Category Archives: Ramblings

Wanna Read The Article That Got Me Into Guided By Voices?

Sometimes I get emails or messages from people who let me know that I introduced them to a singer or band and it’s changed their lives. One of the great joys of being a hardcore music fan is getting turned onto new music and then doing the same for someone else. Back in the summer of 2001 I was fresh out of high school and working my first-ever job at a drugstore chain called Walgreens. One of the perks, actually the only perk of working there, was that I got to read magazines for free in the break room during my lunch. I’m pretty sure I never paid for a single issue of Revolver magazine, but I was quite taken with it. I remember one issue where a singer/songwriter named Robert Pollard was interviewed about his band, Guided By Voices.  The thing that got my attention was the description author Tom Beaujour used when describing the band:

“The Guided by Voices songbook is a place where the two-minute pop song is pushed to the very limit of expressive capabilities, where melodies soar with unabashed grandiosity, and surreal characters and bizarre parables coexist peace fully with beefy riffs (imagine the Who performing an arena-shaking rendition of the Beatles “Nowhere Man”). “

Now, as a fan of both The Beatles and The Who, that got my attention. I immediately went home and spent 90 minutes downloading “Hold On Hope” and “Glad Girls” off of Limewire (look it up, kids). I was stunned by what I (eventually, it was dial-up) heard. I made a beeline for the nearest CD Warehouse (look it up kids) and bought every Guided By Voices record I could lay my mitts on. To this day, I owe the discovery of one of my favorite bands to that article and Mr. Tom Beaujour. Just for fun, I did a search this week to see if the article was available online. Revolver magazine turns out to still exist, but I couldn’t find it on their website. The band’s now discontinued website has the article transcribed, so if you’re interested, you can check it out and read what I read 16 years ago! Nothing ever dies on the Internet, kids. 

Also, just for fun, I did an internet search for Mr. Beaujour, and I think I might have found him. It looks like he’s a record producer in New Jersey now, and even owns a recording studio, Nuthouse Recording. He even went on to work with Guided By Voices! Because I always enjoy hearing from people when I turn them onto a new band, I decided to write Mr. Beajour an email thanking him for turning me on to GBV.

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If you take away nothing else from this post, take this: people like being thanked so go out and thank someone who’s improved your life by sharing music with you.

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12 Days Until I See GnR Live, And I Still Haven’t Fully Reviewed CHINESE DEMOCRACY

I’m not going to start his post with the question, “Does anyone still read this blog?” Even though I really want to, I’m going to avoid the question, mostly because I think I know the answer (and does it really matter?). I’m less than two weeks out from seeing Axl and Slash play together on their Endless Money For All Eternity Tour and I thought it would be a good idea to write something before my emotionally charged concert review (summation?) post that will be coming post-GnR concert.

It’s a little bit funny (this feeling inside?) that my last post was on a Natalie Imbruglia covers album. I feel like many of the people who follow/randomly stumble upon this website don’t get that I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Guns N’ Roses fan and that the title of this website is a bit tongue in cheek. I’m also pretty sure that some of the people on Facebook that follow the Defending Axl Rose Facebook Page think I’m Axl. God bless, ’em, each and every one of them.

Anyway, I have tons of things that I’d like to write about: songs, albums, concerts, the like…but I’ve been mostly unable to get any writing done due to some life changes and the fact that my toddler doesn’t allow me to use my home computer (which I need to write these posts). I am pretty stoked to see GnR and wonder if they will be able to compete with the awesome spectacle that was Metallica. Time will tell. Part of me wants to look up setlists from previous shows on this tour, but I kinda want to be surprised. I do want to hear “Rocket Queen” and “My Michelle.” If you’ve seen them and they don’t play those, please don’t post a comment below telling me they don’t, let my disappointment come naturally.

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This is super mean, but I can’t help but laugh each and every time I see it.

So that’s it for now, just a quick check-in. I’d like to review this country album and maybe talk about the latest Cheap Trick record. I don’t know exactly when I will get to those, but you can definitely count on a post-GnR concert write-up. I learned my lesson with Metallica and will consume less alcohol, so my notes/memory of the event should be better, thus resulting in a better post.

If you’re going to the Denver show, hit me up on Facebook or leave a comment and maybe we can meet up.

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Pre-Metallica Concert Thoughts

In a few hours, I’m going to be seeing Metallica here in sunny Denver, Colorado. This morning my son and I listened to the band’s “Top Hits” on Spotify, and I must admit it got me jazzed for this concert. Growing up, all my friends listened to the local hard rock radio station, while I stuck to the classic rock station my parents liked. This meant that I missed out on Metallica at their late 80’s-early 90’s peak. Before I could form an opinion on the band, the whole Napster thing happened, and I found myself unwilling to give the band a shot. In hindsight, Metallica’s argument against Napster/illegal downloading of music isn’t as terrible as it seemed to me at the time. Now that I exist in a world where music is all but free, I can see that there were serious consequences. Small, up-and-coming bands went from making very, very, very, very little money to none at all. The Jay-Z’s and Beyonce’s of the world make a staggering amount of money, but nobody else in the music business does. Well, Metallica continues to do alright, too.

aHR0cDovL2ltZy5jY3JkLmNsZWFyY2hhbm5lbC5jb20vbWVkaWEvbWxpYi83NTcvMjAxNy8wMi9kZWZhdWx0L21ldGFsbGljYV9iaXJ0aGRheV9iYXNoXzBfMTQ4Njk5MzYxMi5qcGc=Anyway, it wasn’t until I went to college and started listening to a greater variety of music did I check out Metallica. One of the first albums of theirs I ever listened to was ST. ANGER, which as we all know by now, wasn’t very popular when it was released. In many ways, I feel like Metallica is a bit like Weezer in that their rabid fan base automatically hates every new album they release and wistfully pine for the previous albums…the same ones they trashed upon their initial release. Of course HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT has been pretty well-received, but I feel like this is the exception that proves the rule.

My affection for Metallica was further cemented by the 2009 Guitar Hero video game; if I’m honest, as pathetic as it will probably sound, most of my exposure to Metallica came from this game. Now with Spotify, I’ve gone back and listened to all their albums in their entirety (except for that awful 2011 Lou Reed collaboration album LULU). I enjoy their 1983 debut album KILL ‘EM ALL, mostly because it sounds like a band full of enthusiasm and intensity. But their super-popular 1991 ‘Black Album’ is also really good. Honestly, all their albums are solid which is rare in the world of metal and the world of music in general.

I’m excited to see how well the band is live, I’ve heard they are amazing. I will document what happens in a couple of days. I’m also really interested to see what the crowd will be like. I’m picturing a lot of gray hairs (mine included). For one thing, the tickets were a bit steep, and as a younger colleague pointed out to me today, “Metallica are old men.” But metal is a weird genre, one that is very fixated on the past, so I imagine there will also be plenty of younger metalheads in attendance as well.

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Empathic Vibrations: How Music Allows Us to Understand One Another

This post is part of a series of daily blog posts written during the month of May as a form of artistic protest. This Blog March was organized by writer/musician Robin Renée. You can learn more about Robin and the Blog March by visiting her website.

A few years ago, I had a co-worker who was really into music. When he found out that I enjoyed many of the classic rock bands that he liked, he’d come by my desk to have long, meandering conversations about music. One day he and I were discussing Hendrix, and he said that he didn’t like Jimi Hendrix and thought he was overrated. I told him that I tended to agree, that the cult of personality surrounding Hendrix had gotten a bit out-of-hand. Then in another conversation, we were having about guitarists we thought were overlooked, I suggested Prince and his reaction was one of disgust. “Prince? Prince? Surely you are joking…” I thought that was an odd reaction for such a big music fan to have, but I didn’t think too much about it. Then there was the time the subject of blues music came up, and he emphatically told me that he couldn’t stand it and that it held little artistic merit (or some such thing). I thought that was a pretty odd perspective to have, especially considering his favorite band was The Rolling Stones. I called him out on this, and he shrugged me off.

Imagine my surprise, however, when his hero Keith Richards released an album of all blues covers. There was no way that this guy was going to like that, right? Wrong, he loved it. I called him out on his inconsistent stance on blues. Then I asked him if he listened to any music made by a black artist and he told me frankly: “I don’t listen to black music…it just doesn’t speak to me. I can’t relate to it at all.” I laughed, not because the statement was funny (though it was) but because I thought this guy was joking. He was not. It turned out this guy avoided “black music” and only listened to bands/singers who were white, like him. Now, whether or not this guy was racists is neither here nor there–the point is, I think it’s pretty common for people to enjoy music made by people who most resemble themselves. As I’ve said many times, I didn’t seriously listen to female bands/singers until I was in my early 20’s when radio host/E-Street Band member Little Steve told me that Tegan & Sara were “cool.”

Now, if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for this guy to think he has more in common with Keith Richards than he does with someone like Robert Johnson. This guy was a teacher so economically, Johnson and his day-to-day life were much more “relatable” than Richards (who is a millionaire-vampire).

As I’ve matured and expanded my sphere of listening, I’ve come to realize how valuable it is to hear music created by people vastly different from myself. About a year or so ago, I was listening to a rap song, I wish I could remember what song or who the artist was (I think it was Run The Jewels), but I remember taking my headphones off and thinking: Oh, my God…”Black Lives Matter” means “All Lives Matter.” I had never taken issue with the sentiment of BLM, but like a lot of middle-class white people, I also thought it should be “All Lives Matter.” But through exploring both classic and modern rap/hip-hop, it became apparent to me that the way I experienced the world was fundamentally different than the way people of color experience it. Listening to rap provided a window of insight into how other people see and feel about things. I no longer have a problem with “Black Lives Matter,” because I can see now how they currently don’t matter (in this country and elsewhere in the world) and it was music that allowed me to begin the process of understanding. And right now what the world needs more than anything right now is more understanding.

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Run the Jewels.

100+ days ago, I would say this revelation would be pretty important, but now in May of 2017, I think it’s probably the most important thing music is. No matter who you are, take the time to explore the art of people who are different from you. Art is where we exalt our joy and preserve our pain. That old saying about not knowing someone until you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, one way you can do that is to experience their films, books, and music. I love Keith Richards to death, but it blows my mind that a person could enjoy his work and have zero interest in his mentor Chuck Berry. Don’t you dare be that narrowminded.

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The master and the apprentice.

Our Hater-In-Chief and those like him can only see divisions, but the truth is that our world is overflowing with art that can link us together. We’re all floating islands of isolation, but art tethers us not just to this world but to one another. Stop reading this post and listen to music made by someone who doesn’t look like you.

And if you want a suggestion:

 

Check out the next Blog March blog, by David Jamison here: https://davidjamison.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Shan Fowler’s Pitchfork Review of Jason Falkner’s CAN YOU STILL FEEL Makes Me So Angry

First off, this is all my fault. I should have known better than to go to Pitchfork to read about an album that I enjoy. I gave up on Pitchfork ages ago as it’s just a bunch of hipster douchebags ragging on everything that 99.999% of people find good. And yet, for whatever reason, I ventured onto Pitchfork and searched for Jason Falkner. I recently finished reading the excellent Jellyfish biography Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story and have been re-listening to Falkner’s last two solo efforts, I’M OK…YOU’RE OK from 2007 and ALL QUIET ON THE NOISE FLOOR from 2009. I don’t remember either of these albums being terrible, but they didn’t make much of an impact on me. Revisiting them 10+ years later, I’m finding them to be top-notch efforts that I want to hear over and over again. Seriously, these are great albums, so great I will probably be writing about them soon.

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Anyway, I went to Pitchfork to see if perhaps they had evaluated either of these records. Of course, they hadn’t. Pitchfork is too cool to review awesome indie records with little/no buzz. The only Falkner albums they have reviews on are a compilation of tracks called NECESSITY: THE FOUR TRACK YEARS and a “review” of Jason’s second album CAN YOU STILL FEEL? I put the word review in quotes because despite giving the album 5.8 out of 10, the article written on Pitchfork isn’t a review of the album. Instead, it’s a lame-ass bit of creative writing from some hipster jagoff named Shan Fowler. Rather than write a review that explains the 5.8 score (what’s good about the album, what’s bad about the album, what thoughts does Fowler have about CAN YOU STILL FEEL?) instead the reader is treated to an imaginary conversation wherein Jason Falkner goes to a front-man self-help/AA-style meeting and confesses that “the people aren’t coming.” The punchline of this “review” is that the “people” are never coming and that Falkner should just give up and move back home with his mother. Hilarious. So thought provoking. So insightful. Fowler is a fucking genius and should write for Saturday Night Live. Although, as funny as this review is, Fowler may very well write for the current season of SNL…it’s really that amusing.

This kind of shite is the reason I quit Pitchfork years ago. I’m okay that their gimmick is that they hate everything mainstream/you love and that they only champion obscure bands no one in their right mind actually enjoys. I think there’s a place for that sort of website/critical opinion. But this lame “creative” anti-review just pisses me off and makes real critics look bad. This is coming from a guy that wrote a positive and negative review of the same Lana Del Rey song. I was going to include a link to the review on Pitchfork, but frankly I do not want to give this “review” any extra clicks today. Here is a screen shot:

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The second album review on Pitchfork begins with the sentence, “Jason Falkner is a wuss of considerable talent.” I literally stopped reading and hit the back-button on my browser. Shan Fowler, wherever you are, I challenge you to write an actual review of this album. One that actually, you know, talks about the content of the music. Email it to me at DefendingAxlRose@gmail.com and I’ll post it for you and everything. 

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Where Have I Been? & 2017 Concert Updates

 

Hello Everyone,

It’s been three months since I’ve been active here at Defending Axl Rose, though I’m trying to get “back on the horse” as they say. I’ve been busy working…like a lot of working. I didn’t mean for so much time to pass, but here we are with so much time having passed since my last substantial update. Last year I didn’t attend very many concerts, but already 2017 is shaping up to be a HUGE concert-going year for me. On the horizon: I’m attending a Metallica show in June and a Guns ‘N Roses show in August. I kinda gave up on seeing GnR for a little while, but after the initial rush of ticket sales, the prices for decent seats at the Denver show dropped to where I was comfortable plunking down my hard earned coinage. I know that for a guy running an Axl Rose-themed blog this will sound like heresy: but I’m more excited to see Metallica at this point.

I have a couple of albums that dropped over the past few months that I want to review, I also have a book I need to finish and review on Jellyfish, and I have a couple of classic albums I want to revisit. There are things we have to do, and then there are important things we should do but don’t always have the time–and this website has always been in the second category, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Lastly, I didn’t write it up, but last month I attended an Against Me! concert up in Fort Collins and was totally blown away by them! If you happen to live in a city where they’re rolling through I highly recommend you check them out, they are so good live. Also, it’s not music-related, but I would like to take a moment to plug my friend’s blog Trope & Dagger where I sometimes write about pop culture stuff that doesn’t fit with DAR’s mission statement. I plan on writing something over there really soon, too.
I still check my email for this website, but it’s been a while since anybody has sent me anything cool. If you have a band or know a band that you want me to check out shoot me an email: defendingaxlrose@gmail.com. And if you want a positive review I can tell you where to send the check…

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Controversial Opinion: “St. Anger” is better than “Fuel”

With a new Metallica album nearly upon us, I’ve been spending the past few days revisiting the metal giant’s previous works. I write about metal every now and then, mostly because I’m a pretty casual metal fan. A real n00b if you will. I tend to like the classic metal acts like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Metallica. But that said, I really only played through Guitar Hero Metallica once and that was strictly for the achievements. My favorite Metallica album is their 1983 debut record KILL ‘EM ALL which is an economical, no-thrills thrash metal classic that stands as one the best examples of the genre. Love or hate Metallica today, there is no denying that in 1983 the band was simply amazing.

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Complex, insightful lyrics.

Anyway, as we all know, times change and bands develop. Metal fans are some of the worse when it comes to accepting the passage of time. And I don’t really blame them, after all when you begin your career with KILL ‘EM ALL why change things? Prior to 2003’s ST. ANGER, I think the band’s worst album is RELOAD from 1996. RELOAD is pretty pompous and finds the band doing sequel songs which I can’t believe is even a thing (“The Unforgiven II”). The album is also much longer than KILL ‘EM ALL…longer by a staggering 20 minutes. That’s a lot of fluff and filler to sit through. The worst song on the album, in my opinion, is the ridiculous first track/single “Fuel.” I remember when this song came out and I wasn’t even listening to metal at the time. The song was everywhere and from what I remember people liked it at the time. But boy does “Fuel” sound stupid today. Basically a Nike or Gatorade jingle, “Fuel” is a dunder-headed faux-tough guy anthem. It’s weightlifter music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but the idea of “Fuel” and the reality are two separate things. On paper, the masculine word salad appears hyper-masculine and aggressive. Listening to the song just makes me giggle. And I’m not giggling with Metallic I’m giggling at Metallica.

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Remember that time Spider-Man punched Metallica? That was so cool.

Compare that to ST. ANGER’s title track “St. Anger.” The song deals with similar tough-guy themes and has a schizophrenic fast/slow thing going on but I don’t crack a smile listening to it. I pick “St. Anger” because I feel like it best encapsulates the album, which prior to 2011’s LULU, was considered to be the band’s weakest album.  I don’t even know what to think about that mess of an album and frankly can only fall asleep most nights by pretending that it never happened. ST. ANGER is all about well…anger and mental issues and stuff. I know this because the band had a documentary come out (Some Kind of Monster) that explained all this to me. I think the frantic yoyoing of “St. Anger” fits with that theme and even though it was recorded in the crappiest way possible (modern metal production usually sucks) I think “St. Anger” actually accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m also not embarrassed to get caught listening to “St. Anger.” When “Fuel” is on and somebody enters the room, I turn that shit down and hang my head.

I still feel like many people hate ST. ANGER so much they’d do or say anything rather than admit that parts of it aren’t all that bad. I know that I will lose what little metal credibility I have by writing this but: I don’t actually mind ST. ANGER that much. It’s far from the heights of KILL ‘EM ALL, but then again I think most of the band’s output falls into that category. Regardless, neither “Fuel” nor “St. Anger” are the worst Metallica songs…that would be “I Disappear” from the Mission Impossible II soundtrack. Holy crap is that a bad song.

So how clickbait-y is my click-bait title? Have you any opinions about either song? Let me know down in the comments. And stay tuned for my shitty, uninformed review of the new Metallica album later this week!

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Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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DOOM (2016) is a Blast, Blast, Blast — Trope and Dagger

Earlier this year when the trailer for Id’s DOOM reboot/sequel hit the web, I didn’t think much about it. The last DOOM game that I played the was SNES port that came out way back in the day. I’m not the biggest First-Person Shooter fan in the world, though it does seem that’s the majority […]

via DOOM (2016) is a Blast, Blast, Blast — Trope and Dagger

Tegan & Sara Vs. Middle Class Fashion

It was 2004 when I was first introduced to Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara. I’m sure I’ve written about it many times before, but in a nutshell: “Little” Steven Van Zandt turned me onto them via his radio show. Somehow, Little Steven was finally able to penetrate the thick cloud of testosterone swirling around my brain and he convinced me that women could rock and there was nothing wrong with a dude listening to “girl music.” Sure, it’s funny to look back on this now as some sort of revelation, but I was young and dumb smack dab in the middle of the country.

Since that time, I’ve followed Tegan & Sara’s careers with great interest. [Sidebar: I can’t believe SO JEALOUS, my favorite album of theirs, is 12 years old. Where the hell has the time gone? ] Over the years the duo have morphed from indie darlings to a much more mainstream act. Besides appearing on TV and the radio, the concert venues have been getting larger and larger. It’s all very exciting and I’m honestly very happy for them that they’ve found success. However, I’ve noticed that as their popularity increases Tegan & Sara seem to move further and further from the indie rock/folk sound that I loved so much when I first discovered them. This first became noticeable on their 2009 album SAINTHOOD. When it first came out I enjoyed SAINTHOOD, even though I noted that the sound skewed a bit more synth-pop than their previous albums. Then in 2013 they released HEARTTHROB, the album the launched them into the popular consciousness with the single “Closer.” When I heard this song in a JC Penny, I knew that Tegan & Sara were officially entering Kings of Leon territory.

 

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If their new album was a cool as their eye make-up I swear to God they’d be my all-time favorite band. And, this article would not exist. So really, everyone would win.

 

Let me pause in order to make two things perfectly clear. First, I’d like to say that there is nothing wrong with a band evolving and changing over a period of time. I have a lot of trouble with this because on an emotional level, I just want things to stay the same forever. Like most humans, I profess that I love change and that chang is good all the while fearing change. Intellectually, I know The Beatles are a better band than say AC/DC because none of The Beatles records sound the same. The Fab Four changed and grew over the course of their albums and the world was all the better for it. When a band doesn’t grow and change over time they turn into a factory, endlessly producing the same product over and over. To the point where I honestly can’t tell the difference between the last 4 AC/DC albums. I love AC/DC and bands like them (The Ramones also come to mind) but let’s face it: doing the same thing over and over isn’t the same as jumping from “Love Me Do” to SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

So while I poke fun of sell out bands like Kings of Leon that started out making cool garage rock with dirty lyrics who went on to become Mom Rockers, I can’t begrudge them from trying something new. Even if that new thing isn’t what I want. With Tegan & Sara, I wouldn’t want them to pump out endless clones of THIS BUSINESS OF ART or IF IT WAS YOU for the next fifteen years. I dearly love those records, but I don’t think that would make Tegan & Sara happy nor would it make me happy ultimately. Maybe I don’t like this new dance-pop direction they’ve taken, but who’s to say that this won’t lead them towards something new that I will love.

 

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Middle Class Fashion: purple power.

 

Tegan & Sara but out a new album recently, an album called LOVE YOU TO DEATH.  Guess what? I didn’t really love it to death. I listened to it exactly once, because I’m a fan, and then I promptly forgot about it. The only thing I can exactly recall about it is that it’s painfully short. Like barely clocking in at 30 minutes short. Ten tracks short. The sort of release that feels like a band running out of steam. As I write this, I just pushed play on the album and right from the first song (“That Girl”) I find that I don’t hate this music. It just isn’t as good as “Time Running” or “Walking With A Ghost.” It’s not that Tegan & Sara are wrong and making less-inspired music, it must be that I just don’t like this sort of electro-pop music, right? Wrong.

One of my favorite albums to come out this year is III by Middle Class Fashion*. This album shares many of the same musical genetic components of the new wave of Tegan & Sara albums. The difference? Middle Class Fashion don’t do a serviceable job, they’re borderline brilliant. I actually think they’re brilliant, but I’m afraid to jinx them by throwing that sort of label around. The songwriting is tighter and more inspired, the arrangements are lusher and more interesting on III than they are on LOVE YOU TO DEATH. I’ve wanted to write about III and Middle Class Fashion since the album came out earlier this year, but I’ve been completely gobsmacked by it. The songs are all catchy and the lyrics are really interesting, but I have no idea what the songs are really about. Literate and mysterious, Middle Class Fashion remind me of REM’s Michael Stipe singing about how he’s gay without anyone in middle America picking up on that. My favorite song on III is a song called “86” which I think is both a reference to “86-ing something” and the year the lead singer was born, but honestly, that’s probably not even close. And I kind of love that about “86.” Compare that with the single off of LOVE YOU TO DEATH, “Boyfriend.” There’s nothing subtle or mysterious about “Boyfriend,” the song is pretty much what you think it’s about. I’m a fucking dunce and I know what that song is about.

What’s the difference between a band like Middle Class Fashion and Tegan & Sara? Besides the fact that Tegan & Sara are super-well-known. Middle Class Fashion are in the early stages of their careers, I suppose (III is the band’s third album, kinda like LED ZEPELLIN III, which makes me love them all that much more). But I think the difference between the two bands is more than just the chronology of the life of these bands. Middle Class Fashion exude a level of artistic confidence that Tegan & Sara had but somehow lost. I’m not privy to all the behind-the-scene goings on with either band, but I’ll wager someone in a very slick looking suit is influencing the artistic choices Tegan & Sara are making. Middle Class Fashion are probably doing exactly what they want to do and that comes through in the music. Also, the songwriter/singer in Middle Class Fashion is a fucking genius operating on a different level than the usual rock/pop singer-songwriter**.

Though on the surface Tegan & Sara and Middle Class Fashion have a lot in common, really this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Tegan & Sara have somehow wandered into the same sonic playground of Middle Class Fashion and suffer greatly through the comparison. I hope that this phase of Tegan & Sara’s career ultimately results in more interesting music and I hope Middle Class Fashion keep making great records. And if Middle Class Fashion want to genre-hop they’ve more than earned that right, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got an open mind and will follow artists I like down any rabbit hole, even if it’s just for one listen.

 

 

*Okay, so don’t kill me, but III is 11 tracks and 28 minutes long. But ya know, this is a good kind of brevity…

**Fun fact, I once stood behind the dude in Middle Class Fashion in line for beer after a show. I worked up the nerve to tell him how much I enjoyed their then-current album JUNGLE. No way in hell would I have done what with the singer.

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