Friday, September 16, 2011

naysayer- wild flag

I’ll just go ahead and say it—I’m a bit disappointed in Wild Flag. I shouldn’t be—I should be beyond thrilled: Mary Timony, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss all in the same band—what’s not to love?! Well, I’ll tell you. It’s impossible to see them live, buy their new record or buy into that line of crap that they’re trying to feed people about how they’re trying to ‘work up to being their own band.’ No. You are in an indie superband and if you’re not going to own it it’s going to piss people off (like me, for instance). You’ve all already paid your dues, so play some bigger sized venues so that your fans who want to see you can get the opportunity. I actually would’ve liked to have had the opportunity to entertain the notion of catching them at the Empty Bottle had both shows not sold out in a fucking instant. Sorry, folks, but this probably means you might have to play at Lincoln Hall or maybe even (heaven help me for even saying this) the Metro regardless of whatever illusion or delusion of maintaining your cred you are operating under. People are going to want to see you based on your past musical endeavors whether you want to admit it to yourselves or not. That said, I suppose it is refreshing to see a little humility for a change.

And now, the recorded output: I have attempted to listen to a total of three Wild Flag songs and have, as of right now, failed to make it much further than the minute mark in any of them. I would like to add that I was a huge Sleater-Kinney supporter (until I read the lyric sheet for ‘One Beat’—a subject for another time) and that I have the softest spot in my heart for all Helium releases as well as Mary Timony’s absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful first two solo albums ‘Mountains’ and ‘The Golden Dove.’ In fact, Timony, in my mind, has always ranked high up there in the category of highly acrobatically capable guitarists who are able to balance their unparalleled shredding abilities with a wicked instinct for composition. The two are often mutually exclusive, but not so for Timony. An apropos confession—while living in Portland Stefanie and I bought tickets for a Sleater-Kinney show at the Crystal Ballroom only to see Mary Timony perform her opening solo set. We left after she was done. No shit. This brings me to a lot of my beef with the Wild Flag recordings—a lot of what put me off was the fact that it picked up right where I left off regarding my disappointments with both Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony’s musical directions when I jumped off of each one’s respective bandwagon. I may have heard ‘The Woods’ once. I’m not sure. I seem to remember hearing it in a record store while I was browsing once. I believe my blind opinion differed very little from what it would’ve been had I known that I was, in fact, listening to the only Sleater-Kinney album I have ever deliberately not purchased. My verdict, I remember, was I liked a handful of the tracks, was annoyed at the drawn-out ‘jammy’ nature of the music (mainly because it was coming from a band that had always had a firm ‘no-bullshit’ stance which they held to enough that they never bothered to get a bass player) and also the bloated and crappily ill-fitting nature of Dave Fridmann’s production. This was a problem I also had with ‘The Great Destroyer’ by Low. Fridmann is the perfect producer for a band like the Flaming Lips. He was also a fantastic production foil for Mark Linkous on Sparklehorse’s brightest moment ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Mogwai’s ‘Come on Die Young’ was so well-suited to his penchant for obscenely bombastic drums coupled with crisp, digital production. Mercury Rev would never have worked with any other producer in the world. I actually really like his production. It’s when he all of a sudden became such an in-demand producer that he was being put into contexts where he just didn’t belong—i.e. working with Low and Sleater-Kinney for example—two bands that had always had a very firm no-bullshit, analog stance and had turned in multiple albums supporting their firmness in this stance. Had Low made 'C'mon' with him, for example, it would've been a bombastic disaster! Why would Sleater-Kinney want to work with someone who was so ensconced in the world of Protools? Probably the same reason that a band that had always built their reputation and artistic credibility on being no-bullshit and minimalist would want to stretch their songs out and make them ‘jammier.’ It just all seemed a bit forced to me. I remember watching them at the Crystal Ballroom (this was a previous time to the aforementioned show) as they pulled out such tired rock clich├ęs as forced crowd singalongs, similarly forced-sounding jammed-out sections as well as backing tracks. No shit. When Nirvana bothered to finally mount a stadium tour they at least had the decency to just bring along a second guitarist and build an arty, unique stage set that was in line with their already firmly-established aesthetic. They were able to meet expectations while staying true to themselves. I just could never bring myself to listen to Sleater-Kinney again after that—it was such a far cry from what I’d seen at the Bottleneck only two years before on their tour supporting ‘All Hands on the Bad One’ which seemed to point towards a good path for them to make their music more accessible in a way that still seemed like artistic development.

So that’s where I left Sleater-Kinney. Mary Timony I left after her fourth solo record (the name escapes me). In her case it always seemed to be suppressed potential—she was capable of making these dense, engaging and gorgeous records completely on her own and yet all anyone wanted her to do was rehash what she was doing in Helium. The irony of this to me was that Helium also made dense, engaging, gorgeous records. I suppose the difference was that people thought they ‘rocked’ more, whereas something like ‘the Golden Dove’ is more of a dark, soft and insular creature. What’s the journalistic buzzword? Ah, yes: introspective! You don’t hear it a lot any more because now it has such a negative connotation. Times are bad enough without people having to actually think about the dark corners of their own psyches. We want rock, not to think about anything or contemplate a little beautiful music that doesn’t feel the need to beat us over the head and stab our eardrums and make us dance. I always felt a great amount of sadness that Timony didn’t continue down the path she had set with ‘Mountains’ and ‘the Golden Dove.’ Instead it always seemed to me that she retreated into what she thought others expected of her after Helium. ‘Ex Hex’ had some great moments, but the record’s songs were always more at home in the live context—maybe she should’ve tried to make her ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ with that one. The closer that she would perform from that record always melted our brains into mush when we would see it live. On the record, though, not so much. As if that weren’t enough Timony is relegated to a background player on a lot of the Wild Flag stuff that I heard. Her mad shredding skills were taking a bit of a back seat as well as her singspeak vocal style (which I would take over Brownstein’s similar singspeak vocal style any day). It’s stupid to have someone that musically capable pushed to the background. She can play and write circles around 90% of the talentless hacks in indie rock today (or any day for that matter). Listen to that Spells 7" from forever ago and see what I mean. I suppose this is just the nature of the indie rock climate these days, which is why I’ve found that I’ve grown further and further away from it as I’ve gotten older. It does a lot to explain the current lo-fi garage rock trend that all the kids are so nuts about these days. A postscript—if this pisses you off in any way please bear in mind that I am a 32-year-old college grad who works in a hotel coffeeshop who sunk all of his funds and future into a failed band endeavor. Wild Flag’s record is sold out of every record shop in town and every show on their tour is sold out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

diary 8.12.11- august in my mind

true, it is no longer august (even in my mind... sorry...), but i forgot to post my diary playlist for the month. since there won't be another one until october at least (i occasionally need a break even from my most narcissistic habits) and because i finally got around to ripping the audio from the kurt vile performance at pitchfork for the final track, i figured i might as well post it here. this is the best one in a pretty long time. also very fitting for the upheaval that was the month of august. the last push of summer is always the toughest. it's a good thing i didn't make this after enduring the misery of the chicago air and water show or else it would be a really tough one to listen to. embedded link to the mix on mixcloud to follow soon after.

song- artist- album
1. august in my mind- the fresh & onlys- 'august in my mind'
2. hail to the clear figurines- the asteroid #4- 'hail to the clear figurines'
3. pool swimmers- real estate- s/t
4. caught in one- dum dum girls- 'only in dreams'
5. just once- bardo pond- s/t
6. what you need (the porch boogie thing)- thee oh sees- 'castle group flex'
7. fame- ty segall- 'castle group flex'
8. do it all over again- spiritualized- 'let it come down'
9. alright- koolaid electric company- 'random noises and organised sounds'
10. who do i think i am- woods- 'sun and shade'
11. on the beach- neil young- 'on the beach'
12. childhood- beach house- s/t
13. i'm a fool to care- les paul & mary ford- 'i'm a fool to care' 7"
14. the 2 of us- suede- 'dog man star'
15. helicopter intro- deerhunter- pitchfork 2011 stream rip
16. helicopter- deerhunter- pitchfork 2011 stream rip
17. in my time- kurt vile- pitchfork 2011 stream rip

Sunday, September 11, 2011

review- wooden shjips- 'west'

Ah, yes... the new Wooden Shjips album. What can even be said about it? I’m not entirely sure how music like theirs can be evaluated since listening to and enjoying it seems to require different rules, standards and parameters from any other band in existence. All that the Shjips really care for is establishing and riding an amazing, fuzzy groove to the furthest reaches of its potential and then even further. Witnessing the Shjips live is basically like riding the ebb and flow of a never-ending and ever-evolving groove that they lay down over the course of a 45-minute or longer set. The overall experience and ambience is more important than the individual parts. Their records are constructed in similar ways—there is rarely much to latch onto in terms of a hook. If there is it’s never a clever vocal turn or a melody—it’s usually when each band member locks into separate parts of an amazing cog laying down one holy and invaluable thing… I’m sure you knew I was about to use the ‘g’ word for the 80th time.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way I’ll attempt to talk about ‘West.’ For one thing it’s better than ‘Dos.’ For whatever reason ‘Dos’ always fell flat when I’d attempt to listen to the entire thing in one go, which was strange because ‘Motorbike’ was an incredible song and several of the other tracks were similarly strong, but all lined up together all that one could notice would be the uniform production template stamped across each track. This is something that people are talking about when they say something is ‘samey.’ ‘Dos’ was best listened to in two halves. ‘West,’ however, is probably the most thrilling ride of any proper Shjips album (although the self-titled one falls into this category as well). Its greatest strength lies in the pristine production as well as Sonic Boom’s crystalline mastering (which can also be heard in all of its jaw-dropping beauty on ‘Tomboy,’ the newest Panda Bear release). I’ve always been fond of the old-school production found on previous Wooden Shjips records, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not nice to scrub the murk and mud (however effective it might be on something like the ‘Contact’ 12”) off of the tracks occasionally so that each gear of each groove is revealed in all of its carefully conceived and maintained glory. The Shjips churn like a well-greased engine. It’s pretty amazing to be able to actually hear this work with such remarkable clarity. What’s more, a pet-peeve of mine is when clarity takes the place of glorious fuzziness where appropriate. Fuzz isn’t supposed to sound nice, it’s supposed to sound distorted, dirty and swampy. When it’s been cleaned up or even sharpened too much all of the fun is gone (listen to the new Bardo Pond if you don’t know what I’m talking about—that is a band that knows how fuzz should always sound). Despite the clean-sounding nature of these recordings the key element of fuzziness has not been removed from Ripley’s hypnotic guitar proto-riffs and restless solo work. I feel like if ‘West’ had the same level of gloss as Bardo Pond’s newest release it would be just right, but here they’re damn close.

Musically it strays a bit from sounding typical of what Wooden Shjips have been up to lately (the aforementioned ‘Contact’ 12” has no equivalent here, for example). The pace has been picked up and the laid-back vibe of some past material has been ditched in favor of something more upbeat and driving. The keyboard is used more as a melodic foil here than an insanity-inducing drone machine (not a bad thing in my eyes, just to be clear) which actually points out the similarities between ‘West’ and the incredibly recent ‘Mazes’ and serves to point out how much more vital and diverse Moon Duo is turning out to be when listened to next to the Shjips (which, honestly, how could you not?). Once again, I’d like to stress that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the Shjips have never been about musical exploration on a stylistic level, whereas Moon Duo has explored and pulled off a great deal more stylistic variation (listen to ‘Escape’ and ‘Killing Time’ and tell me I’m wrong) the Shjips have been steadfast in their mission and loyalty to the groove. In a lot of ways this is what I feel makes the Shjips a more engaging and thrilling live entity where Moon Duo excel more in their recorded output. It seems to me that Ripley has split his priorities in half and dedicated a band to each half dependant upon which band suits which half more.

I did another one of those label preorders on this one and have been living with this record for a week and a half now. This particular one came with the amazing ‘Phonograph’ 7”. The b-side is a remix by the Peaking Lights of ‘Lights Out,’ which hopefully points to more of what the Shjips will pursue in the future—talk about a psychedelic, grooving slow-burner. Listening to the track it’s impossible not to get lost in it. As if that weren’t enough the a-side ranks amongst the peppiest and most spirited of ‘West’s best tracks. I’m having difficulty saying whether not ‘West’ is a great album, as comparing it to others I’ve heard seems pointless. The Wooden Shjips are so firmly their own entity that what I would have to say matters very little. What I will say is that it’s as fun and engaging of a listen of theirs as I’ve heard in a long time. It’s kind of similar to the ‘Vol. 2’ singles collection, but as a fully-conceived and purposefully realised album and statement of purpose.

final shalloboi strings show

1. forever drowning
2. i am
3. you can choke on your own breath
4. falling stars
5. paper doves
6. to the sky
7. stars are washing over you
8. ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space
9. knife
10. field of flowers
11. song to the stars intro
12. song to the stars

download the whole thing here
stream and download here

alright, here is a post with the recording of the final shalloboi strings show. i've listened to this a few times checking the quality and after listening to it today i'm very happy with how it turned out considering the time crunch and the lack of much preparation. i do wish that the vocals sounded better, but i'm also not surprised at what they sound like here- we were singing through a guitar amp. i wish the strings were a bit louder, but in a way i'm kind of glad that the vocals are front and center for once- i don't think that's a mixing choice i've ever made in the history of the band and it fills me with delight how well these songs hold up in an acoustic and restrained electric setting with the vocals front and center. everyone did also play very well.
rambling entry on the post-ceding passive aggressive fall-out with one member to follow. there will probably be gory details to enjoy depending on my mood at that time.