Palehound – Dry Food

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Palehound – Dry Food

So at some point it became fashionable to dig through the ruins of the Nineties for inspiration.  A certain part of the Nineties, mind you:  no one is out there trying to get a revival of New Jack Swing going, and those horrible early Nineties outfits are the fodder of Bojack Horseman jokes rather than actual modern fashion choices.  Nineties indie rock, however, is quite obviously the in thing in certain circles these days.  How many bands hyped by the Interwebz lately have been dead ringers for 90s alt-rock underground acts?  Yuck, Twerps, Jeff The Brotherhood, California X, Speedy Ortiz – the list keeps going, long after I’m tired of naming them off.  Is this Twilight‘s fault?  I noticed people wearing dour flannel outfits after the movies gained traction, and after you finish listening to Alice In Chains for the umpteenth time I guess there’s nothing to do but dig through digital crates.

Either way, Palehound is another entry into the canon of bands that really wish it was 1995 again.  Even the name sounds like something the alt-rock scene would have vomited up, like Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar (remember them?  No you don’t).  If Jeff The Brotherhood wants to be early Weezer (with the cock rock worship intact) and Yuck wants to be Dinosaur Jr., Palehound seems fixated on early Cat Power, mediated through the latter Pavement records.  It’s okay.  I realize that’s a meme but there’s really no better way to describe the album.  It’s not offensive.  It rises slightly above mediocre.  It will find some fans,  and people who are nostalgic for a time period that they were infants in will pick it up and talk about how authentic it is.

Here’s the thing:  I didn’t listen to Pavement or Dinosaur, Jr. until 2002.  My friends and I didn’t grow up listening to Built To Spill, and I didn’t realize that Chan Marshall was a person who made exquisite music until 2006.  If you grew up outside the city core, you grew up on the radio and on mainstream alternative rock:  your Nirvana, your Pearl Jam, your Soundgarden, your Alice In Chains.  The Nineties that bands like Palehound are imagining were a decade reconstructed after the fact, subtracting crap like the Nixons and Creed in favour of Guided By Voices and Sebadoh.  For most of us, it never happened, but Palehound wants to spin a world where it did, a world of winsome vocals, messy guitars, and skinny flannel indie-kid poetry.  Good on them for trying, but it’s a pale imitation of work that was obscure the first time around.

Hop Along – Painted Shut

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Hop Along – Painted Shut

So, the Nineties.  They were quite the time, right?  So it would seem, at any rate, from the state of popular culture right now.  Twilight brought back flannel fashion for a while, making me wonder for several years if I’d stepped back in time to a Nirvana concert, or if maybe I’d just gotten blackout drunk and woken up in rural Washington.  Now all I see around town are girls in crop tops and floral print pants, Blossom-style.  Jurassic Park is killing at the box office, the U.S. election is shaping up to be Bush vs. Clinton, and I think I saw someone with frosted tips the other day.  Hold me.  I’m scared.

Musically we’re seeing signs of nostalgic flashbacks from people who should chronologically only barely remember any year starting with “19”.  Yuck thought Dinosaur, Jr. was awesome; Speedy Ortiz is a big fan of crunchy American indie rock circa 1996; Joey Bada$$ really wishes that Illmatic and Enter The Wu Tang just came out yesterday.  Further on, we have exhibit D:  Hop Along, the Saddle Creek-signed project of Frances Quinlan, former freak folk enthusiast.  At first blush it’s crunchy college rock for college kids who attended college just as Felicity was making college look far more glamorous than it really was.  There are subtle signs of something deeper buried within, however: the circling vocal strikes of Quinlan, who seems at times the sum of Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst, and Jeremy Enigk; the gnarled lead guitar lines that are as much inspired by early Modest Mouse as anything else; the smoky, country undertone to the slower tracks, especially the darker ballad “Horseshoe Crabs”.  There’s more to Painted Shut than simple rote 90s worship, which is important to note as we move headalong into an era that promises nothing but.

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Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

I’ve been waffling on what to say about this album.  I finally got a full review hacked out yesterday, but I’m ditching it.  It’s stilted, awkward, and reads like a “music review”, the kind you find in people’s zines or on some kid’s blog.  So here we go, we’re just going to wing it today instead.

The things I like about Ivy Tripp are hard to articulate.  They’re more sense impressions than anything else.  When I listen to it I feel like I’m standing in a copse of trees, staring out into the line of trunks, smelling the acrid scent of burning wood, and wondering what the hell to do next.  The leaves under my feet are dry, and give a satisfying crunch when I walk on them.  The air is cold and smells like autumn dying, like winter trashing around in the womb, getting ready to be born.  The fire nearby is crackling, throwing off heat in an all-too-small radius.  Inside this circle of trees and the smaller circle of fire-warmth I’m safe.  Outside, the world blurs by in increasingly unrecognizable ways.  Outside there are no careers, just an endless parade of jobs and contracts.  There are no houses, because they’ve been neatly priced out of our reach.  There is no direction to go in, because all directions are equally shiftless.  Outside is a desert stretching in all directions, and the footsteps that lead away fade out after a time into nothing.

Inside, though, there is light, and warmth, for now.  There is sadness, more of a heaviness than a bleakness, and there is uncertainty, but there is also beauty, and sweet wistful longing.

Actually, there might be a bit too much sadness.  I fell for Katie Crutchfield on Cerulean Salt, mainly because of a shared adoration of crunchy, lo-fi 90s indie rock – your Pavement, your GBV, your Built To Spill.  Ivy Tripp shows off a love of another peculiarly 90s kind of rock – the slowcore sounds of Low, Codeine, and Slowdive.  This is admirable as well, but it makes the album drag out just a bit too long.