Interstitial Burn-Boy Blues

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Stuart watched the kid shake and mutter to himself in the seat across the aisle. His skin looked waxy in the dingy interior bus lights, and Stuart was sure that if he reached across and caressed the kid’s forehead with the back of his hand that skin would be near to scalding. He ran his tongue along the back of his teeth and watched the kid carefully. No one else in the general vicinity seemed to be concerned. Stuart noticed an old man dozing in the seat behind the kid, and a young couple murmuring to each other beneath a blanket in the seat ahead of him.

“Scourge of the panhandle,” the kid muttered, and Stuart looked away. He stared out of the window into the emptiness of the night. There was absolutely nothing to see; there was no moon in the sky and nothing to illuminate beyond the arid brush and gravel that lay on either side of the road to Flagstaff. Blackness rushed by like a hurricane wind and only the occasional light shining wanly from far off allowed for the recognition of motion.

When the bus passed the exit to Twin Arrows the kid moved violently in his seat, thrashing like a person trying to get comfortable when assailed by pains in every joint. By the time the exit sign for Winona passed the bus window, wreathed in shadows, the kid began moaning in a low animal tone. Stuart watched the others to see if they would notice and take action but the old man continued to snore softly and the couple in front of him continued to murmur and giggle lightly. The man in that seat had begun to breathe in quick, short bursts, and Stuart didn’t have to think very hard to figure out what was going on. Grimacing, he leaned slowly across the aisle and gingerly put the back of his hand against the kid’s forehead.

As he suspected, his flesh was burning to the touch and uncomfortably dry. The kid’s moaning grew louder, and Stuart drew his hand back with a hiss. He retreated back into his seat and ran his shaking fingers through his thinning hair.

“Faster,” the boy in the seat in front of him whispered loudly, and Stuart leapt out of his seat and strode up the narrow aisle. He approached the driver, a heavyset man with a fuzzed-out crewcut and a hypertensive tinge to his complexion.

“Do you have any aspirin?” Stuart asked. The driver kept his eyes on the road.

“Sorry, I drive the bus. You want a pharmacy, we should be stopping and getting off for a minute in Flagstaff.”

“There’s a kid back there who’s burning up,” Stuart confessed. “I think he might need a doctor.”

“We’ll be stopping in Flagstaff before long. You can take him to a doctor there.”

“You’ll wait?”

“Lord, no. The stopover in Flagstaff is only for an hour. After that we’re heading out again. I have a schedule to meet.”

“Is there another bus behind this one?”

The bus driver said nothing for a moment. The cracked and weathered visage of the old Route 66 slid by under the hard glare of the headlights.

“Word on the radio is that no, there won’t be, at least for a while. The governor is extending martial law out to the Okie border. He wants to stem the tide of ’em coming over and making trouble on their way to California.”

The driver stole a glance at Stuart, and Stuart shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“I’m from New York,” he said, the words falling flat as they left his tongue.

“Don’t really care,” the driver replied. “Just letting you know that it’ll be a while before the next bus comes along. Long enough that you’ll have to either settle or move on some other way.”

Stuart returned to his seat without saying anything further to the driver. The kid was breathing and seemed to finally be deep asleep, but it was hard to tell. Stuart quickly checked the kid’s temperature and found that, while it hadn’t abated, it hadn’t gotten any worse in the meantime. He shrank back into his seat and pulled out his phone. There was still some room in his data allowance, so he searched for pharmacies in Flagstaff and found one that was near to the bus station, nestled in a Wal-Mart. He slid the phone back into his pocket and waited, watching the kid out of the corner of his eye.

When old Route 66 separated from the I-40, the bus followed Route 66 into Flagstaff. Like the highway before, there was little to see out of Stuart’s window once in town. What buildings there were crouched close to the ground, well back from the road, creeping like rats in the distance. Eventually a shopping mall ran past the window, but in the dead of night it looked patched and forlorn. When the bus eventually slowed and came to a stop, Stuart was confused as to where they were.

After the driver called out their stopover in Flagstaff, Stuart rushed out the door and into the cold Arizona night. He was shocked to see his breath in the glare of the bus lights and rubbed at his shirtsleeves. His phone reported that the Wal-Mart was on the other side of the road, set on the far side of a sprawling black parking lot. There was no traffic although the parking lot was populated with cars. Inside the store, a few midnight shoppers ambled down the aisles, their ruddy, wrinkled faces kept firmly towards the floor.

There was no pharmacist on duty, so Stuart picked up aspirin so he could at least bring the kid’s fever down. It was more expensive than he’d initially thought, and he mentioned it to the cashier, who shrugged and said that the cost had gone up around the time the army had been called to the border. Stuart weighed his options and put the charge on his sole remaining credit card.

Across the street, the bus had been driven beyond the gate that allowed entrance to the station. A pair of guards loitered on either side of the gate and came to attention as Stuart approached. They demanded his ticket and, when presented with it, continued to eye Stuart suspiciously even as the gate opened behind them. The space between his shoulder blades crawled as he walked up the laneway toward the bus. The driver was scrolling through something on his phone and the other passengers were either sleeping or engaged in the same activity.

The kid was breathing evenly through his mouth. His face was turned up toward the overhead light, and his eyes were closed. Stuart retrieved a plastic bottle of water from his carry-on bag and moved across the aisle. After a bit of shaking, he managed to wake the kid up enough to acknowledge his presence.

“Sal?” the kid asked. “Sal, you’ve lost weight.”

The kid’s eyes were unfocused, like he’d taken too many hits to the head. Stuart popped a couple of aspirin into his palm and unscrewed the lid from the bottle of water. He motioned to the kid to take them.

“It’s poison, Sal,” the kid raved. He looked away and shook his head. “I’m the last one; I won’t take it. I’ve seen them all take it already.”

“No,” Stuart said firmly, “it’s medicine. You’re burning up, you need to take it.”

The kid looked at him, his expression uncomprehending. “I’m on the bus,” he said, blinking rapidly. “Who are you?”

“Introductions later,” Stuart said. “Just take this and relax. Don’t worry, it’s just aspirin.”

The kid stared at Stuart and then took the tablets from his hand.

 

[Interstitial Burn-Boy Blues is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback, as well as from the Across The Margin site directly]

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Aluminium: 10 Years of The Stage Names

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Okkervil River – The Stage Names

Released August 7th, 2007 on Jagjaguwar Records

Okkervil River may be indie rock’s perennial “mid-level band” (as they refer to themselves on “Unless It’s Kicks”) but The Stage Names, their fourth album, they burst up above the clouds to briefly take their places among the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon.  This is not a reference to any hits – there are no hits, a criminal shame in itself – but instead to pure songcraft, the perfection of a crafted album and the wry, self-reflective poetry of frontman Will Sheff.  Their previous album, 2005’s Black Sheep Boy, came close to the indie-rock mastery present here, but they would never again achieve such heights (although 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium comes kind of close).  Unlike Black Sheep Boy there is no explicit concept (that album was an exploration of the life and death of junkie-poet-folkie Tim Hardin); however, there’s some pretty clear themes running through The Stage Names that make it a sort of meta-rumination on Sheff, the band, and the nature of rock ‘n’ roll mythology.  If the album could be said to be about anything, it’s about the cheap theatricality of populist art, and the complicated narratives that we spin around simple people.

We think of our lives as films, with narrative arcs and neat endings; “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” posits that there is no such thing.  Sheff sings that “It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax” and teases here and there that are moments that make one think that their life could be a movie, if you looked at them sideways in the magic hour that begins twilight.  “Unless It’s Kicks” is an admission that the narrative created by the consumer of art bears no resemblance to the author’s intent (and here we go rehashing that argument again); “What gives this mess some grace unless it’s fiction,” he asks, “Unless it’s licks, man, unless it’s lies or it’s love?” and then implores a fan “with their heart opened up” to take warning about believing your own lies.  Those lies – the narrative we impose tyrannically on the anonymous textures of everyday life – are important, because they impart some meaning onto the ultimate meaninglessness of existence, but if we believe in these lies too fully we risk trapping ourselves in an unrealistic narrative that can crush us if it’s revealed to be too much of a lie.  “A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene” is about the slick and vicious nature of some of those lies; Sheff buildings the lyrics out of scenes from television shows that Okkervil River’s music has been featured in, including a Cold Case scene where a serial killer picks up a male prostitute, kills them, and buries them in a remote, rocky area.  “Savannah Smiles” shows the flip side, being about Shannon Michelle “Savannah” Wilsey, a pornographic actress who swallowed her own narrative so completely that when she was disfigured in a car accident she killed herself rather than face a life without being her illusory, created self.  “Plus Ones” takes aim at our mad frenzy to keep the story going, to churn out sequels and franchises in order to never end the imposed narratives we’ve become obsessed with.  “A Girl In Port” likens the travelling rock ‘n’ roll band to being sailors with girls in every port, only the girls in port for rock ‘n’ roll bands are acting out the dictates of the (usually false) mythology that builds up around bands.  “You Can’t Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man” bridges the gap between the narrative of youth and wealth and the reality of age and starvation for artists; “Title Track” tackles the illusion of stardom head-on with an eye to it’s utter absurdity.  The final song, “John Allyn Smith” sets sail, tracks the life and suicide of poet John Berryman, a doomed artist who was something of a muse in 2006-2007 as he was referenced by a number of others, including The Hold Steady on Boys And Girls In America.  It examines the mythology of the poet versus the sad, sordid reality (alcoholism and suicide attempts) and caps it off with a rendition of the traditional “Sloop John B” that feels more like suicide note than the raucous ode to debauchery and hangovers it usually is.

The album that came directly after, 2008’s The Stand-Ins, would be a sort of second half of The Stage Names, but would not be as successful in mining it’s themes for frisson; The Stage Names still remains Okkervil River’s crowning achievement.  I first fell in love with it on a bus trip; I was going north to help close down the family cottage and on the bus ride I had enough time to listen to two albums.  I ended up listening to The Stage Names twice, entranced by it’s lyrics, it’s melodies, and the way that the two combined to run goosebumps up and down my arm.  Ten years later I still sing along to every word and, if pressed, I’d probably place it in my twenty favourite albums.

 

 

Aluminium: 10 Years of For Emma, Forever Ago

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Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Released July 8th, 2007

BestEverAlbums: #92

Before 2007, Justin Vernon was a folky college rocker with an obscure band (DeYarmond Edison) and a girlfriend.  In 2006, after college ended, Vernon and the band moved to North Carolina; the band and the relationship both ended in short order, and Vernon was left with mono and a liver infection, as well as a frustration with songwriting, shitty jobs, and the creeping sense of mediocrity that was building in him at the age of 25.  Rather than get a 9-5 and try to settle into obscurity, Vernon exiled himself to his father’s hunting cabin in remote Wisconsin and lived alone for a while, trying to find himself and a new way to write songs without crushing his spirit.  He lived through three months of Wisconsin winter, hunting for food, chopping firewood, and at one point fending off a bear.  Songwriting came along, developing out of ideas he’d had shortly before a wave of depression drowned everything; they were built out of simpler arrangements, and wordless melodies that were sung in a falsetto.

The eventual result was For Emma, Forever Ago, which Vernon self-released ten years ago today.  Originally he’d emerged from the Great Midwestern Wilderness with nine songs and vague plans of using them as a demo to try to convince some label or another to give him money to record a slicker version of it.  His stint as the touring guitarist with North Carolina band The Rosebuds convinced him that, much like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Vernon’s recordings already were an album.  He released it as such, and he quickly began fielding offers from big indie labels.  Everything that came after – the fame, the Grammy (“Who da fuck is Bonny Bear?”), the job as hook man for Kanye West – stems from this, a musical act of coming to terms with the past and the things you can’t get over.  “Flume” was written just prior to his breaking up with his girlfriend and retreating to the wild – he claims that it’s the song that pushed him into going in the first place.  The subsequent songs dwell in questions of love, of the direction of life, and the sense of being trapped; “Re: Stacks” makes reference to his being trapped in a cycle of online gambling.

I think that this album turning a decade old is the surest sign that I am, in fact, slowly growing old.  When an album like Warehouse: Songs And Stories turns 30, it doesn’t hit me as hard because I was 5 when that album came out, and I came to it much later.  For Emma, Forever Ago came out when I was 25, the same age as it’s creator, and it’s sense of creeping mediocrity spoke loudly to me.  It still does, ten years on, and I hope that I can eventually come to terms with it in as glorious a fashion as Justin Vernon did.

Aluminium: 10 Years of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

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Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Released July 7th, 2007 on Merge Records

There are days – many of them – where I feel like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga might low-key be my favourite album.  It is, at the very least, an album that I can throw on at any time and be perfectly comfortable with it being on.  It’s hard to pick out a favourite moment, too, since they all seem so great.  Is it the brash horns on “The Underdog”?  Is it the line about doing an airborne and settling in for the night (like there’s any settling after one of those)?  Is it the tube reverb that makes the guitars on “Don’t Make Me A Target” such a delight?  Is it the relentless snare in “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”?  The slinky, blatantly sexual bass line of “Don’t You Evah”?  Being a slut for the New York Times?  Maybe it’s the way the album seems sculpted to perfection, with every string, guitar, horn, and drum beat in exactly the right place.  It exudes confidence and bleeds charisma.

If there were any true justice in the universe, Spoon would be as big a band as the Rolling Stones, but instead they’re as big as LCD Soundsystem, which counts for something.  They would go on to release three more albums, of which only the last (this year’s brilliant Hot Thoughts) comes close to equaling the meticulously grooved music presented on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Aluminium: 10 Years of Boxer

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The National – Boxer

Released May 21st, 2007 on Beggars Banquet

RYM:  #345

BestEverAlbums:  #130

Boxer was the breakthrough for one of indie rock’s most cherished bands, and it was also a personal vindication for the band itself.  They had gotten together near the end of the Dot Com era in New York and had started recording with stars in their eyes.  Their first tour, however, found them playing to scant crowds, in some cases just to the staff of the venue.  Six years and three albums later, they were the buzz band du jour in the indie world, selling out shows and receiving a great critical feting.  The albums in that lead-up process were stellar, but Boxer transcends them by simply perfecting what they already do.  The National do a few things and they do them exceedingly well.

In lesser hands these would be mopey bar songs, like a garage band that’s just graduated to doing Cure covers in the local dive.  Instead, the Dessner brothers craft arrangements that step lightly through the wreckage of breaking relationships and fill out the corners without being oppressive about it.  The intro of “Fake Empire” shows off the skills of Aaron Dessner particularly:  he’s figured out how to make playing two different rhythms in two different times on two different hands sound as natural as a simple 4/4 melody.  The rhythm section, anchored on Bryan Devendorf’s quick wrists, gives these songs a serious heft that propel them out of any potential light-rock mix-station hell.  The drums on Boxer are in fact a hidden weapon, striking when you least expect it on first listen and lifting up the dynamics of a song all on their own.  They give “Ada” a hurry-along quality that keeps the riot of strings, pianos, and gorgeously fingerpicked guitar intact and impactful.  Then, of course, there is Matt Berninger’s classic baritone voice, a mournful, wryly sorrowful instrument that emotes even the sometimes obscurely literate lyrics, like Leonard Cohen without the Eighties cheese trap he fell into.  It’s a voice like straight whiskey and mahogany bars, singing about desperate husbands and teetering loves with the air of one with a lifetime of unfortunate experience.

 

 

China: 20 Years of Mag Earwhig!

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Guided By Voices – Mag Earwhig!

Released May 20th, 1997 on Matador Records

Guided By Voices was never supposed to be a full-time thing.  Formed in the late 1980s as a real band, it slowly morphed into a revolving door of Dayton, Ohio musicians – basically anyone who would come over and drink with 4th-grade teacher Robert Pollard.  1992’s Propeller caught Pollard by surprise when it found a listener base in the wake of the Alternative Revolution, a base that expanded exponentially with the one-two punch of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.  Under The Bushes Under The Stars, a 1996 album recorded with Pixies bassist Kim Deal, solidified that base, but by 1997 Pollard was pushing at the boundaries of what was possible with his new found underground rock star status, a status that had finally allowed him to ditch his day job and pursue his high-kicking rock frontman dreams full-time.  To this end, he got rid of the 1992-1996 Guided By Voices lineup and hired Cleveland garage band Cobra Verde to be his backing band; the first record of this lineup was Mag Earwhig!, the last great Guided By Voices album.

Mag Earwhig! is at once much more professional sounding than previous Guided By Voices efforts (except perhaps for the “sterile-sounding” REM-aping 1986 EP Forever Since Breakfast) and as a result it can be jarring for a listener who has been going through the band’s ridiculously lengthy discography.  The joke of this is encapsulated in the sketch-song “I Am Produced”, which finds Pollard musing on all the prepping and packaging that goes along with bigger recording contracts and studio time.  As a “pro-level” GBV record, it’s still messy and filled with a certain willful need to colour outside of the lines; “The Old Grunt”, “Are You Faster?”, “Choking Tara”, “Hollow Cheek”, and the title track are all barely filled-in sketches in the vein of what studded the length of Bee Thousand.  At the same time, there are any number of songs that point the way toward the rock-melody-genius three-minute British Invasion style tracks that would comprise the band’s output up until 2004; “Bulldog Skin”, “Not Behind The Fighter Jet”, “Portable Men’s Society”, “Jane Of The Waking Universe”, and the utterly sublime “The Colossus Crawls West” are among the best of Pollard’s compositions, overall, but it is interesting that the best track on Mag Earwhig!, the high-energy “I Am A Tree”, is actually a composition by Cobra Verde’s Doug Gillard.

After, GBV would release a major label debut, Do The Collapse, that was a crushing bore, with few exceptions.  They would release some solid albums after that, both before the 2004 breakup and after the 2012 reunion, but none would hold a candle to the classic lineup or to Mag Earwhig!.

 

Aluminium: 10 Years of Favourite Worst Nightmare

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Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare

Released April 23rd, 2007 on Domino Records

The Difficult Second Album has always been a problem in rock ‘n’ roll.  After an album that sets the world on fire, relatively speaking, the follow-up is constrained by time, hype, and record label needs.  It’s also constrained by artistic pig-headedness – the curse of “Oh they think we’re just about this sound, well WE’LL SHOW THEM!”

They inevitably don’t light the same fire that the first album did, and both the critics and paying public feel lukewarm and move on, leaving only a small coterie of hardcore fans who stick around, convinced that the band can do no wrong.  This was the Strokes on Room On Fire, The Hives on Tyrannosaurus Hives, Weezer on Pinkerton, Massive Attack on Protection, Alanis Morisette on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, Live on Secret Samahdi.  This was, ostensibly, Arctic Monkeys on Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the Sheffield band’s first album, was world-shaking, especially in their native England.  When the Strokes first came to the UK it was as though an atom bomb had gone off; within four years bands influenced by the Strokes were clogging up MySpace, hawking their wares and building their fanbase one grimy all-ages show in a small town after another.  Arctic Monkeys were one of those bands, but multiplied by a hundred.  At the height of MySpace as a social media platform, they were one of the two bands that leveraged their fanbase into massive real-world success (the other of course being Fall Out Boy).  Unlike their American counterparts, Arctic Monkeys could actually write good songs; Whatever People Say was chock-full of poetic renditions of liquored-up good times, a paean to English drinking culture, small-time rock scenes, and getting up to shifty business in very dodgy places.

How to follow up such a successful first album, though?  It’s a tightrope walk, as the Strokes themselves knew all too well, and it’s always going to be fraught with heavier criticisms than might otherwise be warranted.  So it went with Favourite Worst Nightmare.  Critics were unconvinced by the songs, claiming the snarky swipes at the scene that had given birth to them were dreadful.  While there is some merit to this particular criticism (especially in dead-ringer slogs like “If You Were There, Beware” and “The Bad Thing”) it obscures the great songs that are embedded in the album.  “Brianstorm” is a barnburner of an opener and a delightful piss-take on the younger set of would-be managers and show promoters.  “Teddy Picker”, “D Is For Dangerous”, and “Balaclava” hearken back to the band’s debut – leave the progress for the next three albums, this was all about doubling down on what worked.  “Fluorescent Adolescent” is a stone classic of a song, the sort of song that transcends whatever album it’s on to be a classic of a band’s canon; it’s first line (“You used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your nightdress”) sums up an entire feeling of the kind of heavy nostalgia that can get you into serious trouble later in life in such a way that is honestly rare in youth-oriented rock ‘n’ roll.  Favourite Worst Nightmare is blessed with two of these sorts of classic tracks, the other being “505”.  “505” was, in 2007, the odd one out in the band’s catalog, a smooth number that builds up to a crescendo, rather than the riff-oriented bangers that the band was otherwise known for.  Humbug, their follow-up, would show a band that wanted to focus on this aspect of their songwriting, and it was all the better for it.

(The entire Glastonbury 2007 Arctic Monkeys performance!)

It’s somewhat funny to look back on Favourite Worst Nightmare and remember the disappointment some felt, and the defensiveness that others felt they needed to exude to combat this.  As far as contemporary bands, Arctic Monkeys have surely aged the best; AM, released in 2013, was easily one of the best albums of the year, a feat that bands like Fall Out Boy could only dream of (especially given that every album subsequent to From Under The Cork Tree was complete garbage).  Even the Strokes couldn’t manage that; everything after Is This It? was a mixed bag.  Not bad for four kids from Northern England.

Aluminium: 10 Years of Ashtray Rock

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Joel Plaskett Emergency – Ashtray Rock

Released April 17th, 2007 on MapleMusic Recordings

A triumph of album-making, the third Emergency album tells the story of the Ashtray Rock, a place in the woods near the Halifax suburb of Clayton Park where the local teenagers gather to get drunk and crank the volume on already-loud rock ‘n’ roll music.  Two guys have a great time hanging out at the late-night parties but they have a falling out over a girl.  One of them gets the girl for a little while, and the other one forms a rock ‘n’ roll band.

As far as ideas for concept albums go, it’s squarely in the Who camp, but Plaskett and Co. pull it off at the height of their powers and it ends up being exhilarating rather than ridiculous.  Part of the success in this is that the concept and lyrics are near and dear to Plaskett’s heart and he has said at times that some of the characters are his old bandmates in Thrush Hermit, and that the music-in-common part of “Penny For Your Thoughts” is tuned to his wife’s tastes.

Regardless of the concept, of course, it’s an amazing lineup of songs that strike a clear tone and build hooks like skyscrapers.  It was shortlisted for the 2007 Polaris Music prize (along with Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible) but eventually lost out to Patrick Watson’s Close To Paradise.  This is too bad, really, since Ashtray Rock is the absolute peak of the Emergency, a rock ‘n’ roll triumph whose nostalgic paeans to youth and young love will ring on long after the last notes.

China: 20 Years of Dig Me Out

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Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

Released April 8th, 1997 on Kill Rock Stars Records

Straight-up:  Carrie Brownstein’s vocals are an acquired taste, but they’re a taste that I acquired a long time ago.  They’re a barrier to entry, for sure.  You either get them or you don’t, but if you get them, then Sleater-Kinney’s work ranks among the very best that rock ‘n’ roll has produced since the Alternative Revolution.

Released at the height of the Riot Grrl movement in the mid-1990s, Dig Me Out characterizes a band that was a fair bit different than the other stuff that was coming out of Seattle and Olympia at the time.  A lot of riot grrl bands favoured style over substance; they were modern art collectives, compilations of patriarchy-smashing posters set to thudding power chords.  Sleater-Kinney took a complete opposite tactic.  Their guitars were knotted and spiked, weaving odd, complicated leads over a bedrock of shifting chords.  Their dynamics were unpredictable, mixing shrieking rage into calm bliss with a deftness that Billy Corgan could only have dreamed of.  They were out to smash the patriarchy – make no mistake – but they were out to do it on their own terms, terms that at once eschewed the contemporary ideal of punk rock and yet were 100% punk as fuck.

Part of the toss-up was the addition of Janet Weiss as drummer; her steady-handed pounding and athletic fills called up the sound of the Stones and the Kinks and thereby lent more soul to the proceedings than had been found previously.  Part of it was Brownstein’s heartfelt emoting; beneath all of that Poly Styrene-esque wailing was someone more intellectual than you typically find in rock ‘n’ roll.  Part of it was the use of Corin Tucker’s voice to leaven it sometimes, of course; check out her undertones on “Words And Guitar” to really get the full effect.

Sleater-Kinney are a rare band that is able to be both stridently political and unabashedly emotional.  That Dig Me Out is just one of the great albums they’ve made that showcases this is a testament to how utterly kick-ass they are as a rock ‘n’ roll group.

Aluminium: 10 Years of Person Pitch

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

Released March 20th, 2007 on Paw Tracks

BestEverAlbums: #317

RYM:  #433

When Person Pitch first came out I was of the opinion that it sounded exactly like the Beach Boys, if the Beach Boys had been granted access to high-octane research chemicals during the writing and recording process.  Very little in the ensuing decade has given me any reason to change this opinion.

 

Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox was, in early 2007, on top of the world.  His day job band, psychedelic electronic acid-jammers Animal Collective, were being increasingly recognized as one of the most vital bands in contemporary indie rock (Strawberry Jam was just around the corner to cement this status).  Between Feels, AnCo’s breakthrough album, and Person Pitch Lennox moved to Lisbon, Portugal; the sunny climate and generally carefree atmosphere Lennox found heavily influenced the sound of the album.  The stacked vocals evoke a very beachy, very free-wheeling sense of fun and abandon; the sampled loops and instruments that clatter on beneath everything add to the sense of unreality, as though you’re on an endless vacation in a place where the sand is white and the water is a clear, brilliant blue and you have no return ticket.  “Bros” (jam of a lifetime) and “Good Girl/Carrots” add a bit of gallop to the sound, as though the Grateful Dead (pre-Workingman’s Dead) had access to a modern recording studio and all of the LSD they could ever want.

 

Person Pitch was the height of Noah Lennox as a solo artist.  His next album would largely ditch the samplers in favour of more guitar-focused work, and his follow-up to that would try to rework samplers back in while striving for a more radio-ready sound.  Neither have the sense of hedonistic abandon that characterizes Person Pitch and neither has the reverb-laden choral quality of vocals that marks the album out as something special.