls Can Tell" was Spoon's first truly great album--their third album and the one that solidified them as a band and as a unit capable of doing great things.  It took some time, but they found greatness in their work and ran with it.  And I can, nay must, believe the same thing for myself.  And I'm not talking about finding some great girl.  My ex IS a great girl, but like many things in life it apparently wasn't meant to be.  No, I'm talking about putting it all (back) together and coming out stronger and moving on and moving forward, and blah blah, etc.  And today isn't really the day to ask me why that's important or what I envision moving forward in my life.  I just know there's no other choice but to move on.  

For me, I have faith God is watching out for me.  I have the same faith that my friends and family are there.  And for these reasons, I am truly blessed.  For all of you, it may be the same or something different based on your perspective.  Either way, the music will prompt thought, reflection, relief, and release.  It'll always be there in the background.  Another one of those constants I don't have to reach too high to grasp.  It's one of the things I can count on.  And most of us don't count too high when it comes to the number of things we can count on.  As Morrissey once said, "There is a light that never goes out."  Mine's a little low, but it is still lit.  It is still lit.