Monday, March 22, 2010

Live Review - Grape Soda, Titans of Filth, Eureka California, WereWolves. Live at the 40watt, Mar. 20th

Grape Soda

Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further. Grape Soda is my favorite band in Athens right now, and you owe it to yourself to see them as soon, and as often, as possible. The band is made up of local music veterans (and brothers) Mat & Ryan Lewis. They’ve been playing together (and separately) for years, but I’ve never really been moved by any of their previous projects. Yet somehow, for some reason Grape Soda takes me somewhere. And there aren’t many bands in town these days who can even get me to pay attention.

The setup is simple enough. Garage rock drums from Ryan and spaced-out keyboards from Mat. But there's something unlikely in Mat's voice, a yearning, a soulfulness that you don't notice at first. Go to their myspace and listen to "Not Mine," a song that should be ringing out of radios & ipods all over the world, and maybe someday soon it will. Grape Soda sounds like no other band on earth that I know of, and in 2010 that counts for a lot.

Titans of Filth

With a lot of bands, it seems like their songs all sound the same. With Titans of Filth, it seems like you are literally listening to the same song over and over again. The fact that 90% of the songs are in the same key (B-major in case you're wondering, which just isn't natural) doesn't help. Unless, of course, Titans of Filth is trying to pull off an elaborate conceptual art move. In which case, I enthusiastically applaud their daring and suggest that we, their future audience, attempt to one-up the band by demanding an encore at their next show. At which they point they will come out and play. . . yet another song that sounds just like the last one. Warhol would be proud.

They're lucky I just happen to like that one song. Sam's voice, a mixture of Calvin Johnson and Stephen Merritt, is so flat you could run a net across it and play yourself a regulation game of ping-pong. And I mean that as a compliment.

Eureka California

The last time I saw Eureka California they had five bandmembers and I didn't like them very much. Last Saturday, they were down to three members and I liked them a little better. Who knows, maybe they could lose another member and become downright loveable? I nominate the singer/guitarist. To be fair, the band's recordings sound a lot better than their live set, which was a rocking, indistinct mush. On record, a couple of the songs seem to actually have hooks. "Milwaukee," at least, could hold its own with any local music compilation around. And if that's good enough for EC, then it's good enough for me. As a parting compliment, Wyatt Strother may be pound-for-pound the most powerful drummer in rock.

And as a parting fact, I've been to Eureka, California the place, and "kind bud" aside, it is a total shithole. Far more of a shithole than EC the band could ever be. Even if they expanded their line-up to Dark Meat-esque quantities.


The evening was a record-release party for both Euereka California and Werewolves. Werewolves frontman Wyatt Strother (you may have noticed, if you've been paying attention, that he plays in both bands) is putting out both bands' albums on his own Athens Horse Party label. Werewolves has been criticized in some places for sounding a little bit too much like Neutral Milk Hotel. Which is understandable. If you move to Liverpool and start a band that sounds like The Beatles, or move to Manchester and start a band that sounds like Joy Division, or move to Boston and start a band that sounds like, uh... Boston, people there are probably going to notice.

Anyway, you judge.

Whatever. I think they sound more like The Decemberists. But Werewolves--and honestly, it's just Wyatt, I woudln't compare the rest of the band to NMH at all--does have the same wide-eyed, intense gaze of Mangum, a similar voice, and an even more frequent "ba-ba-ba"-ing when he sings.

Personally, I have no problem on earth with Werewolves sounding like NMH, or anyone else for that matter. However, I should state for the record, and for all the NMH-influenced bands out there, that my reasons for loving that band had little to do with Mr. Mangum's nasally voice, or the aforementioned "ba-ba-ba"-ing. Or for the horns and additional instruments that were used to flesh out his songs. I loved, and continue to love NMH of words as strange and compelling as this.

The movements were beautiful
All in your ovaries
All of them milking with green fleshy flowers
While powerful pistons were sugary sweet machines

And for performances like this.

I'm not disappointed because Werewolves may be influenced by NMH. I'm disappointed that they only seem to be influenced by the parts of NMH that are the easiest to replicate, i.e. the sound & the style. Unfortunately, the substance seems to be (for now) beyond Wyatt Strother's grasp.

I doubt even he would try to compare one of his own lines, "Pieces of my body made from plastic, glue and steel form the only temple without the capacity to feel," to anything by NMH (and just so you know, I tried to pick out one of the better lyrics I was able to find). But maybe he should try it sometime, because all too often his lyric writing falls back on the easy image (a vague noun like "things" seems to be a favorite), or unearned sentimentality like, "You will lay to rest inside my heart and I won't leave you alone." LuckyCharm words like "heart" pop up more than they need to. By not holding himself to a higher standard, he does a disservice to his songs, as well as his own imagination.

But the truth is, all criticism aside, the fact remains that Wyatt Strother is trying. In fact, he is trying very hard. I just hope that he keeps trying. A friend of mine once played me some recordings Jeff Mangum made circa 1992. They were, to put it mildly, underwhelming. The people we are today are not the same people we are going to be tomorrow, and that goes for Wyatt Strother as well.

Please, Wyatt, if you are reading this go and get yourself some poetry from the UGA library. Bill Knott and Frank Stanford are a good place to start. Please don't make the same mistake that so many musicians in this town make, and look solely to other musicians and their lyrics as the source of your inspiration. Try to sound like something you're not capable of sounding like. Reach beyond your grasp. I'm expecting to be blown away when I see your band a year from now.

I'm also expecting you to lose the constant self-deprecation bit. I understand where it comes from, and I'm sypathetic, but it got old pretty quick. Perhaps you could take it into shelf-deprecation? Goddamit, all my lacrosse trophies fell down! Or even elf-deprecation? These E.L. Fudge cookies taste like shit! And Will Ferrell is a shitty actor!

By the way, there's a band in New York who is also called Werewolves. They are on a record label, which means they probably own the name. Maybe Werewolves Jr.? Or The Werewolves UK?


knott said...

"Please, Wyatt, if you are reading this go and get yourself some poetry from the UGA library. Bill Knott and Frank Stanford are a good place to start."

I don't know if I'm a start, but I am cheap: all my books of poetry can be downloaded FREE from this page:


Janaka said...

How about "We Are Wolves." That would be a cool name. None of this half-assed Twilight piggybacking lycanthropy bullshit. BE the wolf!

Oh... nevermind, that's a band already too. Ditch the "wolf," it's so 2005 anyway.

Hmmm... "Ditch the Wolf." Not bad...

Anonymous said...

Your section on Werewolves was remarkably critical. "Things" pop up too frequently in the lyrics and "heart" is mentioned once? Wow.

That's assholeishly critical of you, lame music blogger. You used "-esque" in your post which instantly destroys all credibility (how more cliche can you get?).

Also, that kid in Werewolves is 20 or around there. What were you doing when you were 20? Being Jeff Mangum? Playing the 40 Watt? Get over it.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I have never seen a good Athens music blog. They're all terrible. You are no exception.

The Person Who Wrote The Review said...

Thanks for taking the time to write in, anonymous.

If you want me to do a more in-depth reading of his lyrics, you can give me an e-mail address and I'll be happy to send you one. As it is, the post is already 1200 words (twice as long as the most recent flagpole live review), and it seemed like it would end up being disproportionate if I devoted more space to discussing Wyatt's lyrics.

Regarding your other questions. When I was 20, I was working as a machine press operator in a factory in Americus, Ga. Which is completely irrelevant to the review. In fact, even if I was being Jeff Mangum, or playing the 40 watt, those have nothing to do with the review either. You don't really believe that just because Wyatt is 20-ish and onstage at the 40Watt that his music is beyond criticism, do you? If I had been 19 and onstage at Madison Square Garden, would that somehow make me more of an authority on music? (Actually, it would make me a member of N'Sync).

And unless you were trying to be funny, you have to realize that there is at least one thing more cliched than using 'esque' in a review--and that is criticizing someone anonymously in the comments section of a blog. I long for the day that someone responds to something I (or anyone, for that matter) wrote by DISAGREEING WITH MY WORDS & IDEAS rather than just calling me names and making assumptions about my motives. Next time, try to tell me why you think Werewolves is so great, and what you see in them that I don't, and I might take the time to reconsider my opinion.

As for this blog, I can assure you that I have no influence over the Athens music community. Few people know about this blog, and that's by my own design. Sometimes I have thoughts about music, and sometimes I write them down. I do try to be constructive in my criticism. And if you honestly think my thoughts on Werewolves are "remarkably critical," then you are either the gentlest, most nurturing person on earth, or you need to get out more.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say I was a huge fan of the band, but you devoted soooo much more space to tearing apart this kid's lyrics than talking about bands you like. I don't think his age makes him beyond criticism, but it seems like something got to you and you couldn't let up. Also, he's not beyond criticism, but who are you to criticize? What are your credentials? Are you a musician? A writer? What? It seems like you spend a lot of time seeing bands you don't like.

Also, you're the one that chooses to allow anonymous comments. You're obviously asking for it.

Your blog is poorly-written. It doesn't seem you know a lot about music or writing, and the reason people don't know about it isn't because you don't want them to, but because it's not very good.

The writer shrugged his shoulders and moved on said...

Well, there you go. Can't say I didn't try.

Anonymous said...

Whoa I know this review is like a year old now but I just saw it for the first time. To anonymous, thanks for going to bat for me, but I'm not too shook up by this review. He did say I'm trying.

Also I'm not that bothered to be honest because a lot of my lyrics on the first album do, frankly, suck. The line in We Robots you quote was written when I had just turned 19. I'm still writing music and am a lot more comfortable with the lyrics I'm writing now, in fact I think that's the area where I made the most conscious effort for self improvement.

The only thing I will say in defense however is that the closing joke of this article is cringe-worthy. Seriously? You spent like 8 paragraphs picking apart my word play and then close with a shitty pun not even fit for the premise of a dad-joke.

Thanks for the write up though!

The Ghost of Paul Morley said...

Looks like he forgot to leave his name, but I'm pretty sure that was Wyatt Strother everyone! The lead singer-songwriter behind Werewolves!

(Oh, and Wyatt, around the time I originally wrote this review, a couple of different people told me that you weren't happy about it and wanted to know who wrote it. But I'm glad to see you forgot ever reading it. Forgive and forget I say!)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the new songs are what WS has been playing lately. They blow.