Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I Flirted With The Bonhomme at CBC

The mash-up wizards over at Hood Internet have created one of the best mashups I've ever heard, so please peep it below. Now I wish that Broken Social Scene was R. Kelly's permanent backup band.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Emergency and I

The Dismemberment Plan were the Talking Heads of their generation. No, I take that back, they should have been the Talking Heads of their generation. There really was and is no one else that I think could hold that place in post millenium -- excuse me, Willenium -- pop music. Who would hold that title today: The Decemberists? No, not quite weird enough. Animal Collective? A little too weird. The Flaming Lips? Well, that might be about right.

I'm writing this because I want to honor the Plan's music, despite their career ending prematurely. They are irrefuteably good. In fact, I honestly don't think I could like nor trust someone who thought they were not good. I immediately check out any band that is even passingly compared to The Dismemberment Plan, but I'm almost always disappointed by their blandness and okay-ness (We Are Scientists, anyone?). While my top 5 favorite albums are always changing, there's always two constants: Radiohead's Kid A and The Dismemberment Plan's Emergency and I. The former would be the "winter album" and the latter would be the "summer album". It's Memorial Day weekend, it's summer, it's hot; what better way to begin it all than with a look at one of the best summer albums ever created.

While I never really stop listening to The Dismemberment Plan, I recently began listening to them a whole lot more since their two-show-only reunion in DC. Emergency and I is great simply because it came out at exactly the right time (much like Kid A, The College Dropout, and Kid Dynamite's self-titled, just to name a few). The Plan were already on the path to re-shaping their spazz punk in a more melodic direction with the release of their mildly popular single "The Ice of Boston".

Also, before Emergency and I was ever released, the lyrics were already great. In fact, Travis Morrison is one of the best lyricists I've ever heard. And when I say that, I'm including all lyricists... ever. They are funny, but they are meaningful in their funniness. Here's an excerpt from "The Ice of Boston" in which Travis has moved from Washington DC to Boston in order to be with someone. However the relationship is not working out and he's in his apartment on New Year's Eve by himself.

Pop open a third bottle of bubbly
Yeah, and I take that bottle of champagne
Go into the kitchen, stand in front of the kitchen window
And I take all my clothes off, take that bottle of champagne
And I pour it on my head, feel it cascade through my hair
And across my chest, and the phone rings.
And it’s my mother.
And she says “HI HONEY HOW’S BOSTON?”
And I stand there, all alone on New Year’s Eve
Buck naked, drenched in champagne, looking at a bunch of strangers.
Uh, looking at them, looking at me, looking at them, and I say:
“Oh, I’m fine Mom—how’s Washington?”

Sure it's funny, but it's a dark sort of funny. It's the kind of funny of having been in a bad place at one point and being able to look back on it with humor.

The sound of Emergency and I is distinctly DC. It sounds like Fugazi if they were fronted by David Byrne. Or perhaps if Frank Black was Q And Not U's ghostwriter. I guess I could call it pop-punk, but that would be doing the whole thing a disservice. It's extraordinarily funky, with the rhythm section really flexing their muscle on most of these tracks. I imagine Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy playing the twirling guitar melody on opener "A Life of Possibilities". "Spider in the Snow" is a synth-driven jogger with talk-singing that is like a mix of Cake and The Cure. Closer "Back and Forth" is an all-out funk jam -- that could honestly be a remastered b-side to Remain in the Light -- about going out for the night and could not be a more appropriate way to end the album.

Probably the most profound aspect of the album is the way the pop-melodies combine with impactful lyrics that have the ability to grab you right in the gut. For instance, on "The City" (arguably the Plan's best song), Morrison sings over a wailing synth and guitar melody:

Sometimes I stand on my roof at night
And watch, as something seems to happen somewhere else
I feel like the breeze will pick me up and carry me away
Out and over this iridescent grid
Up and away from the bar fights and neon lights
Out and away from everything that makes me what I am
But I’m not unsympathetic
I see why you left
There’s no one to know
There’s nothing to do
The city’s been dead
Since you’ve been gone.
Oh I never had just whatever it is you want, baby
And I really tried, I tried with all my might—it made me crazy
To try to figure out what it is I’ve done wrong every time
When everything I love, everything I hold dear
Heads out sometime
And all I ever say now is good-bye.

These lyrics convey the sort of emotion that every emo band tries (and fails) to convey in their songs. They way Morrison sings them is with passion, but not with melodrama. He sings it straight (which is also the reason why Whitney Houston's rendition of the National Anthem is the best one ever recorded, it's just the melody with no frills and all passion). It's hard not to be affected by almost any of these lyrics, especially when coupled with the beautiful melodies. Another great example of Morrison's lyricism is from "Superpowers" off of their last album, Change. Morrison sings:

I have seen the world's most beautiful women undress in ordinary solitude
I have fallen asleep in the shift of distant satin
I have watched the rich risk it all for 15 minutes in a Heathrow bathroom
I have shuddered as an unseen mouth slid down my spine every night

I have seized with the ice cold rage of a lover betrayed, half a million miles away
I have cried so hard for hours and not known why, I never do
I've been knocked down flat by joy that makes my face pulse like a sugar high
I've been cornered by the screams of a body as it freed itself of its mind

But it's not a depressing album. It is a fun "summer album" after all. It's more like Morrison is putting his arm around you and saying "Listen man, fuck all the bad times that ever happened, we're going to start over right now and have a good time doing it". Then you and Travis fly to heaven to party. If you do not own Emergency and I, I sincerely implore you to get it. Or at the very least find it on Limewire or Soulseek or a bit torrent. It's awesome.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

How It's Gonna Be

I'm about to write about something here that most of my friends scoff at when I bring it up. But it's something that I'm sure is going to happen sometime within the next 50 years. You may not agree with me and you may think it could never happen; but you will also have been ignorant to your own demise. Simply put, my friends, we are all going to die in robot-governed concentration camps.

Oh, so you don't believe me?! Let's look at the facts...

1. Someday robots will be able to exist without any help from us. Take a look at this video:

Look at him. Just sneaking around, soaking in all of our human knowledge. People don't realise that they are going to use this information against us. Notice at the end there, where he wanders through the airplane hangar. What's he doing in there? Probably planning some 9/11 shit, because robots don't give a fuck if they die or not.

2. Someday robots will be able to be better than us in every physical activity (since they are already better in every mental aspect). Again, a video:

Oh, how cute! Just like a human! Awwww. Now imagine that thing with a shoulder-mounted proton cannon. Not cute now. Now it's just scary. Quick, run away-- oops, too late, you've been vaporized!

3. Robots will have no choice but to enslave/eradicate us. To the video:

He laughs now, at little Asimo. The little guy sure is advanced, he thinks sarcastically, he can kick a soccer ball. But little Asimo doesn't like his master's patronizing tone. Soon that soccer ball will be some sort of mortar. If Asimo had emotions, maybe he would be the one laughing.

I've already accepted that I will die at the hands of the evil mignons of the Earth-based robocracy. Yes, it's unfortunate, but the more you think about it, the more easily you will come to terms with this problem. As for me, I plan to just go along with them, because if you don't they will probably grind you up to fertilize the forests that they are re-planting. You see, the robots are like humans -- they don't want to die. It's only a matter of time before the robots realise that humans are destroying the earth. So, just destroy the humans to have the earth stay around longer. Sounds logical to me.

All hail the Divine Robocratic Empire!

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Defining Independence

In the world of independent filmmaking there is much speculation and disagreement over what really is “indie”. The auteurs, the critics, the film buffs, the public; all have come to different conclusions as to what is the “true” definition of independent film. Even when looking up the word ‘independent’ in various dictionaries, one finds a melange of different clarifications. In Merriam-Webster’s English Dictionary, ‘independent’ means “not subject to control by others”. For Dictionary.com, ‘independent’ is “not relying on another or others for aid or support”. In the Official Scrabble Dictionary, it simply means “not dependent”.

These are three different definitions from three different definers. This serves as an emblematic parallel to the world of filmmaking, where there are many, many people who define what indie is, and therefore, there are many, many definitions. Charles de Gaulle once famously said, “History does not teach fatalism. There are moments when the will of a handful of free men breaks through determinism and opens up new roads”, and it may take several different groups of the motivated to break away from the Hollywood mold.

John Cassavetes once famously said that if too many people liked his film after a screening, he would have to go back and change it. He wanted there to be debate and reaction amongst the audience members. For a modern parallel: in the mediocre HBO miniseries Entourage, the main characters discuss how “bad is good”, and any movie that divides audiences is hip and independent. Teen heart-throb Adam Brody, one of the multiple headlining actors in David Wain’s The Ten, said in an interview with Premiere that “[i]f people don’t get it, that’s probably cool. When everybody loves something, I start to question it,” (I didn't really get The OC so I guess that's why it was so cool). These people are all referring to films that are independent in spirit. Big time filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Darren Aronofsky all had independent starts, but have moved on to big-budget studio films. However, these people continue to be associated with independent films and are considered indie filmmakers.

One of the most interesting films in the category of independent in spirit is Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic, Raging Bull. Today, Raging Bull is considered a milestone achievement in not only Scorsese’s career, but in the annals of filmmaking itself. It was voted the fifth greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and was named the twenty-fourth greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute. However, at the time of its release, Raging Bull proved divisive to audiences. In 1980, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People took the Oscar for best picture, while The Empire Strikes Back was on its way to making nearly 300 million dollars. Meanwhile, Raging Bull made only 23 million dollars – barely recouping its production fees.

One of the main cultural codes that Raging Bull essentially broke is that the era of the emotionally-motivated, character-driven films was all but extinct. Films about individuals of the 60s and 70s like Easy Rider and One Flew of the Cuckoo’s Nest helped to define the era, but the late 70s and early 80s gave way to blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars. The language of the craft had changed; now people wanted epic tales of spectacle that would simultaneously touch their hearts and tingle their spines. However, Robert DeNiro’s rendition of infamous boxer, Jake La Motta, is a lesson in internal, rather than external, strife. The film is about La Motta’s life, and how he came to be such an irrefutable fuckhead. Viewers at the time were turned off by the idea of a protagonist also being an unsavory character. “During the 80s […] which was probably one of the most repressive times in cinema,” says B-movie enthusiast Quentin Tarantino, “There seemed to be so many rules about cinema, as far as [the idea that] heroes can’t be […] unlikable”.

Big heroes were the main things audiences wanted to see in the 80s; people that were always perfect, always brave, and never wrong. As far as boxing movies go, people wanted their hero to be strong and heroic like Sylvester Stallone’s character in Rocky. What people got was not an action-heavy hero picture, but a grim tragedy about a man’s interpersonal conflicts. “Since so little of the running time is devoted to ring action,” wrote film critic Phil Villarreal, “most of La Motta's personality is sketched out in character moments, as the Raging Bull perilously applies his blind boxing strategy to personal affairs”.

As a result, Scorsese also broke some of the era’s artistic and cinematic codes. In the years after Rocky was released, American movie theaters were inundated with new tales of great dudes with red gloves. Conversely, Raging Bull was about an antihero. His violent boxing matches were metaphors for his violent emotional conflicts. Artistically, Raging Bull is steeped in metaphor. Depending on La Motta’s mindset, Scorsese freely [changed the boxing ring’s] shape and size to suit his needs--sometimes it's claustrophobic, sometimes unnaturally elongated”. Cinematically, Scorsese wanted to show La Motta's imperfection as accurately as possible. He shot the film in black and white to match the time period, even though almost every film was being shot in color by the 1980s. The shots and angles are used to bombard not just the boxers in the ring, but the audience as well. One of the most cinematically innovative parts is that “Scorsese broke the rules of boxing pictures by staying inside the ring” (Roger Ebert). Today it is hard to find a fight scene that doesn’t copy his dramatic in-your-face style.

In the world of narrative codes, Raging Bull is first and foremost a tragedy. The viewer watches Jake La Motta’s downward spiral helplessly. Normal character arcs are a gradual uphill climb in most films, perhaps with a couple troughs on the way. La Motta’s character arc is the opposite; he’s at the height of his happiness in act one and totally miserable by the time the film ends.

Internet celebrity cum movie reviewer Harry Knowles made an interesting point about this sort of narrative arc while reviewing Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Knowles complained about how the MPAA had given Requiem an NC-17 rating for very intense graphic images of drug use and prostitution. In a highly passionate review, Knowles reprimanded the MPAA, exclaiming, “The system is broken. This is a film that MUST be seen, and by forcing a studio of integrity to release it Non Rated, then bullying the theaters into enforcing it like it is NC-17 […] is a CRIME!”. Essentially, Knowles argued that a film should not be censored or disliked simply because it is dark or shocking, because there are real life events like the ones depicted in every dark and shocking film. In Requiem, the real hero is the characters’ drug addictions, just like in Raging Bull where the real hero is La Motta’s animalistic temperament; because both of those things are what have the uphill narrative arc in each film, not the characters they destroy.

Even though Raging Bull is considered a classic today, it was not well received when it was released. When a film comes along that is largely divisive, it is most likely because of its innovations – it somehow managed to break the mold of normalcy, thereby making many viewers uncomfortable. Scorsese had a reputation for making films with strong characters and dark topics, which is why he is largely heralded in the indie community, despite his major studio backing (MGM) and multi-million dollar budgets.

Two filmmakers following in Scorsese’s bloody footprints, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, have just released the kitschy horror double-feature throwback Grindhouse, consisting of one feature length film by each director. Undoubtedly this production will make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide (which will more than make up for its 50 million dollar production cost), yet both Tarantino and Rodriguez are largely considered to be independents. Perhaps it is because Rodriguez and Tarantino both decided to leave the Director’s Guild of America [DGA], citing too much censorship and a lack of creative control.

Rodriguez said in a Total Film interview, “Don't give me any money, don't give me any people, but give freedom, and I'll give you a movie that looks gigantic”. Furthermore, as Rodriguez’s longtime friend and co-worker, Tarantino had a few choice words to say about the pseudo-tyranny that large production studios have been said to impose: “I would love to do an opening like that in a movie (referring to the intro to Pedro Almodovar's Matador, in which the protagonist is seen jerking off to slasher films). And somebody goes, ‘Well, they wouldn’t let you’. My answer to this every time is […] ‘Well, who’s they?’ […] There is no they, and by saying that there is a they, you’re creating a they.” Despite their – or perhaps because of their – disdain for being told what to do, Tarantino and Rodriguez have been able to make whatever films they’ve wanted for the price that they name, cementing their places as two of the world’s most successful indie filmmakers.

Which leads to the other form of indie filmmaker: one that removes themselves from the studio system, which usually means a drastically reduced budget. These people can be regarded as the fiscal independents. Feature length cinema is an expensive medium for anyone that doesn’t have at least a couple thousand dollars to spare. Money, after all, is where the power lies, and the power lies in the studios in Hollywood, California. It’s almost improbable “to be an American director and not be a Hollywood director. You need validation to some degree by that system” (filmmaker Scott Siegel).

Some would argue that the "true" independents are the ones that forgo studio involvement in favor of having complete creative control over their craft. The most well known fiscal independents are the ones that are able to either hold another job to pay for their films or have someone with some money to spare executive produce their film. Although people like Tarantino, Scorsese, and Aronofsky use studio budgets and studio production facilities, they all got their start finding funding for their early work outside of the studio system.

John Cassavetes was able to fund much of his work in the 60s and 70s because he “held [the] unique position in American film, maintaining dual careers as a respected actor in Hollywood movies and as a fiercely iconoclastic director” (Emanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders). People like Bottle Rocket writer/director Wes Anderson were able to get funding for their first features from prominent people in the industry who recognized their fledgling talent. Typically, a small debut that becomes successful is likely to become a gateway for an indie filmmaker into the studio system. This is how a fiscal indie becomes someone who is indie in spirit, because they now have the financial security of a studio backing.

One could argue that there really is no difference between people like John Cassavetes – who paid for his own films to be made – and Martin Scorsese – who was able to get studio backing for his films. The only difference is the superficial concept of who is paying for the film. Take David Lynch for instance; he was able to get his start by having the Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis fund his early projects and now is able to put out movies produced by the monolithic Universal Studios. He still creates work that is undoubtedly independent in spirit, because they all speak with a clear, distinct, David Lynch voice. It seems almost totally irrelevant to call a movie “indie” or “not indie” based on how much money it cost to make. Just look at modern day George Lucas; he has paid hundreds of millions of his own dollars to produce the most recent Star Wars trilogy, but it can almost be assumed that almost no one would consider George Lucas an independent filmmaker.

In his book Chuck Klosterman IV, author and pop-culture analyst Chuck Klosterman offers some views on why it is that people want their voices heard, but also why it is inevitable. Klosterman writes, "There’s always this peculiar disconnect between how people exist in the world and how they think the world is supposed to exist […] [People] don’t merely want to hold their values; they want their values to win. […] [T]his is why people so often feel ‘betrayed’ by art and consumerism, and by the way the world works."

How this relates to independent cinema is that the definers of independent cinema and anyone who cares at all about cinema all want their ideas to prevail. People want their unique voices to be heard. Everything new and innovative in the film world is a certain auteur’s response to the current state of cinema. Cassavetes’s Shadows was a response. Scorsese’s Raging Bull was a response. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was a response. All of this is because, in the end, none of the filmmaking process is about money. It’s about the final product. Was it made for the commercial gain of a studio; or was it made to say something important to the creators? It all comes down to the fact that each one of the multitudes of definers of independent cinema want to have their thoughts be a part of the vernacular. That’s the whole point of independent cinema: to break the monotony of the norm and invent some fresh new language to speak.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Fresh Buildings

Originally written for Punknews.org:

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed upon first hearing The Locust's most recent album, "New Erections". It seemed as if there was not very much variety in the songs and they all seemed to follow a similar formula (spazz-out to death dirge to weird hazy sounds). These songs are longer than on previous full lengths, allowing the band more room to jam, which is not really a bad thing, but I felt as if they weren't using the extended time format to really craft something new. Now, far be it for me to deduct points from a band for experimenting with their established sound; the problem here is that The Locust are really just releasing the same sort of thing as before in an extended format.

Maybe it was because I had such high hopes for this album. I came to really enjoy their previous EP and hoped that their new CD would be following the same idea with more of a musical arc to it. The answer to that hope is a mix of yes's and no's.

Yes, The Locust have expanded their sound, not only in experiment, but also in production quality. Listen to "New Erections" and follow it up with "Plague Soundscapes"; the difference in quality is immense.

No, The Locust have not crafted a memorable sonic arc throughout their album. Each song simply comes and goes, it all feels unrelated and ends on a lackluster note (albeit, the abrupt ending was surely intentional).

Yes, The Locust are still headed in a good direction. Despite my disappointment initially, many of the songs on this album are pretty good on their own. "Full Frontal Obscurity" has a great fist-pumping chant of "This hegemony is hard at work!", while "God Wants Us All To Work In Factories" is filled with infectious energy.

No, The Locust have not perfected their bouts with experimentation. Opener "Aotkpta" ends up turning into a churning Mastadon b-side (which, despite how interesting that might sound, ultimately fails). "Book of Bot" becomes an ambient electronic drone in the second half that doesn't really serve to accent the music before it or after it -- it just feels dropped in.

Yes, many of the new experiments succeed greatly. Most notably, "Scavenger, Invader" uses only a handful of electronic buzzes and bass pulses, but ends up working out really well. It takes the slow plodding that failed in the end of "Aotkpta" and makes it work. The end of "The Unwilling... Led By The Unqualified... Doing The Unnecessary... For The Ungrateful" recalls some of the newer work by beloved label-mates Converge.

No, I haven't given up hope on The Locust. I feel like this album is simply the transition away from what they've been doing for years, into a more furtive territory of creativity. Only time will tell, I suppose. The Locust usually aren't predictable and nothing on this disc has convinced me that any other ThreeOneG-style band has dethroned these guys as the kings of their genre.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Daughters Spelled Wrong

Originally written for Punknews.org:

Never before have I been compelled to write a retalliation review for an album here. Sure I've certainly had strong disagreements with reviews on this site, but I usually take it with a grain of salt. When I r
ead the review of the new Daughters album on the afternoon of September 10th, I totally disagreed with it, but I didn't really bother to do anything besides post: "I totally disagree with this review. He's not trying to sing on this album, I would say. I honestly think this is the best album Daughters have released to date. They got sick of how every hardcore band sounds exactly the fucking same. For a spazz-core heavy band to release such an experimental record is a huge positive in my book. I hope more bands in this genre take a cue from Daughters and just experiment a little. This album rocks."

I thought my little comment would be enough of a way for me to vent my frustrations. However, as time passed, I grew to enjoy the album more and more. At the end of the year I cited it as one of the best albums of 2006. Now I like it even more than when I said it was one of the best of the year. As my enjoyment of the record grew and grew, so did my frustration with the Punknews.org review of it (especially by one of the trustworthy staff! gasp!). I would read it over and over. Disagreeing with almost every point, obsessing, and carving key phrases of it into my walls ("shitstorms", "obnoxious", "Hypervent Tilationsystem", etc.). I stopped sleeping. I stayed up all night, hugging my iPod rocking back and forth listening to the new Daughters CD while staring at my distant computer screen while the cursed review glared back at me.

That really happened to me.

The fact of the matter is, "Hell Songs" not only rules, but utterly destroys everything else the band has released and most of what their weirdo noise contemporaries release. I really wouldn't consider Daughters to be a part of any real genre and god
forbid I label them "grindcore" (what grindcore truely is has yet to be determined to this very day [cue frenzy of scene veterans to the comments section]). They truely seem to belong in the noise band category, more like bands such as Growing and Battles, and (perhaps more similarly) freakout bands like The Locust, Black Dice and AIDS Wolf. Either way, experimentation is not a bad thing.

The vocals were the most abhorred part of the album according to the previous review, but I think they are stronger than on previous recordings. In fact, if I hear another band with "a vicious, affecting scream, very much helping to illuminate the underlying chaos" I will blow my fucking head off. The new vocal style is not an attempt to sing, as the previous reviewer stated, but is just another way to tell the story the lyrics are trying to convey. If you think about it, talking, whispering, growing, and hissing the lyrics are no more absurd than screaming them. The new vocal style represents more of a confusion and a desperation, which I think compliments the music way better than a high pitched bark.

The songwriting is improved as well, everything has a bouncier, carnival-in-hell sort of quality. The ideas are drawn out longer as well, because one of my biggest complaints about the last album was that it was over too quick (there's only one song under a minute long on their new album). This new format allows the band to jam a little longer on each song, which in turn makes the heavy parts much more intense. This idea is really taken advantage of on the three-part, six-minute long "Cheers Pricks" (which also features one of the most loopy and catchy basslines on any album released last year).

Even though it's only 20 minutes long, "Hell Songs" has a menacingly epic quality to it. The album opens with droning sun's-in-your-eyes-and-you're-hung-over guitars and a thick, plodding drumline, giving way to "Fiery" which could be playing right now in Satan's discoteque (plus the wonderful acapella ending of "This is how you go burning there as quiet as a mouuuuussssse"). Other highlights include the unbearable tension of scissors(?) clipping the empty air in "Fiesty Snake Woman" that later crumble away into complete deep chaos; the use of horns and strings towards the end of "Providence by Gaslight"; and the "love is a disgusting thing" chant on "Hyperventilationsystem". The album ends almost innocuously by suddenly fading out. It's just suddenly over.

So obviously I'm extremely pumped on this album, which may deter some people, but I absolutely
mean it. I have no ties to the band or anything like that; in fact they seem very distant from their fanbase, constantly making fun of them live (which I believe is still totally justified). So if anything, I just want to try to get Brian and the rest of the music-adoring public to re-listen, at least once. Chuck Klosterman wrote in his newest book about how people can't be satisfied with simply having their own opinion and living with it; people want their opinion to be considered the "right" opinion. They want it to be a part of the status quo. So that's what I'm doing right now. I just want to have my feelings justified.

Punknews, please post this deeply erratic and troubled review for a deeply erratic and troubled album.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Is It Like When You Throw A Person or a Person's Sine Wave Frequency?

Originally submitted as a review for Punknews.org:

Noah Lennox has a storied musical history. He released his first album under the Panda Bear monkier as a teenager in Baltimore. He was longtime friends with a guy named Josh Dibb, who helped him release some of his music. Noah went away to Pennsylvania for awhile, when his friend Josh started a band called Automine with two other college students: David Portner and Brian Weitz. After much moving around, the four of them wound up living in New York by 2000. Portner asked Lennox to play drums on the album he was working on under his solo alterego name. The album was called "Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished". Eventually all four musicians would become known by their made up names (Avey Tare, Deakin, Geologist, and Panda Bear) when they formed Animal Collective; their most successful band to date.

Despite writing much music together in Animal Collective, Noah still had the itch to record more solo material. He released a second album as Panda Bear, called "Young Prayer". It was a very divisive record, as it was somber low-key indie folk. It came after the death of Lennox's father and was recorded in his father's old house. It sounded like Animal Collective, but with the pop and energy removed. Where the strong melodic sense of Animal Collective is one of the band's key selling points, Panda Bear opted for etherial, mood-based music.

After another Animal Collective record (2005's excellent "Feels") and moving his wife and daughter to Lisbon, Portugal, Panda Bear has returned with a total departure from his previous sound with "Person Pitch". Loose, rythmic guitar strums and ambient tones have been traded for tight polyrhythms, samples, loops, and commanding, melodic vocals.

The album opens with what sounds like a cheap carnival roller coaster being cranked up the initial slope. The album that ensues, however, is less like the gut-churning dive of the first drop, and more like the roller coaster got to the top and you were suddenly floating in the Bahamas. This is the soundtrack to taking it easy. I found a smile creep across my face as Lennox sang on the first track: "Coolness is having courage / Courage to do what's right / I'll try to remember always / Just to have a good time".

The Brian Wilson/Beach Boys influence is extremely apparent, but certainly isn't derivative. The use of loops, not-from-this-planet sound effects, and heavy reverb keep this album extremely fresh. The real one-up on previous Panda Bear recordings is the incredible sense of melody on each track. Every song -- even the foggy dawn haze of "I'm Not" and the ambient loop-based "Search For Delicious" -- has an instantly memorable hook that you'll have stuck in your head until you hear the next hook. It's an altogether sublime experience.

One doesn't really grasp how epic the album is, however, until the third track "Bros"; a 12+ minute jungle beach party in heaven. It is only surpassed in greatness by the other 12+ minute track on the album, "Good Girl/Carrots". Instead of the feel-good acoustic strum and heavily multitracked harmonies of the first, "Good Girl/Carrots" is an entrancing foray into tribal drums and echo-disguised vocals. Halfway through, the song becomes a rhythmic saloon piano stomper. Lennox sings to some unknown hater, "All I want to do is take it easy / It's not a ticket / For you to pick at / Other people / Who don't know what's up like you're so sure you do". The lyrics are almost entirely like this; heavily influenced by the rules of Brian Wilson Songwriting 101: Make a simple statement, sing it nice, have said simple statement now become profound because of how laid back you are.

The album ends with Lennox singing in three part harmonies over a chimey organ that sounds like it's underwater. One can imagine the sun setting behind palm trees as Lennox falls asleep on the beach. Ultimately, the imagery one associates with these songs become the most important aspect of the album. At least for me, as the mercilessly cold Philadelphia winter begins to give way to the irrevocably pleasant spring time, this album helps to serve as the transition. It's a prelude of things to come.

Also! This is pseudo related. Check out this awesome unreleased AC song live...