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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’d pretty much written off fun pop-punk as something that only existed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Punk is one of those genres that really belongs to young people, and when a new crop of artists didn’t spring up to replace the old guard…well we ended up with old punks. Nothing is more depressing to me than old punks. I’m not going to hijack this post, which is about a great new Against Me! song, by bashing Green Day. But boy is it difficult for me to not bash Green Day.
Young and old punks appreciate clean boots.
Anyway, I was vaguely aware of Against Me! but hadn’t really heard them until a few months ago when a podcast I listen to turned me onto their latest single “Crash.”I was blown away not just because the song is catchy as hell, but because it seemed to reinvigorate my interest in the pop-punk genre. Leaning more pop than punk, this track has a nice buoyant quality to it. The lyrics, while pretty straightforward, do a good job of reflecting on getting older without getting bogged down in the typical old-punk lameness. This song impressed me so much, that I wound up listening to all of SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME, the band’s new album. It’s a great record, one that will definitely end up on Best of 2016 end of year list. I thought about reviewing it now but decided to focus on this song because it’s so damn good.
It’s been a tough week, take a moment to check out “Crash” and forget about your troubles for a while. The band released an awesome KISS-inspired music video for the song, check it out:
Well, it’s officially autumn! As summer fades into the distance, a middle-aged rock nerd’s thoughts turn to assembling a Best of The Year list. I haven’t done one since 2012, mostly because I wasn’t focused enough on music throughout the year. I’ve slacked off a bit this month, hence a New Song Round-Up post for September. I wish I could say I was busy doing something awesome, but the sad truth is I just couldn’t get myself focused enough to sit down and write anything up. Some big albums dropped in the last two weeks and I’m determined to get at least two album reviews out before October. We’ll see if that pans out (don’t hold your breath).
Anyway, without further ado, here are some new songs that hit the airwaves (???) and my radar this month. I’m sure I missed something, let me know what I should have paid attention to down in the comments.
The Defending Axl Rose End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up
“I Love the USA” by Weezer: You know that Best of 2016 list I mentioned above? Weezer’s latest THE WHITE ALBUM is 100% a lock for a top 5 spot. I can’t believe how much I disliked it upon first listen and how much it’s grown on me. Seriously, if you haven’t checked it out do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s great. What’s not so great is this B-side, “I Love the USA.” I really don’t know what to make of this track, to be honest. Apparently, this song was written to commemorate a successful NASA mission to Jupiter. You really wouldn’t get that from the lyrics (at least, I didn’t), but luckily Rivers Cuomo was nice enough to tweet an explanation. The song starts off as a soft piano ballad before building into a super-jingoistic guitar jam. With lyrics like “fuck yeah, this place is great/God save the King/God save the King” it’s easy to see how I missed the whole NASA commemoration point. This track probably would have worked better if it was ironic (maybe a scathing indictment of how messed up the country is?). The whole thing ends with a line about a missing boy who “didn’t make it.” What does this have to do with the Juno probe to Jupiter? I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. Sadly, “I Love the USA” isn’t the outlier in the modern Weezer canon, but instead that new album is the odd duck out (because it’s good).
Am I being too hard on Weezer? Let me know, I honestly can’t tell anymore.
“Hyper Dark” by Sleigh Bells: I really, really, really, really loved that first Sleigh Bells album. I had high hopes for the band but three albums in, I’m starting to lose faith. Modern bands that explode onto the scene seem to have a dismal track record for sticking around. It’s not that these bands aren’t talented, I think the issue is that labels don’t let bands percolate long enough. Then again, The Beatles cranked out hit after hit at a breakneck pace. Maybe the problem is that most of these bands are really only capable of one good album? That’s exactly one great album more than I have inside of me, so forgive me if that seems judgmental.
Anyway, this new track from Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark” is ushering in a fourth album JESSICA RABBIT (which comes out in November). The song starts off a bit boring but rebounds into something almost interesting. It’s missing the brash brutality of TREATS, instead favoring an 80’s-ish dream pop quality. I wish the guitars were a tad louder, like on the band’s other new track “It’s Just Us Now.” That track had the bombast that made Sleigh Bells famous and got me excited about this new album. If JESSICA RABBIT strikes an equal balance between loud/fun Sleigh Bells and the quieter, more experimental stuff (like “Hyper Dark”) then this might be the follow-up album I’ve been waiting for.
“Waste A Moment” by Kings of Leon: If you’d gone back in time and told me how lame Kings of Leon were going to become when I first heard “Red Morning Light” back in 2003, I would have laughed in your face. YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is a stone-cold classic, a truly fantastic southern fried garage rock album. “Waste A Moment” is bland vanilla pudding. I’m not sure what about this song’s production is sapping it of all of its visceral energy, but this song could possibly put me to sleep. There’s no passion, no urgency to this song. I think the last Kings of Leon album I gave a fuck about was 2007’s BECAUSE OF THE TIMES. What happened to this band? They lost their balls and got dump trucks full of money. I don’t begrudge them from making a living, and hell yes I’m super jealous they have millions of 50-year-old women swooning at their shows now, but where is the band that wrote a song about Molly’s…ahem…chamber? The band has a new album, WALLS, coming out soon but just like the last two records, I’ll be sitting WALLS out. The only reason I even wrote about this track is because I wanted to mention how fucking great YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is. It’s great. Go listen to that, skip this song.
“Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga: I bet you think I’m going to trash this song, but I actually really dig it. When I saw that Lady Gaga had a new single out I decided to give it a listen mainly out of curiosity. Okay, I’ll admit…I wanted to see just how bad it was. I really like THE FAME and thought that Gaga was going to be my generation’s Madonna or whatever…instead she kinda became a disappointment/one trick pony whose only real talent was shocking little old ladies with meat dresses. To my surprise, Lady Gaga decided to channel Bruce Springsteen (and 90’s R&B)! While it’s a typical our-love-was-a-lie song, there’s passion in the vocals. I honestly wouldn’t have known this was a Lady Gaga song had I not known it was her. I guess I’ll have to give the new album a listen (barring any sort of freaky ass album art).
“Revolution Radio” by Green Day: You know, I think I was too harsh on Green Day last month when they released their song “Bang Bang.” I don’t think that “Revolution Radio” is the best Green Day song of the last 10 years, but it certainly isn’t terrible. And compared to “Bang Bang” it’s a 10/10 masterpiece. Sure, the cherry bombs and snarling is a bit cliche (and silly coming from dudes this old), this track sounds like Green Day. Not my little sister’s Green Day, but the version of the band that I remember listening to in the late 1990’s. The opening reminds me of the theme song for the old Colbert Show, but that’s my problem (not the song’s fault). “Revolution Radio” sticks with the protest themes we’ve come to expect from latter-day Green Day (“legalize the truth,” seriously guys?), but I can’t help but wonder what a snarling party anthem from old-ass Green Day would sound like. I wouldn’t mind if the band stopped being so serious and got a little fun. A little fun never hurt anyone guys.
So that’s it for the new songs of September! There was a new Beach Slang single released, but the album came out today and I decided to just do a write-up of that rather than feature the track here. Like I said above, I’m sure I missed something so please tell me below!
Arizona musicians Harrison Fjord have a couple of really great things going for them. For starters, they have one of the best pun band names this side of Ringo Deathstarr. Secondly, they make awesomely atmospheric music that falls somewhere between jazz and psychedelic rock. The band sounds like a mellow, laid back Pink Floyd. I ran across them because they gained a bit of Internet fame thanks to a super-cool music video for their track “Approximately 900 Miles.” The song is a cornerstone of their most recent EP, PUSPA IN SPACE.
The band apparently shot the video high up on the Mogollon Rim, bringing a generator to power their gear. I really dig the song and respect the hell out of them for putting out such a cool, creative video in this day and age (aren’t music videos all but dead?). If you enjoy indie rock that’s a bit quiet and a whole lot spacey, give Harrison Fjord a listen.
And even if you aren’t interested in jazzy-psych-rock from Arizona, check out this rad music video:
Welcome to the fourth installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums. I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.
It’s been awhile since I fired up the old rock ‘n’mailbag so I decided to dip in and see what was inside. Back in March, I got an email from Chris Niccoli who headlines a Seattle-based glam rock band Chris Mess. First off, this band gets immediate points for having a pun-band name. I thought that perhaps that Chris Mess was a person but once I said it out loud a few times I got the joke. The Chris Mess Bandcamp page describes the band as “A bit loud Cheap Trick strut, with a smattering of absurdity and vocal craziness a la Queen, The Darkness, Ziggy-era David Bowie, and The Sweet.” I’d agree with that assessment and say that band’s sound is definitely reminiscent of all the bands mentioned. There’s a fun throwback quality to the band’s sound that I dig.
Chris’s vocals aren’t quite as wild and crazy as bands like The Darkness, but there’s some high-pitched wailing going on. The CHRIS MESS EP is seven songs, five originals, one cover (David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”), and an acapella version of the first track. The production is clean and modernizes the band’s sound enough so you can tell that Chris Mess is a modern artist and not of the era they’re repping. I really enjoyed “Bong for your Mom,” which has a groove and some sweet harmonies. According to the Bandcamp site, the track is about Seattle’s cannabis scene. I also really enjoyed the manic, unhinged “Vitamin D” though I wished it was just a smidge heavier. The same goes for “Don’t Make Me Hate,” which is an okay track that could have been an A+ effort with a little less Queen and a little more Black Sabbath.
The Bowie cover is a nice tribute, but I have disagree with the band’s description that the track is “revved up.” It’s a serviceable effort but doesn’t strike me as a particularly juiced-up version of the song. I think Chris Mess would have been better served by paying tribute to The Thin White Duke by perhaps choosing a more obscure song. Again, there’s nothing bad about their version, it just didn’t do much new and (of course) pales in comparison to the original.
Overall, the CHRIS MESS EP is hands down one of the better things sent into the ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG. The original songs show real promise and the band seems adept at blending their influences together. I’d be interested to see the band live and hear a proper album from this band.
Boy did this catch me off guard today, but Metallica released a brand-spanking new track today. We’ve known for some time now that Metallica was working on a new album (their tenth) but I honestly didn’t have it on my radar. Turns out that was a mistake! It’s coming out this November. I’m not sure what was so special about today, after all, the music industry switched the day new releases come out from Tuesday to Fridays, but I’m not complaining. A band like Metallica are legendary enough to drop new stuff whenever they please.
Alright, enough preamble, let’s get down to brass tacks! The real question here isn’t “why wasn’t this song on your radar?” nor is it “why did they choose to put it out on a Thursday?” No, the real question is: is “Hardwire” any good?
Let me first come clean and say that I am far from the world’s biggest Metallica fan. A few years ago, however, I got into the band’s first few albums particularly their 1983 debut KILL ‘EM ALL (which I am exactly one month and two days older than). The later stuff is, as I think most sane people will agree, a bit hit or miss for me. I actually kinda dug 2008’s DEATH MAGNETIC and the hyper-homoerotic (trust me on this) BEYOND MAGNETIC EP the band put out in 2011. So that’s me, I’m a guy that likes the first album and the last batch of material the band released (LULU does not exist in this dojo). I mention this because put my opinion into perspective.
I’ve stalled long enough, I a proud to say that “Hardwired” is great! The first thing that struck me about it is how well it was recorded. The biggest complaint lodged against the modern Metallica records is how shitty the production has been. ST ANGER had problems with the drum sounds and DEATH MAGNETIC was criticized for being overly compressed (i.e. they both sounded shitty). Well, “Hardwired” sounds crisp and clear, there’s no murky or computerized quality to the tracks’ sound. What we have here is a brilliantly simple thrash-metal song, you know the kind of song that originally made the band so famous. The new album is called HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT and that’s basically the hook of “Hardwired.” It’s fast and furious and without any pretension–there’s no overly-indulgent opening or anything lame like that. The song thunders along for a brisk 3 minutes and 11 seconds, there’s no fat on this track, it’s lean and mean. And I love that about it.
Metallica has really grabbed my attention with “Hardwired.” I can’t believe I’m going to write this in 2016: but I am super-excited about a new Metallica album.
As we slowly exit Summer and near the holiday (silly) season, a band’s thoughts turn to new albums. What better way to prep the world by dropping a single on the unexpecting masses? After radio died but before we got music streaming services it wasn’t always super-easy for me to find these freshly released tracks. But now, every Friday Spotify curates them all for me! I’m sure no payola is involved…
Anyway, I never know what to do about these sort of things when it comes to the blog. I mean, I can’t possibly write 500 words on this new Green Day single. Luckily, I can just shamelessly copy another (some might even argue better) blogger’s format and apply them to this loose collection of songs.
The Defending Axl Rose Mid-August 2016 New Song Round-Up
“Bang Bang” by Green Day: As soon as I hit play and heard the faux news broadcast, I knew we were in trouble. The intro reeks of trying too hard, and as we all know trying is pretty much the least punk thing one can do. That said, once the song starts “Bang Bang” isn’t a complete disaster. But all the talk of “World War 0” and “celebrity models” feels like the sort of empty criticism an 8th-grader would make about the current crop of senseless shootings. Somebody wake me up when September ends.
“City Lights” by The White Stripes: Oh, what a happy boy I was when I saw that there was a brand new White Stripes song on Spotify! Then I saw that it was “Previously Unreleased.” Well, no bother…even if Jack and Meg didn’t get back together at least I would get to hear a new song. Then I hit play and the soft, acoustic guitar ballad and I knew that I wasn’t going to get a new White Stripes song. This is a new Jack White solo track. Sure, maybe Meg is politely shaking maracas or whatever in the background, but this is about as far from an “Icky Thump” or “Seven Nation Army” as one can get. And while variety is the spice of life, I was really hoping for something a bit more explosive. “City Lights” isn’t terrible, it’s a great (albeit sleepy) track from Jack White.
“Put Your Hands Up” by The Struts: I’ve been hearing a lot of really good things about The Struts. There’s been many comparisons between them and The Darkness, one of my favorite bands. So when I saw that they had a new single I didn’t hesitate. “Put Your Hands Up” is a good rock song that could have been great with a slightly catchier chorus (though they do get points for rhyming “vibration” and “medication”). Still, the band has plenty of energy (and cowbell) to convince me that I need to give them a serious listen.
“Punks In A Disco Bar” by Beach Slang: Ten seconds in and I’m hooked. I’m so in the bag for this band, that I guess nobody should be surprised that I dig this song. But boy, do I dig this song. That vicious, angular guitar riff is fantastic. Beach Slang pack so much intensity into “Punks In A Disco Bar” that the track’s sub-three minute runtime doesn’t even feel too short. I really hope that this song isn’t some kind of leftover from last year’s record and that there’s a new one on the horizon. I missed seeing these guys back in April when my son was born, I really want them to hop on the touring circuit again so I can see them. Brilliant 10/10.
I was trolling around the Internet a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a super-cool cover of The Doobie Brothers classic “What A Fool Believes” by a band called Self. What makes this cover so interesting is that the band takes the Doobie’s funky groove and spins it as a power-pop song. Adding an extra layer of sugary charm, the band performs the song on toy instruments. This works much better than you’d think. Apparently, the band put out an entire album of songs performed on toy instruments called GIZMODGERY back in 2000. I guess this sort of thing would be considered “twee” and should make me roll my eyes harder than Liz Lemon, but for whatever reason, this works for me.
Ugh, this is so “twee.”
There’s a very Beck-like track on GIZMODGERY called “Trunk Fulla Amps” that is also worth checking out if you’re interested. I don’t know why I’d never heard of Self until recently, though that name surely couldn’t have helped their cause. The band seems to consist of Mike Mahaffey, so I suppose the name is a bit of a joke about the band really being one person? But then I see other names on the album credits, so it’s not strictly a solo project…so who knows. I do know that Mike should have dubbed his band Self (band) because that’s how one as to search for them online. I ran into a similar situation recently while searching for more Loco Ono music. Apparently, that name is popular with a bunch of small-time bands (of varying quality).
But I digress, “What A Fool Believes” is a great song made even better by the twinkling daycare sensibility of Self. This is exactly the sort of thing I expect from a good cover song, in that it’s not a direct copy. The song isn’t necessarily elevated into something greater than the original, instead Self’s cover is a pleasant, albeit wacky, sideways shift. Incidentally, my opinion of The Doobie Brothers has shifted over the years, thanks in large part to my love of a certain white-haired singer from St. Louis. Perhaps the band is due a larger, more in-depth examination in the weeks and months ahead?
Anyway, am I crazy or is this a really cool cover? Are you a fan of Self (the band)? Chime in below in the comments.
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.
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.
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.