Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 5/26/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Beatles’ “White Album” (1968) on black, Fugazi’s Repeater (1990) on black, and Portishead’s Third (2008) on black.

Place of Purchase: I inherited the “White Album” from my mother (notice her maiden name, Ferris, is written in the top right corner of the cover), while the ’Gazi ‘n’ P-Heads came from Hot Topic.

Thoughts: The “White Album” has almost always been my favorite Beatles album. Maybe it’s because it’s the only Beatles studio album my parents owned when I was a kid (the rest of their collection consisted of the red and blue singles compilations). Maybe it’s because it’s the first Beatles album I ever owned on CD (first rock album in general, for that matter). Or maybe it’s because of the album’s sprawling double disc format. As much as I love Rubber Soul and Revolver, they’re much easier to explore and live in. “White Album” still drops the occasional new doorway to me. And it’s packed with my favorite Beatles tunes: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Julia,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence”… and that’s just the first record. I haven’t even gotten to “Helter Skelter” or the “Revolution” tunes. For the best evidence that this album rules, let’s see how many people point out that I haven’t even mentioned “Blackbird” yet.

Also it has the best Ringo tune (“Don’t Pass Me By”), which I would take over “Yellow Submarine,” “Act Naturally,” or, uh, “Octopus’s Garden” any day.

Totally switching gears, let’s talk about Fugazi. I like Fugazi a whole dang lot, and Repeater remains one of my favorites from them. I love it so much that I stopped writing about it for the last like 30 minutes and just listened to the tunes. In my world, these are the biggest hits of 1990: “Reprovisional,” with its deliberate, punchy rhythm, “Blueprint,” because it’s just as much of a slow burn, and “Repeater,” because it’s totally hardcore, drenched in feedback, and pissed off about the job market (sounds like me ‘n’ my friends) but features such an insanely catchy guitar line. Tons of bands have tried to incorporate pop elements into hardcore music and failed. Apparently they just need to rip off Fugazi, ’cause those dudes pulled this shit off 20 years ago. BRING FUGAZI BACK TO LIFE.

I’ve got two stories about Portishead’s Third. It was the album that got me into them. A lot of my friends were obsessed their plaintive trip-hop sounds, but I couldn’t get passed all of the DJ scratching, which I found to be gimmicky. Apparently, the band felt the same way, as Third manages to fulfill everything Portishead’s could want while sidestepping trip-hop clich├ęs. And it sometimes it even sounds like the music from Terminator! Hells yeah!

But not everything about Portishead is great. Their record label, Mercury Records, is run by wieners who don’t support digital downloads. I bought the album on vinyl about four months after it was released, by which time the label had already stopped honoring the download codes included. What I find bitterly funny about this is that most indie labels (No Idea!, Dirtnap, etc.) honor those codes for years. DICKS! Dicks forever! I’m still bitter about this two years later.

But Third is still pretty great.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thinking Machines - 'Work Tapes'

Philadelphia’s Thinking Machines have been turning out post-punk-tinged indie rock for about a decade now. Their latest full-length, Work Tapes, blends Dismemberment Plan’s grooves with Meneguar and Nakatomi Plaza’s punkier attributes, resulting in tunes that demand dancing, be it through moshing or something more graceful. At a tight 10 tracks, the album delivers one enticing dance-punk ditty after another.

“Dynamic Shields,” while a fine song, is a somewhat misleading opening track. It’s a little more ramshackle than the rest of the album would imply. Still, though, the song explodes right away, so I can see why it’s the first cut. It boasts a quick tempo, the whole band rocks out and there’s even a nice little faux-guitar solo via feedback section in the middle. “Never Reach Us Now” is marginally different – the band still fires off a big intro before getting to the verse – it’s a little more tightly arranged, revealing a band that can pursue massive sounds while maintaining focused, well-rehearsed playing. The group returns to this noise/dance hybrid often, with success.

Some might find the songs repetitive after a while, but that kind of plays into Work Tapes’ strengths. This is a guitar album, and it often segues into different forms of ethereal dissonance. Thinking Machines may be an indie rock band, but they also shift into Sabbath sludge rock territory on “Titan.” They jam out like Autolux or “Work Tapes.” Concluding cut “Loop” is one big cacophonous noise experiment.

So what might sound formless to some could sound like a musical melting pot to others. Thinking Machines are generally a dance-punk band, but listeners don’t have to be enamored with either half of that description to enjoy Work Tapes. It’s bigger and better than that.

regarding Ferris Wedding Weekend Drunktacular 2010.

[Over the weekend, my family and I attended the wedding of Ashley Ferris (my cousin) and Adam Ebling over yonder in New Jersey. It was a phenomenal wedding, filled with dancing and cake. Also, drankin'. I kept a journal, as I am wont to do. Look for regular music-y posts later in the week.]


Michelle and I left early to hit up Green Cuisine in Stone Harbor. It was out of the way, but it's one of the best vegetarian restaurants I've ever eaten at. Turns out they close at 2:30 during the off season, though, so we tasted only failure. We drove to Ocean City and ate at Angelo's on the boardwalk instead. Pizza always makes things better. Afterwards, we walked around the boardwalk. I used to walk the length of the walk in high school, and even perform music there. Now I just visit Shore Things and buy records.

The owner talked to me for too long about MC5 and New York Dolls. His taste is pretty right on, but I don't need someone else to tell me that '80s hair metal sucked. It's been 20 years; get over it. Still, I get Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (vinyl), Avail's Porch Life (CD), and a comp of Teen Idles, SOA, Government Issue, and Youth Brigade (vinyl) at reasonable prices. On the way back, we ran into Uncle Brian and Aunt Darla. It's been three years. By the end of the night, we're all drunk, except for Michelle.


The wedding was perfect. Ashley looked beautiful; Adam looked nervous. I've only met him a few times, but I can honestly say he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met. And he's cool with homoerotic humor! The ceremony itself was brief. Maybe 15 minutes. But it was nice and romantic and efficient. Stealthily, murderously efficient.

The real star of the wedding, though, was my Uncle Tom (Ashley's father). He's an ex-Marine. Very serious guy, direct conversational style. A man's man. He dyed his hair for the wedding - I didn't recognize him at first. He can dance. Tom and my Aunt Jenny were the best dancers. For the father-daughter dance, he showed Ashley all the big band moves for maximum comedic effect. He had a such a big smile the whole time.

Ashley and Adam's dance was great too. First they slow-danced to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," then they busted out an exhuberant hoedown maneuver for Barry Louis Parker's "All I Want is You" (from Juno!). I think that every relationship needs that - a little bit of sweetness, a whole lot of silliness.

We all got hammered and danced. I hung out with family members I haven't seen in maybe five or six years. Later that night, Spike TV hosted a Star Wars marathon (original trilogy, remastered). I think I can finally let go of The Phantom Menace. The world is an alright place.



-Tori Amos - Under the Pink
-Tim Armstrong - A Poet's Life
-Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
-The Bouncing Souls - The Bouncing Souls
-Green Day - Nimrod
-Kylesa - Time Will Fuse Its Worth
-M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Souls
-The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee
-Museum Mouth - Tears in My Beer
-My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything
-The Promise Ring - Nothing Feels Good
-Rancid - Life Won't Wait
-Say Hi - Impeccable Blahs
-Silversun Pickups - Swoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Museum Mouth - 'Tears in My Beer'

Museum Mouth self-released their full-length debut Tears in My Beer, but hopefully they’ll pick up a label soon. Beer boasts 10 tracks of fuzzy lo-fi punk rock – the meeting point between Vivian Girls’ aesthetics and early Lemuria’s energy. Just shy of the 20-minute mark, these songs are fat-free and catchy (that goes double for the 38-second “Jennifer”). Sure, it’s the second release I’ve reviewed this year with this kinda kiffy title, but it’s still pretty great. Somebody get stoked on this ASAP, please.

Just about everything clicks perfectly into place for the record. The muddy recording might have been a deliberate artistic choice or a matter of thriftiness; either way it benefits the punky style. Synths emerge from the haze when needed, like when they add a second hook to the excellent closing track “The End of Days.” Shit be swirling, but Savannah Levin’s vocals are still intelligible for those of us who want to learn the songs. Graham High’s guitars create a wall of noise Johnny Ramone-style, especially on that blurred intro to “Jerk Girls.” I don’t want to leave third member Karl Kuehn out, since he handles drums, keyboards and backing vox, but dude probably already knows he’s important to the band.

Admittedly, the band’s style of punk rock might have gotten old if the record actually lasted longer than an episode of The Simpsons, but that’s purely hypothetical, and therefore not much of a criticism. The rock hard, unrelenting reality is that Beer is the kind of punk record that should entertain Brooklynites with questionable haircuts and everyone else in equal measures. Sometimes the group utilizes Lemuria’s boy/girl vocal tics, sometimes they recall Low Budgets’ scrappy keys-‘n’-guitars, but most of the time, they just sound good. “Noise band” is a blog buzz phrase right now, but Museum Mouth is doing it better than most.

Band of Horses - 'Infinite Arms'

Band of Horses throw fans a few curveballs while generally preserving their sound on their third album and major label debut, Infinite Arms. The vocals are less haunting, but the country rock leanings are turned up. Folks complained about Cease to Begin sounding too much like Everything All the Time, but they might be just as miffed that Infinite Arms doesn’t sound enough like the group’s thrilling debut. Frontman Ben Bridwell seems to have given up on trying to write another rocker like “Funeral,” opting to fill this new release with acoustic guitars, strings and occasionally other dudes on vox, resulting in something that’s a little less Sub Pop, a little more dad rock. It might take a few spins to take root, but it’s not exactly the most challenging album either. It’s good, not great, but since we’re talking about Band of Horses, that’s good enough.

“Factory” lets listeners know right away that the group is headed in a different direction with canned strings. It still sounds like BoH, just with cleaner production, but it’s a sufficient enough twist to redefine the group’s sound. “Compliments” is a safer bet, a My Morning Jacket-style rocker. It’s no “Islands on the Coast,” but it delivers a bit of pep when heard in context. Rockers like “Compliments,” or later track “NW Apt.”, will probably go over well at festivals, but it’s the quieter songs that sound better on record. “Laredo” is deliciously mournful. “On My Way Back Home” and “Evening Kitchen” recall the mellower moments of Wilco’s Being There or Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, to great success.

But while fans might cope with the slight sonic shift in time, it’s going to be harder to get around the lyrics. Bridwell has always been a little hit-or-miss. “Is There a Ghost,” for example, is catchy, but does anyone really care what it’s about? Often, Bridwell’s delivery is what puts the songs over the top. It’s what makes “No One’s Gonna Love You” that much better, “Funeral” that much more powerful. Here, though, even Bridwell’s beautiful country twang is tested by clunkers like “I thought about you in a candy bar” and “Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names / We could live by our own laws in favor.” That’s what ultimately keeps the record from being a knockout. The songs generally sound good, but they don’t always hold up under closer examination.

Infinite Arms is disappointing after Band of Horses’ first two albums, but it’s also a solid collection of songs on its own merits. It’s an easy listen, an enticing country/folk record, a nice comedown. And it comes with those neat-o photos that the band included in their other albums. I love those.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Get Up Kids - 'Simple Science'

While The Get Up Kids’ 2008 reunion tour felt like a cash grab after the group’s 2005 farewell tour, their new EP, Simple Science, legitimizes their return. It also suggests where the band might have gone had their 2002 foray into indie rock, On a Wire, not freaked out all the young people who demanded their favorite emo band stay pop punk.

A prelude to an eventual full-length, Simple Science finds the Kids finally exploring more atmospheric areas over the course of four songs. It helps that the band recorded to two-inch tape instead of digital, lending the new tunes an earthy quality sorely missing from 2004’s Guilt Show. That they’ve also moved from referencing Pee-Wee Herman to William S. Burroughs is another indication of the Kids’ maturation.

Opener “Your Petty Pretty Things” is the most rocking pick here, although it still would’ve felt lethargic compared to Something to Write Home About. Bottom-heavy “Keith Case” opens with some noise before moving into a hypnotic groove powered by Rob Pope’s bass and James Dewees’ flitting keyboard. “Tommy Gentle” eases up a bit before the six-minute “How You’re Bound” opens up the space.

For these recordings, The Get Up Kids opted to only embrace ideas that seemed to work right away, to keep the songs simple and solid. It paid off. If Simple Science is any indication, the Kids’ fifth full-length could render the band’s backlash and break-up from last decade a mere footnote.

regarding Science Club's love of Star Trek.

Science Club (my band!) has written its greatest song, and I had next to nothing to do with it. Nick and Nate had a play date yesterday, during which time they wrote "Go, Boldly." It's about Star Trek: The Next Generation. The lyrics are really, really good and in depth. The hooks are massive. And it will be a rocker, oh yes. My lone contribution: Teaching Nate how to pronounce "Locutus." I met up with them afterwards to work on a percussion part. Hopefully we can flesh out a new band arrangement next week, but until then, click the link above for a demo.

NOTE: The version they played me last night is even better than this, with even more TNG-related lyrics.

NOTE: I'm about halfway through season two of the Original Series. Just thought I'd put that out there.

Vinyl Vednesday 5/19/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Accelerators’ My Baby is an Undertaker seven-inch (2007) on black, Rancid’s Let’s Go (1994) 10-inch on white, and Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends (2002) on clear green. That last one is, uh, 12 inches…

Place of Purchase: Accelerators’ sent me their record for review because I am an important person. I bought Rancid at Repo Records last night. TBS, one of the first albums I ever bought on vinyl, came from Shore Things on the Ocean City, N.J. boardwalk.

Records: I get a decent amount of promos in the mail. Not a lot, but enough to keep me semi-busy during my days off from my “real” job. I’d say I hate maybe two-thirds of the stuff I get, meaning I sell two-thirds of my promos to Siren Records. But every so often I score something neat-o. While My Baby is an Undertaker isn’t blindingly original and super-duper intense, it’s a reliably catchy collection of pop punk songs in the grand tradition of The Ramones and Screeching Weasel. So, that’s good.

I was talking to my friend Bruce the other day (This day being the very same day our friends in The Next Big Thing played The Trocadero) about being Rancid super fans. Listening to Let’s Go reminds me why I love ’em so dang much, even if I am pretty wary about that new Transplants album. Rancid has written an insane amount of songs, most of them are awesome, and even their failures (like the ridiculous “L.A. River” from last year’s Let the Dominoes Fall) are secretly great. Let’s Go is 23 tracks long, and it’s just one hit after the other. “Nihilism” and “Radio” are an excellent one-two punch that highlight everything great about Rancid: Clash-indebted rocking, street punk, and Matt Freeman’s slinking bass lines. “Side Kick” is a song about superheroes, which I prefer to interpret literally. Then “Salvation” hits with such an insanely catchy hook… Let’s Go is proof that Rancid always delivers fans their money’s worth.

I don’t think I’m ever going to like another emo band again. I’m only 24, but the genre ultimately belongs to sensitive teens 10 years younger than me, and I’ve been consistently disappointed by the new bands waving the tag around. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s just that kids these days suck ass. Either way, I still hold on to Tell All Your Friends, even though all the gun imagery and baiting lyrics make me cringe. Eight years later, I’m still totally down with Adam Lazzara and John Nolan’s twin angst-filled vocals. I put the album on recently since the “classic” Tell All Your Friends line-up recently reformed, and “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)” is still pretty much one of the greatest bitter love songs ever. Vinyl-only bonus track “The Ballad of Sal Villanueva” is pretty great too (Also, fuck all ya’ll that got the song on the CD rerelease. I had that shit before any of you), although “Head Club” is still the better closing track.

P.S. – Remember when Taking Back Sunday and Brand New would write really catchy diss tracks about each other? I miss that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

regarding Ronnie James Dio's passing.

Yesterday, Wendy Dio, wife and manager of former Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Heaven and Hell frontman Ronnie James Dio, wrote a brief post saying that her husband had passed away, presumably from his battle with stomach cancer. While Dio lived to be 67, which is a good run, I still mourn his passing all the same.

I'm not much of a metalhead, but I have to admit: Dio made the genre more accessible, more energetic, and above all else, more fun. He brought the devil horns gesture to metal. He practically invented the operatic style of metal singing (besides, ya know... opera singers). Metal dudes can come off awfully pretentious in interviews - Marilyn Manson, anyone? - but Dio always seemed like a down to earth guy. Always willing to give other people their due, but always unafraid to defend his own artistic endeavors. He briefly gave Black Sabbath a second life after the departure of lead singer Ozzy Osbourne, and his original run of albums with the group, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, hold up. He also had a sense of humor about how ridiculous metal could be, which in a way helped him make his songs that much more larger than life. Dude knew how to spin a fantasy.

I've been blasting Dio's Black Sabbath discography today. Right now I'm rocking his solo disc Holy Diver, an album that manages to make a song like "Rainbow in the Dark" seem rockin'. Up next are tribute songs from Goldfinger and Tenacious D.

I couldn't believe it yesterday when I heard the news - in the Internet age, any celebrity death needs to be treated with skepticism - but also because Dio was, well, such a nice guy. Still, he seems to have had a good life, doing exactly what he wanted.

"Turn up the night!"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

regarding things I am excited about.

-The Next Big Thing advanced to the third round in a battle of the bands tournament. Round Three is going down on the Trocadero main stage, which is kind of a big deal. Tix = $14. There are an ass-ton of bands playing, but inside sources told me NBT is expected to go on around 3:10. That's a great set time for those of us looking to be in bed by 4 p.m. sharp! So hey, Internet friends, let's take the train into that big ol' city and show Chinatown how we get down with the drunkest, punkest friends I know - the Next Big Thingers.

Seriously, though, I'm all about getting drunk in the afternoon and then heckling my buddies.

-Amy Czulada, a former classmate of mine, wrote 50 songs about 'Merica with a buddy of hers named Rob for their honors project. I'm pretty stoked on it - she wrote 50 freakin' songs! They're of the charmingly lo-fi indie/folk/twee variety, although the duo occasionally gets all fierce 'n' loud as well. Sufjan Stevens can suck a big ol' wiener, 'cause Amy beat 'em at the U.S. history game. E-mail to hear the project for free. Click here for a taste.

-Have you seen the new Pains of Being Pure at Heart music video? It's starts off all cute 'n' twee-like until a girl walks into a room full of furries. Then shit gets weird. Still cute, but kinda weird. Also the Pains have a new single coming out next month. My pseudo-goth heart is filled with anticipation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 5/12/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Beach Boys’ All Summer Long (1964, although I have a re-release from a later, unlisted date) on black, Fine Young Cannibals’ The Raw & The Cooked (1989) on black, and The Police’s Outlandos d’Amour (1978) on black.

Place of Purchase: I inherited my Beach Boys collection from my parents. FYC came from Disc World (R.I.P.). I’m honestly not sure about Outlandos, though. I either got it at Disc World or maybe the Philadelphia Record Exchange.

Thoughts: The Beach Boys are one of a handful of bands that I just kind of always knew about thanks to my parents, but didn’t really appreciate until later in life. I went through a similar phase with The Beatles – I can’t remember a period where I didn’t know the songs, but I can remember the point where I really, really started to love them on my own. I’ve gone through phases of extreme Beach Boys adoration – first in high school when I started to love the group’s extremely idealistic songs about youth, and later in college when I checked out their lesser known post-Pet Sounds works (and Dennis Wilson’s excellent solo record Pacific Ocean Blue). All Summer Long isn’t my favorite Beach Boys record (or even in my current top three: Pet Sounds, Sunflower, and the charmingly goofy Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!), but it delivers everything I want from the group: Sunny, rich melodies, lyrics about love, and the occasional oddball curve. Yeah, I dig “I Get Around,” but there’s something enticing about a song like “Drive-In,” a tune that manages to be really, really catchy while delivering silly lines like “If you say you watch the movie you’re a couple of liars / And remember that only you can prevent forest fires.” I think I’m about to enter another Beach Boys phase, perhaps spurred on by the warming weather.

I guess you could say I also had a belated appreciation for Fine Young Cannibals as well, but only because as a kid I knew Roland Gift first as bad guy Xavier St. Cloud from the Highlander television series (cue bitch’ Queen soundtrack!) as first and as the lead singer of an ’80s pop group second. Later on in life I picked up The Raw & The Cooked on the cheap, and while I still enjoy their hit “She Drives Me Crazy” and their cover of Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love,” the album’s soulful sound is too hampered by sterile ’80s production. It’s not a bad album, but it’s certainly not something I put on often either.

Sting is kind of a wiener. Science has proven this to be true. But his albums with The Police are awesome. This is also, scientifically speaking, true, or at least something I perceive as a universal truth. Again, just like with All Summer Long, Outlandos d’Amour isn’t my favorite Police album, but man is it awesome. “Next to You” kicks things off, reminding listeners all these years later that Sting actually used to rock. The hits keep coming with “So Lonely” and “Roxanne,” with “Can’t Stand Losing You” showing up later on the second side. Ol’ Stinger later disappeared up world music’s asshole and came out sounding awfully New Age, but for a while he was able to synthesize reggae, new wave, and punk into a perfect blend.

Also I really, really like Stewart Copeland’s drumming.

Also also, Andy Summers is cool too I guess. Although, seriously, watch him in this video for "Synchronicity II." Dude is such a dork:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Deftones - 'Diamond Eyes'

If it weren’t for the fact that their albums still tear up the Billboard charts, I’d call Deftones underrated. Ten years ago, the group was unfortunately lumped in with nu-metal mooks, even though they had more in common with My Bloody Valentine and The Cure than they ever did with Limp Bizkit. So to that extent, the band has never gotten the full appreciation they deserve, even though, a decade later, music has finally gotten hip to the ’tones’ sound. While they’re not exact copies, acts like Envy and Jesu have shown a similar knack for wedding metal riffs with experimental ambience and emotional lyrics while avoiding screamo melodrama.

Still, though, Diamond Eyes feels like a comeback album. That’s because it’s been four years since the group’s last album, the not-quite-awesome Saturday Night Wrist. It’s because the group is rallying around fallen bassist Chi Cheng, who’s been in a coma since a Nov. 2008 car accident. And it’s because this is Deftones’ best album since White Pony, and maybe even their best overall.

On the surface, Diamond Eyes sounds exactly like every Deftones album. Metal riffs turn to shoegaze while frontman Chino Moreno emotes with his powerful, otherworldly voice and surreal lyrics. This time out, the group sounds a little more ethereal. But even when they bring the heavy, like opener “Diamond Eyes” or single “Rocket Skates,” there are subtle differences. Deftones don’t have much use for a DJ anymore. Moreno sings more frequently. The songs feel more graceful, striking a middle ground between Quicksand and M83.

Deftones have always been a band of meeting points – metal, goth, shoegaze, and post-hardcore are in the mix – and Diamond Eyes may very well be the best distillation of this sound. Maybe it’s because they’ve been away for a while, but Deftones sound awfully vital in 2010.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brian Posehn - 'Fart and Wiener Jokes'

Maybe I’m just getting too old, but I don’t find Brian Posehn funny anymore. He’s all dick jokes and no substance. Granted, he’s upfront about it, greeting the audience on his new album Fart and Wiener Jokes with “Take off your thinking caps,” but his album is aggressively, disappointingly stupid. Lewis Black once joked that he used the word “fuck” to stall for time while he thinks of other words. If that’s true, then Posehn must not be thinking at all.

Not that he isn’t trying, though. Posehn tells a great deal of jokes about his family life, but plenty of them are inconsequential. You know that friend that keeps telling half-stories about funny/cute things he/she did with his/her spouse? That’s Posehn trying to be sincere, over and over. Often times it feels like he’s rambling, like when he takes a joke about how he looks like he’s made of farts and runs with it until nobody is laughing anymore.

Some of his jokes come off weird and misogynistic. There’s a bit about Posehn’s love of strip clubs, so right away fuck that. Another bit springs from discussing Kate Beckinsale and Posehn’s desire to punch her in the face because she’s too beautiful. That intro is pretty fucked and most of the audience doesn’t follow, but Posehn follows it up by discussing cock socks (male actors use ’em to film sex scenes!). So, it goes from offensive to ho-hum pretty quickly.

Like his superior Live In: Nerd Rage, Wiener Jokes ends with joke metal songs, but even they fail to register. “More Metal Than You” riffs on bein’ metal, but “Metal By Numbers” already did it first and better. A metalfied cover of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” is OK. I mean, it’s “The Gambler,” does anybody have particularly strong feelings about that song anymore?

While he shows flashes of maturity, Posehn can’t quite close the gap between idea and punchline. Wiener Jokes marks a creative low point for the Sarah Silverman Show star and Mr. Show alumnus.

Minus the Bear - 'Omni'

Omni finds Minus the Bear with a new label (Dangerbird Records, which is cool) and a new sound (which is bad; more on that later). This time out, the group embraces their inner Boz Scaggs, blending blue-eyed soul with their own prog/dance/rock style to form something pretty unsatisfying. A major pendulum swing from the stellar Planet of Ice, Omni comes off limp and lame. For a group that’s dropped plenty of groovers over the years, one would think moving into a more danceable direction would be a welcome change. It ain’t.

As an MtB album, Omni is neither a rocker nor a mover. Lead guitarist Dave Knudson still gets in some neat-o tricks and keyboardist Alex Rose sounds damn fine here, but the songs are often middling. There are some decent ideas, like on the ’80s synth jam “My Time,” an opening track that announces right away that the band is exploring a new introduction. “Secret Country” has a gnarly bridge. But these moments won’t make nearly as big of an impression as the hammy lyrics. Frontman Jake Snider keeps dropping stupid come-ons like “I’m gonna steal you like a pearl” (“The Thief”) and “I don’t know you that well / But I like your energy” (“Animal Backwards”). Dude needs to get slapped. Hard.

The new sound is going to turn off a lot of kids. Cokeheads can still do coke while listening to MtB, but non-douchebags looking for the fun, pop-tastic comforts of “Pachuca Sunrise” or the epic rocking of “Lotus” are going to be disappointed. Personally, I’m not opposed to the group’s new direction – I love Scaggs and Hall & Oates – but MtB can’t quite integrate the soul style, resulting in something more akin to Maroon 5’s white guy faux-funk, albeit played by the guys who wrote Menos el Oso. Maybe, in time, the group will indeed drop its own Silk Degrees. Minus the Bear’s previous output demands I call this one more of a faux pas than a failure, but either way, it’s still a pretty crappy album from an otherwise pretty good band.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Hold Steady - 'Heaven is Whenever'

I miss Franz Nicolay. That’s the thought I keep ending up at every time I find fault with Heaven is Whenever, the first Hold Steady album (fifth overall) to be released without the singer/pianist since the group’s 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me. Nicolay announced his departure from the band earlier this year. I try to fight this notion – Craig Finn is the main songwriter anyway! World/Inferno Friendship Society pianist Dan Neustadt handled the keys! Nicolay’s solo album wasn’t even all that great! – but I keep arriving at the same conclusion: this record needs more screaming, mustachioed guys.

Exhibit A: The music and vocals sound a little empty. It’s as if the band decided not to bother replacing Nicolay at all. The Hold Steady certainly uses a lot of chunky guitar riffs, but it was Nicolay’s piano that defined tunes like “Stevie Nix” and “Constructive Summer.” Even with Neustadt handling the ivories, the piano is noticeably absent from a lot of these new songs. Same goes for the back-up vox. Answer me this, rest of the world, which is more fun to sing: the chorus to “Chips Ahoy!”, or the backing “whoa”s? Choose wisely. Corinne Caouette and Roman Kuebler contribute backing vocals, but they can’t replace Franz.

Exhibit B: The songs are too slow. It’s like Nicolay took all the fun with him when he left. Heaven is Whenever lacks urgency. Part of it comes from a shift in Finn’s songwriting style. His lyrics are slightly more removed – you won’t find Holly or Charlemagne here – and his singing sounds oddly uninterested. It’s like he’s going through the motions, something that the line “If money didn’t matter then I might tell you something new” from “Soft in the Center” may or may not hint at. Quoth NOFX, “The desperation’s gone.” I know Finn likes singing about Youth of Today and (early) 7 Seconds, but Nicolay is the one with more punk cred, thanks to his work with W/IFS and Dresden Dolls. Sure, Major General was like 50 percent power ballads, but I can’t help but feel Nicolay would make sure fists were being adequately pumped during Heaven’s recording sessions.

Exhibit C: It’s a little overproduced. It's not relevant to my main argument but I still wanted to complain about it.

Heaven is the worst Hold Steady album. Yeah, it’s better than most of the music that’s going to come out this year, and some of the songs, like “Our Whole Lives” and “Rock Problems,” show that old spark. But it’s also indicative that the group’s formula – classic rock + literate lyrics worthy of Elvis Costello or John Darnielle – may be used up. Maybe it’s just a hiccup – Costello dropped a few middling albums between Get Happy!!! and King of America – or a transitional period into a slower, more contemplative period. Maybe it’s the beginning of the end for one of America’s best rock ‘n’ roll bands. I don’t have the answers. Help me Franz Nicolay. You’re my only hope.

Vinyl Vednesday 5/5/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s edition celebrates Cinco de Mustache, that one day of the year when having a mustache is not creepy. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Joe Jackson’s I’m the Man (1979) on black, The Lawrence Arms’ The Greatest Story Ever Told (2003) on black, and O Pioneers!!!/By the End of Tonight’s split (2007) on black.

Place of Purchase:
Jackson came from Disc World (R.I.P.). TLA was an impromptu purchase from Hot Topic’s clearance bin. I bought the split when is saw O Pioneers!!! play at the Main Street Baptist Church in Doylestown. Good show.

A mustache can make or break one’s social standing. If it’s too patchy, one risks looking like a pedophile. Ah, but if it’s just right, BAM you’re Burt Reynolds and you are the coolest guy in all the dang world.

Also sometimes mustaches are just funny-lookin’.

Such is the case with Joe Jackson on the cover of his second album, I’m the Man. It’s meant to be funny, as the ’stache complements the grafter pose he strikes. While his later output got increasingly spotty, Joe Jackson’s first two albums are got-damn unimpeachable. Considering they came out the same year, it’s easy to think of them as one really awesome power pop double album. I’m the Man takes the nervous energy of Look Sharp! and keeps on rocking, although Jackson’s love of piano begins to creep into his songwriting, as tunes like “Kinda Kute” reveals. Still, though, songs like “On Your Radio” and “I’m the Man” rock hard.

The mustaches on the cover of The Greatest Story Ever Told (one of the best albums of the new millennium) are much more serious. Gordon Shumway, Ivan Nikolayevich, and Ferdinand Magellan adorn the cover with a variety of ’stachetude. Shumway’s looks a bit shaggy, while Nikolayevich clearly waxes. Magellan doesn’t shave at all, hence the beard. Truly majestic. And hey, the songs contained within are good too! The Lawrence Arms remain one of my favorite punk bands, and The Greatest Story Ever Told remains my favorite album by them. The way Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan intertwine songs about drankin’ and screaming into telephones still does it for me. And as we can see, the trio supports ’staches. Now excuse me while I listen to “The Disaster March” 30 times in a row…

…and I’m back! On the O Pioneers!!!/By the End of Tonight split, we a close-up of a pretty gross pedo-stache. I really do cringe every time I see this seven-inch. The tunes are good though. BTEOT delivers a nice post-rock tune, while OP!!! is still into the whole folk-punk thang. “Sweet Junk” is another ramshackle rabble rouser, and while it’s a wee bit sloppy, it’s sure got spirit.

So yeah… this one’s for you, people with hairy upper lips. Today… is your… INDEPENDENCE DAY!