Scraping the Barrel 007
nd welcome again—yes, it has been some time. Allegedly it was forgotten that I still had an interest in the sludge of things, the stuff that either nobody wants or everyone is sick of hearing about (by “everyone” I mean “the Stylus music office”). But it was all cleared up when I heard that, in fact, there had been no bad music released at all in the first half of this year. I cheerfully accepted these lies, resting assured that the huge clouds of marijuana smoke which all the staffers there except my wonderful self regularly inhale had retained their potency.
Then a package of assorted garbage arrived at my doorstep and I wondered again why I do this. Then I remembered: I asked to. Typical.
Still, there’s always hope, and since it was a slow day at work, easy enough to listen to things idly while planning schedules and so forth. So I was sure that the Velvet Teen’s Gyzmkid EP, featuring a penis-man with balls for buttocks, and which himself had a further set of genitalia that apparently talked in pictograms singing a further song about a penis, perhaps, was sure to be better than coffee in waking me up. Especially since the associated album is called Cum Laude! Oh the japery. The resultant sounds appeared to be “What if we pretended to like the Aphex Twin for the opening seconds but then we have a standard as hell ‘yeah, we like Beck’ drumbeat and then singer dude sings in an Anglophilic voice that isn’t Thom Yorke but might pass muster for something like Geneva, if anyone remembers them? And what if the chorus was actually kinda good in a derivatively tremulous way, that shows we’re epically something, even though maybe it’s just a sign that the Arcade Fire are doing more damage than anyone will ever admit to?” Then I realized they were probably actually trying to be the first post-Muse band and I was deeply revolted. May I make something clear to everyone—Muse are morons. They dream of vast universes and end up depicting the space between their toenails and cuticles. The EP burbled on with ridiculous amounts of intentional mix muddiness—there’s compression, there’s crumbling lo-fi and then there’s hearing what sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks buried in suet—and reached a song called “False Profits (Cute Version).” It was called that because it was acoustic, an example of cleverness that wasn’t. I scanned ahead in the track, realized it didn’t change much, concluded they’re hoping this is the sensitive song for the lighter-wavers, and wished them well. Rather, I wished myself well. I wish I WAS well.
I looked over some of the options and realized the true idiocy must surely wait a bit. Not that the cover of Monsters Are Waiting’s Fascination was helping any. In fact, there is a lot to question here. The Pretenders as Max Fisher’s classmates in Rushmore is one way of describing them. Emo people trying to be Pulp might be another—suits and sweaters and vaguely floppy looks but with cheekbones. The necklace, I presume, the bandleader, if only because she stands out first and foremost, reaches down to below her skirtline. Intentionally over the top? More in line with fashion than I realized? Perhaps both? The font was slightly scrawled and spattered in a ‘we are punkish graffiti that was designed this way’ fashion. She Wants Revenge featured in the depths of their thank-yous and I was ill at ease. The Southern California Lovemakers (who I actually do like)? Eventually I had to listen to it.
And…it was about what I expected. I guess. The opening guitar was kinda nice but then the singing and the full band thing happens and yeah, it’s ‘eighties’ in a weird sorta maybe sense. Vaguely aspirational and uplifting. Catchy but well I dunno. Said person who is the bandleader sings in, I was unsurprised to realize, a fashion much like the Lovemakers, but vaguely more wistfully. There’s choppy riffs, there’s that ‘keep everything stripped down so there’s tension, I think’ touch, there’s…something. The choruses started to sound better as the songs went on, I’ll give ‘em that, but I’m beginning to realize that the secret influence on all these bands is “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, which is no bad thing at all in that they are one of the greatest bands in time and space, and stop laughing at the back there. When that song came out, nothing really was sounding like that on the radio and MTV and therefore that made it even more of a sweetly genius move. Now a number of things do sound like that, and so this kind of approach is not all that. So this kept making me think of the Lovemakers some more, not all the time I admit but still, and I kept letting it play, in the hopes that I would suddenly be seduced by something more than the occasional hook or break. But then there were slow demi-power ballads and I wasn’t sure anymore and so I started taking care of actual work. Noises continued from my speakers, though, a couple of which were orgasmic in intent, if not effect. There was also some sort of epic conclusion that presumably would be used as the concluding song for a new John Hughes film, I’d guess.
At some point while this was all going on, I started looking at This is Stunt Rock Volume Three, and I grew concerned. Clearly, a lot of thought had been put into this, in that it automatically reminded me of Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library in terms of hyper-detail. Or is that Chunklet? Or maybe McSweeney’s? (Then again, are they hyperdetailed or just overexplanatory? Am I overexplanatory? Am I perhaps nothing more than a David Foster Wallace footnote? I feared and kept asking myself questions, and eventually died.) The cover art shows several drawings of A. Nother Hipster, apparently one who favors drink and drugs with his laptop and shameful beard, in various actions, contemplating the twelve ‘life achievement badges’ he has earned, as is explained in, of course, extensive detail inside the CD booklet (drinking scotch, it is asserted, was originally done in order to ‘avoid the caloric levels of beer and still maintain a level of intoxication’). The CD packaging is but of course tasteful stiff paper, not plastic, while there’s a ‘first warning’ and ‘last warning’ set of street signs on the inside with words on them that make marginally more compelling reading than a Godspeed! You Black Emperor rant explaining why you giving them money is a sign you are a capitalistic coward. On the back it is asserted that the contents are ‘sixteen audio compositions reflecting our struggle with responsibility, mediocrity and compromise.’ There is an introduction to the booklet explaining the credits for it all to a Wm. Flegal (and that is indeed how he abbreviates it), along with extensive explanations about things like audio quality problems. Each song’s lyrics are reproduced with introductions about selling songs for video game ads and writing ‘an open letter to underground music.’ Sample lyrics include “I said fuck you. Overeating, smoking drinking, masturbating” and “Yeah, I’m so smart ranting on and on and on about hypocrisy.”
Thus edified, I put the booklet back in the case and folded up said case. Actually listening to this would appear to be the last thing desired by its creator, and who am I to stop him?
Now, having been flippant about eighties/Anglophilic-inspired bands earlier, it might seem strange to praise one outright. However, I saw that Film School’s newest album was part of the sending and I was glad, as I’d enjoyed what I heard of them on Ye Olde MySpace—also, they got a lot of their equipment jacked on tour this year, and frankly I don’t care who you are, if you don’t sympathize with folks in that situation regardless of what you think of their music, you are dead to me. (Yes, this said I wouldn’t mind at ALL if Panic! At the Disco didn’t have any of their instruments anymore, them having been mysteriously thieved in the night by people who may or may not be me.) Anyway, this aside—Film School’s been around long enough to figure out more of what they’re doing than some and this year’s release, a self-titled one on Beggars Banquet, is, appropriately, loud, moody, often wonderfully arranged, definitely Chameleons-inspired (NO bad thing at all, let me assure you—and grab the Ascension DVD by the Chams before it goes out of print, BTW; it’s only been released in an edition of 1000). Something about Film School also reminds me of the far too underrated Strangelove, at least their first album, even if the lead guy’s voice here isn’t as strong in the end, about the band’s only weak point. No matter—after all the sludging, an album I could like, even if I knew going in I would. Thank you, Film School, for relieving my frustrations, and may the thieves all die of crotch-rot.
And now, Guttermouth. Hoo boy. I didn’t know Volcom had a label and now I do, and that knowledge gives me pause, in that many things I’m probably going to say will not be looked at kindly, and they’re based in the same city I live in, a smallish city at that. But I kid extreme surf fashion wearers (in that there are hordes of them around here and I don’t want to be smothered). And Guttermouth, well, I suppose I kid them. I guess. Back in 1994 the Offspring became huge and then Bryan Holland started signing bunches of friends to his own label (makes sense) and then I first heard about Guttermouth and AFI and thought, “Oh, okay. Can I listen to some Vandals instead?” (Who Holland also likes, and that’s good for everyone, I think.) And now AFI are famous for some reason, even though they are so astoundingly anonymous I forget about them until I hear them, and then I forget about them further. But I suppose making goth safe for jocks counts for something.
Guttermouth, though, they’re just chugging along, and like so many bands in so many areas—there’s no point in singling out punk but it’s so easily singled out, I admit—they are as they are which is what they are and that’s…that. It’s called Shave the Planet and ho ho ho. Sample song titles include “‘Mark’ the Chubby Chaser/Newport Sweater Fat,” “God, Steve McQueen ‘The Work Song’” and “Flacidism” and I just want to CRY. Yes, this is Costa Mesa, and where is Supernova when I need them? (Answer—suing the idiots on that new reality show for stealing their name, the damn dorks.) There’s a song called “My Chemical Imbalance” and I think Gerard Way isn’t caring about that all that much—the song itself semi-attempts a parody of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and then it doesn’t and I’m somewhat aggrieved. It’s what you think it is: trebly and quick and gang-shouty and intermittently funny and there’s nothing else I can say about the damn thing because there is nothing else to be said. (Volcom people, assuming you care, which I assume you do not but you never know: please do not beat me up if you see me on 17th (or anywhere).)
Tan Sleeve are a duo with a fantastically ugly cover to their album American Blood. Cheers. It’s one of those ‘didn’t this die by the mid-nineties?’ false color photograph chunky-pixellation deals featuring the two deeply middle-aged dudes (they are dudes, they have sunglasses or something close to them) in front of a strange sculpture and an American flag on a flagpole. They proudly advertise on the front of the sleeve that they have a song allegedly favored by Howard Stern called “Condoleeza Will Lead Us,” which hurts my soul on a level of assonance, among other similarly assy things. (Said song turns out to be their attempt at a sunny disco song and makes the Scissor Sisters seem like James Brown.) The guys look like a combination of Paul Shaffer, body fat, and whatever Peter Buck looks like these days, and apparently are patriotic souls, thus that song title and all. I’d guess these were guys who were all excited when that conservative rock song list came out on the National Review, and thought they were part of the new counterculture that would sweep the nation to finally take care of that hip-hop problem. This therefore means they are fools and are probably still arguing somewhere that if only the media would stop talking about all the people dying in Iraq everything would be wonderful. I hate people like this more than words can say, and if I am wrong in assessing Tan Sleeve’s personality, then they should do better in NOT seeming like those people. Image is everything, and theirs fucking sucks.
Now, this said, the music. You know, I love Enuff Z’Nuff, actually. Best Cheap Trick rip-off ever because at their best they were as loud and chaotic as the masters from Rockford while still being just sugary sweet enough. Dragged themselves through an extended dying off, mind you. I talk about Enuff Z’Nuff because these feebs in Tan Sleeve try and aim for something with that kind of loud power-pop along with Midwestern slipstream of Mellencamp and something of general seventies AOR as well (this would explain the annoying ‘why aren’t I young anymore and how dare people be born after me’ song called “When Lindsey Buckingham Shaved His Beard,” which fails spectacularly in being anywhere near as good as the man’s work—and for that matter laments how punk and punk and new wave took over from Fleetwood Mac, even though it turns out Buckingham was specifically inspired by punk and new wave, I gather). It’s pleasant and pleasantly annoying, rich and lush for a two-dudes-in-a-studio harmonizing and all that, not yacht rock (not enough funkless funk, though “European Hard Candy” tries in a clunky dumb-ass way—more so than normal) but somehow glomming onto that feeling anyway, a triumph of time spent in getting everything just right that is perfectly irrelevant. Had it come out twenty years ago people might still be talking about the music in some sort of ‘great lost indie power-pop album’ sense but we’ve finally shaken the ghost of thinking that the only American rock band that mattered was Big Star (if you haven’t, please stop—and please stop saying it was Neutral Milk Hotel instead, if you don’t mind, I saw them live and they were all right but nothing more).
This left me with Lions in the Street’s EP Cat Got Your Tongue. The bassist Enzo looks exactly like the first singer of Survivor in the “Eye of the Tiger” video in “I only ever wish I could be Brian Johnson of AC/DC” mode, down the poofy hair coming out from under the flat cap, not to mention the vest-over-tight-red-Adidas-T-shirt combination. I am embarrassed for all who know him, especially when seeing his pout on the front cover. The other guys look like they used to get groupies and cocaine for Chilliwack. It’s loud anonymous all-been-done-before-and-adds-nothing and is-useless-and-each-song-goes-on-too-long and lead-dude-only-WISHES-he-was-Jagger boogie rock! What a surprise! They should go on tour opening for Wolfmother and disappear somewhere in Hungary. Yeah, that’s a good dream. And I am done for now.
By: Ned Raggett
Published on: 2006-08-17