Monday, January 30, 2006

What the hell is wrong with me....

...I have listened to Interpol's "Evil" 5 times in a row, and showing no signs of stopping. Maybe it was the fact that I finally watched the video with the singing puppet tonight. It's the creepiest damn thing ever, but it's also so incredibly hilarious, touching, and awesome. It's the kind of thing that would probably give certain people nightmares, that is, anyone who has ever had nightmares about their toys coming to life. That's why my aunt never liked that Jim Henson Christmas special about the toys coming to life, or why my mom was initially reluctant to see Toy Story. I hope for their sakes they never see Norman.
6 times...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


It's weird when there's a song you like, and you always mean to get it on your computer, but then lo and behold, you discover it's on your computer after all. That was the case tonight with Sloan's "Everything You've Done Wrong," which I played last semester on KUMM off the Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Turns out it's on the band's A Sides Win singles compilation, which is on my computer. Sloan was one of those bands I knew I had to check out when I got to college. Mr. Zuccola, my old high school journalism teacher, mentioned them as one of his favorite bands. I prefer their newer material, maybe that's because they turned to blatant power-pop in recent years. I've liked most of their stuff that I've heard, and Action Pact, in addition to being a great album title, is 45 minutes of pure power-pop punch.

If you have a blog, Livejournal, Xanga, et al., there's literally hundreds of mini music surveys & quizzes you can post to the world. One of the questions I encountered back in the day was "Favorite song lyric." This could have multiple meanings; it could be an entire song libretto, or it could be a single line from a song. At the time, I said New Order's "Blue Monday," which, for all its technical innovations, remains an incredibly haunting & enigmatic portrait of confusion, isolation, disillusionment, and/or the Falkland Islands War. I was listening to one of my favorite songs tonight and I realized that there's probably more individual lines from that song that I can apply to my life than any other song. The song, of course, is the Streets' "Empty Cans," A Grand Don't Come for Free's epic eight-minute closer. Over the course of the album, the protagonist (narrated by Mike Skinner) hooks up with a girl, goes to the racetrack, gets bombed out of his mind on Ecstasy, gets kicked out of his girlfriend's house, (unsuccessfully) hits on a girl at a fast food restaurant, finds out his girl has been cheating on him with his friend, and breaks up with the girl in a tear-jerking nightmare of female indifference, all while trying to track down the shoebox full of the (titular) thousand quid that has mysteriously vanished from his flat. By the time the album rolls around to its final song, the protagonist is sitting in his flat, alone in the world, wondering what to do next. His buddy Scott phones him up and asks him to take a look at Mike's broken TV set, but Mike is still angry that Scott didn't tell him about Dan & Simone's affair, and he decides to go to an independent repairman. Mike and the repairman get into a spat, which results in a bloody confrontation in Mike's kitchen. The chorus kicks in: "No one gives a crap about Mike, that's why I'm acting nasty." The ultimate ode to despondency and despair, sitting in your flat sitting bad for yourself....but then something strange happens. The tape starts rewinding, moving backwards, before you suddenly realize that the song has started over again. Mike is still sitting in his apartment, with empty cans lining the walls. But this time, he decides to give Scott another chance. Scott comes to repair the TV, where he makes an amazing discovery: he pops the back of the TV open and discovers the thousand quid sitting inside. The lilting strings kick in, and the chorus rolls around, but this time quite different:

The end of something I did not want to end
Beginning of hard times to come
But something that was not meant to be is done
And this is the start of what was

The album concludes with Mike stepping outside, pulling his coat tighter to keep warm as his breath floats in the air, and jogs out into the world to start a new day. So which ending is reality? Have his transgressions caught up with him, dooming him to a despairing existence, or has he been given another chance, finding redemption in the form of a shoebox inside his television set? Or maybe neither? In any case, it's difficult for me to find a more vivid, lucid depiction of acceptance, closure, and learning to move on. On an album that covers the full gamut of human emotions, Skinner takes care in the closing track to sketch a world that is contingent on our own actions. Mike says, "No-one's really there fighting for you in the last garrison. No-one except yourself that is, no-one except you. You are the one who's got your back 'til the last deed's done." It's your responsibility; if you want to sit in and drink and feel sorry for yourself, that's your own prerogative. If you want to move on, mend old bonds, and possibly find redemption, that's within your reach as well. Finally, the song reminds us that no matter how bad things get, there's always the possibility that you'll open up your TV set and find your thousand quid inside. You may be on your own in the end, but you can't give up hope that things will get better. Near the end of the song, Mike talks about a girl named Alison he met at his house; it's possible that he'll treat her like crap too and the whole cycle will just start over again. Will he learn from his mistakes? This is the great unanswered question about "Empty Cans" and A Grand Don't Come for Free; the answer lies in whether we will ever learn from our mistakes. We may control our own destiny, but maybe we hold the power to shape our destiny into a world where we are not so alone after all. Things can get better, but we have to be the ones to make the peace.
So, for its endless layers of depth and meaning, I would now have to say that "Empty Cans" is my favorite set of lyrics in all music. The whole album is pretty amazing (and only gets better with each listen, if that's even possible) and while "Dry Your Eyes" and "Fit But You Know It" were each spectacular singles, it's "Empty Cans" that stands out as the album's apex. Maybe we're not so hopeless after all.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Quick Hits

I am on the verge of commencing formal work on a major project, the results of which will appear on this site. But in the meantime, I have a few observations about what I've been listening to lately.

  • As much as I enjoy Welcome Interstate Managers, I think song-for-song, Utopia Parkway is Fountains of Wayne's best album. WIM has plenty of highlights and probably has my 5-6 favorite FoW songs (hell, 5-6 of my favorite songs ever) but it really gets to be too long at points; I find myself actually skipping songs. They may be decent songs, but I often times skip past "Halley's Waitress" and "Hung Up on You." Utopia Parkway is much more consistent. There's fewer songs that jump out, grab you by the throat, and say "this is awesome!" but is far more solid. By definition, it means the album may not be as colorful, but Utopia is certainly a critic's album. That said, I'd still recommend WIM as a FoW starting point 99 times out of 100.
  • In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: the Rattle and Hum version of "Pride" wipes the album version off the map. It's really not even close.
  • The Strokes' new album is my favorite of their career so far. It has a handful of complete duds ("Killing Lies" and "Fear of Sleep" in particular), but its highlights more than make up for it. I liked their first two albums, but I can't bring myself to listen to them very often. I admire the craftsmanship of Is This It and the atmosphere of Room on Fire, but there's only been a handful of individual songs that I would consider my favorites; probably "Soma" and "Take It or Leave It" from the debut and "Automatic Stop," "Between Love & Hate," "12:51" and "Under Control" (which has really grown on me lately). First Impressions of Earth immediately doubled that total. Critics be damned, I really like the band's sound on this album. I like the edge, I like the atmosphere, I like the fact that it seems like Julian Casablancas is singing about stuff other than looking for hookups in dank alleys. The only thing that's bugging me is how my 3 favorite songs from the album are all DNP's, so I wouldn't be able to play them during daytime hours on KUMM. For the record, the songs are "Vision of Division," "Heart in a Cage," and the epic "15 Minutes," which is the Strokes' "City of Blinding Lights."
  • I could listen to "Under Pressure" for hours on end.
  • It may not exactly be hip or indie or KUMM-friendly, but for sheer escapist entertainment, Billy Joel is tough to beat. Sometimes I wonder why I was such a fan during my senior year of high school, but I listened to a bunch of his stuff today and I suddenly remembered. Hits aside, it's tough to deny one thing: "Until the Night" may be the most bombastic, melodramatic, overwrought ballad of the 1970s. It's also amazingly good, too. Even if you hate on Billy Joel for the remaining 99% of his material, it's tough to deny that on "Until the Night," he pulls off the remarkable feat of managing to do the Righteous Brothers better than the Righteous Brothers. How limp ballads like "Just the Way You Are" and "Don't Ask Me Why" continue to get radio play, while this masterpiece remains buried deep on the second side of 52nd Street is a true injustice. Just wait, it'll show up on American Idol this season and I'll be saying I told you so.

That's all for tonight.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Coming Clean

I don't have much to contribute today. I downloaded some songs this morning off iTunes. If anything, it only proved that I'm not as much of a hipster as I sometimes come off. Need proof? Then consider the songs I downloaded today:

Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me a River"
Amy Grant, "Good for Me"
The Go-Go's, "Our Lips Are Sealed"
Queen & David Bowie, "Under Pressure"

So there you go. I'm not as "indie" as you might think. My iTunes features everything from Kelly Clarkson to Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian to Gavin DeGraw, XTC to Garth Brooks. Of course, I am probably far too paranoid about what people think about my musical tastes. After all, both Pitchfork & Stylus each had "Since U Been Gone" in their top 3 singles of 2005. But I still feel bad being the station manager of a college radio station, yet I still have this stuff on my computer. In the end, a fun song is a fun song, though, and I don't think there's anything wrong with listening to these seemingly inane songs. Maybe I'll write about this paradox in my Counterweight article this month. Dave Swenson gave me some suggestions on what to write about today; anyone else have any starting points?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Getting Up to Date

KUMM received a ton of CDs over break. I have taken to previewing a bunch of them so that KUMM's DJs can have lots of new stuff to play once the spring semester begins. I have barely made a dent in the enormous stack of music to go through, but this is some of what I've gone through so far:

Joel Plaskett & The Emergency, Truthfully Truthfully
Taylor Hollingsworth, Tragic City
Robert Pollard, From a Compound Eye
We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor
Mancino, Dear International [EP]
Film School, Film School

I've also got new stuff from Revolver Modele, Cat Power, Taxpayer, and Polystar. The last band, Polystar, sets outrageous expectations in their promotional materials; their lead singer predicts that they will one day reach the same level of acclaim afforded to classic artists like "Bauhaus, Joy Division, and Squeeze." One of these things is not like the other....

I am really enjoying this Film School album. It's got an atmospheric, almost prog vibe to portions (the band cites Pink Floyd as an influence) yet is distinctly modern. They manage to incorporate parts of Interpol's sound without trying to blatantly sound like them, like many bands that have sprung up in the past few years; She Wants Revenge is a good example of one such band (Rolling Stone even mentioned SWR in its latest issue, explaining that Interpol now knows how Ian Curtis would have felt if he had seen later acts blatantly pilfering his band's distinctive sound). Film School also incorporates elements of the Arcade Fire and even My Bloody Valentine in its guitar textures. One song, "He's a Deep Deep Lake," even manages to sound like Stellastarr* covering the Smashing Pumpkins' "Soma," which should be considered quite a compliment. It's an extremely arty & dense record, but it's a refreshing statement of artistic purpose when compared with many of the countless, facile releases that come through KUMM's new section.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The First Post

I decided to create an actual blog, not just a place where I (choose one) rant about my college, complain about other people, or talk about what I had for breakfast. I hope to devote this newly-christened blog to discussing a subject that is very dear to me: music. In the coming weeks and months, faithful readers can look forward to hearing me talk about what I am enjoying at the time, what I think about a particular artist/album, and so on. I'd like to pre-emptively thank everyone for reading, and I hope you keep coming back to see what I have to say.