2014 was a tough nut to crack for the Johnster. Yes, I am referring to myself and yes, “Johnster” will also be the name of my new filesharing website. Spoiler: All the files will be audio of people holding tape recorders next to radios. I don’t know if I’m less “with it” these days or that they changed what “it” was, and now what I’m with isn’t “it”, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. All I know is I don’t want to become the middle aged guy getting wasted at the Death Cab for Cutie 30th Anniversary Show at the Chateau Ste. Michelle. I want to find new music I like and doggone it I’ll go to the ends of the Earth (the internet) to find it. I’d be lying if I said I heard most of these albums back when they came out. Most of them I heard two days ago but they seem okay. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
The War on Drugs – Sad Hippy Dude By the Window
Jenny Lewis – Jenny and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Conor Oberst – Some Bullshit About Mountains.
Thanks to Mildly Pleased’s sister podcast Stream Police aka “Weezer Chat” that I host alongside the lovely Michael Sevigny, I somehow found myself all aboard for Weezer album no. 9. Was it a good ride? “Um, is Doctor Doom’s Fearfall at Universal Orlando Resort a good ride?” Everything etc, etc avoids most (though not all) of the pitfalls of its most recent predecessors. I’m talking about modern Weezer lyrics like “The rest of the summer was the best we’ve ever. We watched Titanic and it didn’t make us sad. I took you to Best Buy. You took me home to meet your mom and dad.” If you don’t think that’s so bad keep in mind that it was written by a man in his forties. Sure, “Back to the Shack” is pretty painful. I don’t want to hear how the band kind of sucks now. Thankfully, the rest of the album doesn’t pull sh*t like that. It isn’t perfect but it’s a step in the right direction, that direction being the one that faces the old folks home ba-dum tssshhh.
Swans puts your ears to work. “Here’s a song that has some parts that are really awesome but f@#k u the song is 47 minutes long!” You would think that would piss me off beyond all belief. It’s not easy listening to anything for that long but Swans draws you in like a madman’s lullaby. To Be Kind has the pulsating grooves that build and build sucking you into a creepy club with vampire clientle and no air conditioning. Swans are all about atmosphere or should I say “Atmos-Fear!” which should definitely be a new genre of music. Swans don’t make rock albums as much as they make soundtracks. What kind of twisted auteur could use a soundtrack by Swans? I’m looking at you Garry Marshall.
…And Star Power is very close to being an incredible album. This breezy California collective that probably spends all of their free time running the Todd Rundgren fan club spins an old fashioned sound that is unmatched by their contemporaries. “How Can You Really?” was my number one summer jam… That I heard in October. It’s a shame that Foxygen couldn’t have trimmed some of the fat of this stoned 82 minute H. R. Pufnstuf monster. By comparison the average episode of Seinfeld is 22 minutes. Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Maybe if Foxygen learned a lesson in brevity from Seinfeld they’d learn to become masters of their domain.
What is this the year of the ellipsis? The Roots will always have a special place in my heart as the group behind the first hip-hop song I ever truly loved in “The Seed 2.0 (featuring Cody ChesnuTT)”. Now they have a place in America’s hearts as Jimmy Fallon’s house band. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out how politically charged the content of …And Then You Shoot You Cousin is. I love The Roots satirical lyrics, particularly on the album’s standout number “When the People Cheer”. My favorite line being: “I’m down to 95 dollars, that’s the extent of my riches. Out of 99 problems, 98 of ‘em bitches.” There’s a few other memorable cuts and plenty of brief experiments that result in an album that always keeps you guessing… Or should I say, ?uessing?
You may recall I wrote a Retrospective on Spoon’s entire discography earlier this year. Yes, I’m talking to you three people who read this blog. You might also recall I was surprisingly mute when They Want My Soul came out. That’s because when it came out I was disappointed. WHAT? Everyone loved this album. I think when it comes down to it I’ve always loved Spoon’s willingness to experiment. I don’t even mind when those experiments go awry. But most of They Want My Soul feels pretty safe. The album is also very polished, much in the vein of Gimme Fiction which is another album I like but not one of my favorites. I’ll admit some songs here are fantastic. “Do You”? Are you kidding me? Love it. “Rent I Pay”? Not so much. Let’s take my favorite Spoon album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The title alone gives you a good idea of how off the wall it is. Some of the stuff on that album is bizarre but it’s also bold. Bold is exciting. They Want My Soul is good but not exciting to me. Don’t get me wrong I like it, it made my top ten list after all, but is it great? Not to me. Still I’m glad Sean’s family liked it.
If Wire and Minutemen had a baby and that relationship became abusive and said baby had to go live with a foster family for awhile, you’d have Parquet Courts. This Brooklyn quartet combines one-two punch riffs with stream of consciousness vocals to craft a loving ode to 1980s era post-punk. Songs are as long as they need to be and go where they need to go. I swooned for Parquet Courts last release Light Up Gold and I’m glad to say this album is just as swoonable, maybe even the band’s swooniest? You heard me.
My good buddy Colin has said some good stuff about Ex Hex on Mildly Pleased. In fact, I considered copying and pasting his review into mine but that’s plagiarism and Urban Dictionary defines plagiarism as: “To have sex with a book, article, or the internet, and therefore reproducing its words but with your last name”. I’d rather not be associated with that kind of controversy. My first impression of Ex Hex was that they were like The Pretenders minus the bullshit (synths). The riffs chug along and don’t f@#k around by getting overly complicated. The attitude is brash and the songs are short. All in all it’s what rock and roll at its best is all about.
Back in the 80s my dad and his songwriting partner Craig recorded an album called “Someone is Watching”. When listening to Ariel Pink’s oddball odyssey pom pom I often flashed back to listening to my dad’s album as a kid. pom pom’s tape recorder sound and off kilter innocence definitely play into that. I don’t know much about Ariel Pink aside from the fact that he looks like if Perez Hilton ate Kurt Cobain. I also read that his vintage pop sound was inspired by “Cassette Culture”. Maybe that’s why I like this album. Somehow all pom pom’s nonsense makes sense to me, like a bear riding a tractor. “Bear on a Tractor” was one of my dad’s songs. I just realized that’s a reference that no one would get.
Before Here and Nowhere Else, Cloud Nothings fell under the category of “That one band I hear on Pandora that does that song I like.” Can’t remember the song but it’s a good one. Fortunately for me they have other good songs, lots of ‘em. One of my favorite things about Cloud Nothings is when they kick up the tempo midway through a song from rock straight to rockin’. It kind of sounds like a fight, like those are the parts that everyone at the show moshes too. Except me. I had a bad experience. I’m talking to you fat kid at Franz Ferdinand back in 2005.
Mac DeMarco is one chill dude but what is “chill”? Webster’s Dictionary describes chill as: “To pass time idly; loiter. Often used with out.” Urban Dictionary describes “chill” as: “The act of smoking weed and or under the influence of weed.” Somewhere in between those two definitions is Mac DeMarco. He’s out there slingin’ the best geetar hooks of yesterday while slurring away melodies that would make George Harrison say “Noice job dewd! U ttly rok!” I could listen to this and eat fritos all day. I like those BBQ ones shaped like race cars that have Jeff Gordon on the bag. Therefore Salad Days gets the Mildly Pleased equivalent to the J.D. Power Award. Kutos Mac-De-Marc!
Now let’s strap on our time helmets and head to the future! 2015!