Friday, July 27, 2007


I'm not even moving this year, but I'm already reminded as to why I hate doing it so much: The endless cleaning! Not only is it hard work, but a little stomach churning to see just how disgusting the place I call home can be. Thankfully I have Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer to keep me going. That, and the promise of a needed break to watch the Simpsons Movie.

I know, a completely pointless post. Forgive me please, I needed the distraction. My room is next. Ugh...

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives

It'll be some time before I'll forget bidding my (and SonicRyan's) good friend James bon voyage with Neko Case crooning the New Pornographers' "Go Places" in the background. Have fun in Japan, James, and come back to us soon! Or else the Zelda games and CDs you're storing in my basement become mine...


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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Local Listens

The Pomonas, local indie pop darlings whose My Space describes their sound as "A KU basketball fan taking a piss in Tin Pan Alley," will play their final show tomorrow night in Lawrence. Openers Approach and Burly Q Girly Crew. (Jackpot Saloon, $5-7, 10 p.m.) Hey Andy Gassaway, remember me? We used to write for The University Daily Kansan together... Now you're moving to Seattle and breaking up the band. Well, you and all those other guys, too.

Also tomorrow, up-and-comers Fourth of July play the Eighth Street Taproom with Matt Suggs. ($2, 10 p.m.) Thanks for the heads up, Chloe!

KC-area free weekly The Pitch is holding its 2007 Music Awards Show Aug. 10 at the Uptown. Vote for your picks here. Winners will be announced at the show and in the Aug. 16 edition of the Pitch. I've got my eye on the "New Acts" category, with Baby Birds vs. The New Republic vs. Rich Boys.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Look at Em Go! Look at Em Go!

Last night my husband said, "Why would they (Pitchfork) put up pictures of the Arcade Fire playing basketball? Oh that's right, because a guy like me will sit and look at them." And a girl like me will put them on her blog, too. Who knew Win's prowess went beyond championing one of the biggest indie rock acts around?

In not-completely-unrelated Arcade Fire news, the indie darlings have extended their tour with LCD Soundsystem. Unfortunately the Fire will blaze through the Midwest (with pitstops in Morrison, CO, on 9/17 and Saint Paul, MN, on 9/30.)

In not-completely-unrelated bands-playing-sports news, check out this old pic of The National and Clap Your Hands playing soccer! I had no idea that when I saw them play the Bottleneck in '06, I had more than one reason to beg for an autograph.

(Thanks to PF, Brooklyn Vegan, and Mandy, my Internet prowlin' goddess.)

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Pitchfork Music Fest - A Week Later

I haven’t unpacked my suitcase, but I’ve sorted my thoughts. Behold, the ramblings of a paranoid, self-deprecating mad woman at Pitchfork Music Festival 2007.

I Like My Space
Not MySpace, you zealots. My space. My protective bubble. Oh, girl on my right at the New Pornos, with your darkish clothes and blurrish face. You assaulted my periphery. Crushed my toes. Assailed my nostrils with your little old lady perfume. All in an attempt to inch past me in your stupid espadrilles, hoping to lock eyes with Neko Case when she stepped onstage. For that, if nothing else, I could accept her absence.

Despite my love of space, I am a Kansas hater. Bitch and moan, bitch and moan. I’m like the character Otis from the non-Will-Ferrell film Kicking and Screaming. When he whines about an errant cheese fry in his beer, his no-nonsense friend says, “Don’t complain if you’re not going to do anything about it.” That’s me, griping about Kansas, though you don’t see me scrambling to leave the state. That’s me, contentedly chugging my cheesy beer.

I’ve always loathed Kansas for its expansiveness. For being the calm little center of the country. For its hicks. At last, I thought, I was going to Chicago. A place where people were open-minded. Dressed better (see below). Above all, listened to good music. Maybe it was culture shock, lack of sleep, the drugs, but I quickly realized how much I had romanticized the big city. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is incredible – I’m just realizing I could be miserable anywhere. Why not be miserable somewhere where I can hop in my Toyota and not miss the first half of the Twilight Sad’s set (if they ever played piddling Kansas)? Stupid trains.

I Am a Bastard
On our honeymoon, my husband and I constructed an elaborate sandcastle on the beach. In the distance a freckled, chubby brat salivated at the jowls, awaiting our departure so he could decimate our fragile creation. I’ve never abhorred anyone so intensely, nor felt so at peace about it.

I started thinking about this dumpy bastard the second day of the festival while listening to The Sea and Cake. By four on Sunday, I was losing steam faster than the third act of a Modest Mouse album. So we sat under a tree next to a group of gents digging in the dirt. The festival lineup was that good: droves of people with nothing better to do during The Sea and Cake than to play with sticks. Half an hour later, those sticks became an intricate miniature village inhabited by plastic dinosaurs. A crowd gathered; the builders committed the achievement to film. Moments later some poor lout bumbled along and trampled it. As he stumbled away, pink-cheeked, I thought, that kid is going to go kill himself. That was before Ben, Clint, and Trent rebuilt the structure and left for a bit, no doubt to congratulate one another over a beer, a funnel cake. That was before I was taking pictures for the blog and toppled it again.

So I felt a little like one of those no-good journalists who end up becoming the subjects of their stories, you know, like Watergate or something. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to tell good ole Ben, Clint, and Trent what I’d done. Instead I shook their hands and told them I loved their tiny dino city, and that I’d felt responsible for it in their absence. Minutes later my husband said to me, “What do you mean you felt like you had to protect it? You stepped on it.” You see, honey, that is precisely the reason I had to watch over it, because I had maimed it. This coming from a girl who still chastises herself for chipping her husband’s tooth on a beer bottle. (Maybe that was what he was so pissy about.)

Did I mention I’m a recovering Catholic? Perhaps that’s why I can’t let this go. Perhaps that’s why now, more than a week later, I’m compelled to confess. Ben, Clint, and Trent, it was me. The girl with the stupid camera. The stupid blog. I toppled your so-called “foundry.” I am your dumpy bastard.

I Am Not a Hipster
Indie music attracts an eclectic array of listeners. For the most part, hipsters. Admittedly, I am simultaneously enthralled and repelled by this culture. Allow me to explain.

My friend James said it best when, after arriving at Day One of the festival, he announced, "Everyone here is cooler than me." After studying mass quantities of hipsters at the festival, I have deduced there are two main varieties of hipster:

Hipster as a lifestyle choice: these folk embrace the mind-set they convey. Think unwashed hair, no makeup, drab/mismatched clothes assembled with their grandmother’s 1974 olive green Singer. Many of these hipsters are what I would call “beautifully ugly”: people so plain, pale, or odd they’re breathtaking. I can respect these people; I just don’t want to share a hairbrush with them.

Hipster by design: these folk want to dress like hipsters dress. They wear anything and everything hideous, as if to say, “Look at all this uncool shit I’m wearing, and yet consider how cool I end up looking.” I saw, in no particular order: gaggles of girls in gold sequined fanny packs, mullet-wearing men and women, a man with a paste-on gray beard, a man smoking out of an old timey tobaccy pipe. (Did I miss something, or is the grandpa look en vogue?) Two girls in particular baffled me – one wore a pair of bee antennae, the other a multi-colored strap-on umbrella (strapped to her head, pervs). They conversed as if these were perfectly normal objects to find affixed to one’s head. (Granted, at least the umbrella had a practical purpose at a sweltering music festival). “Posers” is a tough word for this type of hipsters, though this isn’t a far cry from people who buy $180 hole-punched denims.

I am perhaps the worst type of hipster, “the occasional hipster” – one too lazy to be a full-time hipster by design, not lazy enough to be a true hipster. I’m the type who’ll wear black tights and a hideous peach sweater to a show and worry about it matching. I love my thick, dramatic bangs, but haven’t the patience to style them – or for that matter, not to style them, and have them constantly catching my eyelashes. In the hipster culture, shouldn’t hairspray be beside the point?

This is perhaps my biggest criticism of the hipster culture: for a style that evokes a do-it-yourself, don’t-give-a-shit, I-rolled-out-of-bed-looking-like-this attitude, hipsters expend an incredible amount of effort trying to appear like they haven’t put forth any effort at all. In essence, hipsters must embrace filth – or worse, fiction.

So why do I so desperately want to be one?

Final Thoughts
I didn’t get any Neko. Or Kevin Barnes’ penis. I was made to bury romanticisms about the city of Chicago and its hipper-than-thou populace. But I did get the best festival lineup I’ve seen, and for a paltry fifty bucks. I also got some good pictures of the foundry before I demolished it, and of Kev in his bondage outfit. As you can see, I took them with my hipster camera. Just $1,000, and it makes everything grainy, achromatic, so beautifully ugly.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Burn Out, Bad Vibrations

I won’t rest until I’ve squeezed every drop of wit from the book/film so dear to this music snob’s heart, High Fidelity. Today’s offering: “Is it better to burn out or to fade away?” Nick Hornby is referring to Stevie Wonder as one unfortunate burn-out who perhaps should have slipped into obscurity. A more apt comparison for my generation would the Smashing Pumpkins. Their (so I’ve heard) less-than-stellar “reunion” album has undoubtedly disappointed die-hard fans looking for another Siamese Dream – heck, I’d settle for Gish: The Sequel. (Note my smarmy quotations around the term reunion – do Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin alone constitute a full-fledged reunion, and all the stampeding, hair pulling revelry that would entail?)

I haven’t heard the album “yet” (I’m resisting another High Fidelity reference here). Honestly, I’m afraid. A comment from comedian Ricky Gervais seems particularly pertinent here. On why he and Stephen Merchant chose to end the British Office after just two seasons, Gervais replied they had said what they wanted to say, and to continue would have been mindless repetition. (Incidentally, this kind of insight is precisely why the British Office will forever outshine its American counterpoint – to my mind, the American Office is the witty British version’s attractive, loud-mouthed younger sibling – she may be entertaining, but which sister would you rather hold a conversation with? But I digress.) Last month reported that British rockers The Verve were recording a new album this fall. And unlike poor Billy, Richard Ashcroft managed to patch things up with his wonder-guitarist, Nick McCabe – who, after listening to Ashcroft’s sub-par solo releases, I imagine was instrumental (ahem) to the Verve’s sprawling, sophisticated sound. I know, I know – this is an indie/college rock blog, but I am indebted to the Verve for easing my transition from radio dredge (what Thom Yorke calls “fridge buzz”) to more experimental fare. And I can’t help embracing that old wistfulness as I envision Urban Hymn’s follow up – especially since the band’s members have unequivocally denounced a reunion for the better half of a decade.

Probably, it will suck. Perhaps this is my hopeless pessimism, but I prefer the romanticism of a band “fading away,” like a gravely injured soldier resisting the urge to storm the battlefield one last time. Come on people, even if Neutral Milk Hotel recorded a new album, it wouldn’t be any good, right? That is what I keep telling myself.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pitchfork Music Festival: Day 1 (The Sonic Ryan Edition)

July 13, 2007

Union Park

Chicago, IL

After a day of train rides, walking, getting lost, playing in the Museum of Science and Industry (including an Omnimax movie about Mummies!), more walking, trains, getting lost, trains, a free sample of chocolate raspberry flavored iced coffee, pot brownies, getting lost, and more trains, let me tell you it was a fucking relief to finally make it to the baseball fields that host the now seemingly annual Pitchfork Music Festival. It was about 6:30 in the evening, and Slint had apparently just started, but before I get too carried away, let me introduce you to some of my friends:

Jenna - Also known as girlfriend, as she is my girlfriend. At 5'2", and maybe 105lbs, she's easily the smallest one in the group. But don't be fooled, as she's a feisty one, and a pretty one. Likes chocolate and cheese, and I don't mean the Ween album.

James - My current roommate and good friend. He's leaving for Japan soon, so this trip was extra special because there are fewer and fewer days of James-time left. At over 6' he's the tallest one, and he's a big fan of Iron and Wine.

Nicole - Also known as fellow blogger Beckon the Wonderland. She's the smart and creative type, with a nearly finished manuscript to back it up. Check for her on the bestseller list in the coming years, if this blog doesn't make her famous first.

Chad - Nicole's husband, our good friend, and an all around great guy. He's easily the quietest one of the bunch, but everything he says carries so much weight. Rarely does he say anything without thinking about it first, and is the type of guy who would bring video games on a car trip and let me play them.

We walked into the festival grounds, and my head was spinning due to some extremely potent pot brownies. In all honesty, I was beginning to have a hard time with the feeling, as I was getting really stoned, but haven't been a regular pot smoker for some time now. I was also getting a bad case of paranoia. Not the kind of paranoia that allows me to believe that I'm going to be arrested, I haven't experienced that since high school. Instead, my paranoia is the kind that gives me an overall feeling of anxiety, where I feel claustrophobic or like my chest is caving in. As a result, I had to keep moving, as movement and motion seemed to be the only surefire way to distract me from the mental discomfort I was facing. Unfortunately, that meant that Slint would have to go by the wayside, but since I was the only one interested in seeing them no one else seemed to mind. Besides, it gave us a chance to do other productive tasks, like scope out the grounds and get familiar with the place we would be spending the better part of our weekend at. It gave me an opportunity to say hello to some Lawrence chaps that I knew. It also gave some others time do take some more drugs.

Slint finished not long after sneaking a peek in the tent that hosted the record fair, which, by the way, was decent. One vendor had some great prices on new vinyl ($15 for Neon Bible when I paid over $20, $8 for 23, and so on), but aside from that vendor there seemed to be just the usual stuff for the usual price. As we settled into the grass, I felt a strange premonition, as if something was not right in the air. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly, and chalked it up to being as high as I was. GZA started soon after we took our seats, and suddenly the attitude and overall environment went to hell. James, who had been mixing drugs all afternoon like he was at Bonnaroo, started to experience either a bad acid trip, a panic attack, or a combination of both. Jenna also experienced a frightful moment where she nearly started hyperventilating. Luckily, I was able to compose myself enough to be the straight one, but Nicole really went above and beyond in helping those two. Her off the wall anecdotes, like how she was a Cadbury Egg, came completely out of nowhere but worked magically in helping out our two friends. James and Jenna were both able to snap out of it, for the most part at least, in time for Sonic Youth. We didn't have a great spot, and the sound was awfully quiet (a problem that plagued the entire festival), but seeing Sonic Youth was still an experience I'll never forget. If its details you're looking for, scroll down a bit, or click here.

When the notes ended we took the long walk back to Union Station. By then, everyone was back to normal again. Well, as normal as some of us can be on acid or pot brownies, but you get the idea. The night air was brisk and breezy, but it made me feel alive, and strangely happy. I fell in love that night, with the city of Chicago. I do every time I go, I know, and some day I hope to live there. Until then, I'm satisfied with the memories of the sky lights as we took that long walk to catch the train back home.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Live Review: Sonic Youth

July 13th, 2007

Union Park

Chicago, IL

When Daydream Nation was released in 1988, Sonic Youth probably did not have a music festival nearly 20 years in the future in mind. However, after witnessing the occasion myself, I have to say I prefer if no other way. Granted, there were technical problems, mainly the lack of volume for those more than 20 feet back and the occasional lyrical flub, but regardless of those minute factors the show was worth every penny I spent over the weekend.

To know me is to know that I love Sonic Youth. In 1996, an old friend lent me his beat up Daydream CD. Being a teenager myself, I instantly fell for the album's opening track, the now classic "Teen Age Riot". Sure, the sound seemed a little distant, but the songs sounded anything but dated. In fact, to my teenage ears, it sounded like so many other bands I had been listening to on radio, cassette, and CD since I first learned how to change the channel from Nickelodeon to MTV, but was released way before any of those other bands (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Beck, Soundgarden, the list goes on. Who hasn't Sonic Youth influenced?). Instantly I knew that I was in possession of something special. I cannot put into words the way I felt hearing Thurston and Lee's guitars for the first time. At the time it sounded like something out of this world, though now I know its just fucked up tunings and drumsticks making the squeals in "Eric's Trip". Somewhere around "Providence" I was able to catch my breath. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm not the same Ryan I was before I started this album." You probably think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.

Flash forward 11 years, and here I am standing in the outfield of some baseball park in the Chicago. The weather is cool, the night is upon the restless thousands, the pot brownies making my brain feel things I didn't thing were possible, and Thurston, Kim, Lee, and Steve, the Sonic Youth that made Daydream Nation, are taking the stage. Of course we all know exactly what is coming, they're playing the album in its entirety after all, but despite the lack of surprise the crowd explodes.

I've seen Sonic Youth play "Teen Age" twice before various tours and it has always been a show stopper. Despite the opening chords of the song being incredibly quiet, it did not disappoint. From our great distance Thurston looked and sounded as though he had not aged a bit since 1988, with his long hair either masking his face as he stood still, or bobbing from side to side when jumping about the stage. Except for the low volume, the song sounded perfect. If not for a few extra yelps, I probably would have thought it was a recording, even the low volume could have been in homage to the original '88 release, and not the re-issue that hit stores earlier this year.

After the first song, I couldn't help but wonder, "If "Teen Age Riot" owns a typical, non-Daydream show, then what song owns the Daydream show?" With as many people in attendance as there were, there were plenty of sporadic applauses to hit my ears each time a song was played. There were people, like myself, who needed to hear "Silver Rocket" just to make sure that what they were witnessing was real. Thankfully it was, as the band tore through it like they wrote it yesterday. One of the gems of the song is Steve's drumming as they come out of the feedback jam and back into the song, and hearing it live only solidified my belief that Steve is often times responsible for making their feedback parts as interesting as they are.

There were others, or maybe just myself, who traveled a great distance knowing full well that this would (probably) be the only time they would hear "Cross the Breeze" live. Again, the song was too quiet (though sound problems were a plague of the entire festival, not just Sonic Youth), which unfortunately affected my experience, but whatever. Yeah, it sucks a little not being able to hear one of your favorite songs ever, but I still heard it, sung along with it, and when the song neared its end the audience got just still and quiet enough for me to focus on my favorite part: The chords that close the song in contrast to the feedback.

You could hear the fans of "Eric's Trip", or perhaps just fans of Lee in general, making themselves known. I've also heard "Eric's Trip" before, and while I honestly think I liked it better in St. Louis, I think that is only because it was a complete and total surprise back in 2003. This time was performed no different than before, and still sounds as remarkable as it did in my bedroom 11 years ago. Off topic: I hope that my friends who took acid were enjoying this song as much as I was.

Perhaps surprisingly, people went apeshit for "Providence". Who knew that a phone message from Mike Watt could generate a bigger applause than, say, "Total Trash"?

Before I go on to say which song got the biggest applause, I'd like to muse on a few other things as well. (1) Since many of the songs have not been played in over a decade, I have to say it was pretty fucking incredible to hear just how tight the band was. Like I mentioned earlier, there were a few lyrical mishaps, but only a few. As for the music, everything was spot on. The band did have to relearn how to do some of the jams, and often times recreated them into something new. Those moments were my personal favorites, as it was like hearing, say, "Candle" or "Kissablity" for the first time all over again. (2) Though the lack of sound was disappointing at times, I was still there. I don't write that to sound indier-than-thou, or to come off as elitist or snobbish. No, I write that because it means something to me. Writing these paragraphs and thinking back to Friday almost put me in tears because even though it was hard to hear at times, that night was so special to me, just as the night I first listened to them was 11 years ago. Some people remember where they were when they heard John Lennon died. I remember what video game I was playing when I first put on Daydream (Super Mario Brothers 2, for Super Nintendo, in case you were curious).

Now for what you all have been waiting for. First prize goes to the final song, or songs I guess, of "Trilogy". Not only did each part get its own applause, but the final applause sounded like the entire city of Chicago was showing its appreciation. To be quite frank, "Trilogy" has never been one of my favorites, but on this night it stole the show. The lyrics "I'm just walking around/yr city is a wonder town" in the first part, "The Wonder", were especially fitting of the day I experienced with four of my best friends as we killed time earlier in the afternoon. The jams, especially the one that closes the song, and therefore the album, were intense. Like I said, I was never a huge fan of the song before, but now I'll dream of hearing it at every show.

The band then left the stage, but obviously the crowd of thousands were wanting more. Perhaps its a bit greedy to expect an encore after being blown away by what will likely be a once in a lifetime experience for many of the fans in attendance, but it didn't seem to matter once Sonic Youth returned, this time with Mark Ibold, to play three songs from last year's Rather Ripped. They started with "Incinerate", before moving on to a couple of Kim songs (perhaps because she isn't represented as well on Daydream?), "Reena" and "Jams Run Free". In comparison to the Daydream set, the songs sounded tighter, but the band seemed to rather enjoy ripping up the songs. In all, it was actually a great way to end the set, as the three songs are incredibly energetic, and even prompted my somewhat reserved friend James to comment on how excellent each of the Ripped songs sounded as they finished. Afterwards, we left and walked around the city some more. The city, after all, is a wonder town.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Our Love Battles the Loose Ends

Gotta make one last post before we go Pitchforking.

Admire Our Love to Admire?
I was hoping to have a review of the new Interpol album, Our Love to Admire, written and ready to go. I started it yesterday afternoon, here's what I've got so far:

Grade: 71.2%
Official Score: 62.5%

What The Others Think:

Pitchfork Score: 6.0
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 1 1/2 Out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score:

Interpol's latest album is

I'm sure you get the idea though. I'll finish it eventually, I promise.

Famous Battles

If you missed last night's sold out Battles show, I have no sympathy for you. Those guys were sick, man. Seriously. Fucking heavy, dancy, trippy, wild and crazy. Hearing them live far eclipses listening to their album. Unlike Tortoise or Mogwai, who stick to straightforward renditions of their songs, Battles prefer the medley route, where every song somehow, unbelievably so at times, melds into the next. The only exception was at the midway point of the hour long set, and only so Tyondai Braxton could ask for more vocals in the monitor. Of course "Atlas" was played, and sounded fucking great, but the real highlight for me was Mirrored's excellent opening track "Race: In". Again, their sound is hard to describe. I guess you just had to be there.

We're going to Pitchfork Festival. I only have five words left to type: Sonic Youth, baby. Sonic Youth.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Recommended Album of the Moment: Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Grade: 83.4%
Official Score: 83.4%

What The Others Think:

Pitchfork Score: 8.5
Tiny Mix Tapes Score:
Coke Machine Glow Score:

From the time Spoon first charmed the pants off of me with Girls Can Tell, I've been hooked. I could never go out on a limb and claim Spoon to be one of the best bands ever, but I don't think its unreasonable, especially at this point, to declare them the most consistent. At this point I'm convinced that Spoon could try their hand at Gansta Rap and still sound better than most bands out there.

Speaking of consistency, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is probably Spoon's most consistent album since Girls. I've always likened Spoon to Modest Mouse in how they're both great bands with great songs, but most of their albums tend to slide a bit towards the end. Not so with Ga x 5, "Finer Feelings", and "Black Like Me" are currently my two favorite songs. And like Modest Mouse in 2004, Spoon might have just released their breakthrough album. There are a few songs that could wind up being legitimate hits, notably "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" or the current single, "The Underdog".

Perhaps the reason why I find this album to be their most consistent is because there's something for everyone here. There are the poppy songs I mentioned previously. "The Ghost Of You Lingers" is a spacey, stripped down song that would have fit nicely on Kill the Moonlight if it weren't so perfectly placed on this album. "Don't Make Me a Target" could have opened Gimme Fiction, and "Rhythm and Soul" sounds like the Spoon I first fell in love with on Girls. This isn't to say Spoon isn't trying anything new here, on the contrary, when you hear the horns or the flamenco guitar solo your ears will perk up too. But this is, first and foremost, a Spoon album, which means you're gonna get some sexy rock 'n roll, sweaty soul, and some delicious pop, the kind that is both sweet and refreshing. As for me, I think I just found my newest Summer album.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist

Grade: 54.0%
Official Score: 46.8%

What the Other's Think:
Pitchfork Score: 4.9
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 1 1/2 Out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score:

You know the older kids that crash a college (or high school) party? Of course you do. Chances are if you're reading this blog you've been to enough college parties to witness it firsthand. As for myself, I feel all too familiar with it. As I near the quarter century mark in life, I can't help but notice the kids getting younger and younger at shows and parties, and at times feel a little awkward being the "old guy" (in age only, I assure you). So I hope you'll excuse me while I give Billy and Jimmy a brief pass for being the old guys arriving at the party, as I have a feeling that their new album is going to be ripped to shreds. P4K started began the ceremonies today, and I'm fairly certain it will continue as the album reaches the hands of intelligent, discerning music listeners with access to blogs or MySpace accounts. Personally, I can't bring myself to really tear them a new one, yet.

You see, the Pumpkins are from a different generation, or at least cut their teeth in one. The Pumpkins started releasing albums when hitting the big time wasn't such a big deal. MTV used to have one helluva cool show in 120 Minutes, and even Alternative Nation wasn't so awful. But things changed, the music business became Big Business, and the Pumpkins were sort of left behind, shaking and scratching their heads. Frustrated, Billy dissolved the band, and tried to start from scratch. We all know what happened next, so lets just leave it at that and come back to the present. The Smashing Pumpkins are back, sort of, and poised to reclaim their spot atop the Alternative Rock charts with their new album, Zeitgeist. The only problem is, the album is not that good.

Or should I say, the album is good if you're fine with listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, what's left of them, sounding uninspired, or perhaps only inspired being the Smashing Pumpkins for the sake of being the Smashing Pumpkins. Many of the songs, notably the album's rockin' first half, hearken back to the Mellon Collie days, especially the album's opener, "Doomsday Clock", and its successor, "7 Shades of Black". Other songs sound a little overproduced and synth heavy, recalling the Pumpkins' most recent Machina albums. There are also a couple of neo new-wave songs that sound like the covers they tried on the "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" portion of the Aeroplane Flies High box set to close out the album. I imagine if you listened to Zeitgeist not expecting anything new, hearing the albums 12 songs(*) might not be a problem, but as a reviewer its hard to give credit to a band for writing songs that sound like songs that sounded better the first time around.

The biggest offenders, please stand up. "7 Shades of Black", a song that would have been perfect addition to the "Zero" single back in 1996, rides its static, heavy rock riff past the point of boredom. "United States", Billy's latest attempt at epic songwriting falls waaaaaay short. If we include only Smashing Pumpkins material, Billy Corgan's track record is pretty solid with lengthy jams like "Starla", "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", and the underrated "For Martha". "United States is just plain awful. Again, riffing past the point of boredom, a solo of just squeaks and harmonics (and Billy can shred too, at least when he's bothered to), heavier riffing, screaming, blah. By the way, just repeating "Revolution" isn't enough reason to actually, you know, start one. Without a reason, the song feels empty. "Bring the Light", and "(Come on) Let's Go" have boring song titles, and right away I feared that they would be boring songs. Yep. The former is 70s pomp while the latter sounds like it was written for Zwan (honestly). The skip button is never too far away for these four songs songs.

Aside from the four terrible songs, the rest offend merely for not standing out. They aren't awful songs necessarily, but nothing worth resurrecting the Smashing Pumpkins for either. What's sorely missing on Zeitgeist is Billy's softer side. You get it for about four-and-a-half minutes of the entire album, and 98% of that is my personal favorite, "Neverlost". Coincidence? I suspect not. The other gem is the leadoff single, "Tarantula", a hard hitting rock song to be sure, but one that is reminiscent of "Geek U.S.A." in how it kicks ass, takes a quick break, and then kicks some more. Still, its unsettling to know that one of the best songs is the single. The Pumpkins have a plethora of great singles, but as any Pumpkinhead knows you had to buy the the albums to hear the really good songs. Sorry folks, there is no "Mayonaise" or "Thru the Eyes of Ruby" for you here.

Zeitgeist may be a couple of songs shy of Steaming Pile of Crap status, but in some ways its good to have them back. At the very least there's a tour going on, and once the "others" learn more songs the sets are likely to become more and more eclectic. Plus, there's always hope that the inevitable b-sides collection will have a few gems for those who, like me, feel a bit disenchanted with our latest Smashing Pumpkins romance.

(*)Note: This is a review of the standard, 12 track edition. To be quite frank with you, I see no point in seeking out any of the additional tracks that accompany Target, iTunes, or any other version, when the 12 standard tracks do little for me.

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A Prelude

I sometimes get a lot of shit for reading Entertainment Weekly. I realize that its canned opinions and enthusiasms for all pop culture mediums are pretty fucking ridiculous, but since when wasn't pop culture itself pretty fucking ridiculous? Besides, its much easier to read EW while taking a shit than actually having to watch, listen, and read everything they summarize for me in brief, glossy segments.

However, for every criticism the magazine receives, there often is a look-the-other-way angle taken when they do get something right. Perhaps I'm just a glass-half-full kinda guy, but I take notice when quality reviews and column space are devoted to deserving films like Pan's Labyrinth and Crazy Love, or when they go out of their way to remind their readers that Arrested Development was one hell of a masterpiece and that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for letting FOX cancel it. Then there's the music section, a pretty turgid couple of pages usually, but that's because the music industry is a pretty turgid industry as well. Give the folks at EW something to work with, however, and sometimes they surprise you. Tomorrow, some big name albums are going to be released, three of which will soon see some space devoted to here. While these three albums may have received minimal column space in the most recent EW, the mag at least gave the most deserving group its prestigious (ahem) "EW Pick", the same group I was planning on awarding Album of the Week to. Should I be concerned when I'm agreeing with Entertainment Weekly, or should I find it refreshing that they agree with me?

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Random Musings

1). The people in Independence, MO are fucks. If your car battery dies in Indepence, MO, people will do their best to ignore you, claim they don't have cables (really, no one has cables? Did you sell them for meth?) or just flat out tell you to your face that they don't want to help you. The fucker that did that even worked in a garage somewhere, he was still in uniform, so I figured he'd definitely be the one to lend a hand. Nope. "I'm not going to jump your car," he said. Fuck you buddy. Fuck. You.

2). Hearing The Decemberists' "Perfect Crime #2" on a Muzak station isn't terribly shocking, I've heard it before in a Starbucks in fact, but this time it was at one of those cheap all-you-can-eat pizza buffets where quality, cleanliness, and service take a backseat thanks in no small part to a limited budget. It was even stranger this time because it was obviously on a pop Muzak station, and the following songs were Paula Abdul, old Nelly Furtado, and, well, you get the idea. It was strange for a myriad of reasons, but what confuses me the most is who thought the pop station would be the best fit for that song? Muzak, Columbia Records, the band? Obviously, someone did not do their homework beforehand.

3). Conner's last show in Lawrence was a good one. Their shows are often hit or miss, but they brought their A-game for last Saturday's farewell. The band played about an equal number of White Cube and Hello Graphic Missile songs to a rowdy and enthusiastic crowd of friends, family, loved ones, and my buddy Adam, who was like their BFF (biggest fan forever) even before they had a record. My neck still hurts, my ears are still ringing, so obviously it must have been a good show. I have to admit I didn't care too much about their demise going in, but now I think I'm gonna miss them.

4). The new Spoon album is growing on me.

5). Pitchfork Music Fest is nearing.

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