Saturday, April 16, 2011

On the Nature of Identity (Specifically My Own)

When I started this blog over three years ago, I had no ambition beyond cataloguing my thoughts about music whenever I had any. As far as readership was concerened, I liked the idea of people stumbling across it by accident. I hoped this blog would function as a good piece of graffiti, if it served any function at all.

This blog intentionally waded into the public arena one time, when I posted a link to my thoughts on Allison Weiss in the comments section of a Flagpole article about her new album. That was the last time I did that.

The subject of my identity comes up a lot--in the comments section, the e-mails I receive, real-life conversations that get reported back to me. I've always liked the idea of remaining anonymous. Initially, because I wanted to be free to write what I wanted to without it having a negative impact on the people around me (you see, I play a very minor role in a minor band around town, and I'd hate for them to catch shit simply because I have opinions about music). Futhermore, we are so quick in the culture these days to dismiss opinions we don't like by assigning a motive to the person giving the opinon. The whole, 'Well you're just saying that because you're a liberal/conservative, woman/man, old/young, straight/gay, etc.' school of debate. I didn't want to give people the luxury of rationalizing away my ideas based on my identity.

As more people have discovered this blog, it's become harder and harder for me to remain anonymous. To be honest, I've never gone to great lengths to cover my tracks. That would just be dishonest. And to the four people I know of who were able to 'crack the code,' I am honestly flattered you would take the time to try and figure out who I am. And you're welcome to mention this blog the next time we're having a conversation.

I have no intention of 'outing myself' at the moment. But I wanted to let people know that I'm probably going to posting here even less frequently than before. See, because of this blog, I've been offered a writing/editing position at an infinitely more prestigious website. And my identity at that website is far from anonymous. It also, at the insistence of the editor, links back to this blog. So there you go.

Thanks to everyone for reading, writing, and caring. To any of the artists I've offended along the way, I assure you that no one has ever stopped liking a band beause of something I've written. If I were that powerful, you'd better believe I'd write a lot more often. Irreverence is a good & healthy thing. And remember, always try and take your music more seriously than you take yourself.

The Ghost of The Ghost of Paul Morley

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Note to the Readers

I know it's been a long time since I posted, and I appreciate the e-mails, etc. Truth is, there haven't been a lot of music-related thoughts bursting around my brain lately. My silence has NOTHING to do with any negative comments, etc. I appreciate that people have different opinions. It's music, not geometry proofs. And I think I've shown that I'm perfectly happy to have a conversation/debate with someone, both in the comment section as well as through e-mails.

But I have been really busy lately. The band I play in has been recording an album. I have a book (e-book, technically) coming out in the next month or two, so I've been working on that as well as the book that was already in progress. I started playing in a second band. There's been sickness, vacation, holidays, snow. I live in a house that's over a hundred years old. If I had known this was going to be the coldest winter in recorded Athens history, I probably would have found another place to live.

Cold air shoots up from my hardwood floors, making sitting at a desk for long periods of time extremely uncomfortable. If I run the computer, the space heater in the bathroom, and any other appliance at the same time, it blows a fuse more often than not (today it blew because I was running the printer).

Anyway, you get the idea. We're moving in April. Here's some random Athens stuff I've noticed since the last time I wrote...

The cover of the new Modern Skirts album looks like... well, whatever the opposite of phallic might be. Sapphic? Vulvul? Yonic? Vag-tastic? Haven't heard it yet, but I noticed the download code is on the outside of the album. So I guess there's always that option.

Witches have an album out. I've been on the fence about them for a while now, but I'm really looking forward to hearing the album when I get a chance.

Have continued to enjoy seeing the bands I usually enjoy seeing. Haven't been getting out enough to see new stuff though. But I did catch Androcles & the Lion (totally by accident) and I thought they were very very good at what they did. If you're a fan of sincere, heartfelt, guitar-based Wilco pop/rock, you should probably check it out.

Have wondered if Athens Music Junkie has ever considered changing its name to Athens Music Cheerleader. I'm this close to hiding it from my facebook feed. I hate to be a cynic, but anyone who takes the grammy awards seriously (in terms of winning & losing) needs to take a long hard look in the music critic mirror.

Attended a couple of the Hacks shows at Caledonia. When I was 13-14 years old, I remember thinking that blowjobs, or pornography, or rape, or describing something really bad as 'like getting fucked in the ass' were all inherently funny. It's a shame that Caledonia has an age limit, because I'm sure Luke Fields' theory that black women are better at giving head than white women, a theory formed by watching copious amounts of pornography on the internet, would have played a whole lot better to an audience of middle-schoolers. Such is life.

And yes, that was the entirety of his joke. And yes, I'm writing this as someone who thinks that Bill Hicks represents the pinnacle of all stand-up comedy.

So in the spirit of Athens comedy, here's some music-related jokes for you. They're a little on the cruel side, but think of it as a Comedy Central roast-type thing.

What's the difference between Grape Soda and Orange Crush?
Orange Crush has a distributor.

How many managers does it take to get Modern Skirts a record deal?
More than one, apparently.

What did Jeff Tobias say when he went to the U2 concert?
Hey guys, is it cool if I sit in for a bit?

What's the difference between Grape Soda and the White Stripes?
Jack White didn't actually have sex with his sister.

How can you tell when a member of R.E.M. has been at your house?
Athens Music Junkie posts a blog about it.

What's the difference between Dead Confederate and Silverchair?
Fucked if I know.

What's the only thing worse than a copy of the new Whigs album?
Two copies of the new Whigs album.

Why is the cheapest ticket $90 to see Kenny Rogers at the Classic Center?
All that plastic surgery doesn't pay for itself.

Why is the cheapest ticket $65 to see the B-52's at the Classic Center?
Pretty sure we just covered that.

Take care, everyone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Album Review: Grape Soda - Form a Sign

I've been following Grape Soda since they first started playing. I was expecting a lot from this album, but this exceeds whatever expectations any of us might have had. Look past all the keyboards & echo if you need to, Mat Lewis may be the best songwriter currently working in Athens today. Grape Soda’s music merges the robot world of Gary Numan & Kraftwerk with Motown drums and Stax vocals that end up sounding like an alien observing the strange patterns of earth--and becoming very sad & angry about the whole ridiculous mess we find ourselves in. There are two members of Grape Soda. They are brothers co-existing in a band—not Gallagher nor Davies, but closer to the unspoken psychic bond of Ron & Russell Mael from Sparks. Grape Soda is Mat Lewis (the tiny one who plays the organ) and Ryan Lewis (the less tiny one who plays the drums).

They have just released their first album, the unfortunately named Form a Sign, and it is the best thing I’ve heard all year. From anyone. Anywhere. The fuzzy organ echo sound of their demo now has slightly less echo & fuzz, more polish and more control, which at first might seem disappointing, but it enables you to hear the words, such glorious words. It had never occured to me that ‘Obvious Signs was sung from the viewpoint of someone looking back at our underclass struggles, our working unfulfillment, from a post-revolution future—pointing out the obvious signs that such a revolution was inevitable. It turns out that the lyrics, ‘we all should be dancing / so why aren’t you dancing? / everyone is dancing / you’re the only one not dancing,’ wasn’t an admonishment to the stand-still people at Grape Soda shows. It’s a tribute to that person who is no longer entertained by what passes for entertainment. Lewis continues, ‘was it cause you saw / things you had before? / Things you couldn’t believe / but you did of course.’ The ‘you’ in this story has seen behind the curtain. ‘Obvious Signs’ proves Mat Lewis a more astute soicologist than most of this town's would-be politicians, displaying a rarity in the pop/rock/underground world today—empathy, an acknowledgement of other people, insight & ideas that extend further than one’s self. 

This is what the album looks like.


Yes, that is one of the uglier covers in recent memory. Or to put it more diplomatically, let's just say that an album like this, swimming in ideas & mystery & imagination, deserves a better cover than this one. 

After years spent searching for signs of life in Athens music, I can't stress how refreshing this album is. Grape Soda knows what they want to say, and Grape Soda is saying it clearly. Form a Sign starts with a call to arms and ends with an anthem. Grape Soda means business. The longest song is 3 ½ minutes. 

Listen to 'Hot Toes.' The tightness in my spine, these butterflies, this need to listen to it again & again, this song affects me in ways that very little music does anymore—anywhere, not just in Athens. Everything about this song is perfect, the precise repeat delay of the keyboard—the wheezing noises in the background, an asthmatic caught in a deteriorating relationship, a crumbling world. There’s a desperation in Mat Lewis’ singing, a willingness to chase the story he is telling wherever it might go. It doesn’t show up as often on the album as it does when you see them live, but I guess that comes with the territory. One more reason why I hate studios & producers so much.

One last quibble. If I'd had my way this would have been the first song on the album.

Nothing wrong with 'Not Mine,' the song that opens the album. But I've always been a fan of burying the obvious pop single around track 3 or 4. Besides, this song--performed here in a different arrangement than usual--is the sound of someone who's been hidden away for the last couple of years, sorting through all of the world's bullshit, and they've decided to tell you what they've figured out, as they kick open the door and pin you against the wall. It would have made a perfect opener.

Sometimes I feel like I live in some strange alternate universe—one where bands like Dead Confederate, The Whigs, Modern Skirts, Venice is Sinking, Reptar, Hopeforagoldensummer, etc. are held up as the best current representations of local music. Which is pretty ironic, considering you can go to NYC, or Boston, or Chicago, or San Francisco, and find plenty of bands who sound just like them. Hell, in a lot of these bands’ cases, you could go there ten years ago and still hear plenty of stuff that sounded like them. I had no idea that sounding like Silverchair with less catchy songs had anything to do with Athens, let alone music. It hadn’t occurred to me that a less-edgy Ben Folds could mean shit to anyone over the age of 13 (apparently that band now agrees with me, as they’ve decided to ‘experiment’ by—are you ready for this?—recording in their bedroom; oh, the courage). I guess some people out there believe that Athens Music is about bands rushing to emulate outdated trends, bands who put themselves in a box and then want you to congratulate them for their excellent taste in boxes. But I digress. This isn’t about the current state of the Athens Georgia Music Scene Inc., it’s about Grape Soda. Although with this album arriving on our doorstep like a breath of fresh air, it’s hard not to mistake one for the other.

Any band in this town who doesn't listen to this album and hear a challenge being issued, a gauntlet being thrown, a white glove from some old cartoon being slapped across their face, is fucking kidding themselves.

So we can bitch & piss & moan all we want about the current state of the Athens Georgia Music Scene Inc. We can measure today against the days gone past and kick each other in disgust. But that’s all a bunch of blinkered bullshit. Quiet Hooves, Tunabunny, and now Grape Soda have all released albums this year that can stand next to any of the albums in this town’s history, defined as it is by risk & imagination, without apology. Along with bands like New Sound of Numbers, Circulatory System, (possibly) Eureka California, Antlered Auntlord, and Nutritional Peace, these people are making music that is original, passionate, moving, and infused with intelligence. The evolution is all around us, if you would only stop and listen.

Albums I Liked That Came Out This Year - Local & Otherwise

The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter


Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest 

Grape Soda - Form a Sign

Brian Eno - Small Craft On a Milk Sea

Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite

Vampire Weekend - Contra (although that Honda commercial sucks, but that's a subject for another post)

Honorable mention: M.I.A., Antony & the Johnsons, Quiet Hooves, Black Angels.

Is that ten? Does it matter? Another shoulder shrug of a year when it comes to new music. If you'd like to make a recommendation to me, of if you'd like to discuss any of these further, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments. Grape Soda review coming soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Continuing Thoughts About of Montreal (see I spelled it nice this time). . .

Check this out.

It's an early version of this song.

One of these versions sounds more sincere than the other. And it's not because I'm one of those people who thinks that acoustic instruments are somehow more sincere than electronic. I'll take a thousand Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Janelle Monae, Pet Shop Boys, Missy Elliotts, etc., before I'd ever listen again to Jeff Buckley, Billy Joel, Tori Amos, what have you. There's just something in the delivery that moves me, that's all. 

The first one feels like someone attempting to communicate something real, heartfelt, and raw. The second one, despite its swooning melody, sounds like a harsh cluttered nosebleed--the pitchfork writer, love him or hate him, had it right when he described the production as 'thin.' 

Well at least we know that Kevin Barnes is still capable of greatness. And I say this as someone who still treasures Cherry Peel, Satanic Panic, and others.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Of mOntreal Defends Their Honor

Of mOntreal frOntman Kevin Barnes finally got around to reading Pitchfork's review of their new album False Priest yesterday. He was, to put it mildly, not amused. He calls the reviewer a dickhead, an asshole, a cusshole, as well as flaccid, puritanical, and sex-hating. At the end, he questions the reviewer's credibility because he didn't mention every single song on the album, then lazily compares Pitchfork to Fox News, including a picture of Bristol Palin at the end of his post.

But this isn't the first time Rob Mitchum, the guy who wrote the review in question, has written about one Of mOntreal's albums. He also reviewed 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? You can only imagine what score Mr. Mitchum, who Barnes describes as, "clearly not insightful or intelligent, at least not in terms of his understanding of music production," gave Hissing Fauna.

That's right. An 8.7. In the review, he described the album as "ceaselessly fascinating and inexhaustibly replayable." 

I knew that Kevin Barnes had an appreciation for irony, but I had no idea he'd take it to this level.

A note to artists. I can't think of a single example of an artist who publicly complained about a review and came out looking better as a result. It only makes you look childish, and makes you seem like you take yourself too seriously (which, if you're going to spend your time berating negative reviews, you probably do). And in this case, you have someone who's in one of the most successful indie bands in the country berating a writer for Pitchfork who most people haven't heard of, calling him names, etc. based on a review that went to great lengths, for the most part, to give the band a pass on this album--a sort of, well they'll probably do better next time. It seems to me like Rob Mitchum was being generous. Here's an example of Of mOntreal's latest work of unassailable genius.

Throughout his blog post, Barnes switches off between playing the victim as well as the bully, depending on which role best suits his purposes at the time. But no matter which persona he adopts, he consistently comes across as a petulant asshole.

Hopefully, no one will show him this review from The Washington Post a couple of months ago. Now that's a bad review. And unlike Rob Mitchum's, an exceptionally well-written bad review.

Or this kid. Keep scanning the comments section on his youtube. Who knows when Kevin will strike again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Reminder: Outside Writing Is Always Appreciated

I mentioned this a couple of years ago, but some of you may have forgotten. AME is always happy to post writing from other people. One time it actually happened.

I'll probably make some suggestions. Exchange some e-mails. That kind of thing. Just like a real editor would do. I also promise not to change anything in your article without running it by you first (in my experience, a rarity in the rockwrite world). But I'm sure I'm not the only person out there with thoughts about local music (doesn't have to be local, however. I'm pretty sure Phil Collins has never heard of Athens--hell, it doesn't even have to be about music). 

Your anonymity is up to you. Me personally, I prefer to let the ideas stand for themselves. Since attacking people's character & motives seems to have become the preferred method of debate in this country, I've always hoped that removing one's self (or as an intellectual would put it, 'self') from the equation might prevent that from happening. No easy way out for people to say, 'Oh, you're just saying that because you're ______'. But that's just me.

One word of advice, I generally find people's ideas more interesting than their opinions. The e-mail address is to the left. I check it every few days.