[Versus is a new feature that pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish.]
Hey, look at that, I made up another column so I can rant about my record collection. Sweet deal. Versus is an offshoot of sorts from Playlist. Not all of my favorite artists can properly fill an 80-minute mix, though. Sometimes they have too many songs for me to draft something representative enough (Bruce Springsteen, The Mountain Goats). Of course, sometimes they also don’t have enough songs/releases for me to actually do any mixing.
My buddy and bandmate Nate Adams, who writes mighty fine reviews of his own over at Left of the Dial, has been gunning for a Bear vs. Shark playlist pretty much since I launched the feature in Oct. 2008 with Ted Leo/The Pharmacists. But here’s the problem: BvS only released two full-lengths, plus a self-released EP called 1653 and a few rarities. Factoring out the songs they re-recorded from the demo for their full-length debut, Right now, you’re in the best of hands. And if something is quite right, your doctor will know in a hurry., that’s about 100 minutes of music. I already know what I’d cut from the mix to make it CD-R ready, but what’s the point? Just go out and buy Right Now and Terrorhawk. You don’t need help to figure out Bear vs. Shark’s musical roadmap.
But then I realized I could just write about how I love both albums, because, whatever, it’s my blog. But I needed a way to piss Nate off. What to do, what to do… Then it dawned on me – go against BvS fans’ conventional wisdom and say that Right Now is better than Terrorhawk! Brilliant! Suck it, Nate, my post-hardcore-loving Canadian muse!
Listening to the albums back-to-back, I understand why a lot of people prefer Terrorhawk. The recording quality is better. The songs rock harder. The title is easier to remember. Those are all valid thoughts. And hey, let me preface any criticisms of the album by saying that I love Terrorhawk, hence this post. As soon as the high-strung energy of opener “Catamaran” kicks in, I am so effing down. It’s the sort of album I both love and hate placing in my car stereo. I love it for being so gosh dang awesome; I hate it for making me drive like 30 mph over the speed limit. Even the super-short tune “Six Bar Phrase Hey Hey” is awesome. This is a solid sophomore album that takes the promise of Right Now and repeats its successes.
But here’s why I prefer Right Now. BvS was a post-hardcore band that took groovy, catchy songs and gave them more muscle. While I wouldn’t say they sound alike, the group is aesthetically in league with bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, At the Drive-In at the end of their career, and Wire circa Chairs Missing. You could fight or dance to these songs regardless of the volume setting. Terrorhawk rocks well enough, but the hooks on Right Now are more enticing.
The album opens with the “Ma Jolie,” a song that practically dares you to not to clap along. “Campfire” ups the funk, blending it seamlessly with punk fervor to create the most frenetic dance pop anthem ever. The album balances these outbursts with quieter fare, though. “Kylie” is a schizophrenic quite/loud number that starts out a whisper and builds to a scream. Terrorhawk’s “Baraga Embankment” repeats that trick, just with more piano. I’ve always loved “Second” more than any other BvS song. The guitar part makes the song sound so triumphant, even though the scant lyrics are actually pretty depressing (“And I’ll take what is given to me and I’ll realize I’m not going home and after a while when all of your currencies gone and after awhile when all your mistakes have been made and you’ve tasted the carbon dioxide”).
The guitars might have a little less edge to them than on Terrorhawk, but Right Now has always been my go-to selection for Bear vs Shark. What’s yours?