Thursday, August 20, 2009

Motherfish #?? Part III- I Am Jack's Guest Post Review

Ladies and Mentlegen, for your reading pleasure, JACK P, D.D.S!

If you are reading this, you are an internet user. If you spend time bumming around music blogs, as you are now, you have come across the term “lo-fi”, and, if you are like the million other ego-stroking art minors who think ‘Recommended Music’ on iTunes is the final frontier, you have no fucking clue what that term means. Allow me to enlighten you.
Modern indie music has developed into a sort of hydra; suddenly, there are indie sludge metal bands, indie swing bands, indie Indian bands. One of indie’s least recognized factions is lo-fi, or ‘low-fidelity’, music. Again, the only time you have probably come into contact with the word ‘fidelity’ was in that movie High Fidelity, the only redeeming quality of which was John Cusack looking like an Animorph stuck between the stages of human and basset hound. Essentially, up until the advent of true “quality recording equipment”, all bands were lo-fi: recording on 4 tracks and allowing ambient sounds to filter into the recording were part of the charm of processed sound. Only lately, however, has neglecting hyper-altered sound become a conscious choice, and thusly, the art form of lo-fi music is a new one. It is only art because it is a choice, not a necessity. So when that wangbroom in your music appreciation class tells you Pavement pioneered lo-fi, you tell him no, you d-bag, now remove your horn-rimmed glasses and fight like a man.
On with the show.
Here we are in 2009. Where to begin in a discussion of the best current lo-fi? Wikipedia has conveniently informed me that Portishead, Thom Yorke, and Of Montreal are all lo-fi. Interesting, because they aren’t. All three of those groups make extensive use of digital, non-analog recording devices, drum machines, samples, and loops, none of which are lo-fi. At all. Neither are any of the other bands on the Wikipedia lo-fi page, such as Black Moth Super Rainbow, Animal Collective, or Beirut. But fuck, I do love Wiki. Truthfully, lo-fi is the translated equivalent of your weird Uncle Ted jamming out on “I Shall be Released” in the basement with his war buddies; all of the creaking seats, clicking tape decks, and coughing bystanders left untouched. And to be honest, lo-fi wouldn’t even have graced the front pages of Pitchfork if it weren’t for one man who has single-handedly elevated dozens of similar sounding yet artless groups into stardom, if only by the relative brilliance of his music. His name is Justin Vernon.
Better known as Bon Iver, he’s a bit like the Abe Lincoln of his field. Log cabin? Check. Chinstrap beard? Check. High squeaky voice? Check. Match found! They would have been pared up on eHarmony in a better universe. The recent lo-fi revolution has its roots in a legend, the crux of which is Bon Iver’s first LP, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Vernon went through a series of sad events (disease diagnosis, bad break-up, the usual), and in order to cope with the sadness, he decided to spend a Winter in his father’s deserted hunting cab located in East Bumblefuckingmiddleofthewoods, Wisconsin. He had no intention to record, but after a few weeks his brother brought him some shitty old acoustic and a four track, and history was made. What was intended for a self-release to family and friends ended up seeing a critically acclaimed rerelease on Jagjaguwar in early 2008, and the .00001% of the population who knew that Jagjaguwar was not something that lived in the jungle went hog wild. The album was incredible, and the aforementioned percentage of Jagjaguwar devotees were split down the middle (.000005% vs .000005%) over whether the crackling fires, squeaky floorboards, and howling wind were or weren’t a gimmick to disguise Vernon’s subpar songwriting. To those naysayers I say: pooh pooh. The buzz over “For Emma” threatened to devour the entire internet, and from that chaos was born a new mutation of an ancient genre, and lo-fi as we know it in 2009 came to be. Or, at least, popularly.
Of course Vernon wasn’t the first to dabble in this sort of ‘home recording’. One could argue that the likes of Cobain and Daniel Johnston got there first, but the actual public interest in lo-fi had waned to the point of nonexistent. Vernon breathed new life into what had been given up as a ghost, and for the first time since Elliott Smith clocked out, the phasers and vocoders and shameless Flaming Lips rip-offs were silenced as the observant public turned its head.
Still, I am hesitant to credit Vernon too heavily; he drew from a thousand sources, and only helped to shine light on what had lain dormant for years. Like Columbus, he didn’t really discover anything; he just showed it to people. One of Vernon’s most obvious influences was (is) Phil Elverum, the unsung king of poorly recorded music. I will further disturb you with my superlatives here by saying Elverum is responsible for the two best lo-fi albums, and everyone else is second to him. Even if no one knows who he is.
Born in 1978 in Anacortes, Washington, Elverum has attained but a small cult following who is able to look past his aesthetically upsetting vocals and detuned guitars. He has worked tirelessly since 1996 at remaining King of a very small hill, and the rewards have been modest at best. Still, to have added both “The Glow Pt. 2” and “It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water” to the musical canon is impressive regardless of recognition. It is truly retarded to make any foray into modern lo-fi without giving Elverum’s two bands (The Microphones and, more recently, Mount Eerie) serious consideration. At the very least, the best newcomers to the scene know who he is, and you ought to know your roots as well. His latest record (“Wind’s Poem”) is a fine starting place because, while it isn’t his best, it’s better than everyone else’s, and it is also a fine microcosm of the genre at present.
Right then. We’re sort’ve up to speed. I want you to be hip. You want to be hip. You have a cryptic tattoo of a Pynchon quote in an obscure language. Let me help you. This year, there are a few names being kicked around in lo-fi: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (suck), Vivian Girls (suck), Cold War Kids (sorry but, for the most part, suck). Occasionally I hear people referring to Black Keys and Deerhunter as lo-fi, but really, learn your genres. Real lo-fi isn’t Neutral Milk Hotel; it’s Dinosaur Jr. and early Modest Mouse. Who, then, continues this tradition? The crown is split this year.
The first recipient is a band called Wavves. Sometimes when someone mentions a band, it’s fun to yell “Hipster alert!” Yep. Wavves. Hipster tornado. Fanbase comprised of people who have never taken off their wayfarers, and a few fat Mars Volta junkies who want every pretentious musician to be a messiah. Wavves newest record (“Wavvves”, aren’t they just adorable) is an absolute clusterfuck of so-cal drum thump and broken Telecasters ran through ten million of those orange overdrive Boss pedals. The reason Wavves are so good is because they push incredible melodies through the grungiest of filters, and the results are so strangely beautiful. “So Bored” or “California Goths” played acoustic would be pleasing yet ultimately uninteresting; Wavves made a wise choice in music type, and often, the fuzzier the quality becomes, the more fun the album gets. Of course, their devotion to weed and fast food is rehashed and to be expected, but it’s been a while (probably since Eiffel 65’s heyday) since a cruising record has been equal parts style and substance.
The second winner of the uncoveted lo-fi dual-King award this year is Woods. The cool thing about lo-fi is that it’s only unifying factor is shitty sound quality. Woods couldn’t be any further from Wavves (as the names literally suggest, ha ha, someone kill me), and yet, they are lumped happily into the same bottomless trench. Woods’ sound is a weird, weird collection of drums that sound as if they’re 30 miles away, a singer who should stop inhaling helium, and the worst guitar solos since all of The Ramones were alive. And yet again, it works. Like Wavves, Woods’ sense of melody is so keen that the jarring aesthetic could not be bypassed as accidental. The rainy day, plunking acoustics and pathetic attempts at doubling vocals are so artfully executed that what could come across as vulgar and artless attains a sheen of unusual na├»ve luster. It’s not beautiful in the way Mozart or the Grand Canyon is beautiful; it’s beautiful in the way of two little kids seen kissing, or a man walking his dog in the snow.
Now my fingers are tired, so the rest is up to you. Lo-fi as a popular form of music is not likely here to stay, but forever and always bands are recording unappreciated basement tapes and collective efforts. So, make use of low fidelity music’s brief time in the sun, and don’t get left behind, or everyone at your college will hate you, and you will never, ever have a shot with Zooey Deschanel.

Bon Iver: “The Wolves Acts. 1 & 2”

The Microphones: “The Glow pt. 2”

Wavves: “No Hope Kids”

Woods: “Where and What Are You?”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Motherfish #?? Part II- A Quicky Becase I Know You Like Them

Hey gang! I got a little update for you all, just a little mini post before we get back into the swing of things. Summer is rapidly coming to a close, unfortunately, and the end of summer wrap-up is beginning to take shape (not literally, it's just a computer file, idiot). A lot of cool music found its way into my life this summer including new life for an old favorite and a release from two of the sexiest mother/girlfriend fucking rappers I've ever met (Color <3 Scroll). But in order for today's band to get the attention that is due, I needed a separate post. So let's talk.

During your life, you make decisions, form opinions, and you stick to them (usually). The worst insult is when a peer accuses you of not being original, the cardinal sin of copy-cat. It's like a death sentence, you become ostracized, ridiculed, and harassed verbally and physically. No? You didn't? Ok so maybe my time in middle school was a little bit rougher than yours (you hear that Brett? I STILL REMEMBER). The point is, nobody wants to be called out for following the crowd, even though everybody does it. Thing is, often times your friends can offer solid advice. Fuck, most of the bands I review were referred to me by a friend if not direct requests. I have a good friend to thank for today's band.

Fevers and Mirrors by Bright Eyes.

Fuck, Bright Eyes. This is basically the hipster equivalent of reviewing The Beatles. But you can calm down, I have nothing but mostly good things to say. The first time I encountered BE, I was a lowly freshman in high school, (read as I was dumb as dirt). I hated everything about this band. I hated the way the instruments sounded, I hated the sound of Conor Oberst's voice, I hated his lyrics, and I hated everything he and his fans stood for. Strong words, eh? Needless to say, my first experience with them would be my last for a while. Fast forward to the summer before college began. A good friend of mine who goes by the name of Jack P, DDS, inquired as to my opinions regarding Bright Eyes. I responded with calculated but still burning fury. Now Jack has a good head on his shoulders, he's a smart kid, and he's got a killer sense for picking out good tunes. So, when he started touting Conor and his kin as the musical world's sliced bread, I grew suspicious.

"Alright, Jack, I'll give Bright Eyes another shot".

Thank the Almighty Lord I did. I discovered what is some of the most well thought out songwriting with very honest, good Americana folk music. Now Bright Eyes has worn many faces over the years, each release being slightly different from the last, but the underlying tone just calls to mind images of Bob Dylan. And wheat. Lots and lots of wheat (sorry Brad). His lyrics are genuinely clever without being ostentatious and his songs are catchy without sacrificing quality. Fevers and Mirrors is definitely closer to the traditional end of the folk spectrum, with something like Digital Ash in a Digital Urn falling somewhere on the experimental side due to its heavy use of electronic instruments. And though I have since made my way through the entire Bright Eyes collection, I continually come back to Fevers. Its touching, its cute, and surprisingly astute in its examination of the human condition and how we respond to our own ailments and personal trials. It's a very deep record that probes your subconscious and also offers great insight into the mind of Conor Oberst. One of the tracks, An Attempt to Tip the Scales, actually has an interview with Conor talking about the record which is really, really cool. Conor, if you're reading, I FUCKING LOVE THIS ALBUM. It's unbelievable.

For your listening pleasure, Fevers and Mirrors, the album which originally turned me off of Bright Eyes for what I imagined would be the rest of my life and has now become one of my personal favorites.