Archive for the ‘90′s’ tag
“Hexxy” made its first appearance as the opening track on Speedy Ortiz’s debut release, The Death of Speedy Ortiz. Back then it was called “Hexxy Sadie” (a particularly witty Beatles reference—the lead singer’s name is Sadie) and it was a lo-fi bedroom recording with sloppy and distant drums and poorly recorded vocals. It was awesome back then and it is still awesome, with Justin Pizzoferrato’s (Chelsea Light Moving, Dinosaur Jr.) cleaned-up engineering. The song still has teeth but now they’re sharpened to a point. “Hexxy” is the B-side to their just released 7-inch which also includes “Ka-Prow!”. Get it while its hot via Inflated Records.
Is it fair to say that there hasn’t been a more popular time for 90s-sounding indie rock than right now, including the actual 90s? It seems every month obscure records that may have had heavy rotation at some college radio for a month but are now mostly forgotten are being dug up and reissued to enthusiastic kids who barely remember Bill Clinton in office. I’m not one to complain about it though, especially if we keep getting gems like Silkworm’s “Couldn’t You Wait?” which will be reissued by Comedy Minus One this fall.
Before I bought M B V this morning I re-listened to Loveless, the classic album My Bloody Valentine released two decades ago. It’s an odyssey of sound, a truly titanic record that is as deep as it is wide (and loud). It was – is – a visionary record, made by musicians steeped thickly in their own juices. Loveless surprises and soothes and frightens all at once; two decades after its release, it still sounds fresh, alive, somehow both urgent and distant. It is a record for dreaming and listening. Its place in the history of pop is not incidental.
M B V, the band’s first record since Loveless, does not disappoint. Guitar master and general apathetic-layabout-in-chief Kevin Shields remains the band’s auteur, wailing and screeching and droning and flanging his way across every minute of the record. Shields’ much-imitated guitar tone makes a triumphant comeback as well, and as with Loveless, it’s the guitar that does the majority of the musical work: drum and bass loops beats are the skeleton, Shields’ parts the muscle. To that end, M B V boasts a more pronounced harmonic pallet than on their prior releases.
(Let me back up a minute to do what is rarely done for rock bands, which is to – as James Brown would say – give the drummer some. There can be no doubt that Shields is at the band’s helm, but titanous skim-beater Colm O’Ciosoig is the entire galley-full of slaves breaking their backs on the oars. O’Ciosoig is John Bonham without the ego. “who sees you”, “if i am”, “in another way” – all are predicated entirely on his pounding. Hats off, Colm.)
There is something for everyone on M B V. There’s the charcoal delicacy of opener “she found now”, the throwback rock of “new you”, the full-throttle “nothing is.” And there are lighter moments, like the keening feeling of open sky on “wonder 2″ or the contemplative psychedelia organ music on “is this and yes”. M B V is an trip through recent history: it is no exaggeration to say that all rock-informed music made since Loveless has drawn in one way or another from the record. My Bloody Valentine invented shoe gaze, fused noise and pop, made doom metal beautiful, summitted and (maybe) redefined grunge. All of the things that grew from Loveless can be heard now, here, today, in the focused-unfocused wail of M B V.
4.5 / 5 bars
My Bloody Valentine – if i am
My Bloody Valentine – nothing is
Sometimes I feel like that sad sack from the Alka Seltzer commercials of 70s advertising immortality. I can’t. believe. I listened. to the whole. thing. And while the feeling I get from From the Vanishing Point isn’t one of acidic regret, this forgettable effort by Midwestern alt-rockers Red Wanting Blue nevertheless leaves me feeling glutted as if on copious amounts of bland, mass-produced fare.
This is not as surprising as it is still disappointing from a band who has managed to keep their act together for twenty years. RWB had a decent gig in the 90s embodying the slackerish, devil may care zeitgeist of pre-9/11 Alternative Rock. Since then, i.e. for the past decade, it seems they have settled into lackluster pop without much of a fight, never really pushing their sound in any distinct direction. Other acts with the same kind of longevity and similar alt roots, like the Chili Peppers, the Tragically Hip or Stone Temple Pilots, have managed to reinvent their sound and age gracefully (we will humanely overlook Scott Weiland’s Christmas album), as has that steward of all that is totally excellent about the 90s, Eddie Vedder (just look at last year’s ukulele sales numbers!). The point is, Red Wanting Blue’s latest album already sounds dated coming out of the gate, and not in the “so 2012” way that at worst secures spots on any obscene number of internet hot lists.
It can be argued that From the Vanishing Point’s main strength is this consistency, that is to say its adherence to RWB’s uncompromisingly formulaic, commercially viable brand of alt-rock. The group churns out track after predictable track, each one alternating between emotive, midtempo verse and a raspy, heart-on-sleeve hook that seems bound for a CW orginal series or chain retail soundtrack or near you. And it’s true, there is something to be said about the precision with which Red Wanting Blue nails a genre so nondescript. Their modern Americana, with vocalist/songwriter Scott Terry’s vocal mix of Eddie Vedder and Jakob Dylan, still has a place in the top 40, or at least has had one as recently as similarly-throaty American Idol vet David Cook enjoyed a short-lived stint at the top.
In the end, none of the songs are disproportionately “bad” in a technical sense, just unanimously uninspired. At the album’s best, most merciful times, it’s almost possible to close your eyes and pretend you’re back in the heyday of alternative rock, listening to an obscure album track by Counting Crows, Son Volt, the Wallflowers (I’m thinking of “Walking Shoes” or the new recording “Audition,” actually from the 90s). This is fleeting, however, as Terry strings together tired metaphor after tired metaphor, albeit occasionally with a kind of intuitive delivery. “Cocaine”—despite its catchy hook that showcases his gravelly baritone—is cringe-worthy in the sincerity with which it beats the living fuck out of perhaps the deadest horse in the rock lexicon, and it is representative of all that is wrong with this album. It’s formulaic, it’s riddled with terrible clichés (I counted at least 13 in “Running of the Bulls” alone), and it’s been done better by multitude artists before.
1.5 / 5 bars
Red Wanting Blue – Audition
I never got into Radiohead when they first got big. I had heard songs like “Creep” and “Karma Police” – which, by the way, I wouldn’t even put in their top ten having deeply explored their catalog – but they didn’t do it for me enough to give Kid A or OK Computer more than a cursory look. More than anything else I think my teenage self looked for overwrought emotion, and those albums just didn’t give me the catharsis my angst-ridden 13 year old self was looking for.
Now, when I look back on it more than ten years later, I realize more and more than it wasn’t right for me then because I just didn’t get it: though the album explores themes of insanity, death, and isolation (among many others), angst is an entirely inappropriate word for what Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood went for. It’s also an album that requires more than a cursory comfort and experience level with rock. You have to be ready to graduate into OK Computer – if you try too early, it won’t make any sense.
I decided to give the Radiohead catalog another go a couple years ago and “Subterranean Homesick Alien” was the song that finally convinced me to dive in. It’s an expansive, multilayered, genre-bending mindfuck that gave me a new experience each time I first listened to it: when I read the lyrics, when I focused on the guitar, the keyboards, the sweeping bass build, the orchestration, the similarities to psychedelic 60′s jazz. Yorke and Greenwood themselves acknowledged that their arrangement, particularly the incorporation of keyboards, was an effort to “emulate the atmosphere of Bitches Brew.” Most of all I love the bass-driven cascade on “Uptight…” when the band builds that sense of yearning to a frenzied, beautiful climax.
And though it wasn’t appropriate for me, naive and uncultured as I was in my teenage years, the song’s narrative does capture that deep sense of longing that, as we all have felt, first takes hold in our second decade. Yorke expresses the story, in which a lonely narrator describes how he longs to be abducted by aliens, naturally and effortlessly:
I wish that they’d swoop down in a country lane
Late at night when I’m driving
Take me on board their beautiful ship
Show me the world as I’d love to see it
I’d tell all my friends
But they’d never believe
They’d think that I’d finally lost it completely
I’d show them the stars
And the meaning of life
They’d shut me away
But I’d be all right
To me it is still probably my favorite Radiohead song – there are a few others that demonstrate Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral guitar mastery and Yorke’s lyrical direction, but only one or two others that are as truly sublime as this one.
If I had a more developed musical palette when I was in my mid teens, OK Computer might have been my “first” – my first introduction to that fourth dimension rock music expresses when it’s at its very best. I might have also appreciated it then for its musical-historical context, too – that it was not only a breakthrough LP for Radiohead, but a revolutionary album for rock music in general, too. As it is, I’m grateful that I’m still discovering new things about it now. I still play it when I’m hanging out with friends, all of whom came of age at the same time as I did, and there’s still that “Oh, man” reaction – not one, I believe, of exasperation, but one of “Wow, this brings it all back.”
Subterranean Homesick Alien by Radiohead
We owe a lot to the Breeders. Their album, “Pod,” was hailed when it came out by Kurt Cobain as one of his favorite albums., and from a historical perspective, its influence on alt and grunge rock was momentous. One immediately sees the relation between “Pod” and Cobain’s music. It was clearly a pioneer of the grunge movement, much in the same way that Of Montreal, The Glitch Mob, and countless other third millennium bands owe their sound to Radiohead. From a non-scholarly standpoint, however, “Pod” itself stands as a low-fi effort unsuccessfully trying to pass its sound off as gritty. It introduces standard grunge-punk strains of the last two decades, yes, but it does so with a quality of recording normally found on flip cameras. While one may perceive the musical influence The Breeders had on bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, their sound itself does not hold up to the test of time.
Though the synthesis of what we are used to listening to owes much to the Breeder’s innovation, musically, there is not enough of the raw energy that made 90’s classics like “badmotorfinger” so lasting. There are riffs that catch your attention for a minute, but they too often devolve into generic two-note bass lines. The guitarist fails to string more than two or three recognizable, let alone memorable solos together. Occasionally the band adds welcome textures that catch the listener’s ear: “Oh!,” for example, reminded me that the violin can, indeed, sound raw and strained. “Fortunately gone,” one of the more original songs on the album, features a catchy Cash-esque southwest style guitar.
But most of the time “Pod” is standard alternation between major and minor chords, with little in between that distinguishes it from everything else that’s coming out of Bushwick warehouses today. This kind of sound can be done effectively – the Ramones proved that – but the Breeders do not convey enough of the raw energy or stylistic originality that makes such music so appealing. It might have worked live, with producers who were aware of the many subtle distinctions one has to make in such a setting, but as it is, the studio kills all of the energy that might have made the recording good. It’s not BAD. That is to say, it’s never particularly grating. But neither is it particularly compelling, for any sustained amount of time, and this lack of musical excellence is what overshadows its influence in 90’s alt-rock. Listen to “Nevermind” instead.
2 / 5 stars