Saturday, November 22, 2008

Deerhunter, Times New Viking, Vivian Girls (live)

Deerhunter, Times New Viking, Vivian Girls (live)

The evening opened with Vivian Girls, a stealth band I didn’t know was even on the ticket. The trio of, as you might guess, girls (a defining feature of rock bands that will, hopefully, become common enough so that it no longer merits mention) play a lean version of garage-punk. Rumor has it that their debut album barely breaks the twenty-minute mark. Despite their lack of numbers, their songs are punky walls of sound, which lent some difficulty discerning vast differences between songs as their set progressed. The less poppy songs utilized flatlining melodies that carried a single monotone note for as long as possible, but to surprisingly effective results. Of course, there was a brunette, a blonde and a redhead, but since that seems to be mandatory these days I’m guessing there was at least one dye job.

Seeing Times New Viking a second time this year gave me the opportunity to go back and revisit their third album, Rip It Off. While the album was on heavy repeat for months, eventually as the songs became familiar enough I relegated it to the second string. I’m happy to report that Rip It Off still kicks ass. Times New Viking debuted several new songs during the evening and just like everything else they’ve written they were easily discernible pop songs that felt familiar without heisting another style whole clothe. Times New Viking has the dubious honor of being the only band I’ve seen who sounds clearer live than on their records. I know more than a few fans who bemoan the fact that Times New Viking’s punk songs are muffled behind tape hiss and fuzz.

For me their recording practices help give their songs added texture, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to hearing them live. I’m not sure if it was the fact that they were the warm up band this time, or the fact that they had a much bigger crowd waiting to hear them (instead of waiting for the band after them), but they were a more active live band this time around. It appears that the keyboardist, Beth Murphy, has realized that despite the fact that drummer, Adam Elliott, sings a majority of the songs, because she’s not trapped behind a drum set that means she is the frontman by default. It could have also been that the band was just that much more excited during this particular visit to Boston thanks to that underpublicized election. Adam at one point told the crowd proudly that they were Times New Viking from the “blue state” of Ohio.

Following two bands that were trios, it was a little imposing to see no fewer than five members of Deerhunter take the stage. There were three, count them, three guitars on stage at once. I can honestly say that with the imposing force of three guitars Deerhunter's sonic density made Vivian Girl's "wall of sound" seem more like a chain link fence of noise. The word I would use to describe Cox’s stage personality is humble. He thanked the crowd and his tone of voice suggested the look of a farm boy coming to the big city when he claimed he was surprised by how excited the crowd was.

The new songs sounded great, the new element being doo-wop harmonies dropped into Deerhunter’s already over packed sound. Of course, the new songs weren’t the only surprise. I was caught off guard when I heard what shape their old songs took. “Lake Sumerset” sounded less like Flipper and more like New Order. I guess Deerhunter are ready to show that songs like “Strange Light” weren’t anomalies and that underneath their cacophonous veneer is a real fine pop band.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Ramones - Pet Semetary (video)

Slightly more poignant after their deaths, the video of "Pet Semetary" is a bizarre low budget affair. Many of the characters are inexplicable, particularly the couple in the coffin, but I think that's part of it's charm. It makes you question whether some one was actually in charge of the video and at what point the budget ran out and they decided to eat up time by filming The Ramones walking around an actual semetary. It's interesting that The Misfits pretty much spent their entire career mining The Ramones' horror themed songs. Of course, they were never as good at it, but The Misfits always were a one album band, but unlike The Sex Pistols they didn't have the good sense to stop there.



Happy Halloween!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer (5/5)

Sophomore slump? What’s that?

Don’t be fooled by the three year gap between Wolf Parade’s first and second album, these guys are prolific. If I’m not mistaken (and I think I am), Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner play in ten or twelve other side bands each. This means that during those three years they have collectively written eight-hundred songs, so you’ll excuse them if Wolf Parade’s second album has only nine perfect songs instead of twelve.

Anyone who’s followed Ryan Adam’s career knows that being prolific is often more of a hindrance to an artist than a boon. Unlike Senior Adams, the principle members of Wolf Parade do not have to bear their band on a single pair of shoulders, and despite the high quality of the aforementioned side projects, there must be some kind of chemistry between the principle songwriters Krug and Boeckner that pushes both of them to the peak of their songwriting skills. Perhaps that’s even why the album is called At Mount Zoomer (actually it’s because that’s where it was recorded).

At Mount Zoomer is one of the few sophomore albums in recent years that feels like a confident couple of steps in the right direction. After listening to both albums back to back I’m convinced that the band approaches their second album with a completely different mindset than their first. The guitar is no longer required to merely produce a series of chords, and instead the vocals, keyboards and guitar all form a cyclone of melodies.

Likewise, the songs are much looser in structure. Many of the songs make their way through so many sonic landscapes that by the time you reach the end of it is easy to forget about where you began. In particular “Language” city begins as a rhythm driven march but as it continues, and the song rises with the mantra “We are not at home,” it feels more like a zephyr surrounded by swirling synths.

The inclusion of so many slower songs like “Call it a Ritual,” “Bang Your Drum,” and “Fine Young Cannibals” (a sizable sum on a nine song album) only draws attention to the band’s chest-out confidence. The conversations between the rhythm and melody segments are so deep that none of these songs feel like filler, and so confident is the band that even at excess of six minutes “Fine Young Cannibals” holds one’s interest for every intervening second.

I know what you’re thinking. Now, I’m hardly an expert regarding bands from the eighties comprised of ex-members from The English Beat, but if The Fine Young Cannibals ever, with a nod to INXS, host a reality show contest in order to replace a band member, then I think the members of Wolf Parade would give that guy with the white afro from Hot Hot Heat a run for his money. In conclusion, yes, “Fine Young Cannibals” does sound like it has some eighties influence, with synthesized horns and all, but not like an actual Fine Young Cannibals song.

The real centerpiece of the album is the six-minute epic “California Dreamer.” The propulsive drum and bass provides tension for every moment while the rest of the band ratchets up their performance. By the time the chorus of “I thought I heard you on the radio but the radio waves were like snow” kicks in, it’s damn near impossible not to join in.

When I finally get to the point where At Mount Zoomer is no longer the choice du jour on my ipod, and it gets quietly shuffled back into the mix, it’s comforting to know that there will be plenty of side projects to tide me over. Of course, even with all those side projects running around, I would prefer not to wait three more years for another Wolf Parade album. Remember Boeckner and Krug, power in numbers and all that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mogwai - "Batcat" Video

Mogwai's new video for the song "Batcat," from their forthcoming album The Hawk is Howling, is some sort of strange amalgam of a better version of The Village, a little bit of Eyes Wide Shut and a batcat thrown in for good measure. What's a batcat you say? Well there's only one way to find out: click below! Warning: there's some freaky shit to be had.




The song itself sounds like the band is expanding on their last album, Mr. Beast without retracing their steps. "Batcat" and their earlier release, "The Sun Smells Too Loud," have already sold me on the new album. Of course, I would be hard pressed not to be exited about a new Mogwai album.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Buffy Who Can Give You Paper Cuts?

The internets, that wonderful dumping ground for all things obscure or obscene. Well, thrash around in that unseemly dumping grounds long enough and you just might find a hidden gem. That's what happened recently when the supposedly long rumored four minute pilot for Buffy: The Animated Series surfaced on the web. View below for the same witty banter of the regular TV show but with a much brighter color scheme:



The most surprising thing about this little snippet is not only that it's pretty damn good, but that no station wanted to pick it up. I'm a big fan of animation but I just don't find myself watching anything animated these days. In the States animation is geared towards the younger crowd with only a few companies like Pixar managing to appeal to both kids and adults, and ever since the Dini/Timm DC Universe - beginning with Batman: The Animated Series and ending with Justice League Unlimited - went off the air, television has been a wasteland for cartoons that are capable of appealing across generations. If this pilot is any indication, a Buffy cartoon might have been capable of bridging the gap between both older and younger fans of violence against the undead.

There are several problems the animated series might have run into. The television show had some pretty heavy themes, and I would imagine a certain population might be upset if their kids became interested in the live action TV show where Willow's crush on Xander transforms into girl on girl kissing. And then there's the violence. Sure, they're undead vampires but you're still sticking a steak into their hearts and watching them explode.

Of course there are also plenty of missed opportunities. In one of the myriad pop culture references the show shot at its audience, the central characters often referred to themselves as the "Scooby gang." Well, what if, like The New Scooby Doo Movies, Buffy: The Animated Series had weekly guest voices who would stumble into Sunnydale and become embroiled in the latest mystery. The "Scooby gang" could wind up meeting the actual Scooby gang. I for one would be excited for the inevitable Don Knotts cameo. Sure, he may have died recently, but wouldn't that make it perfect to bring him onto the show as a zombie? So many missed opportunities. Oh well, you know what they say: "The best laid plans of mice and men / are often fucked over by incompetent studio executives who wouldn't know a great show if it slapped their momma."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe


The X-Files: I Want to Believe (4/5)

Six years after the series finale of the cult hit comes the second theatrical X-Files film. The show may have ended six years ago but for those who kept with the series through the exhausted ninth season know full well that the TV show died long before the finale episode. In one of the biggest television mistakes since the introduction of cousin Oliver, the producers decided that The X-Files was really about the monsters and not really about the relationship between Mulder and Scully and decided to introduce two new agents: Doggett and Reyes. Perhaps the biggest insult to fans was how the writers tried to slip these new characters into the show like they were dealing cards from the bottom of the deck, assuming the audience would be none the wiser. Mulder went on the lam, making guest appearances every now and then, and Scully became pregnant which regulated her to the role of consultant for Doggett and Reyes. The X-Files: I Want to Believe comes off as an apology of sorts for trying to move the spotlight away from the two agents we actually cared about. Interesting enough, the film is less concerned with the supernatural mystery that it is with the relationship between the two leads.

As the film opens we discover Scully once again practicing medicine like she had contemplated several times during her F.B.I. career. She now works at the Catholic hospital Our Lady of Sorrows where she is treating a young boy with an incurable brain disease. Since the series ended Scully and Mulder have moved in together and when Scully is at work Mulder remains at home still obsessing over the death of his sister, even though he knows full well she died decades ago. In the first ten minutes X-Files creator and co-scribe, Chris Carter, proves how well he knows these characters. Scully was never comfortable at the F.B.I. and always had doubts that she was doing more good working for the federal government than working in medicine. The X-Files was never her obsession, a conflict that remains central in I Want to Believe. Mulder now sports a Ted Kacsinski like beard which hints at the anti-government paranoiac that has he has always been in danger of becoming. Scully still serves as Mulders anchor and without her one could imagine Mulder mailing letter bombs from his homemade shack in the woods. Despite the new setting one can immediately tell these are the same two characters we watched hunt monsters every week, but at the same time it’s apparent that the past six years have weighed heavily on them.

Since the trial of the series finale, Mulder has become a forced recluse wanted by the F.B.I. When a self-professed psychic and ex-priest, Father Joe, turns up claiming to have visions about a recently missing F.B.I. agent one of the lead investigators decides to offer Mulder immunity in exchange for his help in either confirming or debunking Father Joe’s abilities. There are many reasons to doubt Father Joe’s story, the least of which is that before he was excommunicated from the church he molested over thirty boys. Of course, once on the case Mulder can’t stop at just giving his professional opinion on the paranormal and begins settling into his role as an F.B.I. profiler. Scully is naturally afraid that Mulder is being pulled back into a life they both gave up long ago.

The movie takes plenty of risks, the first of which is that from the beginning Mulder and Scully are in a conjugal relationship. The obvious choice for a film like this is to fall back on the “will they or won’t they” tension that was one of the hallmarks of the television show. Instead the movie deals with all too obvious questions about how two workaholics can live together and whether Mulder should be putting himself in danger with someone waiting for him at home. The second major risk is Scully’s subplot concerning her young patient whose only chance for a cure winds up being an experimental stem-cell treatment. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with priests at the hospital.

In a film that ponders such timely subjects like God, stem-cell research, and gay marriage, perhaps the biggest taboo the film broaches is the portrayal of a sustained relationship in a Hollywood film. When an audience has become accustomed to an unrequited love between two characters it can be difficult to imagine the same two characters living with one another every day, but thanks to great performances by Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny the transition seems completely natural. The intervening years are scrawled on Duchovny’s and Anderson’s face, the former appears more world wearied and the latter strikes a more regal profile. As a couple they are reminiscent of that pair of slightly eccentric liberals who have strange stories about backpacking through the Ural Mountains and every time you come over offer up a different vintage wine that’s just right for the occasion.

Special mention must be made of Billy Connolly’s role as Father Joe. Because of his work as a comedian it’s easy to underestimate Connolly’s acting ability but here he perfectly nails the ambiguity of someone who may be either faking visions from God in order to weasel his way back into the church or he actually believes he is receiving these visions as a means of redemption. The presence of Father Joe carries some heavy implications. Are the visions actually from God and if they are then are they meant for redemption or punishment? What about Father Joe’s pedophile urges, did they originate from the almighty?

Much like The Dark Knight, I Want to Believe uses a thriller format to delve into deeper questions. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t stumble in parts. It is difficult to believe that Scully is capable of organizing experimental surgery within the course of an evening’s work and a quick search of the internet. In a film dealing with psychic visions you don’t want the science to be the least believable part of the story. Of course, this is a small price to pay for a thriller with something to say.

Judging by the box office numbers there appears to be little chance for a third film. In a way that’s all right since I Want to Believe manages to finish the story the TV show started. Not about the alien conspiracy, there are plenty of unanswered questions left over from the show, but rather about the real story: the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Now that fans of the series know the two remain together whether there’s an alien invasion or not doesn’t really matter, and even if this is the last X-Files story told it works perfectly as a tidy epilogue to a very, very long story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Love Being a Gladiator!

If there is one thing the entertainment industry has perfected over the past couple of years it's the art of recycling. Last summer we collectively suffered through a big budget take on Transformers and I hear G.I. Joe is looking to use his kung fu action grip on the wallets of America's movie goers. Meanwhile, original scripts are finding use lining the cat box of studio CEOs. The local cineplex's deluge of sequels and nostalgia cash-ins have almost convinced me that Hollywood is actually being run by an overly ambitious undergraduate art student whose dissertation is proving that art is dead and nothing is original. All of this would be tolerable if they picked the cartoons I actually want to see on the big screen. Where's my Exosquad film!?



That's not to say that Gen X and Gen Y (or whatever lame name they've come up with in the last month or so) don't share the blame. They are the ones buying most of the tickets after all. Beyond that most of these nostalgia mining flicks are geared towards Generation Xers who are starting to have kids of their own and want to share some of the stuff they liked when they were younger with their own spawn, not realizing that a lot of that stuff loses much of it's appeal when you're not eating a big bowl of Frankenberry on Saturday morning. Even if one recognizes that some things should stay in the past the siren song of irony can be powerful and many staunch wills have been unseated by its call. Of course enjoying the strange inclusion of Weird Al Yankovic's "Dare to Be Stupid" in Transformers: The Movie (the cartoon) is a world away from the straight faced comedy of Bumblebee urinating on someone in last years live action version. Who comes up with this shit? When the mockery of the eighties becomes the blockbuster of the aughts, then you know we've skipped straight past farce.

The curse of the remake, reinvention, or, for the truly desperate sell, reimagining has escaped the movies and made its way to the small screen where studios freely beg, borrow, or steal from past success, and when all else fails take crib notes from the British. If capitalism is so great, then why do we have to steal from those commies at the BBC? Already The Office has crossed the Atlantic and I've heard rumors that the British time traveling drama and David Bowie allusion Life On Mars is making its way through immigration. What better way to offset all of this anglophilia than to bring back the most aggressively jingoistic show on television past or present, American Gladiators?

I'm here to tell you that the good news is they didn't change a winning formula. Two sets of contestants, one set male and the other set female, are pitted against a slew of gladiators wearing red, white and blue and sporting names like Militia, Wolf, Titan, Crush, and Helga. My guess is the names came from an extensive and highly scientific poll of middle school boys. Your favorite contests are still here. Joust proves that nothing is more fun than two people hitting each other with sticks and assault just goes to show that Nerf toys are cool no matter how old you are. The new contests are basically just variations on pushing the other guy into a pool of water. People love the splash.

The biggest revamp comes from the contestants. In the 90's the most boring part of the show was the obligatory biography of the four contestants. We got to learn that Pete was a firefighter from Chicago and Sally was a part time aerobics instructor from L.A. Taking a cue from Deal or No Deal, a game show whose apparent lack of strategy makes scratching off lottery tickets the strategic equivalent of the Battle of Austerlitz, the 2008 American Gladiators frames the contest within some sort of theme. For example, one episode pitted police officers against each other and another episode featured contestants who had recently lost a lot of weight. You see, American Gladiators is really about the human story element.

The producers have also taken some of the steroids out of the female gladiator's diet. Gone is the fear that the male audience at home could be beaten up by a girl (they probably still could but it's less obvious and thus more reassuring) and the confusion of seeing a scantily clad woman displaying her sexually ambiguous body. Here are two examples of female gladiators from the original and the 2008 version:
















The same approach has been taken with the female contestants. Unlike the early nineties there is a very strict "no femullet" rule. I'm not suggesting there's a casting couch at NBC, but here's an example of a recent contestant:



















Her biography says she's just trying to make her way through school. Hmmm, where have I heard that line before?

What about the guys you say? Well, as you can see the female half of the competition has been overhauled to attract more male viewers. I guess you could say the same thing about the male half of the competition. Recently American Gladiators had their very first openly gay contestant, Sean Hetherington. Sean appeared on an episode whose gimmick was that the contestants had recently lost lots of weight. It was a very Oprahish episode of American Gladiators and it should have been commended except that not only was there no mention of Sean's sexual orientation but the producers actively attempted to hide the fact. In keeping with the focus on the personality of the contestants, often the show cuts to the family, friends, and significant others cheering and encouraging their player. Usually the girlfriend or fiance of the contestant is the center of the human drama, but in the case of Sean his cheering section was confusingly labeled "friends." Sean's "friends" received far less screen time than the friends of other contestants, and I would be willing to bet that at least one of the friends should have had "boy" as a prefix. In fact, it would have been impossible to know Sean's orientation, unless you suspected something when he broke down in tears after finishing the Eliminator, which would not only make you right but also make you a bigot.

American Gladiators is, not surprisingly, the television equivalent of 300 in terms of unwitting homoeroticism. This may be nothing new to the series, but come on guys it's 2008. It's time to fess up. We're adults we can take it. I don't care if Wolf and Titan are shacking up. If they are then it just adds to the human drama.















"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"

You may be wondering what's so "American" about American Gladiators? Well, bloated capitalism of course. So far the producers have been relatively restrained and the blatant advertising has yet to reach the level seen in lesser sports, like Nascar. Still, the audience is reminded just who's footing the bill whenever the announcer goes to the "Subway instant replay." About halfway through each episode it is kindly suggested that the audience go to the American Gladiator's website where you can read the bios of your favorite gladiators and find out what's their favorite Subway sub. It turns out Wolf likes the Spicy Italian with "double meat because the more meat the better." The Running Man this is not, but give it time...give it time.

The one element truly missing from the new American Gladiators, and the one element it can never reproduce is a contestant that took the country by storm and won the hearts of millions. I'm talking about 2 Scoops. His birth name is Wesley Berry but to me and the rest of America he will always be known by his moniker 2 Scoops. He gave himself this name because every time he won a competition he claimed he was giving more than one-hundred per cent. The amount increased as the competition progressed: 102%, 105%, 112%. He didn't exaggerate the number so I think he had some sort of a calculation system. Truly a great showman. More than Pete Rose, more than Jim Brown, hell, more than even Muhammad Ali, in my opinion 2 Scoops is America's greatest athlete. I can honestly say that if it wasn't for 2 Scoops I would not have the courage or determination every Monday night at eight to sit my ass in front of the TV and watch the new American Gladiators. Look at this guy go:



The secret to 2 Scoops's success is that he was everything the gladiators were not: small, wiry, and fast, with a special emphasis on fast. At times it was as if the gladiators didn't even exist. I have it from a reliable source that the special effects in The Matrix movies were in fact inspired by 2 Scoops's performance on American Gladiators. Let's see some more (you'll want to start at the 1:00 mark):



Not only is he magnanimous but he's also a Buddhist philosopher! No one is going to come along and deliver the kind of showmanship and nobility 2 Scoops had. He's the kind of guy you would love to have on your side in a bar fight and to take care of your kids if you're out on a date with the wife. When 2 Scoops was on the original American Gladiators I forgot about all of the kitsch and sat back and enjoyed a great moment in sports.

I guess that leaves American Gladiators 2008 with only the appeal of nostalgia and irony. As much as I railed against these two traps, I must admit I love the new American Gladiators for exactly those two reasons. What can I say? I can't help it, I'm a child of the nineties.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Local H - 12 Angry Months

Local H - 12 Angry Months (4.5/5)


Two Bands.

Both gained the public spotlight during the aftershocks of the nineties grunge earthquake. Both earned their success through unbearably catchy singles. Both bands appeared dead after their major label sequels failed to meet expectations. Both resurrected themselves in the new millennium after a lengthy hiatus where they lost and replaced a band mate.

That’s where the similarities end. One of these bands went on to recapture their mid-nineties songwriting skills and added a few new tricks while they survived playing small clubs and searching out independent labels for their newer albums. The other band sounded like a cheap knockoff but still managed to sell out stadiums and eat up internet chatter about their latest new release.

I’m talking about Local H and Weezer here. In my mind it is one of the great tragedies of our time that Weezer, a band who hasn’t been able to write a truly great song for well over a decade, has managed to coast on nostalgia selling millions of records while Local H, a band that is as strong, if not stronger, than they were in the alternative rock heyday, is remembered as a one hit wonder. Now that both acts are putting out new albums in the same year I wish I could claim that things are about to change and that a chiasmus shift will occur finding Local H on top and Weezer looking for a record deal. Instead, expect Weezer to put out a series of albums that sound as if they were recorded during a coke fueled all-nighter right before deadline (“Hey, remember that old Shaker song, we’ll just use that and people will think we’re being clever”), and Local H will continue to put out consistently good to great albums so long as they find a label willing to distribute them.

It’s a real shame too, because 12 Angry Months is the best Local H album since Pack Up the Cats. Not coincidently both albums emerge from the concept records of the 1970’s, but instead of the mystifying and campy sci-fi rock of Electric Light Orchestra or Styxx, Local H’s album long tales are of a more personal nature. Pack Up the Cats chronicled a band moving from the countryside to the big city and realizing that many of the same tribulations exist in both places. 12 Angry Months is a break up album that follows the despondent over a single post-break up year. As you might guess each song corresponds to a month.

What’s particularly powerful about Local H’s latest is the sheer honesty. This isn’t a collection of wistful songs about a lost love engineered to be perfect background music to sip one’s morning cup of joe. Instead, Scott Lucas realizes that most relationships end in an immolation that engulfs both participants. On “White Belt Boys” Lucas repeats “I hope you have a lonely life” and Lucas is his least sympathetic on “Jesus Christ! Did You See…” where he bluntly states, “to think I used to fuck you.” Sentiments like these are effective because of their honesty, and because Lucas realizes they emerge as much out of his hatred of another as they do out of self-loathing, as evinced by the mantra “only a groupie would ever want to love me.”

The transition from love burned to denouement backtracks from introspection to anger. Songs that hint at some sort of reconciliation, like “Simple Pleas’” acoustic guitar, are tempered by the anger evident in the industrial sounding percussion on “Machine Shed Wrestling.” The album accurately chronicles how hatred lies underneath the most sophisticated of sentiments. Lucas’s wit is underrated, and it is his sense of humor that also helps him recognize what the hell happened. On “The One With ‘Kid’” he describes the process of disentangling the couple’s integrated record collection, a task that leads him to accusatorily ask where his Kyuss records are, and to claim “you never liked them until you met me.” Later, in “Machine Shed Wrestling,” Lucas sings “As a product you would be great, and all the income you generate, but as a lover you’re just a bust, you’re not a service I can trust,” suggesting that the two first met comparing notes about their recently divorced record collection.

A rock band like Local H who openly confesses their love of Daft Punk is the kind of rock band who can write some great pop songs. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Weezer/Local H comparisons. Despite being known as a power pop band, Weezer hasn’t written a truly memorable pop song since their second album. Skim the top four songs off of just this one Local H album and compare it to the top four songs from Weezer’s last four records and I guarantee you every Local H song will win the pop category.

But Local H doesn’t just stop at writing catchy songs, they also have a knack at writing final songs that sums up everything that came before. On “Hand to Mouth” Lucas repeats the lines “You’ll learn what really matters, you’ll know what really counts, you’ll hear the chitter-chatter, they say when you’re living hand to mouth,” with variation, on into infinity. Each intonation suggests a new and slightly different understanding of the phrase. Built upon tricks old and new, “Hand to Mouth” is possibly the best song in Local H has written to date, and possibly my favorite song so far this year.

The music industry has undergone some mighty peculiar changes since the 1990’s. I wish all of it was for the better. Despite the injustices that still exist in the marketplace, I’ll be happy if the long-tail provides enough room for a band like Local H to continue to write great albums without being forced to ride the wave of the inevitable 90’s nostalgia trend. I’ll end before you get me started on the Stone Temple Pilots’ reunion. That’s a whole other review.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Liars - Liars


Liars – Liars (5/5)

The best thing that ever happened to Liars was the one star review of They Were Wrong So We Drowned they received from Rolling Stone Magazine. What better way to promote yourself as the punk-rock-who-gives-a-fuck band of the new millennia than receive a devastatingly negative review from the magazine tailor made for the culturally shallow petit-bourgeois that choke our cities with the treeless wasteland of suburbia. Rolling Stone Magazine, who needs them. This is the same magazine that put The Eagles on the cover decades after they’re relevant, if they ever were relevant. This is the same magazine who, like most of its readers I’m sure, discovered itself during the culturally vibrant time of the sixties and has spent the last forty years skimming pop culture chum looking for the most shallow musical “artists.” This is the magazine that caters to Starbucks shopping masses who yearn for the convenience of picking up the latest Jasan Mraz, Carly Simon or Michael Bolton while simultaneously buying overpriced cappafrappalattes. When Rolling Stone published that review a very clear wall was erected and edict imposed. Play by our rules or else you don’t get in.

So naturally the Liars went on to record the equally confounding Drum’s Not Dead.

After giving Rolling Stone the middle finger twice, it appears that Liars are ready to play nice with their audience. Their fourth release, given the swanky title Liars, is their most accessible album since their debut. Of course, its accessibility is mixed with the confrontational personality of the band. One cannot help but imagine a grin on lead singer Angus Andrew’s face when he delivers the faux-metal line “sweet massacre of death” during the album opener “Plaster Casts of Everything.” This mischievous irony is heightened by the fact the momentum of the song hits a wall mid-song only to accelerate to full speed with an even more anthemic refrain. Liars make it clear that even though they’re writing actual songs this time they’re still not playing nice.

I’m tempted to dissect the album into pop songs (or at least pop songs by the Liar’s standards) and percussion experiments that recall their last two albums, kind of like how Bowie’s Berlin albums were divided between lyrical songs and instrumentals. About half of the songs are the experimental Liars where they treat every instrument as if it’s a drum. This push-pull tension works wonderfully thanks to some great sequencing. Unlike so many bands the Liars don’t frontload the album, and after the two requisite singles as album openers, there are three challenging tracks in a row. By evenly distributing the swag, they’ve made sure the listener doesn’t get bored by the half-hour mark.

Many of the catchier numbers sound like old favorites blown out through the Liar’s bullhorn. “Houseclouds” sounds like an electroclash Prince. The fuzz of “Freak Out” is reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. The stabbing guitar and breathy vocals of “Pure Unevil” recalls New Order. Needless to say, the breadth of the sound coming from this album is impressive. At times Liars sounds like an album at a forked road. One direction is the murky swamp of experimentation obscured from the likes of lesser critics like Rolling Stone by a gripping canopy. The other path leads them out in the open with all the other indie-rock artists that have made their way onto soundtracks of quirky independent comedies. Or, perhaps the Liars are coming from the opposite direction, arriving at a point where both sides of their personality meet rather than diverge. I hope that this album is really a reconciliation between the inviting Liars and the Liars who don’t have a problem telling Rolling Stone to fuck off.

Friday, May 02, 2008

1000 Years in Hell With Mike Meyers


It has recently come to my attention that Mike Meyers is putting out another movie. After desecrating the corpse of Dr. Seuss he's gone ahead and offended an entire religion. Meyers's latest celluloid monstrosity is called The Love Guru where he plays a Hindu spiritual leader who is enlisted in a scheme to get a professional hockey player back together with his wife. Hockey? Oh, that's right, he's Canadian.

Some people are none too pleased with the movie. The Spiritual Science Research Foundation (an oxymoron on par with the organization, Jumbo Shrimp for Corporate Ethics), a group of conservative Hindus, have written letters in protest of the film. They have even created a chart illustrating how many years in hell you will receive for even watching the film. For example, if you watch the movie knowing about it's "spiritual significance" you receive five demerits and one-hundred years in the first level of Hell. However, if you are involved in making the film then you receive thirty demerits and one-thousand years in the second level of Hell. Don't worry, it's too late for Mike Meyers, he's already received at least ten-thousand years in Hell for The Cat and the Hat.


Act

Demerit

Means

Making the movie, 'The Love Guru'

30 units

2nd region of Hell for 1000 years

Watching it for entertainment without knowing the spiritual science/significance

2 units

Nether region (Bhuvaloka) for 100 yrs

Watching it for entertainment even after knowing the spiritual science/ significance

5 units

1st region of Hell for 100 yrs

Being a seeker of God/on the spiritual path, knowing about the Movie, but doing nothing to stop it

5 units

1st region of Hell for 100 yrs



I wonder how long until the studio uses this as a gimmick. "The movie that's so good they don't want you to see it." "Never before has ninety minutes been worth a hundred years in Hell." "It's sacri-larious!"

It's kind of nice to know that religious zealots exist everywhere. To be perfectly honest the hundred years of hell has me more curious about the movie than the actual preview. Is it really worth it? Not if during that hundred years I will be forced to watch Mike Meyers movies, that's for sure.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Is Is

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Is Is (4/5)

The latest release from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a mere five song E.P. that is somewhat reminiscent of their pre-Fever to Tell output. If while listening to Is Is you get the feeling that these songs sound like natural descendents to the YYYs early releases, like their self-titled debut and Machine, there’s a good reason for such suspicions: these songs were actually written around the same time as those early E.P.s. For their latest release the YYYs grabbed a bunch of older songs and re-recorded them. Unlike the rest of us, when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs look under their couch cushions instead of finding loose change they just happen to find a handful of unused songs.


Working against their more recent, more polished work, the latest YYYs release feels as if the whole affair was bound by a bunch of rusty bolts. While the songs have more of an edge than the YYYs’ indie-pop numbers, they’re hardly a retread of their early days. The stuttering pace of “Rockers to Swallow” sounds as if the drums and guitar would collapse if Karen O’s snarl didn’t whip them along all the way to the finish line. There’s a sense of space that wasn’t present in YYYs’ early fits of noise, which makes it even more important for the trio to play off one another. For his part, Brian Chase takes an opportunity for more complexity and drum fills, Nick Zinner expands his oeuvre with some psychadelia on “Isis,” and while avoiding any conventional melodies, Karen O showcases her strengths as a front woman. Is Is sounds like a sort of missing link between the YYYs’ early songs and their first album.


Considering that these songs were written long before this E.P. was recorded, I don’t think the YYYs are necessarily hinting at a new direction. From “Art Star” to “Cheated Hearts” the YYYs have already proven they shriek as well as they can sing, but it is comforting to know that they haven’t completely given up on shrieking. Here’s hoping that instead of plotting their songs along a pop/noise spectrum they realize there doesn’t have to be much of a difference between the two.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Black Keys - Attack & Release

The Black Keys - Attack & Release (4/5)

The Black Keys’ latest release was originally intended as the collaborative product of DJ Dangermouse, Ike Turner, and the title band. The man responsible for “Crazy,” a couple of white Midwestern bluesmen, and the guy who almost sent Tina Turner rolling down the river was an unlikely grouping to say the least, and I for one was curious to hear the inevitable clusterfuck of an album. Unfortunately, before this marvelously disparate musical collision could get on its way Ike Turner passed away. Who knew decades of drug, alcohol, and spousal abuse could end a life so early? Ike left this plane of existence at the age of seventy-six.

I half expected a DJ Dangermouse mash up between The Black Keys and Li’l Bow Wow (or, does he go by Bow Wow now?), but thankfully Dangermouse decided to mostly stay out of the way and let the Keys do their thing. If you were to suck all the studio trickery out of Attack & Release you would still have a collection of some damn fine songs. What Dangermouse ends up doing best is accentuating the open space on the slower songs. He adds a psychedelic atmosphere that fits perfectly with the classic rock underpinnings of The Black Keys’ songwriting, which has always been a few steps closer to Cream and Hendrix than Robert Johnson.

“Same Old Thing” is perhaps the only song where it feels as if Dangermouse is unsure of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s songwriting and unleashes some unnecessary Gil Scot Heron inspired flutes just to gum up the works. The result is unfortunately more than a little distracting. Dangermouse is most effective on “Psychotic Girl,” an acid trip on the bayou that’s enhanced by wraithlike backing vocals and eerie piano notes. Auerbach provides appropriate paranoia-by-moonlight lyrics and infuses even the slower songs with a strong sense of melody, something that had been sorely missing on their previous record. While most Black Keys albums feel as if they just stop regardless of the whether the last song is an appropriate end point, here “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” is a note perfect closer. The slow-dance pace and female backing vocals add just the right amount of effervescent heartbreak.

I’ll put myself on record as being disappointed with The Black Keys’ previous album, Magic Potion. After their superb (and still best) album, Rubber Factory, The Keys sounded listless and without momentum. The Ohioans needed a new direction. Attack & Release sounds like a true follow up to Rubber Factory, and even though I can’t help but miss their minimalism, I fully welcome their rediscovered sense of adventure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Black Keys "Strange Times" Music Video

The Black Keys "Strange Times" Music Video

The Black Keys are preparing to unleash another midwest blues monstrosity on an unsuspecting public. Their newest album, Release & Attack, will be released April 1st, after which you can expect an eardrum assault. This album has an interesting origin. Originally The Black Keys were going to record an album as the backing band for Ike Turner and produced by Danger Mouse, but when Turner went rolling down the big river in the sky, The Black Keys converted most of those songs into a fifth album instead. Danger Mouse is still producing.

Here is the video for "Strange Times." It involves lasers, tag, and lasertag.

Strange Times


Danger Mouse isn't exactly the first name that comes to mind when I think of potential producers for The Black Keys. However, this might be a good thing. After their first truly disappointing album (Magic Potion had mediocre written all over it) they really needed to shake some things up. Let's hope all the keyboards don't get in the way of all the white boy blues.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Super Furry Animals & Times New Viking Concert

Super Furry Animals & Times New Viking Concert


Times New Viking’s live show is somewhat of a paradox in that they sound more clear than they do on their albums. This, of course, is by design. I would be hard pressed to find another band more dedicated to a lo lo fi aesthetic. I was surprised to discover that the male vocalist of the group was actually the drummer, Adam, and not the guitarist. In a live setting the simple drums seemed to propel the performance, thanks in part to Adam having the most active stage personality, even playing the drums while standing up towards the end of the set. Adam introduced the first four songs as pop song number… in ascending order: “pop song #1, pop song #2, etc.” And I suppose that’s exactly what they played: precise, concise pop songs. With most, if not all, of the songs under three minutes long, the set flew by, and if I didn’t have the albums in the back of my head, then I’m not sure how much of an impact the band would have made. Of course, I’m already a convert so I was ready to pray at the altar of Times New Viking.


About three-quarters of the way through Times New Viking’s set, the drummer told the audience that this was the point where they should drop their acid. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Times New Viking’s sound is light years away from rock music conducive for psychedelic drugs, also know as self-indulgent jam band wankering. There is a reason why certain kinds of bands are heavily associated with drugs: they’re too fucking boring to listen to with a clear head. I will admit I was a little afraid that Super Furry Animals, whose music seems intricately geared towards headphone listening, would fall into the “music to drop acid to” category. Thank the gods Super Furry Animals knew that when they show up live it’s time to bring the rock.


Only a handful of songs were chosen from their latest album, Hey Venus!, but more tellingly they chose only one song from Love Kraft, their most laid back studio work. Instead the set list was culled evenly from their entire discography, heavily relying on crowd pleasers and their more pop oriented productions. Lead singer Gruff Rhys came out on stage in a space helmet stolen straight from the set of “Out of this World.” Continuing this cosmic theme, the second song out was the undeniably catchy “Rings Around the World.” On no less than three occasions the band played three songs titled “Uuuuurth 1,” Uuuuurth 2,” and Uuuuurth 3” where they encouraged the audience to participate by placing their hands on their head and wiggling their fingers. Were they trying to call the Grays from behind Venus using us as some kind of antennae, or were they just trying to make us look really stupid. Probably the latter, but I didn’t particularly care. Among the highlights was “Receptacle for the Respectable” where lead singer Gruff Rhys ate a carrot as a part of the percussion section. Gruff even brought back the space helmet towards the end of the show. As they played the final song the band members held up two signs: one with the word Boston on it, in the font of the wonderfully cheesy band; the second, a sign stating “resist false encores.” True to their word it was their last song. Of course, I didn’t mind, it would have been greedy to ask for anything more.



Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bizarro Bill Richardson

I don't claim to know who will win the 2008 presidential election, hell, at this point it's pretty tough to call who the Democratic nominee will be, but one thing is for certain: we have dodged what would assuredly be the end of the world thanks to one of the candidates who dropped out. This may be old news for the rest of you, but I have only recently been made aware of the terrible occurrence in New Mexico. It would seem that Bill Richardson has been replaced by Bizarro Bill Richardson.

Before:





















After:
















I can't even begin to imagine what would have happened if Bizarro Bill Richardson had won the presidency. Instead of letting all of Mexico into our country he would have allowed all of Canada to waltz across the boarders. Or maybe, instead of making it illegal for immigrants to stay here he would have forced Americans to move to Mexico. Only a Hispanic politician (with the strangely anglo name of Bill Richardson) replaced by his Bizarro counterpart from another dimension could devise such machinations. Perhaps, instead of universal health care he would implement a plan that would infect the country with the bubonic plague. Those who survived would presumably be tough enough, with enough immunities, to not need health care. Who knows what kind of evil lurks in that beard. All I know, is that he would rule with an iron fist.

In related news, here's an article about Hillary and Barack courting the endorsement of Bizarro Bill Richardson.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2/5)

In the original Elizabeth we saw the title character transform from an inexperienced twenty-something into a queen by hardening her heart and learning the ways of cutthroat politics. So, why in the sequel is she portrayed as a hysterical teenager? The filmmakers didn’t see fit to transfer any of what made the original character so great into the sequel. Instead of the assured queen at the end of Elizabeth, in Elizabeth: The Golden Age we are treated to an insecure monarch reacting to a midlife crisis by acting half her age.

King Philip of Spain is amassing an armada to invade England. He sees the Protestant queen as a spot of darkness in a Catholic world, even though, despite urgings to do so by her own counsel, she refuses to persecute Catholics in her own kingdom. If this wasn’t enough, her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, is planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and take the English throne. In the midst of these political machinations is a love triangle between the explorer Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth, and one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting.

For all of the intrigue and subplots, not much happens for the first half of the film and instead of political intrigue the audience is forced to endure another love scene where the two romantics ride horses in the countryside. Raleigh and Elizabeth’s relationship is utterly unconvincing. I cannot understand how anyone but the most na├»ve would be taken in on Raleigh’s “philosophical musings” about how when death closes in during a storm it only makes you want to live more, to which Elizabeth replies with wide eyes, “Yes, to live!” It sounds like the kind of life philosophy that would fit nicely in between sketches of unicorns and rainbows.

The looming threat of the Inquisition accompanies the Spanish armada, even though we are never shown the religious intolerance of the Inquisition. The menace would have loomed larger if the audience was aware of just exactly what was at stake. The first film had the tremendous opening where Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake, would it have been too much for a similar reminder that Europe still had one foot in the Dark Ages? Perhaps director Shekhar Kapur felt the dialogue was already enough torture for his audience.

In the film’s defense, it does fulfill the historical film’s need for extravagance in costume and cinematography. However, looking pretty just isn’t enough. After the extraordinary introduction to Elizabeth in the first film the last thing an audience wants to watch is a digression. If the film is about her rise to world dominance, then why does it feel as if Blanchett’s playing the role of a washed up actress, past her prime and unable to get her agent on the phone? It seems as if Elizabeth is more concerned with aging than she is with running her country. The central metaphor to the film is that of a storm, which is uttered from the lips of many characters, and to be sure when you finish watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age, you’ll feel as if you’ve weathered one yourself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Telecom Amnesty Redux

On Tuesday, February 12, the United States Senate passed the Protect American Act with telecom amnesty. You can get a more in depth analysis thanks to the invaluable Glenn Greenwald, here.

Since the last time I wrote the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats struck a deal on all of the pending amendments. The amendments either needed the usual fifty votes to pass or in special occasions they required sixty votes to pass. So, for example, the Dodd amendment that would strip the bill of telecom amnesty only required fifty votes, since the Republicans figured they could get enough Democrats to go against the rule of law, but another amendment by Diane Feinstein that would have review of any illegal activity conducted by the FISA courts themselves behind closed doors, required sixty votes because Democrats might actually vote for it. Sure enough, the Feinstein amendment received over fifty but less than sixty votes. In other words, the Democrats agreed to a deal where they increased the number of necessary votes for certain amendments to make sure the bill passed the Senate in the shape the president wanted it.

Well, is that it, have the telephone companies gotten away with breaking the law? Not quite, thanks to a bicameral legislature it still has to pass the House.

Luckily, the House actually has a spine and allowed the Protect America Act to expire rather than pass a permanent law that included telecom amnesty. This means the U.S. can still gather intelligence under FISA and despite what the fear mongers in Washington like to say, we can still listen in on potential enemies even if we have to go through the pesky "judicial branch" and respect "separation of power."

If you are listening to the Republicans then you might think that Osama Bin Laden can waltz right across our boarders and steal the secret Bush's Baked Bean recipe (yes, that's right, Duke is a part of Al Qaeda). This is obvious fear mongering and it's a wonder it has not been called out as obvious fear mongering more often. Maybe this small amount of defiance from the House will teach other Democrats that all they have to do is make their case to the American people, and when they do the world will not explode. Maybe other Democrats will realize that you don't have to do everything Bush tells you to in order to look "tough on terror." Maybe? Or maybe it's too much to ask.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Kentucky Fights Ohio Over a Rock!

The New York Times has one of the greatest newspaper articles I've read in a long time. It concerns Ohio, Kentucky, and a rock. When all three converge you know that a' trouble's a' brewin'! I will summarize the article but you really need to get the information straight from the Times, if only because it's very well written.

In Postsmouth, Ohio, local historian Steve Shaffer had a lifelong obsession with a local landmark called Indian Head Rock. The rock is famous for a stick figure drawing of a face of unknown origins as well as the names of many Portsmouth families from yesteryear whose ancestors still reside there today (yes, this is in Southern Ohio). The stick figure head is thought to be a Native American petroglyph, hence the name Indian Head Rock. When the Ohio River's water line rose due to dam construction, the rock was lost to time. Shaffer, remembering the rock in his local history course in middle school, decided in his adult years to take a diving team into the Ohio River and after a difficult search recovered the rock from the river floor.

After raising the rock, however, Ohio's neighbors to the south became upset. That's right, Kentucky thought we were stealing their rock! Apparently there is a shortage of rocks in Kentucky just as there is a shortage of college degrees and family trees. There are, however, a plethora of mullets and racists. The Kentucky legislature passed a bill demanding that the rock be returned. One of their legislators even suggested a raiding party. Not to be outdone one of our House members declared that he would defend the rock with his shotgun if need be.

The NY Times also has a video of their Indian Head Rock story.

If all goes well this will lead to a new civil war. It's time to put these rebels in their place a second time. Oh, Kentucky was a part of the Union you say? Well, we'll redraw the Mason Dixon line. Ahhhh, I see, they were also a slave state. Now that makes sense.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rockabye Baby!

Kids who listened to music in the 90's are having babies!

That's the impression I got when I saw this celebrity endorsement by Metallica's Kirk Hammett for the Rockabye Baby! collection. If you haven't heard, Rockabye Baby! is a collection of albums that takes rock music classics and rearranges them into lullabies for your kids. Remember, buy the album and don't download!




I don't know what's creepier, the music or when Kirk Hammett says "lullabies for baaaabies." Although, I will admit that I would rather listen to old Metallica reworked for children than their last few albums. Albeit, their newer stuff might be more effective in putting me to sleep.

I wonder how much control the artists have over stuff like this. Is this just the record companies selling out their artists or was it Courtney Love who gave Rockabye Baby! the right to cover Heart Shaped Box? I suppose legally it's not dissimilar to any old band covering a classic song on their latest album. Judging by Kirk Hammett's smile he's at least getting paid for his crappy music again.

And speaking of sleeping babies:



Hey, that baby wasn't just sleepy, that baby was drunk! In fact I finished off a keg with that baby last weekend. Poser passed out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Times New Viking - Rip It Off

Times New Viking – Rip It Off (5/5)

Before Times New Viking released Rip It Off on Matador, their first album in the big little leagues, many were questioning whether they would stubbornly maintain their lo-lo-fi aesthetic. Would Times New Viking sell out by not recording on four tracks and maybe even hire a bass player? Maybe it was the punk rock in all of us that thought moving to another (admittedly still independent) label would have forced the band to clean up their sound. These days independents have been making great commercial strides, even getting their bands onto Billboard’s top ten. How long would it be for them to become the new majors? I’m here to say, don’t fear the four-track: all is well with Times New Viking’s latest opus.

While Rip It Off sounds a lot like their last two records, that’s not to say that the band has been completely stagnant. Those who loved the songs of their last album, but hated the recording, will find even catchier pop snippets underneath the static, and those who also loved the high end static will find plenty of that as well. In other words, those who think Times New Viking’s lo-fi shtick is just a gimmick probably won’t be too happy about Rip It Off. One thing Rip It Off is not, is a please everybody album.

The album contains their cleanest song to date, “Drop-Out,” which sounds like it could possibly be played on the radio so long as the station was just barely in range and you had crappy reception to begin with. But that’s about as clear as it gets. “My Head” belies its friendly beats with the mantra “I need more money, because I need more drugs,” which also happens to be one of the few lyrics one can make out underneath the white noise. “The Wait” slows things down to mid-tempo and could conceivably be played at a high school dance in some alternate punk rock universe. “The End of All Things” has an acoustic outro that gives the static a rest for about twenty seconds or so.

I know there are plenty of people who will ask, if Times New Viking are writing pop songs, then what’s the point of obscuring them with a crappy recording? Perhaps the answer can be found in the same reaction some of us had to Times New Viking’s jump to Matador: punk rock guilt. If you start making songs lots of people like, eventually you’ll get people listening to your music who you would rather not show up at the show singing your lyrics. Or perhaps the answer isn’t quite as elitist. Maybe they just like the sound of static as much as the sound of a keyboard? There is a certain aura to lo-fi albums that recalls listening to a friend’s band in his parent’s garage back in high school. Just because technology has reached the stage where musicians can do just about anything, doesn’t mean they should actually do just about anything. There are those of us who think four tracks are plenty for a rock album. There’s a reason no one actually sits through an entire ELO record anymore.

Whenever a band makes a jump to a bigger label the speculation about where they’re headed begins. Rip It Off gives several clues. The band’s songwriting has been recalibrated for more hooks per song (although nothing tops “Teenagelust!” from their last album). Does this mean one day they might stop sounding like they recorded at the bottom of Lake Erie? Their most pertinent audio and geographical forebears, Guided By Voices, eventually succumbed to the sins of a big studio album. Will Times New Viking someday make their own Isolation Drills? Perhaps, but until then I’ll be perfectly happy for Times New Viking to bang out a couple more albums that pack sixteen songs into a sardine-can-sized half-hour.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kids Trash Robert Frost's House

Several days ago the Vermont home of Robert Frost was desecrated by a gaggle of teenagers. About thirty kids trudged up to the now historical Robert Frost home with lots of beer and lots of liquor. After several hours of partying they broke windows, smashed antique furniture, and urinated and vomited where they pleased. Eventually the kids were found out and prosecuted (apparently trying to get thirty teenagers to keep a secret is more difficult than getting a cat to take a bath).

Why?

Well, obviously they thought Ezra Pound was, like, soooooooooo much better and that Robert Frost was a total freak, ya know?

I don't pretend to be terribly knowledgeable about Frost. I've read a few poems and I've even liked a few. At times his reputation seems almost too quintessentially rural American. At one point this down home reputation had to be swept under the rug by critics who wanted to save Robert Frost. They argued that he was just as dark and neurotic as any Modern poet.

It was probably this fallacious belief in the myth of the wholesome Frost that made his home such a tempting target. Who doesn't go through a phase where you want to tear down symbols of virtue? Here's one of my favorite Frost poems "Birches." It's about kids "swinging" trees. I used to do the same thing when I was younger, but back then we called it "parachuting" trees.


"Birches"
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree~
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

I can't help but think that somehow the poem is relevant.

Here is a clip from one of my favorite video games of all time, Grim Fandango, which pays homage to one of America's most prestigious poets:



My favorite line from that game: "Run you pigeons, it's Robert Frost!"