Wow – that month went by fast. Probably because I was too busy and tired to keep track of it. Crayzey. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep up as well with music as usual due to my not being able to access the internet for most of the week. But I’ve been doing my best during the weekend, mostly just making sure to catch the big new albums, but still, I’m checking the blogs. Here are the highlights of September.
1. Lust For Youth – Behind Curtains
2. David Byrne and St. Vincent – Who
3. Fresh And Onlys – 20 Days And 20 Nights
4. Grizzly Bear – Gun Shy
5. Sirs – Eye For An Answer
6. Dinosaur Jr. – Recognition
7. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
8. Deekie – Happy & Wrong
I fell in love with The Brian Jonestown Massacre after seeing DiG when I was 15. I know that BJM frontman Anton Newcombe didn’t appreciate his portrayal in the film, but to me, the band I saw in that film was so incredible because it was almost as if all they had was their love of 60′s music and their conviction that they could make music just as good for their time. And that went a long way. I immediately went out and bought Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request - that was a great album. I downloaded the rest of their discography and loved most of it – there were a couple albums I wasn’t that excited about – namely the newer ones, as much as I hate to say it. The BJM were a great band in the 90′s, partly because they were so out of time and place – there was nothing ’90′s’ about their music after Methodrone. By 2003′s And This Is Our Music they kind of consolidated their sound and they lost that great ‘fandom’ energy that made them so exciting up to that point, as they jumped from exploring one sound to another with each new album – all the time, still sounding so essentially like themselves. I stopped listening to them for a while, only returning after hearing them at a trashy hipster bar in Brooklyn in 2010 and remembering how great a band they were, especially if you listened to them in the right context. When I found out they were coming to Tel Aviv, I was psyched to have a chance to finally see them live after listening to them for so many years. I managed to get a guestlist spot to cover the show, and so here are my impressions of the BJM in 2012.
The lineup I saw included many of the key players from the band I fell in love with in DiG, such as Matt Valentine and Joel Gion. They all actually look pretty much the same, despite the fact the band I saw in that movie was really at least 10 years younger than the one I saw on Wednesday. Unfortunately though, it’s not quite the same band. These weren’t the young fuck-ups in an up-and-coming band with a hopeful future ahead of them and the world at their feet from the movie – these were musicians. Perhaps they were playing the music they knew and loved - indeed, much of the set was from their classic 90′s output – and perhaps they were having a great time doing so. But that ‘youth element’, that unpredictability they were so renown for, was nowhere to be seen.
Musically they sounded professional – not astoundingly tight, not loosey-goosey – but professional, able. They played the songs; they sounded like they did on record. Ironically, there may have been a lot of audience members in the 90′s who wondered why this band couldn’t put their shit aside and just play a fucking concert, but here they were doing just that with no problems and at all…and it just didn’t feel special. And with a band like the BJM it is all about the feeling. The BJM isn’t Radiohead - they’re not a band whose songs in and of themselves are really all that mindblowing – nor are they Led Zeppelin or some band known for being really tight and technically impressive. What made them so great in the first place was the feeling that they had and could infect their listeners with. And you can still hear that feeling on their 90′s records, but in 2012, it’s just not there anymore. Most likely this is something they can’t be blamed for – they’ve gotten older and they’re just not that young and exciting anymore.
I believe that there’s going to be a time when The Brian Jonestown Massacre are really, really cool again and we’re going to re-love them like we do Guided By Voices – but I don’t think we’re there yet. My advice to the band from this perspective would be: lay low for a bit and then come back and play a bunch of reunion shows that makes everybody piss their pants, just like Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine did and continue to do. But that being said, at least in Tel Aviv, there’s plenty of demand for them right now – indeed, the show was pretty full – and maybe the bandmembers need the cash.
Dinosaur Jr.‘s late reunion has been, debatably, the most fruitful band reunion of all time. I can’t think of another band that’s reunited after years apart to produce two full-length entries that legitimately stand alongside the best albums of their “classic” period. And now, by the looks of this latest single, they may yet deliver a third to that elite selection.
“Watch The Corners”, the first track released off their upcoming I Bet On Sky LP (dropping Sept. 18th), does not push boundaries in respect to the band’s general sound and aesthetic, but songwriting-wise, it does reflect exploration of some new territory with its numerous parts – though Mascis has done this sort of songwriting before, with different ‘suites’ and all to songs, this is a bit different, more tightly constructed. More importantly though, it’s really good, and reflects no fatigue on the band’s end for making the kind of music they’re great at.
What can one expect of the new album? Probably nothing too different from the other two post-reunion albums, but I suspect it will in some manner regarding songwriting stand on its own, just as Farm was a different beast than Beyond. So it’ll be the same but different. Which is usually what we want from bands anyways, right?
What makes a song great? What makes some songs greater than others? I’m not 100% sure. It’s tough. Some songs are big, fast and grand. Others have power in their intimacy and understatement. Over the next several days, I will post my picks for the top 25 songs of all time, posting five more each day counting down to the all time greatest song of all time. I only picked one song per artist based on the potency of the lyrics, melody, performance and production. Here’s the first five:
Lou Reed wrote one hit single, “Walk On The Wild Side”, but this Loaded cut with the VU should have been his other. Three chords, a simple but powerful message, a solid guitar solo and the song is kind of weirdly composed but seems totally perfect. Loaded may be the VU’s worst album, but “Rock & Roll” is probably the band’s single greatest song.
24. TV On The Radio – “Family Tree” off Dear Science,
Three shuddering chords echo across eternity in this stunner about forbidden, star-crossed love. Tunde Adebimpe’s somber delivery performs its part modestly, allowing Sitek’s atmospherics to swarm the soundscape like graveyard fog. When the drum-machine kicks in towards the end carrying the song off like a funeral march, it gets me every time. This ghostly elegy is TV On The Radio’s best yet.
23. The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” off White Blood Cells
Detroit poetry for lost love from the always awesome Jack and Meg White. Simple, striking and powerful, this song is The White Stripes at their absolute pure-pop-garage-rock zenith and that desolate, dirty riff is the sound of a star being born.
22. Dinosaur Jr. – “Freak Scene” off Bug
The opening riff just says it all: an anthem for freaks, geeks, and anyone who just doesn’t fit in and can never seem to get what they want. The song is cut up into the main verse part and the parts where J. Mascis goes batshit on his fret-board, churning out gorgeous, screaching melodies like rainbows. The key to this song however, is the sensitivity and naivety in Mascis’ voice and the joyous, searching quality in his noodling.
21. Moby Grape – “Seeing” off Moby Grape ’69
Skip Spence’s last song with the Grape pretty much makes the rest of Moby Grape ’69 seem like the tame piece of shit it is in comparison with this incredible closer. Phantasmogoric guitars shplash around the left and right channels as if they were trying to illustrate the acid-trip scene in Easy Rider in audio format as the song jolts between quiet acoustic bits in between full blown rockouts. In under four minutes, this epic seems to encapsulate what it might feel like to feel your mind being violently whacked off its rocker by schizophrenia and a plethora of hallucinogenics. And then there’s that weird falsetto bit in the middle where it sounds like the angels comes down and just takes Spence’s head off with them for good. Spence’s insanity was no laughing matter and it pretty much decimated the unbound talent of this incredible sage of a man, but it did make for this masterpiece of a song, as well as his classic Oar album.
20. Arcade Fire – “No Cars Go” off Neon Bible
The Neon Bible version is definitely better, hipsters. An enormous epic about dreaming of a world away from the techno-pression of the modern age, with Owen Pallet’s majestic arrangements elevating this already unbelievable composition to new heights of elation. Strings, organs, synthesizers, and gorgeous harmonies; uplifting and incredible: “No Cars Go” is the Arcade Fire at their best.
This week’s band of the week is one of my favorite bands of all time and one of my biggest influences. They also inspired me to slap down $80 for a Big Muff guitar pedal last year because I noticed how it filled out their sound. They’ve been around in one shape or another since the 80’s and in 2007 they released a comeback album that stands proudly not only alongside their best work, but even above much of it. The band of the week is…
Led by J. Mascis, Dinosaur Jr. have released classic albums like Living All Over Me and Bug and produced classic songs like “Freak Scene”, “Feel The Pain” and “Start Chopin”, all spearheaded by Mascis’ Neil Young-like falsetto vocals and his blistering (a word always used in conjunction with the band) guitar playing. The band’s signature sound is notable for combining all of the aggression and speed of hardcore with a strong melodic pop sense.
What I love about Dinosaur Jr. is that they sound like I feel: on one hand they sound like they’re spinning out of control and about to explode; on the other hand, there’s also this sort of humanism and sensitivity to it all. These two opposing mentalities meshed into one produces some kind of crazy fusion that sounds unbelievable, particularly on their best songs such as the aforementioned classics.
Dinosaur Jr. has influenced scores of bands (My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Broken Social Scene) over the last two decades, and while the right circles will acknowledge the band’s legendary status, Dinosaur Jr. remain largely unknown by today’s hipsters. And that’s just a fucking tragedy because Mascis and his crew (including prolific songwriter and Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow) tapped into something incredible and should be appreciated for such. Check out Dinosaur Jr., or like that lawyer in Jurassic Park, you will be eaten by a T. Rex while you poop.
I’ve seen it happen.