Thursday, May 03, 2007

Modern lepers

Aesop revisited
Image: Luca Tripaldi

I know I posted a Frightened Rabbit song a
mere month ago. Leave me alone.

The Modern Leper - Frightened Rabbit

It's closing in on midnight and the singer is negotiating the railroad tracks that will lead him home. (I say just "the singer" because these guys roll semi-anonymous, except when their dad is making proud, adorable
comments on blog posts.) Negotiating might actually give him too much credit. Stumbling-drunk off his ass, more like. Trying not to trip and fall on his face, if you want to know the truth. Sweating whiskey, his legs rubber, his feet spraying pebbles, the tips of his shoes catching the ties of the tracks. And the band, his mates, his brothers, follow -- arms ready should he fall, should he derail. Follow with stabbing guitars and a drum set that thumps and hisses with stinging precision. Instruments that counter the singer's late-night self-loathing proclamations with steady assertions of their own (goading or refuting -- it's not clear), keeping up as trot progresses to wild sprint.

This song isn't politically correct. But it is, with word grenades like cripple and leper and pitiless admissions like "I am sick, but I'm not dead," correct in what it feels like to be self-pariahed, to blueprint and build your own house of exile. And this song sounds so alive, so great recorded in front of an audience (not sure I'd enjoy a studio version as much), like the possibilities of what some might term a doomed relationship are working themselves out right here, right now -- and who knows what might happen?

The track is from the session
eMusic recorded at SXSW in March. Frightened Rabbit's LP Sings the Greys, has yet to see an official release this side of the Atlantic. It is, however, available on eMusic and it's wonderful. You should have an eMusic subscription, huh? (Incidentally, I'm not shilling for any kind of compensation: This blog is strictly a money-losing venture.) The band's Myspace.

"Stockades" - Frog Eyes

Back in the 90s when radio stations first started calling themselves "alternative," someone (probably Steve Albini or some Baffler wag) asked the obvious, but essential question: alternative to what? Increasingly, "indie rock" is the same kind of signifier for certain cultural values held by particular groups (do I need to say?), but not a useful way of describing a sound or even differentiating between major label and independent modes of production and distribution. Increasingly, "indie rock" means the stuff you're already comfortable with -- kinda-noisy-but-mostly-melodic pop that you used to actually hear on the radio. It's mainstream music that lacks channels to be mainstreamed. Not to pick on Broken West, but this year's Merge success story -- just for example -- is an eminently likable power pop band, but not uh, challenging in the way you'd expect (hope?) underground music to be. And of course I like some of this mainstream music. Of course. But I'm also glad that a band like Frog Eyes is kicking around, a band whose pedigree is indie as fuck but whose sound is totally fucked up -- often abrasive, not particularly invested in winning you over, not so amenable to classification.

The new album, Tears of the Valedictorian (Amazon, eMusic) may be a little more, as they say, mature, than previous efforts. But it's still overzealous, gaudy (even tacky), majestic and somehow able to successfully perform basic hurts, plain heartbreak, with ornate sets and extravagant costumes. The record -- and "Stockades," which I think is best and pretty representative, not to mention a lot shorter than the other really superb psychic meltdown on the record, "Bushels" -- is what you'd expect if, say, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped a crew of carnival workers and forced them at gunpoint to stage a musical version of Macbeth. Or some such absurdity.

Frog Eyes'

Then there's this:

Said the Gramophone's Sean Michaels' interview with Will Sheff (Okkervil River) in the May issue of The Believer is warm, funny, engaging and all-around fantastic.

Big Rock Candy Mountain has finally tallied the votes and is slowly counting down its
top 100 drinking songs.

A sort of interesting post at
Pretty Goes With Pretty (I'm late to the party) on what's becoming a familiar hand-wringer in this here microculture: The Problem With Mp3 Blogs. For what it's worth, I think his central lament -- that no one's really writing anything interesting on blogs -- is way overstated. I'm as frustrated as anyone (probably more so) by the fact that the majority of mp3 bloggers fail to critically engage (which is totally different from "being critical") with the music they post. I'm even more frustrated by the masses of bloggers who don't seem to think it's necessary to communicate their relationship and experience with music (what usually plays out as "personality"). But I also know that there are more intriguing blogs than I have time to read (I struggle to keep up with my own blogroll), and plenty of blogs that are attempting to do something more meaningful than slap up the latest leak or cut & paste press releases. And meaningful doesn't have to mean verbose or well-researched or routinely profound. Bravo to anyone who can say something with a single heartfelt sentence or well-chosen image. Hurrah for anyone who even tries. Oh, and I'm gonna be peevish here: Pitchfork? Not a blog. Say it after me: Pitchfork. Is. Not. A. Blog.


Anonymous pgwp said...

okay okay - not a blog, I know. I'm guilty of applying shorthand in making my point.

Somewhere buried in my post was the assumption that I must be wrong--I must just be reading the wrong blogs. A couple commenters pointed me to some blogs that I'd never been to before or that I'd never checked with regularity before. That was actually my original intent--to solicit recommendations. Got any?

3:00 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

To your right under "Mp3 blogs we read."

But ... I suspect maybe we look for slightly different things in blogs. Web zines like Pfork, Stylus, Dusted, etc., do a fine job of what's essentially traditional professional rock crit (with some exceptions, naturally). I don't see it as a hole that wants filling. Blogs have the opportunity to be openly biased, embarrassingly personal, to float fantastical interpretations, fallacious arguments, post all manner of mistakes and ask more questions than they answer. I think (I hope) this medium is about process more than product. And I guess I prefer blogs that recognize that in some way.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous pgwp said...

Permit me to stress "slightly" in your first sentence. Because I don't think we're that far off.

What I want most from a blog--different from what a web zine can provide--is the unique personality of an individual's perspective. In other words, all the opportunities you list. My lament about mp3 blogs had more to do with the rapidity of posts--and hence the glossing over of many of those opportunities.

The other thing I find lacking is a dialogue between blogs on these sort of subjects. To me that's an unique possibility that music blogs don't do enough. I mean, everyone can post their personal review of the new Panda Bear or whatever, but I'd love to see a couple blogs talk a record through. (now I'm just rambling... I do that.)

I'll stroll through your blogroll for a looksee.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Ah, then maybe our differences are semantic. I agree that the dialogue issue is a real one. For whatever reason, mp3 blogs don't seem to encourage much intra-blog (or even comment) conversation the way say, political or literary or hell, even food blogs do. I don't know why this is. Perhaps because people mainly come to download, not to read, not to think. (BTW, I'm totally at peace with that. In all honesty, I mostly do the blog writing for myself. I wouldn't say half the stupid things I do if I thought many people were paying attention.)

7:33 PM  

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