Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fall Music Preview 2010

Every August, I start really thinking about my “best albums of the year” list. Right now I’ve got a solid 18 albums in mind, and the top three are pretty firmly in place. But 2009 taught me that you never know when the most life-changing albums will be released. My top two albums for 2009, The Mountain Goats’ The Life of the World to Come and Strike Anywhere’s Iron Front, were both released in October, which is why I always wait until New Year’s Day to publish my lists. Great new music is always being turned out.

With that in mind, I’ve thrown together a fall music preview. These are the albums I’m hoping to hear in the months to come [ATTENTION PUBLICISTS: GIVE ME THESE FOR FREE]. Let’s start with next week…


Devil’s Brigade – Devil’s Brigade [Aug. 31]

I love Rancid. I love X. I even loved Auntie Christ, the short-lived crossover between the two. Matt Freeman and DJ Bonebrake are back again with a full-length for this belated side project. Largely known for a single song – “Vampire Girl” from the 2001 compilation Give ’Em the Boot Volume 3 – this pyschobilly group will almost definitely be ridiculous/awesome. I’m a superfan so I’m blinded, but I love Freeman’s fleet bass and Cookie Monster vocals so dang much. Even if it sucks, I’m still going to play the dickens out of it.


Screaming Females – Castle Talk [Sept. 14]

Female-fronted lo-fi punk rock from the always reliable Don Giovanni Records. Punknews and Pitchfork alike both say I should care.

Weezer – Hurley [Sept. 14]

I go through the same range of emotions every time Weezer puts out a new album, dating back to Maladroit. I get angry that they haven’t broken up, then I get hopeful that they’ll recapture the magic of “Blue Album” and Pinkerton, and then I get angry all over again when it turns out they suck now. “Red Album” is the lone exception, but I enjoy that record for being hilarious. It’s still a distant drop behind the Matt Sharp era. I went through the whole cycle in miniature when posted a review of Hurley. The cover looks stupid, but the review is positive. David Marcheese has decent taste in music, and I’d probably frame the article the same way he does. He says the record isn’t half-bad provided you forget how the ’90s albums were better, which I think is reasonable. Then I streamed “Memories,” conveniently posted below the review, and realized Marcheese was just trying to be nice. I know I should just focus on the October re-release of Pinkerton, but part of me hopes they’ll drop at least one or two songs good enough to warrant placement on my “Crappy Weezer” playlist.

Banner Pilot – Resignation Day re-release [Sept. 14]

While Banner Pilot earned my love with Collapser last year, the tracks I’ve heard from their debut, Resignation Day, left me underwhelmed. This remaster job by Fat Wreck might remedy that situation for me. Jawbreaker comparisons get tossed around a lot these days, but BP is one of the few bands to deserve that honor. Fast jams and deep lyrics, man. Good combo.

Torche – Songs For Singles [Sept. 21]

I actually don’t know anything about Torche. But they’re touring with High on Fire and Kylesa this fall, so clearly they must be worth my time.

Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught on Tape [Sept. 21]

I used to love the shit out of Fake Problems. Their first album was an entertaining, kitschy blend of country, punk, folk, and classic rock. Their live show was even better. Follow-up It’s Great to Be Alive was the opposite for me. The joke songs got too hammy (and too plentiful). It starts and ends well enough, but there’s a lengthy middle crammed with filler. LP #3 is going to determine if I stick around as a fan.

forgetters – forgetters [Sept. 21]

Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil and Kevin Mahon from Against Me! are finally releasing some recorded songs from their new-ish band. forgetters’ live show is stellar; this double-seven-inch should hopefully live up to that precedent. The band has been frustratingly quiet in their endeavors – they’ve only played like two or three shows outside of New York City – but hopefully this will mark an increase in activity. Schwarzenbach’s music has saved me dozens of times. I want this so bad it hurts.

The Wonder Years – The Upsides re-release [Sept. 21]

I think you know why this means so much to me.

Jimmy Eat World – Invented [Sept. 28]

Chase This Light was kind of ho-hum, but I’m always down for hearing what Jim Adkins and co. are up to. Between Bleed American and Clarity, I think I owe them that much. The lead single that’s floating around online sounded like yet another overproduced radio rock jingle, but like I said, some bands I follow irrationally.

The Flatliners – Monumental [Sept. 28]

Cavalcade is one of my favorite albums of 2010. It’s like I filled out a survey of what I want a punk rock band to sound like, and Fat Wreck turned that survey into the last Flatliners album. Mere months later, they’re already rewarding me again, this time with a seven-inch. Flatliners used to be a ska band, but honestly they’re doing so much right as a punk rock group.


Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years [Oct. 5]

Finally some new music from 1/3 of Sleater-Kinney. Yeah drummer Janet Weiss has kept busy with Stephen Malkmus, but I hate that guy. I have no idea what Tucker is going to do on her first solo album. Will it be more Sleater-Kinney punk mixed with Led Zeppelin? Will she go all folksy on my ass? All I know is it’s been five years since The Woods, and I can’t wait to hear what Tucker has come up with since then.

Tim Kasher – The Game of Monogomy [Oct. 5]

…actually wait, no. I don’t need to hear any more songs about Kasher’s wang.

Weezer – Pinkerton re-release [Oct. 5]

I still don’t know what the track listing is and I’m still going to buy it. If it’s as comprehensive as the second disc from the “Blue Album” re-release, I think I’ll be stoked.

The Measure [SA] – Notes [Oct. 5]

Songs About People… and Fruit ’N Shit is one of my favorite EPs of all time. The Measure is finally putting out a second full-length album, and you best believe I’m excited to hear more co-ed vocals singin’ about scene politics and failed romances. Lauren Measure and Mikey Erg know exactly how I feel, and they express those sentiments over the finest of punk rock beats.

Envy – Recitation [Oct. 12]

Envy beat the pants off of Thursday and Jesu on recent splits. Given that their lyrics are in Japanese, I have no idea what the songs are about. Given that they write such amazing post-hardcore music, I don’t care.

Kylesa – Spiral Shadow [Oct. 26]

I fell hard for Kylesa hard this year. They’ve consistently topped themselves four albums in a row. While I have some doubts that they’ll best Static Tensions, I’m still excited all the same to hear what kind of psych/metal jams they’ve written. Of all the records on this year, this one has the most potential to become my album of the year, although Black Tusk’s Taste the Sin has been filling my sludge needs this summer. All the best metal bands are from Georgia.

Lemuria – Pebble [Nov. 9]

Super cute indie rock songs about fucking by a bunch of punks from upstate New York. SO ADORABLE.


The Next Big Thing – Tough as Nails, Sweet as Pie [TBA]

OK, OK, these are my friends. And I sing on like every track. You might even say I’m the focal point of the record. You might say that. Still excited all the same.


Last month, Smoke or Fire promised me a new album would be released this fall, and dang it all, I want them to be right. Prehistoric Knife Fight was so awesome. I’ve been listening to a lot of Southern punk lately (Avail, Strike Anywhere, and of course SoF… all of my metal is from the south too come to think of it), and I could sure use a new entry in that great trinity.

So... what are you looking forward to?

Castevet - 'The Echo & The Light'

Castevet is a giving band. Last year they dropped Summer Fences, a heady post-hardcore. A follow-up EP, The Echo & The Light, was due earlier this year, but was canceled because it wasn’t awesome enough. After a limited pressing, it was pulled, re-recorded and given two bonus tracks, and now it’s finally ready for public consumption. Pumped up to eight tracks, Echo is a generous gift.

In a lot of ways, the EP feels like a continuation of Summer Fences. The band still sounds like a mix of Braid, Appleseed Cast, Envy, Latterman and Mogwai, which doesn’t seem like conflicting comparisons when Castevet is actually playing. The guitars are still noodly and unafraid to explore atmospheric areas not usually associated with Hot Water Music-esque bands, as seen on “Midwest Values” and “Cities & Memory.”

At the same time, though, the EP definitely feels more aggressive than Summer Fences in places, again in reference to closing track “Cities & Memory” but especially so on “Lautrec.” It’s an aggressive punk stomper the whole time, shredding faces like they’re delicious parmesan cheese [Note to self: Do not write while hungry]. It’s also only 2:50, which is short for a Castevet song. New tunes “Six Parts Summer” and “Model Trains” fit in nicely with the old songs. “Model Trains” even gives the band a chance to jam out a little.

So I suppose The Echo & The Light is somewhat of a placeholder in the best way possible. It’s anthemic, it’s airy, it’s awesome. It makes me want to go steady with Castevet. I don’t care who knows it and I don’t care how many more releases they churn out rapidfire, dammit, I’m in love.

Vinyl Vednesday 8/25/2010

[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 entry is kind of death-themed, because that’s where I’m at right now. So uh… yeah. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Call’s Modern Romans (1983) on black, Jets to Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary (1998) on black, and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) on black.

Place of Purchase: The Call came from the Philadelphia Record Exchange. JtB was purchased from some dude in Japan, which weirdly enough is where I’ve gotten most of my Jade Tree vinyl, I think. Darkness either came from Disc World in Conshohocken or Geeks and Gawds in Ambler (R.I.P. either way).

Thoughts: My girlfriend rocks a deluxe cable TV package, so we watch a ton of VH1 Classic at her place. Periodically they do an ’80s video marathon. It’s two-thirds crapshoot, one-third awesome. For every “Solid as a Rock” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” they occasionally slip in something like “The Walls Came Down” by The Call. It’s an infectious, vaguely post-punk song, powered by frontman Michael Been’s voice, which reminded me then and still reminds me now of David Byrne’s pipes. Been is the reason I think of The Call as a more straightforward version of Talking Heads. Been recently passed away while on tour with his son’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I can’t say I was the biggest Call fan out there, but I still mourn his family’s loss all the same. Check out Modern Romans sometime for a solid ’80s rock effort.

The rest of this post is about my cousin Michael, who recently passed away. The last time I saw him, we talked about music, just like we always did. One of the bands we talked about was Jets to Brazil. Mike had always preferred Jawbreaker, but that night JtB was our focus. We’d had this argument before. I pushed Perfecting Loneliness as their best album; Mike stood by Orange Rhyming Dictionary. Mike used to argue that it was their best because it sounded the most like Jawbreaker, but that night he actually pushed for the songs. I want to find some sort of commentary in which songs we prefer. My favorite Dictionary cut has always been the closer, “Sweet Avenue.” It’s a love song that’s really dear to me. Mike’s favorite song was one track prior, “I Typed For Miles.” They’re jarring when played next to each other, perhaps intentionally so. “Sweet Avenue” is about finding value in life through love; “I Typed For Miles” is about being alone and freaked out and just loathing everything about yourself. Mike loved that song, and his reasons were all valid: The guitar tone is amazing, the lyrics are biting, and it really is intense when frontman Blake Schwarzenbach screams “You keep fucking up my life” over and over and over.

The Pelone men love Springsteen. Mike’s favorites changed a lot – I remember him being obsessed with The River for a while. He went through an intense Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. phase. And everybody knows Born to Run and Nebraska are awesome. Born in the U.S.A. was always forbidden in Mike’s house, but Darkness on the Edge of Town was a constant pick. Springsteen’s discography can oscillate wildly emotionally, but Darkness does a good job capturing all of his sentiments. “Badlands” is still one of his best songs, and it kicks off the record with a steady beat and throaty vocals. “Adam Raised a Cain” is almost an anti-anthem, one of the most dissonant, punk songs Springsteen ever wrote. It’s an anomaly, both for this album and for Springsteen’s discography in general, but that chorus is so ugly yet commanding all the same. Other songs are a little more genial, like “Prove It All Night” and “The Promised Land.” Mike had a fondness for Springsteen’s quieter songs – “The River” and “Nebraska” got plenty of play, and the same could be said for “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” which closes out the album. It’s such a sad song. Here’s an excerpt from the second verse:

“Everybody’s got a secret, sonny / Something that they just can’t face / Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it / They carry it with them every step that they take / Till someday they just cut it loose / Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down / Where no ones asks any questions / Or looks too long in your face / In the darkness on the edge of town.”

Live it’s a lot more furious than forlorn:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pregnant - 'Pregnant'

Last year, Brooklyn garage rockers Pregnant dropped a promising seven-inch stuffed with proto-punk fury a la Stooges or Cloak/Dagger. This year they released their full-length debut, a self-titled, 10 track affair that delivers… more of the same, just with less of a debt to grunge. While marginally cleaner, Pregnant is basically an extended version of Wanna See My Gun?, even going so far as to tack on two tracks from that release on at the end.

Not that I’m complaining. I gave props to Gun, and I give props to Pregnant as well, though with slightly diminished enthusiasm. Nothing here tops “God is Nein,” an insanely catchy number from last year. Given extra space, Pregnant slips in the occasional midtempo track, like when they sandwich the spacier “Skin Display” in between “Real Talk” and “Wormie.” They even reveal a knack for ’60s style garage rock, throwing in some guitar work worthy of early Kinks and the Who.

The A side is preferable by default; it boasts all new material while the B side winds down with “Wanna See My Gun?” and “You Give It to Me.” The A side also features “Help,” and that song is just a winner through and through. It rocks, it’s catchy, it’s better than every rock song that actually made it on to the radio this year. The B side repeats five more garage-y hits. The re-recorded versions of the old songs are a little distracting, especially during the few handclaps on “You Give It to Me,” but that’s probably just in my head.

Pregnant is a back-to-basics rock record, an album that’s refreshing for its energetic playing and understated pretensions. The guitars churn out dirges. The drums throw four on the floor. The bass is heavy and the vocals are snotty. It’s uncomplicated and awesome and the album cover features a spaceship exploding. Hell. Yes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Various - 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World original soundtrack'

Music plays such a pivotal role in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books that it’s just as important to Edgar Wright’s film adaptation as proper casting and plot points. In a way, it’s even more important. We can debate if Michael Cera was miscast or not as the title character (Personally I think he succeeds), but you can’t really debate if the music was appropriate or not for Pilgrim’s quest to defeat the seven evil exes of his love interest Ramona and win her heart. Either he listens to Plumtree or he doesn’t. Luckily, the tunes O’Malley, Wright and executive music producer Nigel Godrich assembled are amazing.

The soundtrack is packed with songs from the story’s bands, Sex Bob-Omb (written by Beck), Crash and the Boys (Broken Social Scene) and Clash at Demonhead (Metric). Each artist fits their respective proxies perfectly. Beck shoulders the most tunes, turning in four tracks as Sex Bob-Omb and two alternate takes as himself on “Ramona.” The Sex Bob-Omb tracks are about what I had imagined they’d sound like based on the comics. Sloppy, grungy indie rock with a fat bottom abounds. Broken Social Scene gets to be comedic for Crash and the Boys, penning the songs “We Hate You Please Die” (59 seconds) and “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” (0:13!) in a fuzzy punk style while also delivering a dreamy original under their own moniker, “Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl.” Metric only contributes one song, the dancey “Black Sheep,” but since I always imagined Demonhead sounding like Metric circa Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, I’d say they did fine.

The rest of the tracklisting is made up of songs that inspired the film. Yeah, I know, every soundtrack boasts that, but here it’s actually true. Starting with volume three, O’Malley started including playlists of songs that inspired him while writing Scott Pilgrim, and plenty of those songs made it into the film, from Beachwood Spark’s dreamy country tune “By Your Side” to the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” to the title character’s inspiration, Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim.” Not everything made it onto the CD (When will the rest of the world recognize the Cardigans’ brilliance?!), but at 19 tracks, the mix is mighty fine.

There’s one glaring oversight though: No Smashing Pumpkins. The character rocks not one, but two SP shirts in the movie, yet there are no Corgan compositions to be heard in the film or on this disc (Not that anyone would want to hear what Corgan is writing these days anyway…). It doesn’t cripple the soundtrack by any means, although it would have been sweet watching Scott smash ex-boyfriends to the tune of “Jellybelly,” or cuddle up to Ramona while listening to “To Sheila.” Still, it’s not like Juno, whose main character claimed to love the Ramones, the Stooges, and the Runaways but somehow ended up being soundtracked by a lot of Moldy Peaches and Belle & Sebastian songs. Here, fans get 19 songs, each relevant to the story in its own way. When the worst song on your soundtrack is by T. Rex, you’ve done a good job.

The Hadituptoheres - 'Wild City Honest Dancing'

Thanks to this thinger called the Internets, doing a limited pressing of a record doesn’t really mean a whole lot anymore. Sure, Detroit’s The Hadituptoheres put out only 200 hand-stamped copies of their album Wild City Honest Dancing on colored vinyl, but they’re also giving the album away for free online. The album is thus obscure yet freely available to everyone.

Which is just as well, since Wild City Honest Dancing packs 12 raucous garage rock jams a la the (International) Noise Conspiracy or fellow Michiganians The Stooges, with a dash of the Von Bondies’ blues rock (before Jack White punched all of the talent out of Jason Stollsteimer). The record captures what must be a pretty intense live set, complete dirty guitar licks, thudding drums, and shredded vocals.

The joke behind the Hadituptoheres’ name is that they’ve had it up to here with rock ‘n’ roll as of late *buh dum bum pish!*, and to that extent, the record is something of a throwback. Topics covered include drinking too much, ladies and drinking too much around ladies. The music could have come out anytime from America’s rock history over the last 60 years, and it probably would’ve gotten the same small pressing. This band does not indulge in solos, over-the-top instrumentation, or lyrics about hobbits. They just go out and rock through all the chords they know.

Of course, that means that while the songs successfully kick out the jams (motherfucker), it also means the tunes blur together, never get too deep emotionally, etc. Side A is a white hot burst of destructive fury. Side B is… more of the same. The band does this sound well, but it’s worth noting that A) it’s very surface level and B) they probably won’t be able to keep this style fresh for long. But then again, the songs are generally about living the moment. There’s little point in chiding the Hadituptoheres for delivering an energetic set of songs, and free ones at that.

Vinyl Vednesday 8/18/2010

[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: Black Flag’s Damaged (1981) on black, The Go-Go’s’ Beauty and The Beat (1981) on black, and Propagandhi’s How to Clean Everything (1993) on black.

Place of Purchase:
and Clean were purchased at Siren Records (I really only shop at like two places…). Beauty and The Beat was inherited from my parents.

Thoughts: There are a handful of ’80s hardcore bands I stand by. Minor Threat, Husker Du and early Replacements have been running through my ears a lot in the last few years, and while a lot of ’80s stuff doesn’t hold up as I get older (sorry Adrenaline O.D., most of the bands on Dischord 20), I still come back to Black Flag over and over. Damaged is primal, at times deceptively simpl. Fourteen of the 15 tracks focus on hate, directed both internally and externally. The other song, “TV Party,” is a joke track about getting shitfaced and watching That’s Incredible! and The Jeffersons. Guitarist Greg Ginn got such a gritty sound of his instrument; mix him with Tony Iommi and you get grunge.

It’s weird to think that I.R.S. released amazing albums from acts like R.E.M., Concrete Blonde, and The English Beat, and also The Go-Go’s, but it happened. Then again, the gals from that group came from a punk background – lead singer Belinda Carlisle was even in The Germs. Each side of the record opens with the band’s biggest hits, “Our Lips are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” although there are some other pretty good pop rock numbers like “This Town” and “Can’t Stop the World.” Yeah, some its embarrassing (“Skidmarks on My Heart.” Yeah…), but overall it’s a way better album overall than most ’80s pop releases.

My girlfriend is primarily a fan of sensitive lyricists and ’90s rockers. Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Postal Service, and Smashing Pumpkins were her favorite bands when I met her. Then I found out she had a punk side when she put on Propagandhi’s How to Clean Everything. I’d heard of the band before, but I’d never heard their songs until that fateful car ride. It blended goofy, abrasive humor (“Ska Sucks,” “Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass, You Son of a Bitch”) with NOFX-style riffs and political insight (“Head? Chest? Or Foot?”). Bassist/back-up vocalist/future Weakerthan frontman John K. Samson seems a little out of place – his poetic lyrical and musical style does not mesh with frontman Chris Hannah’s more abrasive spit takes at all – but their duet on “Showdown (g.e./p.)” is still pretty awesome. Propagandhi and Weakerthans both went on to release better albums, but I still come back to How to Clean Everything all the time.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: The Wonder Years premiere new track.

Pop-punk maestros/some shmoes I know The Wonder Years will be re-releasing their seminal second album The Upsides on their new label Hopeless Records with new artwork and four bonus tracks Sept. 21, and the band was kind enough to give me an exclusive stream of one of the new songs, "We Won't Bury You." It was written about my cousin, Mike Pelone, and his struggle to stay sober and coherent. It's important to note that this song was written back in June, while Mike was alive. This song was meant to be hopeful, even though Mike's passing renders it eerie. This is unquestionably the most emotional song I have heard in 2010:

Frontman Dan Campbell had some words to say:

"As I type this, I am just taking off my tie. Today, we buried, Mike Pelone, one of the best friends any of us have ever had. We would not be in this band without him. He introduced most of us to one another. He was originally supposed to play guitar but couldn't make the first practice. We played our first 'show' in the middle of his band's set. It was one song played on their gear and I remember it vividly still. Our first release was a split with his band. Our second release was put out on a record label he and I ran together.

Just last week, he was on the phone with Kennedy saying that he was proud of how far we'd come and henceforth we'll be striving to keep him proud of us. Mike struggled with drugs for the past few years. He had a serious desire to stay clean and would often not come hang out so that he wasn't even around people drinking, but in the end, the addiction got him. In June, we recorded a song for Mike that we were planning on showing him this past weekend. He never got to hear it. It was inspired by a conversation I had with him when he went back to rehab last. I asked if there was anything we could do and if he wanted to start touring with us so that we could watch over him. He said that he needed to be in a facility for awhile and that he just wanted to make sure we didn't bury him. Those were his words. I could tell a million stories about Mike and I know we all will for the rest of our lives but I'll leave them out of this entry.

Today, I saw friends I hadn't seen in years as we gathered at his grave site and left flowers on the casket. I tripped a bit carrying it. Dave said it wouldn't have been us if something stupid hadn't happened and the way he said 'us' really hit me. I saw people that have bitterly disliked each other hugging today. Everyone was together again for a day and I have to thank Mike for that last gift. George threw dirt on the casket as we walked away and I felt like maybe now, even with as hard as today was, we all got some closure. He wasn't a real religious guy and neither are we, so you can save your prayers. Instead, take a minute and listen to this song and think about all the people you love and if any of them need help.

We'll be holding a memorial show for Mike at the VFW hall he used to book shows in in Lansdale, PA on September 4th. There will be good friends and some fun surprises. We will say goodbye the right way. I love you, Mike. I'm going to miss your shit-eating grin and the shady way you smoked cigarettes and the way you always had us laughing even when we were at our angriest or our saddest or our worst. We're all going to miss you so much." 8/11/10.

Here's some info about the memorial show that Soupy mentioned in his essay:


time: tba
price: tba (perhaps donation style?)

The Wonder Years
Rough Justice
[More TBA]

I'm going to pimp this something fierce, so expect more info to come.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sundowner - 'We Chase the Waves'

The Lawrence Arms’ last release, Buttsweat and Tears, was a tease. Yeah it was good, but it was just a seven-inch. Now the group’s members are again pursuing separate interests. Brendan Kelly dropped an acoustic split with Smoke or Fire’s Joe McMahon, and is now preparing a solo album. Until that TLA live DVD drops, the only way to get one’s fix is through We Chase the Waves, the sophomore effort from Chris McCaughan’s side project Sundowner.

While cellist Jenny Choi does not return this time around, We Chase the Waves is otherwise pretty similar to Sundowner’s debut, Four One Five Two. McCaughan still offers light acoustic jams that are just a shade too mellow to work as TLA tunes (with the fiery “Jewel of the Midwest” being the exception here). Larry Arms drummer Neil “Tennessee” Hennessy returns on bass, although to be honest his presence is barely felt on these recordings. McCaughan’s approach is awfully spare, though he does occasionally throw in an extra guitar part or backing vox. Otherwise, this is a one man show that would sound the same live.

This puts We Chase the Waves in an awkward place. The songs are generally good, and their aquatic themes couple with the easygoing pace to make for a pretty chill summer record. But that also means that Waves can get a little repetitive and clunky in spots. “Whales and Sharks” is pretty awesome for its stripped down sound and story about being married to the sea. But you’re still listening to a song about how algae are totally awesome. “As the Crow Flies” is pretty catchy, but its vague story about writing music leaves it seeming a little shallow.

McCaughan’s lyrics occasionally falter, and there are several times I suspect he was just trying to fill syllables. But the record is so damn relaxed and charming. “In the Flicker” is such a great, ominous opening track, complete with real, totally unplanned thunder. “Whales and Sharks” is about being married to the sea. Hell yes. “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” is the best ode to the Chicago Cubs since the Mountain Goats’ “Cubs in Five.” “Jewel in the Midwest” rocks.

The album isn’t perfect – a few of the songs meander – but it’s still a modest success all the same. Until the Larry Arms ride again, Sundowner is a fine alternative.

Friday, August 6, 2010

regarding my cousin.

Michael Pelone overdosed today.

Michael was my cousin, just a year younger than me, and when we were kids he was my unofficial brother. Once he moved to Blue Bell, my hometown, we were inseparable. It’s funny the ways we complemented each other. He was extroverted and brave, I was quiet and awkward. He had an SNES; I rocked a Sega Genesis. He was allowed to watch forbidden entertainment like Beavis & Butthead and Wayne’s World and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He listened to Nirvana and Green Day when I was bumping the Batman Forever soundtrack and TLC. He was in, every sense, cooler than me (I can even admit now that SNES was better than Genesis. Super Mario World is so much more imaginative and involved than Sonic the Hedgehog 2).

By our teens, Michael and I had entered different spheres. I attended La Salle College High School, a private all-male school. Michael tried a similar route with Roman Catholic High School, but it just didn’t work out for him. He switched to a public school and fostered a deep love of blink-182 and The Get Up Kids. I was nursing an appreciation for pop-punk and emo as well, although my bands of choice were New Found Glory and Jawbreaker.

In our late teens, we reconnected when Mike asked me to join his new band. Our music tastes were pretty similar (Springsteen, Weezer, and so on) and initial practices seemed promising, so I officially joined Emergency & I, an emo/rock group that borrowed its name from a Dismemberment Plan album despite sounding nothing like Dismemberment Plan. I played drums and Michael sang and played guitar.

The Lansdale music scene was once a vibrant mecca. National touring acts like Paramore, The Ataris, and Crime in Stereo have passed through. The local bands were great too – I still spin tunes from acts like Cetus, Prevail, and The Premier. Mike booked them all. He was never the best singer or guitar player, but he had an eye for talent and helped bring great bands to the suburbs.

Mike could be difficult to work with. He’d make us practice the same song for hours on end only to abandon it altogether next practice. E&I probably wrote two albums of music, but most of it died in the embryonic stage or was retired from our live set as Mike saw fit. He just never felt comfortable with our sound… or with his life. Mike switched colleges three or four times before he even started attending school. His stint at West Chester University lasted maybe five weeks before he overdosed on cocaine and dropped out to pursue rehab.

One of the things I learned through dealing with Michael in the years since 2005 is that you can’t force a junkie to get clean. He or she has to want to do it. But Mike could never commit to sobriety or anything else for long, and it made being his friend really hard. E&I broke up specifically because Mike hit a point where he was stifling the band creatively, because he was a fuck-up, and because he stole from the band fund to score more drugs. I hated him for a few years after E&I’s dissolution. And he certainly didn’t reach out to me – I was straight edge. I had the reputation of being the “good kid.” When he first got out of rehab, I told him I’d never help him get drugs and that if I caught him using I’d kill him. It wasn’t elegant or productive, and I never even followed up on my threat. I’d occasionally bump into Michael at concerts, clearly high, and we’d make stunted chit-chat until I could find a way to get away.

Last week I reconnected with Mike, however fleetingly. I was staying at his parents’ house to take care of their pets. Mike had long since been kicked out for stealing and using, but he was allowed to spend the night so he could attend a court date in Norristown the following day. We watched Transsiberian starring Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, and Ben Kingsley. We talked about music, about the Gaslight Anthem show he just attended, about how good the new Arcade Fire record allegedly sounded. He got titles wrong. He had forgotten what school I attended and how long I had been dating my girlfriend. Little details that showed his brain had maybe faded. And his eyes burned. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way his face had changed. He was leaner, a little dirtier. And his face was harder, like everything he said and heard was of the utmost important, like he couldn’t miss anything. It reminded me of Dean Moriarty in On the Road, near the end when his mind started to fall apart but he was still mad to talk.

Last night we talked online about The Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire. Today he’s gone. His last status update on Facebook was “Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down, Ray.” It’s a quote from Raging Bull; as of this writing it had been posted 20 hours ago. I’m going to analyze those lines for the rest of my life and try to find a hidden meaning, like he knew he was going out on his own, like today was significant. Or maybe he put it up there because Mike was a big Scorsese fan. I’m never going to know. All I have left behind are fragments, like this essay he wrote for my blog. It’s about The Get Up Kids, but also his desire to stay clean.

There are a handful of records that will always remind me of Mike. Bear vs. Shark’s Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands… was the last record Mike and I listened to together. I put it on again today. TGUK’s discography will always bring back his ghost, especially the first two albums. Green Day. Springsteen. The Promise Ring. I listened to The Cure’s Pornography, a record about drug addiction and despair, for the first time when Mike got out of his first stint in rehab. I listened to it on my roof as the sun came up, delirious and despondent from lack of sleep. It’s always reminded me of his demons, and now it’ll always be that way.

I want to hope that Michael achieved some sort of peace today. But he was never particularly religious and neither am I. All I know is he’s gone and nothing I say or do will make that fact easier or better or refutable. I’m always going to be mad at myself for not being able to help him more, and I’m always going to hate him, in the way that we sometimes do hate our loved ones, for falling behind. I’ve heard a lot of explanations today – The last five years have been a rollercoaster! We were all waiting for this to happen! – but that doesn’t change the situation.

All I have left are some songs and mixed memories. Fuck.

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 currency’s gone
And after a while, when all your mistakes have been made

You’ve tasted the carbon dioxide.

Check out E&I’s “Hospital Song” here. Mike wrote it about wanting to get clean.