Thursday, July 28, 2011

mPod: En-Ex

[myPod is a biweekly attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod. This installment comes a week early, as Picasso Blue is gonna be on vacation for the first half of August.]


During my senior year of college, I interned with City Paper in Philadelphia for a semester. Most of my writing consisted of brief event summaries, but every so often I got to write something more creatively satisfying. I was also privy to a huge stack of promo CDs that Nate Adams (Science Club/ex-The Percentages) would raid weekly. Most of it was crap, but every so often I’d dig up a treasure like Avail or Envy. At the time, I didn’t quite appreciate Envy’s Abyssal, as I had drifted away from harder music at that point. I started getting into metal after college, though, which led me to the Japanese post-hardcore group’s splits with Thursday and Jesu. Envy bested them both. By 2010’s Recitation, I was hooked on the group’s epic, album-length quiet/loud tension and passion. While I’m unsure about checking out the group’s pre-Abyssal work – they’ve been together almost 20 years – I still love what I’ve heard so far.

Verdict: Keep.


In high school, Epoxies’ retro-leaning punk/new wave revival floored me. Plus, they came recommended by Mitch Clem himself. That said, I just realized I haven’t listened to this band in about five years.

Verdict: Sell.

The Ergs!

One day, The Ergs! will be acknowledged as one of the greatest pop-punk bands of all time, and I’m going to lead the campaign to get them there. While my introduction to the band came via the Ben Kweller and 3 Guys, 12 Eyes EPs, it was Dorkrockcorkrod that solidified my fandom. This band burst with catchy tunes about break-ups and failure. While they only released two proper full-lengths (Dork and Upstairs/Downstairs), their output goes way beyond that, as the rarities collection Hindsigh is 20/20, My Friend attests. And it’s not just me; my fiancée is a fan as well, and she doesn’t even really like pop-punk.

Part of what made The Ergs! great was their musical prowess. The trio obviously had musical interests beyond pop-punk, and their love of jazz and country informed their songwriting. The Ergs! dabbled with different sounds while still maintaining an ooey, gooey pop-punk center. They also played some sweet covers; check out their interpretations of Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” and Nirvana’s “Blew” sometime.

I was lucky enough to catch The Ergs! live twice, and both times I raided their merch table for new tunes. Considering their steadily building post-humus discography, I’m still scrambling. Go listen to “Introducing Morrissey” right now.

Verdict: Keep.


While their brief existence only yielded a single EP, Error was something of a super group, featuring Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails), Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion), and Guy Picioto (Dillinger Escape Plan). The result was an industrial band somewhere between NIN and Prodigy. For a while in high school, this was the weirdest album in my collection, but I haven’t put this on in a long, long time.

Verdict: Sell.

Even in Blackouts

I know the last couple bands discussed are getting sold off simply because I don’t listen to them anymore, and while that’s also true for Even in Blackouts, I’ve decided to hold on to Myths & Imaginary Magicians. This project has forced me to rediscover this acoustic pop-punk act featuring Jughead from Screeching Weasel. The record is just super catchy, and they do great covers of SW and Operation Ivy. Also, I just learned they put out a bunch of albums after Myths, so I might check those out.

Verdict: Keep.

The Evens

Ian MacKaye pretty much gets carte blanche with me, but I, like a lot of MacKaye fans, pretended to like The Evens more than I really did back when they were in full force. The acoustic duo of MacKaye and Amy Farina has some neat tunes, but their tunes kind of blur together after a while. RIYL Nick Drake and Ani DiFranco, but bring back Fugazi, please.

Verdict: Sell.


For a while, Everclear chronicled the ups and downs of suburban sprawl (decaying neighborhoods, drugs, divorces) in an alt-rock style that bordered on pop-punk. Then they ran out of stuff to say and settled for cloying covers (“Brown Eyed Girl,” “The Boys are Back in Town”) and vacuous “things used to be better” slights (“Volvo Driving Soccer Mom,” “AM Radio”). The band certainly wrote some great tunes, but their song selection is maddeningly uneven to the point that I just don’t know why I own it. There’s some truly great stuff on here (“Strawberry,” “Heroin Girl”) but the majority is overproduced radio rock schlock.

Verdict: Sell.

The Extra Lens/The Extra Glenns


Martial Arts Weekend and Undercard are both pretty good. Not up to TMG’s level, but you get to hear John Darnielle spin some more tales about failure and sex. Highlight: The jazzy piano tune “Memories” from MAW, which boasts the honest come-on “Will you let me see / Your naked body?” for a chorus. Righteous.

Verdict: Keep.

NEXT TIME: F is for... far out pop tunes, fast punk bands, and fuggin' Fugazi.

Bob Mould - 'See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody'

Celebrity autobiographies are a tricky thing for the writer and the reader. Celebrities too private to reveal the good stuff – the dirt, the failures, the deepest lows – yield uninteresting books. Sometimes they namedrop too much, producing chapter after chapter of braggadocio. But then, every so often, fans get something really worth reading. Bob Mould’s tell-all, the Michael Azerrad-assisted See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, is such a find.

Admittedly, my interest in Mould’s work, at least before picking up this book, was in his seminal ’80s hardcore band Hüsker Dü. I’m a huge fan, and a big part of that comes from Mould’s barking vocals and demonic, otherworldly guitar work. Before My Bloody Valentine and Jawbreaker, there was Hüsker Dü, effortlessly churning out one guitar squall after another. Yet Mould’s years in Hüsker Dü occupy maybe 100 of the book’s 389 pages. But any fan of the band is going to be satisfied with those 100 pages. You get the band’s genesis (Mould met drummer Grant Hart at a record store), the early punk days, the artistic breakthroughs, the major label deals, and the inevitable drug-fueled fallout. All the controversial stuff (Bad Brains’ homophobic attacks, Hart’s drug addition, heck, even the time Joan Rivers accused them of selling out) gets picked through in a matter-of-fact fashion. So do the big creative moments and the glory days.

By his own admission, Mould is an intense, straightforward guy, and his writing reflects that. He tries to get the facts right as best he can, even if it means making himself look like the bad guy on occasion. But I’d be surprised if I found out he held anything back, but everything, from his father’s alcoholism to his own drug battles, comes out. Failed relationships, bad decisions, and songwriting snafus all get discussed. Mould holds very little back.

Which is why it’s such a compelling read, even after Hüsker Dü breaks up. Mould has remained a wealthy artist thanks to smart spending and consistent output, and reading about the ’90s, with the success of Sugar and his solo material, is just as good at the Dü days. The ‘00s deal extensively with Mould’s love life, which is where his openness really pays off. See, Mould spent most of his life covering up his homosexuality, but after getting outed by Spin, he started really dealing with that meant. He immersed himself in gay culture and figured out who he was. As far as I’m concerned, dude’s still pretty punk in his fifties, but the journey he took toward reconciling these different aspects of his personality is inspirational reading for anyone who’s ever felt out of place, regardless of sexual orientation.

This quality plays well with Mould’s conversational approach to writing. He frequently breaks from past tense to give play-by-play notes on some of the weirdest, funniest, and most fucked up moments in his life, putting the reader right in the scene. He also talks about hanging out with legends like Black Flag and Pete Townsend like a music fan. Yeah, some of the chapters bum me out (Mould doesn’t think two highly of my two favorite Hüsker Dü albums, Zen Arcade and Candy Apple Grey), but I also relate to this honesty. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the later works of artists like Blake Schwarzenbach and Davey von Bohlen of Jawbreaker and The Promise Ring, respectively. Those two artists are judged mostly by the music they created in their early twenties, even though their later material turns out to be just as good as I get older and my tastes evolve. I guess what I’m saying is that even the sections of See a Little Light that let me down are still illuminating.

I’m interested to see what audiences think of the book. As a music fan, I think it’s essential reading, but the book deals with homosexuality just as much as it does with Hüsker Dü. I think the LGBTQ community might get a kick of this book. And if it gets ’em into Hüsker Dü, that’s good too.

Big Business - 'Quadruple Single'

Hot diggity dang, it must be fun being in Big Business. The core duo of bassist/frontman Jared Warren (ex-Tight Bros From Way Back When, which I’m only mentioning because I love the name) and Coady Willis (ex-Murder City Devils) write catchy, sludgy numbers with funny names like “Stareadactyl.” They also joined their favorite band, The Melvins, just because. On top of that, they get to look like a couple of cool guys on stage, with Warren rocking an afro and Willis sporting a Tommy Lee set-up (drumming gloves ‘n’ a headset) behind the kit. Life is good.

And life can be good for you too, if you exchange currency for the band’s new Quadruple Single, a self-released rocker with a penchant for awesomeness. Folks get four tunes on 12-inches of clear orange vinyl (with a digital download, if you roll that way). The packaging is pretty neat too. I mean, the lion on the cover has a sweatband! Hilarious! The labels on the record itself look custom-made with sharpies. I’ve got the band’s name written in black ‘n’ gold on the A side and a puking ghost on the B.

Quadruple Single isn’t just a great visual addition to any home, though. It’s also a sonic journey through the workings of the heart. I think. I don’t know. “Guns” is about how guns are awesome (Sample quote: “Guns! Guns! Guns are better than everything else!”). The lyrics are a little hard to decipher, but I do detect some quality jams occurring. Willis provides supple backbeats, and he really gets to show off on some of the intros. Warren is his typical shouty self, but his low end sure knows how to get down. Guitarist Scott Martin (and, presumably, guitarist Toshi Kasai, who’s sitting out the band’s current tour) brings some nice atmosphere to the arrangement, like on the droning outro to “Ice-Cold War.”

So you see, friends and relatives, Big Business is a must-have for anyone who enjoys fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 7/27/2011

[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. As always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight single (2008) on picture disc, Have Heart’s Songs to Scream at the Sun (2008) on white, and Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes (1972) on black.

Place of Purchase:
Have Heart and Dark Knight were rescued from the bargain bin at Hot Topic. HOOP DREAMZ was part of a triple-vinyl deal on eBay.

Thoughts: I am all about Hans Zimmer, especially when he works with my man Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Inception). There’s a featurette on the Dark Knight DVD where you get to watch Zimmer’s process, and the guy is insane. He takes old metal scraps and leather whips and glass and turns it into music. This two-track single doesn’t capture the full majesty of the score, but it looks super cool and delivers the best track of the composition, “Why So Serious?” A sort of theme for the Joker, the song is just all over the place, perfectly capturing the insanity and destruction the Joker causes all over Gotham City. It’s a little on the experimental side, but gloriously so. The other cut, “I am the Batman,” is a whisper of a song. It’s a little disappointing – “Batman” is more of a segue than a proper song on to itself – but “Why So Serious?” still holds up.

Have Heart crossed my path just as they were breaking up, which bums me out. I would have loved to hear this Massachusetts hardcore band rip through “The Same Son” live. What I love about the record is that it balances Paint It Black’s skull-crushing, primal attack with, say, Crime in Stereo’s ethereal post-hardcore flourishes. I’m sure a thousand hXc fanboys just winced at that comparison, but whatever. Point is, go listen to Songs. Shit rips.

I’m a huge David Bowie fan. I even have the Labyrinth soundtrack. Once I more or less completed my Bowie collection (or so I think… I keep picking up the occasional odd ‘n’ end), I dove into his various personal projects from the early ’70s, when he opted to produce all of his favorite artists. While I was already a big Stooges fan by this point, I was still surprised and amazed by Bowie’s work on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust for Life. Same goes for Lou Reed’s Transformer. But my favorite of the bunch was Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes. While not the best Hoople album (My pick: the uber-pop-leaning The Hoople), Dudes is probably the best gateway record, even though it’s two best tunes weren’t written by the band. Bowie penned “All the Young Dudes,” a love letter to glam rock, specifically because he wanted the Hoople to have a hit. The other knockout is the group’s interpretation of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” I’ll argue it’s the penultimate version with any hipster any day.

Les Demoniaques - 'Teenage Lust'

My first impression of Les Demoniaques’ cover of Jesus & Mary Chains’ “Teenage Lust” was, “Why?” A side project from shoegaze vocalist Tamaryn and Dum Gum Girls leader Dee Dee Penny, the cover is pretty much in line with what the two artists have achieved separately. Further pushing the question is the physical release. Rather than vinyl, the duo went with an etched postcard, a format that’s physical but much more susceptible to wear and tear.

So what I have is a picture of boobs that I paid $5.99 for. Granted, it’s a limited edition printing of boobs with only 1,000 copies in existence, no represses, but it’s still just boobs. Boobs, boobs, boobs.


Yet while I can argue for the inessential nature of this 45, I still have to admit that Les Demoniaques do a great job with “Teenage Lust.” It’s appropriately got that acoustic shoegaze quality folks expect from JAMC, but with cooing female vocals to lend it a whole new kind of haunting grace. The guitars and lyrics glide by, intertwined. It’s appropriately spooky for a quasi-goth band named after a ’70s horror movie. Granted, folks might be better off just finding the digital version, as it’s more environmentally friendly, but the point is that they’re listening. Dum Dum Girls’ next full-length, Only in Dreams, is due in September. While I expect great fuzz-pop things from that group, hopefully Les Demoniaques will evolve into a more substantial act in its own right, something a little more ethereal but just as enchanting.

Monday, July 25, 2011

regarding Amy Winehouse.

Amy Winehouse died over the weekend. The resulting mockery has struck me as weird and insensitive. I'll admit that even I cracked a couple of jokes over it (Junky singer dies a junky death at 27? Who would have thought?), but for a singer with such a slim discography, people sure are determined to rip her to shreds. I blame "Rehab;" if Winehouse hadn't been so frank about her drug use, maybe people wouldn't be so set on mocking her passing.

But then, Winehouse easily spent more time in the limelight as an object of ridicule than adoration. In the four years since her breakthrough sophomore record Back to Black, Winehouse made news as a professional fuck-up, not as a musician. Other artists took her knack for controversy (Lady Gaga) and retro-soul (Duffy) and forged more stable careers. The world moved on, occasionally bringing up the latest Winehouse debacle (bad implants, bad romances, bad habits) for laughs.

Personally, I feel bad for Winehouse and her family. Drug addiction is like a kind of cancer; it goes into remission but it lingers, waiting to come back. I'm not going to pretend I suddenly care about her music - despite my sudden love of '70s soul, I'm still a punk writer - but I certainly still mourn the passing of another human being.

I doubt the last years of her life were good. I hope she's now at peace.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 7/20/2011

[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. Since I’m currently reading Bob Mould’s autobiography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, this week’s installment is all about Hüsker Dü. As always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record (1982), Metal Circus (1983), and New Day Rising (1985), all on black.

Place of Purchase: Land Speed Record
and New Day Rising both came from Siren Records in Doylestown. Metal Circus was purchased at Repo Records in Philadelphia.

Thoughts: My love of Hüsker Dü took time to build. I picked up Zen Arcade when I was maybe 19 years old, and while I appreciated the dissonance, it wasn’t until a few years later that I really started to fall in love. But once things clicked, I fell hard, and started snapping up Hüsker Dü releases at a rapid clip. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t. To be honest, Land Speed Record is one of the less essential Hüsker Dü records. Consisting of two live sets, the fidelity is debatable. Considering it’s an indie live record from the ’80s, it’s just a notch or two above bootleg status. But it captures the band during their most primal punk phase

If you want to know where to start with Hüsker Dü, though, I’d argue for Metal Circus being a good starting point. That’s when the band started evolving beyond simple hardcore speed. While the group hadn’t quite hit the expansive dissonance of Zen Arcade yet, they were nearly there, as tunes like “Diane” and “Real World” attest. Mould already had his signature guitar sound in place – with just a few tweaks, he was able to create this monolithic, otherworldly noise that just devastates me. He gets one of my all-time favorite guitar tones, alongside My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Jawbreaker’s Blake Schwarzenbach, and reading his breakdown of how to get there on See a Little Light is amazing. He makes this incredible, unique music seem like the easiest thing to make.

Once you get on board with Metal Circus, you can either dive headfirst into Zen Arcade, or you could take a detour through New Day Rising. Zen Arcade is both Hüsker Dü’s best and most difficult record, and New Day Rising streamlines all the noise into something ever so slightly more mainstream. While it’s not as pop-oriented as Candy Apple Grey, their major label debut, New Day Rising is the record that got the band a record contract with Warner Bros. As a double album, Zen Arcade has a certain amount of sprawl. Granted, New Day Rising is 16 tracks deep, but it still shows a greater emphasis on melody, something the band would develop even further on Flip Your Wig (which Warner Bros. nearly put, but the band opted to give to SST as a farewell present) and Grey. In that sense, it might be the best gateway, as it represents all of the band’s styles at once. It’s a little hardcore in spots, it shows glimmers of what became alternative rock, and it even gets shoegaze-y on occasion.

Big Business and Torche at the First Unitarian Church

Welp, that was loud. Big Business, Torche and Helms Alee dropped a metric ton of sludge rock on Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church Tues., July 19. For all the muddled low end, though, each band brought a different aspect to the style, resulting in a show that never got tiresome and certainly kept the crowd up in arms (Relatively speaking; outside of Big Business, people didn’t really move around all that much).

Washington’s Helms Alee opted to kick off the show by being the loudest band. It was loud when guitarist Ben Verellen (ex-These Arms are Snakes) plugged in. When drummer Hozoji Margullis started tearing through her kit in a tribal/metal fit, it got louder. But when bassist Dana James finally brought the low end, that’s when my molecules starting rearranging. Helms Alee is a power trio for sure, and no one element could truly take precedence over the rest, but James’ bass sure did kick my ass.

Helms Alee got a good reaction from the crowd; Torche got a great one, and it became clear which band the audience was most excited to see. But to be honest, it was a little awkward transitioning from Helms Alee’s co-ed tech sludge to Torche’s brand of metal, which somehow manages to be both more drone- and more power metal-oriented at the same time. It took my ears a second or two to adjust all the 4/4 going on, but it wasn’t long before I was on board with “the hits” from Meanderthal and last year's most excellent Songs For Singles, just like everyone else.

Despite a slight reduction in crowd size following Torche’s set, headliner Big Business still played the best overall. They were funny (“Let’s harvest our body heat for energy!”), they were rocking and top of that, drummer Coady Willis sported a sweet headset mic/drumming gloves combo. Helms Alee and Torche didn’t interact much with the crowd, but Big Business bassist/vocalist Jared Warren was all about sharing mic duties with the fans, occasionally dipping into the crowd to spread the rock around. The group played a solid set that drew from all three albums, as well as their new self-released effort, Quadruple Single.

While the sound in the Church basement was a bit muddled, that actually suited the musical style, allowing the dissonance the three bands favor to be cultivated even further. Clearly, everyone in attendance was satisfied, and the merch tables were flooded after the show ended. It was loud, but a good kind of loud.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ghost Robot Ninja Bear - 'Ghost Robot Ninja Bear'

Considering he broke up Nakatomi Plaza due to feeling burned out, Oscar A. Rodriguez sure has kept busy musically. Last year saw the debut of two new projects, Ludlow Lions and the awesomely titled Ghost Robot Ninja Bear. This year brings a delivery on GRNB’s promising two singles; Ghost Robot Ninja Bear is yet another solid post-hardcore effort from Rodriguez.

While Ludlow Lions were an artistic departure for Rodriguez, he certainly seems determined to keep Nakatomi Plaza’s sound alive with GRNB. This self-titled effort recalls plenty of NP’s elements – pounding drums and shredding guitars abound, and ex-NP bassist/vocalist Al Fair even shows up on “Obviously Midnight.” I have mixed feelings about Rodriguez pursuing his signature sound without his old bandmates, but he’s not the first artist to do so. Besides, Ghost Robot Ninja Bear rips.

“The Curtain Call” opens the eight-track collection, and it’s a fitting introduction. Guitarists Rodriguez and Jordan Melkin power through huge, chunky riffs with all the urgency they can muster before Rodriguez lets off another one of his high quality guitar solos, switching from soaring ‘n’ melodic to discordant and angry at will. “Watching Me Watching You,” however, dials down that energy ever so slightly for a more indie/post-punk dance vibe, something Nakatomi Plaza never quite pursued.

Indeed, while half of the album repeats the Plaza formula, Ghost Robot Ninja Bear still slips in a few tracks that play with the formula, such as the slower, more atmospheric “I Can’t Decide.” Granted, that track is then followed by “Last Time We Talked” and the Private Property-ish “Pilots,” which are real romper stompers, but there’s still some variety.

Closing cut “Obviously Midnight,” originally by Scarce, comes of a little like “The Finish Line,” the last track on Nakatomi Plaza’s swansong Ghosts, at least sonically, so it makes sense for Fair to show up with her old songwriting partner again. But as much as it looks back to Nakatomi Plaza, it’s still a great closer for Ghost Robot Ninja Bear. It’s beautiful and melodic in its acoustic first half, thoroughly rocking in its second portion, and a reminder that while Nakatomi Plaza may be gone, Rodriguez is still cranking out quality tunes at a rapid pace.

regarding failure. it turns out I'm not moving in with my fiancee after all. The apartment we were supposed to move into on Friday was trashed when we toured it (sales office still tried to get us to sign the lease several times before checking it out, though!), so we opted out. Michelle and I lost a couple hundred dollars between the two of us thanks to application fees and utilities, but that's not so bad.

On the plus side, my music collection, having been boxed up 'n' unpacked from Point A to, well, Point A again, is now better organized than ever before. My records all fit on one book shelf. I built the 1,000-capacity CD shelf I bought for the apartment, Coupled with my other storage, I realized that, thanks to myPod, I've cut down my CD collection to just under 1,500. My original goal was 2,000, so that's a victory. I'm going to keep cutting. Part of me wonders if I can limit my collection 1,000 of my absolute favorite albums.

The downside to this weekend is that I'm back to saving mode. My music consumption has cut down partially because I was saving up for "the big move," something that I must resume. It's embarrassing, since readership to my stupid little blog has actually gone up recently, even though I'm not producing nearly as much content as I used to write, but there you go.

So here's the deal: I'm going to crank out whatever I feel like whenever I feel like while I scramble to get my living arrangements squared away. I recommend ya'll check back maybe once a month? Unless you want to read Vinyl Vednesday exclusively. I mean, that's cool too.

myPod: Ea-En

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

The Early November

Emo has always been a dirty word, but for me, the term didn’t truly take on a negative connotation until the ’00s, as bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy rose to prominence. One of the few groups that kept the genre viable was New Jersey’s The Early November. In true emo fashion, the band burned out within six years and two albums, but for a while frontman Ace Enders and his crew delivered reliably catchy tunes for Drive Thru Records.

The band’s best release remains their debut EP for the label, For All of This. It’s their most focused and aggressive, and everything after that failed to hit that sweet spot. The Acoustic EP comes off too earnest and out-of-key to me now. The Room’s Too Cold is too soft. That split with I Am the Avalanche offers up yet another version of the group’s more popular tunes, “Ever So Sweet,” which I was actually present for the recording of, but there’s not much else going on. The split was meant to help finance the band’s ambitious, uneven triple album The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path. At best, this would have been a solid double record, but the band overreached by a wide margin. Disc 1 is like a Room throwback, whereas the second disc expands into folk and showtunes, and it’s actually kind of good. The third disc is a spoken word/Saddle Creek-esque concept album. I haven’t listened to it in five years.

But while I still dig some of TEN’s tunes, I’ve decided to part with their discography. I’m old enough to notice the flubbed notes and awkward lyrics. The band meant a lot to me in high school, but that’s where they belong.

Verdict: Sell.


E. (a.k.a. Mark Oliver Everett) has a knack has a knack for melancholy, bluesy tunes about failure. Sometimes he writes about suicide (“It’s a Motherfucker”) and sometimes he writes about breaking up (“I’m Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart”), but it always comes back to failure. Still, he’s always applied a minimalist approach to songwriting that highlights his clever wordplay. E. usually juxtaposes seemingly positive words against shitty circumstances (i.e. “Your Lucky Day in Hell”). While I can’t say I’m completely behind his constantly growing discography, Meet the Eels has served me well over the years.

Verdict: Keep.

Egg Hunt

For shits and giggles, Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson made an indie rock EP that’s better than anything R.E.M. did in the ’80s.

Verdict: Keep.


This band of Texan siblings entranced me in high school before I had a firm grasp on ethereal indie pop, and in that sense I suppose Eisley was a good gateway band for me. From 2003 to 2005, I was obsessed. But lately I’ve felt underwhelmed by their otherwordly stylings; the group comes off like Coldplay. I can still remember wandering the local fields while blasting the Marvelous Things EP though.

Verdict: Sell.


While their output was far smaller compared to Oasis and Blur’s, Elastica is one of my favorite Britpop bands. Their self-titled is a sly, slinking, sexy collection, even if it does plagiarize a couple of bands. The Menace is a little weirder, but not necessarily uneven. I’ve also got a collection of BBC performances that’s ferocious. Like I said, big fan.

Verdict: Keep.

Electric Six

Good gravy, the video for Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage” was so creepy in 2003. Over the course of a few years, though, E6’s brand of over-the-top, comical Detroit blues rock won me over, and I was hooked on Fire. Señor Smoke was even better, tackling topics ranging from the Iraq War to The Backstreet Boys with the same flippant humor and energy. After that, the band kind stopped being funny, although I was amused by 2008’s Flashy when Define the Meaning asked me to review it.

Verdict: Keep the first two albums.


Ian MacKaye more or less invented hardcore with Minor Threat and post-hardcore with Fugazi. In between the two he helped found emo via Embrace, a band that barely lasted a year. While Embrace still played with Minor Threat’s intensity, you can hear new ideas percolating in the songwriting that would eventually be better realized in Fugazi. Embrace is probably my least favorite MacKaye band, but it’s still MacKaye all the same.

Verdict: Keep.

Emergency & I

Emo band I started in college with my cousin Mike. I never listen to these songs because of the way the band ended, but I can’t throw them away.

Verdict: Keep.

Empire Records soundtrack

I received the Empire Records soundtrack as a Christmas gift in 1995. I was nine years old. At the time, the compilation didn’t adhere to the steady diet of smooth R&B I was ingesting, so the record didn’t quite click for me until high school. Now I’m blown away by the tracklisting, which boasts original tracks from Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, and Evan Dando. The two best tracks, though, are the super cool “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins and “Sugarhigh” by Coyote Shivers, which was actually performed by the characters in the film.

Verdict: Keep.

Jeremy Enigk

Return of the Frog Queen, Jeremy Enigk’s first solo album, comes as something of a shock after his initial run with the epic, anthemic Sunny Day Real Estate. SDRE was huge; Frog Queen sounds like Nick Drake meets Peter Gabriel. It’s a modest, surreal record with orchestral flourishes. And it remained an oddity in Enigk’s discography for a decade until he finally dropped his second album, World Waits, in 2006. It sounds a little more confident, but it’s still very much in the orchestral indie vein. The Missing Link is a solid B-sides/live comp. I didn’t bother with Enigk’s latest solo release, regrettably. By that point, the formula got a little old for me. Still, I love hearing this guy’s alien rasp.

Verdict: Keep.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wugazi - '13 Chambers'

Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with, but I was still pretty excited at the prospect of Wugazi, a mash-up of the clan and D.C. post-hardcore legends Fugazi, courtesy of DJs Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy. By using Fugazi instrumentals as the building blocks for Clan cuts, the curiosity comes off as something akin to Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, which blended Jay-Z and The Beatles. While 13 Chambers definitely serves hip-hop heads more than it will hardcore fans, the result is undeniably worth at least one listen.

13 Chambers reveals what Fugazi probably knew all along: For all the noise, their songs had a lot of groove to them. While Otter and Andy certainly concoct a lot of original beats out of the music, the moments that are the most surprising are the least remixed. “Nowhere to Wait,” for example, directly imports the intro from Fugazi’s most popular tune, “Waiting Room,” and lets the rhymes float right over that amazing beat. Still, the duo deserves credit for splicing so much new material from old.

That said, I felt a little disappointed after listening. Only the most devoted Fugazi fans are going to recognize every riff, and many of the beats don’t necessarily require ’gazi samples. Furthermore, while all the live instrumentation aids the material, the result is not quite the otherwordly mash-up of Grey Album. Rather, it just sounds like a rap group with a live band, namely The Roots.

Not that I’m trying to dump on Wugazi. I think it’s a clever idea with a cute name. And some of the tunes, like “Another Chessboxin’ Argument,” are downright infectious. But taken as a whole, 13 Chambers is little more than a novelty item, and while I’m happy to have spent the day spinning it, I’m also happy that I didn’t have to pay for it.

Gregory Attonito - 'Natural Disaster'

2011 has been surprisingly abundant for Bouncing Souls fans. The year has so far seen a split with Hot Water Music, the live album Complete Control Recording Sessions and the humorous acoustic set/Record Store Day exclusive, Live at Generation Records, from the punk pioneers. Now in July, fans finally get some brand new material in the form of the Natural Disaster EP, the first solo outing from frontman Greg Attonito. While the cover might bill him as “Gregory,” to Souls fans he’ll always be Greg, which is both a blessing and a curse for the EP. It lends Attonito’s new songs instant recognition, but they may disappoint long time fans. Natural Disaster is not tru punx.

Instead, Attonito aims for acoustic love songs, with some assistance from friends like Souls guitarist Pete Steinkopf and especially from wife Shanti Wintergate. The music is primarily acoustic, with the occasional ambient electronic flourish and horn arrangement, like on opener “How Many Songs.” At its best (“Volcano,” “Cincinnati Dream”), the EP functions as a solid chill out record for the summer. Other tunes, like “Eyes” and “Sexiest Girl,” are so straightforward in their loving intent that they fumble with the line between adorable and ridiculous. While I’m sure Wintergate was flattered when Attonito wrote “Sexiest Girl” for her, as a fan I feel uncomfortable hearing such a personal song that simply does not need to be released on a wide scale.

The EP is decent overall, and it’s certainly seasonally appropriate, but I’m not sure what kind of life it will have beyond the hardest of hardcore fans. You kind of need to be a superfan to really care about the songs’ context. Still, though, these whispers and acoustic strums add up to some pleasing tuneage.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 7/13/2011

[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. I’m moving in with my fiancée this week, which I commemorated last week by celebrating three of my parents’ records one last time. This week, I get all warm and/or fuzzy over three records that are near and dear to my special lady friend and I. As always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

PJ Harvey’s “Glorious Land” single (2011) on black, The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987) on black, and The Promise Ring’s Very Emergency (1998) on black.

Place of Purchase:
“Glorious Land” was an exclusive preorder from That’s in England! Kiss Me came from Legends at the Plymouth Meeting Mall (R.I.P.). Very Emergency was an eBay find.

Thoughts: Michelle and I love the new PJ Harvey album Let England Shake. It’s just such a haunting, politically volatile record. Accordingly, I’ve been importing two copies of its singles (one for me, one for her) every time they pop up. “Glorious Land” is a particularly heavy tune – the lines “What is the glorious fruit of our? / Its fruit is deformed children” certainly sticks in my head. The B-side, “The Nightingale,” is quite good as well. It’s almost definitely about Florence Nightingale, so it fits England’s war imagery. But the lyrics are a little more atmospheric. As much as I enjoy the song, I get why it was left off in favor of more visceral material like “On Battleship Hill” or “The Words That Maketh Murder.”

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is a schizophrenic Cure record, which makes it a great entryway into the band’s discography. Jumping from pop to psych-rock to goth on a whim, it manages to be both a unique piece in their canon yet a solid overview of what the group did post-1985. Also it has “Just Like Heaven,” a.k.a the best loved Cure of all time. It brought Michelle to tears when we saw The Cure perform it live back in 2008. And really, why wouldn’t it? It’s a beautiful song. Frontman Robert Smith specifically wrote to seduce his future wife. And it worked! If you hate that song, you’re a jerk. Me, I’m going to hold on to the memory of Michelle being so moved by music that she wept.

Michelle is secretly a huge Davey von Bohlen fan. I’ve been working on turning her into a Maritime devotee. Every summer, though, is when I bust out the collected works of The Promise Ring, especially Very Emergency. It’s an ideal Jersey shore record, if for no other reason than for the song “Jersey Shore.” But Very Emergency is also appropriate overall. The tunes are catchy and breezy and fun, and they work regardless of summer setting. On the road, on the beach, at night; it’s just such a perfect record.

Man, I really hope none of these records gets damaged in the move…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nick 13 - 'Nick 13'

It’s been four years since Tiger Army’s last, most excellent album, Music From Regions Beyond. Incorporating elements of psychobilly, hardcore, new wave, and country, it was Tiger Army’s biggest artistic triumph. It’s also marked a profound silence from the group, punctuated by the occasional show. Now in 2011, frontman Nick 13 has finally returned with his first solo album, an outing into pure country territory entitled, succinctly, Nick 13. The record is a marked departure from Tiger Army’s louder songwriting, something that might alienate TA’s fans but gain a few new ones in the process.

Nick 13 is not a rocking album. Sure, it revisits a couple of Tiger Army classics (“In the Orchard,” “Cupid’s Victim”), but even compared to the quiet country stylings of “Where the Moss Slowly Grows,” the record is something else entirely. This isn’t the punk rock approximation of country; it just is country of the ’ 60s/’70s variety. Gram Parsons is a strong reference point for sure. It’s a mellow affair, something that breezes by easily.

But that’s also to the record’s detriment. While it starts off strong with opener “Nashville Winter,” Nick 13 gradually blurs together. Yes, it’s a pleasant, sleepy record for late nights and sweltering summer days, but I’ll be darned if I can remember half the record once it’s over. It’s something to get lost in, not remembered.

Still, it’s great to get Nick 13 back, even if it is sans Tiger Army. His voice is as delicate as ever, which suits the material. While it’s an experiment in hero worship that I don’t entirely condone, it’s still amazing naturally suited 13 seems for the material. The result is a record that should appeal to diehards and new found country fans. Anyone in between in terms of Tiger Army fandom might be a little turned off, however.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Big D and The Kids Table - 'For the Damned, The Dumb & The Delirious'

You could go one of two ways with For the Damned, the Dumb & the Delirious, the new back-to-basics ska-punk record from Big D and the Kids Table. Either it’s a victory lap after all the genre hopping the band committed before inventing stroll, a new ska subgenre, on 2009’s Fluent in Stroll, or a creative backpedal after that record alienated some the D’s fan base. Given that Damned is steadfastly adequate, both assessments are fair.

Damned takes on elements from the D’s last three proper albums, How It Goes, Strictly Rude and Stroll, essentially making it a career overview in terms of style, if not quality. There’s the occasional dip into dub (“Roxboury (Roots n’ Shoots)”) and a couple of tracks featuring Stroll’s backing vocalists, the Doped Up Dollies, such as “Stringers.” But for the most park, it’s the ska-punk old school fans loved on Good Luck and Gipsy Hill.

While I love Rude and Stroll, I was still excited to hear D reunite with the mighty “fast beat,” and for the first few tracks, Damned is a fast, fun summertime record. “Walls” opens with such a classic How It Goes riff that I forgot Sean P. Rogan isn’t in the band anymore. The horns come in at just the right moment to push that song over. “Clothes Off” keeps the good vibes going, even if that chorus is way too sloppy. “Modern American Gypsy” is another quality rocker, while “Best of Them All” is top notch joke song about drankin’ with a slight Dropkick Murphys edge.

So far, so good, but not long after “Best of Them All,” Damned starts to peter out. Or rather, it repeats D’s previous successes. “Riot Girl” is another peppy ode to a brassy lady in the vein of “Doped Up Dollies on a One Way Ticket to Blood” or “My Girlfriend’s On Drugs,” but by this point in the band’s career you know where the song’s going. The way frontman David McWane keeps using the phrase “riot girl” comes off calculated, as if to say, “Forget that I wrote about being a scumbag to women on ‘Shining On;’ I’m down with feminism.’” Taking a stab at political hardcore on “Brain’s-a-Bomb” doesn’t go over so well either. A large chunk of the album’s middle is forgettable.

Damned rights itself near the end, and by the time “One Day” and the hidden track pass by, it’s even enjoyable. But in trying to recreate the band’s supposed glory days, it comes off as second rate nostalgia. While Damned doesn’t tarnish the D’s legacy and certainly boasts enough solid-to-good songs to justify its existence, it’s still a major disappointment after the string of creative successes the band pulled off last decade.

Vinyl Vednesday 7/6/2011

[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. Since I’m moving out next week, this week’s installment is about my parents and their dubious musical taste. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Beach Boys’ California Girls (1980-something reissue of Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)) on black, Billy Joel’s Piano Man (1973) on black, and USA For Africa’s We Are the World (1985) on black.

Place of Purchase:
All three were inherited from my mom and dad.

Thoughts: I went through a lengthy love/hate relationship with my parents’ taste in music. For a brief period in my late teens, I hated the Beatles. During that same time, though, I began to really fall in love with The Beach Boys. Their harmonies were sweet, and while the lyrics were idealistic odes to young love, the band’s history lent them gravitas. If I could layer harmonies like Brian Wilson did on Pet Sounds, I would. Instead, I’m just a casual listener who will put them up against The Beatles or The Kinks any day. California Girls in particular is one of my favorites. You’ve got such summer time golden hits as “And Then I Kissed Her,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “California Girls.” Of course, I have a soft spot for “Salt Lake City.” Wilson used to be able to crank out songs at a rapid clip as part of his self-imposed rivalry with The Beatles, so sometimes he would write about anything, even a city that most people don’t think too highly of. Then again, my friend Angelina has partied it up in SLC twice, so maybe Wilson was on to something.

If you’ve ever been on a college campus, you have heard someone slur his/her way through a Billy Joel. It was probably “Allentown.” Maybe “You May Be Right.” But “Piano Man” definitely came up. Or perhaps “Captain Jack.” Nobody sang “Stop in Nevada,” though, even if it is a good song. Point I’m getting at is this: Drunks love Billy Joel, because he sings sad songs with a happy slant. It’s hard to believe he could only manage one hit off his breakthrough record Piano Man, then. “Captain Jack” is a little long at seven-minutes-and-some-change, but it’s still a catchy rocker about drankin’, something that Billy Joel fans, obviously, love to do. Also a shouldabeen hit: “You’re My Home.” C’mon! It’s a love song but it rocks without being a lame-o ballad!

Oof. “We Are the World” is cheesy something fierce. Just listen to that opening keyboard line. Yeah, it helped raise money to save the children (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!), but it’s questionable as a work of art. What you may not know, however, is that We Are the World keeps going after its title track. And I’m not just talking about USA For Africa’s northern equivalent, Northern Lights, performing “Tears Are Not Enough” (You get John Candy and Joni Mitchell on the same track! Gangbusters!). Prince has a solid exclusive track, “4 The Tears in Your Eyes.” My man Bruce Springsteen, in addition to giving “We Are the World” some much needed grit, also delivers an amazing cover of “Trapped” by Jimmy Cliff. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t turned up anywhere else, like on Tracks or something, because it’s quite good. Maybe if Born in the U.S.A. gets the boxed set treatment it’ll turn up, but people need to hear this song.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

myPod: Do-Dy

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

The Doors

After I absorb my favorite artists’ records, I check out their influences. Prince led me to Stevie Wonder and James Brown; Jawbreaker turned me towards Psychedelic Furs and Hüsker Dü. The Doors were a seminal influence on the original punk movement (Patti Smith, X), so I figured I would give Legacy: The Absolute Best when it dropped in 2003. The set is frustratingly mixed. Jim Morrison was a twat; I’m not denying that. The worst Doors songs (“When the Music’s Over,” “The End”) indulged his stupid drugged out poetry. I prefer my psychedelia from 13th Floor Elevators, thanks. But some tunes (“Break On Through (To the Other Side),” “The Crystal Ship”) predict punk. Hell, “Hell, I Love You” predicts new wave. Part of me wants to whittle this two-disc set down to the true essentials, but it’s just not worth my time. For me, The Doors’ legacy lies in keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s discovery of X.

Verdict: Sell.

Dragging the Lake compilation series

Created by blink-182’s clothing label Atticus, the Dragging the Lake series never took off like Punk-O-Rama, but it still delivered some quality tunes. The edition featured some great exclusive pop-punk tracks (Alkaline Trio’s “Jaked on Green Beers,” New Found Glory’s “Ex-Miss”). But as a whole it’s something relegated to my youth (Simple Plan, The Used, etc.). I was impressed the compilation landed Jets to Brazil for the second installment, but that’s about it. Volume 3 dropped after blink imploded, and it’s weird swan song. On the one hand, it’s actually kind of forward thinking with tracks from Gratitude, Lucero, and Bedouin Soundclash. But again, it’s just a couple of great tracks (Motion City Soundtrack’s “1000 Paper Cranes,” MxPx’s “Grey Skies Turn Blue”) surrounded by crap and obvious tracks. Released in 2004, I don’t understand why Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year” needs to be here. It’s a great track, but Transatlanticism had been out for a year at that point. Who hadn’t heard that song?

Verdict: Sell.

Nick Drake

Listening To Nick Drake’s brief run (three albums) put me in such a good mood that I decided to his biography. Big mistake. But the guy wrote three gorgeous proto-twee records that put me a nice, mellow place. Listening to them is like hearing an artist strip back excess piece by piece. Drake’s debut, Five Leaves Left, is his most lushly arranged, and while the record works well, Drake’s compositions really only needed guitar and vox, with some piano on the side, as Pink Moon displayed. For proof, compare to full band version of “Way to Blue” on Leaves to the piano demo. The demo is far and away better, although I still love Leaves and Bryter Layter. It’s a shame that Drake didn’t find success in life – the ’80s underground embraced him long after his supposed suicide in 1974 – but he left behind a perfect, though brief, discography.

Verdict: Keep.

The Dresden Dolls

Like a lot of people, I got into The Dresden Dolls in the summer of 2004, on the strength of their “Girl Anachronism” single. Seven years later, that song remains my favorite Doll composition. It’s a fiery and intense, so much so that the band can barely hang on when they play it live. The Dolls described themselves as “punk cabaret,” and “Girl Anachronism” is their proof of life. The rest of the band’s self-titled record initially disappointed me; nothing tops that tune in terms of speed, but tunes like “Half Jack” and “Good Day” packed just as much fury. Frontwoman Amanda Palmer even delivered some cool New Romantic pop via “Jeep Song.” I’m a little tool on the more maudlin, showtunes-y material like “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Missed Me,” though. Still, Dresden Dolls is one of my favorite records.

It took a while for the Dolls to come together, though, as A is for Accident attests. The band’s songs used to be looser ‘n’ longer. The strongest track of the bunch, the epic, aching “Truce,” a break-up song to end all break-up songs, hits so hard that it closes out Dresden Dolls, but otherwise, Accident is for die-hards only. The only reason I haven’t sold it yet it is because my copy is autographed. Still, it’s time to do away with it. The same goes for Yes, Virginia…, the group’s uneven sophomore effort. Palmer’s lyrics come off as sophomoric whether she’s kidding or being serious. I also recently realized I had even outgrown some of my favorite tracks from the album like “Delilah” and “Dirty Business.”

I am going to hold on the rarities comp No, Virginia…. I wish it included “Night at the Roses,” but it’s still got some quality tunes in “Sorry Bunch,” “Dear Jenny,” and “Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner.” It’s probably the last document I’ll get out of the Dolls; Palmer has gone on to solo success and gothic legend, but I honestly think drummer Brian Viglione reeled in some of her more self-indulgent impulses.

Verdict: Sell half, keep half.

Dum Dum Girls

While I Will Be was pretty thoroughly OK, Dum Dum Girls’ He Get Me High EP really piqued my interest. Dum Dum Girls deal in fuzzy, skuzzy lo-fi girl pop/garage rock, and while they’re not exactly The Raveonettes, I’m on board for now.

Verdict: Keep.

Bob Dylan

As much as I was obsessed with punk rock in high school, I harbored an interested in baby boomers’ most treasured acts. Sometimes it bloomed (The Beatles), sometimes it failed (The Doors), and sometimes it was somewhere in between (Bob Dylan). Dylan, the political singer/songwriter, the rock ‘n’ roll Judas, the guy with the weird voice and bullshit lyrics, was all over the place in songs. Not so much musically, but certainly lyrically. Dylan is collectively known for acoustic folk songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but I find his early albums, outside of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, to be tedious and repetitive. Detractors will find the most nonsensical material to mock in those early records like The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan.

In my opinion, Dylan hit his stride when he “betrayed” the folk community and went electric. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home are amazing rock records filled with anger, humor, and romance. Fans who want to prove Dylan’s surreal lyricism wasn’t all pot smoke can find plenty of evidence in “She’s an artist / She don’t look back” and pretty much all of “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Blonde on Blonde marks a big finale to a trilogy of rock records along with Home and Highway. The song lengths are pretty epic and could be a turnoff for some, but there’s enough hits (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” After that album, Dylan toyed around with different sounds for a while. Sometimes it worked, like on the country record Nashville Skyline; sometimes it floundered, like on the political folk-rocker John Wesley Harding.

It took a few years, but Dylan finally issued a worthy follow-up in 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. A break-up album with women and the ’60s, Blood found Dylan at his most directly confessional, and tunes like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” still haunt/entrance me. I rounded out my collection with Greatest Hits Volume 3, which has some choice tracks from uneven records like “Hurricane” from Desire or the unreleased “Dignity.” Then Dylan dropped Christmas in the Heart in 2009. His voice weathered, a lot of people wondered how much of Heart was sincere and how much was Dylan once again fucking with public perception. Personally, I think it’s hilarious.

The rest of my collection needs a little trimming though. Like I said, those early acoustic albums don’t hold up once you exit your teens. The rock period can stay, but I found John Wesley Harding to be lacking in energy; “All Along the Watchtower” just doesn’t work once you’ve heard Jim Hendrix’s version.

Verdict: Keep most of it.

Up next: E is for... emo, emotional hardcore, and energetic songs about breaking up.