Monday, November 7, 2011

regarding growing up.

Picasso Blue is on indefinite hiatus. Like some of my favorite bands, I don't want to put a period at the end of it, but I do know that I can't maintain it with the same energy I've put in over the last three years. My reasons for shutting down shop are as follows:

1. I started this blog when I was an unemployed recent college grad. Now I have a full-time job and responsibilities. I'm still a huge music fan, but I have other concerns now.

2. I didn't just start Picasso Blue to pass the time. I also started it to I could continue generating clips. While I have written for other publications over the years, Picasso Blue was a consistent place for me to publish anything, with the hope that these articles would somehow lead to a steady writing gig. Well, they have. As the Reviews Editor for Punknews.org, I'm still going to be involved in music. While the Org's focus is definitely more restricted than Picasso Blue's, I just don't see myself maintaining both while holding down my real job. As much as I'm going to miss writing columns like Vinyl Vednesday and Versus, I certainly have other things to focus my attention on.

I have regrets about closing. I was going to make a December tradition of discussing Joe Strummer's copious vinyl releases. I still have many, many albums left to cover for myPod. Also I just think it's silly that Saturday Night Crap-o-Rama is going to outlast Picasso Blue. But that's how it goes. I'm gonna get back to finishing up the latest batch of reviews for the Org now. Feel free to read them tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 10/26/2011

[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 is an early Halloween celebration. Hail Satan, and such. E-mail pelonej1@gmail.com with your own big finds!]

Records:
AFI’s Answer That and Stay Fashionable (1995) on turquoise marble, The Cure’s Faith (1981) on black, and Siouxsie and The Banshees The Scream (1978) on black.

Place of Purchase:
AFI was bought at Repo Records in Philadelphia, Pa. The Cure came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill, Pa. Siouxsie and The Banshees was obtained via eBay.

Thoughts: My favorite AFI records are Black Sails in the Sunset and Decemberunderground. One of them is just an awesome hardcore record with gothic lyrics; the other is a goth-pop record bordering on a dance album. They don’t have much in common, which is why I feel little need to justify fitting my other favorite AFI record, Answer That and Stay Fashionable, into the equation. Answer That has some psychobilly elements and captures the band at a really young age. Also, the lyrics are supremely goofy, as heard in “Brownie Bottom Sundae” and “Cereal Wars,” in which frontman Davey Havoc goes off on cereal brands. It’s all intentionally hilarious, while still getting in plenty of Misfits-y love. Plus, the vinyl version comes with the bonus tracks “Self-pity” and “Key Lime Pie.”

Early AFI is goth but silly. The Cure, now there’s a band for soundtracking my eternal despair. Faith is one of the band’s darker records. Opener “The Holy Hour” is a slow churner that sucks up all joy. The record owes a big debt to Joy Division – it captures The Cure’s transition from punk upstarts to psych/goth/pop explorers and falls somewhere on the post-punk lines – but I honestly prefer it over anything JD ever did. “Primary” is a bouncy tune indeed, while “The Funeral Party” predicts the wall of atmosphere that would create the band’s best album, Disintegration. There are better Cure records, but Faith is an album I’ve come to really respect over the years. It doesn’t have any of the band’s big hits, but it’s such a great, swirling mix.

I came to Siouxsie and The Banshees a little later in life. It wasn’t until I had digested The Cure’s complete discography that I then gravitated towards Robert Smith’s mid-’80s side project, The Glove. Knowing that Smith did time with The Banshees (He plays on Hyaena and toured quite a bit with the group), I started snatching up Banshee records at a rapid pace. They’re one of those bands that makes a lot of contemporary music sound redundant. The Scream, the band’s thrilling debut, exists somewhere between punk’s rawness and post-punk's jitteriness, exuding a kind of passion and depth that would develop into goth. It’s not quite as psychedelic as what the group would cultivate on later albums, but The Scream is a thrilling listen from start to finish.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Banner Pilot - 'Heart Beats Pacific'

With the breakout success of their 2009 effort, Collapser, Minnesotan act Banner Pilot has a lot riding on LP #3. Like their labelmates the Flatliners, the band seems poised for bigger things. These expectations make the group’s follow-up to Collapser, Heart Beats Pacific, something of a disappointment at first, to the extent that it’s a predictable follow-up. For all the Jawbreaker comparisons that follow frontman Nick Johnson’s lyrics, the band has yet to approach that band’s level of stylistic experimentation. At the same time, though, it’s hard to get mad at the band for refining what made Collapser so good. I mean, have you heard that record? It made me choose life.

By the band’s own admission, Pacific is a safe move. It takes everything Collapser did well – the introspective lyrics and the infectious, snotty hooks – and goes bigger. Johnson sounds more assured here. The guitars are denser, heavier and generally more interesting. The production in general is straight up better, clean enough that all of the instruments come through without glossing everything over in studio cheese. One way the band earns their Jawbreaker comparisons is by letting Nate Gangelhoff’s bass anchor so many of the tunes (Also, the intro to “Isolani” sounds like something off of Dear You. Who’s with me?).

Heart Beats Pacific is a really good Midwestern punk record. It’s up there with Dillinger Four’s greatest hits. Sure, it sounds like a bevy of other Midwest bands like Dear Landlord and Off With Their Heads (who, coincidentally, have borrowed Gangelhoff on occasion), but it’s better. It’s in the way the songs bounce effortlessly, constantly propelled by desire and winter despair. It also helps that the guys are good songwriters.

Take “Eraser” for example. It’s a song about drankin’ and missing someone something fierce. A fairly common topic for the punk set, but Johnson injects so much empathy into the track that it defies what’s come before. The whole song is lush with imagery, but lines like “Nothing changes but the time” and “I’m finding out I don’t do very well alone / But I know that you’re not coming home” hit hard. I don’t care if you’re straight edge, this one goes for the heart. In the great pop-punk tradition, it’s also catchy as hell despite being pretty darn depressing.

The last few years have been good for Banner Pilot. Collapser rocked faces, the 2010 remaster job on Resignation Day proved it was actually a great record all along and now fans have Heart Beats Pacific to memorize. Yeah, all three repeat the same style. But it’s a good one.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wild Flag at Union Transfer.


It was a night for new beginnings in Philadelphia Wed., Oct. 19, as indie rock supergroup Wild Flag and a new band from Fiery Furnaces member Eleanor Friedberger cut loose on a crowd gathered at the month-old venue Union Transfer. For all the newness, though, it ended up being a night for older classic sounds. Either way, it was a good show.

Union Transfer, a new 600-capacity venue located in the old Spaghetti Warehouse on 10th and Spring Garden, is a joint partnership from Philly locals R5 Productions and Four Corners Management and New York City group Bowery Presents. In other words, no Live Nation, and that’s a good thing. The space has tons of room to move, but it’s not so large that it kills intimacy. There’s plenty room for drunks at the bars. Hell, there’s a bar in a whole other room, so hopefully people who come to concerts just to drink can get their fill without pissing off other attendees. The sound is a little dubious – muddled and bass-heavy – but that’s pretty much standard for a venue this size. Union Transfer is still independent and pretty cool. Also, they have a reasonably priced parking lot.

I had plenty of time to note Union Transfer’s layout (three bars!), as Friedberger took the stage about 50 minutes after her advertised start time. Supported by an ace backing band, she played through some easy going soft tunes that bordered on the Fleetwood Mac side of the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum. When the band got to grooving, the tunes were actually quite beautiful, but after a while Friedberger’s songs kind of blurred together for me. She has a tendency to repeat phrases just a little too much (“It’s a critical year / 2010” comes to mind), and several tunes felt too slow. While her latest material has a ’70s vibe, it still felt like an odd choice for pairing with Wild Flag’s looser, louder tendencies.

While there are still some records to look forward to this year, Wild Flag is easily one of the best albums of 2011. It’s fun and loud and awesome. Yet Wild Flag’s live show puts that record to shame. Everything Wild Flag does well in the studio, they do even better live. When Carrie Brownstein, Rebecca Cole, Mary Timony and Janet Weiss came on stage, they proceeded to have a whole lot of fun for 60-plus minutes while rocking faces off. Their tunes were more psychedelic, complemented by all manner of guitar poses ranging from high kicks to windmills. Timony even played behind her head at one point. Weiss and Cole’s cooed backing vocals were spot on throughout. The stage banter was hilarious (“There are so many steps to a stage dive, and they all end in the hospital,” said Brownstein. “This is like a Fugazi show,” responded Dischord alumnus Timony).

With only one 40-minute full-length to their credit, the biggest challenge the fearsome foursome faced in headlining this show was filling time. They certainly met that challenge head on with stage banter, covers (including an excellent take on Television’s “See No Evil” during the two-song encore) and a couple of new tracks. They also jammed the dickens out of the tunes “Glass Tambourine” and “Racehorse.” I wasn’t tracking it, but I’m pretty sure “Racehorse” went on for at least 15 minutes. There were like five guitar solos. The recorded version is just under seven minutes, and it actually sounds a little empty to me now, simply because the band so thoroughly explored its every nook and/or cranny live. Yet for all its freewheeling, rambling quality, “Racehorse” came off as a tightly written piece, with the members locked into each other the whole time. Yeah, it was a long-ass song, but it was a good one, building up and releasing tension several times over. Simply put, the Wild Flag tour needs to be seen by all. The gals are funny and furious in equal measure, and the tunes deliver some fine psychedelia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 10/19/2011


[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 pelonej1@gmail.com with your own big finds!

Records:
Less Than Jake’s Greased (2000 repress) on pink marble, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) on black, and Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) on black.


Place of Purchase: Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel were purchased at Disc World in Conshohocken, Pa. (R.I.P.), while Less Than Jake came from a recent excursion to Shore Things in Ocean City, N.J.

Thoughts: Less Than Jake has stayed with me since my pre-teens. I’m a fan through and through, which means I enjoy the band’s weird detours as much I do the obvious faves like Hello Rockview (Although not even I could defend In With the Out Crowd…). Greased takes the ’90s of ska bands covering pop songs to its breaking point by skanking up the Grease soundtrack. “Summer Nights” kicks the record off admirably, complete with a ska breakdown, and “You’re the One I Want” is super catchy, but over time the songs kind of blur together. Still, there’s something entertaining about two grown men screaming “You’re the one that I want, honey” at each other.

I love Joni Mitchell. I love her classic folk period, obviously, but I also love when she started to drift further into jazz abstraction. In a way, indie rock and even metal owes her a debt for all the weird tunings she came up with over the years. The Hissing of Summer Lawns doesn’t necessarily contain my favorite Mitchell songs of all time (“Case of You,” “Blue”), but it’s still one of my favorites. Whether dishing out a smooth L.A. jam on “In France They Kiss on Mainstreet” or on the futuristic funk of “The Jungle Line” (All I can say is it sounds like Bjork well before her time), Mitchell is something else on Lawns. I understand why some fans didn’t like it, but got-damn do I love this record.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a fascinating record if for no other reason than it’s actually pretty uneven. Sure, it’s got some amazing folk tunes like “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “Homeward Bound.” But there are some astounding clunkers on the flipside, like the pretentious cultural allusions made throughout “The Dangling Conversation” and “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission).” Sometimes the lyrics are way off the mark, even though Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel still hit upon some stellar harmonies. Bridge Over Troubled Water is a better album by miles, but I have more to say about Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

myPod: Ga-Gi


[myPod is a biweekly attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Tom Gabel

In retrospect, Tom Gabel’s 2009 solo EP Heart Burns was an indicator that maybe the Against Me! frontman was maybe losing his judgment of what did and did not sound good in the studio. I’m not even talking about the tunes; all seven tracks on Burns are great in terms of composition. But the first two songs, “Random Hearts” and “Conceptual Paths,” suffer from clunky ’80s-esque production, drum machine and all. Having heard a live bootleg from when Gabel was road-testing the songs, I can say for sure they would have sounded better stripped down. The later tracks on the EP, like “Amputations,” further confirms this. After the first two songs, Burns really takes off as a great Billy Bragg/Bruce Springsteen-indebted politi-punk work.

Verdict: Keep.

Peter Gabriel


Like Talking Heads and Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel occupies a pleasing niche of funky, world music for me without overindulging. The guy wrote some amazing singles after he left Genesis, and for a long time the two-disc best-of Hit was all I needed. You get massive singles like “In Your Eyes,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Sledgehammer,” plus lesser known tunes like “Signal to Noise” and “Father, Son.” Less pleasing is Scratch My Back, the only other Gabriel release I’ve purchased. An orchestral covers record, it manages one amazing interpretation (Elbow’s “Mirrorball”), but otherwise it’s tedious. Gabriel decided not to use guitars or drums for the album, and some of those tunes are just begging for percussion.

Verdict: Keep Hit, sell Scratch My Back.

Garbage


Garbage had a sort of jack-of-all-trades quality. They were kind of alternative, kind of industrial, kind of goth, and while that lack of distinction means I’ve never loved them as much as, say, The Cure or Nine Inch Nails, I still harbor a love for all four of their studio albums. For a long time, my favorite release was the group’s self-titled debut. It’s got some of their biggest hits (“I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl”), and on top of that it’s just such a slinky, sexy affair. Version 2.0 is a little derivative in the lyrics department, but the hooks are still huge. I realized recently that I actually like beautifulgarbage quite a lot, and it might secretly be my favorite Garbage album. It had a wider swath of influences, jumping from Prince to surf rock to electronica from one track to the next while maintaining a surprising amount of cohesion. That record has no duds. I was a huge fan of reunion/swan song Bleed Like Me when it dropped in 2005, but that enthusiasm has gradually dissipated. Still, it’s their most overtly rocking record, with a nice amount of low end and lyrics about sexy sex to propel it. It’s a little heavy on the ballads, but it’s still solid. I never bothered picking up Garbage’s singles, but “Why Do You Love Me” comes with a cover of The Ramones’ “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do,” so…

Verdict: Keep.



Garden
State soundtrack

While the film that spawned it is debatable, the Garden State soundtrack boasts some choice tunes from The Shins, Nick Drake, and Frou Frou. It’s yet another compilation that introduced me to a couple of artists that I’ve chosen to hold on to.

Verdict: Keep.

The Gaslight Anthem


I’ve got a love/hate relationship with The Gaslight Anthem. They’re such a solid American punk band with a classic rock fixation, but my problem is that they pilfer so many moves from other acts. Just as I chide Lady Gaga fans for acting like Madonna never existed, I can’t fully respect TGA for lifting lyrics and styles from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Counting Crows. The more I explored the band’s catalogue, the less interested I got, so much so that I didn’t even bother with American Slang. And yet, I find that I cannot part with SeƱor and The Queen, the stunning concept EP about lovers from yesteryear.

Verdict: Keep.

Gatorface


EMBRACE THE FACE. These Florida punkers write super catchy, fun No Idea-style punk rock for shits/giggles.

Verdict: Keep.



The Get Up Kids


I got into The Get Up Kids a little later than everyone else. They didn’t really come on my radar until Guilt Show, arguably their weakest album, and by that point in my life I was drifting away from pop-punk. My cousin Mike was a huge fan though, so I went with him to see their farewell tour in 2005. Oddly enough, that show made a fan out of me, and I gobbled up the group’s pop-punk/emo/Superchunky first two records, as well as the more acoustic/indie-leaning On a Wire. After Mike and I had a falling out, however, which made it a lot harder to listen to his favorite band.

Then, after he died in 2010, I couldn’t stop listening. Almost every line from every song reminds me of Mike, even the ones that are so clearly written about girls and what-not. “We’re loyal / Like brothers,” “When he lied about intentions / I should have done something,” etc. 2011 saw a new Get Up Kids album, There Are Rules, which I absolutely love for its drone and ambience. It’s a big departure from the band’s amped up angst, but just as great. That said, part of me always comes back Four Minute Mile and Something to Write Home About. Four Minute Mile sounds like ass in terms of production, but the songs take me back to another time.

Verdict: Keep.

Ghost of the Russian Empire


Spacey, psychedelic rock band from Texas. When I first became a staff writer for Punknews.org, their album The Mammoth was the only good record out of a box of maybe 50-70 promos. While I named the album one of my top picks of 2008, I haven’t listen to it since then. I still enjoy the record, but knowing that I went three years without once thinking to put this album on has me rethinking its place on my shelf.

Verdict: Sell.

Gimme Skelter


Man, remember when Buddyhead’s cyberbullying passed for music criticism? While the Web site doesn’t hold much weight with me, their Gimme Skelter compilation does. Hosted by Iggy Pop, who shows up every few tracks to rip off a quick tune, the comp sounds eerily contemporary, even if it is split between ’90s alt-rock acts (Mudhoney, Weezer) and early ’00s garage rock bands that fell apart (Your Enemies Friends, The Icarus Line). Still, it holds up.

Verdict: Keep.



Monday, October 17, 2011

Deleted Scenes - 'Young People's Church of the Air'

With their jittery dance rhythms, Washington, D.C.’s Deleted Scenes recall classic punk acts like XTC and Talking Heads. In application, they recall local heroes like Dismemberment Plan and even contemporary dance outfit High Places. A handful of their songs even recall early Arcade Fire. Pick whichever comparison gets you to start listening. The group’s new album, Young People’s Church of the Air, is a hypnotic, lushly arranged record, eminently danceable yet constantly shifting.

“A Litany for Mrs. T” opens the record with soft noise and coos before drummer Brian Hospital shifts the song into something more propulsive. Each member of Deleted Scenes adds an important element to the songs, but it’s Hospital’s drumming that really decides where a song is going. “A Litany” has certain shoegaze elements – the atmospheric guitar work, the blurred and blended vocals – and these things become more pronounced on track two, “The Days of Adderall.” At the same time, the song adds in more world music rhythms, as if Young People’s was the belated shoegaze response to Graceland.

Generally speaking, the album is a swirling, catchy mess. But from track to track, the band shifts gears as they see fit. “A Bunch of People Who Loved You Like Crazy” opts for heavy layers of noise before abruptly switching to the sleepy acoustic number “Nassau.” At just 39 minutes in length, the record feels epic in scope but still wraps up neatly without overplaying any one style. Still, the most successful tracks are the most danceable. That includes “Burglarizing the Deaf,” given a prime spot on the record by kicking up the energy after chilling out with “Nassau” for a while. “English as a Second Language” has it all though, a funky electronic beat, a catchy chorus and an explosive outro. That one’s “the hit.”

Young People’s is just Deleted Scenes’ second album, but it has such an enticing atmosphere to it by blending together post-punk and shoegaze with indie rock. There’s not a single dud among the 11 tracks. Live, the songs transform to an epic electrical burst. Here, they have a little more nuance, playing up quieter elements and building more tension. Regardless of the volume, though, the tunes are solid.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Maritime and The Life and Times at Johnny Brenda's


With a spiffy new record out this year, Maritime came to Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia Oct. 13 with three goals: Drink some beers, talk about baseball and maybe play the occasional song. The guys were hilarious throughout their hour-plus set, and they even brought along some solid openers in Deleted Scenes and The Life and Times.

First though, the crowd had to get through an awkward bonus set from Victor Villarreal (ex-Cap’n Jazz/Joan of Arc). Villarreal was gearing up for a tour of his own, so he opted to test out some new material with just an acoustic guitar and a tambourine. While his guitar playing was both proficient and often beautiful, Villarreal’s unfamiliarity with his own songs led to a lot of weird stops/starts while he tried to play along with his notebook. People never quite knew when to clap. Dude trotted out a solid cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” though.

Up-and-comers Deleted Scenes kicked things up a notch though. Spastic and electrifying a la XTC and Dismemberment Plan, the band tore at their instruments with a terrifying urgency. Everyone in this band is really good at what they do. Drummer Brian Hospital dropped insane beats with force; the guy really didn’t even need to be miked. Bassist Matt Dowling took on extra duties with back-up vox and keyboards, while Dominic Campanaro opted for just keys ‘n’ guitar. Then there was Daniel Scheuerman. Scheuerman’s guitar playing had a percussive feel to it that gave the group’s indie dance rock some extra grit. As a vocalist, he wasn’t afraid to shriek or cry out in a childlike voice before dropping to a bark. Deleted Scenes took me by surprise and made me a fan of their new record, Young People’s Church of the Air.

To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on The Life and Times. After listening to Deleted Scenes’ angular tunes, TLAT came off as robotic post-rock. Drummer Chris Metcalf sported a Russian Circles shirt, and it’s clear that group is an influence. But the crowd really, really liked them. A couple of people were air drumming. Even more people were head bobbing in unison as the band sliced through one pseudo-shoegaze/indie rock tune after another.

When I think of Maritime, I think lush, atmospheric pop rock. Perhaps inspired by the openers, Maritime instead brought the rock hard. They kicked off their set with “For Science Fiction,” off of 2007’s Heresy and the Hotel Choir, and from then on out they just kept ripping through numbers from across their discography. With the exception of “The Window is the Door” during the encore, the band rarely let up. Frontman Davey von Bohlen was constantly dancing on stage, while drummer/keyboardist Dan Didier amped up the tunes a couple of notches.

They were just as entertaining in between songs, though. von Bohlen has been in a ton of bands (The Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, Vermont), so he’s got experience working crowds. He told jokes and stories while tuning, whether it was discussing the pros and cons of Paul Simon playing “Cecilia” twice in a row live or just dropping baseball commentary. He was also a good listener as well; when a fan called out for “Annihilation Eyes,” off the group’s stellar latest album Human Hearts, von Bohlen chucked the setlist and delivered.

Personally, I was most stoked to hear new material like “It’s Casual” and “Air Arizona” live, although the crowd also went off for older tunes like “Guns of Navarone.” After a 60-minute set and three-song encore, Maritime bowed out to applause and (presumably) more beers ‘n’ baseball.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dum Dum Girls - 'Only in Dreams'

Did… did Dum Dum Girls just make a rockabilly record? Turns out if you scrub off all that lo-fi dirt and add a dash of confidence, DDG was a completely different band altogether. Of course, their taste in producers should have been a clue, as ’60s songwriter Richard Gottehrer and Raveonettes mastermind Sune Rose Wagner are certainly kindred spirits. The preview EP He Gets Me High was another hint. Still, hearing a record go this huge is surprising, and a welcome shift.

Only in Dreams keeps a few of the things that worked on the Girls’ full-length debut, I Will Be, like the haunting vox, searing guitar noise and straightforward music, and drops the rest. The lo-fi hiding is gone. Everything is out in the open and shimmering. This has some drawbacks, as mastermind Kristen “Dee Dee” Gundred’s songs do get repetitive. The worst offender here would be track three, “Just a Creep,” which has little going on beyond repeating the song title and a guitar lick over and over and over. In fact, I think the band only uses like three or four drum beats on the entire record.

But what Dum Dum Girls gain in this trade is far greater. Turns out Gundred has got an amazing set of pipes, and hearing her cut loose on cuts like “Always Looking” or “In My Head” is stunning. Who knew she could cut loose like Neko Case? Just as effective are her ballads; “Hold Your Hand” hits right in the heart. Either way, fans get gorgeous pop songs about missing somebody something fierce. Those poor folks missing the band’s noisier elements should be appeased by cuts like “Teardrops on My Pillow” and “Heartbeat,” though.

While the record is still a couple of cuts short of perfection, Only in Dreams is still a massive improvement over I Will Be, and hopefully a sign of even greater things to come. Between this and He Gets Me High, Dum Dum Girls have a stellar year, one full of reinvention and great tunes.

Tin Armor - 'Life of Abundance'

Blame it on Elvis Costello; ever since Almost Blue, every indie band sooner or later takes a stab at country music. Fortunately, Tin Armor’s alt-country direction on Life of Abundance suits the band quite well. Striking a balance between Wilco’s songwriting and Jackson Browne’s melodies, Life of Abundance is an easy, fun listen.

The title track opens the album on a somber note, however. Over plaintive piano, vocalists John and Matt Umland let out a soulful song about getting by. It’s a beautiful tune bordering on gospel, and kind of a daring way to kick off a rock record. The rest of Abundance is more solidly in the country-rock vein, as track two, “Plain Limbs,” proves. Guitars kick in full force and the drums up the ante, recalling the more energetic tunes from Being There like “Monday.”

As a whole, Life of Abundance is a solid record, but it is a little on the inconsistent side. “Inside Days” and “Just So I Know It,” for example, meander a little bit into the formulaic side. Still, I get the feeling these tunes sound electric live. Especially tracks like “Shake Up” and “Silhouettes” sound like they could be jammed out and explored in full in a concert setting.

Alt-country often falls into the “dad rock” category, and I’m sure my trotting out a Jackson Browne comparison isn’t doing the genre any favors here, but Tin Armor has shown remarkable growth by reaching further back into the music canon. Life of Abundance has the same calming vibes of many a ’70s singer/songwriter record, but it knows enough to ratchet up the energy on occasion too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 10/12/2011

[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. Now that things are unpacked, I might as well talk about my move, through the gift of song. As always, e-mail pelonej1@gmail.com with your own big finds!]

Records: Toi Amos’ Boys For Pele (1996) on clear, Jimmy Eat World’s “Pain” b/w “Shame” (2004) on clear sky blue, and The Meters’ Struttin (1970) on black.

Place of Purchase: I gave Michelle Boys For Pele as a gift. I obtained it through secret means. Jimmy Eat World came from Spaceboy Records in Philadelphia (R.I.P.). The Meters were part of a trade-in with Siren Records in Doylestown.

Thoughts: During the move, some records came to us by chance. Others were clearly going to get massive rotation. Boys For Pele falls in the latter category. It’s one of Michelle’s favorite records, if not her absolute favorite. I find the record to be a little uneven and intense, but got-damn does it sound good on vinyl. It’s Amos at her most unhinged, powered by nothing but harpsichord, drums, and rage. Tunes like “Caught a Light Sneeze” and “Hey Jupiter” are pretty darn intense and rocking. What’s funny about this record is that every time a woman comes out with an experimental pop record, be it Bat For Lashes or Joanna Newsome or even that upcoming Bjork album, people call daring and weird and great. And all I can think is, “None of you have listened to Boys For Pele.”

I’m up to the Js for myPod, in which I try to edit down my music collection by ripping through the whole dang thing. I spent a lot of time during my first week in the house listening to Jimmy Eat World. My emo collection in general is shrinking, and I figured I would cut some more albums here, but I hit a snag with Futures, the first JEW album to come out after the classic run of Clarity and Bleed American. For years, I argued that Futures was an underrated classic. It combines Bleed’s hooks with Clarity’s more luscious arrangements. But I found myself kind of neutral on the record all these years later, and I rarely played it anymore. But something forced me to stick with it. I lived with the album for two days and came out loving it all over again. Futures is a lot angrier than Bleed American, as evidenced by the single “Pain.” The B-side, “Shame,” is a little more giving, and I would gladly have rotated it onto the final album’s tracklisting in place of “Drugs or Me.” Chase This Light is gone, though.

The Meters are a funky, funky band. I like to listen to music when I do just about anything, but especially when I cook. Struttin makes for excellent cooking music. Propelled by “Zigaboo” Modeliste’s freewheeling drumbeats, The Meters could find a groove and make it last for as short or as long as they wanted. Struttin has some choice cuts, like “Go For Yourself” and “Hand Clapping Song,” but I kind of prefer the weirder cuts like “Chicken Strut,” in which the band, funkily, imitates roosters, and “Ride Your Pony,” in which the group is very insistent that you ride that pony right now. This record really helped me figure out how to use an electric stove.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Found Glory - 'Radiosurgery'

At this point, New Found Glory has become a pop-punk institution. They’ve been cranking out tunes about girls and break-ups for over a decade now. They’ve survived the major label death machine. If you get to open for them, you’ve made it. Which is why I’m not so crestfallen by Radiosurgery, the band’s seventh (!!!) studio record. A supposed concept album about the different emotions one goes through during a break-up (I thought that was all of their albums?), Radiosurgery is the second worst NFG record to date, behind the ill-advised pop rock effort Coming Home.

But for a while, it doesn’t seem that way. The first half of Radiosurgery is loaded with bangers sure to go over well live. “Radiosurgery” has a clunker of a chorus lyrically (“I can’t get your face out of my head / It makes my brain hurt”?), but it’s still super catchy. “Anthem For the Unwanted” is loaded with “whoas,” a pop-punk cornerstone, while “Drill It In My Brain” opts for handclaps instead. “I’m Not the One” is standard NFG fare, but it’s still bouncy and fun. “Ready, Aim, Fire!” has an awesome opening guitar riff with a slight Celtic rock quality to it, which is kind of random for NFG, but any artistic growth is better than none.

Then the record just sort of collapses in on itself. “Dumped” tries to get by on “whoas” again, but I only have so many “whoas” to give. Then the record enters creepster territory. “Summer Fling, Don’t Mean a Thing” is a bitter break-up tune directed towards a lady with casual dating preferences. “Caught in the Act,” featuring Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast, flips that bitterness towards desperation. “I’m caught in the act / But for tonight let’s do something that we’re gonna regret” goes the chorus (Is it sex? I think it’s about sex!). There’s something creepy about a band of guys in their early 30s singing this song to crowds likely half their age. Someone save the children.

After another three ho-hum tracks, Radiosurgery mercifully ends. There are enough worthy additions to the band’s live set, but as a whole, it’s a pretty uneven record. What listeners get here is essentially two EPs. One of them is solid (the record’s first half); one of them is embarrassing (the second half).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Plow United - 'Sleepwalk: A Retrospective'

Plow United’s Sleepwalk: A Retrospective is a gift. It combines the band’s three full-lengths with choice rarities and one unreleased song to form a flawless, 34-track compilation. For people just know learning about the seminal Delaware pop-punk group, it’s essential one-stop shopping.

Formed in 1992, Plow United was one of a slew of ’90s punk bands that meant a whole lot to a quite a few people despite a brief run. Their three albums – Plow United, Goodnight Sellout and Narcolepsy – dealt in stellar drumming, distorted guitars and enthusiastically snotty vox. But the band broke up in 1998 just a few years before the Internet made getting exposure for a DIY punk band a whole lot easier. Their releases became legends; per the liner notes for this deluxe re-release, “Now stop selling our records for $70 on eBay.” While they never quite carried the influence of, say, Discount or Avail, Plow United still meant something to a core faithful. With the release of Sleepwalk, it all becomes so obvious why.

There have been bands that I liked casually, that took me years to really dig into, that didn’t quite click for me until I hit a certain age. Then there have been bands that just caught me at the right moment, that made sense in the now, that made me question why I bothered listening to other acts at all. Plow United falls into the latter category. After witnessing the group’s Riot Fest East reunion set, I needed to consume as much recorded material as possible. The songs were that fun.

Of the 34 cuts collected on Sleepwalk, only three surpass the two-minute mark. Plow United did not fuck around when it came to songwriting. The trio of Brian McGee, Sean Rule and Joel Tannenbaum played as fast as they could. The vocals could get pitchy but they were always passionate and hooky regardless. Their output recalls Gilman St. pop-punk a la Mr. T Experience or early Green Day circa the ’90s, but faster and with better drumming. On a more contemporary level, Plow United isn’t quite as different from Iron Chic as one might think.

Track one, “Tour Guide at the Alamo,” is kind of a novelty song at 18 seconds in length, but track two, “Spindle,” is pretty much all you need to hear in order to understand and crave Plow United. Listeners get heartbreak, nasally vocals and propulsive drums condensed into 109 seconds. There are catchier songs for sure – “Reason” and “Dance” pack huge choruses – but “Spindle” is one of those “oh shit I get it now” songs. Yes, there have been tons of pop-punk bands over the years. But Plow United cuts to the essentials. The songs are fast ‘n’ fun. That they’re collected on one shiny compact disc is a nice bonus.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

myPod: Fr-Fu


[myPod is a biweekly attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Franz Ferdinand

I only like one Franz Ferdinand album, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of. I hated the group’s breakthrough eponymous debut; the tunes were so repetitive that they sounded like 30-second jingles stretched out to three minutes. Two years after its release, I’m kind of burned out on the dance-punk of Tonight. You Could Have It So Much Better, however, remains a must-have in my collection. It’s their most muscular record, owing a great debt to The Kinks’ for its sarcasm and brawn.

Verdict: Sell some, keep some.

Freaks and Geeks Original Soundtrack and Score


Maybe I just came of age at the right time, but Freaks and Geeks, the My So-Called Life of my generation, meant a lot to me. I was the same age as Sam Weir when it aired, and I identified with every young character on the show on some level. As soon as the soundtrack dropped, I bought it. While I was already into some of the bands (The Who, Joe Jackson), it also forced me to reconsider artists like Joan Jett and Rush. As a fan, I obviously have a strong emotional attachment to Styx’s “Come Sail Away” thanks to the pilot episode, but my favorite track is probably a sloppy/silly performance of “Jesus is Just Alright With Me” between Nick (Jason Segel) and Millie (Sarah Hagan). It’s really, really cute.

Verdict: Keep.

Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards


Believe it or not, The Bastards are what got me into Rancid. My friend Tim gave me two records for consideration in high school: Rancid (2000) and the self-titled Bastards LP. I wasn’t keen on Rancid (I’ve come around since, but I still prefer the Clash-leaning ’90s records to 2000’s hardcore reboot), but that Bastards record really turned my head and, along with Strike Anywhere, got me to shift away from pop-punk and explore the more discordant side of punk. Bastards has all the hits: “Dead American,” “Campbell, CA,” “Army of Zombies,” “Vietnam”… I could go on. The first album is genius. Viking, on the other hand, not so much. There’s always been a certain amount of fronting in the Rancid comp, but Viking tries too hard to sound tough. It can’t be a coincidence that the album came out not long after rumors started that Frederiksen was gay. Just saying. Anyway, my college roommate Eric and I had a blast making cracks about tunes like “Switchblade.” We both love Bastards unironically, though.

Verdict: BRING ON THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES.



Fridge


Someone sent me a reissue of Fridge’s EPH for free. I think it was No Idea. It’s somewhat experimental post-rock, it’s not bad, and I could see somebody doing a great job rapping over it, but I haven’t listened to this album since I got it and I don’t remember any of the tunes. That’s not a good sign.

Verdict: Sell.

Fugazi


Ian MacKaye has been an idol of mine nearly a decade now. It started with Minor Threat – so primal, so straight edge – but once I heard Fugazi’s 13 Songs, I knew which one of MacKaye’s bands was my favorite. To this day, the first three Fugazi records remain my top three, in order of release. 13 Songs, which is technically an EP collection but whatever, took hardcore, indie rock, and reggae and turned it into what we now call post-hardcore. Whatever you call it, it’s essentially discordant music with rhythm, and that’s exactly what’s missing from most punk bands outside of The Clash. 13 Songs the best Fugazi gateway, if for no other reason than it opens with “Waiting Room.” The tune slinks and snarls. Repeater, released a year later, sounds like a victory lap.

It was with Steady Diet of Nothing that Fugazi started to transform. Diet still has a foot planted in the Songs/Repeater mold, but it’s also slower and more discordant. “Reclamation” has always been my favorite track. It’s a punk mission statement (“These are our demands: We want control of our bodies”) about defining one’s own morality. MacKaye always pushed people to think for themselves, and “Reclamation” is the most direct expression of that sentiment since Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge.”

From there, things get weird. I love Red Medicine, which is uglier, and End Hits, which is more indie, but compared to those first three albums, they don’t get as much play. Same goes for The Argument. It’s the last Fugazi album, and it would sound like a different band altogether if End Hits didn’t serve as a bridge. Argument is a lot quieter and slower, content to explore ambience and rhythm over loudness. It’s undeniably good, though, as is the accompanying EP Furniture + 2. Instrument, an oddities collection meant to supplement a documentary on the band, is the least essential, but it’s still ’gazi. The group wrote of the best tunes of the ’80s and ’90s, self-released them, and then toured the world on their own, well before acts like Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins started doing the same thing on the Internet.

Verdict: Keep.

The Fugees


That’s right; I listen to rippity rappin’ music. The Score is a fine record, one I have celebrated time and again. I’m not going to act like I know squat about diddily here, but The Score is a chill rap record with some big hooks and a massive pop cultural index ranging from martial arts movies to Marvel comics to countless TV shows. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think Lauryn Hill so clearly defines this group, even though at the time folks heaped praise on leader Wyclef Jean.

Verdict: Keep.



Further Seems Forever


I’m always going to be a little emo, but just like with Dashboard Confessional, I think I’ve outgrown Chris Carrabba’s other band. Too many slow tunes; not enough pep.

Verdict: Sell.

Future Soundtrack for America


Long ago, in the year 2004, I really, really hated President George W. Bush. That hate has always kind of stayed with me, but 2004 meant a lot to me, given that it was the first election I could vote on. My vote didn’t get much done, but I still show up at St. Helena’s every time, hoping to balance out all the wealthy, white Republicans. Anyway, in 2004, there were two compilations released that I hoped would help motivate lazy young people to “rock” the “vote.” One was the two-part series Rock Against Bush; the other was Barsuk Records’ Future Soundtrack for America. It didn’t work, but at least I got some quality tunes courtesy of Jimmy Eat World, Nada Surf, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sleater-Kinney (They actually double-dipped on the comp-only “Off With Your Head” for Future and Rock Against Bush). While roughly half of the comp is of the dull indie/folk variety, there are enough original contributions that I feel compelled to hold on to this disc. That, and my hate.

Verdict: Keep.





NEXT TIME: G is for... good hardcore, girl-fronted alt-rock bands, and glorious side projects.

regarding my return with fists.


Picasso Blue is back, motherfucker. My fiancee and I moved into a house last weekend, and it's almost like a home now. I've got an office and a desk and some fast Internets. My record collection is alphabetized and my clarity is strong.

Also I'm taking over as Reviews Editor for Punknews.org.

But more importantly, I have a house for me and my girl. It's spacious and has a kitchen and a murder basement and we live here now. Big thanks to my friends and family for helping us move all of our stupid-heavy belongings.

Now let's make with the music obsession.

Also, here's a picture of my friend Nick from the move:


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

regarding the passage of time.

Picasso Blue is on hiatus. I want to call it a sabbatical because I think that word sounds better, but I won't be away for that long. Turns out my house is ready to go, so my fiancee and I will be signing the lease tomorrow and thus begin the horrible experience of moving. I'll be back once I have Internet and everything is unpacked. I've got a special announcement to make too.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Red Bull Riot Fest East at the Festival Pier

In theory, Red Bull’s Riot Fest East Sept. 24 at Philadelphia’s Festival Pier should have been a perfect punk festival. Acts spanning punk’s origins (X, Descendents) up through the latest up-and-comers (Menzingers, Larry and His Flask) shared two stages, with the set times designed to allow concertgoers to catch at least part of every performance. In application, Riot Fest East was more like Warped Tour for grown-ups, replete with dubious sound, overpriced food, and corporate sponsors galore. That’s not to say the day was a bore – there were some mighty fine sets performed throughout – but it wasn’t exactly a perfect day either.

While the pier offered two stages to cut down on set-up times, they were not equal. West Stage, which really was the main stage of the day, was outdoors. The sound quality got worse the closer you got to the stage, as the sound guy really wanted to make sure people could hear the low end in the back. East Stage was located inside a hot ‘n’ sweaty tent, which cut down on crowd capacity, meaning every band from Menzingers (3:40 p.m.) through X (9:10 p.m.) kind of got the shaft. If you weren’t within the first, say, 20 rows of bodies to catch Hot Water Music or Samiam, you did not see a good show, as the speakers and acoustics were crap. Getting closer meant getting a whole lot more guitar noise in the ears, but at least the energy came through.

But the line-up was still great. No offense to festival openers the Heels, but my day didn’t start until the Holy Mess took to the East Stage at 2:40 p.m. The group ripped through a funny, sloppy set of feel-good punk tunes in the vein of Lawrence Arms and Lifetime. All the hits from their recently released EP compilation cropped up (“I Think Corduroy is Making a Comeback,” “A Soulful Punk Tune About a Working Class Dreamer”), as well as a couple of new tunes from a forthcoming full-length. The new material has a heavier sound to it, especially the unreleased track the band closed with. It’s a great direction for the band to pursue all the same. While the Holy Mess sometimes got a little too sloppy, even by punk standards, they still certainly entertained. I know the kid with the shiny new THM ice cream tattoo was stoked.

The Holy Mess essentially kicked off a string of sweet, coveted sets. The Menzingers generally stuck to their most excellent sophomore effort, Chamberlain Waits, although older tunes like “Sunday Drive” and “A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology” made appearances. Right now, the Menzingers are the best band in Philadelphia and, next to maybe Banner Pilot and the Flatliners, the most promising punk band in the freaking world. Their cover of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” used to just sound cool; now it sounds prophetic. The crowd sang along with every word, and watching the members dance and writhe on stage left me ecstatic.



Meanwhile, on the West Stage, some reunited bands from yesteryear were flubbing it up. Weston, Excitebike and Naked Raygun played limp sets while Samiam, 7 Seconds and Suicide Machines wrecked crowds in that stupid tiny tent. Simply put, the organizers should have swapped out this entire chunk of the show; they would have gotten better results. Nobody puts Hot Water Music in a corner.

The first truly revelatory band to take to the West Stage was the reunited Plow United, and I didn’t even know anything about them before they played. PU dropped three apparently crucial underground records in the ’90s, avidly fought major label support systems and then broke up in 1998. Thirteen years later, the group reunited specifically to play Riot Fest East, which apparently got the ball rolling on their complete discography getting remastered and a new album being written. Bands like Excitebike belong to their era and should be left there; Plow United chose a pretty darn good time to come back and teach the masses about punk rock. Their tunes were short and sweet, crammed with all sorts of spastic movements. The banter was witty (and even, in a truly controversial move, critical of venue sponsors Miller Light!). They even brought out Exene Cervenka from X to play a country song, because why not. Plow United clearly appreciated the big turnout, and I immediately picked up Sleepwalk: A Retrospective soon after.

The lone downside to catching Plow United’s set, encore and all, was that I pretty much forfeited any chance of seeing Hot Water Music from a reasonable distance. I’m sorry, America. But they played “Trusty Chords” and “Wayfarer.” It sounded OK from 100 yards away.

After HWM ended, I skipped out on Dead Milkmen (never meant that much to me) and camped out for X. The oldest band on the bill, X pretty much wrecked all comers. The crowd loved it too, going off completely while X played through its debut record Los Angeles in its entirety. While guitarist Billy Zoom had some technical issues (cut out during “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” then way too loud for the rest of the show), X as a whole was still incredibly tight and aggressive.

I know women (“female-identified” if you please) in pits have sparked a lot of debate in the punk community (They should know what they’re getting into! But they shouldn’t have to fear for their lives at a communal event! But my version of punk rock is superior to your version of punk rock!), and I’m not going to pretend that I can encapsulate the entire conversation in this article, but I will say this: The chicks who came out to see X are really fucking tough, and I have the bruises to prove it. One girl punched me in the head just because she loved “Nausea” that much. Even though I was wearing glasses!

This instance of gender equality suited X’s co-ed lineup. A good crowd bore witness to good music. This is where the night should have ended.

But wait, the Descendents were headlining. After getting my heart and my ass handed to me by X’s bleak urban character studies and menacing music, Descendents came off a little tame. Blame it on the fart jokes. Or when frontman Milo Aukerman’s voice started to give out. Maybe even blame his kids for coming out to sing on an extended version of “All-O-Gistics.” But the ’dents’ were too dull. And I think the crowd agreed to an extent. Plow United came out for an encore because the fans demanded it; few people cheered for Descendents to play one until they were already back on stage. Still, I got to hear “Suburban Home” and “I’m the One” live.

Riot Fest East lacked intimacy. It also lacked a decent sound system. But it brought together a ton of bands from punk rock’s history. Some, like Naked Raygun, need to break up again. But then you get the Holy Mess, Menzingers, Plow United and X. Now there’s a solid bill. Just spare me the $7 pizza.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do We Jump This High? - 'Funny/Not Funny'

With a melodic punk bent akin to Bridge and Tunnel and Latterman, How Do We Jump This High? packs four pretty darn fun songs into their new seven-inch Funny/Not Funny despite some bummer lyrics. While the musicians add in the occasional post-hardcore flourish, for the most part, this is catchy not-quite-pop-punk bordering on ’90s emo.

“En Route” kicks off the seven-inch with a rousing round of regret. Turns out the narrator misses somebody something fierce, but the chorus begs for some gang vox live. So hey, take it easy guy. “Potential” is more sad sackery, this time reflecting on a town that’s slowly dying near the end of a year. It gets a little maudlin at times – “I’m indicted for everything I gave up on” – but there’s still a driving drum beat and throaty vox to carry the song along.

The B-side offers two more songs in a similar fashion. “The Greats” is about missing someone (again) and “Migraines” is about being disappointed in oneself (again). Clearly, Funny/Not Funny is the feel-good hit of the year. But then, the name should let you know that. How Do We Jump This High? The answer is moon shoes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Patton Oswalt - 'Finest Hour'

Once at the forefront of what could be called nerd rage-style comedy, stand-up Patton Oswalt has gradually shed his pop cultural ironies in favor of studying human nature. Where he used to greet the world with cynicism, now he just laughs at all the little idiosyncrasies that make us human. Part of that transition has come with age; Oswalt also recently became a parent. But while these factors hampered Oswalt’s 2009 record My Weakness is Strong, they boost his latest effort, Finest Hour.


Oswalt is the comedian who made me view stand-up as an art form. He’s not the first comic I’ve ever loved (Dana Carvey) and he didn’t release my first comedy CD (“Weird” Al Yankovic’s Bad Hair Day), but his influence has set a benchmark for what I seek from joke tellers. Yes, I look for laughs just like everyone else, but following Oswalt through the random segues of his storytelling are just as fun as the punchlines. He is a bizarre sort of anecdotal comedian, and Finest Hour nearly lives up to its title.

For the most part, Finest Hour is hilarious. I thought for sure Louis C.K. had best comedy record of 2011 wrapped up, but I’m not sure anymore. On top of that, the differences between C.K. and Oswalt are narrowing. Both are sarcastic dads chronicling the ridiculous little events of existence. C.K. is just a lot darker, and that’s what might give Oswalt an edge.

Here, Oswalt drops tale after tale with warmth, whether extolling the virtues of sweatpants once you have kids or breaking down romantic comedies (“Every movie should just be called Trying to Fuck). Even when he drops the occasional critical evaluation, it’s less a move towards anger than it is a plea for sanity. When Oswalt returns to/finishes his years-long condemnation of fast food in general and KFC in particular, he argues for a return to logic while still pointing out his own shortcomings. Finest Hour doesn’t single anyone out, and in doing so pokes fun at humanity in general.

While Finest Hour is Oswalt’s most mature record yet, it does sag in spots. Some of the stand-up is an exercise in squeezing out every last riff on a topic. Sometimes it pays off (an extended bit about singing to oneself in the car goes from funny to strange to funny), but sometimes it just goes to weird places for weirdness’ sake without a real ending (“The Ham Incident”). Some bits get more applause than laughter (Every comic’s worst fear). But at 75 minutes, the set could be forgiven for dipping occasionally in quality. After all, this is Oswalt. The dude has been outshining other comics for years, partially because he takes chances on his jokes. After the somewhat middling results of Big Fan and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, it’s great to hear Oswalt get back to his strength: stand-up.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

regarding R.E.M.


After 31 years together, venerable alternative act R.E.M. is breaking up. In a way, the dissolution makes sense; the band is going out after reclaiming their critical glory on Accelerate and Collapse Into Now. Before those albums, the band was on a decade-long creative slide. On a more personal note, the band had also become just a tad irrelevant to me. Call it the curse of being an early favorite; I absorbed and progressed from R.E.M. early in my music collecting. Yet I still mourn the band’s passing all the same.

Let’s be clear, R.E.M.’s break-up is a solid move. They’ve been together a long-ass time, and as far as I’m concerned, their last good album was 1994’s Monster. But there’s still that feeling of finality. Because it’s one thing to think a band should call it a day and another for them to actually retire. And R.E.M. is arguably one of the biggest cult bands of all time. They’re one of the pillars of indie rock. You can hate all of their songs, but your life would be emptier without their influence.

My R.E.M. fandom falls into a weird space. Like many a youth in the ’90s, I knew the band for a handful of singles (“Losing My Religion,” “Orange Crush”) before I actually comprehended the band as a whole. When I got to high school in the early ’00s, I began investigating the group, along with other indie acts that made bank like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. But I was never keen on their underground early successes. Yeah, I dug “Radio Free Europe,” but I was, and remain, only kind of interested in Murmur. The hippest of the hip will tell you to get the first three records, but my trilogy is a different, more commercial one: Green, Out of Time, Automatic For the People. It’s not cool to prefer those records, but they sold huge numbers for a reason, got-dammit.

While Monster and Accelerate tried to be harder, Green is actually R.E.M.’s best strictly rock record. You get hits like “Pop Song 89,” “Stand,” and “Orange Crush.” They’re a little left of the dial, but not so much that it kept the album from going double-platinum. Out of Time is more of a hodgepodge. It’s pop-minded (“Shiny Happy People,” and ya know what, I like “Radio Song” with KRS-One), but it also mines these intense emotional depths (“Losing My Religion,” “Texarkana.” Automatic For the People would take that even further, committing its entirety to a rumination of health and innocence. Yeah, “Everybody Hurts” is thoroughly cheesy, but did you write “Nightswimming?” No you fucking didn’t, so shut your fucking mouth.

Automatic is R.E.M.’s finest moment, and that’s perhaps the only thing Rolling Stone and I have ever agreed on. But from there, the band struggled to find a new direction. Monster tried to take on the already fading grunge movement. New Adventures in Hi-Fi just kind of existed. It wasn’t until 2004’s Around the Sun that the band started to show life again, dropping another soft-rocker akin to Automatic. I think I’m the only person who liked that record, but from the wistfulness of “Leaving New York” and “Last Straw.” Yeah, the band has since disowned the record, but sometimes artists aren’t the best at judging their own work.

For me, Sun should have been the last R.E.M. album. Partially because I couldn’t get behind the retreads of Accelarate or Collapse, but also because 2004 is the last time I truly cared about R.E.M. I was a freshman in college, and yet that’s when I stopped listening to college rock. All of R.E.M.’s supposed strengths – the cryptic, mumbled lyrics, the jangly guitar – started to fade from view. Instead, I found artists who really spoke to me on an emotional level: I started to really pay attention to artists like The Cure and The Mountain Goats, whom I had loved but not truly explored. I got back into punk rock. I went through an ill-advised hip-hop phase. Seven years later, I find that I rarely listen to R.E.M.

But I still have a stack of their albums. And I intend to listen to every last one of them in memoriam.