Thursday, April 24, 2008

My new job has me downtown. Actually, "uptown" is more apt. Like when we would visit my dad's family in Clinton and all the boys would say we're heading out to buy soda and baseball cards, and the parents would respond, "Oh, you're going uptown." Uptown has gaggles of teenagers, cloudy storefront glass complete with the residue of Scotch tape, gum spots on the sidewalks, no corporate brandname jostling, less honking traffic, yellow brick buildings stamped with names ("Acquilla Building"). Where I am now is uptown.

Me: It's kinda neat having all these little mom 'n' pop stores around.

New boss: You mean like the just-out-of-business luggage repair shop across the street?

There's an independent record store here, located next door to the office. My boss is friendly with the owners, who are ever-willing to accomodate him with a near endless supply of Lloyd Cole releases. I recently spent a lunch hour in the store's used CD section and returned with a clutch of albums. Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 Live -- in black Sharpie is the letters "WNEC," written in big, blocky text on both the disc itself and the CD booklet. If you're from my neck of the universe, you know that likely stands for Western New England College. Jason Pierce being thoroughly vivisected for the benefit of scholarship -- a rather mind-fucking possiblity I like to consider.

Well, now "Think I'm in Love" is playing on the boss' stereo system. I've never been to Rugby, but I imagine it has an uptown. No downtown. And over there -- under that dirty, red awning over there -- is where someone like Pierce would busk. And I would bang on the thick office windows trying to get his attention.

Monday, April 21, 2008

It's funny, fitting, whatever you want to call it, that Liam Finn is captured in mid-air upon the cover to his solo debut, I'll be Lightning. His brand of retro/original indie pop makes you walk on air. If Liam was living in dad Neil's heyday (yes, that Neil Finn), songs like "Lead Balloon" would have a giddy accompanying music video featuring paper airplanes and band members doing cartwheels and smashing crockery. And it would be shown every morning on MTV while you sat home on summer vacation, eating sugary cereal.

What I'm really digging at the moment is "Lullaby," which finds Liam sounding nasally, amateurish, aching, organic. There's no accompanying instrumentation -- save for a touch of strings -- just overdubbed "ahs" and "ohs" in the background, all while Liam sings of simple things like finding rest and the proper roads to take. And it feels like the one being serenaded isn't a child fighting sleep, but a big person at the end of their rope. It's Robert Frost meets Jason Pierce.

Then there's the bottled-up pep of "Second Chance," with its plastic drum loops and what sounds like lap steel guitar, Liam ever willing to add bits and bobs to the basic indie pop template. Or the bibulous, unrestrained "Music Moves my Feet," with its nifty, hits-a-little-too-close-to-home couplet, "Drown your dreams in alcohol / Underneath the breath you hold." Ironic, that song title is, since Liam works best at stirring hearts, not feet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I forgot how unfuckablewith Meadowland's "white trash" vibe was. Okay, maybe that's coming on a tad strong (though the track "She Sends Kisses" does include the term "white trash" in its rather wayward narrative). The characters in the Wrens' songs aren't morally rubbished or for the most part, spiritually rubbished; but there is the sense they've been left at the end of life's driveway.

They're hometown loiterers who say things like, "All's well in hell and all here's hoping." They busy themselves with activities like writing letters, or better yet, imagining themselves writing letters; they remain in Jersey and the (imagined) recipient of their letters are anywhere but. They hold onto the keepsakes that casually remind of better days. They're 9-to-5 worn ("tied to work / splitting rocks"). They're pigeon-holed ("I can't type / I can't temp"). They're trapped by economics and ennui ("bored and rural-poor, lord, at 35, right?"). They've wasted on ("I've wasted on"). I'm still shocked Zach Braff never soundtracked a song from Meadowlands, as that album and Garden State pick at the same 30-something uneasiness (though Meadowlands does it more deftly, of course): reflecting on what-could-have-beens, resisting life's determinedness to have you surrender and "settle in," fighting this realization that Jersey (or, fill in the blank) chose you, and not vice-versa.

"You keep saying Jersey’s not a home" goes a line in "Thirteen Grand." Well, they were correct: it's a furnace. A big, God-damn furnace that only remains alight when the loiterers climb inside and burrow down into the embers. "Someone's got to remain behind," they say, and watch over the old beach house rented at Cape May or make certain the next generation still plays spin the bottle and takes bad drugs or be sure there are girls still cheesy enough to sign love letters with "Hope & Hearts," inadvertently granting someone the belief they will one day harbor the ability to make that hometown "flight." But at their core, the loiterers know this is all just busywork until the inevitable burn-down to ash.

Meadowlands is like someone wafted the smoke away with their hands so you can get a better view of the smoldering.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fillmore in Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer has a really acerbic (enjoyable?) rant against the French. "I use to rave about them," he spit, "but that was all literature." He dubs them cruel and mercenary, selfish to the core, self-righteous, ever guilty of avarice.

But here's the rub: The French are quite deft at masking their matchless cynicism with beauty. The written word, architecture, fucking pastry. Or synth pop. Lately, So Young But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983 has been occupying much of my free time. I play Nini Raviolette's "Suis-je Normale" on repeat. It's rather minimal in structure: heart-monitor beeps, languid, mood-setting background synths, and Raviolette's breathy inner-scrutiny ("Am I normal?" she keeps asking in French). There's no rhythm section to speak of: the song just floats along, occupying the blurry moments between self-analysis and self-revelation.

The (Hypothetical) Prophets' "Person to Person" is like a diametric opposite, the pretty pealed away to reveal a gritty surface. Lyrics focus on a personal ad complete with a laundry list of "need not apply"'s: no boozers, no smokers, no neurotics, no cancers, no losers, no phonies. The love-seeker is interested in securing absolute perfection and as a result, constructed a search doomed to be a failure right from the get-go. What makes it original, wholly French, is that one gets the feeling such a set-up was purely intentional -- and not the result of some subterranean neurosis.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The intro to WLVI's "Creature Double Feature." Music was Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Toccata." Shit blew my seven-year-old mind.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I don't plan on making a habit of this, but a message board post I made warrants repeating here. At least, my ever-loving Jason Pierce fanboy-self thinks so . . .

Spiritualized, Songs in A&E

Not in line with earlier efforts, but not Amazing Grace either. Of course, I've long been on board with Jason Pierce helping to soundtrack the rest of my life (at least until one of us croaks; my money is on me going first), so my opinion may not be all that valid.

In some sense, it's a continuation of Let it Come Down. Only, in the way that album was regarded as some sort of "aftermath" (hear: "Out of Sight," "The Twelve Steps," "The Straight and the Narrow"), this is the "aftermath" to the "aftermath." I remember a story where Pierce mentioned the title to Let it Come Down was taken from Macbeth: Banquo saying, "It will be rain tonight" and the response being, "Then let the rain come down." (I think he later rescinded that derivation in the same interview.) Well, Songs in A&E exists in the period after the rain has fallen and collected in pools and then evaporated.

Maybe it's all the song titles employing the word "fire," but for the first time, I'm feeling . . . I don't know, consequence in a Jason Pierce record. He's never blushed when talking about his drug habit, but here I feel like rather than talking about his nadir being an infrequent habit of taking his breakfast right off of a mirror, the lowpoint is the ultimate physical ruin: comas and scars and actual, real-live death. Old age bring such keen perspective, of course; I just never expected to hear it in someone who's expounded so freely about the stimulants he's indulged in. In some ways, I considered him forever lost, but I suppose this proves that even the most indulgent can be rescued.

Pierce has already had his "break-up" album and his "rehab" album. I'm not sure what this one will be lazily labeled as. But listening to it again, the moniker "spiritualized" never sounded so apt.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I swear to God, Scottish pop is so fucking terrible right now. I hate delivering such wide-reaching damnations because there's always something that's gone uncovered, but general frustration, ennui, and the Cinematics have brought me to this precipice. I got an email today: PR for the Edinburgh band Broken Records. I listened a few times while I worked. The verdict: it's like a conflation of Sons & Daughters' boozy, frenetic energy and My Latest Novel's puffed-up emotional tropes. I got a tad excited about it, but then realized, during more fertile times this probably wouldn't even be a blip on my tartan radar.

Scotland's popsmiths are typically at their finest when reacting to England's Next Big Thing. Hear Screamadelica or If You're Feeling Sinister or, I don't know, maybe Lubricate Your Living Room. Now there's just lots of piggybacking, lots of regurgitating, lots of Scottish artists content with their neighbors to the south doing the lion's share of the work (not that they're ever-diligent at the moment either). Lampreys like the Fratellis just latch onto that giant Libertines fish and suck the body dry of all its fluids. Admittedly, I did find that Fratellis' record to be rather cheeky and fun, but again . . . fertile times, blip on radar, blah blah blah. It wasn't like the first time you heard Cocteau Twins or The Man on Your Street or Billy Mackenzie's voice. Jesus Christ -- Billy Mackenzie's fucking voice.

Right now, my favorite Scottish pop track is Frightened Rabbit's "Music Now": because its title just reeks of a product brand name being bandied about in a thickly carpeted board room; because the chanting in the background reminds of the "No more rock 'n' roll for you!" ebullience from Orange Juice's "Poor Old Soul (Part Two)"; because the lyrics ("So love London, love me / But don't love me I don't mind / You can take it or leave") make me think some Scottish acts still do care what London thinks. That it's not just about leaving Caledonia behind and moving down there (which was a big fucking deal back in the day; just ask the Jolt), but gaining acceptance. (I'm not Scottish, not of Scottish descent even, but I imagine part of being Scottish means you always have this nagging, irritating desire to be at least viewed as an "equal" by those wanker English; Rents' diatribe from Trainspotting is echoing in my brain.) And that acceptance came when a Scottish act was not only reframing the English genre/movement they were immersed in, but advancing it as well.