A Coat Of Primer…

Disclaimer: Rock music is for rock music fans. Music criticism is for music criticism fans.

I’ve been trying to reconcile the two for five-plus years now and I’m even more clueless as how to do this than when I started. I can tell you why something sounds good (or bad) but there’s really no way to accurately describe a piece of music without listening to it several times- so in effect I’m taking the guess work out of it for you, or basically disseminating my ideas on this here website and trying to give you an idea of what you’ll be in for.

Please feel free to disagree with me and stick up for your favorite bands.

I’ve read somewhere that the most boring conversations are the ones where everyone agrees, and if you agree with everything I’ve written I’m not doing my job properly. I’m merely a “rough guide” to music, what I really want is to open discourse about this music.

It’s been my experience that the only non-fiction writing I really enjoy reading is about music, and music criticism in particular. Every day I read the good, the bad and the ugly. I buy my music here. I take suggestions from all these sites, try different things, etc. I come up with opinions on everything and almost have to write them down; because as a fan of music and writing the two are inextricably linked forever in my mind.

So here’s more of some of the albums I’ve been listening to, albums that piqued my curiosity and albums that I hope to never listen to again. I’m just applying the coat of primer, you have to do the actual painting…

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele (Paw Tracks; Feb. 3rd)dent-may

Who thought ukelele music would be so rad? Everything about this album is screaming “no no no” but it feels so right. Nerd jokes aside, it walks a fine line between tragic melancholia and tongue-in-cheek clowning; it’s somewhere between a schmaltzy bow-tie Ramada Inn lounge act and kitschy elevator music. A song about smoking weed in your pajamas all day? Try College Town Boy. A torch song to a faded tennis star? Give God Loves You, Michael Chang a go. Have a drinking problem? May admits he’s powerless on I’m An Alcoholic. Beware: this record is ridiculously infectious! Grade: 8/10

William Elliot Whitmore – Animals In The Dark (ANTI-; Feb. 17th)whit

This might be the worst album I’ve tried to listen to this year- maybe the past three years. I say tried to listen to because I couldn’t get through it completely (shame on me). I kept hitting the “next” button; just the song titles made me shiver: Who Stole The Soul, Hell Or High Water, Hard Times… He even used the vocal hook from The Roof Is On Fire on the song Mutiny. It’s like Whitmore picked up a book of overused cliches and wrote an album about that, except it’s political at its core. So in effect, it’s a concept album. The concept is how to suck by writing trite protest/white-boy blues/tired-folk/blue-eyed soul songs. Even the album cover is terrible. Grade: .5/10 (Yeah, that’s a “point five”; I’m really holding on to the “zero” for something more awful…)

Odawas – The Blue Depths (Jagjaguwar; Feb. 17th)the_blue_depths-odawas_480

Imagine if the vocal stylings of Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon and Fleet FoxesRobin Pecknold were thrown into a musical punnet square. The resulting offspring would sound like Michael Tapscott‘s ethereal voice, but that’s just a basic (and reductive) way to describe what Odawas‘ lead singer/songwriter is capable of. This is one of those beautiful “Sunday Morning” records that plays well when the world is slowly rising to wipe the sleep out of its eyes and stumble into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It’s a record steeped in psychedelia as well as ambient textures, subdued electronica and good ol’ American folkiness. Grade: 8/10

Gun Outfit – Dim Light (Post Present Medium; Feb. 17th)gun-outfit

Boy-girl-boy. Pacific Northwest. Two guitars and drumset. One guitar plays intricate lines. One plays thrashy riffs. Drums pound. Heavy on the tom rolls. Sometimes girl sings. It’s rock and roll like it’s supposed to sound. I hear their sound informed by the likes of Sonic Youth and Sebadoh; they can go noise or they can do straight “indie” rock (whatever the fuck that means). Also, big ups to No Age drummer Dean Spunt for signing these cats to his PPM label, let’s hope added exposure and some heavy touring in the near future. I’d love to see this band live. Grade: 8/10

Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl; Feb. 24th)here-we-go-magic

Subliminal folk melodies, (at times) barely there lyrics, instruments slowly fading in and out of the murky, churning under-current of “songs”, yeah it’s another one of these albums. And I say that as endearingly as possible; if my tone sounds mocking please forgive me, I’ve been forced to grow up in this world with things like pro wrestling and house cats, how could everything not be a joke to me? Anyhow, I put the word songs in quotes back there because about three of the tracks on this record are merely ambient drone instrumental pieces, but of the other six they are honest-to-god songs, just without that boring AABA format; bridges and choruses are virtually non-existent. It’s a study in both electronically-induced sonic atmospherics and organic-sounding timbres; banjos and acoustic guitars over synths-and-drum-machines- creating a contemplative state for the listener. Grade: 8/10

Micachu – Jewellery (Rough Trade; April 7th)micachu

“Infinitely interesting post-glitch pop with vaudevillian theatrics…” is how I’d define this three-piece from the UK. Mica Levy (Micachu) and The Shapes (Raisa Khan & Marc Pell) make music on what sound like broken instruments; but in fact they’re homemade. Things like a “chu” (which is a Mica creation- a prepared guitar played with a hammer) and a bow-like instrument made from a discarded CD rack. Umm, there’s even a vacuum cleaner on the track Turn Me Well, but it isn’t employed like this guy has been known to. On paper, this album appears to be a complete mess. On your earholes, it’s a pleasure to introduce the two. Calling it “post-glitch pop” actually does it a disservice; it’s actually post-everything, as if Mica came from the future to show us that all you need to make music is all around you- that frying pan can be a drum and that jar of coins is a maraca. I’m just sayin’ is all… Grade: 9/10

Metric – Fantasies (Last Gang Records; April 7th)metric-fantasies

Emily Haines can write some catchy-ass hooks. That being said; there isn’t much else to this record in that it’s basically just a collection of somewhat cohesive tunes designed to support the single Help, I’m Alive. Each song sticks to the prescription laid out in that song, only deviating slightly from the formula; slick and over-produced pop that’s for the masses. If this is Haines‘ last shot at super-stardom, I’d say she nails it. But that’s only if she wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson. Grade: 5/10

Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird; April 14th)swoon

Smashing PumpkinsSiamese Dream was one of my favorite albums in high school. It had big, anthemic radio-friendly sing-alongs (Today & Rocket), sludge-metal riffage (Quiet), string-infused acoustic ballad (Disarm), seven-and-eight minute tracks structured in the vein of prog-and-post-rock (Hummer, Soma & Silverfuck); I still listen to that album every few months and I am instantly transported back to the summer before my senior year. That album gets a 10/10 in my book. Wait, is this supposed to be a review of the new Silversun Pickups album? Oh, yeah. In that case, fast forward from ’93 to ’09, but keep in mind that what was once awesome and trenchant is now tired and lame. I can’t understand some bands’ fascination with mid-90s alt-rock sounds; I think we all voted and decided that those guitar sounds and production qualities a la Butch Vig and Steve Albini were to be left alone. Sorry you guys weren’t invited to that conference. On the one track I sort of was getting in to, It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone, lead singer Brian Aubert sounds af if she‘s saying “it’s nice to know your wear cologne…” Yeah, that’s right- I said “she”, because that dude has a chick’s voice. Grade: 3/10

Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar; April 28th)japandroids

Apparently no one plays bass anymore. That ain’t a bad thing- just the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said “Everyone follows the bass” and I immediately blurted out (to no one in particular) “I fucking hate bass players”. Yeah, too bad everyone that starts a band nowadays either wants to be the drummer or guitar player. Later, bass. Vancouver garage duo Japandroids don’t need one anyway, their “heavy-on-the-toms-and-cymbals” sound fills the air with what could be some low-end notes, but a bass would really slow these guys down. They both share singing duties, trading back and forth or going at it together. If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest can do (see above; Gun Outfit) is rock the shit out of a garage. Without a slow, plodding bass-playing jerk fucking them up. I fucking hate bass players. Grade: 9/10

Mika Miko – We Be Xuxa (Post Present Medium; May 5th)mikamiko

Channeling old-school three chords and a cloud of dust punk rock circa 1981. I’m a sucker for lo-fi shit these days, and I love this record because a) it reminds me of late-80s cassette-tape punk I used to rock out to in my Walkman, skating at the Manoa Shopping Center before they put up all those “No Skateboarding” signs, and b) it literally sounds as if they recorded all the instrumentation on one track and the vocals on another. It’s like they forgot they had two more tracks to use on their little blue Tascam four-track device. And I fucking love that shit, man. There’s two odes to turkey sandwiches, a saxophone shows up in a few songs and it’s all over in 23 minutes. Even though four of Mika Miko‘s five members are women, they don’t feel the need to play up their sexuality or use it as a feminist pedestal- they just came to rock your balls off and go home. Grade: 9/10

Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free (Dead Oceans; May 5th)akron

I have to admit that I am confused by Akron/Family. One minute they’re doing straight acoustic folk and the next it’s all techy with weird sound collage-type things. Experimentally inclined, psychedelic influenced, bits of funk and post-rock seep into their sound, three-part harmonies; it’s all over the place. But it’s still folk, with dashes of electro all about. Kinda like feeding granola to a robot, I guess. Grade: 6/10