Fat Cat Plankton

Nonsense in extensia

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Leaving New York, Next Stop Athens

REM's a subject I haven't yet broached on this blog, which might seem odd since I live and write about music in Athens, GA, but it's not a case of elephant-in-the-room syndrome. With the constant influx of new and younger students to the university, Stipe and co. have increasingly been relegated to the status of historical curiosities and still-extant relics, favorite sons in whom we take a passing pride but more often consider nostalgically rather than as living, thriving members of the local scene. Certainly there's an old-school bloc that fervently tracks their every murmur, but I'm betting most incoming freshman only know them from their father's tape deck, if that. Even though I was admittedly way late to the game, REM was my favorite band in high school and at least one year of college, which was kind of odd considering Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tool, NIN, or Alice in Chains would have been more generationally appropriate. Like many a self-serious young Southern pseudo-intellectual, I found kindred spirits in REM's moodiness and mystery, its awkwardness of expression, its melodic honesty and even its sense of romance. By the time I got to Athens two years ago, though, I was more excited to be living in the same town as the Drive-By Truckers, which didn't mean I had fallen out with REM or turned my back on them, in fact I love them still to this day, just that they'd become a part of my own past as well.

"Leaving New York" starts off sounding like everything else from the post-Berry Up/Reveal era, Stipe still singing in that guileless, facile, clear-throated voice that's almost a delibertate mockery of his formerly infamous mumble. Sprightly and painfully self-aware, Stipe's cloying surface-level croon gives way to chiming prechorus guitars that tease glory-days flashbacks but they've done that before and we all know better by now. A little E-Bow wordiness rears its head in the second verse, then the second chorus comes and JUSTLIKETHATOUTOFNOWHERE there's background harmonies straight off of Life's Rich Pageant and IT IS 1986 ALL OVER AGAIN, Stipe's moody, clenched-teeth baritone conjuring the likes of "Fall on Me" and "Kohoutek," sounding for all the world like he'd never lost that voice in the first place. It's been ages since we've heard Stipe sing this way, and it's fascinating to hear the so-much-older-then-but-younger-than-that-now Stipe of today accompanied by the ghost of his younger, more evocative self, like one of those Through The Use Of Modern Technology cross-generational duet deals. I'm almost ashamed to get so excited about such an obvious retread, a memory, an echo of the past, but I'll be damned if Stipe manfully intoning "it's pulling me apart" didn't make me totally gay for him all over again.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Briar Patch

Devin the Dude's new To Tha X-Treme is typically terrific laid-back, blowed-out anti-crunk, langorous tales about the limited ambitions of smoking weed and maintaining relationships (which always seem to end in confusion or hilarity, Devin remaining vaguely bemused and fairly que sera sera throughout).

One track digs deeper, however, though you'd never know it from Devin's deceivingly lackadaisical flow. "Briar Patch" in truth is every bit as loaded as the title suggests. Devin doesn't stray too far from the infamous tale, but his delivery tells you all you need to know about the race-haunted implications of Joel Chandler Harris' story. Devin never lets on that the song is about anything more than getting caught and begging not to be tossed in the dreaded briar patch, but anyone who knows the troubled history of that fable will surely be quickly frozen in their tracks (much as I was) upon hearing Devin's chillingly earnest version.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Heldover Musical Observations from New Orleans Trip

1. Mid-90s were huge - hardly heard any new music unless it was veering dangerously towards me on the sidewalk accompanied by headlights. Instead, restaurants, bars, and stores seemed to be looping '96 Buzz Bin CDs or some shit - lotsa stuff like Bush, Veruca Salt, old-skool No Doubt, I guess insta-nostalgia for all the drunken college kids.

2. Bar bands sucked - limp Janis and lame-ass Steve Miller covers

3. Regrettably, we didn't check out any jazz clubs - there were plenty of guys blowing on the streets, mostly endless variations on "When the Saints Go Marching In" or "Amazing Grace" or Hank's "Jambalaya."

4. Undeniable highlight - piercingly loud, purposefully out-of-tune calliope "concert" from the top of the Steamboat Natchez before we boarded - pretty sure she played Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas," which was great.

5. Observations from the car rides, to and fro:

a) the newest Modest Mouse CD hasn't held up well at all - I was admittedly quite smitten with it at first blush, maybe it was just misty-eyed affection for its decided lack of trendy garage-rock or dance-punk signifiers, but also it just seemed to possess a messy humanity that's missing from most overdetermined indie-rock - often Brock would say stupid juvenile faux-existential shit about God, but then he'd reveal an admirable self-deprecating streak that let you know he was just honestly working through all these philosophies and life strategies himself, and it's always more fascinating to hear the process than the result on record. Unfortunately, the whole thing plods like a bastard, I think sometimes they go for "shimmering" and just wind up sounding sluggish, like on "The World At Large," which almost makes it there but not quite. Even "Float On" is starting to sound a little saggy next to better and brighter radio favorites from 2004. "Bury Me With It" and "Black Cadillacs" remain resilient, but thanks to the rest GNFPWLBN just took a plummet on my Top 50 (yeah I had to call it a "50" to make sure we even included the album at all).

b) once I actually got a little distance from it and then indeliberately came back, Hail to the Thief sounded much better than I remember from the last time I heard it all the way through, almost as good as my initial hyperventilatings.

c) Of Montreal is boss. Lauren knows this.

d) Tool makes me sleepy.

e) Elbow makes me sleepy, but in a good way.

f) I really like the Decemberists, but still not half as much as Lauren.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Delta Blues

Got back Monday night from four days in New Orleans, details and hopefully pics to follow, first though I just have to share our *harrowing* saga of police harassment.

So we're on I-10 in Mississippi, about an hour or so outside of The Big Easy (apparently Reagen coined this term, which I didn't know until this past weekend, and hence I'm gonna try and never use it again). Jessica gets pulled, tells us she was only doing 74 in a 70, so right away we're a little wary. Cop comes over to the passenger side, tells her immediately to get out of the car and come around to the back, where he tells her she was speeding and then asks where the marijuana's at. She tells him she's got no idea what he's talking about, he comes back to the car, gives Zack some shit (prolly cos he's got long hair), tells us to roll down our windows, and then turns out the drug dog, who predictably makes the rounds and then starts going apeshit on the trunk, seriously jumping up on it, scratching the hell out of Jessica's car in the process. He informs us that he knows there's pot in the car, makes us all get out, then starts fine-toothing it. At this point I make a smart-ass aside about how he's probably gonna end up ticketing Jessica for speeding b/c he's not gonna find shit for drugs, at which point he orders his partner (ie. "good cop") to cuff me, then brings me around to the driver's seat where he magically produces a huge-ass bud. At this point I'm pretty sure we're all going to jail, or at least Jessica. I know her and Zack smoke a little so I'm not entirely sure this isn't theirs. I don't find out until later that there's no way it could be, Jessica says she never smokes in the car or allows anyone to bring shit in the car, and that regardless no one would have dropped that huge of a bud without knowing it. See, if I woulda been her or if it had been my car I would have lost it when I realized they were trying to plant shit on me, but I guess she figured best to just ride it out than accuse the cops. Anyway, they finished their search (never searched our persons, mind) and then told us they weren't after this kind of piddly crap, told Jessica to make sure and vaccum out her car more often or be more careful to whom she lent it (she claimed someone else must have dropped the bud, like I said at this point I wasn't sure it couldn't have been hers so I kept my mouth shut). Most inexplicably of all, the cop hands Lauren the bud and tells her to just get rid of it - she looks at him dumbfounded and just drops it in the grass. We drive on our merry way, completely clusterfucked and astounded and speechless, no speeding ticket or anything, in fact the whole thing woulda just been amusing anecdote fodder except for the fact that Sargeant Scraps seriously fucked up Jessica's trunk, scratches and gouges down to the metal.

The rest of the trip was fab, just wanted to get that ugliness out of the way. Anyway, I'm not saying we deserve anybody's pity or whatever, it was just some bullshit, if anything it made me feel ever sorrier for the people who have to deal with this kind of shit *and worse* every day of their lives. I have little doubt that if we weren't suburban white kids in a '97 Honda Accord we prolly woulda gotten roughed up a good bit more and maybe even spent the night in the pokey. So it goes, just a cautionary tale about driving through Mississippi at 2am fwiw.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I'm Working On My Abs

#1 in-joke b/w me and Lauren, week of 8/1/04:

Tweedy's pricelessly affected anti-commercial sneer on the Wilco b-side "Kicking Television."

Her: Stop shopping even.

Me: Stop buying things.

(Repeated ad infinitum).

#1 guilty pleasure b/w me and Lauren, summer of '04:

Outback Jack (don't worry, Lauren, none of our friends reads my blog).

Has led to: In-depth discussions of Maria's "crazy eyes" and Marissa's transparent bitchitude, my own bad Aussie impression, drinking games revolving around the ubiquitous "Jack sigh."

He Shoots, He Scores

Bill O'Reilly interviewed by P. Diddy on the MTV site.

Nice how he equates voting with a closely contested basketball game, 'cause after all THAT'S THE ONLY WAY YOU'LL EVER GET BLACK PEOPLE TO CARE ABOUT IT, right Bill?

It's A Family Affair

*Grudging Praise For Pitchfork Alert*

Hilarious interview with the Fiery Furnaces here.

Personal precursor:

*One thing I love about Eleanor and Matt is how they remind me of my relationship with my own younger sister, not terribly close but definitely mutually respectful, kind of contentious but usually in a playful manner, sharing the same sense of humor but still quite capable of rattling each other's nerves. I love her to death and I think she's super special, but yeah, the idea of spending five weeks locked in a room with her is kind of terrifying.*

Some choice quotes:

Eleanor, on singing Matt's lyrics:

Eleanor: Yes. I mean, it was strange because we weren't getting along at all while we were recording, and Matt would show up and be like, "Here are the words to the song, sing them now!" And I would literally just have five minutes and then have to sing it. It was really hard. At first I'd be like, "What is this shit? I don't want to sing this."

Matt: That's bullshit.

On what the sibs have in common:

Matt: It's what we have most in common, rock records. We don't really have anything else. Well, we like to play lawn sports.

Eleanor: Yeah.

Matt: Those are the things we have in common. We get along with that. Otherwise we don't really. We never really hang out, so it's lucky we're in a band together.

Eleanor: We can watch TV together, kind of.

Pitchfork: What does your family think of you being in a band together?

Matt: They like it.

Eleanor: They like it. And they're surprised, too, since we didn't get along really well. We were so lazy, not very ambitious, and we never made anything together at all as kids.

Matt: Nothing.

On pursuing their own muses, financial considerations be damned:

Eleanor: That's pretty much all I've listened to. I wish we could make an album [like] Another Side of Bob Dylan where the songs would be so good that we could do it in about a day-and-a-half. I think it could be great, where it's just guitar-- that would be our most popular one.

Matt: Well, we can't do that until we get dropped. When you have somebody who'll give you money for a record, you can't... I mean, when it's just you, and you have to go over to a friend's house [to record], and you have $600 to spend, you have to wait to make something interesting. That's the record that you make then.

Eleanor: But then we could just take all the money...

Matt: You can't take all the money!

Eleanor: I'm just kidding.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

You Indie-Rockers Think We Won't Notice You Stealing Our Pop Culture?

Ted Leo's new "Criminal Piece" sounds like Cheap Trick doing that Big Star song for the theme to That 70s Show.

The Concretes' "Foreign Country" sounds like the song Adam Sandler sings to Drew Barrymore on the plane at the end of The Wedding Singer, which obviously makes it absolutely lovely.

Housekeeping/Shameless Self-Promotion

BTW, all of my Stylus reviews are archived here.

There's no actual archive of my newspaper reviews, so here's the next best thing - the results of a search for all articles authored by "Josh Love" (this included interviews, features, and profiles I've done as well).

And When I Say Me, I Mean My Brain

It's unavoidable: one of the things you have to give up when you start writing about music *professionally* is unconditional fandom. You know, that unshakeable conviction that everything your favorite band does is preordained to be golden. They've done so much for you in the past, why would you want to sully that relationship with objectivity? So you look the other way when they start doing backwards-masked studio experiments or songs about bugs accompanied only by accordion. Pretty much, they’re gonna have to release 3-4 consecutive albums of irredeemable crap in order to shatter your sycophancy. Really, it doesn’t matter what the new songs sound like when it comes to seeing them in concert – you just want to see them, and you owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to psych yourself up for the experience, including persuading yourself to love the new material.
Of course, all this eminently forgiving favoritism goes out the window when you start seriously trying to hold all music up to the same standards, not giving anybody a free pass anymore because you want people to have faith in your opinions and in your capacity for unbiased critique. A small but significant part of the fan inside you has to die, and while it’s a sad sad story that’s no doubt been told thousands of times, it’s no less troubling and regrettable when it happens to you. The live performance component of this negative equation is especially bothersome to me because as I’ve gotten more and more receptive to enjoying mainstream music perhaps at the expense of certain indie sounds, my list of genuinely excitement-worthy concert options seem to be shrinking accordingly.
Just as a matter of predilection and experience, I’m probably always going to prefer club shows and other intimate places over stadiums, outdoor sheds, or arenas, just because those latter venues are so rarely conducive to the passion, intensity, and direct emotional expression that are often so easily facilitated by the former. As much as I love Gretchen Wilson, Big and Rich, Los Lonely Boys, Ghostface, Petey Pablo, and Kanye West, I highly doubt I’ll experience a truly revelatory live moment with any of them anytime in the near future. The only band for whom I can really tolerate the big barns is Radiohead, and even then I greatly preferred the setup at their Stone Mountain show (7,000 or so folks in a giant field) in 2001 over 20,000 at HiFi Buys in 2003.
Basically, the whole point behind this rambling post is that I caught myself the other day trying to convince myself I liked Ted Leo’s newest, Shake the Streets, just as much as I LOVELOVELOVED Hearts of Oak and Tyranny of Distance. Actually, I think it’s a solid, occasionally splended album and in time perhaps I might regard it just as highly as his others, but right now I consider a definite notch below his previous standard, which is a little bit sad when you think about it because Ted is undoubtedly one of my top five favorite performers right now and if anyone can make me truly geeky and swoony and fanboyish about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s him.
Shake the Streets is by no means a disappointment, but at the same time I can’t let my desire to turn Ted into a paragon of All Things Good obscure the weaknesses I hear when I listen to the CD, the fact that the melodies don’t grab you quite as firmly, that the intensity of the opener, “Me and Mia” isn’t really maintained, that a number of the songs actually don’t make you want to roll down your windows, scream at the top of your lungs, and maniacally bob up and down.
Maybe it is a higher standard to which I hold Ted, but I can’t just let him off the hook because he’s one of my secretly crushed-out rockist saviors. At the same time, however, Ted’s not going anywhere from my list of private unimpeachables – there’s only four or five bands for whom I maintain an ecstatic personal attachment (Ted, Radiohead, Fiery Furnaces, Drive-By Truckers, maybe Sleater-Kinney), and in my heart of hearts he can still do no wrong.