This week’s artist of the week is an unsurprisingly awesome solo spin-off project from a member of one of the decade’s best bands. He’s got a gorgeous, sensual voice that bends to no conventionality, and his writing is affecting, weird, downright kick ass. This week’s artist of the week is…
Whenever anyone so much as mentions Pitchfork.com, the response you usually hear is, “Oh, fucking Pitchfork.” Yeah? What’s wrong with Pitchfork? It’s either, “Oh, they just trash everyone” or “They’re just way too pretentious” or something along those lines. You know what? Shut the fuck up. I seriously hear this shit everyday at the record store, in my backyard, in interviews, at concerts, everywhere.
Firstly, Pitchfork does not trash everyone. Do they occasional trash bands? Yes, and not even really, but some bands deserve trashing, and people need to grow a pair and deal with it. So they gave some album no one cares about a 4.0/10.0; O to the M to the G. I can only think of two instances where I was dismayed at a review: when they gave My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges a shit review, and when they reviewed the Black Kids album with a video of a monkey pissing in its mouth. Admittedly, the later was a douche move.
But do you know how many bands Pitchfork has helped and supported? How many bands Pitchfork has literally “made”? You can pinpoint the moment Arcade Fire became a contender to when Pitchfork gave Funeral a 9.7/10. Even Broken Social Scene admit in Stuart Berman’s excellent book This Scene Is Broken that the glowing 9.2 they gave You Forgot It In People was a big help in breaking them in the US. When Feist’s The Reminder came out, a lot of the reviews of it were middling. Rolling Stone gave it three stars, AMG gave it like three and a half. Pitchfork gave it an 8.8, and then by year’s end it was on every “Best Of” list and Feist had become an international superstar.
Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Wolf Parade, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Bon Iver and numerous other bands and artists have been given huge ups by Pitchfork, and many of these bands are deservedly the biggest indie bands in the world now. The only band listed above that I didn’t hear about through Pitchfork, actually, was Wolf Parade.
When I first started reading Pitchfork, I actually was kind of pissed also that pretty much every album got like a 6.7 or something, and rarely would you see an album get over 8.0. But after a while, I kept reading, and realized that often the albums that would get over 8.0 were seriously, really good. And that’s how I came to trust Pitchfork. Because they weren’t out to suck the cock of every band that crossed their path, because they would say, “you suck” and “you rock”.
And people like to complain about the writing also, and that’s just beyond my understanding. I’ve heard people say that they try and use all kinds of big words and just blabber and what not but they really don’t. The writing is phenomenally strong, often funny, insightful, sometimes personalized. Marc Hogan’s review of Deerhunter’s Cryptograms, where he compares the album to Dennis Cooper’s novel Closer, in particular is one my favorite reviews ever. True, he does a lot of band-to-band comparisons and you’re not supposed to, but you can feel his passion for every aspect of the album and the way he cuts in factual bits about the band works beautifully in conveying to the reader of true sense of who this band is, which, particularly in the case of Deerhunter, explains more about the gravity of the music than anything else one could write could.
Hogan – and, really, most of the writers on the site – have more passion, musical knowledge and sophisticated prose than I’ve found on any other music site. I’ve read Christgau, Meltzer, Bangs and plenty of the writing of other respected rocks critics, and I’d argue that the writing of those at Pitchfork is the logical evolution of where they were going with their work.
Even with all the P-fork hate that goes down, its undeniable that Pitchfork’s power and influence is enormous, so there must be enough people out there who like them. For those who have never read Pitchfork, don’t be dissuaded by hipster hate. Why are the people who always accuse everything/one of being pretentious themselves the most pretentious people around? “I don’t want to be labeled” is like the fucking moto of every hipster, their automated response to you when you call them a hipster. And I love hipsters! I think they’re so cute and colorful and artistic, don’t you just want to take ‘em home? That’s why I go to Dance Cave
For those who have read and hate Pitchfork, please chill out and give it another chance. This time, actually read the reviews and note how many albums they actually write bad reviews of…It’s really not that many. Think of all the great bands they’ve helped and just generally try and chill out. May I point out to you that you’re reading this blog and therefore are kind of lame yourself? Yeah, that’s right. Fuckin’ hipster.
This week’s band of the week was one of the greatest bands of the 00’s. They were the other big band of the garage rock revival, they inspired legions of imitators and polarized listeners into camps of devoted lovers and spiteful haters. Some said they just ripped off the Velvet Underground and tried too hard to look cool; others thought that they brought the swagger and sex back to rock that had been sorely missing for years. Regardless of opinions, the fact is this band marked a crucial turning point in this decade’s musical evolution and their essentiality cannot be ignored. The band of the week is…
The story of The Strokes’ assembly isn’t really that interesting. Basically, Julian Casablancas was a bad-ass rich kid: the son of John Casablancas, owner of Elite Model Management and a Danish model, he got kicked out of a bunch of private schools but along the way met the persons who would later form The Strokes with him. The group gigged around New York for a while without attracting much attention before recording a demo with producer Gordon Raphael. The demo eventually did attract a certain amount of attention and eventually their music got to Britain, where the NME basically shit themselves over The Strokes, beginning the band’s rise to superstardom.
They released their debut album Is This It? in 2001 to incredible critical acclaim; Rolling Stone put the band on the cover and declared them the saviors of rock, a title The White Stripes would co-garner.
I remember the first time I heard The Strokes. I was at my aunt’s house in the Hamptons watching SNL one night and there was this band on. And they played two songs – “Last Night” and “Someday” I believe – and I was hooked. I thought this band was awesome and as soon as I got home I found them online and downloaded them. When I began writing songs, The Strokes were one of my biggest influences, and their melodic sense and use of minor sevenths permanently affected my leanings.
When I began to research the band a little, I saw that their influences included The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Television. At the time I knew none of these bands and promptly researched them, found out who they were, and got a hold of their music. Now those three bands are three of my all time favorite bands.
When I was maybe twelve in grade 7 or 8, I went to see The Strokes play The Hershey Center in Mississauga, which may have been my first rock concert. I went with my uncle Bernie and I remember it being 1) awesome, 2) the air was so thick with smoke of all kinds that you could probably have cut it with a knife. People were getting drunk and passing out and had to be dragged out, it was pretty funny. And there I was, this 12 year old with all these hardcore badass hipsters rocking out to The Strokes with my uncle beside me. It was great.
Room On Fire was a great album when it came out in 2003, and it still is. Sure, it’s pretty much exactly like Is This It?, but I think that that’s basically what everyone wanted it to be like. Also, it didn’t have those amateurish moment that Is This It? had, like the title track, “NYC Cops” and “Take It Or Leave” it, and still had instant classics in “Reptilia” and “12:51″. I think it may hold up as my favorite Strokes album.
In 2006, The Strokes released First Impressions Of Earth, which in every way marked a big change for the band. The title was weirder, they were using a different producer, a new studio, and word on the street was they didn’t want to just remake the first album the way Room On Fire did. And it was a big disappointment for pretty much those reasons. Everyone admitted that it had its moments (“You Only Live Once”, “Razorblade”) but that it simply had too many lazy choruses, overly complex-underly melodic songs, and “On The Other Side” was possibly the worst Strokes track ever.
I saw them play the Ricoh Coliseum that year with my drummer at the time, Luca. In fact, that was the show where I met Nicole Rajesky, who would later manage my old band, The Fancy Claps. I remember that that show probably illustrated what had changed in three years: The Strokes had gone from beloved band on the rise playing a shitty little venue in Mississauga to world class superstars playing Coliseums and headlining festivals – and along the way they had lost some of their charm.
When Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo album Yours To Keep came out, it was better regarded than his band’s last album. This was followed by Little Joy (drummer Fabrizio Morretti’s new project), Nikolai Fraiture’s shitty ass solo album, and Hammond’s second solo album, Como Te Llama? Now it looks like Casablancas has got a solo coming out in October. From the first single, it appears that Casablancas’ writing is back in great shape, mixing drum machines with awesome neon synth-pop sounds and his signature baritone. Though some found this sound surprising coming from the leader of The Strokes, anyone who’s listened to their demos knows that Casablancas actually writes songs with keys and synths, not to mention that Impressions had “Ask Me Anything”, which was actually played entirely on a synth.
Now it appears The Strokes are back at work, writing new songs and hoping to deliver a new album in the next year or so. It’s hard to say how this will go over: everything’s changed in the last couple years, and though The Strokes’ influence still remains as strong a presence in the scene (see: Phoenix), I’m not sure how they’ll be able to jump back in and seem relevant. Will they try and throw in a bunch of synthesizers and hope for the best like Franz Ferdinand? Will they go back to basics and just try and write some great songs? It’s hard to say…but I’m very excited.
I Might As Well Break It
Ironically, the Toronto-based Modernboys Moderngirls takes its cues from the soul-influenced punk pub rock of late 70’s/ early 80’s Britain. With the rest of indie rock obsessed with the 80s, lo-fi, harmony-strong folk, or fiddling with samplers, MBMG’s out of time and place-ness works both for and against them, at once causing them to stand out while at the same time raising the question: is there any reason for them to exist? Better question though: is there any reason for 100,000 indie pop bands to exist? Probably not. MBMG’s existence, however, can actually be justified simply by the fact that they’ve chosen to reexamine a genre of rock seemingly forgotten – and found its heart still beating.
I Might As Well Break It’s ten tracks don’t follow a strict narrative as far as I can tell, but they do seem to depict some kind of Rebel Without A Cause-esque romantic state of being, filled with raging hormones, jealous girls, fast living and nagging society pressures. Opener “Miss My Baby Girl” sounds surprisingly paranoid and noir-ish as frontman Akira Alemany describes how, “We couldn’t stop/Or slow it down/I only want a place/To lie with you,” making it sound as though the couple are fugitives on the run; guilty…of love. The on-the-run theme continues in the next track, “Stay Under”. The paranoia has been replaced with a driving angst this time, as against a rushing rhythm Alemany sings in desperation, “I’ve got to stay under/I’ve got to stay under/And only find her/gimme a light to find her/shine a light on her.”
The album continues then to run the gamut of adolescent emotion, from jubilant sexual joy (the dance number ready “My Baby Says Boy, Don’t You Ever Go”) to desolation (“A Hammond Organ Singing”) to rebellion (the goofy, mocking “I Don’t Need To Understand”) to disillusionment (the heartbreaking “In Another Year”), adeptly capturing the beauty and sadness inherent in each. The album ends with “Spiral and Smoke”, a slow-burning, shifting, confessional composition that jumps from sparse, whisper-sung passages to a grandiose, triumphant climax with Alemany proclaiming proudly, “I fall with a new speed,” before wrangling guitars come in and close out the song (and album) in a cacophony of noise and percussion.
At a time when everyone is forecasting the apocalypse of the format, it’s still great to see such effort put into the construction of an album; each song on IMAWB contrasts so well with the ones pre and proceeding it that they feel like scenes in a movie, one not making sense without the rest. Regardless of time, trends and stylistic leanings, great songs are still great songs, a well constructed album is still a well constructed album, and a band with the chops to hit all the right points is still a valuable commodity. Ignore the title: this isn’t an album to break – this is a minor treasure.
Before Cousins played, Eric Chenaux played an acoustic set…and he was really good. Most of the time when someone gets onstage with an acoustic guitar they just whine and stuff and its really bad, but Chenaux had a mournful, rustic folky thing going on and it was really, like, un-bad. The songs seemed to almost have no beginning or end but just drifted from one to the next, though without ever lapsing into monotony.
This band of the week is actually one of the best bands of the last decade…but I don’t know if anyone really knows it. They’re a very popular band, and they arrived with a shitload of hype, but unlike most bands, these smart-ass brits actually deserved most of it. To add to it, their second album kicked their first album’s ass – big time. And their first album wasn’t really a slouch either. The band of the week is…