I don't know anything about Ben Lee, but it's pretty awesome that he covered the entirety of New Wave and it actually sounds good. Grab it here.


Paego Paego

There are 3 bands I listen to consistently when I work on anything remotely intellectual: Ratatat, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono. Paego Paego does such a good job of building upon the sound of the latter two that I think I’m going to have to add them into the rotation. Who knew that Dayton, Ohio could produce a band capable with such epic dynamism and grand cadences? As my little run-in with Asobi Seksu demonstrated, epic, when poorly executed, sometimes means drowning in unbearable noise. Paego Paego produces a sound much more graceful, just as worthy of adorning soundtracks to movies and TV shows about football as their predecessors.

Be sure to check out “Self Service Island,” on their Myspace. It starts out sounding like Dan Deacon trying to keep a straight face, transitions into this loud, totally awesome frenzy, and then ends just like it started. Genius.

In other news, Polly pocket is an attempted murderer . It’s actually not funny.


Limitless distractions give no pause to distort a precious delusion

My first thought was, they’re not old enough to be so washed out. But I suppose that isn’t really true. It saddens me to say this, because it feels like a funeral oration, but Bad Religion has run out of juice. New Maps of Hell is trite, repetitive, and predictable. The album, like many of its predecessors, is very dark, preoccupied with death and desperation. Unlike Bad Religion’s best albums, however, New Maps of Hell does not direct its desperation towards anything overtly or obviously political. Instead, there are vague and generic references to “authority” and “power,” without a clear agenda or object of criticism. This isn’t to say every album has to be about politics, but absent hearing the record itself (and judging solely from the album art, lyrics, and song titles), one would think Bad Religion was a bad metal band.

The irony is that the album is so angry that a few minor tweaks (read: focus) could make it much more political. I was really holding out for all of the anger at war, apathy, and the excesses of the world that I’ve come to expect from Bad Religion. Instead of adding passion to the album, however, anger seems to have inspired a lot of filler. The first three songs are boring and short. I am not even sure that they count as songs, except that you can hear Greg Graffin singing and there are some familiar sounds. Songs like “Honest Goodbye” and “Scrutiny” similarly fall into the “filler” category. I used to think that sort of background “ahhhhhhhhhing” that The Empire Strikes First featured so prominently was genius, but New Maps overdoes it, substituting it in for real content almost whenever possible.

The production quality seems uncharacteristically low. The guitars drown out Graffin’s voice in probably 60% of the songs (perhaps to hide all of the lyrical clichés?). Even the cover art seems recycled from the video for “Los Angeles is Burning.” In fact, the whole album reminds me of “Los Angeles is Burning,” which consequently was my least favorite song on The Empire Strikes First. Whatever happened to the melodic refinement of Generator or the transcendence of The Gray Race?

There are a few good songs on this album. They are good because they sound good, not because they are particularly insightful about human nature or politics. “New Dark Ages,” “Requiem for Dissent,” “The Grand Delusion,” and “Before you Die” feign quality by doing what Bad Religion does best: complexity, dynamic overtures, and broad vocal ranges. “Grains of Wrath” is about as political as the album gets, with some references to “America the Beautiful” and so forth, whatever that means.

Were my expectations too high? I’ve waited 3 years for a new album and was hoping for something more memorable. Last night, I had a conversation with someone about the album as we listened to it, and the consensus was, yeah it sounds like a Bad Religion album, but it will never be an album that enters a regular rotation. It can’t possibly be as interesting or exciting as any of the older albums. For all of the energy and oomph it lacks, it does not compensate with content, and that’s pretty sad.

Listen to a few of the songs at the band’s Myspace and see if you agree.


Movies (I hope are) worth seeing

A few movies caught my attention this week.

The first, La Faute a Fidel (Blame it on Fidel) is about the year in which Charles de Gaulle dies and Salvadore Allende enters office, and a precocious young Catholic girl comes home to France from Spain, only to find her family going crazy, loving communists, and supporting abortion rights. The movie has received fairly good reviews since its US release in June of this year. I'm especially interested in seeing the seemingly backwards dynamic of a child indoctrinated by society re-entering her politically radical family.

The second, which sadly is not showing in my area yet (because it was just released yesterday at Sundance), is Julie Delpy's second directorial effort, 2 Days in Paris. I love everything about Julie Delpy-she's intelligent, beautiful, and sooo liberated. In the movie, Adam Goldberg plays Delpy's American boyfriend, who accompanies her to Paris, meets her eccentric parents, and discovers that she has a few more ex-boyfriends than he expected. The trailer for 2 Days in Paris promises much hilarity, and the sort of American-French contrast most people have come to expect from Delby. Word on the street is that she has a few songs on the soundtrack, just like Before Sunset. Also like Before Sunset, Delpy's real-life parents appear in the film (and seem totally adorable). I can't wait to see it.

Random music news 8/10/07

The Young Marble Giants are reissuing Colossal Youth, 25 tracks of near-perfection, which, by the way, was Stephin Merritt’s best album of 1980. Relatedly, The Magnetic Fields covered “The Man Amplifier” (track 9) from Colossal Youth on the b-side of “Why I Cry.” Later, Stephin Merritt chose Stuart Moxham to sing “Yet Another Girl” for the 6ths.

I’m a giant snob about the Magnetic Fields, but I really enjoy Tracey Thorn’s covers of “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Book of Love” that I heard this week. She barely changes anything about either song but the addition of her own voice and the removal of some random percussion, and I think they work quite well.

Today, I was browsing through the new SPIN, which I usually think is kind of a POS of a music magazine. The cover proclaims Against Me’s New Wave to be the best rock album ever. Come on, not even I went that far. I couldn’t find the article online, but you can watch somewhat amusing interviews with the band here.

Also, I updated my last post on Against Me!'s New Wave.


it was in his name that artillery lit the sky on fire

The greatest contention surrounding Against Me!’s New Wave seems to be the issue of whether Butch Vig did to the album what he did to Nevermind a decade and a half ago: preserve a band’s “natural” roughness despite all the fancy studio editing. Let’s not kid ourselves here: Nevermind’s mainstream success was probably largely due to the fact that it didn’t have Bleach’s coarseness. What New Wave lacks in edginess, however, is honestly what I can do without: the screaming, however ironically melodic, that is so prevalent in Reinventing Axl Rose, As the Eternal Cowboy and Vivada Vis (and to a lesser extent Searching for a Former Clarity).

I know that probably means I don’t have DIY street cred anymore, and maybe I’m just annoyed with Pitchfork, but it’s sometimes a good thing when a really great punk band cuts out all the distortion so that even people who wouldn’t otherwise listen to them can appreciate their ability to write good music. New Wave is to the albums before it what the Distillers’ Coral Fang is to the S/T album and Sing Sing Death House in that it shows that loud doesn’t have to be raunchy or discordant. All of the awesome southern rock influence, the political themes, and Tom Gabel’s twangy voice are still there, just showcased a little bit more than usual.

One unfortunate side effect of a band like this "going mainstream," so to speak, is that a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about review it without anything to compare it to. The harshest (and sometimes the most well thought out) reviews I've read have been from long-time fans who say that New Wave is nothing like Eternal Cowboy or Axl Rose. The worst reviews I've read are of the SPIN and MTV variety, declaring New Wave to be the "best ___ album ever" (with a million caveats). No one seems to pay attention to the content of the album at all.

Big Gripe #1: The songs are repetitive. There are two songs that may be considered mildly repetitive, but the repetition in each is entirely deliberate. In fact, the form Against Me! employs is quite genius. "New Wave" and "White People for Peace" repeat because that is part of their presentation. "New Wave" mimics the repetition of the media's slogans on the airwaves. "White People for Peace" is a protest song. It repeats a protest chant over and over. This is fairly obvious to me anyway.

Big Gripe #2: The band has sold out. See my post entitled Dear Pitchfork, STFU.

Big Gripe #3: The band abandoned their folk punk roots. What does that even mean? Every album has been different. Even folk punk icons like This Bike is a Pipebomb have experimented and changed their sound over a range of records. Not everyone wants to sound like a garage band forever.

In other news, some old favorites on Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket’s playlist for this month make me wish I wasn’t so musically homogenous these days.


your heart was telepathic when you died on the Atlantic in 1975

While I’m on the topic of the band, I may as well review Saturday Looks Good To Me’s Cold Colors EP.The title evokes an expression of boldness through subtlety, and that is exactly what the album sounds like: anger and harshness, pain and ice-cold distance sung at almost a whisper. I know that SLGTM has a reputation for being experimental, but this EP takes it beyond anything they've ever done before, and kind of reminds me of the way The Magnetic Fields have adapted and played with sounds in their later albums.

Cold Colors is probably my least favorite song, because it manages to be chaotic without being very loud. It’s hard for me to appreciate that or to find it to be particularly inspired. Drink My Blood and Idiots have Elliot Smith, and bits of Tim Kasher, all over them, while Illuminated Circles Dream of Backwards Running Vampires has a much more traditional SLGTM sound.

Spiderbite, my favorite song of the EP, has Elliot Smith all over the first half, especially around the parts that begin at 1:20 and 3:40. I really like Fred’s voice on this one, especially the way the sad violin complements the slowwwwwness of the song’s delivery. Every word lingers over the one before it, and even the highs seem low because they’re played so softly. But then, in a rather irreverent juxtaposition, there is this haunting, and much louder bit at the latter half of the song, that is very Godspeed You Black Emperor . It’s probably the best song I’ve heard from the band in awhile, despite sounding so uncharacteristic.

Buy the EP here.

Everybody knows; that’s the way it goes

The new Saturday Looks Good to Me album, Fill Up the Room (out October 23 on K Records) is probably my most anticipated album of the year. I was lucky enough to give it an early listen.

Initial thoughts:

Nearly every song evokes a sense of déjà vu. This isn’t because the songs are formulaic or repetitive, but because they are familiar and consoling. They sound like songs you’ve been hearing your whole life, on long car rides, on the AM radio, and while you graze on fruit on lazy Saturday afternoons.

Compositionally, I was expecting a great pop album, but it only made it about halfway there. Most of the songs on Fill Up the Room are jangly ballads with quick tempos, but stop short of the dynamism of All Your Summer Songs (which I consider to be the band’s crowning achievement) or the sweetness of Every Night. I was really hoping for more dreaminess, but the album ended up sounding a lot more like it was recorded in a garage, or at a live venue than a studio. Ultimately, the album is pretty catchy. I'll need to give it a few more spins before I really decide what I think of it.

One caveat: I have much love for Fred Thomas as a songwriter, but I really wish he could keep a band together long enough to sustain a consistent female vocalist. Erika Hoffman was really awesome on all of the albums on which she appeared. Hearing her voice still gives me shivers. Betty Marie Barnes is a pretty good alternative, though her voice isn’t nearly as ethereal. Anyway, the point is that Fred’s songs sound much better with the addition of airy female vocals than when he sings them, even though almost everything else is perfect. Not everyone can be a singer and a songwriter.

In other news, you can buy SLGTM’s Cold Colors EP (which just came out in July) on your choice of pink or white vinyl or CD from Polyvinyl Records.