June 26, 2008

Reunion Tour!

So, I've only listened to the full album once completely through and about 8982134798 times seperately/in small doses/bit by bit/dissecting the new Girl Talk album Feed The Animals and I'm already slightly obsessed with it. That's what happens when a pretty serious musician and walking pseudo-music encyclopedia turned blogger gets their hands on records like this. Even if you aren't a musician, self-righteous blogger, snob you can easily be a fan of this new album. So, what I'm trying to say is...whoever you are you need to listen to Feed The Animals.

In other news: THE WHOLE OF SLAMDUNK STALIN WRITERS WILL ONCE AGAIN BE UNITED FOR A GLORIOUS TWO AND A HALF DAYS! We will be ddrinking the finest brews, going to see Anheuser Busch (before the buy out that better not happen) and have him give us each two free beers before we take in some intense rocking.

So Many Dynamos proggy side project, Thor Axe, will be making a triumphant return at Edwardsville, IL's Stagger Inn. Thor Axe will open the show with So Many Dynamos taking the stage after them...except it's not an SMD show. It's SMD performing as a Weezer cover band. They will be playing all your favorites from Pinkerton and the Blue album with a "few key B-sides". Slamdunk Stalin is excited to rock all together again. Come have fun with us!

Other upcoming shows?

July 1st - Modest Mouse w/ The National @ The Pageant
July 6th - So Many Dynamos (as themselves) @ The Bluebird
July 13th - Gravy Train w/ (local friend!) Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship @ The Bluebird
July 13th - Al Green w/ Gladys Knight @ Fox Theatre
July 19th - The Apples in Stereo @ Duck Room
July 22nd - Health w/ THOR AXE (!!!) and Corvidae @ The Bluebird
July 31st - The Ting Tings (!!!) @ The Bluebird
July 31st - What Made Milwaukee Famous w/ Black Joe Lewis @ Off Broadway
Via Gigwise. I'm really fuckin' excited to see (and possibly interview) The Ting Tings.

June 24, 2008

But I don't want to follow Death and all of his friends!

Coldplay has long been this kind of band that a lot of normal people name-drop to make themselves seem more hip (think Zach Braff). They've also been the kind of band that people with overly inflated opinions of themselves/low self-esteem savagely berate to in a type of musical overcompensation for the love that their parents never gave them (think me and most music bloggers). Somehow, beating up on a bunch of chipper English guys embiggens us all.

Imagine the horror, sheer HORROR, upon listening to the new Coldplay album, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, and not hating it, nay, enjoying the experience. They're still the soaring ballad band we've all come to know (love or hate, it's what they've done since Parachutes), but having somebody like Brian Eno at the helm of your album will mess with your sonics. In this case, that means adding as much edge as a band like Coldplay can give. They will always be a band safely in the top 40 spectrum and that's clearly a realm they are comfortable in. However, we can all take pride in knowing we witnessed when boys became men.

June 22, 2008

Back Tracking Volume 3: Graham Parker and The Rumour - "Local Girls"

Genre-movements, fads, and boomlets in popular music represent moments when artists begin to profoundly influence their peers. Example: before Duke Ellington and the Benny Goodman Orchestra there were certainly big bands that swung, but after them there were "swing bands" in the specific mode of their respective acts. Crossover artists excepted, the true leaps that music takes in the hands of a few talented movement leaders seem to occur when those notable innovators fuse strands together from several places at once. This usually happens when mainstream trends begin to stagnate. In Great Britain in the mid 70's, stagnation came home to roost.

Blame it on The Eagles, blame it on Cream, but mainstream British pop and rock had divided roughly into two camps: one was countrified and folksy and encompassed artists as diverse as Fleetwood Mac, Al Stewart, and Fairport Convention; the other was dominated by loud, aggressively misogynistic blooze-n'-boogie bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and The Faces. Neither side was averse to jamming. Some artists, like T Rex and David Bowie, managed to avoid being shoehorned into either camp, but on a local level, rock music wasn't exactly percolating with new ideas. Punk's sound and fury was a good couple years away in 1976 when Graham Parker and The Rumour cut their first record, Howlin' Wind, but it was a bellwether of changing times that announced the concise pub rock of groups like Brinsley Schwartz had grown some teeth. Laced with the kind of muscular rhythms and big choruses his American spirit brother Bruce Springsteen was perfecting across the pond in Asbury Park, the album's unpretentious mix of cynical lyricism and raw guitar made little dent on the British charts, but a big impression.

Two albums and a jettisoned label later, Parker and his band convened with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche (of Rolling Stones fame) to put together probably the best statement of the embryonic New Wave movement's connection - and debt - to the pub rockers. Squeezing Out Sparks was a leaner, less adorned album than its predecessors and suited its time. Just before making it, Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding had temporarily backed the insurgent Elvis Costello on "Watching the Detectives" and Parker was frequently being mentioned as a leading "Angry Young Man" of British rock alongside Costello and Joe Jackson, both of whom had cut sides that still retained some of the country flourishes of pub rock but were also heading toward a more angular, punk-influenced sound.

The resulting first single from the album, "Local Girls," neatly encapsulates the moment in British rock Graham Parker personifies: its guitar riff snarls with pub rock earthiness, the lyrics bite with punk disdain and proto-New Wave wordplay, the keyboards hint at the looming synth-pop boomlet, and Parker holds court with a playfully nasty vocal that grabs its moment by the throat and doesn't let go. Something about the bouncing bassline and deep pocket groove nods to R&B leanings, which both Jackson and Costello would explore on their own terms in the early 80's, and if timing really WAS everything in music this song and album might've been necessarily huge when it landed in 1979. As it is, Graham Parker languished while "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" climbed the British charts. As far as a signature song goes, this likely ties "Pourin' It All Out" from 1978's Heat Treatment in the Parker catalogue, and for what it's worth, I believe this holds up quite well against the best work of the other two "Angry Young Men" from the same period.

Regrettably, Graham Parker never really branched out into more sonically daring territory -- as New Wave explored Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms and harmonics, the mechanical dance music of Kraftwerk, disco's lavish arrangements, and post-rock, Parker remained rooted in safer territory. His 80's work, particularly The Mona Lisa's Sister, contain fine moments, but aside from Billy Bragg few artists followed in the snarling confessional style of folk-rock he embraced. All the same, "Local Girls" might be the finest moment of one of New Wave's most significant tributaries.

June 20, 2008

It's nice to have friends.

Here is the newest Mates of State video, "My Only Offer", from their newest release Re-Arrange Us. Always always always cute, partially because they are one of my favorite bands ever and partially because they just are really freaking adorable. I'm pissed I missed them here in St. Louis, but sorry...I had a great vacation. For a cute photo of Jason and Kori's oldest daughter, Magnolia, (while here in St. Louis) head on over to Babble Blog and look up their blog "Band on the Diaper Run"


Local band and good friends So Many Dynamos have been name dropped a bit by their producer/friend Chris Walla (you know, of Death Cab for Cutie fame?) in various forms. Some of those drops have been witnessed on Rock Louder, a UK music rag, and on MPR, Minnesota Public Radio (in the form of an interview/live performance, brought to you via mp3).
Norm of SMD rocking at the RFT Festival (via SMD recording blog, via Jason Stoff's flickr set)

In other Dynamos news this Thursday they will be performing in Edwardsville at the Stagger Inn (sorry, 21+ only) as a Weezer cover band. Also of awesome interest/SMD related? Along with SMD playing as a Weezer cover band their offchute prog band, Thor Axe will also be opening the show. The guys will be playing Weezer songs from the "1994-1998 era" covering "the Blue album, Pinkerton and a few key b-sides" (via their blog). The WHOLE of Slamdunk Stalin writers will be there, so be ready to have a fucking ball. We sure are!

June 3, 2008

The new Weezer might hurt a little...

Okay. "Pork and Beans." By many accounts a return to form after sloppily-written, over-polished stumbling on Make Believe. Probably not a representative sample from the upcoming Red Album, if "Beverly Hills" isn't from Make Believe. But here's the problem: I find it odious. It's serviceable, if Bowling for Soup-y, power pop. And I do love the creativity hiding in the formalism of really good power pop. I can't get behind "Pork and Beans," though, for a couple of reasons:

1) It's the New Rivers Formula. There really wasn't an Old Rivers Formula for Weezer's biggest pre-Make Believe hits - "Buddy Holly," "Undone," "Say It Ain't So," "El Scorcho," "Island in the Sun," and even "Keep Fishin'" all feature a pretty broad spectrum of simplicity with unabashedly dorky lyrics draped over them - but it seems like Rivers as a songwriter has really retreated into a "rebellious" attempt at irony under the guise of self-mockery. He did it on "Beverly Hills," too. The very beginning of "Pork and Beans" features a goofy synth effect and simple, chunky, countrified lift of the guitar line from The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me," coupled to unwieldy and generally weak opening lyric "they say I need some Rogaine to put in my hair / working out at the gym to fit my underwear / Oakley makes the shades that transform a tool / You'd hate for the kids to think that you've lost your cool." This is already a capitulation. Rivers has to voice his detractors before declaring, essentially, that he doesn't care with the defiant and clumsy chorus. It's just long on attitude and short on substance, which is opposite of what the best Weezer is.

2) No soul, no commitment. "Buddy Holly" did the same thing, lyrically, that "Pork and Beans" tries to, which is to brush off a bunch of trendy jerks who be hatin', but where Rivers used to pull out pop culture references that were contrary to immediate relevance and dateability (like, you know, Buddy Holly... or Mary Tyler Moore) in a sort of timeless resistance, he throws out names like Timbaland now just establish that, yes, he is aware of the "cool" that he doesn't wish to have. It's like Madonna rapping about Mini Coopers. The execution is an attempt to be stylish, if derisive, but in the end it just sounds like Rivers gives up trying to be himself and has to be anti-everyone else instead. The appeal of his songwriter's voice, to me, has always been its authenticity. Like Brian Wilson before him, Rivers is direct but poetically observational in his most unguarded moments. Even on the Blue Album, when he sings songs like "Surf Wax America" that don't seem personalized at all - for one, Rivers don't surf - or songs like "Holiday," which are pure fantastic escapism next to the purely personal escapism of "In the Garage," Rivers manages to come across as the quiet kid in the back of the party who sees a lot more than he does. To me, that's a remarkably relatable persona. I'm sure most Weezer fans who geeked out in 2001 when Green was announced agree. On "Pork and Beans," just like on "Beverly Hills," Rivers sounds like the party loudmouth who's so busy talking something up that he misses all the fine detail of what 'being there' actually is. He still hits the mark occasionally, most recently on songs like "Freak Me Out" and "Haunt You Every Day", but in his commercial offerings, Rivers seems to bow and scrape to the kind of radio programming he turns around and disses just for the extra credibility. It's the difference between self-awareness and self-importance that haunts "Pork and Beans," and where the self-aware speaker of "Buddy Holly" don't care what they say about [himself and his girl] anyway, it's because he's caught up in a moment; the self-important speaker of "Pork and Beans" who don't give a hoot about what you think just seems interested in people nodding "yeah, he's still cool, I guess" due to his anti-everything posture of aging irascibility. It's almost a cranky statement where a grateful one once existed.

The music itself sounds empty. Just plain empty. There's not a lot of rock gravitas in the current version of the Rivers/Brian Bell guitar sound, unlike the bass-heavy version of the sound of 90's or the cutting and nimble version on Green and Maladroit and Rivers is obviously moving toward safer song structure after his last qualified single bomb - "Dope Nose" - careened around with lots of nervous energy (if not substance). From what I understand, the other songs on Red are much more varied and adventurous, so I can hope that "Pork and Beans" is a misrepresentation of what the rest of the album offers. But it sounds lazy in all aspects, a predictable piece to ship out and collect a paycheck. I would've hoped that, on the success and reception of Alone, Rivers would have realized that his most idiosyncratic and earnest music is just as welcome to listeners as his most formulaic and superficial. Well, hope against hope. This might be my last hurrah with new Weezer material for a while.