Monday, March 31, 2008

It's a long drive to Jackson. One's throat becomes raw from the repeated singalongs to Phil Wilson's version of "Jackson" ("Well, go on down to Jackson / Go ahead and wreck your health"; thanks, I will). Travel companions flinch at the infinity of country radio stations. And there's patience for the one that specializes in swing music, but only for several exits.

So we lean on Great Lake Swimmers' Ongiara. It's become the go-to album for these journeys. Sonically, it's hardly akin to the folk music indigenous to this corner of New Hampshire or the watered-down blues-rock one winces through at local bars, but GLS frontman Tony Dekker is playing with a rural aesthetic that's perfectly at home in places like Jackson. Where woodland beauty outvalues all the plastic playthings we left behind. Where nature's patience becomes your own. Where you like the trees -- the way the trees are on the mountains, all different.

As I once scribbled for Stylus, "Tapping into a childhood spent in the rural, southern reaches of Ontario (Wainfleet, to be exact), Dekker explores mankind's kinship with nature and our most vexing conundrum in the modern age: travel the road to technology or travel the road to spirituality?"

I listened to Ongiara on my iPod in my automobile. What does that say about my choices?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I digest Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' "More News from Nowhere" (from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!) and I burp, "how bizarre." Or more like, "How Bizarre." The connection is probably tenuous and one no else has grasped; it's two men playing the role of wry, observational sideline reporter: OMC frontman Pauly Fuemana conflating children's storybook imagery with urban color; Cave updating Lou Reed's "A Walk on the Wild Side" with the Burroughs handbook (my second favorite bit: "Now Betty X is like Betty Y minus that fatal chromosome"). Judging by the gory details, Cave's got more reason to distance himself from the characters in his narrative, but it's Fuemana who sounds more detached. I like that; detachment is cool, and so for one brief moment in time, Pauly Fuemana ends up sounding more cool than Nick Cave. Go figure.

"How Bizarre" reaching level red on the ubiquitous pop song scale (in '97? '98?) forever tainted my opinion of it. But I always remember my dad coming back from a day at Old Orchard Beach that summer (more a people-watching exercise than anything else; you have to know my dad). He was sitting outside, having a beer, surveying the legions of pasty Québécois on the prowl for real shark's teeth trinkets and this song came on, and he thought: how neat, how perfect. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing . . . even when it's not mine to dole out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In college, everyone has a friend named "Jim." Mine had unruly hair, perpetually failed French, and confessed to being the lead singer in a garage rock band named Eat! He also played the Dead Milkmen's Beelzebubba on a loop during newspaper deadline nights.

Jim's place frequently sourced the kind of house party din ensnared on the opening to Dead Milkmen's "Bad Party": chats about required texts, beer on the carpet, standard college bullshit self-loathing manifesting itself in the form of lots of eye makeup and drunken hook-ups. Bad parties were a required part of your everyday 18-to-21 existence.

When I hear the house party din on "Metronomes" from Cassettes Won't Listen's new EP (Small-Time Machine), I can't deduct if it's one of the bad variety or otherwise; I merely believe Jason Drake is saying something about those "bedroom" artists who partake in a sort of pop solitaire, handling all the writing, instrumentation, recording, releasing, etc., related to their work. It's not really much of a statement, but the gist is that human interaction can be pretty swell, despite how detestable we generally are at stop signs and in line at banks and in crowded grocery stores. Not so much for the in-direct/direct effect on the creative process, but more for the way it can wash away that accumulating hermit's stink. Or how it can bring that unchecked ego of yours to its knees.

At Jim's bad parties, you could walk from one end of the place to the other upon the greasy heads of hipsters and never once touch the floor. I don't know if they would dig "Metronomes," however.