Category Archives: Sort-of-Music-Related

In Which I Drank The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017…A Month After Record Store Day

Record Store Day was April 22 and now, nearly a month later, I have finally tried the Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017. I’ve written a few beer-with-a-music-theme posts in the past, and they are always a disaster. Most specifically, there was the time I reviewed the Iron Maiden Beer, The Trooper, and basically wrote how much I hated it because it’s an ESB (English Special Bitter) and that was a style I don’t enjoy. Fast-forward to several years later, and not only do I love ESB’s, but I think The Trooper is a fantastic beer! So what gives? Well, kinda like how you don’t always click with your favorite album the first time you hear it, beer sometimes needs a little time before your palate can fully process it. And sometimes your tastes just change. For example, with The Trooper, one of my complaints about it at the time was that it was a lower ABV (alcohol by volume). Back when I wrote that post, having a lot of alcohol was important because less beer was needed to get drunk. But now that I’m older (and have a son), getting “wasted” is not really a goal I have when drinking. Instead, a complex beer with an interesting flavor profile is more enjoyable to me. And frankly, at this stage in my life, a lower ABV is desirable.

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The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017. Please don’t spill on your turntable  (or place your bottle so close that the records is scratched as it spins).

I write all of this, in a way, to atone for my sins against The Trooper, but also to tell you flat-out that my review of this beer is definitely subject to change. Or at least, it would were this beer not a limited one-shot release. The beer in question, Dogfish Head’s Beer To Drink Music To ’17, is the “Official Beer of Record Store day 2017.” Dogfish Head is a pretty famous Delaware-based craft brewery that’s known (at least to me) for super-hoppy IPA (India Pale Ales) that have so many IBU’s (International Bittering Units)  that my tongue literally screams for mercy when I drink them. Their most famous is probably the 60 Minute and 120 Minute IPA’s. These are good, well-built beers designed for people that are in love with hops. They are also pretty expensive to buy, which is why I don’t typically drink their beer. I’ve been eyeing the Beer To Drink Music To ’17 six pack for a while, mostly because it had such an unusual set of ingredients (which I’ll get to in a moment) but was put off from buying it because it cost about $14.99. That’s not insane, but it’s expensive enough to put me off from trying it on a whim.

 

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I am ashamed of how difficult it was for me to get this picture. My iPhone mysteriously quit saving my pictures and I ended up having to borrow Mrs. Defending Axl Rose’s phone.  So that smile is fake. Fake as shit.

 

I moonlight at a liquor store on the weekends, and I was finally able to snag two bottles after a customer discovered that one of the six-packs our store had was missing a bottle. Thus, unable to sell it at full price, the remaining five were split up for individual sale. I picked up two, splitting the first with my wife (Mrs. Defending Axl Rose) and saved the second one in order to write this post. It was actually while drinking the first one that I read on the label that the beer was “The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017.” The beer in question is a “Tropical Blonde” that has been brewed with kiwi juice and hibiscus flowers (of all things). I’ve had hibiscus flowers in my beer before, but I had not yet drunk a beer with kiwi juice (a fruit that I love) so I was intrigued.

 

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Dogfish Head froma New Belgium glass. This picture is terrible, but the beer is pinky and slightly hazy.

 

Sometimes referred to as a “golden ale,” blonde ales are very light and “easy drinking.” What that means is that the hops are turned way, way, way down and the ABV is usually pretty low. These are hot summer day beers, the kind of thing you drink after you mow your yard or are having a co-ed BBQ in your backyard.  Beer To Drink Music To ’17 is a little heftier in the ABV department, clocking it at a modest 6.8% ABV (for comparison, Bud Light is 4.2% ABV). The beer pours a pinkish-red color and has a slightly sour fruity smell to it. The kiwi flavor is pretty much overwhelmed by the hibiscus, which I find tends to dominate any beer that brews with it. The flavor of the beer is a bit of berry mixed with a floral tang wrapped in a blanket of hops. The beer finishes with a sour bite, which I rather liked, but Mrs. Defending Axl Rose did not.

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The first time I tried this beer, I was not listening to any music, so for the purposes of science I listened to the brand new Biters album THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE. If you don’t know the Biters, they’re a great band with a punk attitude with a garage rock sensibility. This new album is a bit of a departure for them, they had the help of an outside song writer and some of the music strays from their punk-ish roots and actually sounds like 1970’s glam rock (think T-REX and not Bowie). I really enjoyed listening to “Stone Cold Love” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from ELECTRIC WARRIOR with it’s bass groove and Bolan-ish vocal style. Oddly enough, “Don’t Turn This Good Heart Bad” has a guitar hook that sounds like it was lifted from Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” Still, despite the rather odd mix of influences, this is a fantastic record. I probably should have written a legit review of this album, rather than putz around with this beer.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what a tropical beer has to do with Record Store Day (an event I skipped for the millionth time). I guess that, and the price, are my biggest gripes about this beer. I’m not sure what a Record Store Day beer should be, but I’m not convinced this light floral beer fits with the theme. It’s refreshing and interesting enough, certainly, but I don’t think this is something very many people are going to drink and listen to music. If you see this beer, and you’ve either found $20 or it’s been heavily discounted, I guess check it out. However, this beer is probably impossible to find as May was the last month it was set to be distributed.

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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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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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Campaign to Send Me to See Kanye West Official Over

You might recall a few months ago when I started a Go Fund Me campaign in order to send me to Las Vegas to see Kanye West perform live. Don’t remember that? Well, it happened. Fueled by the  desperation to see the man perform LIFE OF PABLO live in person and a lack of funds in order to travel outside of Denver, I emulated my musical hero and took to the Internet in order to (essentially) beg for money. So how did I do? Well, I made $6 more than Kanye made when he infamously sought money from Internet Zillionaire/Facebook Mogul Mark Zuckerberg…of course, that means I only raised $6. Well short of the $900 I was asking for. Now, let me admit now that that figure was pretty high, but consider the fact that I need airfare, a hotel, and a ticket to Yeezus’s show. I only guestimated, so $900 might have been on the low side…who knows?

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The campaign is over, I’m no longer accepting donations, mostly because it’s too late for me to raise money to attend the Vegas show. But don’t shed any tears for this middle-aged rock blogger, for every time Yeezus closes one door he immediately opens another (and then tweets about it). This week it was announced the second leg of Kanye’s tour would come to my beloved Denver, Colorado! Huzzah! So this Friday at 10:00am I’m dusting off my credit card and paying whatever number fate demands I pay in order to see Mr. West. I wish the show wasn’t on the Monday after Thanksgiving, but we do what we can with what we are given, right?

I’m going to document the shit out of this concert, so stay tuned for updates!

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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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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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ROCK N’ READ: The Rap Year Book

Earlier this summer I was in Barnes & Noble, haunting the Arts & Entertainment section. I was looking for a good book to read on the history of punk music, what I found instead was a really good primer for rap music. Shea Serrano, a former columnist on the now-defunct Grantland website, has crafted a nice introduction to the genre. Far from being definitive, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed provides a nice introduction to a rap novice (such as myself). Like the rather lengthy title suggests, the book is broken up into chapters by year starting in 1979 and ending in 2014, each chapter focuses on the most important song of said year. Serrano opens each chapter simply with a “What This Song Is About” and “Why It’s Important” section before proceeding to wax philosophically about the merits of that years song. This longer, essay portion of each chapter is followed up with a colorful infographic or illustration that ties somehow into the subject matter of the song featured. These are all really amusing, though I didn’t get to enjoy them as fully as I’d would have liked because I bought the Kindle version of the book and most of them didn’t display properly on my iPad.

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The Rap Year Book chronicles the maturation of the the genre and illustrates not only the massive creative talent behind the music, but also maps out the various genres and sub-genres that contributed to the birth of rap. Despite being a thoughtful, articulate explanation of why each song is most important song of a particular year, this book is divisive as hell. Anytime one tries to pick “the best of the year” in any subject, there’s going to be some hard choices made. Refreshingly, at the end of every chapter there is a “Rebuttal” section where another writer gives a brief explanation of why an entirely different song from that year is actually the best song. Some of these short mini-essays could have been fleshed out themselves into interesting chapters. I found this to be a ballsy move on Serrano’s part and helps to illustrate just how the author doesn’t 100% fully believe that his picks are the only correct picks for song of the year.

In case your’e wondering, here are Serrano’s picks/chapters of the book:

1979 “Rapper’s Delight” The Sugarhill Gang

1980 “The Breaks” Kurtis Blow

1981 “Jazzy Sensation” Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy Five

1982 “The Message” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

1983 “Sucker M.C.’s” Run-DMC

1984 “Friends” Whodini

1985 “La Di Da Di” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick

1986 “6 in the Mornin’” Ice-T

1987 “Paid in Full” Eric B. and Rakim

1988 “Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A

1989 “Fight the Power” Public Enemy

1990 “Bonita Applebum” A Tribe Called Quest

1991 “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” Geto Boys

1992 “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Dogg

1993 “C.R.E.A.M.” Wu-Tang Clan

1994 “Juicy” The Notorious B.I.G.

1995 “Dear Mama” Tupac

1996 “California Love” Tupac, featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman

1997 “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” Puff Daddy, featuring Mase

1998 “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” DMX

1999 “My Name Is” Eminem

2000 “Big Pimpin’” Jay Z, featuring UGK

2001 “Takeover” vs. “Ether” Jay Z vs. Nas

2002 “Grindin’” The Clipse

2003 “In Da Club” 50 Cent

2004 “Still Tippin’” Mike Jones, featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall

2005 “Gold Digger” Kanye West, featuring Jamie Foxx

2006 “Hustlin’” Rick Ross

2007 “International Players Anthem” UGK, featuring Outkast

2008 “A Milli” Lil Wayne

2009 “Best I Ever Had” Drake

2010 “Monster” Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj

2011 “Niggas in Paris” Jay Z and Kanye West

2012 “Same Love” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

2013 “Control” Big Sean, featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica

2014 “Lifestyle” Rich Gang, featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan

 Obviously the first chapter, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, is an important chapter because it kicks off both the book and the genre itself. Other standout chapters (in my humble opinion) are 1989’s “Fight the Power,” 1990’s “Bonita Applebum” (cited here as the “first true rap love song”), and 2006’s “Hustlin.” I really enjoyed the chapter on Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” because I liked finding out what a complete and utter bullshit artist Ross is. The evolution of rap songwriting from brutally autobiographical to the fanciful bullshit stylings of Rick Ross is a fascinating transformation. I also really appreciate how well-represented Kanye West during the 00’s.

There’s a Spotify playlist available that features the songs mentioned in the book and it’s just as essential. Overall, I think the careful thought and intelligent analysis of The Rap Year Book make this a must-read for anyone even remotely interested it the both rap music and modern black art. Even if you don’t agree with all of the choices for song of the year, there is so much good analysis of lyrics, artist backstory, historical context, and in-depth interpretation this is one year book you’ll actually want to revisit.

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Iron Maiden Legacy of the Beast

Legendary British metalheads Iron Maiden are no strangers to merchandising. Beyond the usual band March (t-shirts, posters, hats, etc.) the band was one of the first acts I was personally aware of hawking their own brand of beer. These days, phone apps are where the money is, so it should come as no surprise that Iron Maiden have an iPhone game. Intrigued, I downloaded Iron Maiden Legacy of the Beast to see what it was like. What sort of game would it be? I had no idea. To my surprise, the game is a fanatasy turn-based RPG!


The game follows Maiden’s long-time mascot Eddie as he battles monsters on a quest to reclaim pieces of his soul. Along the way, a mysterious clairvoyant woman helps him and various monsters join your party. The graphics are pretty good for a mobile game. The visuals are fun but not gruesome, like many metal album covers, and the artwork skews very comic book-y. I’m not a huge fan of turn-based games, but I think this style of game play works well for a mobile game. I really liked the style of the creatures you battle and their various attacks. The game also features a ton of references to Iron Maiden’s music. The levels and creatures all have fun names that either directly or indirectly reference the band’s impressive musical legacy. Some of the sound effects for the menus and some of the attacks are also musical flourishes (drum strikes and guitar riffs and the like).


The game is free, which of course means the are micro-transactions. There are a plethora of power-ups and collectibles which I had a really hard time understanding. I played for about 20 minutes before I hit a wall and was asked if I wanted to pay a little money to get extra goodies. I think that if you’re able to resist the nickel-and-diming Iron MaidenLegacy of the Beast is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the band and need a pleasant enough distraction. Casual fans may enjoy the game, too but this game is pretty by-the-numbers and I have no doubt I wouldn’t have bothered downloading it were it not for the bands’s licence. Have you played this game? What are your thoughts and feelings?

I would love to see a GNR game set in a monster-filled LA. Now that’s a game I could really sink my teeth into…

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Please Consider Supporting Toxic Melons’ Kickstarter

Hello Friends. So remember when I asked you all to send me $900 so I could go see Kanye West perform in Las Vegas? Well perhaps consider donating instead to Paul Fairbairn’s Toxic Melon’s Kickstarter campaign. Paul releases excellent power-pop under the name “Toxic Melons” and hoo-boy does he have a fantastic E.P. in the works titled “Four Play”. Not only did this guy get guitar hero Eric Dover to participate…he got Roger Manning. Are you a fan of Jellyfish? You know, that band I won’t stop blathering about that everyone who’s ever heard them loves? Well if you pine for those golden power-pop days of yore, supporting Paul’s Kickstarter is a great way to see those days live again, people!!!

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Yummy.

So far Paul’s been able to raise roughly half the amount of money he needs in order to put the E.P. out as a physical product (delicious, delicious vinyl!). I can’t stress enough how important just about everything related to this Kickstarter is to us power-pop fans. Jellyfish connection? Check. Brilliant-but-under-appreciated starving musician? Check. The promotion of physical media as a great keepsake/vinyl release? Triple check. I know all of you were planning on sending me to see Yeezus, but spend your money on Toxic Melons instead.

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