Jaguar Love – Take Me To The Sea

15 08 2008
Jaguar LoveTake Me To The Sea
2008 – Matador Records

Okay, so I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet. I’m listening to this as I type, but I was inspired and couldn’t wait until the album was over. This is, without a doubt, the most hilarious album I’ve heard all year.

Jaguar Love, for those of you who haven’t kept your AMP subs up to date, is the new project of Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato of the Blood Brothers and Jay Clark of Pretty Girls Make Graves, two now-defunct “art punk” bands Seattle. While both bands eventually lost me (Blood Brothers with their turn away from spazzy noise and legitimately-tormented-sounding screams toward the more dancy ”art punk” sound, and PGMG when they came to my town and acted like complete cunts after having released a similarly alienating “art punk” album), I was curious to see what members of two of Seattle’s biggest “indie” successes since the grunge era would come up with.

As it turns out, they are so over-the-top screaming art punk dancey beat heavily produced, so drum machine and organ with Cedric Bixler-Zavala huffing helium vocals(!!!) that they have totally turned around my bad mood. Listening to this album is like giving a puppy espresso…. but it still sucks.

What the hell am I talking about anyway?

Let me try to put it this way: Adbusters magazine (who I’m not going to link to because I think they’re terribly lame) currently has an issue about hipsters on all the newstands. Adbusters thinks that hipsters (who are defined by Adbusters as anyone who owns/rides a fixed-gear bike, wears skinny pants and/or American Apparel, etc. etc. etc.) represent the end of civilization – a dead end for activism and culture and all things good and righteous and worthwhile. I don’t agree with Adbusters on the hipster thing, but I kind of think that Jaguar Love might represent the end of music. They’re form without substance. They’re feigned emotion without any real guts. They’re lock without a key, a city with no door, they’re a bad word, a wink, a nod, a shiver, an untold story, sex without purity, a creeping gray memory… okay okay okay. What I mean is that they’re not very good as a band.

Sure, Jaguar Love can play their instruments fine. That’s not the issue. The issue is that apparently, between the three members of the band, they have had no hardship, no strife, no experiences that have allowed them to build up even one soul. I suppose that’s kind of sad, but it sure sounds funny.


Parts & Labor – Mapmaker

27 07 2008

Parts & LaborMapmaker
2007 – Jagjaguwar/Brah

Okay, so, apologies to the 3 people who have found and read (or did read, until I stopped writing) this blog. I hit a writer’s block – ironic, since I’m not a writer and suck at it when I do it recreationally. Ah well; so it goes.

The album that finally inspired my ass back into writing was Parts & Labor’s Mapmaker. I worked the day shift at the record store on Friday, and my still-mostly-drunk coworker bought me this record after seeing that I’d been listening to Husker Du the night before, which was nice of him, since I’m broke until Wednesday. He told me to take it home and listen to it loud, which I didn’t do, since the only system I currently have is my laptop, which only has one working speaker. Instead, I put it on my ipod and listened to it on my long walk to work the next day.


I kind of thought my coworker was talking shit when he said these guys took a page from Husker Du. I mean, they’re from Brooklyn. I figured they might have a good song or two, but I was in no way prepared for what this album sounds like. It does kind of sound like Husker Du, but it sounds like Husker Du and something else… it sounds like Husker Du smashed up with The Dismemberment Plan. Actually, at first, I thought the singer was Dismemberment Plan frontman, Travis Morrison, but it’s not. In fact, the four guys in Parts & Labor don’t really seem to be or have been in any other bands at all.

But what’s it like, really?

Mapmaker sounds like all the stuff that other people think is so great about Animal Collective (noisy, sort-of-long songs and lots of dynamics and soaring vocals and kind of a freewheeling, letting loose kind of feeling to the whole enterprise) but done, well, well, rather than in a profoundly irritating fake-animal way like A.C. That is to say, it’s driving Husker Du-esque drums (with lots of tight, interesting flourishes – the drumming on this album rules), soaring, distant and echo-y sounding vocals, lots of weird, electronic guitar and keyboard-ish noises that sound like drills and buzzsaws half the time, no bass on half the songs, and even the odd electronic beat or squawk thrown in. There’s lots of energy, and the songwriting is tight enough to keep all the disparate sounds from sounding like an annoying pile of trendy noise. There are even a few dance-y kind of hooky tunes, but not enough to make this a dance band in any sense of the word. What I mean to get at is that this is a band that is better than the sum of its parts and that looks worse on paper.

Finally, these guys sound like they mean it, and I suppose that’s probably what I like most about this album. Yes, there are lots of trendy, hip, elements in their songs, but that doesn’t seem to really matter in the face of the four guys in the band just, for lack of a better term, givin’er. It’s totally shitty of me to say, but Parts & Labor sound like they love music and love playing, and hearing this album made me realize how relatively rare that is in music coming out today.

Thanks for getting me out of my slump, guys.

Also Listened (some picks from the last 45 days):
Beck – Modern Guilt
Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal
Quest For Fire – S/T
Husker Du – Flip Your Wig
Carcass – Heartwork
Lair of the Minotaur – The Ultimate Destroyer
Fugazi – The Argument
Elliott Brood – Mountain Meadows
She Wolves – S/T
Melvins – Nude With Boots
Antelope – Reflector

J Church – One Mississippi

12 06 2008

J ChurchOne Mississippi
2000 – Honest Don’s Records

This is my second run at this.  I don’t know why J Church has given to me such a serious writer’s block (insomuch as I can call myself a writer). The first time I tried to write about One Mississippi, I ended up in tears on the couch. I’m going to blame that on the PMS and the shitty weather, since listening to it now, at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the sun coming through the window, this is a happy album, for the most part. Oh, except the Lance Hahn died of complications from kidney dialysis part. That’s still a downer.

I had heard of J Church before, of course. I had probably even heard a couple songs on other people’s stereos, but I had never sat down and listened to them. Now that I have, I regret that I hadn’t really heard them until now, after the possibility for ever seeing them live or buying a new album has passed.

This album sounds kind of like Propagandhi. The first chords on the first song sound so much like Prop that I had a mid-nineties flashback (in the best possible way) and then immediately went to the J Church website to see if they had ever worked or played together, which, it turns out, they have. Now, I don’t know a lot about punk music. Okay, let me qualify that. I know something about punk music. More than the average person, I suppose. To someone who only listens to top 40 radio, listening to me talk about punk music probably sounds pretty impressive, like a person with a jr. high school education listening to someone with a biology undergrad degree talk about echinoderms. However, to people who are really into music, I don’t know much about punk music. I’m just starting to put it together and develop my own  (douchey as it sounds) philosophy on punk music, so here’s what I’ve got so far and how it relates to One Mississippi:

I don’t know what the core of punk music is, but, like a big fat classist or racist or something, I think there is some kind of purer punk centre or ideal and that bands can be placed along some kind of continuum between that centre and something else that isn’t punk at all, like, well, Nickleback or Laurence Welk. Anyway, on that continuum, I feel like J Church is closer to the centre than many other bands. It’s not that they’re intensely political or blindingly good musicians or dress really cool (though they may be all of those things), but J Church just seems like a real band. I know, that’s lame to say. Classifying things as “real” or “not real/fake/poseurs” is stupid, but I’ve been racking my brain for a couple days now, and that’s the closest thing I can find to what I think about J Church. They sound like a bunch of cool guys who sing about interesting things that happen to them in their real lives. I don’t know – I’m distracted and have had too much coffee, so I apologize, but I really liked this album. It was unpretentious (both in its content and its production) and honest, and like I said, it tugged at my heartstrings when I thought about Lance Hahn.

I guess it made me want to get out of the house, go drink a little too much, hang out with my friends, play music, and quit being so much in my head all the time. See you late

Also Listened:
Dan Sartain – Join Dan Sartain
The Daktaris – Soul Explosion
Lucero – Nobody’s Darlings
Steeldrivers – S/T
Old 97s – Blame it on Gravity
The Swiftys – Ridin’ High
NQ Arbuckle – xox
Ladytron – Velocifero
James Hunter – The Hard Way
Sloan – Parallel Play
Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond
The Roots – Rising Down

Dan Sartain – Join Dan Sartain

7 06 2008

Dan SartainJoin Dan Sartain
2006 – Swami Records

The write-up on Dan Sartain on the Swami website says he’s “more talented than a thousand talented dudes.” A thousand? Fuck that. Try ten thousand or a hundred thousand. Dan Sartain, from what I can tell, plays all the instruments on this album himself, which means that however much I might normally like this album, I now like it more if for nothing other than the appreciation I have for sheer gumption, especially when well-aimed. JDS sure does make me wish I knew how to put on eyeliner and do my hair so I could make myself pretty just to listen to Mr. Sartain. This isn’t dirty rock ‘n roll; it’s showered and just a little bit dressed up with a bit of Brylcreem and a nice but slightly worn pair of shoes. Oh, and it’s not really rock ‘n roll at all. It’s not quite rockabilly either. It’s someplace in between but with just a hint of that chugging Johnny Cash guitar driving the whole thing. Listening to this album makes me wish I was sitting at an elegant typewriter with a western-style lamp instead of in my underpants in bed drinking wine with smudged drugstore mascara. Oh well. I guess we can’t all be Dan Sartain.

Photo Credit to David Wala

You know how some people evoke a certain mood just by being in the room or in the scene of a movie or sometimes even just with their voice? The best example I can think of is that cowboy guy in The Big Lebowski. That guy’s name is actually Sam Elliot (though in the movie, his character is known only as “The Stranger”), and it seems like he always plays kind of the same role: the cowboy guy with the heart of gold and the twinkle in his eye. Anyway, it seems, upon listening to Join Dan Sartain, that if he were an actor, Mr. Sartain would probably be typecast in the same kind of way, though instead of the weathered-looking cowboy, Sartain would be the functioning slightly-alcoholic male lead with good plain fashion sense and an appreciation for a particular kind of whiskey-addled decorum. This is mood music, sure, but it’s not just mood music.

What I mean is that when I listen to this album, I can close my eyes and imagine my life has a bit more class than it actually does.

I have a crush on Dan Sartain.

Also Listened:
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Neko Case – Furnace Room Lullaby
Neko Case – Canadian Amp
Lucero – Lucero
Firewater – The Golden Hour
Constantines – Kensington Market
Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded
Rick James – The Definitive Collection
Removal – If You Can’t Say Anything Nice Start A Band
Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime

Neko Case – Blacklisted

7 06 2008

Neko CaseBlacklisted
2002 – Bloodshot Records

I can’t help it. I’m a country girl.

This will sound pretty stupid to most of you. I was born and grew up in a city that was about 500,000 people when I came into it and is about 1,000,000 now, when I’m set to leave it. Though I spent a couple of highly significant summers on an acreage out in the country (I even had to catch sheep a couple times and know how to deal with belligerent geese), the vast majority of my time has been spent living in cities. The thing about my city, though, is that it’s a big city surrounded by miles and miles and miles of open prairie. If you want to go anywhere from where I live, you get in a car and drive for hours and hours through flat, grassy plains, and if you’re anything like me, you love it. While I grew up in a city, I grew up in kind of a country city, where people who are old enough can remember not being able to get fruit in the winter and where driving out to go berry picking is still a pretty popular thing to do.

I say all this because Neko Case is a country city girl too. Maybe that’s why I love her music so much. I’m cheating a little bit with this writing today. See, I went to see Iron Maiden last night unexpectedly, and when I came home, my ears were ringing too much to listen to anything to write about, and my head was too full of Powerslave to recall the stuff I listened to earlier to write about, so this morning, I finally listened to Blacklisted all the way through with no interruptions.

Neko Case - Photo by Nancy (flickr)

Now, Neko Case was born in Virginia, but considers her hometown to be Tacoma, Washington. I don’t know what it was like in the 70s when she lived there, but when I was last there a couple years ago, it was a weird and depressing place. Not far out of Seattle, Tacoma is (or was) apparently a steel town. It apparently used to be bustling, but now it seems deserted. There are all kinds of ornate buildings 5 or 6 stories high with nothing in them but pigeons and probably the occasional hobo. She left home really young (15, I think) and ended up spending a few years in Vancouver, BC, where she played drums with a bunch of bands, including Cub. She was forced to return to the US and moved to Seattle, which is where she recorded her first solo record, The Virginian.

Case’s story is pretty familiar around certain parts of the world. “City girl” strikes out on her own, gets caught up in punk and rock music, eventually turns to country music, find success she never thought possible. It happens on a smaller scale all the time in my hometown, and I imagine that if I were more familiar with more country musicians, I’d find more stories like those as well.

At any rate, one of the things that makes Neko Case’s music so appealing, I think, is that it’s informed by this non-traditional background. She didn’t grow up in backwoods Texas or the Appalachians. She grew up in a poor industrial town, and maybe that’s a more fertile place to grow your “country” feelings these days. Case doesn’t sing about patriotism (in the sense that most country musicians sing about it, anyway, plus, I get the distinct impression that Case would be pretty happy to be a Canadian…) or pickup trucks or kids getting killed in car wrecks or how things just ain’t like they used to be or any of those traditional country music tropes that have been twisted and annexed by Big Contemporary Country. Sure, she sings about heartbreak and love and the place she grew up, but while there’s longing (sorry, I hate that word too, but it is what it is) in her songs, she isn’t wishing for some kind of xenophobic country paradise with church picnics and barbecues. What I’m getting at is that there’s room in Neko Case’s brand of country music for all kinds of people, and maybe that’s why it has such a broad appeal.

Blacklisted is a good example of this. The lyrics on this album (and I don’t really ever pay attention to lyrics, but I looked up all the songs for this writing today) are cryptic and evocative. They don’t tell stories so much as evoke scenes and feelings and moods that I imagine most girls like me (and probably lots of people who aren’t much like me at all) get something out of, even if the thing we each get is very different from each other. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is about Neko Case’s lyrics that gets me so deeply. Maybe it’s that I want to buy in to her reality, where things are screwed up pretty much all the time and life may be difficult, but at the end of it, everyone is together and okay enough to sing and play their instruments, and everyone has a drink at the end of the night and walks home under the stars. Then again, maybe it’s just her voice, which is, bar none, amazing

Also Listened:
El Madmo – S/T
Sloan – Navy Blues
Lou Reed – NYC Man: The Collection
The Drones – Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By
The Draft – In A Million Pieces
The Last Deal – Berdache
Iron Maiden – Killers
Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden – Powerslave

Joe Lally – There To Here

5 06 2008

Joe LallyThere To Here
2006 – Dischord

There To Here is Joe Lally’s (Fugazi, motherfuckers!) first solo album ever. It sounds very much like what it is: 1/4 of Fugazi. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, though I suppose saying something like that I can’t help but sound at least a little dismissive. Anyway, what I mean is that I can hear some Fugazi in the album, but not all the time. Hearing Joe Lally alone, I could suddenly tell what was him in all the Fugazi albums I’ve been listening to for the past long while, and I thought this was really interesting.

My favorite tracks on this album were the ones that were a bit more fleshed-out, meaning the ones that had drums and/or more traditional song structures. Since this is a solo album, and since Joe Lally is a bass player, there are a couple tracks that are a bit too… static for me. Static, or abstract, or both, I guess. It’s not a big problem on the album by any means (I likely wouldn’t have made it through the whole thing if I felt like the whole album was some kind of ethereal (insomuch as bass played non-harmonically can be ethereal) bassline with quiet singing. What do I mean? I like the songs that rock a bit more or have a bit of the repetitive rock structure that hooks me in. I guess I liked the tracks that sounded like (and were) more than Joe by himself. I like his writing and his singing and his playing, but I like them better when there’s another person (like Amy Farina of The Warmers AND MOTHER OF IAN MACKAYE’S CHILD OMG) there with him. It’s not that Joe Lally can’t hack it by himself. He obviously can. He’s a great melodic bass player, and I like his aesthetic, but I think his ideas deserve a bit of back up so they can really appeal.

All that said, this album sounds very much like a Dischord/D.C. album. I don’t know how political Lally was before he joined Fugazi, but he’s pretty political now, and that comes across in his lyrics, which aren’t too clever or too ham-handed, though there are a few moments when the earnestness of them borders on uncomfortable. Not that I mind this uncomfortableness, of course. I’m a girl who believes in baring her soul and who believes in the importance of being earnest (…), so I’m not going to be put off by someone who puts his beliefs right out there in plain words.

All in all, listening to this album made me want to listen to more Dischord stuff. I haven’t listened to idealistic music for a while, and as I’m writing, I’m listening to The Evens, and it feels like it’s good for my soul, as awful as that is to say. On a day where I’ve been mostly too sick to do much except eat soup and mindlessly surf the internet, There To Here made me feel like tomorrow I would wake up well and ready to get to work.

Since its release in 2006, he has released a second solo effort (Nothing is Underrated, late 2007) and has worked on his other projects, which include Ataxia, a band he’s in with John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer, Capillary Action, and Zu.

Also Listened:
Elliot Smith – xo
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Greatest Hits
From Fiction – From Fiction (EP)
The Ponys – Laced With Romance

Pig Destroyer – Phantom Limb

3 06 2008

Pig DestroyerPhantom Limb
2007 – Relapse Records

Pig Destroyer sound kind of like what a math-rock band would sound like if that math-rock band was actually a grindcore band. At first, it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer volume of sound and notes that come at you following the opening sample on Phantom Limb, but it hits you a couple of tracks in that this band probably actually listens to a lot of Shellac and Don Caballero. Actually, the really cool thing Pig Destroyer seem to be able to do is play math/grindcore without making the mathy stuff sound really obvious and obnoxious. It probably seems like a stupid thing to describe a grindcore band who clearly take a page from the book of Discordance Axis as having good “flow,” but when I think about it, that’s exactly what Pig Destroyer have. They’re loud and really fast and have fucked-up-sounding vocals, but they also have soul, and they make it all sound easy.

That probably sounds really stupid to some of you, who are thinking, “uh, what you’re describing is called ‘mathcore’ and Botch invented it.” Yeah, mathcore and math rock are generally seen as being two different things, but listening to this record in particular (and yeah, I’ve heard Botch – who I really like – and Dillinger Escape Plan and Ion Dissonance and The End and The Locust and Hella and Converge and even Protest The Hero, etc. etc. etc.) made me think that really, all that mathcore bands do is speed up the math rock concept. Where math rock superimposes weird time signatures on more traditional rock ‘n roll formats and tropes, mathcore does the exact same thing but with metal/grindcore. The thing that, to me, makes this album stand out, though, is that that it does all this mathy stuff so stealthily. Where Botch and the like have made careers out of being insanely technical and doing all this crazy time-signature stuff, Pig Destroyer just slip it in there and don’t make a big thing about it.

Oh, and the last track, “Track Numero Quince” is really creepy.

Sorry, again, for the short length of this post. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to expand it tomorrow, but I’m fighting some kind of Canadian Death Flu here, and I have to work in the morning.

Also Listened:
Ray Davies – Working Man’s Cafe
Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
Various Artists – When Rhythm Was King
The Sonics – Psycho Sonic
Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life
Rank and File – Long Gone Dead
Alejandro Escovedo – The Boxing Mirror
The Sainte Catherines – Dancing For Decadence
The Ramones – Subterrainean Jungle
Russian Circles – Station